Dry January for Life?

We Brits drink far too much alcohol and after the booze fest that is Christmas / New Year, many of us dry out in January, going through the month without a drink.  While a month of sobriety isn’t going to preserve our health if we’re caning it the other 11 months of the year, I commend the effort.  It’s a start.  Considering my own festive excesses, I’ve been asking myself whether I should go further.  Should I never drink again?  Should I go dry for life?

After a particularly heavy stag weekend 18 months ago, I started to experiment with abstaining from alcohol.  I wanted to know if life without alcohol would be better – would it leave me with more energy?  Would I be less prone to depressive moods and have a more positive mindset?  Would I train harder, be stronger and fitter?  Would I make better food choices?  Would I sleep better?  Would I be a nicer person be around?

I suspected I had my hang-ups around drink.  Would I have said I was dependent?  No, but did alcohol offer me something I needed?  At the time I wasn’t sure but now with the benefit of hindsight, I know the answer to be yes.

I drank too much.  From my mid- to late-twenties I hit it hard.  I drank like most other twenty-somethings.  I drank on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Sundays to take the edge of Saturday.  I drank on Thursday because it was almost Friday and often on Wednesdays too.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to drink on Mondays and Tuesdays either.  I drank out of boredom and I drank out excitement.  There was always a good reason.  I had a stressful job and needed something to relax me.  I had a client dinner and needed to be loquacious and at ease.  I had a date and wanted to be confident and charming.  I was visiting my family and wanted to celebrate and be fun.  I drank to retreat into my mind and find it more relaxed, less doubting, less manic than usual.  Or I just plain wanted to get bollocksed with my mates.

I drank everything quickly and in great volume and alcohol was no exception.  I was choosy about what I drank and was proud of my taste for expensive wine and whiskey but essentially, I drank my first drink to drink my second, and my second to drink my third.  My relationship with alcohol was unhealthy and I knew I had to make a change. 

Having come through a period of depression and looking to future-proof myself against further such depressive episodes, I began in May 2016 to flirt with the idea of not drinking.  I went 20 days without.  I hadn’t gone three weeks without a drink since I was a teenager.  I felt more confident about the future, but it felt arduous.  I didn’t want to socialise because I was embarrassed about explaining why I wasn’t drinking.  I was ashamed to admit that I wasn’t drinking because I’d lost control.    

In the year, September 2016 to August 2017, I had two stints, first of 30 and then of 40 days without a drink.  I felt better for sure.  I loved the clear-headed mornings, the energy.  I felt stronger and fitter.  I loved the positivity.  I enjoyed the whole working week as opposed to just Wednesday to Friday.  

In an effort to regain control, I continually recalculated my personal drinking statistics in my mind: 92 drinking days out of 377 (August 30th 2016 to September 10th 2017).  That’s a drink every 4 days.  Strip out the 70 days across the two periods of concerted non-drinking and it’s a drink every 3.3 days, or twice a week.

I didn’t take a very scientific approach.  It was binary, did I drink, or didn’t I drink on a given day?  I only counted the days on which I drank and didn’t record how much I drank, it could have been a bottle of beer or 8 double vodkas.  And it wouldn’t have been evenly spread.  There would have been periods of binging and periods of abstinence.  I felt a lot better, much more in control, but I was still drinking a couple of times a week and I didn’t think I’d really scratched the surface of life without alcohol. 

I upped the ante.  Between September 11th and December 20th last year I went 101 days without alcohol.  I felt great.  I had more energy; physically, intellectually and emotionally.  I trained harder and got stronger.  I was a better boyfriend, brother, and son.  Life was much less of challenge or rather, a challenge I readily accepted.

I decided to drink over Christmas and have done again a couple of times since.  I regret it.  While a few of the occasions on which I drank were fun, I’ve felt low of late, less up for challenge.  Much more prone to self-doubt, self-loathing and to negativity.  I’m writing this to remind me of what I’ve learnt about my relationship with alcohol.  Dry January forever?  Probably not, no.  But do I want to know what it feels like to go years without a drink?  For sure. 

I’ll follow this post up with something more scientific on how alcohol affects our health.

Posted in Alcohol, Drinking.

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