enjoy the smugness of not drinking (Australian Woman’s Weekly editor-in-chief Helen McCabe shares her thinking)

The other night I was having dinner with my mate Helen. We met about 16 years ago in Canberra, when she was starting out as a Channel 7 news reporter; I served her coffee at the this place in the city and was doing a political internship at the time. We then crossed paths briefly when she was deputy editor at The Sunday Telegraph and I was on Sunday Magazine. But we’ve mostly dined together, rather than work together.

The other night we were talking about not drinking. I’m obviously doing FebFast.

it was hard to miss, really...
it was hard to miss, really…

Helen’s not drinking because it’s a ritual she does each year. At dinner we almost fell off our stools we were so chuffed to be able to go out and not drink. We were beaming from our livers. Anyway, she had these thoughts on the matter….

Three years ago I decided to give up the booze in January for six weeks.

The decision followed a particularly busy few months socialising in the lead up to Christmas and the start of a very busy new year. So I decided to test myself and check out the life of a non-drinker which I have always suspected was rather dull.

Helen, with really good blowie
Helen, with really good blowie

But the real reason was because I wasn’t really sure I could do it, which was all the more reason to force the issue.

But I did do it and now I do it every year. This year I am going alcohol free for nine weeks (until Easter).

There have been a couple of lapses in the past. But overall I have stuck to it and the life of a non-drinker is not dull, it’s full and it is fun and it’s pretty focused.

So here is what I have learned.

Firstly it takes about two weeks before you feel better. In fact, at first you feel worse. This year I felt tired, a bit cranky and strangely my back and neck started aching. I was also very thirsty. It seemed that no matter how much mineral water I drank at lunches or dinner I was still thirsty.

I have not spoken to a doctor, but I have googled these symptoms and sure enough, they are apparently related to ridding your body of toxins.

By the end of the second week the symptoms start to subside. I had lost the aching and the tiredness but I was still thirsty.

Thankfully, even if the toxin argument is nonsense, it makes you feel good about every gulp of water.

By the third week the benefits start to kick in. I have loads more energy. I can exercise in the morning, read four newspapers and still be in the office by 8am. I can leave the office late, go out to dinner and read a book before turning the light out.  Hell, I can even work a six day week and not feel like I haven’t had time for anything or anyone else.

I am not sure if it is just my line of work but not drinking in Sydney in January is still tough.

I think I have been offered a glass of wine almost every day.

I have celebrated a birthday, Australia Day, a new issue of the magazine, a pregnancy, the purchase of a friend’s new apartment, spent a day at the cricket (in a fully catered corporate box) and farewelled a colleague. It is hard. One trick is to tell everyone before the event.

These days no-one is going to begrudge you the decision to not drink, so if they are aware, I have found they will happily fill your glass with a soft drink.

If you don’t tell your host beforehand, you will find yourself being handed a lovely glass of champagne and seriously, that is very hard to resist. The other thing I learned from a non-drinker is that once you have heard the same story three times – leave. It preserves your sanity.

I have never lost a lot of weight, although a lot of people do. I don’t know why, but weight loss was never my goal. I just like feeling energetic, and focused and as friends will attest – terribly smug.

So to all the Feb-fast crew good luck and remember the first week is the hardest.


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