"Dry Jan", Week 4: Waiting For A Miracle

Illustrated by Assa Ariyoshi.
Last week: "Dry Jan", Week 3: I See Drunk People

25 days. I’ve been sober for 25 days. If you'd asked me to imagine myself 25 days sober, 25 days ago, my outlook wouldn’t have been optimistic. I would have pictured myself as a cross between Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, Tom Hanks in Castaway and Liam Neeson in Silence... lost in the wilderness, wearing rags, having inexplicably grown a beard. I’d be crawling along the ground, coughing, one arm outstretched to no one.

Last week, I was able to write home with some confidence that "Dry January" is not like that: you find liquid substitutes and you still socialise, I said. This week, I would like to withdraw some of my positivity. I look bedraggled, I’ve had a cough for 10 days and I’m fast on my way to a dad bod like Leo’s. The only mildly good thing I can say is that the Net-A-Porter order I mentioned last week has arrived, so at least I’m not wearing rags.

Popular lore (and doctors) tells us that giving up alcohol will vastly improve our appearance and our health, due mostly to its high sugar content and damaging long-term effects on the liver. When I recently googled what effect sobriety was supposed to be having on my body, the Mail Online’s top hit informed me of what would “REALLY happen” when I gave up drinking – it promised “flawless skin”, better sleeping patterns and weight loss within the first month. I know the Daily Mail's not The Lancet but thus far I’m just “REALLY spotty”, “REALLY tired” and “REALLY hungry”.

The point of trying to give up booze – besides finding out whether I could actually do it – was always to conduct a sort of cost-benefit analysis of how it changed the way I feel in my body, how I spend my money and what I do with my time... in order for me to make an informed decision about how I drink, going forward. As I come to the end of my month, here’s what I’m finding:

Appetite


I must admit, I was surprised by the first physical change I noticed after I stopped consuming alcohol: my appetite massively increased. A huge number of British women admit to skipping meals in order to reserve the calories for drinking alcohol – a practice dubbed “drunkorexia” by the press. I can safely say I have never been one of these women; I am much more likely to consume a meal not only before I drink but also when I am drunk, and another when I’m hungover the next morning (all carb-based). For this reason, along with alcohol's high calorie content, I was expecting to lose weight during "Dry Jan".

Three weeks later and I’m still constantly hungry, and my sugar levels feel all over the place; much more so than when I was drinking almost every day. I regularly catch myself eating chocolate on the street or on public transport to satiate a craving, for example – something the old me tried to avoid due to the absolute inevitability that as soon as I was chomping a KitKat Chunky on the Central Line, the doors would part and on would step someone I fancy. I’ve gained four pounds – not much, but four pounds more than I'd predicted.

Winner: TBC. Until I eat better and go to the gym, I don't think I've been giving "Dry January" a fair shot in the dietetic department.

Bank Balance


After cutting something on which you usually spend a lot of money out of your life, it is only natural that you might take that as a passport to spend money elsewhere. Or at least, I tell myself it is “only natural” that I constantly buy myself things, not only because I think I can afford them but because I think I deserve them. Instead of my old, near-daily cycle of hungover self-flagellation, I am now in an arguably much more toxic cycle of self-congratulation, the evidence of which is sitting in my wardrobe, with the labels still on.

Let it also be known that when you stop drinking you may also spend one third of the money you’d spend on booze on coffee, Diet Cokes, various juices and overpriced soda water, and all of the money on eating out, going to the cinema and booking holidays. So far, I have saved a great deal of money on alcohol, what I calculate to be around £75 a week – so almost £300 in total – but then I have very, very quickly spent it on distractions and “self-gifting”. It all depends what you want to spend your money on, I guess.

Winner: Draw

Energy

The professionals say that drinking disrupts your sleep because it dehydrates you, meaning first and foremost that you need to get up for a wee more often. Going out late on the lash inevitably means we get to bed later, too. Having expected to look well-slept then, instead I’ve found it difficult to get to sleep some nights, possibly because I’ve replaced alcohol with coffee and because my sober brain feels like it’s working overtime. At points I've even had to sedate myself with prescription sleeping tablets. Not really seeing a big improvement here.

Winner: Drinking

Productivity

I realise I am sounding hopeless so let’s do productivity next – things have been quite positive on that front. For 25 days now, I have not spent a single afternoon staring into space with a headache, I have not cancelled plans because I feel too nauseous, and I have been able to take on about 30% more work, with the confidence I’ll actually get it done. This, in turn, has made me feel like a better human, improved my friendships and increased my income. A triple win for "Dry January".

I've learnt that eliminating drunkenness and hangovers from your schedule opens up whole new windows of opportunity; Friday daytime, for example; weeknights when you get home from a dinner still sober enough to work; even Saturday and Sunday mornings, which until now were uncharted terrain. You can use this time to go to exercise classes, take up a hobby, work on your personal dreams or bring a loved one breakfast in bed. It is almost certainly Sheryl Sandberg’s secret and might just change your life.

Winner: Sobriety x3

Skin

According to the experts, cutting out alcohol should vastly improve your complexion. Alcohol dehydrates your skin, decreases natural production of vitamin A, which is a strong antioxidant, and contains sugar levels that can lead to inflammation and puffiness. By cutting out booze, in theory, your skin should brighten right up. Instead, against the odds of ACTUAL SCIENCE, my skin is terrible – worse than it’s been since I was a teenager. It might be the January cold, it might be the KitKat Chunkies I am eating on the tube, but my skin is more dry and blemished than almost ever before. And it seems to be impervious to products. Feeling very short-changed here.

Winner: Drinking

Sex Life

Despite the fact I’m not feeling my most beautiful and resplendent, giving up booze has in some ways improved my sex life, which makes me feel like I should include it as a plus point. Back in December, when I decided to try out "Dry Jan" as someone who is single, I thought that I would also be signing up to a month of celibacy – specifically since a lot of my sexual interactions with new people happen after a drink or two. I can now report that while I am having 100% less sex in public places and 100% less sex that I didn’t see coming, I am still having sex, and – perhaps best of all – sex that I can remember clear as the light of day. Which is handy if you want to think about it later.

Winner: Sobriety

Mood

In last week’s column, where I went on a night out sober, I talked a bit about how and why drinking alcohol induces anxiety in us, particularly the next day. I think I underplayed my own relationship with this anxiety, because actually – if I cast my mind back properly – in the worst phases of my drinking, I’ve been plagued with a lot of regret, a lot of anxiety over gaps in my memory, and a lot of self-hatred for acting in ways that don’t reflect my "best self".

These hangover emotions don't exactly make you feel light on your feet. Which is why it’s really, really pleasant to be able to say that I haven’t felt any fear, regret or shame for over three weeks now, which might seem like a short bout of time to some people but is significant enough to show me how things could be if I were to get a better handle on my drinking in the long run – what life would be like if almost all of my behaviour was intentional, if the way I was in the world was unmediated.

And so, while I've found that I'm yet to experience the full benefits of an alcohol-free diet on my body, the light at the rapidly approaching end of the tunnel might be happiness, contingent of course on my relationship with myself and other people – both of which have drastically improved. I'm still waiting to look like Bella Hadid, and I'm still trying to shift my cough, but I'm pleased I don't have to tell you that sobriety's all been in vain.

Winner: Sobriety

Next week: What happens when "Dry Jan" is over?
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