It was Wednesday, February 1. The perfect excuse for a day, Hump Day, to have a midweek drink and an especially convenient one to end Dry January if you managed to stay sober. Well, I did and when I walked past a pub pouring Guinness on the afternoon of February 1, the thought did cross my mind. My mouth watered thinking of it. But then, I just put my head down, walked past the pub and ate a healthy lunch.
This is the first time since 2016 that I have been off alcohol for one entire month (plus a day) on the bounce. I had necked a whole bottle of Prosecco all by myself on New Year’s Eve by 11 pm, the last time I drank booze.
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Yes, I was probably drunk or reeling from a hangover when I agreed to go sober all of January but since my friend, Julia Landgraf, despite busy diving and soaking up the sun in Mexico had managed to talk me into abstinence, there was no point not trying it out in earnest. Also, I wanted to do it to know for myself that I can still have fun without drinking. I lead a semi-retired life and write for a living. The profession glamourises drinking (Ernest Hemingway, Hunter J Thomson) and the semi-retired life gives me ample time to drink without professional repercussions. And I really enjoy drinking (one for the road club, so to speak).
If life were straightforward, it would be boring. I ended up in Bali on January 2 and spent the entire month there with cheap, chilled Bintang beers jumping at me every five hot and sweaty steps I took. Every 10th step, I’d see a board shouting cheap cocktails. By force of habit, I read each one of those boards. I even stopped outside an Irish pub and had to suppress the powerful urge for a pint of Guinness, the mere thought of which had me drooling and craving it.
Apart from that one weak moment, I was doing alright for the first two weeks having convinced myself that Bintang wasn’t worth losing this challenge. Then bang in the middle of the month came the Manchester football derby (United vs City), which I was forced to watch in a sports bar. I ran into a United fan from Norway and two friends of a friend from Australia and the general atmosphere was charged with good energy and plenty of gin and beer. My team was winning. The perfect combination of atmosphere, location and mood to drink. I mean who even watches a football game without a pint? Apparently, I do. I fought the urge and focused on football while ordering sparkling water. The three people I met first laughed then became supportive of my Dry January and didn’t ask me again to drink but celebrated the goals properly.
There were a couple of times when I felt like drinking but a text to Julia, who is in her early 20s and belongs to a generation that drinks a lot less than those in their 40s like me, ensured a stern reply turning down any sort of negotiations. Having a conscience keeper invested in my success was a great help whenever my resolve wavered. However, since I was also earnest in my attempt not to drink, the temptation wasn’t as strong. By the end of the month, I was able to go to bars and nightclubs and order sparkling water or a soda (even a cup of jasmine tea once) with travel friends and didn’t feel out of place. The bartenders didn’t once bat an eyelid when I ordered something non-alcoholic. It also helped that I was far removed from my old friends who have a no-man-left-behind policy when it comes to drinking. Had I been around them, I might have succumbed and had a drink just to get them to stop insisting.
The last month was fantastic because despite all the travel I haven’t put on the couple of inches that I tend to on trips simply by eliminating alcohol. I have slept a lot better overall and never woken up with a head feeling as heavy as a kitchen sink. Also, there were no hangovers, and I was a lot less fatigued overall. Most surprising of all was the fact that I was going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. There wasn’t a single morning when I woke up trying to piece together what had come to pass the previous evening and that was just as (or a bit more) fun as not remembering. I know from past experience that not drinking also helps achieve fitness goals much quicker. I did start drinking black coffee, one a day, while I stayed off alcohol so the monetary savings from not drinking were a lot less than they could have been.
Though I didn’t feel like I have missed anything over the last month when I didn’t drink, I definitely won’t turn a teetotaller for the rest of my life. In fact, I am headed to Atlas in Singapore to treat myself to some fancy cocktails for my success later in the day.
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I do enjoy my drink. I also do know the ill effects of alcohol because I write about these things. After this Dry January success, I have grown to like the idea of drinking less. I have downloaded the app Less to track my drinking with the goal of progressively reducing my alcohol intake and always drinking in moderation instead of bingeing. The all-or-nothing approach of Dry January is a bit too drastic. I would have still enjoyed the health benefits and better sleep despite a couple of drinks. So, from here on, instead of jumping into an all-or-nothing challenge, I intend to keep track of how much I drink and consciously reduce and moderate it.
That’s progress to me.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.