Why Mike Nicholson took a self-imposed hiatus from drinking, how his friends responded, and what he learned from the experience.
The following is a common conversation I endured this year when I did the unthinkable and became a twenty-something year old male who stopped drinking alcohol for two months.
Mate: “It’s my round, what would you like?”
Me: “A soda water please.”
Mate: “Gin and soda, no worries.”
Me: “Nah … straight up soda water.”
Mate: “What now?”
Me: “I’m not drinking.”
Mate: “I don’t understand … do you want a beer?”
Me: “No thanks, soda water is fine.”
Mate: “WHY?!? What’s wrong with you?”
Me: “Nothing. I just don’t want to drink.”
I know it is not common for a person my age to be a tee-totaller but I was thoroughly amazed at the amount of times this conversation occurred over the course of my sobriety. Not to mention the worried looks, the accusing eyes, and the questions of “Why?” with a hint of judgement.
I have never considered myself a binge drinker, but by definition there is a case that proves otherwise. Leading up to my alcohol sabbatical I noticed that drinking was a big part of any and all events in my life. The weekend comes around … get on the booze. A day off mid-week … get drunk the night before. Dinner at my parents’ house … go for the wines. Walk past the fridge … grab a beer. The list goes on.
The final kick of inspiration to go cold turkey came from a story on a not for profit initiative I produced for the breakfast radio show I work on. The organisation Hello Sunday Morning promotes giving up alcohol for a period of time in the hopes of reshaping the relationship society has with alcohol; I could relate a little too well with the cause. The scariest realisation I had was that I couldn’t think of a time in my life that I had gone for an extended period without alcohol. For someone who didn’t consider himself to be a binge drinker, this truly worried me.
Initially I proposed cutting down my beverage intake to one any time I went out. But after further consideration I decided that it was all or nothing.
The first weekend was the hardest test with the temptation to go out being the strongest. A large part of drinking is the social element and I think there was a fear that if I couldn’t drink, I wouldn’t have fun and therefore I wouldn’t go out. Hence the doubt seeping in. Fortunately this experiment allowed me to realise that I am at a stage in my life where I should be able to enjoy myself in any social setting with or without alcohol.
The biggest shock from the two months occurred on the first weekend after laying low Saturday night. On Sunday morning I awoke with a pounding headache that I am embarrassed to admit was from alcohol withdrawal. I felt like I was in my own PG rated version of the British classic Trainspotting. Ok, so I didn’t dive in to the toilet to fish out a stray beer, but the ensuing headaches were thoroughly unexpected. Once I had my “alcohol withdrawal” hang overs under control, the rest of the weeks took care of themselves.
Over the course of my two month sobriety challenge, I had many moments of enlightenment:
It’s amazing how often I would have to apologise to those around me or feel bad about my decision to not drink. If anything it should be the other way around.
The going rate for soda water changes drastically from bar to bar. For the record, charging $4 for a pint of bubbled water is criminal.
Going out with people who are drinking is not a problem, it’s more dependent on the setting. At a party or club it’s easy to float around, have a boogie on the dance floor or take a break outside. On the other hand, having round table conversations with mates getting progressively drunker is pretty tiresome. The conversation gets louder and louder, more repetitive and cyclical.
I used to be a complete hypocrite in how I conducted myself when drinking around others who were not. I will now be respectful of the decisions of others without trying to peer pressure them.
I’m not about to get on my high horse and say that no one should drink alcohol ever again. I have gone back to drinking and have dealt with my fair share of “Why am I doing this again?”, “Good Lord, my head is pounding,” and “Maybe another ‘Hello Sunday Morning’ stint is around the corner after last night’s efforts.” But what has changed is how I view alcohol. I no longer think of “needing” alcohol to enjoy myself but rather “wanting” a drink because I feel like it. If I want a beer, that’s fine. I’m the one in control. Also, years ago, if anyone had suggested taking a break from alcohol, I would have had a solid case of the “fear of missing outs.” But now, alcohol-free periods are not something I fear.
The best part (besides the savings to my bank balance, improved health to my liver, increase in fitness, lack of hangovers) was that after all the loaded questions and accusations of insanity from my friends, I was able to explain my motivations without preaching and gain their support. I even inspired a few people to take a break from drinking and, after all, that was the point of the initiative; re-access what alcohol means to me and start a discourse on society’s relationship with booze.
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