When drinking wine is like eating chocolate biscuits

On Friday I had to interview some people who’d taken part in Dry January. Truth be told, the feature was kind of my idea, but I wasn’t expecting to actually have to do it myself. I wasn’t in the mood for talking to people who were about to celebrate their sober success by getting pissed. So when it was assigned to me, I did what I do best and put it off for as long as possible.

I’ve written before about how weird I think the concept of Dry January is. All other public health campaigns encourage people to make a permanent change to their lives. Stoptober is all about stopping smoking, permanently. Change 4 Life encourages healthy eating, forever. But Dry January? It seems to imply that a month of saintly living is enough to counteract 11 months of boozing it up.

Anyway. On Friday afternoon – after taking a long lunch break, sorting through all my emails and making several cups of tea – I finally got round to picking up the phone. Despite my reluctance, chatting to the Dry January-ers was actually quite interesting.

For starters, their enthusiasm was infectious. They’d all lost weight, saved money and slept better. They’d got lots more done on Sundays. They’d realised that it was possible to socialise without drinking. They’d started to think about how much of their drinking was done out of sheer habit. It was all I could do not to chime in with “Well, wait till you get to 10 months, then you really will feel amazing!” But as I was in the office, surrounded by colleagues who still seem to be largely oblivious to my sobriety, I kept my mouth shut.

I was speaking to one lovely lady, Helen, when something clicked for me. I was listening to her talking about her love of white wine when I realised that her relationship with alcohol was about the same as the one I have with chocolate biscuits.

Helen likes a glass of wine when she gets home from work. It makes her feel better. At first she found not drinking hard, because it had become part of her routine. I love chocolate digestives with a cup of tea in the afternoon. But if I’m on a diet (hello January) I’ll try to cut them out altogether. I found that hard to start with, but got into the swing of things after a while. If Helen has a bad day at work, she might have two glasses of wine to cheer herself up. But she’d never drink enough to get a hangover or be incapable of looking after her children. If I’m having a bad afternoon I might have four biscuits instead of two. But as much as I love them, I’m never going to eat the whole packet because I know that would make me feel ill. And eating biscuits doesn’t actually solve anything.

Crucially, I could see that Helen felt her drinking had become a bad habit, one that she was keen to get on top of. But she wasn’t obsessed by alcohol and it didn’t control her.

My relationship with alcohol was very different. Once I had started drinking I could not control my intake. It didn’t matter what I had to do the next day. Once I’d started, I didn’t really care about the consequences. But no matter how much I drank, I never felt truly satisfied or content. Left to my own devices I would drink until I passed out. After a big binge I’d be ‘good’ for a while, but even then, alcohol would still be playing some tune in the background.

I’ve never had that problem with chocolate biscuits.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a rambling, long-winded kind of way, is that perhaps Dry January is a good thing for people who aren’t problem drinkers, but who have just got into the habit of drinking too much. People who drink wine like I eat chocolate biscuits. I still think some people might misuse it and see it as a wipe-the-slate-clean, magical detox. But there are some good points. And ultimately, anything that promotes sobriety in some shape or another has got to be a good thing, right?

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40 thoughts on “When drinking wine is like eating chocolate biscuits

  1. Teetotal February 2, 2014 at 5:51 pm Reply

    I think Dry January is a good idea. I was so surrounded by drink culture that I didn’t realise that you didn’t have to drink. So when I first came across people taking January off, it was a bit of a revelation. I did it for a couple of years and really enjoyed the challenge and feeling healthier. Then one year I just carried on and haven’t looked back since.

    I’d agree too that it’s good for people who don’t think of themselves as problem drinkers. If they’re not problem drinkers they should find it easy, right? They can use it to check out who’s in charge.

    • soberjournalist February 3, 2014 at 6:24 pm Reply

      Absolutely. If you can’t manage a whole month it can be a bit of a wake up call.

  2. Drunky Drunk Girl February 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm Reply

    I think it’s a great distinction for you to see–so, you learned something. I’ve often thought about some people’s (aka, my boyfriend, for instance) obsession with food. Like, I eat when I’m hungry, and at one point, I did have an unhealthy binge eating when I was stressed habit…but I don’t look forward to food all day, I don’t plan my meals (can’t be bothered) a week in advance, I don’t “look forward” to eating the way some people do. I just eat, and then it’s done…until I get hungry again. Sure, I enjoy it, but it’s nothing more. Seems like some people–hard for me to even imagine–use wine to “fix” things, but nothing more. It’s a habit, but nothing more. ARG. 😉

    • soberjournalist February 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm Reply

      I know what you mean – I find it hard to believe that wine doesn’t have more of a hold over some people, but for some reason it just doesn’t!

  3. FitFatFood February 2, 2014 at 6:57 pm Reply

    I get quite jealous when I read about those people who take a look at their habits rather than having to battle a compulsion. But we were made thus and have to deal with it!

  4. Chris H February 2, 2014 at 7:39 pm Reply

    I do think it is a good idea. The Alcohol Concern campaign is certainly trying to get people to drink less rather that to return to heavy consumption or binging.

    • Chris H February 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm Reply

      but obviously there is a line between addressing a bad habit and an addiction, as you point out. At the moment I am trying to work out which one I have.

  5. Anonymous February 2, 2014 at 8:53 pm Reply

    The fact that dry january and stay sober for october are such big deals shows how far alcohol has infiltrated into everyday life. A break is good regardless. If I got to a month and recognised the positives I wouldn’t re start but then again if I ever could enjoy 1 glass of wine a fortnight in a take it or leave it manner I would continue to do that:whats the harm?

  6. rachel February 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm Reply

    sorry, didn’t mean to be anonymous, just didn’t fill in the details!

  7. Mrs D February 2, 2014 at 10:26 pm Reply

    I didn’t like Dry January (or Feb Fast which is what we do Down Under.. then there’s also Dry July as well.. it gets confusing..) anyway I didn’t like those ‘things’ because I thought they promoted white knuckling and were just a chance for celebrities to look like saints for giving up for a measly 30 days… ok I was very judgmental about the whole thing.. then I heard from a few people who’d had family members reassess their drinking after doing these periods of abstinence.. and saw how it could have really positive benefits.. and really how could I judge anything that raises the question of and increases discussion of our drinking habits. Great post. Unfortunately I’m a bit the same with chocolate biscuits as I am with alcohol.. once I start I find it very hard to stop. So I try never to touch sugar now if I can help it. My moderation button was obviously broken at birth. This is a very long comment – GOODBYE!!! xxx

  8. sobermalarky February 2, 2014 at 11:56 pm Reply

    I do see that for people who are in a lazy habit rather than a compulsion (good differentiation FFF) it could have some small benefit but I don’t think it’s promoting sobriety. Sobriety is a daily commitment to a fundamental change of perspective. Dry January is just that: dry. A temporary break from a symptom, with no requirement to put in any real work. No real work: no real results (just my opinion, of course). I think trying and failing, or succeeding and then going back to drinking is at best procrastination which will lengthen the waste of time that is excessive drinking. It could, at worst, prompt nastier and deeper bottoms for people who think they can solve with quick fixes what actually has to be your life’s mission to sort out.

  9. sobermalarky February 2, 2014 at 11:58 pm Reply

    Apologies for the dour tone. I am really pissed off about Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    • soberjournalist February 3, 2014 at 6:33 pm Reply

      Me too. What a shock. And a timely reminder for the rest of us.

  10. Pete February 3, 2014 at 6:28 am Reply

    Hi, I just like to say that I can relate to alot of what you write about, I too seem to have similar issues as you do with alcohol, and I too have not had a drink for 10 months, so thank you.

    • soberjournalist February 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm Reply

      Congratulations! That’s great. Well done on the 10 months. We are the best!

  11. Lee Davy February 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm Reply

    If there is anything guaranteed to end with my head going through a wall it’s these types of comments that my friends leave on their Facebook wall after a month of sobriety.

    “Day 31 of my detox is complete. Can’t wait to get wrecked on Saturday night. Can’t wait for the golden nectar.”

    The attitude people have towards these things are enough to make me cry. They reel off all the obvious health benefits that they endured during the month, but then talk about all the wonderful things that they missed. During which time I am staring at them thinking (and so far you haven’t really mentioned anything worth missing).

    But…

    I would rather a world with Dry January than not.

    All we can do is to continue to be a great role model and over time people will see that life can still function without alcohol.

    It reminds me of a Liver Cleanse Diet I did over a year ago now. I learned how incredibly important the liver was and how I had been abusing it with my choices of food. So I did an 8-week LCD and over one year later I am a vegetarian and my food choices are drastically different than back then.

    I effectively, live a LCD life.

    This is what happens when you quit drinking. Personal continuous improvement at it’s best. It will come to alcohol one day, but in the meantime it’s up to you and I to slap a smile on our face and say well done when hey are about to dive into their first bottle of wine in 31-days.

    Lee Davy

    • soberjournalist February 3, 2014 at 6:36 pm Reply

      I couldn’t agree with you more! There is nothing more annoying than a judgemental teetotaller, so I try not to say anything! By the way I’ve never heard of the liver cleanse diet, it sounds really interesting. I’m going to check that out.

  12. lucy2610 February 3, 2014 at 10:57 pm Reply

    I think it is a good idea because something is better than nothing and at least it gets people to think about the fact that taking a break is good for your liver.

  13. themiracleisaroundthecorner February 4, 2014 at 8:28 pm Reply

    This has been a fascinating read, start to finish! Either I live under a rock (or a snow pile, given our current weather), or we do not celebrate “Dry January” in my part of the world (Northeastern US). Either way… such an interesting discussion!

    I love how you related your chocolate biscuits to Helen’s white wine. Substitute soft pretzels for chocolate biscuits, and you have me to a T! I can see the similarities of the two cravings, but, just as important, I see the distinctions. And I agree with FFF: it’s the compulsive side of the addiction that is critical. I have compulsive tendencies with soft pretzels, but not the progressive degenerative COMPULSION like I did with alcohol.

    I guess I’m going with the majority here: if Dry January helps people to see there is a life possible without alcohol, then it’s an ultimate win.

    Thanks so much for sharing this story!

  14. Q February 5, 2014 at 5:35 pm Reply

    I think what’s worrying is that many people may not appreciate how damaging to their health their drinking could be. If you are a woman drinking, say, just a glass of wine an evening, for example, how large is your wine glass? If it is a large glass, that’s not one unit but three.

    3 X 5 = 15, which already places you over the weekly limit. Then lets say a couple on Saturday and Sunday = 12. That’s 27 units a week, well over the recommended limits, and these aren’t “safe” limits – any amount of alcohol statistically increases your risk of breast cancer for example, and if you are basically drinking twice the recommended maximum for women every week that’s not a risk to be sniffed at.

    The government set the limits because they acknowledged people would drink, but the “limits” are actually plucked out of the air – from a place where statistically you are at a “low” risk of developing illness. The more you drink the more your risk increases.

    This means that a lot of people may not be classically “dependent” on alcohol, allowing it to get out of control, or even think they have any kind of problem, but they are taking risks with their health they may not even be aware of.

  15. Cat February 6, 2014 at 7:51 am Reply

    This is interesting – I hadn’t heard of Dry January before. I, like you, have embarked on my journey to sobriety as someone who is helpless over alcohol (vs. “normal” drinkers, as they call them in my A.A. meetings). I’m glad I found your blog (I googled sobriety blogs and yours was at the top) because I’m blogging about my journey as well, and while I have support in the real world, I thought it would be nice to have support in the blog world as well. I’m excited to read more.

  16. […] The Sober Journalist […]

  17. Mel February 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm Reply

    I love your blog! I recently stopped drinking. On day 7 and its very inspiring and I can relate a ton. I’m going through the not really ready to tell anyone stage and I also did most of my drinking alone so people don’t know the extent of the situation. Waking up hangover free and really having it in my mind that I’m not going to drink anymore is a great feeling. I watched a documentary about food addiction but something really stuck with me I related with alcohol that changed my mindset. They stated “Instead of thinking I want that and can’t have it, think I can have it but don’t want it” Just made me feel a little stronger when it comes to wanting a drink.

    • soberjournalist February 9, 2014 at 6:04 pm Reply

      I wouldn’t worry too much about telling people at this stage, I think it’ll sort itself out in time. Having said that, it is great to have someone in your life who knows exactly what’s going on, so if you can bring yourself to tell someone it might help. Well done on getting through the first week – I reckon it’s the hardest – you sound like you’re in a great frame of mind for this. Good luck!

  18. nowetworriesnowetworries February 10, 2014 at 12:05 pm Reply

    Hi Kate. Have spoken to you previously, and am wanting to speak again. You set the wheels in motion for me in the first place. Great Blog, as ever. Wonder if you’d be kind enough to check out mine. Again.

    Best wishes
    Will

    • soberjournalist February 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm Reply

      Great to hear from you again. Hope all is well?

      • nowetworriesnowetworries February 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm

        All is as well is it could be. I missed this. For the crack, laughs, support, understanding, all that goes with it. Thanks for the follow.

  19. Lisa Neumann February 11, 2014 at 4:41 am Reply

    Forgive my lateness on this post comment. I’m so far behind,… I’m just starting at the end. I really enjoyed your perspective here. I remember hearing, “It’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year’s that makes you gain weight. It’s what you eat between New Year’s and Christmas that’s the problem.”

    You are reminding me that it’s the daily discipline of life that keeps my life manageable. And, there is something to learn from everyone drinking to make a change for the better.
    Lisa

  20. Dan February 12, 2014 at 9:00 am Reply

    Interesting analogy, you never know what combination of words will inspire people. 🙂

  21. Anonymous February 12, 2014 at 9:54 pm Reply

    HI – just a quick note to say how inspired I have been by your blog. So much so that I have decided to do likewise and take the plunge! My blog can be found here:

    http://mydrinkingdiary.blogspot.co.uk/

    Wish me luck…and best wishes to you and all your contributors too!

  22. Anonymous February 13, 2014 at 1:04 am Reply

    Just wanted to say that I’m 16 days sober and your blog helped me a ton. When I sat in my living room, realizing I had to go to an AA meeting the next day, I google searched around first. Since that first day, my entire life has changed for the better. Thank you for writing about your experience and helping other people like me.

    • soberjournalist February 17, 2014 at 11:05 pm Reply

      Thank you and I’m so pleased to hear it’s all working out ok for you. Congratulations on the past two (now nearly 3?) weeks. They really are the hardest. It will get easier!

  23. DM February 20, 2014 at 1:24 am Reply

    Thank You So much for recording your experience. I can relate to SO much in your posts. I have been struggling to quit for a very long time (years). I am now on Day 5 and I hope that this time it is for good.

  24. KJM February 23, 2014 at 6:00 pm Reply

    I first come across your blog on January 16th….four days before I was flying to a treatment Center for the first time for my own alcoholism. I read every post. Your honest writing about your own journey showed me that I was not alone…sobriety is atainable, and that was a huge help. Thank you. Day 40 and counting.

    • soberjournalist February 23, 2014 at 6:52 pm Reply

      Wow! It’s so nice to hear this. I’m glad the blog was some help. Huge, huge congratulations on reaching Day 40, and for seeking out the help you needed. I hope you are celebrating with cake and other suitable rewards! K

      • anon February 27, 2014 at 8:09 pm

        I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and others experiences. I’m now 2 years and 3 months sober. If anybody had told me it would get easier i would never have believed them! Anybody still struggling out there, stick at it, whatever works for you. Its been life changing for me.

  25. MissRachelle March 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm Reply

    I’ve been reading your blog for about 3 months now. It inspires me in a number of ways. Honesty is rare. Eloquence, even less. Let me say first off that I do drink, not very often. Sometimes I do, and other times I don’t want to -I’m going running the next day, I don’t feel like it, I’m already in a great party mood etc. I’ve done dry Jan a few times, mostly because I quite like not having to explain my choice of not drinking to people. It’s a month long free pass. Like Lent (I’m not religious either) where you say the magic word and people stop questioning you. “Oh you gave up for Lent? I get it.” SIMPLE.
    This is where I tip my hat and give you all a deep bow of respect… Explaining not drinking is a tedious affair. I’m not dower or dull or conservative, so the bafflement of refusing a drink seems to take longer to shake. People need to talk about why I choose to be different- more often checking that I’m not being quitely sober as some kind of weird holier than thou judgement. I think I’ve got the hang of it now… but to those of you who stay true to your soberity path while the drinkers question it at nearly every event- I salute you! And if I meet you at a party, and notice you’re drink free, the soda is on me… no questions asked 🙂

    • soberjournalist March 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm Reply

      Oh I so agree you – explaining that you’re not drinking is tedious. And ridiculous really, because people would never demand to know why you don’t smoke or take heroin. On the plus side – it’s the first day of Lent today! 😉

  26. I just want to eat tacos and meatballs all day March 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm Reply

    It is very hard to stop drinking when your spouse does drink. Man, it stinks. I try to drink easily but it just doesn’t work. I pound bottle after bottle. I want to stop but every time I get tempted… you know its just a drink… you’re not an alcoholic because you don’t drink during the week… then they wonder why you drank so much after they convinced you to drink in the first place. It’s a double standard but I’m glad other people understand. I’ll try again today!

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