This week Gay Alcorn wrote about giving up alcohol for a month and how she was not prepared for the impact it had. She wrote:
I drank to pretend that my life was more interesting than it was, to escape from everyday problems, and because I enjoyed it. Or maybe that’s self-justifying crap. Maybe it’s just that alcohol is an addictive substance like all of those illicit drugs we demonise and, over the years, I had become addicted.
The piece had an extraordinary response with hundreds of thousands of people reading. Below is an edited selection of readers’ comments:
‘The line between an alcoholic and normal drinker is blurred’
Good for you. As someone did have a drink problem, I personally think the line between an alcoholic and a normal drinker is blurred. Millions of these supposed normal drinkers are addicted to alcohol – a foul-tasting drug that makes you behave badly and feel wretched. Don’t drink again and don’t feel like you’re giving anything up: you’re not.
‘The decision proved quite easy’
When I came to work in the Middle East six years ago, I took a conscious decision that living in a country where alcohol was illegal and trying to hold down a pretty challenging job would mean my avoiding booze completely. Once taken, the decision proved quite easy – it was as simple as changing gears. I was quite surprised, however, to find that the chief effect was not physical as much as it was mental – the depression and violent outbursts which had haunted me for decades gradually ebbed away. It took a while to realise that alcohol had been the equivalent of the Old Man of the Sea for most of my adult life.
‘I don’t need alcohol to unwind’
Best wishes, Gay. I stopped drinking two and a half years ago and with the benefit of distance, I can now say these things are true:
1. Alcohol made me feel good only in that it satisfied the craving for alcohol. Now the craving is gone (give it three months) I don’t need alcohol to unwind. In fact, I’m much less wound.
2. Everything is better without alcohol, and I really do mean everything.
By the way, the most I drank in a session was three drinks. Mainly it was one or two. And I drank four to five times a week. So pretty normal by most standards. And I was addicted. I can see that now.
‘I didn’t have an addiction, just a habit’
Like the writer, my one or two glasses of wine with the evening meal crept up to three or four and some days I drank half a bottle or even whole bottle of wine. For about a year I had a background worry that I was addicted. Then I decided I needed to lose weight, and to be successful this time, I would stop drinking alcohol completely. So one day I just stopped. And for three months drank no alcohol apart from one night at a dinner party. Pleased to discover it was easy, I felt a lot better, and I was more productive and positive. And I was also happy to discover that I did not have an addiction, it had just been a habit. I just had a three week holiday where I had one or two beers most days. Now I am back at work and alcohol-free again. Highly recommend it. May not be quite so easy if you do have an addiction issue, which I did not seem to have.
‘I just drank too much’
I am not joking, I never had a drink problem, I just drank too much. I drink all the time, now it is alcohol free beer. I never keep count. What jolted me into my senses was the day I drank four bottles of red and was still functional. I realised how much I was drinking and just gave up. I have never missed it. I had one drink out of curiosity, it was a non event. Hence I am not sure the addictive aspect is universal, I was definitely addicted to smoking.
‘I drank every night’
Gave up proper drinking two years ago. I had slowly developed a bad habit of drinking every night, sometimes half a bottle, sometimes a whole bottle. I thought feeling vaguely shit until lunchtime was normal. The first thing I noticed a few weeks in is how happy I felt all the time. Just content and relaxed. I realised this was my old normal, it was like going back to being a child. It’s changed my life immeasurably for the better, I’ve gotten right into exercise and my fitness levels are fantastic for my age. I found after about eight months I can have the occasional drink at weddings etc with no problem, it doesn’t trigger me wanting to continue. I know this is not the case for everyone.
‘I can’t do it’
I have been trying to stop bingeing on booze for 30 years. Can’t do it. I stay sober for a month – no worries – feel great. Then for any reason or no reason I get totally tanked for three days until I’m so ill sometimes I end up in hospital. At 14 I started on Muscat Marsala and Milk. euw! I could easily blend in to Russia because vodka is awesome. My guilt hits me when I play guitar and sing in Church. I am a hypocrite.
‘I have a very solitary life’
I’m a rural Irish single person who hasn’t had a drink for about fifteen years, and I must admit that it’s led to me having a very solitary life, but I’m almost never in trouble, and I used to always be. Well worth it.
‘I’ve replaced alcohol with super fizzy water’
A drink, even just one drink, gave me a burst of instant ambition, followed by a rather anticlimactic 9pm procrastination slump once the kids were in bed, consisting of watching dumb YouTube clips about how evil Trump is, or some dissatisfying Netflix crap, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open and crawled into bed at 12.30.
Now I understand that what I craved was actually the mouth feel, more than the alcohol. I’ve replaced alcohol with super fizzy water and everything is better. In fact since then I’ve not only been offered an amazing new job but I’ve also learned the first couple of pages of Brahms’ Intermezzo opus 118 number 2 in A major (which you should all go and listen to Glenn Gould playing on YouTube because it is life alteringly beautiful).
‘Booze-free was joyless’
I used to have a booze-free month every year. I stopped doing it because I had to accept that those months were invariably the most joyless, miserable, depressing, empty months of the year. I am not joking, but I realise this experience does not sit well with this newspaper’s tireless and tedious crusade against alcohol.
‘I want every inch of my life’
I’ve avoided alcohol all my life. Meaning, I might have one glass of wine, or half a pint of beer, two or three times a year, in a particular situation. But that’s it. The reason? I’m mean on giving away bits of my life, my energy, my alertness, my “being present”, as this writer puts it, being fully aware.
The way she describes here hangovers – to me, that reads like feeling a bit ill. Feeling a bit ill every day. Feeling a bit low, a bit slow, a bit headachy, a bit foggy. Every bloody day. Like feeling you’re about to come down with a cold every day.
To me, it’s like giving up bits of your life, your consciousness, your aliveness, your alertness. If I didn’t feel I had an interesting life, with things to do, then I suppose it would matter less if I wasted some of it semi-aware, through drink. But I do have an interesting life, in all sorts of ways, so many things in which to take interest and pleasure. Were I to be drunk, or even tipsy, or even hungover, I could absolutely not be fully engaged in the moment, take real pleasure, be absorbed, experience things properly. I need all my faculties, all my senses, all my emotional alertness, to really experience being alive.
Well, that’s me, whether that sounds wanky or not. I want every second. I want every inch of my life, all that I can have, fully known, fully experienced, none of it chucked away.
‘I’ve overdone grog for adventure’
That middle class drinking wine at home every night is completely pointless and utterly dull.
I’ve overdone the grog for the most part but it’s been largely the adventure of frothies in pubs, meeting people, women, the odd argument. But it served a purpose, I couldn’t ever imagine just quaffing wine at home as some daily ritual.