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All The Schmooze, None Of The Booze: 14 Days Of Sobriety In London

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Right, so before you write me off as a spiralising bore who has seen the light of sober-living and wants to share, just hear me out.

I really don’t get the self-indulgent hoopla that surrounds short term abstinence. From ‘Dry July’ to ‘Sober October’, people go all sparkly-eyed for a month, instagramming their Saturday morning runs (WATCHING THE SUN COME UP IN THE PARK #blessed), then as soon as the 1st hits, they neck the shiraz as if nothing ever happened and sobriety was that short-lived fling they’d now like to forget. I also wonder what they all get up to during these cold, long, lucid weeks. Are they really attending ballet fusion classes, baking kale chips and writing their first novel or are they actually just lying in a dark room weeping into their Shloer and watching BBC Three? Are they able to socialise, date, attend work events and dare I say it, HAVE FUN?

The reason I ask is for a while now I’ve been questioning my own attitude to alcohol. I’m 28, I live in London, I work in publishing and I really like to drink. I like it very much. That cold, crisp glass of chardonnay, the post-work G&T, the free champagne at book events (OK, warm wine), the bottles of red during cosy mid-week dinners, a bloody mary at Sunday lunch, pale pink rosé in a beer garden. I could go on, and I do, a lot, often till dawn.

However like most of life’s most enjoyable things, there’s the inevitable downside. If I’ve had a heavy night, I feel sluggish, anxious and mean. This is most likely because, in addition to increasing the risk of liver disease, cancer and high blood pressure, alcohol is a powerful depressant and those sleepless, mournful nights worrying about wine-fuelled rants taken too far are rife amongst young professionals who enjoy a drink or five.

“Women start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men do” says Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical advisor at DrinkAware. “This is because women’s bodies have a higher ratio of fat to water so they’re less able to dilute alcohol within the body”. Despite such facts, women are continuing to pack it away: “In 2013, among adults who had drunk alcohol in the last week, 51 per cent of women drank more than the lower risk daily guidelines, including 22 per cent of women who drank more than twice this.”

So why do we continue to inflict such misery on ourselves? Do we essentially just like to have a good time or is there something embedded in our social behaviours that enables us? Is peer pressure a factor? Dr Jarvis seems to think so: “Anecdotally I hear a lot of instances of women who feel guilty about their own drinking and seek to ‘normalise’ their behaviour by persuading others to join them”.

Taking all this into account and with the festive season about to kick off, I’m curious to see what life could be like without hazy hangovers, shame spirals and endless Uber receipts. Can a sober woman ever be the belle of the ball or does she scuttle off for a reclusive life of Netflix and FOMO? I’m giving myself two weeks to find out. I won’t report on every day as some, inevitably, will be tedious.
Challenge number one: the enticing warmth and allure of a cosy pub with pals on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, the smell of gravy and musty ale, the rugby echoing in the background. Avoiding the usual glass of red, I neck a few diet cokes, have a pleasant time, leave early and, devoid of the usual Sunday night anxiety, feel relatively ready for the week ahead. This is day one. It was always going to be easy.
I am such a sucker for the free bar at a work event. I am also very bad at networking, quite possibly the worst, so the comfort of a drink makes me feel more at ease. So much so that I’m often the last one standing, propped at the bar, obnoxiously ranting about a serious literary subject I don’t have a clue about. Yet this time is different, I’m more reserved, yes, but also interested, controlled and paying more attention to what people are actually saying. Could networking actually be better without Dutch courage? Surely not. I also proceed to eat a vast amount of the glutenous, deep-fried canapes. Completely permissible when one’s calorie intake has been so reduced.

Oh yes him. The mid-week tipple tempter! Over dinner when I explain the nature of my experiment, boyfriend looks somewhat sceptical as he sips glumly on his lonely bottle of ale: “Um, you mean for the whole two weeks?”, he whines. “What a boring idea. I just got back from holiday, I thought we’d get p*ssed!” The struggle is real.

A trip to the cinema in adulthood has seen popcorn and Tango Blasts replaced by artisan chocolate and large plastic tumblers of shiraz. This time an enormous bag of maltesers has to do. If you can avoid the upsell, the cinema is a great alternative to the pub. Just pick your film wisely, no one should be expected to sit through Peanuts: The Movie without some mild form of sedation.

Oh no, it’s here, Friday. A night that would often start with a few post-work ’swifties’ and conclude with a 5am Uber home and a Saturday morning made up of nurofen, nausea, regret and a crawl to the sofa for the Coronation Street omnibus. However by 4pm this particular weekend I find that no one, not one friend or lover, wants to hang out with a sober sad act on a Friday night and I find myself devoid of all plans. However after a few hours of self-pity and cranberry juice sipped longingly from a wine glass, I actually rather enjoy going to bed hours before anyone else. There is something satisfying about clean sheets, a book and hours of sleep ahead. Especially when you gleefully know all your peers are out there, partying hard towards the oncoming hangover doom.
Today is a tough one: hosting dinner. Normally I’ll be topping up wine glasses from the moment I start peeling veg to the moment we crack open whatever we can find in my cupboard (Cointreau maybe?) and I shove my last gesticulating guest into a cab at 2am. Coincidentally and thankfully, my friends opt not to drink either and instead I create a ‘mocktail’ (ghastly phrase) consisting of elderflower, soda water and mint. It’s a lot easier when people aren’t drinking around you but if they do, creating a delicious, elaborate drink can help. Another positive? Tidying up sober is considerably less tedious.

Here we are again, another work do. This one is in a scene Shoreditch hotel where the pale ale is plentiful and, most importantly, free. I really did fancy a drink here, everyone looked so fun and happy and I got jealous. So with an empty stomach (no canapes, WTF?) and a grumpy face I sack off the networking and head home at 8.30pm to bed via the ten o’clock news. When sober sometimes the best thing to do is just remove oneself.

Parents are the best people to drink wine with. Firstly, they’re good company, second, they order the good stuff: the delicious, buttery wines that I would never find on the menu because they don’t say ‘house’ next to them. Unfortunately on this occasion I sit there sulkily as boyfriend and parents share a bottle. Feel left out.

Birthdays are always tough as the person always looks slightly miffed if you don’t chuck celebratory shots down your jugular and HAVE ALL THE FUN AT EVERY SECOND OF EVERY MOMENT. But luckily I found the loop hole. After shiftily whispering for a soft drink menu, the nice bartender presented me with the fanciest of drinks that looked tropical and full of rum. No one noticed that it wasn’t, and by the time you hit 9pm, no one can see straight anyway!
Right here we are. The end. Did I miss alcohol? Yes, at times, I really did. But did I need it? Surprisingly, not as much as expected. Although nights were certainly less raucous, work events were more interesting, less centred around the clamber to the free wine. Dinners with friends were fun – I realised I actually really like these people which is something you don’t always appreciate with wine lenses on. Will I start drinking again? Absolutely, but I will do so with the comfort of knowing that I can easily go without too, and as the party season approaches I will be much more mindful of how much I’m necking. Just don’t let me near any canapes.

Top tips for being boozeless:
· Whether at a dinner party or bar, arm yourself with a fancy alcohol-free cocktail. Do not depend on diet coke or water.
· Don’t look grumpy. If you’re not enjoying yourself, go home.
· Eat! You’ve earned those calories.
· Spend! You’ve saved so much money.
· Go to the cinema. It’s great and you won’t fall asleep.
· When you do finally drink, savour it and enjoy it. Go to Claridges. Order champagne.

For expert advice on how to cut down on your drinking visit