My month without wine

Nicola Whitfield. (Photo: Misha Jordaa)
Nicola Whitfield. (Photo: Misha Jordaa)

I stopped drinking on the first of January. Okay, okay, the second because it seemed a little sad to stop on New Year’s Day.

It was the last day of the holiday, we were meeting out-of-town friends at a wine farm for lunch and well, if I was going to abstain for the rest of the month I might as well have one last gasp.

Especially as January is so long. And a little miserable, since it’s usually steeped in debt.

To be honest, I was a bit worried about sticking it out. So much of life (well, mine anyway) involves drinking: a glass of wine after a stressful day at the office. Drinks with friends at the weekend. Dinner parties. Champagne brunches. Wine tastings. Nipping into the local pub with the dog after an evening walk in the park.

But I could do it, right? It wasn’t like I was a heavy drinker or anything. Mostly I had only one glass a night. Sometimes two. Occasionally three.

How hard could it be?

It helped that articles kept appearing extolling the virtues of Dry January. One British study found people who give up booze post-festive season lose on average 1,5kg, sleep better, improve their concentration and reduce the amount of fat in their livers by up to 15%.

Another found that Dry January-ers reduced the number of drinking days in the months that followed – from 4,4 days a week before to 3,3 days after. They also reported becoming “less drunk”, from 3,4 times in a month to 2,1 times. So winwin all round then!

I decided to ignore an article a friend sent me titled “Dry January nags people with no drink problem into feeling guilty” because it sounded like it could sow a seed of doubt.

And I was determined: I could do this. I would do this.

The first few days were easy. I was charged with the kind of enthusiasm you feel when you start a new diet or exercise regime – fired up, raring to go, keen as mustard to see the results.

Come 31 January I’d be thinner, cleaner, healthier, sharper. Bring it on!

Still, I put a few coping mechanisms in place just in case. Because I worried I’d miss my glass-at-the-end-of-the-day drink, I stocked up on ginger ale (sugarfree) and poured some into a wine glass when I got home. It looked like wine and there was that comforting hand-to-mouth action.

A glass of sparkling water accompanied dinner and I tried hard to sip a cup of camomile tea before bed (still not much of a fan of the stuff).

By the end of the first week I was feeling great. My skin looked clearer and my clothes were a teeny bit loose enough for me to attempt a weigh-in. The results were disappointing though – only a few grams down – so I kicked the scale back under the bed.

The weekend wasn’t too big a challenge either. January is usually a quiet month socially so there wasn’t much danger of feeling left out while the friends got all boozy and raucous and thought everything was hilarious.

Most significant of all, I make an important discovery: wine makes me sleepy! For years I thought I was nodding off in front of the TV by nine because I was tired and life was hectic and stuff, but no – it was wine.

I found myself catching up on series I’d been wanting to watch for months and reading several chapters of my book in bed instead of dozing off after the first page (and having to reread it again the next day).

In fact, I often had to force myself to turn the light off.

And I was so much clearer-headed in the morning. When I walked with purpose into a room I remembered what I’d gone to fetch instead of standing there racking my brain. Such a relief: I wasn’t going senile. It was all wine’s fault.

Everything swam along in a heady blaze of no booze until mid-month. I was still motivated to do it but I was starting to feel a bit been-there/done-thattish.

I decided to message a friend for moral support.

“I’m doing Dry January but I’m feeling a little over it and need encouragement.”

“Why are you doing Dry January?” she asked.

“Because I want to take a break from alcohol for a month,” I replied.

“Well,” she said, “if you find you slept well, felt younger and lost weight our friendship is over.”

Clearly, I was on my own.

I Weathered my mid-month slump by buying a six-pack of 0,0%-alcohol beer. It tasted okay but by the end of the week (I limited myself to a bottle a night) I was over that too.

Just white-knuckle it through to the end of the month, I told myself. Count the benefits and suck it up.

I googled Dry January in one of my nocturnal wideawake spells and came across an article by British comedian Lee Mack who did it in 2017 and just kept going after that.

Like me, he didn’t start on 1 January – he started on the third because he was going to a darts championship on the second and “not drinking at the darts is a bit like starting your diet at the Jammie Dodger biscuit factory. So I had one final blowout and decided to stop for a short while.”

Because he’d “cheated” by not stopping on the first, he decided to do a couple of extra days in February.

“And then I thought, ‘Oh well, I’ve started February I may as well see it out.’

“And before I knew it, February had become March, and March had become April and April had become May . . .”

Lee thinks the whole culture of drinking is a con by the makers of booze who trick you into thinking your life is more relaxed and fun with it – when the truth is, it can be a lot better without it.

Will I be like Lee and carry on? I doubt it, to be honest.

I’m already looking forward to a chilled Chardonnay on the patio.

But Dry January has made me look at my life and the role booze plays in it and I fully intend to be like those people in the study and drink less in general.

Moderation in all things, my mother taught me. Turns out she may have been right.

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