After the excess of Christmas, most people are ready to give alcohol the heave-ho in January. Some people manage a few days. Some people decide to only drink at the weekend. And on Thursdays. And beer and wine totally doesn’t count. If you’re at home. Oh shit. Etc.
Others, like alcoholic athletes embrace ‘Dry January’ with steely determination, and make it through to the 31st without so much as a drop of cider vinegar touching their lips. Then, come 1st Feb, they’ll go bat-shit crazy on a massive booze-fuelled bender, undoing any ‘good’ of the alcohol-free month prior.
Me? I’ve been thinking about drinking (and becoming a poet, clearly) a lot recently. Not in an alcoholic, ‘is 9am too early to crack open a Special Brew?’ way. But in a more ‘conscious’ and considered way. And by that I mean finally having the stark realisation that the decision to drink (or not to drink) is MINE, always mine.
Now, I know that might not sound like rocket science to many, but seriously, THINK ABOUT IT. I honestly believe most of us drink because it’s just considered the social norm, especially here in Britain. From the age of *cough* 14 (sorry mum) when you have your first swig of cider (procured from your parents’ drinks cabinet) – or in my case a sip from a jazzy bottle of Hooch – while sitting on the swings in the park, through to Fresher’s Week, dinner, dates, team-building and beyond, drinking forms the basis of many of our social interactions for most of our adult lives. Does not drinking thereby make you null and void? DO YOU CEASE TO EXIST IF YOU SAY NO TO A JAGER BOMB?
Throughout my adult life, I have honestly never questioned my consumption of alcohol, but just got on with it. You’re in a pub? You drink. On a night out? Drink? On a date? ALL THE DRINKS. At a Christmas do? Drink. At a press event? Champagne for me, please. Holiday? Piña colada for breakfast, thanks. Wedding? Drink. Funeral? Drink. Baptism? Wet the baby’s head drink. Tired-and-stressed-after-work-and-in-need-of-a-hug? Drink (red wine, obvy). I could go on. There’s a drink for very occasion, and plenty of opportunities for boozing. I just never bothered to consider the alternatives before, and I’m not sure why. Wanting to fit in? Maybe.
It wasn’t until I was pretty unwell in 2013, when my body started to give me a good talking to (by breaking, basically) about the amount of stress I was under, all the shit I was eating and how badly I was treating myself in general that my attitude towards alcohol changed. In fact, it was initially forced to change when one evening, I was about to have my usual glass of red wine to ‘wind down’ and it felt like I’d sipped some acid as it burned painfully down my oesophagus. Another sip, more burning. I tried again the following evening, and the next, but eventually decided to give alcoholic beverages the swerve until I was fully on the road to recovery. That was the big step change for me.
But, like my attitude to spending and BUYING ALL THE THINGS, the happier I am within myself, the less I want to consume – and that seems to go for alcohol, too. Could it be in the past I was literally drowning my sorrows? Was I drinking without thinking (there it is again) because I was unhappy? Quite possibly.
This is a hard realisation, because deep down I know it’s true. Especially when I flash back to the time where I was so drunk I was hospitalised. Or the time I decided to drink from the drip tray (a true, admittedly disgusting, story). Or the time I thought it would be funny to down all eight shots from one of those wooden paddle things before anyone else could get a look in. Or the time I puked in a planter. Or the time I woke up with a black eye. Or the time I was so drunk, I fell down two flights of concrete stairs. Or the time I was at a house party, dancing and screamed ‘let’s all take our tops off!’ and I did, and it was just me, swaying, in my bra. Oh.
There are lots of stories like that. And, perhaps I’m being too hard on myself, as I was only in my twenties and young (and foolish), having fun. But was I? When I think about the incidents above I actually feel quite… sad. Maybe a bit ashamed? I feel sorry for the girl I was, who drank blindly on nights out, often until she could barely stand up, for fun. Just because. That’s what you do. Gotta keep up. I probably WAS unhappy, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Also, I’m not going to pretend like I’m holier-than-thou and fully aboard the wagon these days, cos I’m totally not teetotal. But I’m actually questioning my alcohol consumption and choices now.
For the past six months or so, I’ve been ‘barely drinking’. By that I mean no drinking on a ‘school’ night. Wine only with a meal at the weekends – and I tend to deliberately go for a more expensive bottle (to share!) so that I’ll slow down and savour it more. As part of my switch to a ‘low sugar lifestyle‘, if I do find myself on a night out, my tipple of choice is a vodka, lime and soda BUT these days, I’ll go home after two(ish). Instead of when I’m sick in my handbag (another sadly true story).
Thankfully, I think attitudes are changing. Nowadays, you don’t get looked at like you’re a leper if you let people know you’re off the booze. Or people don’t automatically assume you’re pregnant (not to your face, anyway). I read with interest blogger Liv Purvis’ post last year about being 21 and not drinking. I’ve definitely noticed more of a trend in young people (Jesus, that made me sound like I’m 70) not drinking. And an increase in their consumption of Ketamine. [Editor’s note: Ho ho ho! That was a joke – don’t do drugs, kids!]
So I can’t help but wonder if this whole Dry January thing is a load of horse-shit. And sort of encourages binge drinking, in way: ‘Don’t drink a drop of alcohol for one month, and then GO CRAZY IN FEBRUARY, GUYS!’ Wouldn’t promoting a dry-ish life be better? Especially when you consider the stats:
- More than 9 million people in England drink more than the recommended daily limits.
- In England, in 2012 there were 6,490 alcohol-related deaths, a 19% increase compared to 2001.
- Alcohol is 10% of the UK burden of disease and death, making alcohol one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity.
I guess Dry January at least demonstrates to people you do have a choice. You don’t have to drink ‘just because’. And there is life outside of being in a boozer – a hangover free one at that. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and I’m drinking less alcohol. Turns out you can have a good time without a tipple, eh?
Have you turned your back on booze, or have you always been fairly alcohol free? Would love to hear your thoughts – comment below or tweet me @NatWallers.