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Adjusting my drinking thinking

All my adult life I have been an enthusiastic, unapologetic consumer of alcohol.

Pretty much every day I’ll have a beer, or a glass of wine – and sometimes rather more than one. I like the taste of both (though not together, obviously), and the feeling I get from having a few drinks: not being totally slaughtered, staggering and slurring my words; but nicely alight, edges smoothed off, full of witty banter and bonhomie. For me, drinking is one of life’s pleasures.

Towards the end of last year, having left Wroughton in Wiltshire to return to live in Norwich, Norfolk – my home county – naturally enough I registered (or reregistered) with my local medical practice. When the admin staff clocked my age (57) they strongly suggested (or rather, more or less insisted) that I undergo a free NHS health check; apparently anyone over 50 is entitled to this, but I had somehow slipped through the net – probably as a result of relocation.

The result of the check-up, you’ll be delighted to know, is that I am (to quote Mary Poppins) practically perfect in every way. My cholesterol level is where it should be; my glucose, ditto; lung function, good (surprisingly and pleasingly, given nigh-on 40 years of smoking); everything ‘down below’ working as it should; blood pressure, textbook; and little or no evidence of early-onset senility.

Just two teensy-weensy problemettes:

  1. I’m about five lbs overweight, and
  2. My blood test showed that my liver is secreting just a little too much alanine aminotransferase (ALT), an enzyme associated with alcohol consumption.

My GP is not overly concerned – and neither am I – but she suggested a second blood test early in February following a post-Christmas month of reduced booze intake.

So I got to thinking. If I want to get my weight down, and the ALT under control: why simply go for a reduction? Why not try for a month of total abstinence?

Thus, dear reader, you find me more or less midway through my own…

…Dry January.

A particularly, though not peculiarly, British ‘thing’, Dry January was the brainchild of the charity Alcohol Concern (now merged into Alcohol Change UK). Or perhaps it wasn’t – more likely it sprang out an amorphous, collective consciousness (the way things sometimes do), chimed with the prevailing public mood and just sort-of… gained traction. Or maybe the idea came from one person: Emily Robinson, who gave up alcohol for January 2011 in preparation for a half-marathon and joined Alcohol Concern in January 2012 while abstaining again. Let’s just say its origins are obscure, and debatable. But anyway, it seems to have taken off properly around end-2013 or 2014 (Public Health England began promoting the campaign in December 2014) and the number of adherents has rocketed year-on-year ever since: from a reported 17,000 in 2014, to an estimated 3.1m in January 2018, and whatever, doubtlessly higher, figure now.

Now I’ve always resisted following the herd; and January is joyless enough as it is. But my excess weight and overenthusiastic liver combined have provided just enough incentive for me to climb aboard the increasingly crowded temporary temperance bandwagon.

So, I hear you ask, a fortnight in: how’s it going?

Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve had no cravings to speak of. Nor, however, have I so far noticed any substantial health benefits. I’m sleeping well, but I’m not sure any better than normal. I think I’m losing a bit of weight – contrarian that I am, I refuse to weigh myself; but if the looseness of the belt is any guide I must have shed a pound or two. I’m drinking lots of tomato juice (which I like anyway) and the occasional lime cordial and soda (got to watch the sugar intake though). And I have a little more money in my pocket.

But I’ve learned two things:

  1. I drink every day because I’m a creature of habit. I like routine, and I don’t like to deviate from it; and
  2. Sobriety is boring. A life without booze is a life lived in pastel shades; and I need strong colours.

I’m sticking with the programme, if programme it is: it’s really no hardship. But come the end of the month – or after the February blood test – will I be back on the bevy? Assuredly, yes; but not, I hope, in quite the same way.

I intend to spend the next two to three weeks (while in full possession of my faculties) engaged in a process of self re-education. If I am to forswear the habit of an adult lifetime, I need to form another habit to replace it: one that’s equally pleasurable, and colourful, and will hold my attention.

So far, nothing suggests itself; but hey, 20-odd days stretch out before me – a lifetime, in Soberland. Or so it feels at present. If I can spend the time – nearly three weeks – carving out a new template, one that involves abstinence on weekdays and a bit of indulgence at weekends, I shall consider my Dry January to have been a long-term success.

And hopefully I won’t need to do it again.

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