Dry January? So what did you learn…?

Group of friends do a toast

For many, this weekend marks the first proper chance to indulge after 31 long days of sobriety. I suppose people would say it gives the body a ‘break’, it kick-starts a healthy new year, but it’s also a good way to get some space and perspective about one’s drinking habits. It can leave you wondering whether you could give up for good – and if not, why does alcohol have this grip on us?

People talk about alcohol being a social lubricant but it can also be a ‘social crutch’. So many of us simply can’t imagine a social life without it. It’s not that our friendships are not genuine, but we use the liquor to enhance each other’s social skills (or cover up the flaws, depending on which way you look at it).

No doubt lots of people are, on some level, worried by this dependence. They may fear that they wouldn’t be able to socialise without alcohol. It prepares us for our performance, like a ritual. We must be on ‘good form’ and show our friends the ‘best’ side of ourselves. We can get stuck in this cycle and feel think it must be maintained. Ironically, we could probably be better friends to each other without alcohol – with no expectations of a good time and permission to be ourselves, according to whatever we feel on that particular day.

What role does alcohol play in your life?

  • A high, almost an activity in itself, regardless of who you’re socialising with
  • Momentary escape from strain, responsibility
  • A way to be the person that you want to be
  • A way to cope with transition (e.g. from work time to free time)
  • A comfort when really what you need is time and space
  • A way to express repressed emotion
  • A kind of self-abuse

Alcohol always seems like a good idea. It gives us a happy feeling and sense that nothing matters. It takes us to a place of unreality. Like drugs, it lets us be simpler beings, like animals or robots. But this is not relaxation. We are stimulated – on a ‘high’, from which we must descend. It is disequilibrium.

Alcohol is an escape from our minds, from being ‘us’. But our own mind is not the enemy her; in fact, the mind holds the key to a more profound kind of fulfilment. Instead of numbing the mind, we should keep it sharp, enjoy feeling in control and let our senses enrich our lives. Be fully conscious (yes, a bit of Eckhart Tolle here).

I am not necessarily saying we should all give up alcohol. It would just do us no harm to observe our relationship with it a bit more closely. For me, having alcohol is that feeling of ‘okay NOW I am going to have a good time.’ In the past, this would mean drinking to be drunk. But over recent years, it’s started to feel less necessary. The benefits aren’t so obvious to me now and I’ve started to be aware of that moment when I’m making the decision.

And then I’ve started to think about the benefits of not having alcohol. I imagine myself feeling a more constant contentment and calm: that is an option open to me at every waking moment. And I make a more conscious decision about how I want to spend my time – I want my mind fully alert and ‘me’; I want non-hedonistic stimulation and creativity.

We face so much temptation. The consumption of alcohol could be compared with use of social media, watching TV or what food we eat. It seems like a good idea to indulge in all of them. But they can leave us agitated, hooked, or apathetic.

Sometimes, a bit of abstinence is what we need. It will give us the security that we are in control of our lives. It will give us the space to appreciate other types of joy. Never underestimate the benefits of tranquillity.