The clocks went back last week. On the 25th October, to be precise. So now it’s dark by 5pm, although it isn’t dark in the morning yet. But we’ve had almost four solid weeks of relentless rain, so it hardly gets light during the day at the moment.
If I thought sobriety was hard over the summer – what with lockdown, and unemployment, and social isolation – I was absolutely not prepared for sobriety in a British Autumn.
I shouldn’t act surprised. It’s not like this doesn’t happen every single year. The days get short, the night draws in, and my depression grows in direct yet inverse proportion to the hours of daylight. I start taking vitamin supplements, and drawing the curtains so I can’t see the night lurking outside my window. I turn on fairy lights and light an excessive number of candles to drive the shadows out. But in my mind I know they’re still out there, waiting.
When SAD meets regular depression (plus a dash of pandemic anxiety) you know you’re going to have to step up your self care game.
The temptation is to hide under a blanket with a bottle of wine and a whole tray of roast potatoes, but while that may feel good in the short term it obviously isn’t the healthiest solution.
I previously used the DrinkAware to track my drinking. On the plus side, you can input exactly what you drink and it will calculate the calories, alcohol units and presumed cost of your drinking. This can be really useful to help you understand the scale of your drinking! The problem is you have to log your drinks, or it assumed that you’ve been sober. So if you fall off the tracking wagon (as I do often), when you go back to it and look in your calendar you see only a blank calendar. This makes it hard to track the peaks and troughs of your general habits over time.
Recently I’ve started using an app called Drink Free Days. It’s much more simple than Drink Aware. You simple pledge x number of drink free days in a week, and tick off when you achieve it. If you don’t tick it off, you didn’t achieve it. Simple. No need to track exactly what you’re drinking, just if you drank. You can choose to input what you drink in an average week, and it will tell you where you rank against an average drinker, and how much you could improve my skipping a few days.
I set myself a modest goal of three drink free days a week. I figured that setting the bar too high would just set me up for failure. Three days. Anyone could do three days, right?
Wrong. I managed it for three weeks, with no little difficulty. The next week I only had one sober day. Then ten days in a row drinking.
And not just “cheeky glass of wine with dinner” drinking. The more days in a row I drank, the more I drank on each of those days. Until all of a sudden I’m downing a bottle of wine on my own in a single evening, and drinking gin with a splash of water because I ran out of tonic.
I don’t think of myself as an alcoholic. Partly because I function just fine and partly because alcohol consumption is a huge part of British culture. But I am increasingly worried by how hard I find it to go an evening without drinking. I did Dry January this year, and actually managed the whole month. But within 3 months I was back to drinking just as much as I had been before. If I thought 4 weeks of sobriety would reset my relationship to alcohol I was sorely mistaken.
With Halloween only just past, and the nights drawing in, I know that I have many weeks to go before the wheel of the seasons turns back towards summer. I’ve got 8 weeks to go before we even get to the shortest day, and another 8 weeks after that just to get back to the point where we are now.
No wonder early cultures used bonfires to try and coax the sun back.
I don’t have much of a plan to control my drinking with the added pressure of the seasons. Intellectually I know that a proper workout routine and healthy eating will prop up my willpower and commitment to sobriety. On the other hand, I know damn well that I probably won’t have the spoons for workouts and cooking and sobriety, all in the face of another damn lockdown and a return to the isolation of the summer.
I’ve been back at work for six weeks and damn but it’s been good to actually talk to real life people every day. As of Thursday all office staff are officially working from home. I’ve really enjoyed actually seeing people every day and I am not looking forward to giving that up.
I love my pets, but they aren’t great conversationalists.