I’ve always enjoyed a drink. I love watching people who are normally a little reserved slowly unwind and become more conversational. I like the warm fuzzy feeling it gives me. I like the fact that it usually signals the end of the working week and it’s time to switch off.
Like most people, in my younger days I didn’t know when to stop. I had no cut off switch and I think that’s pretty normal. When I was a teenager and into my 20’s everyone drank alcohol with the sole purpose of getting drunk. The regular rhythm and routine of a Friday night was to drink before we went out drinking, squeeze in as many pubs as possible and as many drinks as possible, onto a club, buy slightly fewer (much more expensive drinks), dance your socks off, greasy kebab and a taxi home, throw your clothes on the bedroom floor, get to bed with your makeup on, unable to sleep due to the room spinning, get up and spend some significant time being “poorly” in the bathroom, collapse into a coma in bed, sleep til mid-day, feel rough all day, eat rubbish. Do it again Saturday. Waste Sunday. Back to work Monday.
Now it’s been a very long time indeed since I’ve had that routine. I certainly don’t drink to get drunk now, I drink to relax, unwind, because an occasion calls for it or just because, well, I fancy a drink. It takes me days to recover from a hangover now and no one has that kind of time to waste! I can’t do two nights out back to back. I don’t go out much so I tend to drink at home and I think herein lies the “problem”. Drinking as part of my wind down routine at home has led me into a false sense of security because I’ve become acutely aware lately that my intake has increased (seemingly by stealth). I can’t possibly be one of those people who drink “too much” can I?
All this “drink responsibly” propaganda I see has always got on my pip because we are so heavily policed as a society when it comes to what we eat or drink. Scaremongering is a tactic that I have a particular disdain for – one week red wine is good for us, the next it’s bad. Ditto coffee. The list goes on. Surely people don’t need to be told what to eat and drink, we can make our own minds up can’t we?!
To test the reality I decided to download the Drinkaware app. With a smirk on my face I set about proving the whole thing a load of baloney. That was until 7 days later when the app labelled me as a potential problem drinker (what?!) because I’d consumed more than double the recommended weekly intake for a woman. This ladies and gentlemen is not good. Not good at all. In fact, it’s very bad indeed.
I don’t (didn’t) consider myself to have a problem with alcohol, though from the research I’ve done as a result of that eye-watering (and shameful) statistic the risk comes it seems from long term ‘abuse’ of alcohol. Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount leads to a tolerance you see. A tolerance I didn’t realise I was developing. Like any drug, the more you use, the more you need to feel the effect and the greater volume of the drug you can tolerate so the more you indulge in. Whether we like it or not, alcohol is the only socially acceptable drug of our time. The more I looked into it, the more I read, the more I realise what an alcohol-centric society we live in. Birthday’s, Christmas, christenings, weddings, anniversaries, holidays – any celebration you can think of, generally speaking, revolves around alcohol.
In my small circle of friends I have only one who does not drink and that comes as a result of an inability to tolerate alcohol which she discovered at University. We incessantly tease her and try to twist her arm to imbibe. When I think about it, she’s the one who’s always on the outside of the group, the one who never quite relaxes or lets go. It could very well have something to do with the fact that everyone around her is merrily getting tipsy and is on a different wavelength. Have you ever been the only sober person in the room whilst everyone else around you is drunk? I have a few times and it’s not a feeling I’ve ever been comfortable with.
So the question is, what to do about it and the answer is easy isn’t it? Cut down. The challenge I have there is that, like most human beings, the more you’re told you can’t (or shouldn’t) have something the more you want it. Like being on a diet and constantly day dreaming about KFC. Do I constantly want to be keeping tabs on whether I’ve reached my recommended intake of 14 units a week? The answer is no if I’m honest.
So what did I actually do about it once I became “Drinkaware”? The immediate answer was nothing much to begin with. I just felt a bit embarrassed with myself for my blatant disregard for my health and was slightly disbelieving that my consumption could be a real problem. Coming from a family where there are umpteen cases of alcoholism amongst my extended family and where many a life has been taken due to the affects of alcoholism or its side-effects, I’ve always been acutely aware of the damage it can do. Having read quite a few articles on theories around people developing alcoholism as a result of a genetic predisposition, as I’ve got older I’ve always been secretly scared I enjoyed a drink far too much and wondered if I’d end up the same way. Does that mean I could carry on regardless and just blame genetics for making me this way?
Such was my horror that I might actually have a problem, I contacted Alcoholics Anonymous. Apparently the most common question they are asked is “Could I be an alcoholic?” and I’ve discovered that isn’t something they can readily answer for you. The key is, if I’m questioning the volume of alcohol I’m consuming then I must be concerned about it. If I’m concerned then there must be an issue.
Turns out there’s a difference between alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse and whilst I’m not squirrelling bottles of gin away in the microwave and swigging it with my cereal (dependence) I most certainly think nothing of polishing off a bottle of wine on a week night, several nights a week (abuse).
At one time alcohol abuse was most common in men, us women in our quest for constant equality, are catching up and more women now than ever are becoming dependent upon alcohol or abusing it. Working mums who are juggling full time work, stressful jobs, childcare issues and exhaustion are more likely now than ever to fall into the category of women who develop an issue with alcohol. It starts with just one glass of wine to wind down at the end of a stressful day once the kids are in bed and turns into a bottle of wine a night and so the problem perpetuates.
So, back to what I’m going to do about it. Well, I have to do something and I’ve taken the first step – deciding I want to do something about it rather than ignoring it. I’ve also taken the second step and this one is much bigger and will be far more impactful in many ways – I am stopping drinking for a year. I quit cigarettes 8 years ago, nothing can be harder than that surely? Best thing I ever did. Maybe this will be the next best thing.
There’s a movement out there called One Year No Beer (OYNB) and they are actively spreading the word about the pitfalls of alcohol abuse, the social stigma associated with being tee-total and providing support and guidance for people who want to stop drinking for any period of time from 28 days to 90 days to a year. You can subscribe to an online support service, backed by an entire community of people all wanting to do the same thing as you. I’m not going to take it that far, but some of the stuff I’ve read on their website https://www.oneyearnobeer.com/ is quite inspiring.
There are social events on the horizon which will challenge my resolve – unusually I have six lunches/evenings out planned in the next two weeks and I don’t know how I’m going to tackle those yet. But I do know that it won’t be through the bottom of an alcohol filled glass and I’ll be able to drive myself home when they’re done.
PS4 man has bet me £50 I won’t do it. Our usual bet for anything is 10p so this is not an insignificant sum. Let’s see if I can prove him wrong….