Here it is, the last day of abstinence. I have ‘detoxed’, ‘cleansed my liver’ and proven to myself that I am not an alcoholic.
This is my second year of Febfast and it has been a lot easier this time around than the first, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a month off the grog is easy. I did contemplate extending the month, because I was feeling so good, so in control. The thought was fleeting. I am looking forward to March 1 way too much for that. Why is giving up booze so hard? And why do we make such a big deal of it when we do give ourselves a break?
What I have learnt in the past month is that the reasons why are more cultural and environmental than physical (unless you are a raging alcoholic of course, in which case I am sure physical withdrawal is gruesome), even though the benefits you feel by not drinking are physical.
Let’s face it, Australians drink a lot. Last year we guzzled 12.6 litres of pure alcohol per capita. Stats don’t say much unless there is some perspective around it. This figure is from the World Health Organisation where Australia ranked 10th in the world for alcohol consumption. Tenth isn’t so bad right? It’s not first (that was Moldova). But what if I said that the US ranked 49th, Canada 38th, Germany 32nd and even those pub-loving Poms came in after us in 17th? The Italians, sophisticated wine-swillers that they are, came in a long way behind us ranked 97th.
Australians are booze-hounds, we love the stuff. On a recent trip to Japan with my family the drunkest person we encountered for the whole holiday was, you guessed it, an Aussie (no, it wasn’t me).
I think this is partly because Australians don’t view being drunk or getting drunk as that big a deal. We parade it, revel in it, celebrate it and reminisce about it. And we clearly do that more often and with larger amounts of alcohol than other nations. The same can’t be said for the courteous Japanese (they ranked 69th).
This February I have found it easier than last, but I also didn’t feel as amazingly different over the course of the month as I did last year. I think this is for a few reasons: I have cut down considerably on my alcohol consumption since the last Febfast, I cut back on work hours and work stress and I am way fitter than I was at this time last year.
But I did want to drink. This February was a very social month for me, yet the social occasions were not the hardest. The hardest times were when I really wanted to relax and a chilled glass of wine offered the easiest way to get there. Without alcohol, there was little else to switch my brain into neutral when I wanted to rest. Am I that reliant on it for relaxation?
Liquor shops are also a temptation. I was surprised by how powerful the sign of a liquor shop is. I might not have been thinking of drinking but if I came across a liquor shop, at the right time of day, the idea of a drink was firmly implanted in my brain. What chance do alcoholics have?
Then there is the underlying and undeniable prejudice against non-drinkers. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot of support during Febfast, but it’s not like I ran a marathon, I haven’t achieved much other than slightly better health for a month, any one of us can do that. But I wonder what support would be like if I decided to stop drinking completely, become a teetotaller (I can hear the sniggers now from those who know me well), would I be considered a bore? If I have proven to myself that I can have a good time without alcohol, could others accept that too? Without a “cause” my reasons for not wanting to drink – better sleep, better health, better brain power, more energy – are not regarded as worthy. How would that conversation go at parties?
“Oh, why aren’t you drinking? Are you driving?”
“No, I just wanted a good night’s sleep.”
C’mon. As if.
What if the question was the other way around?
“Why are you drinking tonight?”
“Oh, because I want to wake up feeling like shit tomorrow.”
How many people do you know don’t drink?
I know there will be many who won’t read past the first paragraph of this blog, Febfast isn’t for everyone. By far, the biggest lesson I have learnt from doing this exercise is that sometimes it’s a good thing to challenge our habits and gain a clearer understanding of why we do things – like drink, smoke, overeat or gamble. I am not going to become a teetotaller but I am changing my habits around alcohol.
And attitudes are changing. The results of the last ABS health survey of 2014-15 showed drinking rates at harmful levels in Australia have declined compared to three years earlier, which is a good sign.
Kaizen, it’s Japanese meaning “change for better”. I hope our Aussie friend learnt that on his travels.