I blame science. After reading about an experiment in England on "normal" drinkers (which in my London experience is what most people would term "heavy drinkers to functioning alcoholics" - and I mean that in a nice way, honestly) and all the benefits they saw after not drinking for a month, I decided to give it a try.
Now, I'm a girl who, like her mother, has a glass of wine while cooking, one at the table, and one to relax after dinner. We're talking a girl who got a whisky flask for Christmas (and used it liberally henceforth). A girl who is amazed at pregnant women - not because they produce miraculous human life or selflessly suffer the worst kind of pain to do so, but because they manage to survive nine months without a nice glass of red at the end of the day. Also, I'm Australian.
So, now you know what you are dealing with, here's what I learned - and what I didn't.
1. It's probably not the alcohol you'll miss, it's the social rituals. And the alcohol.
To my absolute surprise, I quite easily gave up alcohol itself. I didn't crave it, I didn't miss being drunk, I didn't succumb to those alcohol free "Chateau Diane" bottles of grape juice at the supermarket which masquerade as a chardonnay (thank God). What surprised me the most was the realisation that pretty much all of my social activities revolve in some way around alcohol: Friday beers, post-meeting drinks, indulgent brunches, lazy Saturday afternoons drinking beer and watching movies with friends, reunions and goodbye parties and cocktail receptions at film screenings and baby-sitting 3-year-olds when you've finally put the kids to bed and their kind parents have, in their infinite wisdom, left a bottle of wine for you.
I'm single, and most of my friends are younger than me. I need to go out. However I found myself avoiding situations where the main activity was drinking. Most of my friends/colleagues were supportive, some were not and kept telling me to give up. This did not help. I used that magazine article like a magic shield to so many people who said "it doesn't make any difference anyway". I would reply - "that's just conjecture. This is SCIENCE!"
My advice: bartenders are your friends. It won't help with #2 below, but most will make you virgin cocktails (often for free), help you disguise your selzer as vodka soda, and even express admiration. I made it through an entire Simpsons trivia night (that involves drinking games) on 2 coffees, a selzer water and a hot chocolate. Worst case: pretend you're one of those unfortunate pregnant people.
2. It's really not fun when everyone else is drunk, and you're drinking selzer and pretending it's vodka soda.
So, you've decided to go out anyway. Good for you. What you might discover, however, is that you are actually not very comfortable socialising and use alcohol as a crutch (bingo). You might also discover that most people are in the same boat - and as the booze-fuelled hilarity escalates, you feel as if you are regarding the action from the frosty confines of an entirely different dimension. Having said that, I missed the booze-fuelled hilarity. I found myself focused on the fact I wasn't drinking, rather than the company at hand. Maybe that would go away with more time, or less hilarious friends.
I didn't miss hangovers.
3. You don't need wine to sleep. You might want to fill up your Netflix queue though.
The best thing I found was I managed to fill my evenings with exercise (!), and classes, and cooking, and a hell of a lot of TV. This was instead of drinking wine. It was also, unfortunately, instead of going out. But it also took the pressure off me to go out all the time, which is handy when you're feeling broke and there is an impending blizzard, both of which happened during this boozeless eon.
4. WARNING: You might replace alcohol with sugar, or spend the money you should have saved on something else. (I did this so you don't have to. You're welcome, science.)
Science had led me to believe that along with improving my liver health, I was pretty much guaranteed to lose 1.5kg during my hibernation from everything fun. However, I found that my cravings for sugar put an end to that. Despite the increased exercise, I am fairly sure I haven't lost any weight at all. Or saved money. At restaurants and brunches I would compensate for lack of alcohol with extra treats. The cakes at work were no longer off limits. When I did (rarely) go out, I made sure I still bought people drinks despite the fact they only had to get me a plastic cup of water. Bored at home, I failed to resist online shopping while idly filling my evenings with tv, or bought ambitious ingredients for my latest culinary adventure. Or signed up to a photography class to fill up yet another evening. My newfound can-do attitude also amounted to me buying various hair products resulting in a completely disastrous attempt at home hairdressing, resulting in an emergency visit to a professional - and another hit to the budget.
All in all I ended up just as broke and the same weight as when I started this endeavour, and with a highly developed penchant for hot chocolate. Basically: it's probably better not to do this in January.
5. You can have brunch with just coffee. At least pancakes go better with coffee than a Bloody Mary.
See point 4. Note that while delicious, this is not going to lead to weight loss.
6. Getting out of bed isn't any easier: subzero temperatures are just as bad with no hangover.
They say you're supposed to have a clear head and boundless energy when you stop drinking. Well, despite all my extra-curricular activities, I didn't. I wanted nothing more than to curl up on my couch and watch Seinfeld all winter before I stopped drinking. I wanted exactly the same thing after it.
7. The best thing: you'll break up with booze. But you can stay friends.
Having said all that, I feel like booze - even my beloved red wine - and I are no longer co-dependent. Even on Super Bowl Sunday - my first day back off the wagon - I only had a couple of beers over the entire evening, and that was more than enough. I don't feel like I even want to drink that much, and definitely won't need a glass of vino to help me feel like I'm properly unwinding. So, while I don't want to give up drinking forever, and while I don't want to necessarily go back to the Sober Dimension while everyone else is on Planet Hilarity, I think a month break has really helped me redefine my relationship with alcohol. We're going to stay friends, but I need my space. I might even do this again next year.