40 days and 40 nights

I recently passed this milestone – alcohol-free – and it turned out not to be too fraught with temptation. In truth, I haven’t drunk much for a few years so it wasn’t that big a leap. But reflecting on the experience does bring insights – and as we all live, directly and indirectly, with all sorts of pressures, unhelpful habits and ‘addictions’, I thought I’d share those insights with you here…

The first question most people ask is, “why?” Well, context changes – so why shouldn’t our habits and behaviours change too?

Some earlier life stages for me included: As a teenager, and discovering ‘independence’ as I left home for University, drinking seemed to be ‘cool’, demonstrating adulthood perhaps, especially as I was a bit shy and introverted. I think I over-compensated for that.

When at University, and then establishing myself as an adult at work, I easily fell in with the social expectations in the pubs and clubs – a need for belonging with the group and a way to meet and make new friends.

After sporting exertions (cricket, squash), ales were a just reward!

And as I grew older, beers and wine became a habit – it’s just what we do when we meet friends or socialise.

It wasn’t long before wine became the ‘medication of choice’ to deal with stress and exhaustion after long, challenging days at work, and juggling the responsibilities of family life.

Perhaps you recognise some of these stages.

So, what prompted a change?

Primarily it was awareness of the example I was setting to my children; and also, my health and weight; and as a bonus, extra cash (I’d moved on from regular salary to running my own business).

These three reasons are still true as I become teetotal.

And what am I noticing so far (in fact it’s now 50 days…)?

  • It’s not a big deal. Alcohol is over-rated! Beyond the first few sniffs, sips or slurps of expectation and engagement, it’s just more of the same. In fact, I could go so far to say that all that ‘pleasure’ is a mental construct, learned about during that earlier context of wanting to fit in and be adult, and influenced by effective marketing. Does a baby like wine?;
  • No hangovers (even small);
  • More reading – I’m making some progress with that leaning tower of books by my bed;
  • You can still have fun and interesting conversations with friends – and remember a lot more about them;
  • Alcohol is endemic in our society and culture – prizes, rewards, fun, happiness – are all associated, for eg ‘gin oclock’, fundraising raffle prizes, tennis club prizes, birthday cards…. And everywhere there are assumptions that everyone buys into this social norm. That’s the thing I have noticed most of all.

And the damage caused is also endemic

  • Various physical health issues – liver, weight /heart, cancer;
  • Mental health, addiction & depression;
  • Aggression;
  • Broken relationships;
  • Bad decisions;
  • Poverty.

You know all of that already. I’m not here to prozelitise about the need for abstinence, or judge anyone or any business – a few drinks with friends is often fun and rewarding and a ‘passport’ in society. This choice is just what works for me, now. If it helps anyone to know that, then that’s OK!

And my experience is giving me more perspective on how out of balance expectations seem to have become, systemically, but also how. I hope that, before long, people won’t need to ask ‘why?’ when someone chooses to be alcohol-free.