Four months ago I gave up alcohol, ostensibly for a year, although whether I make it is still a question for debate (and perhaps a little haggling with my friends).
Since giving up, I have had to explain time and again why I have done it, and depending on my mood my response has swerved from the brief to the vague to the downright mysterious.
Part of that is because there are so many little reasons, a thousand distilled droplets that wore me down until I decided enough was enough. But there are two main ones, memory and behaviour, and between them they have made me feel pretty terrible at times.
So this is the first of three blogs – I was intending to do three at three monthly intervals on my reasons for giving up, reflections on my progress, and my thoughts on ging back to drink, but that’s all gone to pot – hopefully it will answer the questions.
Why do it? Why give up alcohol for a year?
Perhaps the best reason to give up alcohol is the reaction of anyone who I’ve told about it.
“But surely that would be difficult for you?” or “But how will you cope?” or “What will you do?”
But that’s easy. Hopefully I’ll be productive. I should get up earlier, after a while at least, and feel fresher for it too. I will be able to do the things I never do. I might even get a Saturday.
It’s not about how many units I drink a week, or about whether I tick the boxes on the alcoholics’ checklist. I know plenty of people who jokingly call themselves an alcoholic, but I know for a fact that they only drink at the pub, or at least in company, and rarely carry empty wine bottles or beer cans from their room for recycling.
The other question is: Why not just stick to moderation?
But what if that’s just not possible. Once you’ve opened the bottle, you’d better finish. And maybe start another. The only moderation I know is enforced moderation, through exercise or driving.
I get asked other questions, such as how I’ll cope in social situations, but I wrote out a list of pros and cons* and all of the cons I came up with have their flipside.
Perhaps I’ll be less sociable, but then again, perhaps I’ll remember it if I do go out. I won’t wake up with a vague feeling that I’ve been a terrible cunt, but no knowledge of why. My friends won’t be able to convince me for two years that I got kicked out of a club for performing a sex act with a fat girl on the dance floor. I won’t have to consider asking my own mother who I may have kissed at the Christmas party. Or issue open-ended apologies or pleas for information on Facebook, dropping text message hints to try and collect the threads.
(One tipping point was getting so drunk that I argued over nothing with a good friend of more than a decade and ended up sleeping in my car. In Sheffield. In November. And spent the next eight months wondering if things really are right between us.)
Perhaps I’ll get laid less. But really, what’s the point in sex if it’s half hearted, forgettable, or even actually forgotten once the fog clears. What’s the point in trying to get drunk and have sex if you can’t remember your last good sexual experience?
One thing this is not about is physical fitness. I’ve never been a health nut, and I have enough other vices that giving up booze isn’t going to turn me into the next Mo Farah. I want more energy, but it’s more about not stagnating, maybe getting into work five minutes before and not five minutes after start time.
It basically comes down to my behaviour and my memory. If you can’t be sure of the memory, you have nothing to judge behaviour on. All I know is I have some scars I don’t remember getting, some photos I don’t remember taking, some places I’m certain I’ve never been but have. And it’s always awkward meeting someone for the first time when they know some terrible secrets about you. Or agreeing in all earnestness to do something you will never remember.
Many consider lack of memory to be a sign of a good night out, but I’m wondering if I can’t remember the fun, can’t remember it at all, then isn’t it just a little bit pointless. Because as far as my brain is concerned that fun never happened.
I’m taking this year as a chance to step back, reflect, and hopefully learn a bit about my drinking. At four months in I’m not sure what I’ve learned, or how I will apply those lessons when I return to drinking – and I will – but there’s time for that.
*Here is my list of cons, with their antithetical pros in brackets where appropriate:
- How will I be confident? (Surely this is a deeper underlying issue if it prove to be true?)
- Will I become less sociable/likeable? (But do I want friends who only like me drunk?)
- Will I lose my character? (But do I want that character?)
- Will I be seen as boring?
- Will my sad sex life become non-existent? (But surely I will be better equipped to actually have agency, rather than stumbling blindly)
I also wrote myself a list of rules:
- No excuses – holidays, parties, birthdays, bad days.
- Allowances –
- One drink at weddings, big birthdays, events.
- But – Only bubbles or a quality or fitting drink, e.g. high end whisky or gin.
- One drink for experiences: cultural, foreign drink, new/unusual.
- No substitutes – drugs/ caffeine/ food/chocolate/ exercise etc. (to a higher level than if I was drinking)
- But don’t cut things out.
- Don’t avoid events or take a back seat and use it as an excuse.
- Don’t be pious/ preach/ make a scene.
- Glastonbury is not an excuse.
- Possible outs – After 3 months:
- If I feel it’s harming me in a social/professional capacity
- If I truly am losing friends.
- If I find myself paralysed by fear and lack of confidence.
- If I turn to substitutes.
After 6 months: If others spot any of these in me.
Otherwise: Push on to a year.