I thought I would talk about what I’ve learned from my year off alcohol. In order to do that, I thought I should start at the beginning and discuss my motivations behind such a difficult challenge that I set myself. Said motivations are two-fold. I have personal reasons, and not so personal reasons for taking on this challenge.
After James died, I had started to slowly take account of my own internals and mental health. From a selfish point of view, I was able to recognise that I was drinking too much (a big call from a university student). I would go out on a Wednesday with the boys to celebrate a win on Wednesday afternoon, or drown the sorrows of a loss. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but the problems arose when 1 night out blended into 3 (or 4 on occasion). Not being one for moderation, any night out was taken to excess, often drinking a lot more than required.
I had noticed it starting to affect my relationships with my friends, where I’d become a liability more often than not. My girlfriend, where any fights we had were due to me being hammered. The establishments in which the nights would occur, where I would on occasion end up in someone else’s scrap and be thrown out as a result. If I didn’t happen to be on good terms with most of the bouncers the rest of the time, I’d probably not have got back in again.
So, for obvious reasons, I could see how at least taking a break would make my life easier, and I wouldn’t have to deal with any fallout (often nuclear) the following day. My university work would often fall behind to the last-minute, and because that was priority, any other personal admin would be forfeited as a result. I could stop going out every week AND get my work done AND pursue other interests? Seemed like a fair enough trade-off.
I toyed with the idea of stopping for a month, which I have done on two occasions before in January for dryathlon. But a month seemed too easy, surely that wouldn’t be that hard? Was a month really long enough to make a long-term difference to my life? Probably not. I had seen comedian Kevin Bridges do an interview, where he talked about abstaining alcohol for a year, so I thought I’d give that a go.
I have been quite vocal on mental health this past year, and with the recent establishment of The James Burke Foundation, I had an external motivation that could help me. I decided I would try to raise money for the foundation, while at the same time telling people about my goal in order to hold myself accountable. I knew if I tried to keep it secret, to avoid the inevitable questions and banter that would come my way, I would break. By telling as many people as possible, as early as possible, I could negate that issue.
An added benefit that I hadn’t really considered beforehand was the hangover. Never underestimate how good a hangover free morning feels. I had decided that I would still make an effort to go on nights out with the boys, to prove to myself that as a person I can be good craic. As opposed to hiding behind the mask of alcohol, pretending to be something I wasn’t. For me, it was a big part of the challenge that I could be my authentic self in every environment, and not change mask depending on what stage of the play I found my part.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I committed about 4/5 days before I decided to start. I have been sober since October 10th 2017, which just so happens to be World Mental Health day. That wasn’t an accident. To be fair, I didn’t have a drink from the Sunday before hand, but I didn’t count those days (I started on a Wednesday).
The first week, no bother. Everyone can go a week without having a beer. It’s by the end of the second week that I started to feel the urges. I decided to go out to the usual watering hole exactly two weeks after I started. We would usually go to a few pubs before hand, easy enough. The early stages were generally ok, nobody was particularly drunk yet. It did start to get a bit rowdy before going to the final destination, and that’s where it started to go downhill. Everyone was hammered, loud and sustainable conversation became difficult. In fact, getting any sort of rational, coherent response from just about anyone was difficult. Safe to say, that did not last very long. I had high hopes, but it wasn’t to be.
All was not lost, at least going forward I knew that I probably wouldn’t enjoy staying any longer than 11pm, which meant I would be able to go home content. I have tested that theory a few times since, and confirmed it.
I was expecting to be inundated with people offering to buy me alcoholic drinks (because they’ve either forgotten, or they are an arsehole) but everyone, at least that knew, were encouraging me and saying that it was a great thing I was doing. A bit of motivation goes a long way.
Quite a number of people have told me that they wish they could do what I am doing. If you ask anyone that knows me well enough, I’d be safe in the knowledge that, “if I can do it, you can do it” will stand true. It takes willpower, commitment and personal responsibility, but if you have a goal or a vision greater than yourself, it’s not that hard. By that I mean, don’t stop drinking for the sake of stopping drinking. Have a goal, have a purpose, and stop worrying about what other people think.