Alcohol is integral to the lives of many Westerners. Northern Europeans especially love binge drinking and telling tales that start with “I was mortal…”. We use it to celebrate when we are happy and to drown our sorrows. People get paralytic at weddings. People get paralytic at funerals. Had a bad day? Have a beer. Got promoted? Crack out the champagne. Had a baby – wet the little guys head.
I thought when I moved to a dry country my relationship with alcohol would change. Don’t get me wrong I love a drink, but I was hoping to test my resolve and, as my initial contract was only six months get fit and healthy without the booze. My relationship with alcohol did change, but not in the way that I thought it would. In fact when I first arrived in the country my buddy had ensured I had a bottle of wine to greet me. Newbies are taken to one side and taught about how to get alcohol legally – it’s no big deal you just have to cross over into another country and pick up your stash. Legally you can bring in 12 bottles of beer and 2 bottles of spirits or wine from Malaysia ever 48 hours. Suddenly it was normal to have a cupboard full of booze. I was even buying spirits I would rarely buy in bars – tequila, sambuca, rum… At one point I had six varieties of gin and 3 flavours of vodka. I’d buy in alcohol for visitors coming. Then when they did, ensure they came across the border so I could use their quota. My kitchen cupboard is so well stocked, at sensible drinking limits it would probably take me a year to consume it all.
So how did I get here? From never drinking at home in the UK to having a literal bar in my house? It’s been a slow process but one that I’m now trying to take control over. When you use alcohol to reward yourself, when you tell yourself you deserve this, then you start to find yourself in trouble. Without bars to bring people together, expats find themselves drinking in each others houses, or worse still, on their own. And I’ve seen it. People whose alcohol consumption has spiralled out of control – drinking every day because it’s easy as it’s in your house. This then impacts their physical and mental health, and consequentially their job. Its too easy to rely on alcohol as a coping strategy when you’re miles from ‘home’.
For me I started having ‘a couple’ on a Wednesday cos “it’s hump day and you have to celebrate making it to the middle of the week” and a weekend. The weekend ended up being Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But that is okay, I’d reason. At least I’m not drinking everyday. But then holidays would come and I’d be like ‘oh I’m on holiday – it’s okay to have a drink’. When you have 14 weeks holiday a year you run into trouble quickly. The ‘one glass of wine’ got bigger each time until I was ‘only having three glasses’ but those three glasses were a bottle. But still I reasoned, I’m not drinking everyday.
And then I sat there one night. On my sofa in my living room with a gin and tonic on the table in front of me and I thought – ‘what are you doing?’ Alcohol is supposed to be a social activity. Going down the pub was never about drinking. Not really. It was about meeting up with your mates and getting out of the house for a couple of hours. Why was I suddenly ‘deserving’ of a drink because I’d managed to do 3 days of work? Why was I sat here with a drink in front of me – was it just because I could? Or more realistically because here it is ‘forbidden’, restrictive and all the more enticing?
Slowly but surely the idea of just stopping was creeping in. Much like what happened before I finally quit smoking many years ago. Every time I had a drink I was weighing up if this is what I wanted. What did I gain from drinking? What did I lose? When I quit smoking it was because I was getting regular chest infections. Alcohol is making me subdued and making me gain weight. It’s not worth it.
So I started playing with the idea of not drinking for a while. And after 7 days of straight drinking in Singapore my body was due for a break. My liver hurt. My bank balance was crying. I muttered the line “I think I’m going to do Dry January”. Then once the bloke heard he decided he’d give it a go as well, and there was no turning back. We know a couple of people who haven’t drank for a while and they seem better for it.
So here I am, day 4. I will get to the end of January without a drink, I am certain of that. How will I feel? Many people tell me that I will feel wonderful. That I won’t go back to it. Whether this is true I don’t know – I haven’t had a month alcohol free for I’m not sure any of my adult life. We’ll see if I crack the gin back open on Feb 1st but either way my relationship with alcohol is changing again, and this time for the better.