Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Dry December and the middle aged

Flickr: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos
As regular readers will know I'm temporarily off the booze because of a mild gum infection (cleared up now) and antibiotics, and of course you always have to finish a course of antibiotics even if the symptoms have cleared up.

So I'm feeling fine but am unable to drink until Thursday evening - well, technically Thursday lunchtime but I'm not a midday drinker. All of which leads me back to last night's Inside Out London, that link should work for one week on iPlayer, in which BBC London journalist Wendy Hurrell documented her staying away from alcohol for the whole of December.

It's worth watching if only as a reminder of the stuff we all know about alcohol. In excess it does harm, not only to you but to people around you, and you're likely to notice benefits from cutting down or cutting it out even if you don't classify yourself as a heavy drinker. We all know this stuff but a reminder never does any harm - it's well made and some of the facts on what it does to your health and appearsance are worth going over again.

Of course Hurrell isn't "one of us" - this blog is primarily aimed at the over-35 male; I'm certain she doesn't qualify as a male and I have serious doubts as to whether she's seen her 30th birthday yet, not that it's any of my business. The programme covers older people too.

My own experience has been enlightening from a number of other angles. It's only been five and a half days so not comparable with Hurrell's experience but there have been things I'd expected to improve which haven't done so. Sleeping patterns - I tend to wake up a few times overnight - are pretty much unchanged, although last night was good. Any thoughts of "cut down the alcohol and you'll sleep better" have proven so far illusory.

Likewise feeling more alert and refreshed on waking in the morning; I'm still the same drowsy, incoherent waste of space I've always been first thing. And nodding off in front of the telly, let's not even go there. Talking to my friends I wonder whether that's just a fortysomething thing. The only difference now is that instead of thinking "this wine must be stronger/lower quality than I thought" on finishing a glass after dinner and dozing off, I'm now thinking "either this orange juice is off, this programme is unbelievably soporific or I'm genuinely knackered".

On balance this is positive. Blaming tiredness and lethargy on alcohol and deciding I would do something about it 'eventually' was sloppy thinking. You don't have to underestimate the harm alcohol can do to understand that attributing every bit of fatigue to it could be masking an underlying issue which isn't drink related at all.

It's only been five days so I wasn't expecting a radical change in wellbeing. And I'm not going to fall back into the habit of having wine with a meal because we "might as well" and it's easy. I'm sure I'll lose a little weight by cutting down, which will reduce my risk from heart disease, diabetes and all those other things we all understand and know as we order the next pint.

Nonetheless, going without it for a few days and noticing so little difference in so many areas has left me determined to look again at a few other areas of my life - diet, stress and exercise in particular - and stop using "I really must consider cutting down on alcohol" as an excuse not to do anything else.

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