'I finished Dry January' - How a month off the booze helped my mind, body and wallet
My name is Denise and I have been sober for 24 days. Full disclosure: this is not a precursor to an AA meeting, my sobriety is temporary and in aid of Dry January.
Opting into the 31-day detox wasn't exactly a conscious decision. I didn't decide to swear off alcohol with a Bible in my right hand or lock my kitchen cabinets for fear I would wander downstairs in my sleep to have a sneaky nightcap.
The real goal here - and I won't sugar- coat it - is to lose weight, get fit, and morph into a genetically enhanced superhuman. I want to superimpose my head onto the body of Emily Ratajkowski (pictured right).
In light of this completely achievable goal, a month of sobriety seemed like a fair enough trade-off. And so it began. Pints were replaced with Pilates, wine was somewhat begrudgingly trumped by weight classes, and Sambuca was binned in favour of spinning classes.
After a booze-filled Christmas, the first call of duty was to drain every bubbly drop of Prosecco from my spherical face.
This is where alcohol decides to reside in my body.
Not my stomach (that's for my chocolate habit), not my ass (which is the one area of my body in need of some extra padding), but my cheeks.
One glass of wine and I could be cast in David Attenborough's Planet Earth series because I immediately transform into a morbidly obese chipmunk.
Or if you've ever had the pleasure of having your wisdom teeth removed, visualise your balloon-like cheeks, post-op, and pause to remember how your family gleefully took pictures of your enlarged face so they could humiliate you at your 21st birthday bash.
Facial bloating aside, I understand that some people think of Dry January as an extreme diet of sorts and that cutting out alcohol for a month leads people to drink obsessively come February.
But for me, this isn't a torturous goal. A bottle of wine isn't part of my daily wind-down routine after work and I don't need a vodka fix every week.
My problem is simply that I have yet to master that one-drink rule. One minute, I'm folding my napkin into my lap at dinner and doing my best to remember what fork should be used for my starter; fast-forward to an hour later and I am on top of the table downing Jägerbombs.
I may not drink every weekend but, when I do, I usually need about a week to recover.
Plus, when I'm hungover, everything I eat is deep-fried and smothered in grease.
The only way I can prise my eyelids open the morning after is to call the Domino's delivery man. His name is Dave. And the next seven hours are spent sleeping amid intermittent breaks to eat cold pizza from the floor.
And then comes the fear. Did I text my ex- boyfriend asking him could I come over? Did I really drunk-dial my boss?
Have I painted a real enough picture for you yet? As I get older, I also realise how valuable my days are, so spending my only day off whimpering over a toilet bowl isn't exactly ideal, especially when it reminds me that it's my turn to deep-clean the bathroom.
Has it been easy to ban the booze, cut the cocktails and say 'hell no' to happy hour? Well, yeah, kind of.
You see, the other thing I forgot to mention was that I am broke. The kind of 'I am saving for a mortgage' broke. A bank manager is currently perusing the last six months of my bank statements. So ordering a round of shots in Coppers on a Friday night isn't exactly ideal when you want someone to hand you over €400,000.
And because I am recently a new and valued member of Slimming World, I would rather splurge on a bar of chocolate than forgo food for a week because I accidentally milled two bottles of wine. Because it's always an accident, right?
My friends are on the fence - some are convinced Dry January should be enforced with the power of a totalitarian state, such are its benefits: glowing skin, whiter teeth, better sleep patterns. And then there are the naysayers. As one friend commented, "Why bother depriving yourself of the only thing that is going to get you through January? I'm fat, I'm broke and the only thing that's going to fix that is a glass of wine.
"Besides, I'm a big believer in not cutting something out of your system so suddenly - it's dangerous: it could send your body into shock."
So far, I've opted out of social gatherings, shunned birthdays and said no to after-work drinks and, instead, snuck home to colour coordinate my wardrobe.
But the thing is, when you're choosing to shun the social scene in order to avoid drinking, you can't help but feel a little boring.
While my weekends were usually made up of boozy brunches, cocktails with the girls, or date nights with wine, now I'm perennially dressed in my gym gear, just waiting to break out into a plank to showcase my new-found fitness to my wine-guzzling friends.
But the truth is, I'm sleeping better, my skin has the faintest glow and I've realised I have stomach muscles again. And I'm guessing my abstinence is also impressing my bank manager.
Like me, Linda Smith (56) from Tallaght, says Dry January has given her a new lease of life.
"I think everyone has the best of intentions when it comes to new year's resolutions," said the full-time carer. "I really wanted to start off the new year the right way and put my health first, so when I heard about Dry January, I said 'why not?'.
"I am more of a social drinker, so it's only at weddings, birthdays or rare nights out that I might have a glass of wine. And I usually have a policy of three drinks max.
"At Christmas, all the celebrations come at once. Between engagement parties, work drinks and dinners, I always had a glass of Prosecco in my hand."
Linda said the Christmas party season left her sluggish and tired: "I didn't even realise it, but my weekends were being wasted because I was so tired after drinking the night before. When January first came round, I was exhausted, so I was happy never to drink again. I can honestly say that I wasn't even tempted to have a sneaky glass of wine and I've found that I have so much more energy as a result.
"My family have been so supportive and it's definitely kick-started my new health regime.
"Aside from special occasions, I think I will quit the habit for good," she added.
To be clear, this isn't a converter crusade - I am not a member of a Dry January cult. I am not going to show up at your door with pamphlets to discuss your liver functionality or picket outside my local pub.
As divisive as Dry January is, it is a personal choice, one that shouldn't be pushed on anyone.
I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. And while I am never going to own my own private yacht, I did manage to go to the ATM today (four days before pay day) and my card didn't catch fire. So maybe I will raise a glass to that.
As for my Emily Ratajkowski body - I may need another year (or 10) of sobriety for that.