I decided to go booze free this Christmas. I had a lot of people staying, which means work, stress, and potential vicious, drink-fuelled arguments. With a post-Christmas holiday planned in Cuba, an island drowning in rum, I wanted to give my liver a break in preparation.
I prepared well: I got the latest alcohol free ‘spirits’ and beers, bought in some quality mixers, and looked forward to a festive period free of hangovers, broken glass and fighting.
I wish I could say it worked.
First of all, we forget how boring other people are when drunk and we are sober. To sit and listen to repetition, petty disagreements, and the giggles that come out of nowhere for days on end makes me want to kill.
Another problem with being sober at Christmas is that you actually are able to follow the plot in films, which is impossible when drunk. After a few jars it is perfectly acceptable and enjoyable to watch nothing but rubbish that you have seen so many times the plot has ended up in your DNA but getting to grips with a new crime series on Netflix is hellish when everybody else is slurring about wanting to watch Gavin and Stacey, then talking through it anyway.
There were some good bits about Christmas sobriety: waking up as fresh as a daisy, despite my houseguests keeping me awake half the night by clattering around looking for Alka Seltzer. Enjoying a walk with the dog, who also doesn’t drink, before having to down three cups of strong coffee and a bottle of Lucozade first. Not coming downstairs to a wrecked kitchen, which usually happens when everybody is too lashed to load the dishwasher or clean up the spilt Amaretto puddle on the table before going to bed. Feeling that little bit smug and superior when others are searching for the painkillers.
One major problem for me was the deep disappointment at the extremely expensive new range of alcohol-free beverages. Usually when I’m off the sauce I stick to water with dinner and fruit tea as a nightcap. But some extremely expensive distilled drinks such as Seedlip's gin substitute, Celtic Soul (so named, I assume, because of its coppery colour) is supposed to be an alcohol free whisky type drink, and NOgroni, which, yes you’ve guessed it, is supposed to be a stand-in for my very favourite cocktail of all time, the Negroni.
My disappointment in these booze substitutes soon faded when I developed an extremely painful trapped sciatic nerve in my back and was necking a variety of strong painkillers like a woman possessed. Two days after Christmas, when I was preparing to sneak in a well-deserved glass of Chablis or decent glug of gin or whiskey as a reward for staying sober during the most difficult time of the year, I found that even a sip of grog had me projectile vomiting. Sorry if this is too much information, but the feeling of nausea was so horrible it made me think of alcohol as poison, which is exactly what it is. I am writing this from my bed in Havana, in agony after the long flight wreaked havoc with my wrecked back. I am unable to drink, and I blame the fact that I was unable to use my usual muscle relaxant (gin) to cope with stress. In other words, festive abstinence has ruined my back AND my plans for a tipsy two-week break.
We Brits often have a very complicated relationship with booze. Not being able to drink because of an illness, condition or self-imposed regime is very different from being able to choose a glass of sparkling water over the finest wine known to humanity. I puzzle over people who make that choice simply because they prefer a soft drink in the evening, and not even because they are driving. I have evenings each week where not a drop of alcohol passes my lips, but only so I can hopefully carry on drinking for longer without developing either liver failure or chronic alcoholism. I’m not sure if I trust people that can take or leave booze, but I often envy them.
So, was my sober festive-season successful? Yes and no. 90 per cent of my problem with not drinking this Christmas was the fact that everybody else was. Maybe next year I should try a sober retreat?