I am not an alcoholic, I do not have a dependance nor do I feel sick or start my day with a ‘wee dram’ in the morning. However, I do love wine, beer, cider and whiskey! I play in a sports team, where it is practically expected to have a ‘couple of pints’ after the game, where frequently the couple would turn into a cocktail of chasers, mixers and larger than normal shots. I am entranced by the social world that hops, barley, grapes and apples bring, albeit a literal intoxicating one.
There is a fine line between addiction and control, and my view is everyone has their own conscious independence, it is cloudy. But most of us stumble around somewhere in between: we’ll just have one more; we don’t need it, we just like it; we could stop anytime. My social life runs on alcohol like a bicycle on its tyres: it could keep moving without it, but the ride would be bumpy and uncomfortable and I would worry about looking foolish.
So, I decided to give up for a month. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, as I started to get invites to social parties, reunions, birthdays, engagements, work ‘dos’ not with standing the weekly dinners planned and the temptation just to sip a glass of wine whilst cooking. Friends would verge from supportive, ‘good on you, good luck’ to the majority who would question, ‘why? well I am going to have this lovely glass of wine, as she waves it under my nose’. The truth is, nearly all occasions call for a drink. Family emergency when my Father took a fall and ended up in hospital - we will have a large gin and tonic when we get home, bad day at the office - lets go and grab a beer and make it better, a loss a hockey - lets get smashed tonight, a win at hockey - lets get smashed tonight.
I did it. It wasn’t particularly hard. Just dull. I missed the confidence alcohol brings, at works drinks I found myself not wanting to talk to anyone, and just hard work. I felt guilty that when I went for dinner with a friend and watched him down a bottle of wine that I couldn’t enjoy it with him. I started being more imaginative (ish) for places to meet friends, I ventured to the cinema and instead of drinks after it was off to grab a coffee. Everyone assumed that when you passed on the Champagne for the reception that you were either on antibiotics, heavily religious or pregnant. Everyone wanted you to drink to make them feel better about drinking themselves, and because typically you are more fun when the inhibitions are relaxed after a couple - it’s an escape from the bad day at the office, it’s a way of losing yourself.
I didn’t miss drunkenness - indeed, I found myself several times smirking at revelers coming home on the last train ‘worst for wear’. I certainly didn’t miss the hangovers, my Sundays had increased in productivity and I didn’t feel so tired that all I wanted to do was have a duvet and cheesy film. I didn’t miss some of the stupid decisions that I would make when drunk or under the guise of drunkenness. I saved money from not going to nightclubs, I barely tolerate nightclubs when under the influence, let alone sober.
I did miss drinking good wines, carefully selected to balance perfectly with food, I hungered for the Old Vine Zinfandel that I had carefully selected to go with my venison with a rhubarb and redcurrent sauce. The log fire, pub pie and mash didn’t feel right without a good pint of bitter when the November chill set in, lime and soda just doesn’t have the same warming, comforting, hugging effect.
So what did I learn about my month off the sauce. Well, I slept better - marginally. I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight. People have asked me whether I feel healthier. I don’t, particularly. But I do feel smug.
I discovered that I used alcohol as a blame agent, a red herring. Off the sauce, I was still tired, lazy and prone to overeating carbohydrates and chocolate and making just as many excuses for not going to the gym. I still spent too much money, talked too much and went out too much. In fact, none of my problems can be blamed on drinking alcohol, except the one that involves drinking a little too much.
So, what now? A brave new world of moderation, of control and constraint. Drinking to enjoy, but being mindful of the enjoyment. Well, one step at a time, after all, I still have a decent bottle of the Old Vine Zinfandel to sup, and it is Christmas.