How many times did I say those immortal words?
You know the ones… the ones that you utter as you stumble down the stairs, mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert as you gulp down two paracetamol with a glass of water, trying desperately to peel your tongue from the roof of your mouth. All of this while trying to fight the waves of nausea washing over you as you try to piece together the jigsaw that was the previous evening.
‘I’m never drinking again’
Time and time again I have announced these words knowing full well that I would be back in the pub with my friends, lager in hand, the following weekend.
The truth is… I’ve never been the most proficient drinker.
It didn’t bode well that during my first grown up outing ‘on the lash’ (so to speak) I ended up being the victim of a mugging and spending the night at a police station while they waited patiently for me to sober up in order that I could identify the assailant. Five statements later and having described the entire cast of Sesame Street as the possible perpetrator and finally realising my inebriation my interrogators gave up on me.
‘Shandy Andy’ was probably the most appropriate name for my drinking pedigree and yet I continued in this vain for years despite the, oh so terrible, hangovers that had me crawling out of bed after lunch on many occasions.
So, after much deliberation I decided in my 40th year to put an end to the misery.
As I fittingly toasted Wales’s rugby Grand Slam win over Ireland on March 16th 2019, I sank my last alcoholic drink and rode a slightly wobbly and precarious ‘Next bike’ journey home.
So why am I writing this?
I’ll be honest I used to despise reading these sorts of virtuous, self-righteous articles and I also am acutely aware that perhaps I am turning into a cynical and grumpy old man.
However, although I have never been dependant on it or experienced any alcohol related illnesses I have often wondered why it is so inextricably entwined in my life.
As is so common for many of us, it has often been the prerequisite for many aspects of my social life. Whether that be simply meeting friends at the pub for drinks, or the manner in which it is flaunted at professional work events, whereby it seems to serve as a focal point to any celebration.
I have often wondered in the past how my life might be without alcohol, and even more so how I might be perceived as a tee-totaler amongst my friends and colleagues.
As I write this 18 months on since my last sip I can honestly say that my life has improved immeasurably. All for that small sacrifice of not talking utter gibberish, walking around topless and occasionally pulling off my infamous David Brent dance on any given night out and that’s just after a half a pint.
So, if you are reading this and have thought about having a break, stopping totally or even cutting back I hope you might find some inspiration as I indulge you in some of my observations since becoming a non drinker.
People take it personally
Since I made the decision to leave alcohol behind, I’ve found the reaction of those around me in regard to my alcohol intake somewhat insightful, as it’s not always been characterised by positivity.
It is bizarre that alcohol is the only drug I am aware of where there is an immediate prejudice placed upon you for NOT consuming it; such is alcohol interwoven into our cultural fabric.
I’ve experienced eye rolls, shakes of heads and have even been called a ‘boring bastard’ and that’s just from my wife.
Jokes aside nevertheless, she (my wife) was frantically led away at a party recently and questioned as to whether she would in fact survive as a result of my life changing decision. Although I’m not entirely sure if this is more a sad indictment on my general mundane personality.
Even as recently as last week my visiting sister asked,
‘So, you are completely tee-total now bro?’
‘Yes’ I answered.
‘How do you feel about that Jess?’ she asked my wife.
Clearly, the oh so very sobering thought (excuse the pun) that my wife might have to open a bottle of wine and drink it alone without me has clearly been too much to comprehend for many.
As a society do we place a concerning value on the role alcohol plays within our lives?
Or, perhaps the fact that I have recently found myself tutting out loud and referring to music on radio 1 as, ‘just a noise’ is an issue that those who know me, feel I would be best remedied with a few beers inside me…….for my wife’s sake!
No alcohol means clearly means no hangovers.
In truth until I gave up drinking I honestly didn’t appreciate just how much alcohol had been impinging on my time in general. As a result weekends now feel so much longer.
In years gone by it wouldn’t have been uncommon to wake on a Saturday morning with the agility of a three toe sloth with a pounding headache, nausea and a craving for food in any fatty form, wondering what time I might look and feel human again.
Despite curtailing my alcoholic consumption to a more modest intake prior to abstinence, my body still felt the relative impact, feeling sluggish and tired even after a few small glasses of wine.
These days the weekends offer a wealth of opportunity and I’m often out running or on my bike just before dawn ready to embrace the day on my return.
The incredible feeling of knowing that I am going to wake with a clear head the following morning is still not lost on me.
I can actually sleep again!
The truth is with two children blessed with a circadian rhythm akin to an owl my sleep or lack of it became the catalyst to sobriety.
Awaking at some ungodly hour, having had a few the night before meant that not only did I have less sleep overall but the quality of sleep I was getting felt entirely inadequate.
Interestingly, as a stimulant alcohol interferes with our restorative sleep and sleep rhythms in general, which explains why, despite sleeping throughout the night you often wake up feeling more exhausted than you might expect.
Now it’s different as the quality of sleep I have is so much improved.
I sleep deeper, without interruption and wake up feeling refreshed which has had such a positive impact on my general wellbeing and much to my wife’s relief I am more than happy to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn.
Mind and Body
I have always valued the importance of looking after my health, however, if I were to evaluate the periods of my life where I might have fallen short there is correlation with an increase in alcohol consumption.
Be aware! The empty calories in alcohol can have a habit of creeping up on you.
During my late twenties, for example, I changed my employment from a physically active career in tennis coaching into the more sedentary world of pharmaceuticals.
Unfortunately, with a heavy emphasis on regularly entertaining customers in fancy restaurants, my food and alcohol consumption increased substantially, as did my waistline. Within months I had metamorphosed from a Boris Becker doppelganger to that of Boris Johnson. Enough said.
Again, some years later, following the birth of my children, I managed to cultivate myself a rather fine ‘Dad Bod’ as I replaced regular trips to the gym with regular trips to the fridge for a cold evening beer.
Although of late, in place of booze, I’ve developed a rather unhealthy relationship with coffee, peanut butter and chocolate at the ripe old age of 41, physically I feel in great health.
My energy levels are now at an all time high. I feel fitter, faster and stronger than at any other point in my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve achieved some lifelong physical goals and sporting achievements since giving up alcohol.
Let’s be honest, alcohol is a depressant.
How many of us have woken up with ‘beer fear’ or ‘hangxiety’ asking questions such as ‘what happened last night?’ or ‘I didn’t offend anybody did I?’
I still shudder, for example, when I recall drinking so much at a client’s dinner party that in my total inebriated confusion I anxiously demanded of the hosts to inform me as to what nightclub I was in, despite being in their lovely dining room, before passing out on their living room sofa.
The truth is, in the past, I found alcohol related anxiety could linger for days post hangover, pushing me into a sort of pseudo depression for the early part of the working week. This left me feeling low, demotivated and ultimately unhappy.
Admittedly, this level of binge drinking is more synonymous with my youth and early professional working years. Yet, despite more modest drinking in recent times I arrived at a cross roads, where I questioned what benefits alcohol actually offered me.
Did it improve me as a person and perhaps more aptly did it make me happy?
The honest answer for me was an emphatic NO.
Of the many benefits I have experienced from an alcohol free life, it is undoubtedly the improvement in my mental health and general wellbeing, that has improved the most. I now feel like I am living in the present, which in turn has left me feeling full of confidence and motivation.
In recent years there has been a cultural shift in our general awareness and understanding of mental health and the lockdown period has undoubtedly amplified the importance of looking after this aspect of our life.
.Money in my pocket
I’m rich! Well, perhaps not , however, I am certainly better off.
Discounting any aforementioned muggings I think we can agree that regular alcohol consumption is expensive.
8 bottles of Peroni, two bottles of Sauvignon blanc and a further couple of bottles of Rioja extra a week throughout winter and it all adds up.
My wife and I could easily find ourselves spending at least £40 a week on alcohol just at home. That’s over £2000 per annum without even including eating out and nights out together.
The difference to my bank account has been significant and has meant I have been able to save money for far more meaningful activities.
With more money in my wallet it also means I’m less likely to be called ‘Short-Arm’ Fairclough for the next round.
So you see, that despite becoming the designated driver and the forgotten entity in any drink round (yes you forgot my orange juice again) there is a life beyond booze.
For me giving up alcohol has been one of the most positive live changing decisions I have ever made, I only wish I had made the decision to do it sooner.
In becoming a tee-totaler I have gained confidence, health and (some) wealth and although I still love a party, the prospect of tomorrow now offers a world of opportunity and if opportunity means no hangover then that in itself is a joy.