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.