Damp February

So what happened after 31st January?

1st February was a Friday night, so the scene was set for a celebration – the wine chilling in the fridge, the restaurant table booked…but unfortunately my body had other ideas. With a headache from hell all I wanted was to lie down in a darkened room. So my Dry January carried over another day and the drink that broke my alcohol fast was drunk on 2nd February.

White wine. Two small glasses. After 32 alcohol free days, it tasted STRONG. It sounds obvious to say it, but I could really taste the alcohol – almost a vodka taste, and fume-y too. I guess my tastebuds may have changed, but it also made me think about alcohol being a toxin, a poison, a drug not a foodstuff. That said, I drank it, and it was good. I didn’t feel particularly drunk, but I did feel relaxed. Mmmmm.

That bottle of sauvignon blanc lasted me 4 nights. That’s 10 units in 5 drinks. A vodka and orange on Wednesday night (1 or 2 units) and a total of 2 alcohol-free days (Friday and Thursday) makes that well within the lower risk drinking pattern, and I’m happy with that.

There’s a theory that self-control is like a muscle, and gets stronger the more you use it. I’ve learned that in my day to day life I just don’t need alcohol.

It’s 9pm on a Friday night again and I’m not missing a drink at all. The thought was still there, the pattern and desire to but a four pack of cider and drink 2 or 3 “because I can”. But in the spirit of learning from my Dry January experience, I chose to buy a single (small – I’m not talking 2 or 3 litre) bottle instead, instantly meaning I’d drink a sensible 2.5 units instead of 6 to 8, just by having less available. That bottle’s still sitting in the fridge and I’m not even bothered. Weird.

I’m still following the Dry January facebook group, and it’s really interesting to see other people’s reactions to life after the challenge. And also to notice the reaction of others – Are you drunk yet? Have you come back to the fold?

It’s like we came to a crossroads at the end. Do we go back to our old ways and see January as a month of deprivation, never to be endured again, or do we use it as momentum for further change?

Some people inevitably did not manage the whole month, others struggled and counted down the hours until their next pint, but 80% of people who took part in Dry January told Alcohol Concern they now feel confident and positive enough to cut their alcohol intake in the long-term. What a success that is.

A significant amount of people have even been inspired by the benefits they’ve felt and the support they’ve received to continue beyond January and set themselves goals such as Dry February and even Dry 2013.

And how much money has been raised for Alcohol Concern by our joint efforts? 8 days ago, the total was a massive £23,405!

Please note you can still donate on my page until the end of February at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher (Total £505) and why not get involved yourself in the next Dry January? Hope to see you there :-)

Day 31 – Mission Accomplished!

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Just over an hour of Dry January to go…

And I’m happy to confirm that I’ve survived 31 days without alcohol and raised £505 for Alcohol Concern, which I reckon is a result!

I’ll be having a drink, and a meal out, tomorrow night to celebrate, but I honestly don’t feel much of an urge to drink alcohol as soon as I’m “allowed” – technically, midnight tonight.

In fact I’ve been surprised at how little I’ve missed it. Yes, there’ve been a few times when I’ve fancied a drink this month, usually on a Friday night, but any mild cravings have been fairly fleeting and hardly overwhelming. It’s just felt different, rather than difficult, to be abstinent.

I would recommend Dry January, or having a break from alcohol any time, to anyone. If nothing else it’s an interesting experiment that makes you notice and question your habits and lifestyle. I think it’s good to reflect on your life and also to test yourself sometimes. It’s reminded me that I have choices, am in control, and that change is possible.

I’m confident that I don’t have a problematic relationship with alcohol, and am able to enjoy it (fairly) responsibly, but Dry January has made me focus on the fact that regular drinking even slightly over the recommended limits carries an increasing risk to my health in many ways, and made me want to reduce the harm.

When I go back to drinking, I plan to have more alcohol free days, and limit my consumption on the days that I drink to 1 or 2 drinks as the norm. Will I still have the occasional binge and get drunk? Probably. Drinking is a pleasurable experience for me and helps me let go of my inhibitions, relax and have a laugh. I don’t need it, but it’s undeniably fun. I’ll always be mindful of the fact that, for many people, it goes beyond that and isn’t fun anymore, and I don’t want my drinking to ever get to that point. There’s always that potential for it to escalate so I’ll continue to monitor it throughout my life.

I’ve said I might post the occasional blog update in February and I’ll be leaving the donation page open for another month, just in case anyone else wants to contribute.

For now all that remains to be said is a heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who’s helped raise £505. I never expected to get anywhere near this amount and I’m proud to be donating it all to Alcohol Concern.

Thanks for reading.

Total £505 (£592 including Gift Aid) http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher

Day 30 – Almost there…

Tomorrow is the final day of Dry January. So close now to the end of the project AND the £500 mark, it would only take a few small donations to make up the £20 shortfall and hit the target. If you haven’t yet sponsored me (or even if you have!) please do consider giving Alcohol Concern a few quid today to help them in their vital work and make a difference in the lives of those harmed by alcohol.

Thanks again to all those of you who’ve given your money, support and comments. From the conversations we’ve had, it’s clear that alcohol has touched the lives of many of the people I know and their family and friends. It really is a common issue affecting everyone across society, and such a big part of our culture playing a part in our socialising, celebrating, commiserating, desire for altered states, coping with emotional and physical pain, filling a spiritual void, and sense of belonging and identity.

By giving it up, I’ve learned more about alcohol throughout the month, and am always on a learning curve. If you’ve been inspired to look further into alcohol-related issues, the various links on my home page may be of interest. Here’s a new one on the hot topic of minimum unit pricing, something a lot of people are talking about, with all the facts at http://minimumpricing.info/

I’m not sure I’ve saved much money this month as I’ve bought more soft drinks as an alternative to alcohol. And somewhat disappointingly I haven’t noticed any improvement in my skin, which Dry January promised me in its publicity! I may have lost a negligible amount of weight, and gained a slight increase in energy and quality sleep.

The most valuable learning for me has been the experience of setting a goal (a SMART goal i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed) and – nearly! – achieving it. The gain in self-confidence has made me realise I can apply myself to a project, alter my lifestyle and use my skills in other areas of my life I might want to change.

The support and generosity of so many people has also helped enormously and taught me a lot. And on that note!…there’s still time to sponsor me at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher Running total £480 Could you be the one to hit the £500 target?

Day 26 – Where’s the harm?

Saturday night and I am treating myself to a non-alcoholic mojito. It’s not too bad actually. I think I’ll buy more non-alcoholic soft drinks in future so I’m not automatically reaching for the wine. I definitely want to have at least 2 or 3 alcohol-free days a week as this is the recommended guideline, and 48 hours after a binge to recover if necessary.

So what are the other guidelines we should all be aiming for, and how much alcohol do you have to drink for it to affect your health? These are the categories of drinking recognised by the NHS:

Lower Risk

Men No more than 3-4 units a day (21 a week) on a regular basis (i.e. most days of the week, or most weeks of the year) .

Women No more than 2-3 units a day (14 a week) on a regular basis (i.e. most days of the week, or most weeks of the year)

It’s called Lower Risk not “Safe”, because drinking is never completely safe in all circumstances – e.g. driving, operating machinery, after strenuous exercise or before swimming, and if on certain medication.

Pregnant women or those trying to conceive are advised to avoid alcohol, or failing that to drink no more than 1-2 units once or twice a week and avoid getting drunk.

While there is a reduced risk of heart disease for men over 40 and women post menopause, there is convincing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of developing a number of cancers- at lower risk levels it’s small but it increases the more you drink.

On the whole, for those of us who drink alcohol (and only about 10% of the UK population are abstinent), if you’re within these limits you don’t need to worry too much, just be aware of what you drink as it’s easy to start drinking more without really noticing. The majority (about 60%) of the UK population fall into the Lower Risk category.

Increasing Risk

Men More than 3-4 units a day on a regular basis

Women More than 2-3 units a day on a regular basis

A lot of us fall into this category, and may not realise that regularly drinking over the lower risk levels does increase the risk of damaging our health. The likelihood of cancers of the liver, mouth, larynx, oesophagus, breast, pancreatitis, hypertension, stroke, cardiac arrhythmias, coronary heart disease, mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and dementia increases the more we drink. Basically alcohol affects all the body’s systems and organs, and these are just a few examples.

Higher Risk

Men More than 8 units a day (or 50 a week) on a regular basis.

Women More than 6 units a day (or 35 a week) on a regular basis

Drinking at these levels carries a much higher risk to your health which progressively increases the more you drink. There’s likely to already be some damage, even though the drinker may not be aware of it. 

8% of men and 5% of women are estimated to drink at Higher Risk levels. This equates to 2.7 million people in England.

And 31% of men and 20% of women (about 10 million people) drink at Increasing Risk or Higher Risk levels.

Surprised by these facts? We often think that dependent drinking – when someone may have such a strong desire to drink that they experience difficulties controlling their drinking and persist despite harmful consequence – is the indicator of an alcohol problem (“alcoholism”), but the World Health Organisation also uses the definitions hazardous drinking (at Increasing Risk or Higher Risk levels) and harmful drinking (Higher Risk) as problematic.

What’s your drinking pattern?

People often underestimate how much they drink, and the number of units in alcohol, particularly as drinks’ strength, sizes and measures vary so much, and have got bigger in recent years. A glass of wine could be anything from 1 unit – if VERY small, to 2.1 units (175ml of 12 % abv), up to 3.5 units (250ml of 14% abv).

The NHS Choices www.nhs.uk/livewell/alcohol/pages/alcoholhome.aspx website has further information on units, as well as a Unit Calculator and downloadable Alcohol Tracker which will automatically work out your daily/weekly units. Keeping a Drink Diary can be a really useful exercise if you’re unsure how much you’re drinking, or want to cut down.

There’s also loads of other information and advice on the NHS site, including a Self Assessment tool, which can help you to work out the level of risk to your health and wellbeing linked to your alcohol use. It’s a routine screening tool also known as an AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) used by Alcohol Workers.

If you’re contemplating changing your drinking, there are some excellent online self help sites like www.downyourdrink.org.uk and www.drinkerscheckup.com which I would wholeheartedly recommend. They’re filled with e-tools, exercises, information and tips and based on well-evidenced treatment approaches, and you can work through them anonymously and get personalised feedback.

You can also call Drinkline on 0800 7314 314 if you’re worried about your alcohol use, or someone else’s, to get support and find out about local services in your area.

To donate online please go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher - running total £460 for Alcohol Concern.

Day 25 – Friday Night Blues

Well here we are, another alcohol-free Friday night, the fourth and final one of Dry January. This is the time I find most difficult as it’s an entrenched habit for me to drink on a Friday night and we’re all creatures of habit.

To be honest I’m struggling a bit tonight and would dearly love a drink. Maybe a red wine, it’s that sort of weather. Or even a brandy or a whisky. I feel exhausted, and it’s been a long week involving lots of trudging for miles through the snow to get to work (I don’t drive) and battling the elements.

It’s the end of the working week, the weekend starts here, I don’t have to work tomorrow, I deserve a reward, alcohol would go nicely with this food, I feel a bit hormonal, I’d like to just chill, enjoy a drink and watch TV…  these are familiar thoughts going through my mind and possible “triggers” for me.

I’m resisting them by reminding myself of the gains from remaining abstinent – not least the current total sponsorship of £460, another target smashed today and a new one set (£500!), so giving in now would involve a cost to me of nearly £1000 to pay back the sponsors, and Alcohol Concern.

I also remind myself of how lucky I am in this economic climate to have a home and a job to walk to and from, albeit in freezing conditions. Homeless people face extreme hardship every day just to survive, sometimes using alcohol to try to stay warm, but while it creates a sensation of warmth, it actually decreases core body temperature and increases the risk of hypothermia.

I know I will get through the weekend and final days of Dry January sober, though I am looking forward to having an alcoholic drink next Friday. This experiment has shown me that if this is as hard as it gets, I have no major difficulties in stopping drinking, at least for a month. Controlling the amount I drink beyond January, and keeping within the recommended guidelines, now that’ll be the next challenge…

You can still sponsor me at  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher - running total £460. Thank you so much to everyone who’s supported me so far, I really appreciate it and  your money will be well used by Alcohol Concern.

Day 22 – £350 target exceeded!

So very pleased today to have exceeded the £350 target :) Thanks again to everyone who has supported my efforts for Dry January and helped to reach these dizzy heights!

With 9 days to go I can’t stop now so I’ve raised the target to an ambitious £400 – let’s see if we can get there. I’ve set the donations page to continue to collect funds for one month beyond January (so, February then!) and, who knows, I may even write the occasional blog post next month to let you know how I get on with my drinking after a month’s abstinence. This is the longest I’ve gone without alcohol for about 15 years, and at this stage I’m pretty sure I’ll be drinking less than I was before this experiment, and feeling better for it.

I visited a couple of clients who are undergoing treatment in residential rehabs today, and whose lives revolved around alcohol for many years. It was fantastic to see how well they’re doing, and genuinely humbling to see the transformation in their self esteem and confidence. Treatment works for those who engage with it and I have so much admiration for them for sticking with the programme, which is intensive and can be very challenging.

Alcohol treatment has traditionally received less funding than drug treatment, yet alcohol causes at least as much harm as illegal drugs, and is a massive public health issue, linked to over 60 conditions including a whole range of cancers, cirrhosis, stomach ulcers, stroke, high blood pressure and dementia.

The equally devastating social consequences linked to alcohol can include violent crime, domestic abuse, antisocial behaviour, drink driving, accidents, injuries, homelessness, suicide, deliberate self injury, and absenteeism.

All the money for Dry January raised goes to Alcohol Concern to help provide support to the millions of people whose lives are adversely affected by alcohol, throughout the community and in residential settings.

It also enables the campaigning for effective national policies which recognise the impact of alcohol misuse on society, and aim to reduce the harm, for example by ensuring effective alcohol screening and advice is readily available in GP surgeries, hospitals, pharmacies, custody suites and homeless hostels.

Anyone who hasn’t yet got round to donating to this great cause, now’s your chance at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher  - Running total £352

Day 20 – Out with the old…

 

Another weekend nearly over, with plenty of people posting on facebook about their hangovers, and I have remained dry…

I do feel like I have a bit more energy, time and motivation to get things done. As well as walks in the snow, yoga and cello practice I’ve been cleaning, tidying, sorting and getting rid of things (videos!! records!!) I’ve been meaning to get around to for years.

I suppose it’s all a way of letting go of things that I no longer have a use for, that have served their purpose and I have been keeping but don’t actually need. Living with accumulated clutter, like drinking, drains your energy.

I would normally have had some alcohol, maybe a couple of cans of cider or large glasses of wine, and more if I was out, on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s a habit, more than anything. Do I really need it, especially if I’m staying in? I think these last three alcohol-free weekends have proved that I don’t. I haven’t missed it as such, it just feels different. As 6 units of alcohol for a woman (8 for a man) in one day is technically a binge, it’s a positive difference to cut it out.

Here’s a video I came across of a lesser-known song by the excellent Massive Attack, portraying a young, seemingly-professional woman on a serious drinking binge. I think it’s very powerful and may even be shocking for some people. I’ve seen people drinking like this, pouring vodka down their neck as if it was water. Those of us with direct or indirect personal experience of addiction may recognise the desire for oblivion portrayed so hauntingly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LgrGHWSy6k

Running total £337 Please donate online at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bethanfisher