I thought dry January would do one if two things: Tell me I couldn’t live with alcohol and that it was literally the elixir of life. Or tell me it is poison and I am the best version of myself without it. It didn’t do either; my hungover unorganised and solemn version of myself wasn’t much fun (even though the night before definitely would have been). But neither was the best, healthy version of myself.
Before I list the things I learnt during my sober journey, let me explain what I had learnt beforehand that had led me to Dry January. I am 21 and have a big group friends who like to socialise in and around London, predominately by getting drunk. I am one of the driving forces, gearing everyone up for a Saturday night of euphoria, sloppiness, and laughter on the dance floor. After a tough week at work, I live for the hardcore fun at the weekend.
Despite the good times, there is always compromise. Alcohol in my life was making me pretty miserable at times, and not only because it was standing in the way of my six pack (note – I am nowhere near close to a six pack). I had noticed that my drinking habits had become unhealthy when I was relying on drink as an escapism from ‘the real world’, and something to give me a short-term buzz of happiness.
I’m sure you know what follows – a roaring hangover, unhealthy food all day, and a negative outlook on the upcoming week. Or more disappointingly, waking up with my head in the toilet, my phone missing from my clutch bag (on two occasions), or to find I cannot walk. Yes, I have woken to my knee the size of a football, with no recollection of what happened the night before. All I had was a foggy story of ‘stumbling off a curb’ from a friend and the support of crutches for four weeks (that also meant I couldn’t work). Embarrassingly, a knee injury is twice on my medical records with ‘drunken accident’, the first being from a awkward cartwheel at a festival which left me tent-bound for two days.
You may be reading this with wonder; surely everyone has those messy nights with no regrets? (I never have regrets, by the way!). But it does get to a point, maybe after a few too many mistakes and mischief, that the short term thrills are not worth the week long misery. By no means am I miserable. I love my job and life. I just started to wonder how much more enjoyable my life could be 7 days a week, rather than 5 hours a week.
My rewarding of myself with a drink at the end of the week is what Georgia Foster, a hypnotherapist with expertise in alcoholism, says is a habit during my hypnotherapy session at the beginning of January. She calls those between sober and alcoholic ‘problem drinkers’, and she explains the psychology behind a very common way of thinking. ‘We all have a negative inner critic voice. When hungover, it will tell you off for drinking for what you did, said, how much you spent and what you don’t remember’.
Georgia went on to observe my mentality of drinking as I described my habits. She points out that because I am a perfectionist, I am an all-or-nothing type person. Shamefully, one of my biggest mottos is ‘go hard or go home’. ‘We need to make your mind more perfect about balance’, says Georgia. ‘Building up your sober self-esteem is really important, and getting you in a more intuitive space – feeling confident, good about yourself, and relaxed’. That sounds awesome!
So, by saying goodbye to the booze with a sweet kiss on NYE with the mouth of a prosecco bottle, I began a month of soberness. Here are 22 things I learnt, some positive, and others negative:
- I didn’t see some friends for the whole month, which puts into perspective what your friendship is based on.
- The weekends are longer (and sometimes more boring).
- I can plan ahead knowing I won’t be hungover on any day.
- Alcohol is something we are programmed and taught to use as a way of enjoying life.
- A meal out, night in with the girls, cinema, or anything not involving alcohol, will guaranteed be a nice evening. Alcohol can often change that.
- I don’t realise I will drink when no one else is. One evening I went to a restaurant with three friends, all of whom bought a soft drink. Had I not be doing Dry Jan, I would’ve got a glass of wine. Would I have been the only one?
- For all the pre-drinks in the past I have rushed to guzzle down my drink, waiting for it to hit my bloodstream, I am wishing time away. Why?
- Work was actually easier to bare when I wasn’t wishing for the weekend.
- Celebrations of achievements or the like are an excuse to get drunk. That’s the main reason people turn up.
- When I went to the gym, I knew it was worth it. I was burning fat, not alcohol.
- Alcohol is an amazing delicacy, with a lot of history, which we throw away our appreciation for by chucking it back.
- I love alcohol.
- I love red wine, and I will never be ungrateful for it’s perfection with a meal ever again.
- It’s totally acceptable to get hungover and drink far too much, just make sure it’s worth it.
- If it wasn’t worth it, re-assess (which is what led me to Dry Jan)
- If there is a problem in your life, fix it. Take a weekend to relax, have ‘me’ time, and do what you love. Don’t hide and run away to a bottle.
- Cooking is something I enjoy, and I do it a lot less when I drink regularly. There is less time and less inspiration to cook when my body craves greasy food.
- I am a drinking smoker – I can totally go without a cigarette in social situations, meaning I am not a ‘social smoker’. Can I cut the smoking when I drink? We shall see…
- I cannot wait to dance on a dancefloor, I don’t need drink to enjoy that. (Except when it’s a horrific situation of awkwardness and there are creepy guys and a lack of atmosphere. They are times of dire need to drink).
- Everyone around me seems to be a lot less drunk than I thought they were. I really must have been one of the drunkest people in the room.
- I appreciate people’s time more. A proper catch up, a laugh, a sit down and chat. It’s a different type of bonding to a night out.
- Dates – I still believe alcohol is necessary; to spark chemistry, get your flirt on, and feel confident.
ONE MONTH ON
It’s been almost a month since I finished my dry spell (that sounds quite gross), and I believe Dry Jan has made it’s difference. I think if you go into Dry Jan with a real belief you want to change, you will. If it is for a health detox, which is great, you could slip back into old habits.
My first drink (a large glass of Merlot), was not particularly memorable. It was nice, that’s about it. But luckily for me, as I had learnt quite a lot over the course of January, I wasn’t buzzing to have a drink anyway.
The first time I got drunk again was a good evening out; some friends and I went for cocktails and a curry on Brick Lane, and so the combination of alcohol, good friends and good food incorporated everything I want in my social life. Nights like those are definitley more to look forward to than getting blind drunk in a club. I have been in a club since, and we got home at 8am – it had been a while since one of those heavy nights, and it felt much more meaningful and worth it. A week later and I’m having a complete weekend off – I really am getting old!
The things I learnt both before and after Dry Jan put into perspective how much I was relying on alcohol to fill a happy-mood void. I am glad the absence of alcohol has shown me ways I really can enjoy my time (with or without alcohol) rather than wish it away. Being more mindful of my drinking is certainly more realistic than bullying myself for how much I drink, or going sober forever. Cheers!