The January Dryathlon
It was 2:30am on the 9th of January and the homes of the Western Isle were in darkness. No refrigerators were humming, no stand-by lights were glowing and no mobile phones were charging. All was still except the sound of hurricane Rachel who was in all her glory outside of the house: thrashing, spitting, gusting, shoving and stomping her way through our beautiful landscape. If she wasn’t busy blowing over 3 tonne buses, she was shedding homes of their decades-old roof tiles and smashing in the shop windows of Cromwell Street. I lay and looked at the roof, willing it not to lift off. Images of the movie ‘Twister’ were playing over in my mind. My dogs were quivering wrecks at the foot of the bed, howling and whining; willing me to make it stop. That night a strong urge came over me:
I REALLY wanted a drink.
It’s safe to say that I don’t think I was the only islander to think along those lines... But alas, I was only on day 9 of my ‘dryathlon’, so I had to settle with Evian and a good bit of teeth grinding to get me through that night.
We are habitual creatures, and it is no surprise that our habits extend to when we drink. We drink when we’re nervous (and think our roofs are going to come off), when we’re happy, when we’re sad, when we’re bored, when we’re in company, when we’re lonely, when we’re celebrating, and when we’re commiserating. Having a baby? Wonderful, we must toast to that! Had a long day at work? Och, let’s open a bottle of wine. It’s Thursday? Well, it would be rude not to!
I for one was someone with this mentality heavily ingrained in me. I expected the results of not drinking to be dramatic, given that I was a human-alcohol-sponge over the festive period. And what I gained out of this experience has been so much more than I initially anticipated. But I’ll be honest and say that I had a weak moment, so I’ll talk about this mishap before getting onto the best bits!
The slip up
This can be summarised by the following statement: Friends + Saturday night = Wine. I had arranged for my friends to come round on a Saturday night in the middle of the month; traditionally this is a boozy and glutinous occasion. I made the effort to go out into the wet, wild weather to source some nice soft drinks for us to have, and on my arrival back to the house it just hit me: it was Saturday night, and I wanted wine, like, now.
My friends tried to talk me out of it (bless them!) but I had the blinkers on, and didn’t listen. I did enjoy my first couple of glasses of wine, but by the third I knew I’d had enough to ensure a hangover the next day (that’s all it takes for me!)
Low and behold, the following morning I woke with a pounding headache that stayed with me until Monday afternoon. I felt too queasy to do anything more than a bit of house work. I dragged myself to my parent’s house for Sunday dinner where my father took great delight in telling me I owed him a tenner (apparently he’d had a wager on with himself that I’d fail!)
I felt so guilty – I’d let myself down for my dryathlon. Not only that, but I was a bit worried – why could I not go an entire month without alcohol? It’s a question I’ve asked myself over and over. But it’s been a habit for years, so instead of throwing in the towel, I continued, determined to do better the rest of the month.
At first, I was complaining because I felt like I wasn’t sleeping as well without a couple of glasses of wine at night. I was taking what felt like forever to nod off. So I went off and did some research on this and was quite shocked at what I found. Alcohol doesn’t solve problems for sleeping: it creates them.
Alcohol consumption actually diminishes the quality of sleep as it often leads to more waking in the night, and lessens time spent in REM sleep and slow wave length sleep in the later part of the night, which is the deepest and most restorative phase of sleep.
After a night out I will often wake after a deep slumber feeling as if I haven’t slept a wink, and now I know why! Finding this out has also discouraged me entirely from drinking during the week, as once I got used to my new sleep pattern, I realise the quality of my sleep was far superior.
It’s no surprise that I’ve followed on from sleeping better to having more energy! Often, I would have an extra glass of wine on a Thursday and Friday, and come Saturday afternoon I would resemble a walking, semi-talking zombie. I always put it down to feeling tired from work, but funnily enough, without these pre-weekend beverages, I no longer have these energy dips. Sure, I still get tired, but it’s a comfortable tiredness, not of the wine withdrawal variety!
This has been my favourite change. Asides from no longer having the Sunday morning ‘fear’ as we Saturday night bingers whimsically call it, my mood throughout the week has been consistently positive and upbeat, instead of being a bit up and down. They say that alcohol acts as a depressant as regular drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that are essential for good mental health; meaning feelings of anxiety and stress are accelerated with the fuel of booze.
I have felt very focused since cutting out alcohol, so much so that I’ve done more behind-the-scenes work on my beauty therapy business this month than I have in the last two years combined. When it came to the dreaded taxes this month, I blitzed everything in the one night. Not only that, I’m going on a course soon, and have a new plan outlined for future development. I’ve even been writing more. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have achieved half of this if I had been wasting entire weekends feeling rough, tired and cranky.
I’ve always said that if I were to stop drinking alcohol, that I’d drop half a stone instantly. They say that a 250ml glass of red wine contains around 230 calories, and I easily have a 2-3 bottles of wine a week. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to test this theory.
In my first two weeks of doing the dryathlon, I somehow managed to swap one bad habit for another: sugar. So instead of wine, it was fizzy drinks. Plus, instead of the ‘hangover munchies’, it was just an all-day every-day craving for anything sugar loaded. But I soon realised the error of my ways when the waistline was not budging as much as I had expected it to.
Once the sugar was cut out of the diet and replaced with healthier choices, the weight began to drop. I’m sitting writing this on the 25th of January and so far I’m half a stone down since the beginning of the month.
I often find when I’m having wine in the evening I am more inclined to have a bigger portion of food, as well as snacking afterwards. Also, the day after I’ve done the dreaded ‘Saturday night binge’, there is no stopping the amount of sugary, fatty foods that I require to function. Taking alcohol out of the equation has eliminated these bad habits, thus eliminated the unnecessary calories.
Life after the dryathlon
I can finally appreciate why people take the decision to cut out alcohol completely. I never used to think of myself as someone who abused it, but in a way I was; I was so conditioned to turn to it at any given opportunity. I was using it as something to do when I was bored, when I needed to relax, when I was socialising, when I was celebrating, or when I’d had a bad day. But instead, I’ve turned to things that are far more rewarding and fulfilling in these scenarios now. When I’m bored, I’ll go visit a friend. When I need to relax, I’ll go to yoga or take a bath. When I’m celebrating, I’ll go really wild and put my shloer in a wine glass.
I won’t say that I’ve decided to cut alcohol out of my life completely. But I am going to limit myself to one night a week, and I’ve opted to cut out the binge drinking completely, because I really haven’t missed that (or the hangovers to boot...)
I used to say life without booze is boring... When actually, life without booze is, well, quite amazing.