Just eight days of not drinking reset my life and thinking
I WAS GOING TO WRITE about having a month off alcohol but, in the end, I only managed eight days.
Eight days! Most of us have had longer holidays than that, so it wasn’t exactly a life-altering change, was it?
Perhaps I’ll call it a holiday from drinking, instead? A sobriety mini-break?
Certainly, eight days doesn’t seem very impressive when I recall just how excited I was at going a month without The Demon Drink – and all the things I was going to accomplish in that time.
Most of all, I was desperate to break out of my latest ‘Hate Myself’ phase, and kept thinking of an article I’d read by the journalist William Leith that lovingly set out all the mental and physical benefits of giving up booze.
“Sobriety is awesome.” Leith wrote. “I slept better. I lost weight. My skin became clearer. I definitely felt fitter. My concentration improved… My mind was sharper. I felt lighter, happier.”
And I wanted all that – especially the skin, weight, fitter and happier bits.
If I lost weight, I’d be able to run properly again, I told myself. And if I ran properly, I’d feel happier, and so it would go on, in a never-ending virtuous circle (or something like that).
I wanted to escape from the passivity of lockdown”
I also wanted to escape from the passivity that lockdown had engendered in my life. For weeks, I’d been uncharacteristically inactive, not wanting to exercise as normal but preferring just to stay in and consume stuff – books, food, drink.
The novelist JG Ballard once wrote about needing a morning whisky to create the right sort of ecosystem in his brain for writing. Similarly, I felt I needed a beer to create a landmark in the lockdown day – an interesting, mind-altering bump in an otherwise featureless plain.
Maybe when we physically can’t go to as many places as we’d like to – or feel inhibited about travelling – we need to manufacture a different sort of variety for ourselves, another mental topography?
Anyway, I was done with all of that. When I gave up drinking for a year once, I leaned heavily on non-alcoholic beers to begin with, and so I stocked up again on the Heineken 0.0s.
For the crucial first few days, these ersatz lagers allowed me to retain important parts of my drinking habit – the ritual of bottle opening, the pour and the lovely sight of amber in the glass – without the actual alcohol.
Even better, they were about half the calories of a ‘real’ beer and about two-thirds of the cost – and didn’t taste bad at all.
And then I was on the other side, living the sober life”
For about three days, I felt quite ‘de-toxy’ – I was tired but struggling to sleep, and had headaches. But I remembered the wise words of former rugby player Brian Moore, who always experienced three days of ‘discomfort’ when going teetotal before big tournaments.
And then I was on the other side of it, living the sober life just as Leith had described it!
I went running, I felt virtuous and lighter and stopped hating myself. My skin improved and I got more work done, including an unusually elated piece about my love of the Spring, all while under the influence of sobriety.
But as a second weekend approached, I started to fancy a proper beer. I negotiated Friday with the help of my 0.0s, but then my wife suggested we have a drink on our deck after finishing at the allotment the following day.
I knew immediately that I wouldn’t resist – and, anyway, why would I? I worked hard to build that deck last summer, precisely so we could sit together at the end of a long, hot day and look at the views of The City of London while sipping on a cold one.
I’m not the hopeless soak I feared I was becoming”
The sun had been shining all day and I was in celebratory mood after making some fiddly improvements to the plot. The all-day buzz of strimmers had ceased at last and in their place was perfect peace and calm. So why not? Sometimes life is for living, after all.
But that’s not to say I’ve taken nothing from my Mini-Break. At the very least, I’ve discovered that I really can stop drinking when I want to, and that I’m not the hopeless, passive soak I feared I was becoming.
I’ve also started setting sensible rules about drinking again – Friday and Saturday only is the aspiration – and I’m newly confident that I can keep to them. But I don’t think I’ll ever be a teetotaller, because it’s just not me.
I guess, too, that there be more times when I hate myself for drinking too much… but I also know I can always book an awesome Mini-Break.