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?