Experiments in Wellbeing – Alcohol

It was not my intention for this story to be the next public step of my wellbeing experiment, but I feel like it needs telling, so here we go.

Absinthe

A Creature of Habit

I like a drink. Occasionally I’ll have a drink every day during a week, though I usually go without for two or three days. Regularly, two bottles of red wine are on the weekly shopping list, and regularly they get emptied down my throat during the course of the week. Regularly. I’d guess this is a habit I’ve develop and persisted with for almost thirty years. It feels odd to write this and in so doing, look back over such a long trail of empty bottles.

I’ve never considered myself to be dependant on alcohol in any way, and yet clearly, I drink pretty often. Data published in The Guardian in 2013 indicates that men in my age group are putting away over 30 units of alcohol a week, and around 75% of men exceed the daily recommended amount. It’s always struck me as odd that something so intoxicating has a ‘recommended daily amount’ – we don’t apply such parameters to ecstasy, LSD or cannabis, despite them all apparently being much less harmful than alcohol. I know there’s the small matter of legal v illegal, but still…

Which Drugs Are Most Harmful

I digress. Back to the booze, and in particular, the habit. As part of my wellbeing experiment, I decided to do without alcohol for a while. We met friends for a belated Christmas get together in a country pub on January 3rd, Carole drove and I had a few drinks. After lunch had finished, so had my relationship with alcohol, for a few weeks at least. I decided to see if I could get to the end of January without having another drink. I was nervous about this part of my experiment – how would I, as a regular drinker, cope with no wine or beer?

On The Wagon

It feels a bit odd to write and tell you that I found the next four weeks easy. For some reason I worried that taking away something which had become such a frequent part of my life would be tough. It wasn’t and I am grateful for that. Aside from the ease with which I abstained – what else did I learn?

1 – I’m sleeping better – and there is an unsubstantiated rumour circulating this house that the frequency and volume of snoring has drastically reduced.

2 – I’m waking better – I still feel tired after a late night, but once I’ve woken up I’m sharper, ready to go.

3 – I don’t appear to have lost any weight – I can’t prove this because our scales are broken, but the mirror doesn’t lie and my current chubbiness persists.

4 – Social events often centre around alcohol. I decided I would not seek to avoid going out as part of this experiment, and when I did go out – I observed that almost everyone I was with was having a drink. At one event I went to – an enjoyable one I hasten to add, I was offered a beer on arrival, which I refused. Then wine – politely declined that too. Next came Fanta. Seriously? No thanks. Finally we got to water – yay! It came in the teensiest glass I’ve ever seen and I spent the rest of the time perfecting my pour, drink, pour, drink technique.

Back in the Saddle?

As night follows day, so February 1st follows January 31st – and in 2015, February 1st was SuperBowl Sunday. My team – the Seattle Seahawks were in the game as defending champions, competing against the New England Patriots. We lost the match in the dying seconds, I don’t want to talk about it. Prior to the game – I had convinced myself that beer would be a required accompaniment, and I had ordered in some Nanny State beer, brewed by Brewdog. This beer is marketed as alcohol free although it contains 0.5% alcohol by volume. Over the course of the three hour game, I think I drank four bottles. It tasted OK and it made me want to pee a lot!

The following night Carole and I went to Koko in London to see Prince play live at a secret charity gig. The gig was excellent, and I had a bottle of Heineken. One was enough, particularly at £5.50 ($8.40) a bottle. On Thursday I poured myself a glass of wine and I had two or three sips and threw the rest away – I wasn’t enjoying it. On Saturday night I had a bottle of beer.

What happens next? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned a lot from this period of absence and I’m really enjoying my current approach to drinking. If you’ve tried a similar experiment recently, I’d love to know how you found it/are finding it?

6 thoughts on “Experiments in Wellbeing – Alcohol

  1. Doug Shaw Post author

    Peter Cook has been in touch, and for some odd reason my blog spam filters won’t let him in! Sorry Peter. Luckily he contacted me directly – so here’s Peter’s feedback:

    “I don’t drink at all at home, save for the odd dinner party. We don’t keep alcohol at home which helps. The pressure to conform comes mostly from social situations such as networking meetings and when out playing music. I’ve more or less stopped drinking at music sessions by driving over the last few years and I feel much better – other people say I’m better after a few jars … so there’s the social pressure bit :-)”

    Reply
  2. Tony Mason

    Doug,

    for many years (certainly before it became popular / fashionable) I would have a dry January, as a penance for the over-indulgence during Christmas. It used to be challenging and I’d be counting down the days to Feb 1st to re-acquaint myself with the old friend!

    Perhaps it is maturity (or more likely old age) but over the past number of years, I have noticed that my dependency upon the demon drink has waned – oh, I still love a beer and a bottle of wine – but rarely to the level of excess previously – so much so that this year I’ve sailed through January without a second thought – getting home at night I crack open a chilled bottle of sparking water (san Pellegrino) as a replacement for the stella……

    Feb 9th and still on the wagon.

    I was listening to a programme on radio 4 on the way home, to do with medical matters, to which there had been limited medical trials on abstinence and the benefits thereof (i.e. the dry January) that if replicated in a pill would make a fortune!

    Reply
    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Thank Tony. Since writing this I’m aware of more and more people engaging in longer periods of abstinence. I’m pleased that the challenging aspect of taking a break has passed in your case, and that pill you heard about on the radio – when do you hope to have that on the market?!

      Reply
  3. Stuart Chittenden

    Hello Doug,

    I appreciated your candid reflections. I remember many years back, when I was dating my American wife, how stunned she was (as a diligent, responsible employee) when she telephoned from NYC to hear that I was at my London desk nursing a terrible hangover, doing my best to snooze and not get caught. The nature of my work (and British culture) was that such binge drinking consequences had little cultural criticism. Her disappointment was a surprise to me. I would like to say that it is a maturity that has corrected that kind of irresponsible behavior, but I suspect it is simply that I cannot handle that sort of drinking anymore. If anything, with a long and broad history of alcoholism in my family, I am more attentive to those months where a pleasant, relaxing G+T has given way to a second and third. At that point, I really know I need to deal with the underlying stress without turning to alcohol-based self-medication.

    My wife, who enjoys a drink, but actually drinks little, will frequently embrace a sauce sabbatical. It’s almost as if she simply wants to prove that she can. I have not attempted to go dry for an extended period of time, though wonder if I should give it a go. I have established months where I will only drink at the weekends, and then only a limited number of units. I don’t know that I have landed on the right approach, timescale or limits, (or if one can arrive at a general rule), but your post has reminded me that there can be complicated relationships between what is a social and personal pleasure and what is a a stress reliever. And I need to be wary of the balance.

    Cheers(?!)
    Stuart

    Reply
    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Thank you Stuart. Tales of recovering at work – I’ve plenty of those too – a very British thing eh? On moderation – I think the right approach is whatever works for you, me, him, her. I’m curious to watch myself around the stress relief angle. I was having a bad day yesterday – nothing major just first world problems which piled up and put me in a bad mood. Typically – I would have ‘dealt’ with some of that stress by having a drink or two – and this time I did not. And having a glass of water and taking five minutes of calm worked just fine. Best wishes for finding the right flow and balance. I really appreciate you being in touch.

      Cheers – Doug

      Reply
  4. Amanda

    Great post Doug! I stopped drinking at the end of May last year and for the majority of the time I don’t miss it. I gave up because I wasn’t drinking a huge amount all the time but I noticed that it was when I felt particularly stressed that I overindulged. Giving up the alcohol added extra motivation to find much healthier ways to manage stress, and I am feeling a lot better for it.

    It is a bit more challenging in social situations though. My introverted self sure likes a glass of something alcoholic in hand to help with social situations. But I’m just trying to not care so much what people think of me if I’m sitting in a corner chatting to only one or two people all night. I feel that that is a lot more rewarding anyway 🙂 Although I do have a trick for avoiding questions or pressure about my lack of drinking. If I’m at a bar I’ll order a soda water with fresh lime – people just assume it’s a vodka / gin and tonic and they don’t ask.

    I do have the occasional glass of wine or beer now and then but I find I can’t finish a whole glass, it just makes me feel yuk. I’ll happily have a glass of nice red wine or bubbles in celebration of something though.

    Reply

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