I’m an extremely diligent researcher for the podcast, so when Dave Wilson aka Sober Dave (on Instagram) agreed to be a guest on Your Next Episode to tie in with the ‘hump week’ of Dry January, I decided that I would immerse myself into sobriety and take up the challenge. If I hadn’t met Dave 3 days into January I don’t think I would’ve bothered sticking it out.
At 55 Dave decided to ‘go sober’ in January 2019. He knew he had a problem with alcohol that was affecting his health and his marriage. He created an Instagram account and quickly found himself part of an incredible online community. Dave has documented his sober journey throughout 2019 in the most open and honest way. He’s adored by his followers because of this and for his generosity with his time and support for others.
A report published by The Royal Society for Public Health found that although there are many concerning negative effects of Instagram on users’ mental health, two very positive areas are community building and emotional support.
I’ve never been inclined to do Dry January because I know I’m not addicted to alcohol and I really, really enjoy getting a bit pissed in certain situations. Plus I’m honestly a very amiable drunk – I sing, I dance on tables, I’m lively, I love every body. You’ll never find me falling-out with people and I don’t get to a point where I can’t walk or talk. I’m no bother at all and a welcome addition to any party.
What I noticed last year though was that my alcohol consumption was creeping up a bit. Officially I didn’t drink during the week. However, often on a Thursday (sometimes on a Tuesday or Wednesday too), Paul would text me ‘wine tonight?’ on his way home. He was pushing on an open door. ‘Hooray!’ I’d think and convince myself that because it hadn’t been my idea, that made it ok… not my fault if I had 3 large glasses of wine on a school night – my husband was pretty much forcing me to.
Weekends meant that we could drink limitless alcohol just because it was The Weekend. So, Friday night would come around and often there’d be a last minute arrangement to meet up with friends for ‘a drink’ which of course meant several drinks…as many as you like, because it’s FRIDAY! Ditto Saturday night.
Then Sunday…Sunday! What a day! Sunday lunches! Which means starting around midday with a Bloody Mary or four, wine with lunch, wine after lunch for many hours, but always in bed by 9pm because tomorrow is Monday and Monday will be a doddle because we’re getting a good night’s sleep. Except, what probably amounted to 18 hours of drinking heavily, in a 48-hour period, meant that we were exhausted.
We never, ever drank on a Monday, hardly ever on a Tuesday, tried really hard not to on a Wednesday and then it was ‘Thirsty Thursday’ once more… almost the weekend anyway – might as well ease ourselves into it again.
So, yes, my alcohol consumption had crept up and was way over the recommended limit..
According to research cited by Alcohol Change 24% of adults in England & Scotland regularly drink over low-risk guidelines (yep, that’s me) And 27% of UK drinkers binge drink on their heaviest drinking days (I’ll put my hand up to that too).
I’m writing this on day 28 of sobriety and it’s honestly been an easy month. I haven’t missed alcohol at all and I feel much better in every way. I’ve been to a comedy night with friends and I’ve accomplished my first sober Burn’s Night.
I always knew these events would be easy though. What will be hard (probably impossible) will be those evenings where there’s no other focus other than drinking. This weekend is my best friend’s 50thBirthday, we’re going out for a meal early evening, that will be fine but then it’s party time – a large gathering of friends from afar drinking, dancing and being over-excited to be together. It‘s on Saturday the 1stof Feb though, so I’m good to go!
However, I’m furious to find that I’m feeling a bit nervous about drinking again. I’m not nervous about being drunk but I’m anxious about the next day when I know I’ll feel crappy and I’ll be unable to achieve much more than lying on the sofa watching Netflix and I’m dreading the awful ‘Hangxiety’ that follows a heavy night of imbibing. I’ve really reveled this month in not having those days at all.
Dave is warm and non-judgemental. He sees Dry January as an opportunity for us to not necessarily stop drinking completely (unless we want/need to), but to rethink our relationship with alcohol and to drink in a more mindful way going forward. This stuck in my head because at the time it confused me. Rethinking my ‘relationship’ with alcohol? Drinking ‘mindfully’? What on earth was he on about?
Dave’s theory has proved to be spot on. I’m now baffled as to why I felt the need to down a bottle of wine on a Friday night. In future, if I’m not going out, I won’t bother, ditto Saturday. The thought of drinking midweek now horrifies me.
Dave’s suggestion is backed up by research conducted by the University of Sussex that found that Dry January helps people to drink more healthily all year round. It shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun or relax meaning that for the rest of the year we’re able to make better decisions about our drinking. The research showed that Dry January participants are still drinking less 6 months later.
Dry January has given me insight into what my habits are around booze and the understanding that those habits had become exhausting. Not just exhausting because I wasn’t getting enough good-quality sleep but also the head space that thinking about drinking takes up is huge for me, I’ve realised – deliberating whether or not to have a drink, feeling guilty about it if I do, worrying about my health, feeling guilty that I’m letting others down if I don’t drink when they are. Plus, the time and organization it takes to book taxis, the planning around drinking that night and also coping the next day. Dry January has freed up so much mental space by just not having all that to worry about this month, it’s all gone.
So, I really believe that I’ll be more mindful going forward about the decision to have that first drink, to have a boozy night instead of a sober one, but I wonder if I’ll be more mindful in the moment, once the decision’s been made to drink. Will I be mindful then? Will I swap my double vodkas for single measures? Will I remember to slow down a bit? Or, will I approach an evening of drinking in my usual fashion… like an overexcited child at a birthday party tea table?
I’ll let you know.