We’re being told to drink less alcohol- have you ever tried to give up? | The panel

For many, a dry January is now an annual rite, and new guidelines will soon be released on our uptake. Here, six novelists discuss their relationship with alcohol

John Sutherland: Its 34 years since I stopped utilizing the stuff

John

Among my favourite lines of poetry are Christopher Logues woeful, Nevertheless, I shall forget her, and, alas, as if by collision, a day will pass in which I shall not think about her even more. I run whole months now, without thinking of what was once the most important thing in my life. Forget family, undertaking, liver and lightings, bank balance. All that mattered was the elusive next one.

The scarlet letter I wear( for alcoholic , not the other A) is somewhat faded nowadays. Its getting on for 34 years since I stopped use the stuff that came close to killing me. Without alcohol, life is duller: but its longer( be borne in mind that corny gag about it merely feeling longer ). And you can remember more of it.

How useful is AA? It varies from user to user. In my example it served as a kind of A& E. But, having done its cleansing undertaking, I could leave it behind. Many successfully retrieving choose not to. Good for them.

You never recover. I had cancer four years ago and, although cured, I shall be, for the rest of my life, defined by the NHS as a person with cancer( it helps with the prescription charges ). I shall also be, until the day I die, an alcoholic. In permanent remission on both fronts, I hope.

Only a couple of times over the decades have I relapsed. Once an injudiciously eaten mousse, soused in brandy. The other period a misnamed non-alcoholic mojito. I felt, almost instantaneously after the first( and only) mouthful, a flush rising through my cheek and that wonderful, first-drink, euphoria. The impression you chase thereafter until darkness autumns. I can live without it. And, if I want to live, shall have to.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett: I no longer drink to get trashed

Rhiannon

Booze, drinking, grog, plonk, sauce, hooch whatever you call alcohol( in Wales we say lysh) theres no denying that many of us love it. The fact that a photograph of new year mayhem in Manchester at its centre, reclining on the tarmac, a demi-nude, white belly flopping out as his mannered hand reachings for a bottle of lager was compared to a Renaissance masterpiece is testament to that. As is the fact that, at the weekend, most UK high streets resemble modern recreations of William Hogarths Gin Lane, except with more tit and leg on show.

Im no different. Ive never been a snifter kind of daughter. If I have one glass I might as well have the plenty, especially if it involves white wine( a ridiculous thing to get lashed on, and yet for some reason I persist ).

If this sounds fretting, rest assured that Im not a daily drinker. Whenever someone says that theyre having a night off I feel a vague sense of alarm. My night on is usually so excessive that it puts me off boozing the rest of the time. Its similar to the style my mother gave up smoking: 10 fags and three cans of special brew would guarantee she felt so rough that she didnt smoke again for a while. Not that Im saying an all-out binge is better than the little and often technique. Whichever camp were in, neither is ideal.

I will engage in brief periods of abstinence, usually when I want to lose a quick half stone; nothing works better. But I usually fall off the wagon again pretty soon afterwards. That first taste of chilled sauv blanc after a period of restriction is a thing of beauty.

I no longer drink to get trashed, as I did as a student, and I always maintain my wits about me, so I dont insure the harm in having the odd heavy session. But these days, I know my limits.

Remona Aly: Watching drinkers get sloshed is amusing

Remona

Life as a teetotaller has been a liquid journey that has flung me far away from the puritanical glass of orange juice, and opened up a daring world of Shloer and myriad pretentiously named mocktails.

My family has enjoyed its own version of a halal knees-up. Weve often had our home red or white grape juice to accompany lamb or chicken for dinner. This Christmas just gone, we went all-out on elderflower fizz, PS5 a pop. It was good stuff and I couldnt get enough of it. I felt what it must be to feel hungover the next day. If I lived up north, Id love to go down the Halal Inn in Oldham the UKs first alcohol free tavern a exhaustively British-Muslim concept.

On several occasions, people have been stunned, even mortified, upon hearing Ive never touched a drop. What , not even once? they ask. However, I cannot say, hand on heart, that my life has been fully alcohol-free. Ive accidentally munched on the odd champagne truffle and doused my pancakes with bourbon sauce in a cafe once. An honest mistake. Sometimes I wish I induced more of them.

A highlight or nadir that combined my faith with a little bit of the ol bottle, came during one of the most sacred months for Muslims: Ramadan. A friend bought an enormous cake to add to the iftar feast. Once sunset kicked in, seven hungry Muslims were halfway through devouring it, when I piped up, Tastes a bit alcoholic doesnt it? A Google afterwards and we guiltily lowered our forks.

Ive never been entirely comfy around alcohol, but watching drinkers get tipsy or even sloshed is amusing. At house parties, bridals, university balls, Ive seen inhibitions set free. Some gush odes and declarations of platonic love. Others become philosophers.

Many drinking friends have told me that I dont need alcohol to relax and have a good time, saying lovingly, I hope that I act drunk at times. It seems that an overt show of happiness mirrors a state of intoxication. Yet these same friends have showed tremendous consideration, ensuring Im not left out with gestures such as concocting alcohol-free mulled wine for me.

So alcohol whether through abstention, being surrounded by it, or by accidental uptake has played some part in my life. Ive never truly wanted to drink it though, and according to friends its likely safer for everyone that I never try.

Julie Bindel: I love liquor, and the world is a brighter place for me under its influence

A

Photograph: Alamy
Julie

Everyone knows that excess booze is bad for you. But how much is too much? If, like me, you find that one martini is never enough, and cheese is not worth feeing without wine, every day is a step closer to enforced and total abstinence, as moderation is clearly not an option.

Because I am fond of the sauce, I do take proper time off on occasion. Once a year I go without the devils brew for 12 weeks, and once, on the cusp of 40, I went a whole year.

Being for 12 months or 12 weeks solid is a challenge. The mornings are great, waking up without the slightest hangover or regret, but evenings are less fun, because alcohol adds enjoyment to most events.

When I give up I do it properly. I can be surrounded by bottles and not feel tempted, as I am in a mindset. But there are certain things I choose not to do during my time off. I wont go to house parties( I dont like them drunk, let alone sober) or to fine, French restaurants where the wine is as important as the food. It helps to have a date marked in my diary for when I can have my next drink, and a great place in which I can have it.

The way I see it, going without booze for a few weeks at a time means I am likely to be able to carry on drinking for the foreseeable, as it dedicates my liver a chance to recover. I have tried the moderation caper, and it only does not do it for me. One glass of wine with dinner, and no aperitif or digestif afterwards? What is the point? Whether I am a problem drinker or not, the fact is I love liquor and its effects, and the world is a brighter place for me under its influence.

Rose George: Red wine throws my mood into a dark pit

Rose

I come from the Yorkshire school of detox and dieting: its all mostly nonsense. Eat unprocessed food, plenty of vegetables and pulses, drink lots of water, and exert. So thats that sorted. But what about alcohol? Im a typical drinker in that I guess Im not a typical drinker. I think I dont have a problem. I always lie to the how many units question( that I dont doubt physicians inflate automatically to get a more accurate painting ). I never drink alone, and I run several times a week. Thats the very best me. But on weekends, in company, I can drink several glasses of wine, two or three days in a row. And because I am 46, I suffer grievously afterwards, losing a whole day of health and productivity. It doesnt help my running either.

But thats not why Ive embarked upon dry January. Im doing it for the sake of my sanity. Alcohol, especially red wine, throws my moods into a dark pit the next day, and I cant afford that any more. Im perimenopausal, and my failing ovaries and fluctuating oestrogen are lobbing days upon days of depression at me. I finally resorted to taking anti-depressants because the depression was getting frightening, and I dont believe Im dedicating sertraline the best chance to work if Im clouding my intellect with bottles of red wine.

Of course Im also doing it to see if I can, as discipline is something Im not very disciplined at. I want a less taxed liver and a constitution that doesnt have to work hard to rid my body of the toxins that alcohol breaks down into. My brain is already having to work hard at biding serene: by giving up alcohol, Im devoting it a head start.

Andy West: Im teetotal, and people always want to know why

When I was 14, a mate offered me a swig from his cider. Because of the alcoholism in my family, my survival instinct told me to say no for fear that Id suffer the same fate.

Although Im still teetotal at 29, beverage has the power to wind me up. Ive felt jealous of alcohol. On a Sunday morning, Ive thought What does a hangover have that I dont? At social events, Im constantly asked But why dont you? My behaviour can be said to fall outside the dominant ideology, so its deemed fine for strangers to ask me this, yet Id be considered antagonistic if I asked them How come you drink?

As Ive grown up, Ive seen my friends drinking. Theyre happy, healthy people and Ive became aware that not every drinker becomes an addict. I know that if I tried alcohol it probably wouldnt be the death of me. So does that mean Im tempted to order a pint?

I dont believe my life would be bettered by drinking. This is because of the countless friends who drink who say to me No. The headaches. The cost. The embarrassing regrets. Dont bother.

The alcoholism I ensure as a kid showed me the derelict regions of the human subconsciou, and it constructed me want to be lucid enough so I could see the regions beyond. I want to have friends , not drinking buddies. I want to wake up to the day ahead instead of to the night before. Ive never seriously doubted being dry. My teetotalism came from my fear of an early tomb yet it has taken the shape of something life-affirming.

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