It's the beginning of February which means those who forced themselves to do Dry January, and wanted to prove to their loved ones they could, can breathe a sigh of relief. I've tried Dry Jan a few times before but I've always given up about a week or two into the challenge. This year I decided I was going to take a solid 31 day break from drinking alcohol, no matter what popped up in the social calendar.
Growing up in the pub industry, it's probably not surprising to hear that alcohol has been part of my life from the moment I was born. Not in a consumption sense, obviously. Mum and Dad weren't filling up my sippy cup with a lager shandy or giving me a little whiskey night cap. But living above two pubs in the early years of my life meant that I grew up around alcohol. I didn't find this particularly harmful or damaging. If anything, seeing people strive to get completely legless put me off wanting to get in a similar state.
Like most, I'm a social drinker. That's why I've never thought that I needed a break from alcohol. I didn't think I consumed it enough to really feel the benefits. But being the curious person I am, I thought there has to be something in this Dry January malarkey for people to do it every year. That's when I decided to give it a crack - properly this time.
Now that I managed to do 31 days of sober living, I wanted to share with you what I learned...
1. Why I actually drink
I've never really taken the chance to think about why I drink. Alcohol was normalised for me from quite a young age, like most people. From the age of 14 to 17, my mates and I spent more weekends than I care to remember 'camping out' which always resulted in me asking my dad to pick me up in the early hours of the morning on his way home from work. We spend most of the night trying to drink as much as we could to pluck up the courage and the confidence to tell the guy we fancied that we liked them.
I drank because all my mates did. I drank to give myself the confidence most of us lack when we are teenagers. I drank to 'make memories' with friends so we could say, 'do you remembert that time we did x y and z when we were wasted? Lololol'. The thing is, those reasons haven't hugely changed now I'm an adult, and I know I'm not alone when I say that.
The last 31 days have given me the time to think about why I drink alcohol. One thing I've realised is that I sometimes reach for an alcoholic drink when I have to go to an event I don't really want to go to. I also realised I drink in situations where I feel awkward or worry that I will feel left out when I'm surrounded by a load of drunk people. But, on a more positive note, I also drink because I like the taste of good alcohol (shout out to Vault City for doing some of the best sours on earth).
Dry January has proven to me that socialising without alcohol is very much an option - and an enjoyable one at that - even if my tolerance for drunk people drops dramatically.
2. I'm more productive without a hangover
Who knew the day after a night out could be spent doing something other than flailing around in bed praying to God that if he cures you, you'll never let an alcoholic drink pass your lips again and you'll start drinking three litres of water a day and eating only Kale salads from now on.
I always thought a hangover day was like a protected 'rest day'. But now I realise that there isn't anything restful about it at all. Usually I spend most of my hangover mornings telling myself not to be sick because of the debilitating headache I have. I then spend the rest of the day trying to figure out how many stupid things I said or did the night before. Yeh, you can shove a Disney movie on in the background while all of this is going on but it's not my idea of a spa day, let's put it that way.
Being able to make the most of the weekends has not only set me up for a better start to the year, but I feel more fulfilled as a result. Being productive is something that brings me joy, so it's certainly going to influence my drinking habits in the future.
3. How to be more 'sober-inclusive'
I like to think I haven't been too bad in this department to date anyway, just because I have friends who are sober and friends who have gone sober for a short period. But I think when you decide to go sober yourself, no matter how long it is, you get an idea of how easy or hard it is to socialise and still feel included.
It turns out that I am pretty lucky when it comes to the people I socialise with. No one batted an eyelid when I said I wasn't drinking. If anything, it encouraged other people to consider alochol free options too. But I think doing Dry January made me realise that presuming someone drinks shouldn't be the default. That's certainly something I'll bear in mind going forward.
4. A life without beer fear exists!
As someone with a long history of anxiety, it's unsurprising that beer fear haunts me, just like Andrew Tate getting caught by Romanian police because of Greta Thunberg will (hopefully) haunt him, too. Hangxiety, as some call it, is like my normal anxiety on steriods. Combined with a lack of sleep from a night out, it's a recipe for disaster the next day.
To wake up and know exactly what I said and did last night eliminates any anxiety I sometimes experience the next day. There is no need for me to overanalyse ever interaction I had with people. Instead, I can think to myself 'that was a nice night' and move on. So much simpler!
5. A night out where you don't drink is so much cheaper!
This one feels quite obvious but going on a night out and not blowing at least £60 on drinks is a possibility. Oh how I miss students prices (maybe not the venues, the sticky dancefloors, the gag inducing stench of sambuca or the watered down beverages they serve, but the prices were appealing!)
We are all feeling the pinch because of the cost-of-living crisis - well, not Rishi and all his rich mates of course - so maybe alcohol free nights are a way for us to socialise without having to break the bank. It's certainly something I'll consider in the future so my bank doesn't suffer at the hands of my sometimes hectic social calendar.
So now what...
You're probably expecting me to say that I vow never to touch alcohol again. Sadly, I'm not going to say that, mainly because I don't believe in being fake and just telling people what they want to hear. What I will tell you is that this experience has made me think about when and how often I drink. I also like the idea of doing periods without alcohol, like Dry Jan, more than once a year.
So although not announcing myself as someone who is now alcohol free might be disappointing for sober communities, surely less alcohol overall is a step in the right direction? I think so anyway.