Alcohol is firmly woven into the fabric of society. It can bind people together, break down barriers and generally grease social wheels. It is used to celebrate, commiserate, as gifts, acts of generosity and in daily acts of rebellion (‘go on, I will if you will’). Equally it can be the trigger for dependence, isolation and ruined lives and all over the world there are groups dedicated to helping one stop drinking.
Given its ubiquity why do so many people, including me, choose not to drink?
Back in 2009 I opted to give it up for while, a sort of dry January if you like. I only intended for that break to be for one month, in the name of focusing on work and being healthy, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and somehow I’ve been on the wagon for over seven years now and I can’t imagine ever drinking again.
As a competitive person I challenged myself to stop, just to see if I could. I realised that I drank a large glass of wine (or two) most days, more at the weekends and certainly more on holiday. While this might seem quite modest, it was losing its appeal and was stopping me doing things I wanted to do. I had grown increasingly dependent on coffee and spent the days powered by caffeine only to use my post-work daily glass of red wine to unwind from the caffeine that I had used to get me going after a couple of glasses of wine the night before.
My carbohydrate intake increased as I craved the sort of food that I was advising clients not to eat. My weight crept up as one glass of red wine has over 200 calories in it, and that’s aside from the dessert I might order after dinner given that wine had made me care less about what I ate.
That was along with less exercise, as all too often I laid out my gym clothes last thing at night only to decide otherwise when I woke at 4am with a busy mind, unable to sleep again until after 5am, seemingly moments before the alarm went off, thanks to that second glass of wine.
Clearly a miserable cycle, but for what? I realised that I had fallen for the romantic side of drinking more than the actual liquid. Decent wine, carefully chosen, felt sophisticated. Yet alcohol is alcohol — however much we might add civility to it, the results are usually the same.
Here I am, seven years later, undoubtedly healthier and certainly happier, with no desire to drink again. I’ve learned to ignore the judgments from strangers who assume that I had a problem, and, by the time the slurred conversations start at the pub or at parties, I can happily drive home without worrying if I should be.
The romance reaches out to me every now and again — a glass of fine red wine, sitting by the fire on a wintery afternoon, or a cold beer on a summer’s day. But it feels like a small price to pay for liberation.
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9 February 2016 | 7 p.m. | IET London