We're almost one full month into the new year and over two million people in the UK will have completed a month off the booze. Is Dry January even a thing anywhere other than the UK?!
I've seen insta extremes already this month, with those steering clear of alcohol self righteously telling anyone who will listen that they're committing to four weeks of sobriety. Equally vocal are those posting comedy memes claiming January is tough enough, without ditching the prosecco and vowing to merrily drink their way through the month.
This year I turn forty (gulp) and enter year six of sobriety. When I first quit drinking I never did it with the intention of being permanently sober. In fact, I still never say never, because we all know life can take all kinds of twists and turns - but at this moment in time I honestly cannot think why I would ever want to pour that stuff down my neck again.
Was I addicted? Probably. Was I an alcoholic? Possibly. Okay, so I wasn't downing neat vodka at breakfast, but I would drink pretty much every single night. I hated being the designated driver, I'd instinctively open a bottle of wine when I got home from work. I loved many, many things about alcohol; the way it made me feel, the confidence it gave me, the bubbles, the aroma, the feeling of sitting in a restaurant swilling a glass of red wine looking ever so sophisticated (really?!). Let's face it, the party, and my personality, were just so much better when alcohol was involved.
My body and skin however, saw things from a very different perspective. They hated me drinking. My skin used to dry out even more than it would do on a normal day. My psoriasis went crazy - so red, itchy and inflamed. My brain would feel all fuzzy and sore. I had more kidney infections than I care to remember. I'd be pissing blood in the morning and still I told myself the copious amounts of red wine and vodka I'd had the night before were absolutely nothing to do with that. Alcohol was making me sick.
Here's the truth.
Alcohol is a poison and our digestive system is really the only part of the body even remotely prepared to handle it. Once we’ve poured our favourite poisonous tipple into the stomach, it’s absorbed through the lining and small intestines. The small intestine absorbs alcohol much more quickly than the stomach because it has over 200 square meters of surface area (about the same size as a badminton court) Yup, we have an entire badminton court squished into the bottom part of our abdomen - surreal eh?
Next comes the liver. Our liver cleans up the things we digest and is on constant high alert for poisons that come through the system. As soon as the liver sees alcohol, it goes into emergency mode. Imagine the sirens going off, blue lights flashing and the liver summoning all A&E staff back to base to deal with the impending crisis. Yep, that's what's going on as those prosecco bubbles are merrily swishing down.
Specifically the liver halts glucose production in order to deal with the river of poison trickling through it. Over the course of your evening in the pub, blood sugar is slowly, steadily dropping. Low blood sugar the morning after drinking is that bit of the hangover that makes us feel nauseous - I remember that part feeling much worse than the headache from dehydration.
As alcohol travels through the bloodstream it causes blood vessels to open up. This is the process that reddens skin, making us look hot and exacerbating inflamed skin. We get that warm, flushed feeling, and conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can feel itchy, stretched and sore. At this point, particles of alcohol begin to ooze out of our pores. Our skin starts to smell like whatever we’ve been drinking. Mmmm stinky sambuca skin. Blurghh, am I the only one feeling a little bit sick at that thought? By the time we wake up the next morning (usually with a sore head) our body has spent an entire evening in emergency poison control mode.
My personal evolution and skin healing journey could most definitely not have happened without traversing those years of darkness. I’m oddly grateful for the boozy dinner parties, crazy club nights and late night bar crawls - they magnified my desire to live life to the full and dream bigger. It took a good few blackouts, sleepwalking incidents, hospital appointments and a near breakdown before I transitioned into the green juice swilling, dream slaying, plant based, sober rebel that I am today. Coming from a dark place of chronic illness and self destruction has given me a wonderfully rounded perspective on life.
If there's only one thing you take away from my blog post, remember this. Without drugs or alcohol, you are authentically YOU. And that can feel a little scary at first. The truth is, sobriety leaves you free to explore your pure and authentic form, without artificial stimulants. You know the saying 'alcohol gives you confidence'? It's false. That isn't true courage, that's nothing but a fake mask. Come away from alcohol and your senses are heightened, you become aware of your natural body rhythms. Having experienced both sides I hope I can share my truth and optimistically inspire you to take the next step.
Sobriety is a movement towards mindfulness. It has little to do with no longer getting drunk, and everything to do with becoming a healthier, happier, higher version of yourself.
Check out my favourite alcohol alternatives for 2019 here.