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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Day 12: Small Pleasures

Mrs Playmo enjoying the small pleasures in life with Smelly Dog, whose head appears to make a very good impromptu slide.

Mrs Playmo enjoying the small things in life with Smelly Dog, whose head appears to make a n excellent makeshift slide.

Day twelve’s walk started off quietly. Mrs Playmo and I were still shell-shocked from recent events, and the subdued, mellow sunlight bathing the vineyards seemed to echo our state of mind.

After a few hundred meters, Mrs Playmo asked why we were being so mopey. We were, she argued, wasting precious time. “Life’s there to be lived, honey-bun!” she chirped before scaling Smelly Dog’s leg. She clambered dangerously along the furry backbone, a female equivalent of Indiana Jones on the roof of a train, and hoisted herself on to Smelly Dog’s skull. Sitting between the two floppy ears, she yelled “Yeeeee- ha!” and pointed into the distance before pulling hard on them and bellowing, “Onwards, and forwards, my faithful steed. To infinity… and beyond!”

I had a sneaky feeling that she had combined John Wayne, Napoleon and Buzz Lightyear in her head. As far as I was concerned, she looked uncannily like Alice astride the Bandersnatch, with a truckload of attitude and a black corset. She attained the result she had hoped for: I laughed.

Letting go of Smelly Dog’s ears, she slid down her steed’s nose and landed neatly on her feet, her face flushed with pleasure. “Ta – daaaah!” She eyed me from head to toe, sniffed and added: “C’mon. You might have given up the rosé, but your muffin top is still drooping for Britain. Lets walk.” So we did.

For those who are new to the blog, check out this post to understand what this is all about.

Day Two: Open-Air Pole Dancing

"Open air pole dancing"

“Open-air pole dancing.”

It is somewhat paradoxical that the outdoor exercise part of my dry January Challenge takes Mrs Playmo and I through numerous local vineyards. Mrs Playmo asked me to hold her dog’s lead then stripped off, placed a feathered hat at a rakish angle on her head and proceeded to practice her pole-dancing techniques on a vine shoot, singing an off-key “You can keep your hat on” that would make Joe Cocker turn in his grave.

She confided on the way home that she sneaks off on Friday nights whilst Mr Playmo is asleep to work in the sleazy joint down the road. It pays for her Tupperware party addiction and her (equally secret) rosé consumption. But don’t tell anyone, or she’ll be struck off the board at the local WI.