Accidental sobriety

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Over the past few weeks, I've been feeling really great for some reason. I've been rising far earlier than my usual eight o’clock, often at six or seven, which has meant that while I usually miss an hour of Ten Breakfast, in recent weeks I’ve been able to boycott the entire thing. And at night, I've been getting to sleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow, whereas it often takes me hours of lying there and visualising trampolining, pirouetting sheep shouting “Go to sleep, you idiot, you’ll feel exhausted tomorrow!”.

Actually, I kind of miss those sheep. But the rest of it is all good. Best of all, I think I’ve slimmed down a bit. When I look in the mirror, I’m pleasantly surprised for once – as well as unpleasantly surprised by my bounteous Movember moustache, but that’s another story. I’ve run into friends in the past month who’ve asked me if I’ve lost weight – which I think is one of those taboo questions, because if the answer is ‘no’, it suggests that they think you’re ordinarily enormous. In this case, for once, the answer is – yeah, I think I probably have.

I certainly haven’t been trying to be healthy, so I couldn’t work out what it was that was putting a spring in my step, except perhaps spring itself. I haven’t been exercising more than my usual minimal amount, and I’ve been working unpleasantly long hours lately. But after a bit of thought, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s the fact that I haven’t been drinking.

Now, I didn’t make any conscious plan to cut out the grog. I didn’t sign up for Ocsober or Fashionably Late Dry July or No-booze-vember or any other month-name-pun-based sobriety drive. I wasn’t trying to turn over a new leaf, or purge my toxins or realign chakras or anything along like that. And I certainly haven’t gone teetotal.

But when I look back over the past six weeks or so, I can only think of one evening where I had more than two or three drinks – and on the vast majority of days, I didn’t end up drinking anything at all. There was one evening when I had a cocktail or two and got a touch emotional, shall we say, but other than that, it’s been weeks of glorious, albeit accidental, sobriety.

Since realising this, I can’t help wondering whether this is how things should be all the time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that my ability to bounce back from a night on the turps has lessened considerably. I’ve never been all that big a drinker – or to put it another way, I’ve always been “soft”, in that delightful parlance men use to exert peer pressure – but I guess I was regularly having a bit of a drink on somewhere between two and four days a week. But now I’m wondering whether it's worth it when for the next few days, I'll be stumbling around with a brain that feels like it's got the handbrake jammed on.

The really scary thing is how much alcohol affects my mood. It's been living up to its 'depressant' title a little too much for my liking. Not only can it make me excessively frivolous and indiscreet, but I sometimes wake up the morning after a boozing session feeling downright stabby. With a really bad hangover, I can even find myself relating to Morrissey. It seems that having a few drinks and getting a bit exuberant burns through my following day’s cheerfulness quotient as well.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has guidelines for alcohol consumption that I’ve always felt seemed highly ambitious in a booze-happy country like Australia. For adults, they recommend no more than 2 standard drinks a day on average, in order to avoid long-term detriment to your health. And to avoid injury, they recommend no more than 4 on any single occasion. 

The first time I saw these numbers, I wondered whether I’d missed the memo, and the NHMRC had been transformed into Australia’s peak body for unrealistic killjoys. I also wondered what their Christmas parties must be like. But now that I am inadvertently complying with their guidelines, I can’t help feeling that there’s a lot to recommend them. Perhaps they’re realistic killjoys after all?

Of course now that I’m thinking of making a conscious choice to cut down on my alcohol intake, as opposed to achieving it through a busy period at work and inattention to my social life, my resolve will probably waver. And with Christmas parties and the Bacchanalia that is New Year’s ahead, it’ll be quite a challenge.

But I want to remember how great these past few weeks have been, how much more energy I’ve had getting out of bed in the morning, and how much more positive I’ve felt about facing the day. I want to remember what it’s like to feel productive and efficient and even a little healthy.

And above all, I’d like to have access to 100% of my brain function during 100% of my waking hours, if that isn’t too much to ask  Which is why I would like to propose a festive season toast to those NHMRC guidelines, if I may. Just the one, though.

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27 comments

  • I have cut out the majority of the alcohol I drink, and now only drinking 3-4 a week.
    I feel the opposite... More stabby, struggling to get out of bed.
    My collogues keep asking me if im ok and my boyfriend is afraid to ask me....
    I feel like what gravy is to Homer Simpson, beer is to me... 8 glasses a day.

    Commenter
    al
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 15, 2012, 9:02AM
    • Hey Dom, great article mate. I started reading it and realised your experiences have literally mirrored my own over the past three months. I will admit I was probably a text book alcoholic -a 4/5 drinks every night after work with often massive weekend binges followed by three day hangovers( hey I am pushing 35 these days!), however interestingly and much like yourself it wasn't a conscious decision to ease up on the booze. I was sitting at home one night when it suddenly hit me that I hadn't had any alcohol for almost 9 days (including a weekend!) So I thought well hey why not see how long I can keep this up?? Three months later, I have experienced a massive improvement with my insomnia - I used to think I needed to be a bit tipsy just to fall asleep in 3 hrs or less! I wake up feeling so much more energised and the best bit I've lost 16 kgs with no additional change whatsoever to diet or excercise. Actually, thinking about it now I can honestly say that overall I've never felt better. I haven't completely stopped drinking, I have a great social life so I still enjoy a couple of wines/beers two or three times a fortnight but now I'm looking and feeling the way I do I'm rather keen to see where this unexpected and unplanned change in lifestyle takes me both physically and mentally. The dreaded festive season may prove difficult but going into it with a positive outlook has to be a good start!

      Commenter
      Still going
      Location
      Syd
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 9:19AM
      • Good for you, @Still Going! You'll discover that eventually you lose a taste for it (as I did) and you'd rather leave than it take it.

        Commenter
        Mandy
        Location
        Naremburn
        Date and time
        November 15, 2012, 11:00AM
    • I don't understand people that go home to a couple of beers or wines. I couldn't imagine anything worse than drinking on my own... perhaps its that I've never really enjoyed the taste of alcohol but I'd much rather have a glass of water or milk before bed and not wake up feeling like the water's been sucked out of me.

      now on a friday night with a bunch of mates - totally different story.

      I guess I'm the typical binge drinker type.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 9:55AM
      • Totally agree with you........I dont like the taste of alcohol, and dont unwind with a drink at all.....I dont understand it. Occasionlly Ill have a glass of wine with dinner, but generally its water......or a protein shake!

        I do drink on a friday or saturday night occasionally with mates, having a big one....

        So also the typical binge drinker, but hey I feel fantastic for 99% of the time - except the hangover the next day :-)

        Commenter
        Jeremy
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 15, 2012, 10:50AM
      • Same here, but each to their own.

        Lengthen recovery times from a big night is seriously the worst thing about getting hold, why can’t someone derive a cure for that.

        Commenter
        l
        Date and time
        November 15, 2012, 12:02PM
      • I am completely confused. If you don't like the taste of alcohol, Jeremy, why drink on a friday or saturday night with mates (is it peer pressure?). Having a wine with dinner I understand, the 2 can compliment each other and alter each others sensory characteristics. But drinking stuff you don't like the taste of? Its like spending the night licking brussel sprouts!

        Commenter
        Phil
        Date and time
        November 15, 2012, 1:17PM
    • I was never that big on drinking. I'm 20 and I don't like going out every weekend to get smashed in the city like all of my friends. I like being able to wake up before 11am on a saturday and do something productive instead of lying in bed all weekend nursing myself back to health for work the next week.

      Commenter
      MM
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 9:56AM
      • Good article Dom- I was just commenting to my wife this morning that the I feel great (just entering 3rd week w/out any booze). This stoppage was illness related (serious flu and cough) but now that it has gone I have just kept on it and the days feel good. Dont get me wrong I love a drink just like the next person but I am amazed with the uplift and it was possibly the wake call I needed.

        Commenter
        yossarian
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        November 15, 2012, 9:56AM
        • I can totally relate to this article. I returned from SE Asia a couple of months ago to find I had contracted a parasite while I was there. I laid off the alcohol primarily because I was not feeling well but now 2 months later I have cut my drinking by 50%. No more drinking Monday - Thursday and I try to have a dry day over the weekend while limiting the number of drinks on the other days although I find Friday always a struggle. I do feel a lot better and have slimmed down a bit. Social situations can be a challenge but I am finding if I mentally prepare, track the number of drinks I have and stagger wine with glasses of water I am ok. I love wine so I could never imagine not drinking it but it is good to have a lot more control over how much I consume. I also have made a switch to cider with some yummy french and english brands available is a good alternative.

          Commenter
          NH
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          November 15, 2012, 10:02AM

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