A Sober Year – Was it Worth it?

It’s the 27th November 2017, the morning after two of my closest friends, Adam and Katie’s wedding day, of which I was the best man. I open one stinging eye, the pain of the morning starts to hit, the familiar war-zone of mouth, stomach and head is accompanied by the added confusion that I am sandwiched between my cousin and his girlfriend in bed, and not in my own room with Laura (my girlfriend at that time). This isn’t overly unusual or concerning, as it’s pretty much par for the course after a heavy night, certainly not as concerning as how rancid I feel. I get up, still half suited from the night before, and make my way back to my room.

Arriving back, it’s not long before I realise that I have a very angry girlfriend. Not just for leaving her to sleep alone, but for some apparent display of rudeness that I had enacted in her direction the night before. I have no recollection or even conception of what I am being told due to a 5 to 6 hour blind spot in my memory. I now am joined by that familiar feeling of being left to pick up the pieces, footing the bill, for what feels like someone else’s misdemeanour. All the while I am exceedingly ill; sick, can barely stand, shaky and a headache that feels like an elephant is tap dancing inside my skull. As Simon and Garfunkel might say..hello darkness my old friend.

Next the inevitable

As the next few days unfold, so to does my hangover. Once the pure incapacitation of the first day has passed, next comes the constant feeling of being dehydrated throughout my entire being, then lethargy and zero motivation, the constant tiredness and most notably; the crippling anxiety. This time only enhanced by a visit from Katie who informs me that I had also upset another of our friends that night with an ill placed and inappropriate remark that was clearly a result of my drunken stupor. If you are someone that knows when to stop drinking, or perhaps someone that does not have blackouts in your memory. Then you may not have ever had the feeling that comes with the unique combination of hearing that you have done something you would never do in your right mind, and then also not having any recollection of it. Purely getting that information from third parties. It is an awful feeling, it makes you question the very nature of your own consciousness. It is like being sentenced for someone else’s crime.

What should have been, and still very much was in many ways, a momentous occasion, was tainted for me by alcohol. As the next few days passed and I went from anxious and depressed to full of cold and flu, the final treat that always comes with my hangovers. I began to ask myself, is it worth it? My relationship with alcohol reads like a catalogue of errors. I have lost so many phones I am now on an uninsurable list. I have woken up; In bed with countless women that I barely recall meeting. Face down on a beach in Barcelona in 35 degree heat with my shirt and jeans on without a wallet or phone. In an apartment full of french people that I don’t know how I met, and none of whom spoke any english. In a police cell, twice, one time on the morning of my 19th birthday. In a bush in Ipswich (having been out in London 90 miles away) and on the floor of an ex girlfriends garage. I have fallen asleep on the bar of an Ibiza nightclub, kicked out of a Vegas casino, chased by a pack of disgruntled gangsters, and bottled by a jealous boyfriend. I feel like I have done the things. All the things.

It’s not just these extremes, even when I have just a standard night out, I find the next week an arduous trial. As 2017 came to a close, I thought to myself; I wonder what a year would look like without a single hangover? Is it even possible? I have been getting drunk since I was about 14 so I have spent well over 50% of my life using alcohol to have a good time.

Time for change

Here I now am typing this out this article, pissed as a fart..I jest, In fact I am now into my 13th month without getting drunk. The actual rule I created for myself was that I had to stay under the driving limit for 12 months, so if I should want a glass of red wine with a meal, or a bottle of beer watching the football I could. But actually, I very rarely did. I think I had a glass of red wine on the plane flight once, maybe twice to help me sleep and maybe one or two other occasions where I exercised that possibility to have a drink but stay beneath the driving limit.

Was it Hard?

In short, nowhere near as hard as I expected. I still socialised,  went to parties, weddings, gigs (a quick admission, I first wrote concerts, realised that I am sounding like and old man, then replaced that with “music gigs” at which point I realised I am an old man, before settling on “gigs” in an attempt to conceal myself, also now we are being honest with each other… i’m not sure if I went to any parties, I did go to a conscious-moon cocoa ceremony in Bali, there was music and dancing, but only the imbibing of drinking chocolate and “sacredness” So… I will let you be the judge of whether that qualifies).

Anyway..the first  few weeks there were probably more temptations, but then as you start to notice the benefits of the non-drinking, it becomes easier. The social dynamics are hard, people wanting you to get drunk with them, which I completely get. If you are drinking it’s more fun if people are drinking with you. No one needs a sober onlooker pouring their boring all over your carefree evening. I am also at the advantage of the fact that people that know me, know i’m weird and that I try stuff, like being plant based or sitting outside in the cold in my pants to meditate. So me telling them I am not drinking isn’t that outlandish, and maybe not met with the same peer pressures that some might receive. One thing has been really interesting this time around vs when I have tried to give up drinking the past is that the reaction I used to get was always “don’t be a loser” “live a little” “Just have a drink mate stop being boring” I actually found this time round it was more often met with “I wish I could do that” “I would love to knock it on the head”. Maybe that’s being a few years older, or perhaps it’s a sign of the times, or both.

Was it worth it?

Well, here’s what I gained; I didn’t get sick all year, I didn’t have anxiety once (I got nervous before a big talk, or event) but no anxiety, I had a very challenging year in many ways and the way I responded to those challenges I am very proud of, I didn’t feel depressed or defeated once. I still danced, laughed and made new connections. Financially I saved a lot of money that I would have spent on booze. I feel strong, fit, healthy and still. Productivity wise, Monday mornings I was ready to rock and roll with my week every week, excited and inspired to grow my business and charity, to educate myself and grow. I think that I had more personal growth in the last 12 months then in the previous 4 years combined. Ultimately I didn’t feel I enjoyed myself any less, I didn’t feel that there was anything that I couldn’t do that I could have done had I been drinking (apart from talking very closely to peoples faces and leering at them through one reaming open eye). If anything I found it a freedom, I felt I could go and do things without having to rule out the next day. It grew my confidence, as I found that having to socialise without the lubrication of alcohol forced me to sharpen my ability to converse.

It is a sacrifice, there’s no two ways about it. Getting drunk is extremely fun, I very much enjoy being drunk, which is part of the issue, and most of the time, I would say 90% of the time I am a good drunk as well, I am fun, coherent and good company. So getting the beers and having a good night can be a massive highlight, but it’s short term gratification for me over long term gain and I am trying out a different approach to my life. I might not have the big upward spikes in fun, but then also I don’t get the inevitable downard fall. Instead I am trying to increase my resting level contentment and joy, so that I feel consistent sense of fulfilment, peace and inspiration across time. I don’t take myself seriously, but I do take my life seriously. I have had to come to the acknowledgment that alcohol a drug that doesn’t serve me. So for now, I will be continuing my sobriety and spreading out the fun that I used to have in escaping myself and moving toward the everyday fun of embracing myself