One Year No Beer
Today marks One Year No Beer for me. 365 days. Not a single drop of alcohol.
I know there's nothing worse than a preacher, or even worse: a reformed preacher. I hate militant sober warriors as much as I do militant vegans. Sure, shine a light, but let people find their own path.
But I will say this. As a son and grandson of publicans and bookmakers, thrill seeking is in my blood. It's a way of life. It provided for me. It put a roof over my head and food in my belly from infancy. I was literally fed by addiction. Hardly surprising then, that I have a predisposition to want to live by those things. When Mogali was raised by wolves, he became a wolf.
But this last year I've proven to myself that predisposition does not mean predetermination. I love alcohol, I love gambling. I have had some of the best days, nights, weeks and even years of my life, while drinking enough to make Oliver Reed blush and gambling recklessly. I made friends for life. I met my wife. I took enough money in tips while running a bar for the two of us to travel round the world, for 18 months. I won thousands on the turn of a card. Addiction was good to me.
Until, inevitably, it wasn't.
As I approached 40 I could feel the toll being taken on my health and relationships, even though I had cut down to a mere fraction of what I was capable of in terms of consumption...and the price was rising. "Ok, 40 years old. That would be a good time to knock it on the head. You've gotten all you're gonna get from this", I told myself.
I turn 44 this week. It took three years of fooling myself with a series of 28 and 90 day alcohol free challenges, all 'completed.' I felt smug and proud. "I've finally got this under control." But it was nothing less than what my friend Mishka described as, "the worst of both worlds." Suffering through the undeniable struggle of the first few weeks of early sobriety, only to plunge into the hell of another hangover. When I say hangover, we're not talking as a result of wild celebratory nights here, merely a return of the Match Of The Day six pack ritual. Kids are in bed, everything's fine. Isn't it?
Mishka was right. Rewarding myself for being sober in this way did kind of seem like eating sand just when I was within touching distance of the oasis.
So, one year ago to I decided to have a real crack at it. Stop pretending. The One Year No Beer group I joined spoke about changing our relationship to alcohol, hence the 28 and 90 day challenges, (I conveniently ignored the 365 one). But after eating so much sand I finally realised that the only way to change an abusive relationship, is to end it. It was a long, but in the end amicable, goodbye. I'd had a great time. Now it's over.
It is by no means an exaggeration to say that these past 12 months have been some of the best ever. There is not one aspect of my life that has not been positively affected by this one change, leaving no room for coincidence.
So, my message to you is this. Drinking is fun, it feels great. It brings great joy. It's romantic in it's notion of freedom and rebellion. It helps craft brilliant, loyal friendships and memories that will last forever. And if they are the sentiments you still carry about alcohol, then you're in control. Stay at the party.
But if those feelings have faded or are so dimly lit that you're squinting to see, I can promise you that you won't be losing them if you stop drinking. Instead, such a fire will be lit underneath those feelings that you'll wonder if you've been reborn. A new party awaits.
I say 'stop' as opposed to 'give up' quite deliberately. Because to give something up implies loss and sacrifice. On the contrary, the gains are limitless in this deal. Think about it in reverse for a minute. How many weekends have we sacrificed for a Friday night? What's that? 48 hours for 2 hours of peak pleasure and a few more chasing it? We might have been 'ok' on Saturday and Sunday, but there's no way we were great. Do you want to be ok, or do you want to be great? 48 hours for 2 hours. Is that the worst deal in history? And if we tot up the days in terms of life time regained when we stop, then we're looking at nothing less than discovering a way of defying death.
I should add, this has not been calculated on the wild days of glamour and excess. We're talking no booze at all Monday - Thursday; 2 or 3 beers Thursday night; 4 or 5 Friday night; a few with Match Of The Day on Saturday night and a few more Sunday lunchtime. Dare I say, what most people in the UK deem...acceptable?
Apparently, I'll be alive 14 days longer as a result of just one year alcohol free, just on the health calculations made at that 'acceptable' rate of consumption. 14 days! If I live another 40 years, that's an extra 19 months of life. With my wife, children, grandchildren...and even, I hope, great grandchildren.
No, you're not giving anything up.
But there's one thing you need to do more than anything else in order to succeed. Find something you love doing even more than drinking. Because drinking is really good.
It needs to be a passion, it needs to drive you. It needs to be adventurous, because drinking is adventurous. For example, at a stag party in Glasgow recently, the clockwork predictable question arised, 'why aren't you drinking?' I never pretend I don't want to drink. I always want to drink. "There's only one thing stopping me drinking mate. And that's the thought of running on the West Highland Way at 6am tomorrow. I've seen the pictures. I ain't missing that." 'Oh man, yeah, that's fair enough. Respect.'
The only thing better than drinking in Scotland was not drinking in Scotland. The West Highland Way, was the way. Find that one thing you love doing more, and freedom awaits.