Friends who’ve known me a long time would say that I was the least likely person to stop drinking for an evening, never mind the best part of a year.
In fact I can hardly believe that 12 months have gone by since I decided to not drink alcohol.
Last Easter we spent a lovely day lunching with friends and along with that lunch there was plenty of wine. I felt happy as we headed for home and bed. But by 4am I was wide awake, my senses alert, heart racing and feeling like adrenaline was whizzing around my system.
Aside from the health cost of drinking a bottle (and often more than that) of wine, the immediate and noticeable cost for me was the broken sleep. I spent Easter Monday so tired. I wasted the whole day stuffing rounds of toast down my neck and generally not achieving anything.
So I decided then on the spur of the moment to see what it would be like to not drink for a bit. I didn’t commit to not drinking for 12 months, but instead to take it a day at a time. And I didn’t tell anyone either. I just quietly decided to see where it would take me.
My birthday was the following day – so that was the first test. I faltered as I ordered an apple juice. A glistening glass of Pinot Grigio seems a far more fitting drink to celebrate my birthday. It’s not just the taste or the mellowing effect as the alcohol hits my senses, but the way the light cuts through the yellow hues casting golden lights on the table top, the tiny drops of condensation on the glass and the coolness and weight of that glass in my hand .
I missed that first glass of unordered wine and probably the second and third too. But I enjoyed the feeling of clarity and wakefulness later on that evening and the next day.
It was weird going to parties and social occasions. Without alcohol I felt like I was only partly engaged, like a spectator rather than a particapator and I felt an overwhelming need to apologise for my sobriety.
But after a while the not drinking becomes the norm and I successfully navigated my way around my parents’ golden wedding celebrations, holidays to Center Parcs and France along with other events.
I sleep better without alcohol. There’s none of that remorse either: “I said what?”, those sinking moments when you remember that tact and sense don’t usually go hand in hand with a few drinks. And I don’t get hangovers. Hangovers just get in the way of life. I never want to exercise if I’ve got one so not drinking has helped my fitness increase.
And best of all I wake up raring to go, wanting to pack as much as I can into every 24 hours.
It wasn’t a year without alcohol though. I decided that Christmas was a good time to make an exception to the rule and drank Baileys and the occasional glass of wine to help the festivities along.
But along with a few other glasses of wine for Mother’s Day and a couple of other occasions this year I’ve had, over the course of a year, less alcohol than I previously drank in a fortnight.
So it’s been a success but now I’m wondering where to go from here. I had a few drinks over this Easter – nothing wild, just a glass or two with dinner. And that’s how I’d like to keep it. The occasional drink.
It seems like the healthy way to go.
I’m hoping the habits I’ve developed over the last year will stay firmly etched into my way of life. I don’t day-dream about that first glass of wine in the evening as a marker between the stresses of the day and that moment of relaxation as the day comes to its close – for me a peppermint tea does that – hard to believe, but true.
I’ve learned some lessons too that will help me…
1. No one else really cares whether I drink or not. They did at first: “What, not drinking? Are you feeling all right?” but that was only because it was a change from the norm. Once the new norm was established it became: “I guess you don’t want a drink?” or just “Fancy a tea?”
2. Drinking or not drinking doesn’t really change an evening out. Ok so I probably won’t be dancing on the table tops at 2am if I’ve been sipping mineral water but I will still enjoy myself.
3. If I drink on an empty stomach ie. as I’m preparing dinner it affects me very quickly and I will end up not caring how much I drink – and I will almost certainly drink too much.
4. Whereas if I only drink once I’ve eaten some dinner I will probably stop at one drink.
5. A little alcohol doesn’t seem to affect my sleep as long as I have a) drunk plenty of water during the day, b) drunk water alongside any alcohol and c) drank the alcohol early in the evening rather than shortly before bedtime.
Whereas I used to find drinking addictive I now find feeling healthy and full of vitality is equally addictive.
If a doctor told me I had to give up alcohol completely tomorrow I would. But on the other hand I think its nice to have an occasional glass once in a while.
So I will.