Day 20 – So how bad am I really?

Day 20 was actually yesterday but my internet connection was having none of it for the whole day. I’m back on today so here goes.

This non-drinking experiment has been a long time coming. I’ve been pondering my alcohol intake for years, whether I drink too much and whether I should knock it off – probably since my late twenties if I’m honest with myself. Now that I’m not drinking I’m finding it fairly easy, which is a shock and not what I expected at all. I know this is a common – and potentially dangerous – theme in quite a few of the alcohol blogs I’ve looked at, but I can’t help thinking – how bad is my drinking really?

A few months ago I was chatting to one of my colleagues while we worked. She is well known for being a wine lover and we’ve had a few pleasant conversations about nice wine-drinking-chilling-out scenarios. This night I asked her how many bottles of wine she drinks in a week. The conversation went like this…

Me: So how many bottles of wine do you drink a week?

Colleague: (She pondered for a few moments as she needed to take her husband’s consumption into account for shared bottles) Hmmm… probably about 6 bottles a week plus quite a few Jack Daniels on top.

Me: Shit!! Really!!! You look so slim and healthy you’d never think it!

Colleague: OMG don’t say it like that! It’s not that bad is it?! There’s only 3 glasses in each bottle so it’s not that many drinks.

Then I realised that she was totally in the dark about how many units of alcohol she was actually consuming.

Me: Ummm, I really hate being the person that’s saying this to you but each bottle of wine has about 9 units depending on its strength. I’m also guessing you’re not pouring singles of the JDs.

Colleague: (laughing nervously) Er, no… probably not.

Me: (cringing apologetically) So, I’d guess you’re drinking around 70 units of alcohol a week.

Colleague: Hmmm… maybe I do need to consider cutting down a bit.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t a young party girl. She’s a bit older than me and is a devoted mother of 3 with what sounds like a lovely home life. That level of drinking is totally normalised with her husband and friends. She went on to say a close friend of hers had been warned to give up drinking for at least 6 months as she was showing signs of liver damage. Apparently she hasn’t managed to stop.

This gave me some perspective on my own drinking. I drank similar amounts in my teens and twenties and at some points in my thirties but I haven’t drunk anywhere near that amount on a regular basis for years now. Recently I’d say I have generally had 2 bottles of wine a week, 3 bottles would be a heavy week. It’s never spaced out though – a glass here and there – it’s always open a bottle and finish it on 2 or 3 days of the week. It’s rare that I drink more than a bottle but it does happen occasionally. Even my bigger drinking over Christmas wasn’t anything raucous or extreme. I drank 4 bottles of wine and a 4 pack of lager over 3 days and that was done slowly with plenty of food. It was enough to give me a bad hangover on the 4th day though 😦 As heavy drinking has become so normalised it’s sometimes hard to remember that even 2 bottles a week – with about 18 units – is still more than the health guidelines say is safe for a woman.

The other side of the story that rarely gets told during ‘how much do you drink’ conversations is how much mental energy is spent to keep a person’s drinking at that level. Sure, I’d only drink on 2 or 3 days a week but I’d usually be tempted to drink on at least 5 days. This means I was using focus and willpower to keep my intake down. This means I’ve also been losing focus and willpower from other areas of my life to compensate.

During my previous attempts to take a break from drinking I’ve managed up to 10 days and then started again. I’ve jumped in my car in the early hours to go to a 24 hour supermarket to get some wine after having vowed to go another alcohol-free day and then decided – fuck it! These attempts, however many days they were have also always required immense levels of self-control and willpower. This time something is different – very different – and so far it’s been easy. I don’t fully understand why but I’m certainly not complaining.

I’m on day 20 now so doing a month is looking very manageable – even including my birthday meal next week. I read recently (on the hello Sunday morning website I think) that at least 3 months off booze is required for you to fundamentally re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol so I’m going to extend my dry January to do 100 days.

I’m actually thinking that a year would be amazing too. Judging by how much I’ve managed to get done in the last 20 days I feel like my life would be totally transformed if I scaled that up to a year. I’d also have done everything in a year that would normally involve alcohol so would be in a position to observe its role in every aspect of my life.

Ambitious talk for day 20 I know but may as well aim high eh? 😉

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