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.

 

Too much of a good thing

Can you have too much of a good thing? Of course you can and I think we may have found our limit. All of a sudden we are both a bit tired and weary. A bit worn down and ready for a proper break from touring. I struggled with this idea for a while. After all, I have been singing the praises of this nomadic lifestyle to anybody that was prepared to listen or take the time to read this blog for a long time now. I know some people don’t quite get the cycling or the camping but just about everybody can relate to not working for six months and doing as you please. We have also been having a generally fabulous time exploring this sometimes ugly, sometimes pretty and sometimes simply awesome country of ours so to find myself wanting a break was a bit confusing.

Ugly nuclear power stations like Dungeness

Ugly nuclear power stations like Dungeness

It’s natural to want a break when it’s cold and raining or you can’t find anywhere to camp or the chain has come off right at the bottom of a massive hill. Those brief occasions when you just want to throw in the towel, jump on a train and go back to normality were always to be expected. We knew from previous touring experience that they would come and we were ready for them. This is different. This is a creeping, growing sensation that has been building up in both of us over the last week or so. It may have been exacerbated by the exceptionally hot weather we have had but I suspect it would have descended on us at some point whatever the weather. I’m trying to work out why doing something that we really enjoy for weeks on end should stop being fun and I think it just might be a case of too much of a good thing.
All things in moderation, my Mum used to say and I suppose that applies to not working and enjoying yourself too.

The prettiest of chocolate box cottages

The prettiest of chocolate box cottages

One of the joys of cycle touring is the constant stimulation of new places and people. There are some elements of routine such as making camp or loading up the bikes in the morning but apart from that just about everything we do is new each day. We rarely know where we will be sleeping each night or what we will come across during the day. Even the terrain is a constant surprise whether it’s the gradients we may or may not have to tackle or the state of the roads or cycle paths that make for easy or difficult progress. Little, if anything, is predictable and therein lies the conundrum. Variety and unpredictability is the essence of what makes touring so satisfying but it is also at the root of what has brought us to this point of fatigue. It’s not knowing what is coming next all the time that can actually be quite wearing. We generally build the patterns of our lives around a balance of known routines interspersed with short periods of variation and new experiences. The whole weekday/weekend concept revolves around this idea and is thoroughly ingrained in our psyche. Monday to Friday the majority of people know what they will be doing then come the weekend they introduce elements of change and excitement in stark contrast to the working week. We have effectively been living one long weekend for over three months and now we need a few days, or better still, a week of stability. Bodies and minds are crying STOP!

Awesome coastal scenery

Awesome coastal scenery

As it happens it looks as if we will be able to take the break we need thanks to great friends and family who will give us the chance to put down some temporary roots and enable us to escape the endless change that the last three months have consisted of. Hopefully it will  give us back the appetite we started out with. The appetite for the daily menu of the new and the different that Devon, Cornwall, Wales and finally the last piece of the jig saw around Mereyside and Lancashire will provide us with.

It’s a fascinating situation to be in. To be given the biggest, nicest box of chocolates in the world and to find a way to eat them without making yourself sick.

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