Tuesday 17 September 2013

365 Days Without Alcohol - Could You Do It?

When it comes to drinking I'm not famous for great self-control. As a teenager I distinctly remember getting drunk before the party had even begun and spending the evening talking to the toilet in Spanish. Or was it in an American accent? I try to forget.   

I thought it would get easier with age, but unfortunately on the cusp of turning thirty, I still manage to make a fool of myself now and again. Hung over and dull with regret I inevitably announce that I'll never drink again, a promise which lasts all of a couple of days. 

That's why I'm in awe of Ben Blackman. He decided to give up alcohol, not for a week, or a month, but for a WHOLE YEAR... I invited him onto my blog to find out how he's managing it so far. 
How long has it been since you've given up alcohol?

256 days…hang on a minute…257 days….EXACTLY (as I type this) – not that I’m counting. But I’m ‘only’ doing it for a year. So ‘only’ 108 to go now and hopefully I’ll go to sleep for a few hours once I’ve answered your questions so really we’re only talking another 2,586 hours or so after the sleep. 155,160 minutes give or take. I’m not really counting.

My personal record is 13 days... what has made you persevere?

Well, I said I could do it and when I say I’ll do something, if I’m in control of it then I’ll do it. Quite determined I guess – and STUPID! I’ve always said I could give up alcohol, take it or leave it (which is odd because I used to drink a lot of it) and I said similar last December. I was waffling on (as I tend to do when I’ve been drinking) about the fact people give things up for a month these days and think they deserve a medal. "A month, that’s not commitment, I could do it for a year," I said to my wife. "That’s a good idea," she said. "Well not next year," I said. "Because you can’t," she said. And the rest, is (nearly) history.

Do you even remember your last hangover?

Um, no actually. But then, I hadn’t really been get roaringly drunk anymore before I gave up. I’ve got a little girl. 4 years old. We have no family close by, and from when she was born, hangovers, I quickly learnt, were not highly feasible. When I get one of ‘those’ hangovers I tend to want to lie in a darkened room for 24 hours. No noise, no interruptions, maybe just a bit of fast food mid way through (if I feel up to it). Good luck with that when you’ve got a baby / toddler or bigger one!

Don’t get me wrong though – I used to drink with the best of them. I realised that I hadn’t gone a week without alcohol since I had started drinking (age 15) before this thing – which was a bit scary! I’m 34 so, you do the math! Since becoming a Dad I just toned it down a bit. But let’s not pretend I wasn’t knocking back large helpings of wine, G&T, lager, and the rest, albeit in posher glasses and seemingly more responsibly whilst sitting in at weekends n all that.

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done whilst drunk?

That I can remember?!

The time I had to be fireman-carried out of a very full pub (where everybody knew me) age 17. A responsible adult dropped me off at the front door of my parents house (and promptly scarpered). My sisters found me crawling across the floor of the hallway. I proceeded to cut my head open a little bit somehow and my sisters annoyingly got my Mum who I might have politely (really politely in fact, by all accounts) asked to f-off more than once. "Mum, will you please just f-off". I’d never use the f-word in front of my Mum, let alone at her! I woke up, and you know that thing when you think, good night last night…oh, what did we do…and then a few seconds later you remember – oh no!

18th Birthday – might have been sick on a girl. We’ll leave it at that.

The time I was carried out of the pub over the road from where I lived in my first year at university, still haunts me too. I was stripped and put to bed by several locals from the pub plus an array of fellow students (boys and girls) from the halls in which I lived. Mortified!

I’m SO glad social media didn’t exist when I was growing up!

What beverage do you miss most? And what have you substituted it with?

Lately lager. Which is strange because I didn’t think I liked it that much…which is strange because I must have drunk thousands of pints of the stuff since teenhood. Before that, wine. Gin. Rum. All of it really! Substitution wise – nothing. You can’t. I really do miss the taste and ‘kick’ you get taste wise from alcohol. Nothing can give you that – they’re too strong a flavour and complex in terms of the way they’re all made. A couple of weeks ago my wife brought me a non-alcoholic lager. It was the first time I’ve ever had one and was pleasantly surprised. It was as close as I’ve come to a replacement. We tried wine the next week – rubbish (like a posh grape juice) and pear cider the next (even worse).

What changes have you seen in yourself since giving up alcohol? (Do you feel fitter/younger? Is it worth it?)

Do I feel fitter? Not really. I’ve started running again recently and that was a lot quicker and easier to get into after a long break so giving up must be good for you but it hasn’t felt it. I thought I’d sleep better and wake up raring to go (I’m not a morning person) but not really.

Do I feel younger? Definitely not. Maybe the opposite actually. One of the downsides I think to it is that you never stop thinking. Most people use alcohol to ‘switch off’ to make that break from the working week to the weekend. To relax after a hard day. That’s a good thing to do I’ve learnt. It’s difficult to do without alcohol. If I go for a run instead then that’s good but it stimulates your brain even more so it’s hard to try and switch off.

That can be good on one hand – eg. I’m typing my answers for you at 12.35am now (after a fun night out) so – I’m very efficient! But really – who wants to be efficient at 12.35am on a Saturday night. Sorry, Sunday morning?

Is it worth it? Well I wanted to see if I could do it. I knew I could do it, but I also knew I really didn’t want to, so I was interested to see how hard it was. What would be the benefits? If you’re weird enough to want to test such things then go for it – but my advice is – don’t.

I guess it shows I had a healthy relationship with alcohol that I don’t think I’ve seen any benefits for giving up. Once I’d got to half way I knew I could do it so I could have ducked out but then, that wasn’t the challenge was it? I really should have done it as a sponsored challenge!

Being the only sober person at a Stag Do is many men's idea of hell, what was your experience like?

I haven’t been on a stag do but I did go on a ‘lads weekend’. Well I turned up on the Friday night, and they’d started on Thursday afternoon so that was interesting. That was after 100 days I think - the first May bank holiday. It was with friends from university days and beyond. All who know me as a big drinker. They didn’t believe me to start with but then when they realised I was serious I was very surprised they didn’t give me any hassle at all. I think they thought I had a problem!

I thought I’d hate it but I had a great time. One thing I have learnt is that socialising without drinking is not a problem, in fact it’s probably easier and more fun in a lot of ways than drinking. I went out with them ‘till 2am, stayed up ‘till 3am singing and dancing. It was great fun. And the next morning I did feel great compared to all of them so that was a bonus! We went out again on the Saturday and I drove home at 8pm feeling fresh and fine for the Sunday and Monday.

For all of us who promise to give up drinking on Monday and have a glass of wine on Saturday, what are your top 3 tips for staying off the poison?

Don’t bother! Drinking is fun and quite good for your wellbeing, if you ask me. Unless, of course, you have a problem with drinking, in which case you probably shouldn’t be seeking my advice!

If you really want to though – go for it. Set yourself a target, don’t tell anybody else (people don’t like it when you say you won’t drink so pressure you more to do it) and see how you get on.

Also, just start. There will never be a good time to do it. Don’t do any of that "I’ll stop once I’ve finished off all the wine in the house..." type business because that time will never come. I started on New Year's Day – we had loads of grog left from Christmas which seemed really annoying to have to leave for a year. A true team player - my wife has done her best to battle through it all!

How long have you got left?

What, right now? 107 days and 23 hours. But I told you, I’m not really counting. MUCH.

Ben Blackman is a self proclaimed, lazy workaholic. He lives in Lancashire with his wife, little girl, 3 legged cat and 3 chickens. When he’s not giving up alcohol and writing silly blogs http://redtrouserdays.wordpress.com/ he works with his wife running 2 family businesses: Peg Marketing and http://www.verynicethings.co.uk 
You can also follow Ben on Twitter @Ben Blackman


Shop Girl said...

Testing Testing comment settings!

Can I just say Ben, I'm disappointed you don't feel younger and fitter! Where is my incentive now? I've just completed a week without a drink and I do seem to have a bit more mental energy which meant I was wide awake until very late! It's all about focusing that energy I suppose, and lots of running!

I think not telling anyone you're giving up is fantastic advice! Advice which you are obviously no longer following!

Thanks for being on the blog :) X

Mikey said...

When I was about 28 / 29 I gave up booze for about 18 months. I felt better for it, and in particular my hearing got loads sharper.

In the end, it was socialising with people who were drinking that broke me. People who are even slightly tipsy are unbearable unless you've had a couple of drinks too.

Isabel Rogers said...

Well, not many blogs can get me laughing and then zap right in there with the profound thoughts too. Hat firmly off to Ben for doing this. Must make Mrs B's pregnancy much easier! I threatened to make my husband do it (think lead balloon).

Ben Blackman said...

For some people it changes their life and they carry on forever. For me - I reckon a cold glass of something is good for you in moderation.

(I'm so rubbish at moderation though!)

I think I've taken for granted the never having a hangover bit. I did usually have a headache every Saturday and Sunday morning and the odd Thursday.

People tend to notice when you haven'd drunk anything for this long so you have to tell them. They usually assume there's something wrong with you which is awkward.

Mike Clarke said...

I've given up booze the last few years for at least a month around Feb/Mar every year - sometimes I've done the whole of Lent (not for religious reasons - it just seems a good times of year to do it). There's no particular reason for doing it except as Ben says -- to prove that you can.

Credit to Ben for sticking it out a year - and I agree completely with most of what he says. Fortunately I haven't found it too hard to do - even going down the pub a lot. But it's an exercise with diminishing returns -- there's quite a noticable effect over the first week or so but then you just get used to it. I've found that both mentally and physically (as my heart rate monitor tells me when I've been running). Not drinking alcohol just makes things a bit less colourful.

I've found myself drinking less through necessity. I'm currently trying to finish off a novel and I've had a few whole weekends recently where I've gone quite happily for the coffee instead of the wine as I know I'm not going to get distracted into doing odd, pointless, time-wasting activities (and the lure of the unexpected is half the fun of having a drink).

Shop Girl said...

Mikey - socialising is the problem, especially in Britain where every social occasion except 'Coffee' involves a drink! And you do just feel like an observer of the group when everyone else is getting tipsy. I don't expect to last much longer than another week!

Michael, good luck with finishing the novel. I'm craving getting an idea down on paper more than having a drink at the moment!

maidofkent said...

I know Im not a fan of alcohol - it killed my best friend at the age of 42, little or no warning, gone. But I have enjoyed a drink over the years, I have been drunk and had hangovers.. I very quickly learned I didnt like hangovers so I learned to drink in moderation, tipsy was allowed on rare occasions but thats as far as Id go.
I have never understood the thought that it makes things better.. it doesnt .. its like a cigarette.. its a crutch or many use it as such and that is abuse really.
I dont mind anyone having a drink socially and responsibly but it ISN'T a cure for anything so perhaps if you use it as such you ought to examine what is not right with your life and change it. Its not being brave, its about learning to love yourself and then by all means when you are ok in your own skin, enjoy the occasional drink as a simple pleasure.

Unknown said...

Your crazy.. I once. Woke up next to a river bank after going out for a few beers..I was unlucky of could have rolled in...I got up walked to my mate's and drove home still drunk.. Crazy Mo fo... But without booze how good would the blue Angel be? Tiffany.. Thriller..sober? Everything in moderation except crack cocaine.. Once your on that shit ur f#cked..

Scott McKinney said...

Your post is very inspiring. It's really wise to keep tabs on the days and weeks of quitting and foregoing as a metric for not only achievement, but a new habit. What can defeat addiction but new habits, right? Well I hope you're living up to your virtue. All the best!

Scott McKinney @ Midwest Institute For Addiction