For the past four weeks I’ve been staying off the booze as part of Dry January, and I’m calling it a day tomorrow after 29 days. This isn’t a spur of the moment decision, but what I had planned on doing from the start. Our friends have just had a baby and are moving to France, so we’re heading out to give them a send off. As I mentioned in my previous post, as far as I can remember, the longest I’d gone before this (since I started drinking properly) was 9 days; so definitely a good run.
The experiment has been an interesting one, and I’m glad that I did it. Personally I think it’s always rewarding to push the boundaries of what you come to accept as norms regularly. Below, I’ll explore some of the things I noticed and felt over the past 4 weeks. Obviously not everything will necessarily just be down to not drinking (correlation doesn’t equal correlation after all), but are still worth talking a bit about.
1. I still love booze.
This is important to get out of the way early. Staying dry for January has helped me take a step back and think about the relationship we (and I) have with alcohol, but I have definitely not had any sort of revelation that has led me to commit to further sobriety. Without alcohol, life loses a bit of its colour and vibrancy.
2. Not as hard as I expected.
Given my love of alcohol, I expected to be constantly ganting for a drink. However, as it turns out, I wasn’t… at least for the bulk of the time. This is probably largely down to the fact that over the past year I’ve consciously dialled down the amount of alcohol I drink ‘casually’ on an everyday basis. In other words, instead of having wine with dinner, or whisky on a regular weekday, I now tend not to drink anything when we’re just kicking about the house. Coupled with the fact that we weren’t travelling away from Glasgow this month, I think that this made the process a lot easier, and it’s reassuring to know that booze isn’t really as big a part of my day-to-day life as it was at one point.
That said, there were definitely times where I could have murdered a drink. We had our anniversary in January, and a few other occasions where a celebratory libation was warranted, but I passed. Interestingly enough, it was pretty satisfying – and almost addictive – to have something to hold the line on in that way; a test of willpower. It’s easy to see how some people would actively choose to not drink more regularly.
3. Caffeine, sleeping habits, and dreaming.
I used to have lots of trouble with insomnia, and would drink sizable volumes of caffeine to combat the resulting daytime tiredness, but since switching to a more flexible work schedule, this is something that has largely abated. I’ve generally been going to bed earlier, and not drinking any red bull as a result.
However, all that went out of the window. Not too far into Dry January, I started feeling wide awake later and later like I used to – staying up, and then craving caffeine the next day. In addition, when I did drink coffee or whatever, it affected me way more than it usually would; a couple of times I felt like I was on speed – rattling about. I felt incredibly productive, and started up a whole pile of projects that I had left stagnating for years, like making music under the moniker ‘unexpected bowtie’. I’m curious to see how that motivation and inspiration pans out when I start drinking again. Hopefully it won’t all go out of the window.
When I did get to sleep, I found myself having some of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had. I dismissed this at first, but apparently this is one of the commonly reported side effects of cutting down on alcohol consumption. Pretty strange, though as the days have gone by, I’ve noticed the dreams less and less.
4. Weight loss and money saving.
Two of the oft-stated benefits of going dry are losing weight and saving money. It’s true that I felt generally ‘cleaner’ internally, and lost a few inches off of my waist – but I attribute this more to the fact that we’ve been going to the gym three times a week, rather than just not consuming alcohol. Infact, I’ve probably eaten more rubbish this month than usual, as I replaced one vice with another. That ties back into the caffeine actually, with Grace remarking: ‘Those energy drinks are probably worse for you than booze’. I’ve no doubt that you’d lose weight if you cut out alcohol completely and kept your diet the same, but you’d need to do it for a lot longer than 4 weeks.
Money wise, the claim that you’ll ‘save’ cash is a bit of a dubious one. In reality, you just have more money to spend on other things. I don’t actually think buying alcohol is a ‘waste’, and I’m well aware of the purchasing tradeoff I make when I do, so whilst it was nice to have money to allocate to different things, it’s something I take into account when budgeting anyway, so seems a bit redundant. In all honesty, I probably spent way more money this month than any other month, as I thought: “Oh well, I can afford this because I’m not drinking”, when in reality I hadn’t actually ‘saved’ that much.
5. Social situations are different.
Unsurprisingly, the most notable difference was with social situations. At first, it was tough to think of things to do that don’t involve drinking, and also much harder to suggest hanging out without the usual, and universally understood ‘fancy grabbing a drink?’ invitation. It felt like you had to explain to everybody that you weren’t drinking at the outset, which was a bit strange. Generally though, not drinking as part of Dry January made things easier, as people understand the concept without much explanation. I can’t say it would have been quite the same if I’d been doing this off my own back in October, for example.
In general though, you just feel boring. As Frank Skinner put it recently, people might respond by saying:
“Hey, at least you can remember what you did last night!”
Even when you are doing things, it can be tough. It’s no surprise that being around drunk people isn’t great fun if you’re sober, but it’s another thing entirely to actually experience that – particularly if you haven’t in a long time. We don’t have a car anymore, so I literally can’t remember the last time (January aside) where I’ve been completely sober around drunk people. I’ve been with plenty of people who are far more gone to the wind than I am, but I’ve always still been at least a little bit pished.
Being with people who are properly drinking is a strange, alienating experience. Drinking is so engrained in our culture that you never question it, and it’s easy to forget how bizarre a ritual it actually is. At first it just seems a bit strange how people are fixated on consuming so much liquid whilst you are trying to stomach your second can of ginger beer. After that, even if there are no outwardly obvious physical indicators that someone is pished, they seem to go into a world of their own, a million miles away. The conversations that they are so deeply invested in don’t mean all that much to you when sober, and it’s hard to break in or share their enthusiasm. Drinking and talking til the wee hours with a group of friends always has a warm, fuzzy ambient feeling, and it was a bit of a shock to do the same thing and feel how cold, or… normal the flat felt without alcohol. That might seem obvious, but it was a much more tangible sensation (or lack of) than I had expected without the shared bond created by alcohol.
At its best, you like seeing people enjoying themselves, even if you do feel a bit left out. At its worst, you end up in circular arguments with people that can’t remember what was said two sentences ago. There is no way to reason with people when they are drunk, and it’s hard not to get impatient when you have explained something multiple times, and then feel like a dickhead as they get angry at you. There’s no way to win, and it’s easy to see how stupid fights can happen when people are drunk.
In general, social interaction can be exhausting when sober, and people’s sense of time whilst intoxicated is different. When you’re pished you have a single-minded desire to stay up, drink more, and sustain the good feeling that you have. You forget that people around you who are sober don’t have the same super-human drive that you’ve been gifted by the alcohol, and so if they aren’t as chatty or get tired and want to head home – that’s perfectly natural. They simply haven’t got the same amount of energy to engage at the same level socially, because they haven’t taken the same drug that you have.
If you aren’t going to drink for a longer period than just a month, it’s easy to see how you could build up a resentment towards alcohol, and the people who choose to drink. It seems (from the outside in), like an exclusive, selfish club, where people become pushy and obstinate… and bear in mind that I say this as a big drinker myself.
If you get annoyed or introverted then it is often remarked that somehow it’s your fault for choosing not to drink. I heard the line ‘You could have drank tonight and you didn’t’ more than once. The suggestion is that sober people are just bitter because they’re not drinking, rather than just being tired and irritated by the illogical behaviour of drunk people. The idea that the only way to not feel like that is to join them is a pretty sad one, and led to some uncomfortable thoughts about why and how we need alcohol to spent quality time together.
What it comes down to is this: we don’t need booze to spend time with our friends or family, and can have great times when sober… but alcohol is a social lubricant that makes everything flow so much easier between those sharing the experience – particularly in a generally introverted culture like Scotland. The problem comes when there are people in a group that aren’t on the same level.
I love booze. It tastes great, makes you feel great, and helps act as a release for the jumble of thoughts and feelings that get stuck in your head with no other outlet. It was interesting to see it from the other side of the looking glass for once. Not drinking whilst others around got pished made me realise just how much of a drug alcohol is, and the inability of those who are drinking to see past their perspective whilst engaged in it. That’s something that we tend to forget given its normalcy.
Tomorrow I’ll head out at 3pm for a full day of drinking, which is probably a bad idea, but has to be done. I did joke that I’ll need to drink all of the alcohol that I didn’t drink in January in February. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel afterwards (although I already have the hangover fear), and I hope that I can retain some of the sense of perspective that the past 4 weeks has given. I think the first step is to realise and accept that if you’re drinking, you’re fairly likely being a dick, and need to wind your neck in. Whether that’s possible after a bottle of Jack Daniel’s or not, I’m not sure. We’ll see.
All in all, Dry January was an interesting experiment, but I won’t be rushing back to do it again.