Four weeks of #Dryjanuary

Final thoughts after four weeks of #Dryjanuary

Wine carrier

Wine carrier

Nearly there now, only three days to go from tomorrow so it’s probably a good time to look back and try to understand what I have got out of a month without alcohol.

Amongst participants of #Dryjanuary there has been an outpouring on social media along the lines of “never felt better” and “full of energy” etc. etc. Personally, I have enjoyed the uninterrupted sleep each night, the fact that I have read a lot more (and remembered it in the morning) and of course, the financial benefits but that’s about it really. I think my concentration might be better but then again I may just be kidding myself on this one. Medical science assures me that there are all kinds of health benefits to be found in the abstainers they have tested and I have to go along with that and assume I am healthier myself. What really interests me though is not about health. It’s about whether or not a month of drinking excessive amounts of tea, milk and tonic water has brought me any closer to understanding why I drink alcohol as often as I do.

It may be that if I never drank again, or if I abstained for maybe a year, things might change but the overwhelming sensation I have looking back at the last four weeks is one of boredom. Well, not so much boredom as just sameness. There is a similarity about every day, every evening, every week and every weekend. I understand that this is my fault. I know I could go country dancing on a Monday and take up train spotting at the weekends to introduce variety and reduce the monotony. But I’m interested in how going without wine and beer affects me without substituting dodgy hobbies in their place. This is the conclusion I have come to.

I drink, a lot of the time, because alcohol is a simple, readily available instant solution to the need for differential. A glass or two of wine with a meal transforms the meal and makes it special. Makes it stand out from other routine meals. An evening with friends in the pub is very different when accompanied by beer than when not. It’s the drink that makes the experience different and it’s the difference that matters to me. I am a great believer that variety is the spice of life and putting three bottles of wine and half a dozen bottles of different ales in the supermarket trolley is like picking up pre-packaged, fun and entertainment. It’s the easily added spice for the often bland recipe of life.

Before anyone takes the opportunity to shoot me down by pointing out that there are a million other ways of adding variety to life other than drinking, I know. I realise that. That’s my point. It’s just so easy to pop that cork and take the easy option. For instant and easy variety just add alcohol. This would be fine if livers came with a spare like kidneys do. The irony is that the variety that drink can add to life very quickly becomes a habit and once it’s a habit there is no variety any longer.

What has really surprised me this month is that without intending to, I have found myself adding substitutes for drinking anyway. I have read more, written more and walked more than I would do during a normal month. I have also finally got round to doing something scary and challenging that I have been avoiding for a long time. That’s a subject for another blog though. The last four weeks have made me realise how convenient a drink can be as a substitute for something more interesting and often more rewarding. That understanding is what I have really got out of this month. The challenge now is not to slip back into the old habit of always taking the easy option when the evening comes, or the weekend. There’s that habit word again. Isn’t that what #Dryjanuary is really about? About breaking habits and seeing alcohol from a fresh perspective. Seeing it as something that enhances but in the way that an exotic spice does rather than everyday salt and pepper. Something to be cherished simply because it isn’t the norm. There is no doubt that alcohol had become a habit for me. I drank because it was nine in the evening, or Friday night, or Sunday dinner time, rather than because the occasion might be enhanced by a drink or two. It’s the reason for having a drink that I most want to change as a result of doing #Dryjanuary. I want that variety back.

I will come back and read this again at the end of February, and March, and April. Let’s see how hard old habits really die.

 

Addict or habit: #Dryjanuary

#Dryjanuary

There is surprisingly little difference between habit and addict according to the dictionary definitions. They both involve repetitive behavior and they can both be hard to break. Addict tends only to be used in connection with substances that are regarded by society as harmful. Hard drugs, alcohol, sugar etc. Habits on the other hand can be as innocent as reading on the toilet or always watching the news at 6pm. So, addict bad, habit not so bad in short. I think this partly explains why I have always been worried that I might be addicted to alcohol rather than being an habitual drinker. Not the same at all is it? Also, addicts really only have two options; drink yourself to death or never drink again. Maybe a bit simplistic I know but I have known quite a few people who have been addicted to drink and they are all either dead or permanently dry so the evidence suggests to me that maybe it is quite simple. That is why I have always been terrified of the idea of being an addict. Being an addict surely means choosing between total abstinence or a battle that never ends, a living hell.

I have always told myself that my drinking was a habit and not an addiction but that hasn’t meant that there hasn’t been an element of doubt in my mind. What if I’m wrong? What if it turns out that I am addicted and it’s only a matter of time before I lose control and am forced to succumb to a slow and miserable alcohol related death or give up drink completely for the rest of my days. I’ve never sought out a cork screw or a bottle opener before the kettle in the morning but who says that will always be the case. It’s easy to see why having a habit is more appealing than being an addict.

Today is day eleven of the thirty one day Dry January challenge so I am approximately a third of the way through the experiment. I don’t want to tempt fate at this juncture but I am quietly confident that what I have uncovered is a habit rather than an addiction. I am starting to get some distance and perspective on my old habits and to understand why I drink more than I possibly should do. It turns out to be largely down to boredom. I haven’t really craved a drink at all over the past week and a half but I have realised that half the time when I open a bottle of wine or beer it’s because it’s easier than finding something more interesting to do. Alcohol seems to possess the amazing ability to turn the prospect of an evening of mediocre television into a perfectly acceptable way of relaxing for example. Which is fine now and again, just maybe not five or six nights a week. That’s where the habit comes in. It’s just so easy to slip into habitual behavior and that’s what dry January has revealed to me. It’s made me realise that alcohol is great as an accompaniment to a roast beef dinner or a social night in the pub but when you use it to turn something rubbish into something acceptable it’s a bad habit that is in danger of one day becoming an addiction. If ever there was an argument for keeping life interesting this may be one of the best.

If you have five minutes to spare listen to this TED talk on 30 day challenges, it’s interesting.

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