Clari ty ou tside the cu ps

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - WRY SIDE - M ary - R ose M ac Coll

The Bri­tish chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer has been un­der fire this month for new al­co­hol guide­lines – no more than 14 stan­dard drinks a week for both men and women, and no safe level of drink­ing. Pro­fes­sor Dame Sally Davies has re­mained res­o­lute in the face of claims she’s run­ning a nanny state. In Aus­tralia, we’re used to it.

That bunch of wowsers the Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil re­leased their guide­lines back in 2012 – no more than two stan­dard drinks a day and never more than four in a sit­ting. At least the NHMRC says it’s up to us how much we drink – they could care less – whereas Dame Sally says she thinks now be­fore ev­ery glass of wine whether she wants to in­crease her risk of breast can­cer. Also bowel, liver, throat and mouth can­cer.

As it hap­pens, we are on six months’ al­co­hol­free in our house. We started at new year. At first it was easy be­cause we were still pick­led in Christ­mas cham­pagne. And then we went to din­ner at friends’ and felt like those peo­ple who come to your house and tell you they are non-drinkers. You don’t re­sent them ex­actly but you think they’re judg­ing you, like veg­e­tar­i­ans are judg­ing you. Imag­ine try­ing to con­vince some­one you’re not judg­ing them when you’re a non-drink­ing veg­e­tar­ian. That’s me.

I tell peo­ple I don’t drink much and I don’t but the truth is I drink more than I want to. Not at the mo­ment, of course. At the mo­ment I don’t drink any­thing. For six months. Six.

One friend said when you stop drink­ing, you have to deal with real life. “Ex­ple­tive-deleted!” she cried. “You don’t want to do that!” It’s true I’m feel­ing things more in­tensely. The world is more real and not nec­es­sar­ily more pleas­ant. It’s what it is, in all its ragged glory, rather than in the lovely soft fo­cus wine en­gen­ders.

“Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the pot­ter’s oven?” Kahlil Gi­bran says, al­though he was talk­ing about joy and sor­row, not wine; it just feels apt when you haven’t had a drink for this long. By now, of course, it should be the end of Fe­bru­ary, two whole months. But al­co­hol-free I not only do more ex­er­cise, my think­ing is clearer, num­bers par­tic­u­larly. For in­stance, the leap year. I’ve no­ticed. It’s an ex­tra day with­out a drink. “Your joy is your sor­row un­masked,” as the prophet said.

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