• Hugging the wall will make you feel more self-conscious. (E+/Getty)Source: E+/Getty
Ian Rose recently quit drinking, but Christmas is looming to test his mettle.
By
Ian Rose

9 Dec 2016 - 1:13 PM  UPDATED 9 Dec 2016 - 1:17 PM

All at once, they’re everywhere. Paunches in party shirts, Liberty prints distorted across midriffs, Kris Kringle gifts (wrapped in-store for a gold coin donation) borne before them in homage to wiser men, making their pilgrimage to the end of year work do.

And on this particular Friday afternoon, I take my place among the throng, unable to shake the feeling that I’m going through the motions, the body willing but spirit is AWOL.

I sit on the tram and prepare my excuses. ‘No bubbles for me, thanks, I’m off the grog, yes, wonders will never cease, ha ha’.

So why am I putting myself through it, they’ll want to know. That I’m facing festivities sober when there’s a free bar will require explanation.

It’s not as though I can use the “I’m driving” line: all my colleagues know I still don’t have a license. It’s one of several standing jokes of which I am the butt (always a willing class clown).

So why am I putting myself through it, they’ll want to know. That I’m facing festivities sober when there’s a free bar will require explanation.

I haven’t had a drink since September 25.

What happened on the 24th? Nothing much, but too much for someone in their mid-forties not to be able to remember. It was the kind of unexpected bender and blackout episode that I’ve got down to a once or twice yearly occurrence, but I’m too long in the tooth with too much to lose for it to ever be okay.

So I’m trying on abstinence for size. And so far it fits fine. My local barman mixes a quaffable mocktail, and I feel a bit trim and alert. I’m even getting stuff done - my driving test is booked in for January. And it’s nice to play with the kids without dreaming about the bottle of wine I’ll reward myself with once they’re in bed.

Only, here comes Christmas: the barbecues, the family gatherings, the shopping. There are so many reasons to drink. And once New Year, with all of its plaintive echoes of debaucheries past, has been navigated, we’re into school holiday territory and the prospect of camping trips, hard enough to bear on a buzz.

It would be easy to put the project on hold, enjoy a drink with everyone else, and pick up the sobriety in February, when I can mingle with the fasting herd. But something is telling me I need to tough it out.

December has long been a red flag month for me. It’s all too easy to get carried away on its tide of goodwill and free booze. The morning after the office party, sick with shame and foreboding, memory of the previous night’s events an ominous void: self-loathing Saturday, a festive tradition.

But not this year. Not tonight.

It would be easy to put the project on hold, enjoy a drink with everyone else, and pick up the sobriety in February, when I can mingle with the fasting herd. But something is telling me I need to tough it out.

“What’s that you’re drinking?”

“Umm, it’s a Diet Coke.”

“What’s that all about, then?”

My inquisitor is one of my favourite people at work and I don’t want to lie. But there’s a fine line between being open and honest, and over-sharing, one I don’t always walk steadily (especially in December).

“Well, it’s just, you know, I’m not drinking. Kind of trying it out.”

Her cool gaze appraises me, its mischievous twinkle is one of the things I like about her.

“Good on you,” she declares, and I feel a flush of pride.

I needn’t have fretted over my excuses, because no-one else asks me about what I’m drinking. Maybe they don’t notice. Or maybe they’re just not surprised - well, they always suspected I had a problem. Maybe they’ve been talking about it - no, let’s not go there.

Instead let’s enjoy seeing these people, sharing stories with them and finally working out what that bloke from marketing’s name is.

As the evening lurches on, it’s fun to be the one nodding patient encouragement to the raconteur who is slurring their way towards the end of a sentence. I even manage to negotiate a very favourable trade-off of KK gifts with the operations manager, who’s leaving anyway, so there’s no danger of career-damaging sour grapes once she sobers up and appreciates her error.

Instead let’s enjoy seeing these people, sharing stories with them and finally working out what that bloke from marketing’s name is.

It is interesting to note that, even tee-total, I am clumsy and spillage-prone.

A quarter of the crowd has gone home. I could easily escape without appearing anti-social or weirder than usual, but I seem to want to stay. I never realised how genial Marcus from marketing is. Gadzooks. I haven’t touched a drop, but I believe I’m feeling merry.

So on this non-drinking thing, I haven’t promised myself or anyone else that it’s going to be forever. Only for good. Come, say, February, when everyone else is drying out, I might just tentatively step off the wagon, being of a contrarian bent. Or, then again, I might not.

As for drinking myself into oblivion - I’m calling time on that. Life’s too short.

And Christmas comes but once a year - I raise my mocktail to remembering each and every one from now.

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