Words by Jago Bayley, Staff Writer
Yes, it is the shortest month of the year, and yes, I did skip dry January – largely because getting drunk with my housemates was one of my first priorities post assessment period – but I did the month of February sober, regardless of its length. It was an experience which challenged many of my preconceptions about life without alcohol and it was a way of living that I could see myself returning to. Now in March, with alcohol back on the menu (albeit to a lesser extent), I thought I’d reflect on my longest sober streak at university and try to extrapolate the most telling lessons I learned.
Why February? Two main reasons drove me to take a month off booze: money and wellbeing. Coming into the New Year, my biggest resolution was to improve my relationship with money. This, I felt, was essential for my emotional wellbeing and financial security, coming off the back of an autumn semester where I had left a job, only to realise that I didn’t know how to manage my money without a consistent income. It’s not that I saw myself as an impulsive spender as whole – although on nights out this could definitely be the case – it was rather a lack of understanding of how far I could make money go, which created confusion and uncertainty. I wanted to put myself in control.
So, I started to look into how to budget. I thought I’d start with Blackbullion, because it was a site I’d suggested in an article last semester. Students get free access from the university, and the platform is a great way to develop an awareness of different parts of your finanical life. I also downloaded a budget spreadsheet from Save the Student, which, after some trial and error, I adapted into a usable format for me. And the end of the month, my plan was to analyse all of my spending and record it into categories, looking at where I did well and where I could cut back, and using this information to forecast my realistic spending for the next month. I also thought I’d try Monzo, which turned out to be a great choice since the app is so user-friendly and geared towards saving money.
With this new strategy in place, the 31st of January was to be my first ever monthly budget breakdown. I knew I’d had a relatively expensive month; I’d been out three times (twice clubbing) and caught a few long distance trains. But one number really stood out: the one in the ‘Going out’ column. I’d spent £150 on nights out. Seeing it as a monthly figure, almost like a mega-subscription, was shocking to me. How could I justify this? How could I afford this in the long run? It all seemed a bit unreasonable.
Prior to this, I had gone out for a sport social on the 25th January, as I have regularly done on a fortnightly basis for Przym Wednesdays, and came down with flu in the following days. I proceeded to feel really unwell for about a week and a half, which destroyed all of the my different routines, from sleep patterns to doing my university work and exercising. This is not an attempt to scaremonger, it’s just that getting smashed is not always the kindest offering to your immune system, as I’m sure most of us know from Freshers.
So, growing ever tired of the repercussions of big nights out, my flatmate and I decided to go sober for February. It seemed like a smart move: I could save money whilst I looked for a new job, re-establish my training routine for rowing and build a really positive sleep routine. In practice, the two drivers that led me to sobriety became key motivators to seriously consider a sober – or a lower alcohol intake – lifestyle.
My key takeaway – there was not the noticeable fomo that I had anticipated. Rather than marking celebrations or other social activities with alcohol, I found myself spending higher quality time with my flatmates, rowing team mates and other friendship circles. I enjoyed watching films, going for long walks along the seafront and rowing. I found a baseline way of feeling (i.e. not having days hungover) that allowed me to do what I wanted, and to take in and embrace those activities as much as possible. I had more energy because I was sleeping better, through a better sleep routine. I found more energy to pursue my university work, my training and careers research.
February was also, in my estimation, the cheapest month I’ve ever had at university. I spent over £80 less than I had anticipated I would. By gauging the amount of money I was investing in alcohol, I began to make smarter decisions about my spending in general. Now my weekly food shop costs £5-£10 less than I did in January.
I spent £10 on going out, a huge saving of £140. Going out sober was definitely a big anxiety for me and a new experience. Would I feel confident enough to dance? Would I run out energy? Would I bow out to the temptation of a shot? These were all previously unanswered questions to which I thought answers would be informative.
Two of my flatmates and I had booked a drum and bass event at Concorde in January for the 24th of February, and I wasn’t about to let sobriety change our plans. We stopped at our local where I had a Coke, and then we headed for Concorde. In the club I’ll admit to having a Red Bull and another Coke – a lot of sugar and caffeine I’ll admit, but it was first time so perhaps I deserve some slack. Without alcohol to soften the booming speakers somewhat, the event was a full on experience but immersive and engaging nonetheless. Being sober helped to absorb the atmosphere of the event and better judge the moments that really made it tick. Yes, the drops may have been more intense had I been drunk and yes, maybe I would have had more energy to stay longer, but for a £10 night I have no complaints whatsoever.
Doing a month sober has helped me to forge an improved relationship with alcohol, one where I prioritize the moments and events where I see it being worthwhile, and knowing that, when I drink, I’m less reckless with money. Ultimately, finding the balance which works well for you at university can take time, and can be difficult within an intense UK student drinking culture. But finding that balance is important, and if you’re feeling at a bit of a dead end with alcohol, as I was, why not try a sober month? You might surprise yourself with what you learn.
Photo credit: GQ India