Aoife Geary realised her drinking in lockdown had stopped being enjoyable. So she quit for six weeks. Here, she reveals the expectations and the reality of being sober…
I love drinking.
It soothes me. It excites me. It makes me more fun. And free. And confident. Until the next day that is, when it makes me jittery and lazy and sticky with shame.
Last month, a spokesperson for Alcohol Action Ireland said there’s ‘an ocean of alcohol’ being poured into Irish homes. He was speaking about 2020 sales figures of alcohol that revealed that despite pubs and restaurants being closed for most of the year, the sale of drink has dropped just 6%. In some cases it’s actually gone up. The consumption of wine, for example, is up 12% from 2019.
I was unsurprised by the data. For the past year I’ve been splashing around quite happily in my own ocean of alcohol.
I’ve been drinking more during lockdown, just to break the monotony. But after Christmas I realised I wasn’t enjoying it all that much. I’d grown bored of it. I felt like Patrick Kavanagh during advent, I had “tested and tasted too much”.
I decided not to drink for a month, at which time I would emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon: Impressive and much better looking. In the end, I didn’t drink for six weeks. The results were modest, unsurprising and completely worth it.
Here’s what happened:
1. It was much easier than expected.
I always say I need a drink in certain situations – to grease the wheels of conversation, to help me unwind after a stressful day or to mark the end of the working week. But without pubs and parties and events there’s really no need for Dutch courage. And once I got out of the habit of Friday drinks, I didn’t miss it that much.
What I miss is; the roar of laughter around a packed table in the smoking area, the sweaty crush to get to the bar during a match, the variety and spontaneity of a night with friends; sharing smokes and rounds and mischief.
Two weeks in, I realised I don’t need alcohol. I need people.
2. I slept better
I didn’t know I was capable of sleeping for such prolonged periods. I was clocking eight hours without even trying. More than that, I was rested.
3. My mood improved (slightly)
There was no dramatic improvement in my mood but things felt a little easier. The hills weren’t so much alive with the sound of music as they were awake with only one snooze of the alarm.
Turns out, when you wake up on Saturday without a dry mouth and the creeping feeling you’ve done something bad, you wake up on Monday in better spirits.
4. I was less irritable
I didn’t punish myself for small mistakes at work. It was a very subtle shift and one that was probably imperceptible to anyone but me.
5. I wasn’t hungover
Being without a hangover for six weeks made me confront how horrific they really are. It sounds obvious, but when a weekend hangover becomes so normal, you almost forget it’s totally avoidable. You also forget that your body can be really hydrated and energetic and relaxed on a weekend.
Time lost from being hungover is one of the biggest issues I now have with my own drinking. It makes me lazy and unproductive. And it’s not about a single day, it bleeds into the whole week.
6. I ate a lot of cake
This one says more about my personality than the side effects of a few alcohol-free weeks. I felt entitled to more treats so I ate a lot more cakes and sweets and chocolate. This meant that I cancelled out any potential weight loss from not drinking. A delicious sacrifice.
7. I thought about how ingrained alcohol is in my life
Previously I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose not to drink. I would be wary of a person in a pub who wasn’t drinking. I’d assume they would judge my drinking or that they were automatically less fun. Even if they were having a good time, I’d frame it through the lens of their sobriety. ‘John’s good craic for someone who doesn’t drink’.
I still really enjoy drinking but I no longer associate being drunk as being fun. I understand why people would choose not to drink and I’ll definitely be more thoughtful about my own drinking.
Fridays don’t automatically require a gin and tonic, I can meet friends (soon, please!) for coffee rather than a pint. A celebration is a celebration with or without alcohol.
I thought I would be fizzing with energy. I expected glowing skin, sparkling eyes, and an enthusiasm for life I haven’t felt since I was a teenager. I would have more money, fewer problems.
There was no weight loss or dramatic skin transformation. I got more sleep, I worried a little less, and I thought about why it had been five years since I last took a break from drinking. I realised that changing your relationship with alcohol isn’t about doing a dry month for the sake of your waistline, it’s about reforming habits and finding what’s right for you.
Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash[/restrict]