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Mama Said: Need Dry January motivation? Here it is

Emily Martin gave up drinking two years ago so she calls “Dry January” just “January”

For Emily Martin, giving up alcohol was a game-changer (61647644)
For Emily Martin, giving up alcohol was a game-changer (61647644)

There is nothing drier than a piece of writing about Dry January. Even us writers groan when we’re asked for our “Dry-January ideas”. Or, worse, our Veganuary ideas.

But I have a confession to make. At the time of writing, as I check my calendar, I’m on my 736th dry day. With the exception of 4 days, (all of which I can explain, Officer, I promise!). I gave up drinking alcohol two years ago and I’m finally ready to tell you why.

On November 24 2020, we were at the back end of a horrific year. Lockdown. Social distancing. Masks stuffed into our coat pockets. And I, like many, had faced the long evenings at home, the uncertainty and those dreadful daily news briefings with a glass of red wine firmly in my hand (and the rest of the bottle decisively by my side).

But on November 24 2020 I’d been woken by a ping! A text message from my Mum saying: “Hope he went in OK this morning” and I realised with a jolt that he (meaning my son) had not “gone in” anywhere (nursery) because he was still asleep upstairs along with his sister, at 9.30am, because Mummy hadn’t set her alarm last night. Because of red wine.

I hastily got dressed, rang the nursery to apologise (“Oh yes we were wondering where he was”) and rushed him there, late, before coming home for my standard morning coffee and assessment of how hungover I was feeling, which was usually somewhere in the region of 4 out of 10.

With it being lockdown and “essential items” only shopping, I’d taken to buying a bottle of red wine in the morning, after the nursery run, so I wouldn’t have to go back to the shops later, just in case I wanted a drink at 6pm (which I always did).

I wouldn’t have called myself an “alcoholic”, but sitting there on that grey November morning, unbrushed hair and eyes feeling sore, I could see the slippery slope. I accepted that I was looking forward to an evening drink from very early in the day and I noted I was used to battling a low-level hangover at all times.

Back then, I was working at a radio station and sometimes would have to get up very early in the morning. Like 4am early. But even then I’d have had wine the night before. Nothing would stop me. I’d always fulfil my commitments. I’d always find a way to do both drink and be reliable. Until that morning with the nursery when I finally dropped a ball.

I realised that opening wine at 6pm (my self-imposed deadline) meant that my children were getting two hours of wine-mummy in the evenings, where I’d switch from engaged and participating in the fun of the evening, to becoming slowly sozzled and sitting quietly just scrolling my phone. And then at bedtime I’d find myself rushing their bedtime stories so I could get back downstairs to my wine.

I feel a bit exposed writing about this to be honest, but I know having spoken to so many people over the last two years, that I wasn’t alone in this behaviour.

So I stopped drinking. That evening I didn’t have wine. But I thought of it constantly. I worried about how I would enjoy anything. I bargained with myself. But I stuck to it. And one evening has turned in 736 evenings. It was hard at first but then it was easy. Like in that movie Castaway when he gets his little raft past that one big wave and then it’s calm.

Will I ever go back? I hope not. After a week of weird insomnia, I felt a sort of fog lift. I started sleeping better. I lost weight. I stopped looking tired in the mornings and my cheek bones emerged. I found I could concentrate. I enjoyed my kids between 6pm and 8pm rather than rushing them off to bed. I stopped arguing with Tom or being triggered into anger by a tiny meaningless comment. I felt (and feel) proud.

People are weird about it when you say you don’t drink. They either think they can make you drink and change your mind. Or it becomes a confessional where they tell you that they also don’t drink, or wish they didn’t, and how someone in their lives is an alcoholic and all the damage it’s caused.

Full disclosure, as I mentioned at the start, there have been four times since that I’ve had a cheeky drink. Just a glass or two on a birthday, twice on holiday, one random night I was watching Strictly Come Dancing and thought I’d drink and see how it felt.

And honestly? I loved it. I’ve found it delicious and I’ve enjoyed that warm feeling settling over me and trickling down my throat, like a big fluffy cat sitting down on my brain. But the next day, even after one glass, I can tell the difference. And it puts me off all over again.

So, that’s the story of me and alcohol. A 90s youth of sneaking off to drink cider in the park with my little tearaway mates. A wild, hedonistic decade in my 20s of pints of beer and staying up all night. And then the decade I’m leaving behind, my 30s. 10 years of being a hardcore, wine o’clock mum.

I’ll be 40 in two weeks, hopeful that my next decade will be the driest yet and very happy about it.


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