I’m a goal digger. I get a kick out of setting a challenge and smashing it. So as part of ‘do stuff in my 41st year’, I kicked off 2017 by signing up to Dry January, the annual well-publicised commitment to abstaining from alcohol for 31 loooooong days. Now before you get the wrong idea, I’m no Oliver Reed when it comes to the sauce but I like(d) a glass of wine or three and, like many knackered working mums, looked forward to that Friday night glass of something chilled, crisp and alcoholic. After all, I’d ‘earned’ it when flopping in to the sofa after a long, hard week. So it was with some apprehension that I jumped on the wagon on New Years’ Day.
The first few days were a challenge. Visiting family, log fires and new year celebrations were usually accompanied by wine and so, whilst others drank, I nursed a Becks Blue or alcohol-free wine (which, even if you’ve had a lobotomy, you’d still never be fooled in to thinking was actually wine (although the one in the pic was the best)). I wasn’t tempted (I’m much too stubborn) but I missed the habit of joining in a toast or filling my glass along with the others. Still, I consoled myself with the promised nirvana of clear skin, good sleep, money saved and weight lost. And guess what? Little by little, day by day, I started to notice changes. I DID start sleeping well. My skin DID begin to look better. I DID save money (putting that money towards swimming lessons, but more of that another time). I DID lose weight. I felt better than I’d felt in years. Who’d have thought?!
January 31st came and I was chuffed to have accomplished a full month booze-free. I could have a drink again! I’d bought the wine in anticipation, it was chilling in the fridge, ready to celebrate. But then a funny thing happened. I got this strange feeling in my stomach that I couldn’t explain (I assumed it wasn’t an ulcer, seeing as I’d been so virtuous!). A nagging suspicion crept upon me. I kept pushing it away, telling myself not to be stupid. But it kept coming back. Eventually, I had to admit it to myself: I had enjoyed being alcohol-free. This caught me by surprise. Lawyers and mothers (I am both) are roles which are slap-bang at the centre of drinking culture – the work drinks, the client ‘dos’ or the mums’ book club (aka piss-up) or ‘cheeky glass’ once little Freddy has, at last, gone to sleep. I had subscribed to that for over twenty years (as a lawyer) and seven years (as a mother) respectively; it was ingrained.
I read ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace (https://www.amazon.com/This-Naked-Mind-Rediscover-Happiness/dp/0996715002) during Dry January, which was a real eye-opener. It talks about the conscious mind and the unconscious mind and how each play a role in your relationship with alcohol. At risk of sounding like a cracked record, I really am, or was, a glass of wine or two at the weekends-only kind of girl, but it really struck a chord. The sections about being expected to drink at work events or social functions and having to justify to others why you aren’t drinking particularly resonated with me – no, I’m not pregnant, no I’m not a lightweight, no I’m not on antibiotics. Annie says that reading the book will rewire your brain and, maybe, just maybe, that’s what happened. Whatever it was, 1st February came and I didn’t pop that cork.
Still, I never committed to anything more than Dry January. So Friday 3rd, I poured the wine. I went through the ceremony of choosing a nice glass, I savoured the smell and took a sip. Oh. Oh dear. It didn’t taste quite right. My formerly favourite sauvignon blanc didn’t taste of refreshing gooseberry with a top note of melon, it just tasted acidic. I was so disappointed. I had really been looking forward to that glass of wine. So much so that I persisted and drank that small glass of white and poured a glass of red instead. Perhaps that would be better? It was, in that it wasn’t as acidic but then the alcohol started taking effect. After so long off it, I felt drunk quickly and didn’t especially like the feeling. I drank about 250ml in total that evening and then switched to a Becks Blue and went to bed.
It’s no coincidence that I say ‘went to bed’ as opposed to ‘went to sleep’ as I had THE most awful night’s sleep. I tossed and turned, I counted sheep, I thought happy thoughts but nothing doing, the land of nod wasn’t forthcoming. I gave up at 5am and got up for a cuppa, looked in the mirror, head banging and eye bags that Prada would be proud of. Was it the wine? Or was it MSG in the Chinese take-away I’d had? It could have been either.
What is interesting though is that, if I’m honest, I didn’t really fancy that wine on Friday, I drank it because I thought I ought to – it’s Friday night, Dry January is over, woo-hoo! Why did I feel pressure to have a drink when no one other than me was bothered if I did or didn’t? I genuinely don’t know. But I really missed my good night’s sleep and healthy glow the morning after.
So, what now? Let me be clear: I’m no tee-totaller and have no intention of becoming one. I enjoy (or used to enjoy!) the social and relaxation aspects of a few glasses of wine. But I’m just not loving it at the moment and admitting that feels quite significant, both personally and socially.
Dry January has empowered me to make the choice as to whether I want to drink or not – and that’s even more refreshing than a chilled prosecco on a summer’s day. So, if you see me, tumbler in hand with a spicy tomato juice or a tonic water, don’t judge me or assume anything, it’s just what I fancy drinking or, more to the point, substituting what I don’t. Cheers!