Dry January

I live a dry life. I stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago (for many reasons that I’ll go into a bit later), so I suppose it intrigues me why people resolve to have thirty-one alcohol-free days. I should clarify a couple of points before I go any further. My decision to go teetotal was entirely my own. (As was my decision to become a vegetarian when I was a teenager). Many people assume that I changed these aspects of my lifestyle for religious reasons. At the time I certainly didn’t, although I can now see why Sikhism advocates sobriety.

I dislike it when people say that I’m a “good girl” for not drinking – because one would conclude from that statement that I would be a “bad girl” if I did drink – and that’s not fair. When I was growing up in my British-Asian bubble, drinking was frowned upon and girls were certainly not allowed to be seen holding an alcoholic beverage; to the extent that at weddings, the bar would be an exclusively male area. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a rush of whispers would spread like wildfire amongst the aunties (aka random relations with no significant ties to your family), if a female was to approach and order a drink. Some of these archaic sentiments have unfortunately persisted, and many young people would still be scared to drink at a family function, lest they be unkindly judged by more vocal elders.

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On the flip side, I’ve also been told by people my age that I’m boring for not drinking – which makes me wonder if I’ve committed myself to a no-win way of life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking and I would certainly never judge anyone for choosing to drink, as I made the choice to drink once upon a time too. I had a great time then and I have a great time now. I suppose I just want to explain why I don’t drink alcohol and why I like being sober, in the hope that it might stop you from dreading nights where sobriety is a necessity (e.g. designated driver) or a choice (e.g. dry January).

I’ve seen a few different approaches to dry January. Some people give up as soon as a worthy opportunity to drink presents itself – and that doesn’t really bother me because I also happen to object quite strongly to “New Year’s resolutions”.* What irritates me is when people choose to go into hibernation in order to achieve a dry January. By avoiding social situations altogether, there’s no risk of succumbing to temptation and thus the thirty-one-day challenge has been conquered. But has it really? Have you succeeded in anything, if you’ve not met up with friends/family/colleagues and had a laugh. At most, all you’ve achieved is sitting at home on Friday nights bored out of your mind, affirming the belief that being sober is rubbish. You’re also not particularly testing your resolve. You’ve said no to attending a social event, but the real test comes when you politely decline a drink.

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There are obvious reasons for not drinking, so I’ll summarise those in brief clichés because I’m sure you remember them from PSHE in Year 9:

  • It’s bad for your health – “no s***, Sherlock”. We all do lots of things that are bad for our health, so drinking just seems like another guilty pleasure. Melting into the sofa is also bad for us; but that doesn’t stop anyone from bingeing on Netflix.
  • Drink driving is dangerous – life is valuable and taxis are expensive.
  • Beer bellies are real – as are the fatty, disease-ridden livers that are prevalent in the > 50 years, Sikh/Punjabi male population. Research the calories in a pint of Guinness and despair.
  • It’s bad for your bank balance – fairly self-explanatory.
  • It impairs your judgement – so you enter a vicious cycle of continuing the self-destructive, alcohol-fuelled behaviour… and might eventually wake up next to someone you don’t remember meeting (hello herpes) with credit card receipts for drinks you don’t remember ordering (farewell financial security).

An important part of life is making mistakes and learning from them, but I feel like when alcohol is involved, the same mistakes can be made time-and-time again. My sarcastic tone in the bullet points above does not intend to undermine their validity. There’s an uncomfortable truth to each statement – but as a society, we’ve become desensitised to the impact that alcohol can have on our wellbeing. Knowing that alcohol is expensive and unhealthy doesn’t deter us from drinking, or make abstinence any more attractive. Some of the reasons I stopped drinking do fall under the above categories, however I’ve mostly been guided by personal realisations.

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What made it easy, was understanding that alcohol in no way guarantees that you’ll have fun. You’ll have good nights and bad nights when you drink. You’ll have good nights and bad nights when you’re sober. Having a drink does not correlate with having a good night; and being sober does not correlate with having a bad one. Therefore, if you’re looking forward to a night out, you’re likely to have a good night irrespective of your alcohol intake. The people, atmosphere and music matter much more. There’s also the fact that people chat a lot of s*** when they’re drunk, and if you’re drunk you’re more likely to believe it. That’s fine sometimes – but it can also form fragile foundations for friendships. In my first year of uni, I went out more than the average fresher and met a lot of people. We were best friends on a night out but had very little to say to each other in the sober light of day. Initially, this wasn’t an issue, yet as the year went on, I became less certain of who my friends were; as most people felt like acquaintances.

Fortunately during this existential time, I got to know some of my closest friends at Bollywood dance rehearsals. We had met each other on nights out, but we bonded at sober practices… and I’ve since had a revelation that alcohol never contributed in any substantial way to the experiences or relationships for which I’m most grateful. Alcohol is very superficial, which is perfect when you’re in the company of people you know well, because it adds a layer of fun to what is already a very deep and wholesome thing. (This also taught me that very few things – least of all alcohol – compare to the feeling I get when I dance; it brings me immeasurable happiness, enjoyment and fulfilment. Lame but true.)

Yes, Dutch courage is useful when you’re faced with a room of people you don’t know, but it’ll also hinder your BS-filter. I was recently at a Christmas party where I didn’t know anyone, and I managed to make conversation with drunk and sober people alike for several hours. This isn’t something I’ve always been able to do and at times I felt quite awkward. Overall however, I had a wonderful night – firstly because I wasn’t doubting my opinions of people and secondly because I realised the next day, that I have definitely been happier since I stopped drinking.

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I don’t worry about drunken behaviour because it doesn’t exist. I’ve become a more confident person. I can instantly tell whether I’m likely to get on with someone, unlike my tipsy self who naïvely loved everyone. Talking to drunk people is entertaining. It’s nice to maintain a degree of control, which can be quickly lost after one unwise round of shots. My immune system is stronger. I’m more productive as I don’t lose a day to dehydration/headaches. My skin is healthier. I can get wonderful calories from Nutella without guilt, as I’m not getting empty calories from vodka with a hangover. Etc.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never drink again, as I’m fully aware that sharing a bottle of wine can be a simple but perfect way to spend your evening when you’re in good company. For now however, I’m more than content drinking Shloer and I hope that you’ll give it an open-minded go too.

 

* The start of a new year seems to be an arbitrary and weak source of motivation for making significant changes to your daily habits, so why set yourself up to fail.

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Organ Donation: the Ultimate Service to Others?

The prospect of having your organs harvested within moments of your death isn’t a particularly pleasant thought, so it’s a hardly a surprise that conversations about organ donation don’t crop up regularly around the dinner table. It is normal and natural to become preoccupied in the daily minutiae of life and I think most people would be concerned if ideas of death frequented your thoughts. However human nature is such that our responsibilities as members of society can often be disregarded in favour of our responsibilities to ourselves. Considering organ donation is therefore challenging for two reasons: (1) you need to think about dying and (2) you need to think selflessly.

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I am a fierce advocate of organ donation for many reasons, a few of which I’ll touch on here. Trying to acknowledge all the moral, ethical, religious, scientific and philosophical arguments in support of or against organ donation would however take far too long, so instead my focus will be on a statistic that fits in better with what I understand:

“66% of Black, Asian and some Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities living in the UK refuse to give permission for their loved ones organs to be donated compared to 43% of the rest of the population.”

This is fairly logical if you take organ donation to be a Western concept. In first world countries, where access to healthcare is presumed rather than fortuitous, organ or tissue transplants are within the realm of possibility for patients in whom other treatment options have failed. In less developed healthcare systems however, diagnosing the severity of a disease and assessing a patient’s prognosis are not as easily achievable and opportunities for transplantation are as rare as surgical resources; hence those of BAEM nationalities are less likely to have previously encountered organ donation. Indeed a lack of knowledge about something so ‘unnatural’ would possibly inspire fear rather than altruism and thus, this statistic can in part be explained.

The diversity of religions within BAEM communities may also account for the lack of enthusiasm towards organ donation. As such surgical techniques are modern revelations, significantly older religions did not specifically address the issue, leaving holy scriptures open to interpretation. The idea that your material body is merely a vessel for the immortal soul applies in both Sikhism and Hinduism, as does the notion of service to others; both of which strongly support organ donation. Buddhism states that whilst great care should be given to a dying person, if it is that person’s wish to relieve someone else’s suffering, there is no injunction against organ donation. It is less clear in Islam, as the human body is seen as inviolable both in life and in death; however the idea that ‘necessities override prohibition’ (al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat) may be applied in this sense to promote the preservation of other human lives, if the personal cost is bearable.

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Although it is therefore easy to assume that following a natural course of death is what your religion would permit you to do, in some cases scripture arguably suggests that the principles of selfless giving and conservation of life should play a greater role in your deliberation. Donating your organs is ultimately a personal decision but the lack of debate within religious forums, coupled with a wider lack of education on organ donation across the country, has prevented well-informed opinions from being constructed. Organ donation is also far from glamorous and a British preoccupation with propriety has (more often than not) blunted awareness of important issues. I am confident however that if you approached a doctor or religious leader with your questions or concerns, they would be more than willing to help. Not only would you be equipped with the knowledge to formulate your own opinion but you would be in a better position to help others come to a decision they’re also comfortable making.

And why is it that I think organ and tissue donation should be something that everyone considers? I am the first to admit that I can be selfish and spoilt but there is a quote by Muhammad Ali that encompasses the ethos I want to live by: “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. I imagine that every person reading this blog, if given the choice, would do what they could to alleviate suffering and help those in need. It is however difficult to think of things in an abstract way; I have seen from my own experiences that it is not until we are forced to deal with disease in the context of someone we love, that we consider how we could prevent others from bearing the same burden. Yet we forget that we are all composed of materials that could save another person’s life. Donating your bone marrow could save a leukaemia patient. Donating your blood could save a mother from fatal complications during childbirth.

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Without wading too far into the murky waters of bioethics, there’s also a strong socio-economic argument to be made. I would never condone the Hunger Games-esque organ lottery proposed by the consequentialist John Harris but I do believe that our contributions to society should extend beyond the taxes we pay. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where medical advances have rendered many diseases obsolete and in a society where access to healthcare is free. We do not hesitate to use that which is available to us, so it seems fair to ensure the same is available for others.

Instead of rounding this post off myself, I’ll leave you with a few links so you can draw your own conclusions:


On 2nd May 2015, I’ll be taking part in the Isle of Wight Challenge with members of my Bhangra team. We’re fundraising for Delete Blood Cancer UK, a charity which aims to find a bone marrow donor for each person in need of one. Any donations would be much appreciated, no matter how large or small – thank you!

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