It has recently come to my attention that my drinking is becoming a bit of a regular gig. Time for Dry July. Not least because it's a good cause for raising money for people living with cancer, but also because it's an opportunity for me to conduct a willpower check-up.

Whereas I once used to delicately sip a glass or two of pricey pinot noir with weekend dinners, somehow and inextricably my refined and genteel habit had slowly morphed into quaffing a bottle of any old paint stripper almost every night of the week.

How did this happen? Lately, over my lime and soda, I've given this a bit of deep and meaningful thought.

I grew up in a family where a cold beer at the end of a hard day's haymaking or shearing was pretty standard. My parents would occasionally offer me a small shandy which I, like most kids, readily accepted because it made me feel like a grown-up.


In my teens I indulged in the usual alcohol-fuelled stupidity, but no more than most. During my twenties and thirties I probably drank less than my peers as I was busy getting on with getting ahead (whatever that means) and, looking back, life seemed relatively carefree. I mean, one could actually afford to buy a house in New Zealand back then.

Somewhere around age forty things changed.

My mother died suddenly, followed closely by the flood that took away my home and farm and everything in and on it, and was topped off shortly thereafter by my father dying in a freak accident. Even my loyal and faithful old dog up and died. Fortunately, the truck didn't break down and I still had my banjo.

Now, there are a number of ways one deals with any sudden loss of innocence. You could, for instance, pursue a country music recording contract, go on the road, and sing like a hillbilly. Or, if you can't yodel convincingly, as in my case, then drinking is often the more convenient and culturally accepted tension reliever.

Let me be clear. It's not like I was a raging alcoholic. I could still talk without slurring, cook a decent dinner and walk around without tripping over the old dog – stuffed and used as a rug these days. But therein lies the problem. The more I drank the more I could handle it. Practice was making perfect and the upward intake began.

Over time I obviously came to believe that the only real way to mark the end of a day was with a generous glass of red wine. Or three. It seems to assist with whatever the problem is by dropping a comforting, warmish veil over whatever the feelings are. It means you don't have to work stuff out. Often there's no way sense can be made of it anyway.

Another welcome side effect is that one can sit and watch the six o'clock news in a kind of brain fog, which I have found useful over the years. With a glass in hand, some of the mind-numbing stupidity in the world has the edge taken off it ever so slightly.

Also, as many of us already know, alcohol definitely assists in smoothing the way during social occasions and certainly lends a helping hand with conviviality. I've learned to rely on it to get through the endless small talk and inanities.


Am I saying I'll never drink again? Hell, no. I suspect I'm a far more interesting person when I'm drinking. Or at least I think I am. I crank up my Appalachian music collection, sing in the shower, and toss brilliant ideas around like so much confetti. Of course, how interesting, tuneful or brilliant I really become is undoubtedly a matter of opinion.

Let me apologise too for writing about sobriety within the narrow confines of my own middle-aged, middle class, self-absorbed framework. I have not even touched on this nation's tragic epidemic of drinking and driving, drinking and violence and youth binge drinking. That's a whole other column.

What I do know is this year's Dry July money, raised via sponsorship of your non-drinking month, goes to Look Good Feel Better, who help people with cancer to look and feel more like their normal selves. The classes include tips, tricks and techniques to help participants recognise the person in the mirror.

During my partner's breast cancer treatment last year, she attended one of their 'make-over' classes, and came home with a bunch of goodies, and heightened self-esteem. She even made a friend there, and they helped each other immensely over the course of their treatment.

So, watch this space. It won't be easy to stop drinking, but at least I'll have a clear head for sorting out my music collection. And tuning the banjo.