by Josephine Graham
I generally consider myself to be quite a healthy person. I walk a reasonable amount, go to a weekly yoga class and usually manage to eat five portions of fruit and veg each day.
But over the last three or four years, I have got into a bit of a wine habit.
I don’t drink on weekdays, so I’m OK on that score. But come Friday night, 6pm means wine o’clock, pop goes the cork (or screw top) and slosh slosh slosh goes the wine into the glass.
I don’t actually drink that much – sharing a bottle of wine with my husband, two or three nights a week, is still just about within the NHS guidelines of up to 14 units of alcohol per week.
But I knew that the drinking wasn’t making me happy.
As a working mum, my time is precious. Days are taken up with work or parenting, and the evenings are the only time I have to myself. I have ambitions to read more, but I never open a book after a glass of wine, as I’m just too dozy. I always end up watching a film or rubbish telly, and it’s often not my choice of programme (my husband always seems to get to the remote first!).
I wanted to take more charge of my free time, and that was my incentive to have a go at Dry January. I’d heard about the campaign through friends – it is the “UK’s one-month booze-free challenge that helps millions reset their relationship with alcohol every year”. On further investigation I found they offer lots of tips on their website, and an app to help you keep track, which I dutifully downloaded. If you are really serious about it, there’s even a book, but I didn’t bother with that.
I was lucky that a few of my CommsUnplugged friends were also taking on the challenge, so we formed a Dry January WhatsApp group to keep us all motivated. In the group we shared stories of the difficult moments – one friend had to go to a funeral of a close relative where everyone would be drinking – but with the encouragement of the group she stayed sober. Others had nights out to negotiate, or even started dreaming about drinking booze – but with the peer network cheering them on they kept on track.
We also shared tips about tasty non-alcohol alternatives. Estrella Galicia 0.0, Heinekin 0.0 and Brewdog Punk AF alcohol free IPA were three of the recommended beers. Personally I have been enjoying Fre alcohol-removed wine and also ‘tonic minus gin’ – Raisethorpe pink grapefruit Yorkshire tonic is particularly pleasant served ‘virgin’ with ice and a slice.
It hasn’t always been easy. The cliché of mums reaching for the wine after a full-on day with the kids is real, and some of those 6pm moments, after a busy day fielding non-stop questions from a five-year old, have been quite a test. But the goal I had set myself, and sheer determination not to give in, helped me push through.
I have made some interesting discoveries during my dry month. Like, there is so much more to my enjoyment of wine than just the alcohol. That feeling of reward when you open the bottle, and pour the deep red or pale yellow liquid into a nice glass. Then sitting on the sofa, sipping the wine and doing nothing else at all for a few minutes except relaxing. These effects can still be achieved with the placebo of a pretty wine glass filled with a non-alcoholic alternative.
The taste of booze-free wine is not quite up there with the finest French vintages, but it’s not at all bad. And I’ve found that I haven’t missed the feeling of being tipsy at all.
I have still watched rubbish telly on occasions – it turns out avoiding alcohol is not a cure for tiredness. But other nights I have read my book, or done something else I wanted to do, or even gone to bed a bit earlier, because I was cognisant enough to recognise this might be a good idea.
There have been other unexpected benefits. I have had fewer headaches. And I’ve lost a little bit of weight.
The month is now up and I am allowed back on the booze again. What will change after my Dry January experience? I don’t think I’m going to suddenly become teetotal – as the saying goes, ‘everything in moderation – including moderation’. But I am going to be more mindful about what I’m, drinking, when I’m drinking it and why. I will try to view a nice glass of wine or Prosecco as a treat rather than part of my routine, so that I can continue to use my free time in a way that I choose. And I will keep using the Dry January app through the year to maintain my awareness of my alcohol consumption.
Josephine works in communications for Bradford Council. She is an original #unplugger and a first-time dry unplugger in 2020.
— Sunday 2nd February —