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Dry January

“Dry January” is a common phrase you begin to hear in that no man’s land between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. People have often overindulged on alcohol in December at work parties, social gatherings and during the family festive celebrations.  They may then see the start of a new 365 days on our planet as a good time to forbid themselves their favourite tipples for a month. The irony is, people often then go on a massive binge on the 1st of February, almost undoing their sacrifice.  

Looking back at my Facebook memories I have been this guy, I used to set that “new year, new me” goal and I was pretty successful, often getting to March before consuming a few too many beers. I don’t pretend to be a teetotal person who frowns upon alcohol consumption. In fact, I used to love the end of the working week and getting drunk over the weekend. I enjoyed the social fun and silliness of it all and was often known in my town for being the drunk chap in the wheelchair. I’d often be found hugging a kebab, talking to random fellow drunks or even falling asleep in my wheelchair. However, over the past decade I have changed and I’m more of a dry January, February, March and every month of the year kinda guy. But why is that? 

Ross is sat on a bus. He is a white man, wearing a black long sleeved top. Ross's head is tilted to his right and he is asleep. You ca see it is dark through the bus windows behind him.

A near miss 

Back in 2012, following a relationship breakup, I went out with my best mate. I was hell bent on getting smashed to drown my sorrows. I was successful and by 11pm, was in a complete state. On deciding it was time to head home, I left the pub and my inability to control my wheelchair saw me catch my foot in the doorframe, bending it backwards and sidewards. I suffered ligament damage and was lucky not to break my leg. That was my first moment of realisation of the potential damage I could have done, and I remember that I didn’t drink for a long while after that. I definitely developed some anxieties from this incident. 

The beginning of a change 

I didn’t give up drinking completely, but my life began to change, and I made a more conscious decision to avoid alcohol in my early to mid-30’s. Firstly I began living independently and had responsibilities. No longer was there a family member to let me in and put me to bed. The following day I didn’t have good old mum to help me through my hangover – a.k.a. feeding me and letting me fester. Now I had staff to manage, a home to run, the dinner to plan and no time to be hungover, feeling sorry for myself.  

Secondly, my career began taking off and it was obvious if I wasn’t on top form come Monday, following a heavy weekend. I often thought - how can I not perform or not be on it when I’m having workplace adjustment leave for medical appointments and managing my disability? Having a hangover isn’t a disability, it’s the result of choosing to get drunk.  

I did still enjoy the odd drunken night, whether it was a party, having some friends over or being on holiday, but they became more and more infrequent. My favourite time to enjoy a drink became summer, in a beer garden or round a friend’s house at a BBQ. I would occasionally still enjoy a sunny Saturday walk and a few drinks, but I often stopped going beyond the point of being drunk. 

The beginning of the end  

Like most things in life, all good things (if you consider drinking a good thing) come to an end. One Sunday morning after a few Saturday sunny ciders in 2017, I woke up and when passing urine, experienced a stinging sensation and signs of blood. Initially it was treated as a Urinary Tract Infection and I was given a course of antibiotics, but it begun to happen more frequently with no alcohol involved. Eventually I was referred to hospital, had a scan and was diagnosed with kidney stones in 2018.  

Back then I was drinking 15+ cups of tea a day and had binge drank during my 20’s and early 30’s. I’d basically dehydrated myself continuously, causing me this new, additional health problem. I was advised to up my water intake and change parts of my diet. I was also told that without surgery or passing the stones I wasn’t allowed to fly. Liverpool were headed for a Champions League Final in Kyiv that season and there was no way I was missing that. Through some luck, some minor procedures, medication and becoming a drinker of water and no alcohol, I passed the stones and went off to the Ukraine. 

The picture shows a red flag with a Liver bird in the centre. White text on the flag reads: Liverpool FC, live the dream, St. Neots reds. Two white men stand to the left of the flag. Two are on the right of the flag including Ross, in his power chair. All the men are wearing Liverpool football shirts and smiling. In the background there is a bush and trees.

But passing stones didn’t mean my problems were solved. It needed to be a long term change. So, I learnt to become a lover of water and I honestly, genuinely enjoy drinking it (more on that in a bit). In the months following passing the stones, I did still occasionally have a beer, but the pain in my kidneys the following day was not enjoyable. So, a beer became a shandy, and a shandy often became water. I also put on weight easily and alcohol calories are wasteful. I’d rather enjoy the calories in a good steak than in a load of beers.  

Am I tee-total? 

The short answer is no, but hand on heart I rarely drink and go months without alcohol. There are many reasons for this; the kidney issues, development of IBS and being on Risdiplam for my SMA. The medication company Roche don’t ban alcohol, but don’t recommend it either. But there are bigger reasons too. As I’ve got weaker, I sense danger more. The feeling of not being in control scares me, and it is heightened when I’m not with people who are good drunks. My reactions are not as quick as they were, so people leaning on my wheelchair joystick, sending me shooting off is something I’m really conscious of. People falling, getting rowdy or in fights and not being able to get out of the way fast enough are all concerns. With friends having their own lives and families, we don’t see each other as often. They are not aware of my disability deteriorating and I don’t feel safe with them being drunk around me, or me not being totally sober with them. My life is harder too; work, disability, carers, physio etc. Being hungover is not great and impacts my health, wellbeing and livelihood. 

Nowadays my typical time for a tipple is the summer, and it’s usually a shandy or two with my best mate Tom, in our local village pub. Meet at 5, home by 6ish. I like the warmth of a pub garden and that feeling of shutting the laptop for the weekend. The other occasion is sometimes at a football match, when I feel relaxed and safe, and even then, I’ll only have a few beers (that Risdiplam makes me a lightweight). 

Looking back on 2023 I reckon I drank a handful of times. I recall a few birthday beers which went to my head and I hated the day after. The only other time I drank was New Years Eve and I did get a bit tipsy. I’d had a successful year at work, and I’d booked a bucket list holiday – celebrating New Year in Dubai.

The hotel put on a huge party which was quite expensive and included unlimited, free alcoholic drinks. I wanted to let my hair down and I felt safe with my carer and family, in a hotel we’ve been to numerous times. I went to bed at 4am UAE time which is midnight in the UK (so I am still in on dry January) and woke up with a slightly thick head, craving a fry up. I didn’t feel guilty or too unwell and I wasn’t specifically signing up to dry January as most of the time, I have no desire to drink alcohol anyway.   

Back to the love of water. I genuinely enjoy it! It is my go-to drink.  I probably aim for 3-5 litres per day, and I feel the benefits.  I do find it hard asking for a tap water when I’m out, as you feel judged as a cheap skate or perceived as boring.  It’s something I still struggle with, but I am learning to care less. 

Whilst eating my greasy New Year’s Day fry up, I texted my best mate saying I felt a bit ropey. He asked me if I remembered meeting my idol Steven Gerrard the night before and telling the world on social media? I did remember, and said I’d had a good night and enjoyed a few rare beers, but my aim was to go into 2024 without consuming any alcohol. I’ve just started a new job; my focus is on that, and my health. That panic and fear of danger isn’t something I enjoy anymore… 

I’ll keep you posted on my success.  

 

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