I'd been concerned about my drinking for a while. It had steadily crept up and there was rarely a day when I didn't drink. Taking the edge off was a favourite reason to reach for the wine bottle in the evening. I deserve a drink right? It's been a hard day. Why shouldn't I indulge my favourite habit?
But habit was very much what my drinking had become. And one drink quickly became two and often more. I never got drunk but that nice warm alcohol glow was something I'd begun to crave. A difficult summer had also led to levels creeping even higher. It was time for an intervention!
A recent study claimed that a month off alcohol can provide lifelong health benefits. Patients taking part in the University College London research gave up for four weeks and saw benefits in their liver function, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They were found to be at lower risk of developing diabetes and liver disease. They also lost weight and reported better concentration and sleep.
That's nice to know when I've just completed my own month off booze. Being abstemious has reaped real health rewards as well as making me feel nicely smug. It's the first time since I turned eighteen that I have gone that long without alcohol. Which is rather shocking with me fast approaching my half century.
To keep me on track, I signed up with Club Soda, an organisation set up to help people cut down or give up completely, and set off on their October abstinence programme of support emails, chat rooms and webinars.
Here's what I learnt:
1. It's easier to stay off the booze when you're not alone. Club Soda says we usually get pissed together so why should we get sober alone? Doing a dry month with other people, even if they're all online and anonymous, sure beats trying to do it by yourself.
2. It also helps to tell people what you're doing and make yourself accountable. That way if you give up early, you'll have to face those looks of wilting pity at your lack of will power. Fear of that alone might just be enough to keep you on course.
3. Doing a month off booze with your partner is a good idea. Trying to do it when they are still drinking is not. Either way you'll likely both get a bit grumpy.
4. Alcohol is so much a part of British culture that it's hard being social without it. Even the smallest of communities historically had a place of worship and a pub. We wet the baby's head with champagne and we raise a glass or few at a wake. You get strange looks if you say you're not drinking just because you don't want to.
5. When starting out on a month off booze, avoiding social situations where drinking is expected helps keep up the momentum while you break your drinking habit.
6. Pubs and restaurants would be nicer places for the non-drinker if their non-alcoholic beverages extended beyond cola, lemonade and fruit juice. There are many decent alcohol-free beers around and even a few wines, but try buying them anywhere other than in a large supermarket and you'll just get a blank or even patronising stare. "This is a pub, love." It really shouldn't have to be a choice between water and something that rots your teeth if you want to be social but not tipsy.
7. You won't lose weight on a month off booze if you're rewarding your abstinence with treats like chocolate. Hard truth but truth it is.
8. Doing a month off booze means getting to grips with procrastination. It requires you to postpone immediate gratification (giving in to the desire to have a drink) in pursuit of the longer term goal of sustaining a month without giving in. This lesson can be applied to other areas of our lives where procrastination rears its timewasting head.
9. Turning down free champagne is not impossible when you're focused on your long term goal.
10. I'm not an alcoholic! Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines an alcoholic thus:
a person who is unable to give up the habit of drinking alcohol very often and in large amounts
I had begun to question my dependence, but no longer. Phew, that's a relief.
Now that my month off booze is over, I feel I have a new relationship with alcohol. I'm not going dry for good but hope to enjoy drinking in a more mindful way. I've realised I never really need a drink and certainly don't ever deserve one. But if I want a drink that's fine. I hope to make the month off booze an annual event - we'll call it liver maintenance.
Now there's just a little issue of a chocolate addiction to deal with.
This article first appeared on The Mutton Club, an online magazine and community to inform, entertain and empower women in midlife.