I tried a ‘dry January’ — and now I can’t imagine ever drinking again

Alcohol is firmly woven into the fabric of society. It can bind people together, break down barriers and generally grease social wheels. It is used to celebrate, commiserate, as gifts, acts of generosity and in daily acts of rebellion (‘go on, I will if you will’). Equally it can be the trigger for dependence, isolation and ruined lives and all over the world there are groups dedicated to helping one stop drinking.

Given its ubiquity why do so many people, including me, choose not to drink?

Back in 2009 I opted to give it up for while, a sort of dry January if you like. I only intended for that break to be for one month, in the name of focusing on work and being healthy, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and somehow I’ve been on the wagon for over seven years now and I can’t imagine ever drinking again.

As a competitive person I challenged myself to stop, just to see if I could. I realised that I drank a large glass of wine (or two) most days, more at the weekends and certainly more on holiday. While this might seem quite modest, it was losing its appeal and was stopping me doing things I wanted to do. I had grown increasingly dependent on coffee and spent the days powered by caffeine only to use my post-work daily glass of red wine to unwind from the caffeine that I had used to get me going after a couple of glasses of wine the night before.

My carbohydrate intake increased as I craved the sort of food that I was advising clients not to eat. My weight crept up as one glass of red wine has over 200 calories in it, and that’s aside from the dessert I might order after dinner given that wine had made me care less about what I ate.

That was along with less exercise, as all too often I laid out my gym clothes last thing at night only to decide otherwise when I woke at 4am with a busy mind, unable to sleep again until after 5am, seemingly moments before the alarm went off, thanks to that second glass of wine.

Clearly a miserable cycle, but for what? I realised that I had fallen for the romantic side of drinking more than the actual liquid. Decent wine, carefully chosen, felt sophisticated. Yet alcohol is alcohol — however much we might add civility to it, the results are usually the same.

Here I am, seven years later, undoubtedly healthier and certainly happier, with no desire to drink again. I’ve learned to ignore the judgments from strangers who assume that I had a problem, and, by the time the slurred conversations start at the pub or at parties, I can happily drive home without worrying if I should be.

The romance reaches out to me every now and again — a glass of fine red wine, sitting by the fire on a wintery afternoon, or a cold beer on a summer’s day. But it feels like a small price to pay for liberation.

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  • Ben Marsden

    You must be a right laugh on a night out. Sensible people like me with 6-packs and untold levels of cardio fitness, abstain most days but join in for social occasions. Just control your intake, keep it to a minimum and don’t be a boring twat.

    Alcohol’s effects are difficult to study because they don’t take into account things like enjoying social gatherings, which leads to laughter and Oxytocin release which in turn reduces cortisol levels. Your blood pressure will drop after a drink too, but increase if you abuse alcohol.

    Take into account the happy-hormones released, the relaxation and reduced blood pressure over the course of a lifetime, and this could outweigh any harm alcohol does as long as your intake remains at low to moderate.

    • ill-liberal

      Nice response. The last point is a bit strange.

      ‘The romance reaches out to me every now and again — a glass of fine red
      wine, sitting by the fire on a wintery afternoon, or a cold beer on a
      summer’s day. But it feels like a small price to pay for liberation. ‘

      Why not just have a glass of wine, or a beer, then ?? The judgments of strangers may not be too wide of the mark.

      • EppyB

        What a pair. Alcohol affects people in different ways, some people can take it or leave it others find that harder. Are you the types who hassle or belittle people for not drinking? Why would someone not be a laugh because they weren’t drinking alcohol.

        • ill-liberal

          I’m just suggesting that if he would like a nice glass of wine once in a while, and doesn’t, then maybe he actually has a problem. My Mum doesn’t drink, never has, and I think people think she had ‘a problem’. Difference is she just doesn’t like or want a drink at all.

          Not in the slightest, I went on a stag do a couple of years ago and one of the guys announced at the start that he didn’t drink and he was absolutely wild, far more so than any of us boozers, great fun indeed. He’d had ‘a problem’, as it happens. The author here just seems to be a bit of a bore.

          • EppyB

            Fair enough. My mother has always been life and soul first and last on the dance floor but doesn’t drink.

          • Kiss the Chaos

            I agree with you Eppy – people seem to think that having a laugh or being the life and soul is dependent on booze, even just a glass. If we think about it practically booze is merely a poison with added sugar and a shit tonne or marketing thrown at it. Life is sublime enough without needing a drug to alter it. But sheep will be sheep. Keep on bankrolling the fat cat drinks industry with the belief you need a drink to have a good time! I don’t drink and I am the life and soul of the party also! 🙂

          • sandy winder

            I am in my 60s now and I drank when young because it was expected of me and because it helped to counter my inhibitions. Now my digestive system is buggered. But I count myself lucky because it could have been much worse.

    • Kiss the Chaos

      But you can laugh without alcohol, or can’t you, that’s pretty sad? Maybe you have issues. Good for you for the 6 pack, but I find most boring twats tend to tell people they have a 6 pack!!

  • JonathanBagley

    Given your weight, sleep and caffeine dependency problems, it looks as if you made the right choice. You were probably drinking too much. I can feel half a bottle of 12.5% wine in the morning, but a third of a bottle seems fine, so, as I enjoy the taste, ritual and relaxing effect, I’ve decided to continue. I’ve found never eating cake or dessert takes care of the weight.

  • JC Carter

    Author: I’ve learned to ignore the judgments from strangers who assume that I had a problem

    Author: thanks to that second glass of wine

    Author: Clearly a miserable cycle

    So… the reality is, your alcohol intake WAS a problem for you. You just romanticize the negative to being less of an issue than those drunks “judging you”.

  • orangikaupapa

    I am curious why people get so rattled about someone exploring the role of alcohol in their lives. It’s a remarkably common response. The judgments here about boring twats, and a notion that you cannot possibly laugh and enjoy a social occasion without drinking are absurd. Absurd and a worrying indictment about how we function as sentient beings. I don’t have the slightest issue about other people drinking alcohol – I do however wonder why some get so incredibly exercised because I don’t. I did drink alcohol. I stopped. I was a moderate drinker with the very occasional over indulgence. It was all fine. And then I could no longer see the point. And like Ian Marber, I can’t imagine going back. I understand the nostalgia – the drink that seals the flavour of a moment. But that nostalgia haunts me about so many things in my life – a fact of simply getting older and the world about me changing. As the writer observes – a small price for personal liberation.