By Victoria Young
I can’t be the only one who breathed a sigh of relief at the latest recommendation that regular drinkers should aim for two dry days a week. Finally: an achievable goal.
Last month, we all had to bury our heads in the sand in the face of a Lancet report that revealed the safe amount of alcohol to drink was… none at all. You can forget that, obviously.
As a teenager, I didn’t model myself on my parents, who had wine with supper some evenings, but never to excess. Our (under-age) goal was to get roaring drunk. By the time I was in my 20s, binge-drinking was the norm: ladette culture was at a peak and my friends, male and female, would frequently down five or six pints a night.
After university, I got a job at the New York Times, ending work at 1am – at which point my colleagues decamped to the local dive bar. I’d often get home at 4am, gin-soaked and without a care in the world. It didn’t occur to me that drinking might be bad for my health.
A few years later, I stopped drinking for 18 months after I was diagnosed with colitis, a digestive disorder. I genuinely wondered if I’d be able to do it, but my memory of that time is that I have never felt brighter, healthier or happier. I went to parties, drank fizzy water, and left feeling I’d had a better time for being sober.
Yet here I am in my 40s, marvelling that I was ever teetotal. I partly blame parenthood. There’s no doubt that the change of pace imposed by having a small person, plus suddenly being housebound, means you have to make your own fun. The baby’s finally asleep? Crack open a bottle. Can’t go out? Invite friends over for “baby cocktail hour”. I know it’s immature to equate booze with fun, but part of me still can’t imagine Friday night without the pop of a cork.
This habitual drinking is one of the hazards of being older and more settled. That’s one reason I still like to stop completely every so often. Over the years, like so many of us, I’ve dabbled with various ways to drink less. Dry January? Tick. Spirits? Not any more. And, with the revelation that parties can be more fun (and less embarrassing the next day) without drinking, I often drive, thus removing it from the equation. Still, I frequently exceed the ever-changing advice and guidelines about what’s safe.
Last January, I went to see hypnotist Georgia Foster to try to cultivate a “drinking-less mindset”. Reading her book, Drink Less in 7 Days, I realised I’m probably what she calls a “perfectionist”. We usually have alcohol-free days because abstaining is easier than moderation but, come the weekend, moderation is out the window.
Hypnosis was helpful, largely because it taught me to analyse my emotional state to avoid drinking for the wrong reasons (to quell my “inner critic”, or anxiety). The net result, though, was that I started drinking with less guilt and, so, more abandon. Hearing Georgia detail the extreme habits of some drinkers who seek her help, I felt vindicated about my relatively moderate habits. I was also influenced by her revelation that government guidelines of what’s safe were an underestimation, based on the logic that people tend to lie about how much they drink.
So it backfired a bit. But I will be embracing our new collective goal of two consecutive dry days a week. In fact, I’ll aim for four.