I’m a bit slow off the mark with this one (and everything else, currently), but I have just become aware of the Dry January campaign. I know, for many, a solid ten days of fourteen-hours-a-day alcohol consumption, and the subsequent kidney pains and whole-body lethargy, is enough to prompt a natural reduction in drinking. The concept of New Year’s Resolutions – new year, new me – may also bring about a vague idea of slowing the ingestion of post-festive calories, with some ill-informed belief that the thought itself will result in change. “I think, therefore I am (thin).”
In substance misuse services, we would discourage these types of contemplations. Real change, we would advise, requires setting realistic and achievable targets; lasting change is made from pledging to maintainable goals. Plucking unattainable standards from the ether and imagining to reach them, with nothing more than blind optimism and a lack of self-knowledge behind you, is bound to lead to failure. So instead of a glowing complexion, reduced waistline and normal-sized liver, all you are really likely to be left with is a dissolved sense of your own ability to change and diminished self-worth. (And a sad look in your yellow-tinged eyes.)
The other opposition to the positive notion of a short period of abstinence is that this bolsters our belief that our drinking habits cannot be problematic. If we can stop, just like that, then clearly we are in control. This false sense of security is in fact a clever method of self-justification to return to dodgy patterns of alcohol use post-abstinence. We are extremely good at finding ways of doing exactly what we want, and by telling ourselves we have stopped drinking (for a few days, then just having the odd glass, until after a couple of weeks we have chanted the mantra that we have stopped drinking so many times, to so many different people, that we completely believe it ourselves), we give ourselves the perfect excuse to enable our greedy, childish true selves to feast unquestioningly for the rest of the year.
I’m sorry if this is a bit close to home. I don’t want to knock your achievements, or pretend that, for regular and heavy drinkers, a period of abstinence will not be good for your health. I like to think that, if you manage a couple of weeks completely alcohol-free, you will start to sleep properly instead of knocking yourself out with booze, and begin to see the benefits of natural sleep. Maybe you will develop a renewed sense of fun, and alter you social habits to reduce your contact with alcohol-soaked environments and associates in the future.
Or, maybe you will just sit on your flabby arse, bored shitless, waiting with a clenched jaw to flip the page on the calendar so you can get slaughtered again. Guilt-free. Safe in the knowledge that your drinking habits are aligned with those of Nigel Farage.
* WARNING – this post should not be taken as an excuse to STOP STOPPING drinking and returning to your old habits before the end of the month. Just think about what you want to return to when you do start drinking again, and how that will look in the context of your own life.