Well – I did it. An entire January’s-worth of alcoholic abstinence.
And yes, it was a VERY long month.
But the surprising discovery for me is not only that I have far greater reserves of willpower than anyone, including myself, suspected, but that I actually like drinking – just because I like the taste.
I like the taste of it and the smell of it and I love the excitement and pleasure I feel when I find myself drinking a particularly lovely pint of ale or a fabulously tasty glass of wine.
But I don’t drink for confidence, which I suspected I might, and which I know is a reason for people I know to head straight to the bar or have a few ‘sharpeners’ beforehand. I had absolutely no problem walking into intimidating rooms full of complete strangers and introducing myself and doing all the mingling and chatting that you normally do armed with a fortifying glass of something.
I don’t drink out or boredom, another reason I thought I drank. I was often bored during January but it didn’t send me reaching for the vast amount of wine and beer I have stockpiled at home due to my old habit of panicking that I might run out of something.
Talking of habits – that doesn’t make me drink either. All my ‘traditional’ drinking times such as after work, over a pleasant lunch, meeting friends in a pub or restaurant, or at evening events, were all met with equilibrium and a glass of sparkling water. And the evenings didn’t drag either when viewed through the clear glass of sobriety.
Before deciding on my detox, I had thought that I would have to hide myself away from the world, or at least my normal life, as the endless stream of drinking opportunities would become too much for me to bear.
But no. I went to the pub many times with friends and colleagues over the month and drank sparkling water and elderflower cordial from the bottle in my handbag. I was a very cheap round. But yes, I still bought drinks for other people – and they bought me olives or crisps in return.
Having never even tried elderflower cordial before 2014, it was now my constant companion. My mother was so delighted with my pledge that she rushed out and bought me a bottle of Belvoir organic elderflower cordial, which saved me from mainlining diet Coke the entire time. In fact, on a roll, I also stopped drinking my twice-daily can of diet Coke in favour of much healthier options and think that I’ve knocked that particular habit on the head for ever.
It was fairly easy to avoid alcohol in the first few weeks, as no-one seemed to be going out much anyway, skint and knackered after the excesses of Christmas. But mid-January the invites started coming in again, and things could have become a lot more difficult.
However due to some odd, Zen-like calm and detachment I had adopted, and which I never usually have when it comes to other matters of willpower such as healthy eating or fitness regimes, I merely told myself ‘You are not drinking this month, so don’t even think about it’ and that was it.
So when I went to the Arts Club in Mayfair to the launch of its new hotel and was handed a beautiful glass, brimming with deliciously-sparkling champagne, I accepted it out of habit, but then calmly handed it back.
I went to a drinks party at the very swish Capital Hotel just behind Harrods where again the champagne was flowing, and I opted for yet another elderflower cordial. (That turned out to be a bad idea, as the person who poured it had no idea it was supposed to be diluted, and so I took a gulp of neat cordial. Not nice.)
I went to the Costa Books awards where champagne, Kir Royale, wine and cocktails were being offered around non-stop all evening, and I drank only soft drink on offer which was – you guessed it – elderflower cordial.
I ignored my colleagues when they deliberately discussed how wonderful the beers they were going to have on Friday night were going to taste, and still joined then for a jar or two, even if my jar was iced tap water. I played hockey one weekend and then drank orange juice and lemonade atthe pub social afterwards – a first for me.
I was determined not to alter my plans in any way just because I wasn’t drinking and I – almost – stuck to that. I did decline one invitation that I would have loved to have gone to, an evening’s beer-tasting laid on by a brewery. I thought that turning up and shunning their entire drinks range might have been rather rude.
So buoyed by this unexpected achievement, am I going to continue this non-boozy path? I have to say – definitely not.
While I didn’t miss drinking, I missed the emotional excitement that comes with drinking – the buzzy highs of a big night, followed by the mournful soul-searching of the morning after. Life’s rollercoaster seemed to have flattened out – everything became rather, well, ordinary.
And I have always had astonishingly vivid dreams – the full eight-hour, bright Technicolour madness in which old school friends mingle with celebrities and fictional characters while I rush around getting lost in mazes while writing books – page after brain-aching page – and jumping off vertiginous cliffs and climbing mountains. Exhausting – and I’d always put them down to alcohol. But no. It seems to just be Me.
Sadly any hopes of losing a pound or two were dashed by sweet tooth I mysteriously acquired. I never usually crave chocolate but here I was, making hot chocolates with squirty cream, and eating three – three! – Creme Eggs in one night.
I did think I’d have a lot more energy, but no. I woke up exhausted and went to bed shattered. No change there. There was the benefit of not fighting a hangover for most of the morning, but then I had always viewed that as a challenge. And the feeling you get when the hangover finally lifts – joy! That was lost to me too.
But the very thought of a crisp fresh gin and tonic, or a briny dirty martini is already making my mouth water. The plump fruitiness of a big fat cabernet sauvignon, or a steel-sharp sauvignon blanc, or a melted-butter chardonnay. The smooth fire of a peaty whisky, or a toffee-nosed oloroso sherry, or a luxurious champagne cocktail. And I just want to plunge myself into a creamy-smooth ale and swim around in it.
I don’t want to return to drinking anytime I can, ‘just because it’s there.’ But absence has most definitely made the heart grow fonder.