As my year off all thing’s alcohol comes to a close, I wanted to share a few things I have learned, picked up and discovered along the way. Been some year, plenty happening in many aspects of my life. I graduated from University, I moved in with my girlfriend when I came home, I decided I would further my education and study a Masters, ran a half marathon and did lots of charity work with The James Burke Foundation to name a few.
To say that the last 365 days have been easy would be a lie. I think if you asked just about anyone, they would consider a year off alcohol to be up there with waking up at 5am on their list of things that would probably be good for you, but fuck that. I have spoken to many people who have done Sober October, or Dry January, or whatever month they want to pick to make them feel good about themselves for a short period of time before they inevitably get absolutely wrote off on the 1st of the following month. I had considered doing something like that again. Seems like a piece of piss in hindsight, doing 1 month. But I had thought about it and came to the conclusion that, because it seemed relatively simple, and just about everyone has given it a go, it’s not really a challenge.
As I am one to do, I thought fuck it, and jumped in with both feet. Told as many people as possible about it in order to create some sort of accountability and started at the next available opportunity. I have read that telling people about your goals can actually be detrimental, because you receive satisfaction from telling them about it, which is often enough. Nevertheless, the people were told.
Win the morning, win the day.
The first month or two have definitely turned out to be the hardest. Nothing really changed. I was still hanging out with the same people, going to the same places, doing the same thing. Eating the same hangover food, with no hangover, because pizza. It started to take its toll on me if I’m honest. It is incredibly difficult to put on a front every week and be like, “yeah sound, I’ll come out with the lads, I enjoy your company”. When really, come 10 o’clock they are usually talking like a washing machine and morals become questionable. After the first few sessions I called it quits, I am not going to a nightclub, not because of who I’m with, but everyone else mostly. Its sticky, cramped, smells like shit and the next person to elbow me while squeezing passed is getting chinned.
I was going to keep myself busy, get up early, be productive, go to the gym, do some uni work, some stuff for the foundation or our campaign. Anyone who wanted to meet for a coffee, let’s be having ye. This has served me very well for the most part. Getting up somewhere around 6 or 7am, going to the gym, coming home as people are dragging their hungover carcass in for their 9am lecture gives you a great sense of accomplishment. In the words of Tim Ferris, “Win the morning, win the day”. It was this that helped me keep my mind off alcohol for the longest time. Having something else going on to distract me from it. Being absolutely knackered in the evening that the only thing I wanted to do was sleep, never mind sit in my kitchen listening to some bloke from London chat complete and utter bullshit at 1am.
I have tried to continue this process since I’ve come home from uni. Get up early, get something done as soon as possible and tick something off the to do list before most people get out of bed. Now I’m not saying I am some sort of productivity beast who smashes it day in, day out, because a lot of the time it is a serious pain in the hole when the alarm goes off, and I’ve snoozed it approximately 1 million times in the last week. It is tough, but when you awaken from your slumber and feel like you’ve accomplished something by simply getting out of bed, the rest of the day looks after itself.
That sort of mindset has helped me keep my mind off alcohol, stay busy and productive, and not be crying out for a pint come Friday afternoon. The best thing I can say for me, was distraction. That’s how this became, shall I say, easier than first thought.
I wanted to share a few lessons I garnered along the way, while there were many, here is my top 5, in no particular order.
- 1 year was easier than 1 month.
The thought of giving up booze for 1 year sounds dreadful. However, whether you want to think so or not, your mind will become accustomed to it. Early doors, there were a few instances where I nearly screwed the whole thing, purely by accident. Going to a pub with some guys and saying, “pint of Guinness please”. Wait, shit, back up. You sort of come to the conclusion that because it is so long away before you can have a drink, there is absolutely no point in worrying about it, or even looking forward to it. You are here now, get a cranberry mate. With 1 month off, the end date is always so close that all you can see is the finish line. You start to regret doing it in the first place and it becomes difficult not to go, “I’m at 20 days here, what difference is it going to make?” When I stopped for one month, I lost count of the number of people who said, you have to drink at XYZ party. Can you not add a week on at the end? When I decided to stop for a year, the pressure turned into congratulations or, “Jesus Christ, are you mental?”
- You get to know yourself much better.
After 6/7 years of social drinking, some binge drinking and a lot of hangovers, taking a year off enabled me to really take account of what is going on in my life, where I am, and how I got here. It was interesting to find out that I can actually show emotion, sometimes anyway. I think I’ve cried more in the last 12 months than I have in the previous 6 years combined. I am an angry wee man, but I am learning how and why, and I am able to identify what agitates me and what to do about it. I have improved my relationships with a number of people on a personal level, because those relationships have developed into more than a drinking acquaintance, and I have left some superficial relationships behind also. I am starting to discover what truly makes me happy.
- There are a lot more people who don’t drink than you would think.
About 21 per cent of UK adults surveyed in 2016 said they don’t drink, and that figure rises to 27 per cent for 16 to 24 year olds. 1 quarter of young people admitted they didn’t drink in 2016? That’s a lot. Mind you I don’t know how many people they asked, or where they asked them. That number is probably a lot lower if you stand outside the Students Union. Nevertheless, I encountered numerous people on nights out, at the pub or wherever who, when someone suggested a round or even that we go to the pub, have exclaimed that they don’t drink. The alcohol-free market is on fire at the minute. More and more beverage companies are producing an alcohol-free alternative, and more and more bars are stocking it.
- You can do it too.
Trust me, deciding what liquid you pour down your throat is not as hard as it might seem. Take one day at a time, one week at a time, one social event at a time. You’ll soon get over it and feel all the better for it. The first time you wake up after a night out completely hangover and fear free, feel proud of yourself and hold onto that feeling for the next time.
- You get to know your friends much better.
This sort of ties into point number 2, however as much as you know yourself, you never truly know someone until they are forced into a position where they can do nothing but react, as opposed to having time to think about their reactions and how that fits whatever mask they’ve put on that day. On occasion, I would think someone I was with would be supportive of my journey, they won’t try and peer pressure me into having a drink when they know I can’t. What a lesson that was. This was rare, thankfully, but it did happen. I’d be with people and someone would be like, “do you want a beer?” “Obviously not, dickhead”. “Awk go on, nobody will know, we won’t tell anyone”. “I’m good thanks, I’ll see you later”. By later I mean hopefully never. That’s not a good way to respect or treat someone you consider a friend. That’s being a dickhead.
I have been asked a lot, whether I will go back to drinking. It’s an interesting question, as if drinking is some sort of religion. It’s like asking those Amish kids on the TV that go to New York on the piss for a week, whether they will go back to their Amish families. It depends on your relationship with alcohol and whether you are in control of it, or it is in control of you. Needing to have a glass of wine after work to unwind? Think you’re losing that battle. For me, I will certainly have a pint of Guinness on the first day after my year, partly to prove a point to myself that I was able to do it, and secondly because I don’t think I have a problem with alcohol, at least not anymore. I would like to utilise it as a social thing, having a pint with your mates every so often, or at Christmas. One thing is for sure, massive piss ups every week are not my thing. You see too much when you go to a nightclub sober one too many times. A birthday party or a wedding? Straight to the bar no doubt. Beers after work? Not for me.
I would like to say thank you to so many people, not only for any donations that I have gratefully received on behalf of The James Burke Foundation, but also for the moral support and words of encouragement. At times it has tested me in ways I’ve never been tested before. I have felt sad, angry, anxious, happy, grateful and excited at different times of this journey. My life has improved tremendously and I am very glad that I decided to take this challenge. Not a single moment of regret. Thank you to every single person who has sent me a message, patted me on the back or said a word when they have seen me about. It means an awful lot to me and at times, I probably wouldn’t have got through it without you.