This week marks one year for me without alcohol.
When I say this to people or mention I’ve stopped drinking, the most common question I get asked with a shocked face is… “How much did you use to drink…?” As if I was sleeping in the gutter and drinking out of brown paper bags at bus stops.
On a serious note, therein lies the big problem for me. There is still an air of taboo, and hesitation surrounding the subject. I still find myself avoiding words like ‘sober’ and ‘sobriety’, as I still feel they make people feel uncomfortable, although, they won’t show it. It’s a bit of a conversation killer around the water cooler on a Monday morning. The reason for this is that those words unconsciously spark thoughts of the immediate opposites, alcoholism, and addiction. But you don’t need to be a regular AA meeting attendee, or fresh out of rehab, to want a bit of a break.
I’ll answer that question first, I guess. I probably drank as much as the average person, which according to the NHS in a national 2021 survey was 14.7 units a week for males. About 6 pints of beer. I wholeheartedly do not believe this statistic. When your doctor asks you how many units of alcohol you consume a week, does anyone tell the real truth?
My main reason for quitting is that I was stuck in a loop. I was just tired of it all. I didn’t quite realize it, but alcohol is everywhere. Someone’s birthday? Drinking. Going out to a restaurant? Glass of wine with dinner. Going on holiday? Obligatory pint at the airport. Early finish on a Friday? Pint in the beer garden in the sun. Don’t forget Christmas, New Year’s, most Saturday nights for some people, and weddings, engagements, and any social gathering of more than 3 people.
This was great in my 20s, working in hospitality all over the UK, meeting new people, and making new friends, and relationships. I had an absolute blast. What you’re not prepared for is that your body starts to fight back as you creep up to 30. I was putting on weight. A lot of it. Almost overnight. Then I felt sad every time I looked in the mirror, I wouldn’t go to the gym, I would have some beers with a friend to take my mind off it. Remember that loop? It can very quickly snowball into a miserable merry-go-round.
The only way to break a cycle is drastic action, so I set myself a challenge of going the whole year without an alcoholic drink. Just to see what would happen. I thought it would be difficult, but you know what?
It’s been easy.
The physical benefits start first. I lost 1.5 stone in the first 3 months. Not all of this is down to cutting out alcohol, but what I found is that I started to develop a positive cycle. I wouldn’t be as tired, I would go for a run, get an early night, wake up fresh, have fruit for breakfast, meal prep for the week, etc, etc. It was almost as if I had released a blockage from a stream, and now it was flowing freely.
The emotional and mental benefits soon followed. I genuinely don’t get as anxious anymore. There’s a constant clarity now, which means any problem, or issue, is dealt with rationally. Have you read the Chimp Paradox? The best-selling book by Steve Peters describes how your emotionally driven chimp takes over your train of thought and leads you to overreact. Well, my inner chimp has been tamed and is sitting in the corner cross-legged, redundantly waiting for its next turn.
The best side effect of this whole process is that I am so much more in control of my thoughts, and feelings. I’ve always been a bit of an overthinker, but now there’s a calm voice in my head conducting the strings. There are various scientific reasons for this, after a quick Google search, one being that heavy or constant drinking can cause the hippocampus (responsible for memory, emotions, and learning) to shrink.
The second most common thing people say to me is: “Oh well done, I could never do that”.
I don’t probe here, I just smile. I’m very aware of my high horse and don’t want to preach. But what I want to ask is… why not?
Most people I speak to, say they would love to do the same, but allude to the fact that it’s impossible. You do need a certain amount of willpower, of course, you do. But I have a theory that it’s the pressures of society, peer pressures, and life, that make it harder. It’s so ingrained in our society that it’s still made out to be the social faux paux to turn up at events and refrain from drinking.
What has worked for me? Get your closest friends on the side. They are going to be at most of these gatherings, right? Turn them into your cheerleaders. I confided in my best friends right at the start of the year, and they’ve had my back ever since. Bringing non-alcoholic beers to the party, including me in rounds when they go to the bar. Shutting down any negativity (although to be honest there’s been very little, mostly positive reactions).
It sounds daft, but as soon as I realized that no one would pour beer down my throat it became a lot easier to visualise. I was in complete control. It’s a similar mentality that helps to lose weight. It’s a lot easier not to consume the calories in the first place than try to burn them off. Once I flipped that switch in my head, I felt more in control and the whole process became a lot easier.
There is one thing I did not expect. I enjoy these social events more now that I don’t drink. I know. Impossible.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tasted every non-alcoholic beer on the market and 95% of them are terrible. I might as well retire to the street and scoop up a glass of puddle water. It would taste the same. However, I’m a much better conversationalist, a more active listener, now I’m not distracted by thinking what my next drink is going to be, or any of the hundred emotions that come with it. I’ve been on a stag do abroad, leaving drinks, birthdays, engagement parties, weddings, all in the last year, and enjoyed them all so much more. There comes a point around 1 am or 2 am when everyone is wasted, it becomes a bit annoying, and I usually make a swift exit, but who likes that time of the night anyway? A wise man once said, ‘Nothing good happens after 1 am’. Ghandi, I think it was.
Usually, people say ‘I wish I’d done it sooner’. The truth for me is that I think I’ve decided at just the right time. As I said, my 20s were a blast, but it’s time to tuck drunk Ben up in bed, make sure he’s got enough water for the morning, and say good night.
So where do I go from here? Start a podcast? Write a book? Become a leader of my sobriety cult and charge a monthly fee?
I think I’ll leave all that stuff to Tom, Dick, and Harry and just continue to enjoy life, hangover free.
Written by Ben Jones