The Dry January Experience.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

Just over a month ago, I opened the fridge, and the bottle of chilled rosé winked provocatively at me from beside the orange juice carton. My hand wavered on its way to the juice, and all willpower promptly dissolved. Once poured into a delicate stemmed glass, the rosé provided the illusion of a luxurious reward for the end of my day.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not exactly the female answer to Gérard Depardieu. Lindsay Lohan could drink me under the table within minutes. I’m a typical example of the mother who reaches for her first glass of rosé whilst simultaneously burning dinner, tripping over the dog, emptying the washing machine and resolving conflicts between her offspring.

That evening, I was irritated to see that “wine o’clock” had become an automatic reflex that wasn’t so much a pleasure as a habit. Many people have told me that if you can’t do without something on a daily basis, it is an addiction. I have often wondered if that means I need therapy because I cannot go to bed without having cleaned my ears with cotton buds. Or if I should consult a counsellor from “Peanut Addicts Anonymous” for my daily fix of Arachis hypogaea. When exactly does a daily habit become an addiction?

I didn’t find an answer to my question on internet, but I did find Alcohol Concern’s website, and a challenge called “Dry January”: no alcohol for one month. I liked the idea – an opportunity to prove to myself that I really did have more self-control than a golden retriever discovering a tennis ball machine in the back garden. If I was addicted, I’d be clawing my way up the curtains in despair within days.

So I signed up. I apologise to Dry January, because I cheated and used my parents’ UK postcode. Please forgive me, DJ, and consider letting non-UK residents take part without having to lie through their teeth next year. We expats in wine-growing countries could add a whole new slant to your statistics: here in France, a litre of droolingly drinkable plonk costs less than petrol in the UK, giving us a temptation rating equal to that of a four-year-old left to his own devices in a Cadbury’s warehouse.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her provençale villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of best wines in the village.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her Provençal villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of the best wines in the village. Image credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Over the month, I regularly read Dry January’s Facebook page, a real source of inspiration. My resolve was considerably strengthened by the determination and solidarity of those taking part – the challenge worked a charm because people can encourage each other and be accountable to each other. Being accompanied is clearly a key factor to successfully achieve any major life change.

To multiply the accountability factor, I made the promise to you lot, my super blogger pals, who checked out my daily exploits and kept me on track… because I promised, and I hate looking like a loser. And finally, I swore an oath of abstinence to P.F. and my three bemused offspring who (for once) were stumped for words before falling off their chairs and rolling on the floor laughing.

The aim

The aim was simple on paper: give up alcohol for one month. As I’m an eternal optimist, I added an hour of exercise every day for good measure. I have been terminally allergic to sport for all my adult life, and it was as good a time as any to gently get back on track. Having never worked out the interest of paying for the privilege of running on a treadmill in a giant cage full of lycra-clad, poney-tail swishing hamsters with gadgets strapped to their arms and leads sticking out of their ears, I decided to get outside with Smelly Dog and explore. It doesn’t cost a penny, and you don’t have to inhale the smell of other people’s armpits or suffer the humiliation of being thrown off the running machine.

We quickly worked out a circuit through the local vineyards (that’s what you could term Dry January karma). Once we had established that we weren’t going to give up, we invested in a pedometer. We shunned the über-sexy “name and shame” gadgets that shamelessly broadcast everything bar your knicker size and the number of times you fart as you wheeze your way around the local park, and went for a cheap and monastic version that keeps our modest accomplishments (distance, number of steps and walking time) to itself.

Result? We have walked over 203,000 steps, or 145km (90 miles) over the month. Walking is amazingly good for the soul, particularly when attempting abstinence for the first time in 12 years. Excuse the pun, but motivating music, sunshine and great countryside are ideal to lift a trainee teetotaler’s spirits.

So, how did the abstinence go?

The first week, I surfed the virtuosity wave. I was a disdainful diva when faced with a glass of wine, even declining champagne on the beach to toast in the new year. By the middle of the second week, however, the saintly queen of self-control and restraint was glowering, Gollum-like, over her glass of Perrier and lime, as she observed a grinning PF savouring his evening beer.

Ch-ch-ch-ch- changes….

Once I had got through the first two weeks, I started to notice the first benefits of the experience. The first, blatantly obvious change was in weight and volume. I’m not talking about myself here, but the recycling bag. I never thought I could feel virtuous at the local dump, and it had bugger all to do with the environment.

The recycling run, before Dry January. Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

The recycling run, before Dry January.
Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

I was in bed snoring shamelessly before ten and was awake before the alarm at 6.15. My skin was looking better. I had more energy, and was smug to see that I could still exercise a little discipline over myself. I was half–way there – so it would be silly to crack now. I had a spring in my step I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

I was fitter, too. Although weight loss wasn’t a decisive factor for me, I have lost 5 lb and banished two inches of muffin top from my waistline, which is definitely better than a slap in the face with a wet kipper. Like many other people on Dry January’s page, my problem was the inexplicable need to substitute one treat for another – let’s face it, if you replace half bottle of wine by a bucket of cocoa and a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk every evening, you’re not likely to see your waistline shrink much.

A mystery is solved…

However, the most unexpected effect of stopping alcohol was a surprise: my multiple dashes to the loo mysteriously ceased. I used to blame it on the coffee, but discovered mid-January that I had been barking up the wrong tree. Alcohol is a diuretic. It sends a message to your kidneys telling them to empty your body of any water it comes across,  gagging and holding hostage a hormone called vasopressin who would otherwise be telling your kidneys to absorb water on arrival. Without this message, your bladder does a Hoover Dam impression every ten minutes. So the next time you’re at the pub and you see people dashing for the loo every ten minutes, you now know why: when Herr Hormone’s away, the bladder plays.

I was eating less rubbish. Here again, alcohol was the culprit: it opens up your appetite and makes you reach for those salty nibbles. The salt makes you thirsty, so you head for the fridge and fill up your glass, then the alcohol presses the « hungry button »…. bis repetita, ad nauseam. Less alcohol = less nibbles. Less nibbles = less fat + less cholesterol + less weight. Not exactly rocket science, but a winning equation nevertheless.

So what’s next, you ask ?

I’ve got used to this new routine. I am now capable of looking at the bottle of wine that has been in the fridge since December… and leaving it there. And there it will stay. I’ll be sticking to my lime & Perrier… for the moment.

I can’t see myself stopping the outdoor activity, simply because it makes me feel good. So here’s the deal… C25K. Couch to 5K. I have had the podcasts on my computer for light years, and now that I’ve got my body used to regular activity, I want to give it a go. So lift your glass of whatever to me as I try to move from my two factory setting speeds, stop and start, to three: stop, start, and run. One day at a time.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Grateful thanks to all who followed Mrs Playmo’s adventures this month. The conclusion is coming up soon… we are currently trying to track down Mr Playmo, who has disappeared without a trace….

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74 thoughts on “The Dry January Experience.

  1. Yay, well done! I also completed the Dryathlon, despite various ‘friends’ trying to tempt me and moaning that I was no fun anymore. Good luck with the 5K 🙂

      • Oh, and as for the ‘friends’ pushing you to give up… there’s nothing worse than knowing that someone will remember what you said when you were drunk 😉 And funnily enough, it’s more fun when you don’t drink, and on top of that you wake up fresh as a daisy 🙂

  2. Well done MM. I’ve often seriously contemplated trying this but I’ve resisted simply because I’m terrified I’ll fail (which is quite enlightening in itself, don’t you think?!). I’m just like you with regards to wine’o’clock. I think boredom on an evening plays a huge factor too. Once The Boy is asleep, that’s it, I’m effectively grounded with no one else to speak to except for the cats. And because they’re not the best conversationalists, I entertain myself through drinking xx

    • Welly girl!! (MM slops coffee on keyboard with excitement I was getting worried. Note to self: try paranoia-free February.) Honestly, it’s not hard once you get yourself into the mindset (easily said, I know).
      I can so see the attraction of a glass of red and a reading or writing session – have done so on many occasions. My excuse was that many excellent writers’ imaginations were unleashed by a drop or two… 🙂

    • She is sulking for the moment. She feels like she’s been taken for a ride as it is – a whole month of trogging through the vineyards and having her private life exposed to the blogosphere, and no weightloss whatsoever. She’s most unimpressed.

  3. I hope I never have the will power to follow your example. My life in England was one of extremes….completely messed up or unbelievably fit. I’m now living on the residue of the latter and hoping it will see me through:)..

  4. I take the dogs up to the cafetal every day…but never seem to lose any weight! Wine seemed to have given me up rather than vice versa….we’ll drink it with supper with pleasure, but the old habit of an aperitif beforehand no longer appeals. Goodness only knows why…

    • Cafetal? What’s that? Depending on the dog, you get about the same amount of exercise as walking with a two-year-old. Smelly dog hikes at a good pace, and generally walks me, whereas I’ve seen other dogs that literally stop at every blade of grass.
      I think I’d prefer to go off the apéro than find I’m drinking it more and more… and the with the meal was the hardest bit to give up for me 🙂

      • Cafetal…coffee plantation up on the hill behind the house….where we’re slowly building a new house. The dogs are off the lead, so we have the gallopers ahead, the sniffers and the hunters…

  5. This is a great story! I’m afraid I would be tempted to celebrate like Mrs. Playmo at the successful completion of a dry month. Kudos to you for being so inspired that you have chosen to keep it up. You said you had the problem of replacing one treat with another – so what was the treat you used? I mean, what did you tell yourself you could have, since you couldn’t have wine, and didn’t necessarily want to replace wine with cake?

    • Thanks, Crystal! I found myself breaking into the biscuit barrel at first, then bit the bullet and made myself a bucketful of herbal tea. That kept my mouth busy enough to avoid cramming it with sweet nibbles.

  6. Well done that woman! I had an on/off January for booze. If I have none, then I don’t drink. 🙂

    Good luck with the 5k training! I’m not a jogger myself, so I think you’re very brave.

    I do hope Smelly Dog hasn’t buried Mr P! We’ll never know the end of the story in that case. 😦

    • Ta muchly, sweetness 🙂 If I had none, I got all ratty. That was one go the reasons I decided it was time to take a break.
      I did my first amble with “Laura”, my virtual trainer today. it’s a good job she’s so sweet because the NHS has a crap taste in music, even by my standards. If I survive the nine weeks without ending up in hospital, it’ll be a miracle.

      • Who on earth is GPS Ginny? one half of a G&T duo? Tea pot Tinny’s cousin? Laura is a real person who the NHS adopted because she is living proof that you can go from couch potato to running addict. At least that’s what she says on the video. Maybe I’ll discover the addictive side to running tomorrow, but my first impression is of being a sack of spuds on stilts. Watch this space. Tipping it down with snow – wow! First time I’ve seen that happen here. My walk with my P will be epic.

    • She’s the chic on satnav. 🙂
      I never experienced the addictive side of jogging (not because I never did it, my ex-h dragged me out from time to time) but because I didn’t get the endorphin high that comes from jogging. Some get it, some don’t. 😦

  7. Very well done! I am going to be picking up C25K after the kidlet leaves on Saturday. Will Ms. Playmo be joining in the fitness fun? 😀

    • Thanks, NAPR. I’m proud of myself, I must admit. Have you done C25K before? Please tell me someone did it, got to the end and survived without chocking to death on their own saliva or tripping over their own feet and smashing their heads on the pavement… I’m a danger to myself 😦

      • I’ve tried it and dropped out for different reasons. I am back to living the bachelorette lifestyle after Saturday, so I need something to keep me moving or I will play PS4 in my pajamas all day.

        Which , while that sounds great, supposedly isn’t a good thing. Depending on who you ask, of course…

      • My boys would describe that as the coolest existence ever and would demand to come and live with you immediately. You could swap them some cleaning chores for PS4 time.

  8. Well done MM – what an achievement. I also think it was an achievement to take Mrs Playmo on your walks and weave such wonderful tales of her adventures. 🙂
    I’m looking forward to supporting you through the Couch to 5K adventures too.

    • Thanks, Elaine – I think I’ll make your legendary lemon drizzle cake this week to celebrate my achievement.
      I had great fun with Mrs Playmo too – I think she’ll be a recurrent theme on the blog from now on. I have had news of Mr Playmo – I’m in shock. He really has taken a break, and his wife is going to blow a gasket.

  9. I love this MM! I hear you on the healthier skin and the de-bloating.
    But I have to stand up on my soapbox for just an instant and say that I categorically support fart-o-meters. Because there’s motivation in knowing that walking and abstaining are contributing not only to a wispier waistline but also to taming toots. I, for one, say more people SHOULD track their toots.
    OK. Now that that’s off my chest, I have to say a big huge CONGRATULATIONS on all fronts! So, so, so happy that this is turning into an enjoyable lifestyle that’s motivating you and making you feel healthier.
    P.S. After my small vodka and mac&cheese episode, I got right back on the wheat-free wagon 😉 January’s been a pretty good month!

    • Yeah, Gyspy! You know you’re my role model in the “get a wriggle on and do it” department, don’t you? I’m not surprised that you kicked back in after your momentary lapse. Mac & cheese, though…. mmm….
      I will consider counting my toots for you if you like. If they reduce in frequency then i’m either toning up those schpincter muscles, or I’ve stopped eating lentils. Watch this space! Big hugs xoxo

  10. Well done MM. It is enlightening, isn’t it? I stopped for a year in 2013 just to see if I could and it was thought-provoking. My initial weight-loss did not carry on through the year, mainly, as you say, because I was replacing one “treat” by another – usually chocolate which I never ate before. It does make you look again at your personal reward and comfort system. Bonne continuation!

    • Hello Vicky, and welcome to the blog! Thanks for giving me an idea of how it continues afterwards – isn’t it funny how we grown-ups all need treats to keep going? I don’t have a sweet tooth either, yet I was drawn towards the biscuit barrel when the alcohol input stopped. Maybe we need a quick, luxury shot of happiness calories, whatever the form.

  11. {the sound of me clapping happily!!}

    Congrats MM! Multiple achievements made in one month! 🙂
    You could have knocked me over with a feather about the running part. Holy seismic-shift-in-the-world-as-we-know-it! I anxiously await the first reports 🙂

    • Thanks, Jo! I like imagining you clapping – just think of all those fairies you’ve saved 😀 I’m a bit worried about knocking myself over with the running, without the help of a feather. I can trip myself up even at walking speed.

  12. Very interesting nay inspiring post. I’ve just completed a Detox that forbad wheat and dairy and sugar and caffeine and alcohol and was most interested that alcohol was the least of my cravings. Actually I didn’t crave anything which was even more interesting. How wed I am to stuff I don’t need or want is the message I get .. though the alcohol made a rapid re-appearance with my daughter and son-in-law to be staying these last 5 days – chin chin 😉

    • Cripes. I think I would have curled up and cried if you had taken all that away from me at once. You’re one resilient cookie! You’re right that we presume we need stuff because it’s always been there, but when the push come to the shove we realise we can do perfectly well without… at least until the family arrive with a bottle of something good in their hands 😉

      • It felt like crawling up a sandpaper hill in hot pants to be frank and I’m not sure if there was really any point given the last weekend of unfettered food and wine debauchery with number 1 daughter and spouse to be 🙂

      • Just imagining anyone crawling up a sandpaper hill in hot pants got me laughing 😉 There was a point – you stuck at it and got to the end, and that’s an achievement. We human’s don’t depriving ourselves and we love sharing ‘debauchery’ (pleasure?) with our family. I’d be interested to know how your stomach coped with the sudden turn-round in the situation 🙂

      • Oddly my stomach was probably the least resistent part of my body during the forced abstinence. And equally oddly it coped fine with a long weekend of over-indulgence. But yesterday, after I dropped them for the train home, I think it was relieved that the onslaught was over. I am made of girders though 😉

  13. Congratulations!! Coming from a family of alcohol addicts, I didn’t start drinking until age 33. I didn’t drink at all during my Natchez Trace walk, and I was too tired to miss it. Ha. It wreaks havoc on the skin and the middle-age-middle, though. I shall follow your continued sobriety with interest and no small dose of cheerleading.

    Mrs Playmo can clearly handle your remainders. 🙂

    • Thank you, Andra! I thought about you a lot during my walks – and I’m waiting for my copy of your book to flop into my mailbox so that I can learn more. Accompanied by a cup of herbal tea.
      I’m glad you’ll be along for the ride. I’m going to try to set up your playlist as an alternative soundtrack on my C25K podcast – the music they provide is just dismal in comparison. “Rednecks, white socks and blue ribbon beer” belting into your ears as you cross the French countryside is much better. Mrs Playmo is hooked.

  14. well done !

    you’ve more willpower than me

    I tried to cut down my drinking once

    knowing I would find it difficult to do ‘cold turkey’, I decided to do it gradually by only drinking wine at the weekend

    after a week of self-denial, I reasoned that actually the weekend really started on Friday after I finished work so days without wine went from 5 days a week to 4

    then on Monday it seemed rude to ignore, until Friday rolled round again, that 1/2 bottle of wine I didn’t get round to finishing on Sunday so the number of days in a week without wine went from 5 to 4 to 3

    I think you can guess what happened next 😆

    • Duncan! Glad to see you… grab a glass of lime & Perrier! 🙂 The relationship we have with alcohol is fascinating – it’s a bit like a good friend you’re letting down by leaving it in the arctic wastes of the fridge when you stop. It took me three weeks before I’d really broken the habit – a week wasn’t long enough. I would suggest that you go on a retreat in France, but the monks in the place I know of not only drink, but produce their own wine. Beautiful place to drink it, mind you….. http://www.beyond.fr/themes/travel-story-01.html

  15. Well done MM!! A few friends of mine also did Dry January…I do like my apéro but not too bothered if I miss it now & again and could easily forget about wine with dinner so I didn’t bother joining in…..coffee however is another matter! A cup of the stuff never seems to be far away and I’m constantly finding half empty ones in the microwave, garage, dog kennel or wherever I happen to have forgotten one…horrible habit that drives my OH mad!! Is it too late to start Caffeine Free February?
    I do admire your exercising regime….exercise has never really been a great mate of mine so I am in awe!!

    • Ooh, coffee. I can sniff out an espresso at 100 yards 🙂 I’ve already pulled down my consumption, so I leave half-empty cups of green tea around the house instead. I hope I will not be posting pictures of plaster casts within the next nine months… Affaire à suivre!

  16. I have nothing but admiration for those like yourself, MM, who are able to go from black to white. ‘Nothing but admiration’ being the operative words….I am stuck in excessive moderation rut – finding it hard to do either too much or too little on both the alcohol and exercise fronts. Congrats on getting through Dry January and looking forward to reading more about your fresh-air adventures!

    • Gosh, I’m enjoying all this attention 🙂 If you have a moderate consumption, then there’s no need to change things – unless you’re tired of them, that is! As for the next part of the adventure… fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gents….

    • From black to white.. as in pissed to sober. I wish I had thought of that before you.

      PS I have a nice glass of wine in front of me. because it is blog time

  17. Well done. The ever increasing tax on alcohol has done a good job of reducing our consumption, but makes me refuse to give up completely as I’m not going to be taxed into tea-totallism (although it would probably do me good)

    • ‘tea-totallism”? I like the word play 🙂 Abstinence, British style: Drink tea and keep sober. Saving money is a good source of motivation too – more pounds in your purse, and less on my hips.
      Apparently people have never been fitter than they were during the war, because they stopped eating and drinking too much, didn’t have access to so much processed food, and walked or cycled everywhere.

  18. Congrats! I don’t really like alcohol, or wine. That said, your post made me realised that I might be addicted to coffee. We all have our addictions, right?

    • Yup, I think we are all addicted to something. We all need a little treat to keep going – a little pêché mignon. I suppose the art id to get rid of the stuff that’s bad for us, or at least avoid going over the top.

  19. Nice work!! And I can’t believe you walked 90 miles, that’s incredible! On that basis, you’ll have no trouble at all with the Couch to 5k. I did it a couple of years ago and found it pretty easy. The 10k one, which you’ll naturally be doing next, is a bit tougher but I’m sure you’ll be fine 🙂

    • I was surprised it added up to that much. I suppose that means I wasn’t suffering, which is good. The first week of C25K has been tough – I was glad I had music in my ears to drown out my gasping and wheezing. 10K? WHAT 10K??? 😀

      • It’s the next one in the programme. It involves a lot more interval training though, which is really brutal, I hated it. But once you sail through the 5k you’ll need a new challenge!

      • Hmmm. Not sure about the “sailing” part of it – I’ll deal with 5K before signing up for more, ta 🙂 I’ve just bought some “dynamic” shoes that the salesman assured me would give me some “bounce”. Visions of leaping on the moon immediately sprang into mind. Watch this space.

  20. Well done, MM – not only a dry January, but one with weight loss and an impressive amount of exercise. I’m sure you’ll do the 5K with style and ease. :). I’m a very moderate drinker, but even so I’ll be giving up alcohol for Lent, just to remind myself I can.

    • Thanks, Miss P 🙂 I must admit that I’m proud of myself, and funnily enough what I thought would be a temporary change has, for the moment, become new “normal” – with a new challenge on top which may or may not become “normal” in turn… Just goes to prove that nothing is permanent. Giving up “to remind myself that I can” is something everyone should do once in a while. Good for you, Perpetua! xxx

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