I’ve done a couple of sober Octobers in the past, so I thought I knew what to expect from stopping drinking. The difference this time is that I was giving up alcohol for good and there was no longer the seductive expectation of restarting at the end of the month. And that would definitely have been a binge – by the Department of Health’s parsimonious definition, anyway.
In all honesty, alcohol has been the third party in our relationship for the last 31 years: a constant companion at the dining table and by our sides on the sofa. It isn’t easy saying farewell to a BFF that’s given us so much pleasure.
And then there’s my husband Henry. Would he carry on drinking regardless or take the opportunity to re-evaluate his wine consumption? No pressure on him, then.
The first weekend after the ELF test result dropped into my inbox, we went to a decent restaurant for Sunday lunch to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary. The food was fine but the drinks weren’t exactly flowing. I surprised Henry by saying “I don’t drink” rather too forcibly to the waiter when asked if I wanted wine. Was I doing this because I needed to convince myself or was I just being insufferably smug?
All around us, there were closely-packed tables of diners doing the customary weekend thing of wetting the palate with aperitifs, quaffing from flutes of sparkling rosé and downing robust reds to go with the medium rare roast beef. And getting louder and jollier by the minute.
I felt uncomfortable. Socially nonplussed, one might say. I wasn’t remotely tempted by the complementary glasses of Prosecco brought to our table. Henry had both. It was only an adjustment reaction, I reminded myself, and as a psychiatrist, I’m should know all about those.
A week or so after that lunch, we were on our way to Cape Town. Airport lounges and First Class travel can be a disaster for those aiming at moderation. Again, I didn’t feel the slightest inclination. I guess I was still floating on the high of feeling healthier. British Airways’ on-board mocktails left something to be desired, though.
South Africa was yet more temptation. With the rand still weak, perfectly decent wines can be had for a couple of quid in supermarkets. We’d usually include a wine tasting or three, which would segue into boozy lunches if the vineyards had a restaurant. None of that this time.
Bit by bit, I’ve come to realise that it’s all the cues that go with drinking that having been causing me angst. Tables too close together mean massive over-exposure to drinking behaviour. Sommeliers and their obsessive obsequiousness have all the attraction of a pickled cabbage. Pubs remain a complete non-starter. The recently reopened pub near our holiday home in Riebeek Kasteel, South Africa won’t be getting our patronage, although it does have a fantastic view of the valley.
A deux, we’re discovering zero alcohol beers and sparkling grape juice combined with ginger or vanilla. Henry might have the occasional glass of a Swartland Pinotage but it’s rarely more than that. I just wish that someone would produce a zero alcohol wine that doesn’t taste like rat’s piss.
I thank you, dear husband, for your support.