Social Attitudes

Chatting About Sobriety with Vanessa Sunshine

There is no doubt that drinking is a social norm embedded into Australian culture. Having a ‘good night out’ is ultimately associated with letting your hair down and having a few alcoholic beverages.

But what if you genuinely do not like drinking? 

This is a question that I have thought about time and time again. There really aren’t many options for non-drinkers in Australia, plus there is a massive stigma associated with people who choose not to indulge.

I know about stigma because I choose not to drink.

Then I stumbled across Vanessa Sunshine. Most of us know her as this year’s sassiest Bachelor contestant, #queen. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she does not drink alcohol through her Instagram story. With 18.2k Instagram followers, I was SO happy to see somebody with a significant social media presence challenging social norms and sharing their experience with alcohol.

I was lucky enough to chat to Vanessa about why she chooses not to drink and her answers were full of honesty, humour and attitude:

Can you tell me a bit about why you choose not to drink?

I stopped drinking alcohol before my spinal fusion operation and afterwards could barely walk, so consuming alcohol was really the last thing on my mind. When I got to the point that I could “go out” again, even though I was okay, I was different and still learning things. I was very worried when I got bumped or even embraced for too long when a friend hugged me, as it really hurt my back in the early stages. I didn’t consume alcohol because I wanted to be fully aware of what was happening around me and didn’t want to put myself in a position where I may fall and damage my spine.

I was surprised I was still having fun and able to socialise without it. I simply didn’t miss it (or the hangover the next day). During this recovery process I realised that I’d really taken my body for granted beforehand, so I made a decision to simply remove consuming alcohol.

Was there ever a time that you did drink alcohol and did you ever like it?

Yes, definitely. I loved it in my younger years and had a lot of fun.

Many people feel like they need to drink to fit in. As someone who owns being different, what advice would you give those people?

Yes. I’ve always been different and I am at a point in my life where I am completely comfortable and accepting of this fact. I’m not someone that needs to be a “cool kid” and follow the crowd. I am okay doing my own thing and sometimes think people get FOMO anxiety. Just because everyone else is doing it they feel like they have to as well.

For me, I see it’s not going to help me achieve the things I want in life. It’s not good for my health and it’s also to a point that, yes, sure I could have one drink. But I know me and who I am and if I did that I would just be so disappointed in myself. That’s what I can’t handle.

My advice to people is that no matter who you are or what you do, there are going to people out there that just don’t get you. You have to accept that you are not for everyone and that’s okay. Just do your best and be the best possible version of yourself.

You have expressed that you have very supportive and loving friends. But have you ever felt judged for your decision not to drink alcohol?

By people that don’t know me, yes. They seem shocked at first but surprisingly a lot of people respect it. My friends have been nothing but supportive and understand that it just isn’t for me. I never judge or care if someone else around me wants to consume alcohol, it’s not like I’m trying to enforce my decision on anyone else.

There is a common misconception that non-drinkers do not enjoy going out or having ‘fun’. How would you respond to this?

Completely. Look, I can’t keep going all night. If I do head out and when I’ve had enough, I leave because I want to go home, eat and go to bed (need my 8+ hours beauty sleep haha). But I kind of think it’s sad that people think they can’t have fun without alcohol. I’ve never really understood the concept of drinking to get drunk for fun. I would honestly rather go out on adventures, see a movie or eat. That’s my idea of a good time these days.

When you do head out, what non-alcoholic options do you indulge in?

I’m rarely hitting the clubs these days but if I do I’ll indulge in a soda water with lime, maybe an energy drink and mocktails… virgin passion fruit mojito is my favourite!

Can you shine a light on some of the benefits that you experience being a non-drinker?

To me alcohol is a legalised drug and no one can convince me that it is good for me. I don’t have the best immune system, so for me this was one of the biggest factors for cutting out alcohol as it just compromised my health. It has also helped me have a clear head and good skin.

Another benefit is connecting with people and not having superficial friendships that are purely based on “hitting the scene”. For me, a big thing I noticed as I got older is a lot of friendships are based off people who want to be your friend if you’ve got the right connections, but don’t really want to do normal things like eat lunch/brunch or have a chilled night in. That’s just not me or what I value.

Why do you think there is such a stigma towards non-drinkers in Australia?

Drinking alcohol is almost integrated into the Australian culture and just a way of life. It’s everywhere in the media and socially accepted as a way of life. Nearly every teenager turns 18 and heads out as a right of passage (which is absolutely fine).

I think sometimes it’s also considered a form of reward (i.e after a hard work week). It’s just such a part of our culture that we don’t even realise it. So when you don’t consume alcohol for some reason, there is a stigma towards it. Like something is wrong with you for consciously choosing not to participate.

Yet again, proving why she is #queen.

Featured image of Vanessa Sunshine courtesy of Channel 10.


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