In 2013 the charity Alcohol Concern launched a campaign called Dry January. Its premise was simple. Encourage people to abstain from drinking after the heavy festive season, and raise some money for charity whilst doing so.
It was a lovely idea
In practice? Not so much.
Whilst some folk did find it an ideal opportunity to give their liver a few weeks off and raise funds for a good cause, others found that it opened the door to emotions they had never felt before. Obsessing about alcohol. Feelings of deprivation. Chronic doubt. Mistrust of their own intuition around what they are consuming.
I'm not against charity. That would make me a complete tool. I'm just one very normal lass.
One quite alarmed lass, actually.
I write about non-drinking. The stuff I write ends up places. Really quite a lot of places. And so people see it and contact me.
And the emails I started to get after Dry January concerned me. A lot.
People who had never previously had an issue with alcohol were writing to tell me they couldn't stop obsessing about it.
Those whom historically would have had a couple of glasses in the evening, were completing Dry January and resuming their original drinking habits, only to find they wanted to drink far more in case there would be no more later on. Creating a lack and scarcity mentality that was proving difficult to break.
People who had used their month as a detox from junk food as well as alcohol, realised they were finding it difficult to regain balance between health and social life.
Dry January was doing so much good for charity. But seemingly at a large personal cost.
It is possible to Do Dry January AND avoid the pitfalls that come with it. It just takes willingness to make your plans a little bigger than before.
Life experience has taught me, in a meandering way, that the pitfalls of non-drinking can befall anyone, no matter what their current relationship with alcohol is.
That obsession can affect almost anyone at any time.
That in fact there is only a very small, clearly defined set of people who will never be vulnerable to this disordered thinking or acting. And it's incredibly surprising who these people turned out to be.
We all have heard of least one person who has a very simple dialogue when it comes to their drinking or non-drinking. A person who has had a one-off bad experience with alcohol. And decided straight afterwards to change the way they drank, or not to drink at all.
It really is a common thing. Someone's behaviour can affect them so much that they feel a permanent aversion to alcohol. And that's a really simple story. Because the decision is never questioned. Never revisited. It's usually people who are indifferent to alcohol who make this leap. They've never really thought about alcohol unless they were drinking it, so the one time it negatively impacts them they decide to swerve it permanently
Conversely, whether we like it or not, we all know one person who drinks a lot, but it doesn't affect their outer world. Physically for some reason they can take the alcohol abuse. Mentally, hangovers do not stop them from living their lives. And emotionally they never think about alcohol unless they are actually drinking it. There's no back-and-forth. No questioning. Their alcohol consumption is never internally obsessed over, so it never changes (I was never one of those drinkers though, trust me).
People who have an alcohol abuse problem are far from indifferent to alcohol. I should know, I was one for years. And people like us, we think about alcohol far more often than when we are actively in the process of drinking it.
We think about it the morning after whilst feeling ill and berating ourselves.
We think about never doing it again.
Then we question whether never doing it again is too extreme.
And then whether we should merely change what we drink, where we drink it. Or who we drink it with.
This cycle of thinking is ceaseless. It knows no respite. And all this endless bargaining and justifying produces a complicated relationship with alcohol. Which is what most problem drinking is, essentially. Very warped and disordered thinking, in regards to alcohol.
And this is the crux of the Dark Side of Dry January. Unfortunately, incentivised non-drinking endeavours like Dry January,can turn a person who is initially indifferent to alcohol, who has no alcohol abuse problem, into a person who has a complicated relationship with alcohol
Without even drinking it...
Because when we are indifferent to alcohol, we rarely think about it. But enforced non-drinking forces us to think about alcohol. And think about it in terms of lack.
When we feel lack about alcohol we struggle to feel balanced around it ever again.
And therein lies the Dark Side of Dry January.
There is a solution. It lies in putting our emphasis onto the wider word that surrounds us. For some it is volunteering. Radio 1 and 1Xtra's incentive #1MillionHours is such an easy way to work volunteering into a busy schedule.
For others learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby will take the emphasis off any tendencies to turn former drinking time into obsessive thoughts of non drinking.
Aim for anything that makes life seem bigger and you can't go wrong. That way you get to leave Dry January as a well balanced person who has done a wonderful thing by raising money for good cause.
Rather than a person who never quite manages the art of indifference, ever again.