Why I should stop being a grump about Stoptober

For about the past month, the ads on my facebook have been attempting to convince me to give stuff up for money. Every time I log on (which is more than I should) there’s a great big ad telling me to stop drinking or smoking for October, and to get people to sponsor me for it. It would’ve been a real moneyspinner back in 2007, when I was 56% white wine and 44% Marlboro Lights, but these days it’s pretty useless. Because I’ve already given pretty much everything up.

Back in my student days, I’d stop off at the cornershop on my way out and my cigarettes would be waiting for me at the counter. Then I’d get to the pub, and the staff would have a bottle of wine uncorked and waiting at the bar. And on my way back, I’d stop at the 24 hour Tesco and buy all of the bread products. But these days pretty much my only remaining vice is tea, and I’ve had to cut back on that because apparently drinking eight cups in a day is just asking for a panic attack.

2007 - drinking, smoking, and a questionable hat.
2007 – drinking, smoking, and a questionable hat.

It didn’t all happen at once; I ditched smoking six years ago, when my now-husband told me he’d dump me if I didn’t. I bitched and moaned about it a lot at the time, and managed to overdo it so much on the nicotine patches and gum that I nearly passed out in Clapham North station, but I’ve not had a single drag on a cigarette since then (largely because if I did I’d just start smoking again but shhh, let’s pretend it’s because I’m brilliant.)

I actually had my last cigarette on September 30th 2009, which I realise now means I inadventently went in for Stoptober before it was being advertised by Rhod Gilbert. Which clearly makes me some kind of trailblazer when it comes to not giving yourself lung cancer.

Giving up drinking came a few years later; it was early October 2011 when that one disappeared from my lfe. This time there was no ultimatum, just the realization that booze was catastrophic for my mental health, and that I’m a proper bellend when I’m drunk anyway.

Ever since then I’ve had a strict rule of not drinking anything stronger than 0.5% (as that’s what the Alcohol Free Shop tell me is the European standard for being alcohol free.) It’s helped the mental health, and it’s been good to get Sunday mornings back as a time to do things other than lying in bed and waiting for the hangover to either pass or kill me.

And, perhaps most importantly, it gave me the joy of appearing to drink all day at my wedding without ever getting drunk at all. For what many people didn’t realise was that my “champagne” was in fact some alcohol-free sparkling “wine”, so I could pretend to be an almighty heavyweight who could down a bottle in 90 minutes and not trip over her six or seven layers of skirt even though she was in five-inch heels.

Gluten (and therefore many bread products) disappeared from my life about a year ago, because a gastroenterologist told me it had to. I still haven’t entirely forgiven him for that one, because I really miss Twixes, but apparently I can’t hold him responsible for the fact that I have coeliac disease, much as I would like to.

So these days I’m something of an expert on giving things up, which serves to make me pretty damn grumpy about people giving stuff up for one month and asking for money for it.

In fairness, I’m not so grumpy about Stoptober. Giving up smoking is an absolute bitch and continues to be for years afterwards; I still dream about smoking and wake up pissed off that I don’t do it anymore. And given that if you do keep smoking, chances are that it’ll kill you to death in a pretty unpleasant way, I really can’t complain about anything that encourages people to give it up. Instead, I say good luck, and really do listen when they tell you not to use the patches and gum at the same time.

2015 - top-notch tea room.
2015 – top-notch tea room.

But the drinking one fills me with a bit of rage. How has not drinking for a month become a thing? Why is that such a big challenge for people? What the hell does it say about our society that not having a drink gets put into the same bracket of “worthy of sponsorship” as things like running marathons, or cycling for 100 miles? After all, all it involves is not putting something in your mouth. We’re not babies. Not putting stuff in our mouths is pretty easy these days.

Except, it actually isn’t. And I’m really not one to talk, because before I became an exceptionally boring individual whose life revolves around tea rooms and knitting, I would’ve found it pretty tough to give up drinking for a month.

Because not drinking when you’re out is tough, and tiring, and can be dull as all hell. You have to try and talk to people without a drink in hand to make whatever they’re saying more interesting. You have to try and dance with the crippling self-consciousness that comes with sobriety. You’re very aware of it when your drunk friend starts having the same conversation with you for the third time that evening.

And it can get really, really boring to have to tell people that you’re not drinking. Because it’s such an alien concept to so many people, that they assume there must be some big, important reason for it (I’ve spent the past four years repeatedly denying pregnancy.) At least if you’re doing it for charity you’ve got that reason ready to give, but I’ve taken to just saying “I’ll have a diet coke this round” and trying to skip the whole ‘non-drinker’ thing altogether.

Plus, anything that’s raising money for charity and making people healthier at the same time is theoretically a good thing, so maybe I should just stop being such a miserable old grouch about it all.

It’s just a shame I can’t go in for some retrospective sponsorship of my own, because I’m definitely not going to be giving up anything else any time soon. And I don’t care how many times people try to tell me that sugar is a bad thing.


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