Day 22: a good week, a few victories, and the vexed question of non-alcoholic beer


It ain’t just Becks Blue any more, kids…


Well this was a good week. Honestly, the previous week was entirely given over to the doldrums and general cloud of sulky “ohmyGODit’ssoUNFAIRandIHATE you” hovering over my head (picture, if you’re from the UK and roughly of my vintage, Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager stomping around my brain and slamming doors), and I had a few moments of being genuinely tempted to just pick up a damn bottle of wine. What was the point, I wondered, of turning myself into a miserable sack of sulk and inflicting my gloom on my lovely partner? Why should he be made to suffer when I could just buck up and have a damned DRINK already?

(Something to note, particularly if you own a uterus, is that last Wednesday, having put up with some weapons-grade woe-is-me amateur dramatics, B. asked me, very gently, if my period might be due. As is the angry feminist rule in such cases, I chewed him a new hole for daring to suggest such a patriarchal, misogynist thing…and then, 12 hours later…yeah, there it was. I do not know if PMS has an impact on alcohol withdrawal, or if the hormones fed into and magnified the gloom, but I’ve realised that I may well have been drowning my PMS in Gin for many years now…watch this space and I’ll update you as to whether that was a glitch in the sober matrix or a genuine new issue in, ohhhh, about 25 days’ time.)

THIS WEEK…well, this week has been ace. I am starting to feel the benefits of three weeks’ worth of proper sleep. The bags under my eyes have receded, my skin looks less grey, and I’ve started to look less like Dracula’s sister who’s really let herself go. I went swimming, did a good weights session, and did a decent short run. We went to see Avengers: Infinity War and smuggled in a tin of Nanny State, and I didn’t even glance at the bar. In short, this week I experienced quite a few of the good things I had wanted to experience the week before, but was too busy feeling like, well, Dracula’s sister who had decided to quit the haemoglobin and was hanging from a rafter feeling hyper-goth about it all.

Now, about that tin of Nanny State. I’ve become aware since dipping my toe into the internet sobriety pool that some people take an extremely dim view of “near beer” and other very low alcohol/non-alcoholic drinks. This perspective seems to be the dominant view amongst those who approach quitting drinking through a 12-step plan, but is also shared by other bloggers whose feelings seem to be that if you’re still drinking something like beer, or something like a G&T, that you’re not breaking the habit of drinking those things. In addition, under UK law, a product can use the label “non-alcoholic beer” if its alcohol by volume is no greater than 0.5%, which is not the same as no alcohol, which basically boils down to the fact that you are not completely avoiding alcohol.

And I get it. I do. And I think you absolutely have to play this one by ear, knowing yourself very honestly and understanding your own booze problem without bullshit. If you start hammering back the Becks Blues by the caseload and becoming overwhelmed by existential distress if you have to have a lemonade instead, then you’re probably not really getting to grips with actually not boozing. For some people with a history of severe alcoholism, even using mouthwash or cough syrup becomes a vexed issue, because the small alcohol content of these products creates concern that they might trigger a relapse, and I respect that for some people, the prospect of going back into that spiral makes it worth assiduously avoiding anything with even a tiny bit of ethanol floating about in it.

For me, the thing that triggered my desire for a bucketload of Shiraz wasn’t a spoonful of Benylin. It was usually the desire to get smacked out of my head on a bucketload of Shiraz, often precipitated by the previous bucketload of Shiraz I’d just consumed. This is not a feeling that a Nanny State or Pistonhead Flat Tyre has ever provoked in me. The feeling that these 0.5% beers provoke me is “ahhhh, this is nice. I like the taste of beer. I wish normal beer didn’t start me off drinking beer like a thirsty bandit and then make me fall over, give me a vile hangover and induce a deep sense of self-loathing, but it does, so I’m not doing that any more.” And I can very happily have a Becks Blue and then not have another one, entirely unlike any alcoholic beverage I have ever had, ever, which instead tended to make me continue drinking as though all the alcohol in the world was due to evaporate at midnight and I had to bang back as much as humanly possible, like a kind of sottish and bloated Cinderella.

I’m a dreadful binger, not a “secret vodka down the back of the loo cistern at work” drinker. I don’t think I’m physically dependent on alcohol – psychologically dependent, maybe, guilty of using it as a mood-alterer and toxic best friend, definitely – and I don’t feel the need to dash to the offie or get more frantically Deliveroo-ed to me in a panic when the alcohol free beer runs out. For me, the occasional alcohol free beer is, thus far, letting me have a sip of something I like without any of the horrible, self-esteem sapping consequences of actual booze.

So when I occasionally review a new bottle of non-boozy beer, please don’t take that as an endorsement of anyone else doing something that might harm their own sobriety. You do you: don’t touch a drop of the stuff if you think it’s going to mess with your head. If you do enjoy a bit of the soft beer, then hopefully you’ll enjoy the reviews, and feel free to leave recommendations in the comments!

Cheers *toasts you with a cup of lemon and ginger tea* – here’s to my next week of no booze, bringing me to very nearly a month off the sauce!