Some people attempted Dry January at the start of this year but swiftly changed their mind when lockdown was announced in the UK. I decided to not only give up drinking for the first time, in the most depressing month of the year in a global pandemic – but smoking and dating too. Working in a breaking news environment can be an incredibly stressful and chaotic 9 to 5, very rarely you are able to switch off from the news, especially in a current health crisis like this one, as well as living with two housemates who are nurses, I might have wanted to rely on some kind of comfort or coping mechanism, which are what those habits are. Had a stressful meeting? Have some nicotine. A long day at work? Unwind with a drink. Feeling lonely? Meet someone new for a confidence boost on a dating app.
British people are known for their drinking culture, fashioned by a classy Pimm’s whilst watching Wimbledon, or a few pints at the pub when watching a match. Perhaps a bottomless brunch that ends in tears, or a day session that ends up a mess. It is embedded in our sport, in our culture, and in everything we do. Just look at how the drinking curfew impacted my generation, I saw women passed out on the street at 10pm because they were determined to drink as much as they could humanly stomach, until the bar bell rang. Our society finds it extremely hard to balance our drinking habits and end up having one too many, often.
I’d never tried to give up drinking before for the month of January, in fact I had always questioned those that did, raising an eyebrow and asking them why? Alcohol is so embedded into our culture; I had found it difficult to separate the two. I am not a regular drinker, but I had grown so used to it being seen as “normal” in society.
I had noticed, especially at the start of the pandemic whilst nursing heartbreak, that I had begun to rely on ciders in the sun and wine on the weekends, as if we weren’t in a global pandemic and it was a regular Easter period, filled with extended evenings in the sun and admiring London’s beauty spots. After the initial hurdle, my drinking was not a dependent habit, but I found myself using it as a coping mechanism at times, relying on the chilled taste of a Gavi to welcome me into the weekend and to forget about the stresses of the week. For the first time ever, I could see that I too, would surrender myself to alcohol and one glass could never be, just one glass.
Smoking has also been a habit I have wanted to put out for a long time too. You would think that living in a global health pandemic which targets your lungs would be enough encouragement to quit. But if you are idiotic to start smoking in the first place, you aren’t really that concerned about your health. In the 13 years I have smoked, I have gone from an occasional smoker, to a first one in the morning before a cup of tea full time smoker, to a social smoker, to a very occasional cheeky one with a mate who smokes type of smoker, to a stressed out and one a day smoker, at the start of 2020. Being the year that it was, it meant that I had found little optimism in quitting until my Mum gave me a wake-up call, the same wake up call I have known for 25 years, yet I just started listening.
Why dating too? After experiencing a breakup in March last year, I had thrown myself into a succession of dating different people, not by purpose, but by accident. First it was the Knight on Zoom, then it was the artist, then the man I met on SpareRoom. I think most people would have used the months after a breakup to heal themselves, but I turned to other men, seeing if they could replace the hole I had in my heart. In short, they did not.
Many people jump from relationship to entanglement to relationship, becoming enslaved to emotional dependency, or romantic intrigue, scared to be alone as they fear they are incomplete. That in itself is an addiction, just like smoking and drinking, you are depending on someone else to fulfil you and your needs, and that kids, is unhealthy. Other people are not addicted to dating and relationships, but rather the apps that facilitate the encounters. They get addicted to the buzz of seeing who they might match with, the power and control they have with deciding who they can let interact with their profile, and the first steps in getting to know each other, “the chase” that many refer too.
I honestly looked back at 2020 and the lessons I learnt and thought, I don’t want to start 2021 in that same head space with those same habits, so I didn’t. There were moments when I struggled, like the announcement of a new lockdown, or when the total number of lives lost hit 100 thousand people and I honestly would be lying to you if I said I didn’t cave once and smoked a cigarette, I did, after 18 days being clean with all three habits. But the clearing of my lungs prior and post to that cigarette, the no alcohol whatsoever throughout the whole month, and the dating app being permanently signed out and hidden from my locked screen, meant that I finally realised, firstly, how tired I am, and secondly, how much energy and time I spent on others.
It has made me recognise that there are other ways to deal with stress and anxiety, and moments of low self esteem and confidence. There are healthy coping mechanisms to react to certain situations and trauma. If I have managed to cut out nicotine and alcohol and men completely from my life, in the most depressing month we have had in a while, in a pandemic, then I can achieve so much more then what I believe I can.
I encourage you to try cutting out a toxin from your life and see how you bloom without depending on it.
(Please note, I am only calling men toxic in this article due to the toxic men I have dated and recent toxic situations I have been in. Not all men are toxic, some are lovely human beings just like some women are toxic too.)