Giving up alcohol is much easier than people suppose. I have often succeeded, sometimes for as long as several hours at a time.
Even two or three days of abstinence at the start of the year are manageable. You get an immediate feeling of virtuous superiority aligned to a sense of well-being, as the alcohol starts to leave the system.
This is why many would-be abstainers will have got through New Year’s Day and perhaps even all the way through to today without undue difficulty.
This, however, is when the problems begin. By now that superbly resilient organ, the liver, is back in shape, ready for fresh punishment. A last festive lunch before normal work life resumes tomorrow will bring with it temptation. Dinner this week with friends and relations will be even more problematic. Meanwhile, Little Christmas parties — or any parties — are complete hell without a drink. Indeed, people planning a Dry January are well advised to avoid all social events.
It is a heroic undertaking, only to be tackled by those of exceptional moral calibre.
It comes as no surprise to learn from a poll last week that most of us fail to stay dry. January 17 is a particularly perilous date, apparently.
Marathon runners are said to meet a pain barrier known as “the wall”, at the 20-mile marker. But the runners have it easy. There are only 6.2 miles to go — barely an hour’s hard jogging. We non-drinkers still have 14 days of boredom, self-torture and misery to go after we hit ours. This year January 17 falls on a Saturday. This is always a specially difficult day for the non-drinker to navigate, what with pub lunches to be avoided and dinner parties to be endured with gritted teeth on mineral water and a slice of lemon as the neighbour’s wife tells one about the scholastic achievements of her offspring.
I don’t think that drinkers should feel too depressed if they succumb, though. Seventeen days is more impressive than climbing Everest or becoming an astronaut, in my view. I can testify that anyone who reaches the 17-day mark should feel incredibly proud.
When I last did Dry January two years ago, I fell off the wagon on five or six occasions. And this year, a savagely difficult obstacle course lies ahead. This Tuesday I am having dinner with an old colleague who I have not seen for more than a year. It would be desperately rude to call off the fixture at this late stage, yet ruder still not to have a drink.
On January 19, a kind friend has invited me shooting. It is out of the question not to drink at the lunch at the conclusion of the shoot.
Like many people, I find it hard to be on good form over lunch or dinner without a drink. And since I am very bad shot indeed, my only chance of a repeat invitation is to be reasonable company.
But still, I intend that this will be a Dry (ish) January for me. As all equestrians know, the key thing is to get back on the horse as soon as possible after you have fallen off. The same applies to drink. So long as you get back on to the wagon you will be OK.
Those of us embarking on the challenge should regard ourselves in the light of explorers travelling to the North Pole, or a hermit setting off into the wilderness. These are enterprises that require superhuman powers of denial.
But there will be rewards. Richard Ingrams, the former editor of Private Eye, speaks of moments of spiritual contentment and insight during abstinence, that compensate for the mellow pleasure of being slightly drunk.
It is also important to bear in mind that non-drinkers enjoy three or four more hours to the day than everyone else. They wake with astonishing clarity of thought and their brain cells are still ticking over late at night.
So take full advantage of this and plan some edifying project — reading War and Peace, training the dog, spending more time with the children, doing the housework, building a garden shed. All of these are activities that the drinker may not have time for. You may find that you become a much nicer person as a result.
I like to do — or try to do — Dry January mainly to demonstrate to myself that I can get by without several drinks a day. I am 57 years old and have friends who have killed themselves through drink and others who are hopeless cases. Heavy drinkers get fatter and more stupid the longer they go on. Sometimes they are forced to abandon alcohol altogether. It is this appalling prospect that really drives me — it must be avoided at all costs.
The French have a phrase that best describes the only reason for giving up alcohol in January: reculer pour mieux sauter. This translates as a temporary retreat with a view to making a purposeful advance. Onwards and downwards!