Last week I suspect that many of you may have headed down to the pub or settled down on the sofa and taken a satisfying draught of your first alcoholic drink of 2018. Dry January is becoming increasingly popular as a means of cutting down one’s consumption and detoxing a beer and buffet battered body after a gluttonous festive period.
Which is all well and good except that abstaining for an entire month is no easy task if you are someone accustomed to a regular tipple. Such as my good friend Shaun, whom I met for a pint or four last Friday in the Bull’s Head. He tried Dry January and somewhere around the 20th, he failed. “It’s just that when I return from a long shift at the factory, I feel like I need a drink to unwind; or if I’m bored or depressed, a glass helps me. I know it doesn’t really, not in the long run, but at the time, yeah, it does.”
Shaun’s dilemma is a common one that many of us face. Get home, or have an hour to kill and we feel like we really need that drink. It is a panacea for all ill, boredom slayer, depression banisher, mood lightener and stress dissipater. Yet we also all know that it is a false friend and our health will suffer in the long run.
“I get it,” I told him; “I used to have the same problem myself. Couldn’t pass a pub without popping in.”
“So how did you change?” he asked.
I had to stop and think for a moment about that one. Then I told him:
And it’s true. One year I made a conscious effort to read more. Nothing to do with alcohol intake; instead I became aware of all those classics that I was ignorant of and decided to read some of them – Dickens, Trollope, that kind of thing. I set myself a target – fifty pages a day – and then I began.
And I got into it, I mean, really got into it. I began to get itchy, desperate to see what would happen next in the life of Becky Sharpe or whether Pierre would marry Natasha Rostova. And, without realising it, I swapped one addiction for another. I was never bored because I always had another chapter to read and immersing oneself in Orwell’s ‘Brave New World’ or Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ helped dissipate the depression just as effectively as the beer.
And it was a choice. On a few occasions I took a book with me to the pub, but I found that, after a pint or two, the alcohol took over and concentrating on the book – and thus achieving my fifty pages – became hard work. So, it was the booze or the book?
And although I still enjoy a Friday night out, overall, the book won.
So, this month, rather than a dryathlon, why not try a Year of the Book?