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LIFE HONESTLY

My problem with Dry January

Never one for the binge/purge cycle of Christmas and New Year, Rosamund Dean decided to opt for the hardest – to simply cut down her drinking, permanently

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By Rosamund Dean on

Although I’ve personally never taken part in Dry January, that annual sobriety stint borne out of festive remorse, this is not one of those provocative pieces about how non-drinkers are dull and should cheer up and have a glass of wine. My problem with Dry January is the way in which most people approach it: as something to endure, a month of deprivation and hibernation, and how people welcome February 1 with a tidal wave of wine. I even have a friend who calls it “Wet February”.

Clearly, it would be better to drink moderately all year round, rather than binge and purge.

For context, I should explain that moderation has not come easily to me. In fact, at one time I thought it was impossible. I’ve always found it easier to have none of something, rather than a little bit (who are these people who keep a bar of chocolate in their drawer and have one square a day? I don’t get it!). Abstinence is often easier than moderation for the simple reason that you’ve made one decision: I don’t drink. Whereas moderation requires many decisions: shall I drink today? How much shall I drink? What shall I drink? How do I know when to stop drinking? What do I say when someone offers me a drink?

Being teetotal would be easier for me in many ways, if only for the fact that I enjoy drinking – I love a nice red wine with dinner and a glass of fizz with friends or a cold G&T on a hot day. The problem was that I realised I was drinking too much and often in situations where I wasn’t even enjoying it – I was knocking back the booze mindlessly, out of habit. I believed every situation was made better with alcohol – not only after-work socialising and dinner parties, but also at home on a Tuesday evening or at brunch (Bloody Mary, please!). I would even overdo it at work events where the only thing to drink was cheap, warm white wine.

My problem with Dry January is the way in which most people approach it: as something to endure, a month of deprivation and hibernation

When I hit my thirties, I noticed that drinking was beginning to have a detrimental effect on my skin, body, mood and energy levels. I tried to cut back and realised how difficult moderation can be. So, I decided to write a book about it – Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life – interviewing psychologists, behaviour-change experts, mindfulness gurus and successful moderate drinkers. I created a plan that has seriously changed my life and, if you don’t want to give up but struggle with moderation, can change yours, too. How will it change? How long have you got?

Drinking less alcohol will improve your life in almost every way: sharpened concentration, increased energy, improved memory, greater motivation and productivity, extra disposable income, weight loss, firmer skin, less anxiety, improved moods, better sex, stronger immune system, more restorative sleep, improved digestion, fewer regrets… and that’s without even mentioning the reduced risk of developing cancer (women who consume two to five drinks a day are 40 per cent more likely to get breast cancer than non-drinkers).

In my book, I prescribe a clean break for a few weeks before attempting a new, moderate relationship with alcohol. It’s important because it allows you to see the ways in which you have been relying on alcohol for anything, from stress relief to socialising. It lets you see with clarity the people, situations and emotions that are triggers for drinking too much.

So, despite my reservations of how Dry January is approached by some, taking this month off the booze could be a good thing. Also, now might well be a good time to do it because “I’m doing Dry January” is an easy answer to the irritating question, “Why aren’t you drinking?”

HOW TO CUT DOWN

  1. Don’t be annoying. Nobody likes hearing someone self-importantly bore on about their eating or drinking habits. You attempting to convert a drinker is as tiresome as them trying to convince you to have a drink.
  2. Change your mindset: it’s not about deprivation – it’s about freedom. Focus on the benefits of drinking less.
  3. Get out and see your friends. Realising that drinking alcohol in the pub is not compulsory was a game-changer for me.
  4. Explore the ever-expanding world of high-end soft drinks. I recommend Nix & Kix craft soda, non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip,  Profusion kombucha, Shrb Prohibition soda and Big Drop Brewing Co beer.
  5. Have a long-term plan in mind, so you don’t fall directly into a vat of gin on February 1.

Lasting change can be easy. All it takes is a change of mindset. If I can do it, anyone can.

Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life was published on 28 December

@RosamundDean

This is part of our special new-year series called Small Change, Big Difference – small things you can do in 2018 (and not big unrealistic resolutions you can't keep). To read more in the series, click here

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Photo: Yuvraj Singh
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