Ruby Warrington: Never mind January... could you go dry forever?

By Ruby Warrington

Ruby Warrington gave up drinking and has never looked back, can you? Photo / 123RF
Ruby Warrington gave up drinking and has never looked back, can you? Photo / 123RF

For a long time I considered my drinking normal... well, compared to my friends anyway, Ruby Warrington writes.

A couple of glasses three or four nights a week, socially, and the occasional weekend blowout. If I was really going for it, I'd soon lose count of units. Looking back, most of my free time was spent either tipsy or mildly hung-over.

On one or two occasions I woke up with blood in my hair having fallen and hit my head the night before. Instead of going to A&E, I'd just stumbled into bed.

Another time, driving home from a party in Ibiza having had two glasses of wine, I came inches from a high-speed collision that would have been my fault. Each time, I was badly shaken. But looking back I'm shocked at how blasé I was.

I didn't consider my experiences to be anything out of the ordinary. Who hadn't taken a tumble after one too many, I reasoned? Or got in a car with somebody who, in hindsight, might have been slightly over the limit?

After a binge, and in the grips of a monumental hangover, sometimes I'd reach for the 'hair of the dog'. And sometimes I'd vow 'never again' but this never lasted longer than a week, my resolve diminishing as soon as the headache wore off.

While my attitude to alcohol was indeed seen as 'normal' in my social group, I now realise it was far from healthy.

And today I barely drink at all. I have become a passionate advocate for encouraging people to embrace sobriety as a positive, and possibly lifesaving, choice. It is a journey that has been far from easy, and I have spent the past five years steadily unlearning everything I thought I knew about booze.

Right now, I know many are 'doing Dry January': a catchy initiative started by UK charity Alcohol Concern, aimed at encouraging people to think about their drinking. Some see it as a bit of a 'detox': a chance to give their liver a rest.

Most people seem to spend a lot of time counting the days until it's over and they're able to drink again. But stop and ask yourselves: could you go without drink for another month? A year? Just one more week?

And if you 'just don't want to' then why, really?

I learned to drink in the late 1990s, which was around the time alcohol companies started pumping millions into initiatives to actively target women. Now more than £800 million a year is spent by beer, wine and spirits manufacturers in the UK on marketing alone, with global estimates topping £822 billion.

A watershed moment was, undoubtedly, the invention of the sugary sweet 'alcopop'.
Bacardi Breezers were the first, in 1993, followed by an endless stream of garishly coloured beverages often dubbed 'training wheels for drinkers' - or rather, women.

Despite the Advertising Standards Authority tightly controlling when, how, to whom and in what context alcohol is shown - trying to ensure that no under-18s are targeted, and that adverts do not link alcohol with 'irresponsible behaviour, social success or sexual attractiveness' - it is difficult to avoid glamorous images of drink and drinkers.

I was a young journalist in London in the era of 'ladettes' and Bridget Jones - when falling drunk out of the Met Bar, like Kate Moss, was the height of aspiration.

Back then, my tipple was often a Sea Breeze (a hefty measure of vodka with cranberry and grapefruit juice) or the ubiquitous Cosmopolitan: potent, spirit-based cocktails that were also a pleasingly 'feminine' pink, and which just happened to be favoured by the heroines of Sex And The City.

Whatever you think about it, the TV show, which ran from 1998 to 2004, defined a generation in terms of female attitudes to sexual freedom.

By stealth, I think it also shaped the way we women drink, too: that alcohol makes us more fun, more sexy, and more sophisticated. In most episodes the four gorgeous, slim stars were seen downing cocktails, clad in the latest designer frocks, shoes and handbags.

It was glamorous and sophisticated, and an essential component to every night out with the girls. It went hand-in-hand with a new wave of female empowerment.

I'm not blaming anyone's drinking problem on a comedy series or on pictures of Kate Moss, but whatever the cause of change, a recent study showed that women now drink as much as men - more in younger age groups.

In the past, men were twice as likely as women to drink alcohol, and three times as likely to do so at a harmful level, according to the report published in the medical journal BMJ Open.

But differences in habits have been almost eliminated in those born after 1969, according to the research team from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

These are chilling statistics. Even moderate drinking has been shown to double women's risk of breast cancer, not to mention the damage to our digestion, our skin, our careers and our wallets. And then there is the rise of date-rape culture in our colleges and universities in which alcohol often plays a major role.

Over the years, I did try multiple times to cut back by making rules like, 'I'll only drink at the weekend,' or 'never more than two glasses of wine at an event.'

I've since learned that bargaining with yourself like this is a sign your drinking has progressed into risky territory - you're admitting that you know you're drinking too much but can't imagine stopping completely.

Despite all my best intentions, I'd end up back where I started.

Moving to New York in 2012 made it much easier for me to drink less. There, they order wine by the glass rather than the bottle, and if you say you're not drinking, nobody bats an eyelid.

Whenever I'm back in the UK, I've found that people either put pressure on for you to have 'just one' - or will gossip about how you must be pregnant or have secretly joined AA.

So it hasn't always been easy, but slowly I've come to understand that I don't need booze to feel like myself and have fun.

If anything, it's the opposite.

Initially, I decided to cut back big time as I'd gone freelance, was launching my own business and writing a book, which meant I needed to be 'on' all the time, leaving very little time for either being out of it drunk or wallowing in a hangover.

Soon I began to notice how great I felt with no alcohol in my system, and my motivation switched from wanting to avoid the pain of drinking, to wanting more of the feelgood factor of sobriety. I also discovered other ways to relax and unwind, such as meditation and yoga.

I found myself investing more in the friendships I really cared about, leading to fewer but deeper and more fulfilling connections socially.

My sleep improved, so I had more energy naturally. My digestion got better. Rather than drinking to avoid difficult situations, I found the inner courage to face problems head-on and deal with them once and for all.

The idea of throwing all this away for the sake of a few hours of superficial 'fun', that I likely wouldn't remember anyway, seems as crazy to me now as sobriety would have in the early 2000s.

In my experience, the key to successfully cutting back on your drinking - or even stopping altogether - requires sustained periods of total abstinence, since this is the only way to break the addiction.

I'm naturally quite introverted, and my job involved attending lots of events, going on press trips with groups of strangers, approaching celebrities at parties to get quotes, and, as a style editor, running with a cool crowd of fabulous fashion people.

It goes without saying that I definitely felt more confident with a drink in my hand.

But inside I was still the shy, bookish girl, who'd been a straight-A student and school swot.

Alcohol was helping me pretend I was somebody totally different, helping me live a very glamorous lie.

I also realised that the more you rely on alcohol to give you confidence, the less confident you feel without it. So it becomes a vicious circle.

Now, I'm amazed how much more confident I feel in social situations without alcohol - largely because my extended periods of sobriety have helped me to become more accepting about who I really am.

In the past few years, I've experienced many 'sober firsts': first sober dinner party, first sober wedding, first sober holiday, all in the name of relearning who I am in these situations without the crutch of alcohol.

These days I drink three or four times a year on those occasions when it feels truly fitting, but never just because it's Friday night, or because I feel it would be rude not to.

And besides generally feeling healthier and more productive, I've become happier, more confident, more capable of dealing with problems, and feel more connected to the people I love.

My husband Simon and I often joke that not having kids means we've had no reason to grow up and calm down.

But I also have friends who found themselves drinking more after starting a family - as a fast track to 'relaxation' when time is limited, not to mention an escape from the more monotonous aspects of family life.

When I first gave up, Simon was a bit annoyed he'd lost his favourite drinking buddy. But rather than try to convert him, I focused on my own journey.

It soon became apparent to him and a few of my other friends how much my life had improved since I cut out alcohol - which inspired him to give it a try.

These days neither of us have any plans to drink any time soon.

Do I miss it? Honestly, no. But it's taken five years of trial and error to get to this point.
I've retrained my brain to see alcohol for what it really is, and learned its true cost.

- Daily Mail

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