How I sobered up, by accident

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling really great for some reason. I’ve been rising far earlier than my usual eight o’clock, often at six or seven, which has meant that while I usually miss an hour of Ten Breakfast, in recent weeks I’ve been able to boycott the entire thing. And at night, I’ve been getting to sleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow, whereas it often takes me hours of lying there and visualising trampolining, pirouetting sheep shouting “Go to sleep, you idiot, you’ll feel exhausted tomorrow!”.

Actually, I kind of miss those sheep. But the rest of it is all good. Best of all, I think I’ve slimmed down a bit. When I look in the mirror, I’m pleasantly surprised for once – as well as unpleasantly surprised by my bounteous Movember moustache, but that’s another story. I’ve run into friends in the past month who’ve asked me if I’ve lost weight – which I think is one of those taboo questions, because if the answer is ‘no’, it suggests that they think you’re ordinarily enormous. In this case, for once, the answer is – yeah, I think I probably have.

I certainly haven’t been trying to be healthy, so I couldn’t work out what it was that was putting a spring in my step, except perhaps spring itself. I haven’t been exercising more than my usual minimal amount, and I’ve been working unpleasantly long hours lately. But after a bit of thought, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s the fact that I haven’t been drinking.

Now, I didn’t make any conscious plan to cut out the grog. I didn’t sign up for Ocsober or Fashionably Late Dry July or No-booze-vember or any other month-name-pun-based sobriety drive. I wasn’t trying to turn over a new leaf, or purge my toxins or realign chakras or anything along like that. And I certainly haven’t gone teetotal.

But when I look back over the past six weeks or so, I can only think of one evening where I had more than two or three drinks – and on the vast majority of days, I didn’t end up drinking anything at all. There was one evening when I had a cocktail or two and got a touch emotional, shall we say, but other than that, it’s been weeks of glorious, albeit accidental, sobriety.

Since realising this, I can’t help wondering whether this is how things should be all the time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that my ability to bounce back from a night on the turps has lessened considerably. I’ve never been all that big a drinker – or to put it another way, I’ve always been “soft”, in that delightful parlance men use to exert peer pressure – but I guess I was regularly having a bit of a drink on somewhere between two and four days a week. But now I’m wondering whether it’s worth it when for the next few days, I’ll be stumbling around with a brain that feels like it’s got the handbrake jammed on.

The really scary thing is how much alcohol affects my mood. It’s been living up to its ‘depressant’ title a little too much for my liking. Not only can it make me excessively frivolous and indiscreet, but I sometimes wake up the morning after a boozing session feeling downright stabby. With a really bad hangover, I can even find myself relating to Morrissey. It seems that having a few drinks and getting a bit exuberant burns through my following day’s cheerfulness quotient as well.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has guidelines for alcohol consumption that I’ve always felt seemed highly ambitious in a booze-happy country like Australia. For adults, they recommend no more than 2 standard drinks a day on average, in order to avoid long-term detriment to your health. And to avoid injury, they recommend no more than 4 on any single occasion.


The first time I saw these numbers, I wondered whether I’d missed the memo, and the NHMRC had been transformed into Australia’s peak body for unrealistic killjoys. I also wondered what their Christmas parties must be like. But now that I am inadvertently complying with their guidelines, I can’t help feeling that there’s a lot to recommend them. Perhaps they’re realistic killjoys after all?

Of course now that I’m thinking of making a conscious choice to cut down on my alcohol intake, as opposed to achieving it through a busy period at work and inattention to my social life, my resolve will probably waver. And with Christmas parties and the Bacchanalia that is New Year’s ahead, it’ll be quite a challenge.

But I want to remember how great these past few weeks have been, how much more energy I’ve had getting out of bed in the morning, and how much more positive I’ve felt about facing the day. I want to remember what it’s like to feel productive and efficient and even a little healthy.

And above all, I’d like to have access to 100% of my brain function during 100% of my waking hours, if that isn’t too much to ask  Which is why I would like to propose a festive season toast to those NHMRC guidelines, if I may. Just the one, though.