Six Months: Times Are Hard For Dreamers

Well, it’s been a little over 6 months since I last had an alcoholic drink, half a year of learning, observation, enlightenment and reflection. I’ve started to look at life from a different angle: a bit like running down a familiar street, but observing it from the middle of the road. Everything is the same, but at the same time, subtly different. The environment is recognisable, but my perspective wider and within it these are some of the things I’ve noticed.

People change, quickly. I have a friend who is super organised. Polite, perfectly turned out and punctual to a tee. Give her a gin and tonic or two, however, and all of a sudden her hair is wild, a bra-strap slips down one arm, the lipstick is smudged and f-bombs are landing like The Blitz. The transformation is remarkable. Others’ transformations are more or less dramatic, and most are less fun.

Other people don’t really notice. The not-drinking that is. They did at first, as they would if I shaved my beard or dyed my hair blue. I briefly became a the unicorn in a field of horses. But sure enough, after the initial probing, the conversation moved on to more interesting things, such as the boss, or that girls’ wardrobe shocker. I hadn’t fundamentally changed, so we just carried on as usual. After a few pints, no-one cared.

There are loads of sober people out there. As a drinker I never noticed… There I was, feeling all self-conscious about sobriety, without spotting that many of my peers were also either ‘taking it easy’ or abstaining completely. The key difference for them, it seems, is that it wasn’t a thing… and good for them. It makes me wonder what else I never noticed, or cared less to pay attention to?

Sobriety is dead easy. There is just one decision to make and you only have to make it once: to drink or not to drink. Once your mind is made up, that’s it! No more questions about how to get to the club, can I afford it, what happened to so-and-so, where is my phone, how did I get home, why were we shouting, can I drive safely? I remember everything, there are no gaps… drunk people can be a burden, but sobriety itself is a breeze.

Everyone knows’ that alcohol is bad for them, just as they do smoking, refined sugar and heroin. We know it makes us say and do stupid things, makes us physically ill, destroys our quality of life and irreparably harms those around us… Its’ just that these things are rarely gathered together into a single narrative and offered as a solid case for abstinence. We view these things in isolation as they’re easier to ignore. It’s the elephant in the corner of every bar, restaurant and living room across the land.

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and this is deliberate. As Jason Vale puts it, it’s the greatest confidence trick in the history of mankind. I see it now, the hoodwinking, and it’s everywhere. Almost everyone I have spoken to about my decision has either confessed that they would love to moderate “but can’t” or has bent over backwards to justify their drinking. Either way, they’re trapped, as I was.

Most of us dream of a better life, and there is one simple, effective and totally free way of realising this dream… Alas, times are hard for dreamers. You just have to have the courage to see them through.

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90 Days Free: A Beginning

There she blows… 90 days alcohol free. I’m not sure what I was expecting, a rush of euphoria perhaps? But no, aside from a final congratulatory email from Andy and Rauri at OYNB, Sunday morning was much the same as any other. Saturday had been a late night and it was past midnight before my head hit the pillow. After a restless night’s sleep, I snoozed until the light of day and the call of the coffee machine drew me, reluctantly, out of my nest.

Over the past 90-days I have experienced many mornings like this. Each was duly attributed to two decades of rubbish sleep and the lethargy of a lingering hangover. At the start of my alcohol-free journey, I had expected to wake each day at the crack of dawn and, after an undisturbed night, to leap out of bed with a beaming smile ready to seize the day. As with so many aspirations, this proved to be an idealistic expectation.

It had quickly dawned on me that mornings were still going to be hard work. There will always be late nights (as I quietened my non-sedated and active mind at 11pm), my bladder would still wake me up in the pit of night and the winter storms would noisily batter the eaves during the small hours. I knew that this change would be gradual and require patience.

October 23rd 2017 had been my day of reckoning: the day I was called to pay my debts and to account for my actions. In the kangaroo court of my mind, it was both I who did the calling and I who would answer the charge. Having appointed myself judge and jury, and with more than a hint of internal conflict, I committed to a path that I had stubbornly avoided for years. As such, there was no fanfare or launch party… I simply stopped.

And there, it seems, I began:

I began to think. No longer restrained by the numbing effects of alcohol, my mind was swiftly free to roam. Like a pet dog let off its lead and allowed to run alone in the woods. After each expedition it would eventually come back around, sometimes muddied and carrying a stick, contented and tired but enlightened, having been allowed to explore somewhere new.

I began to feel. Rather, I allowed myself to feel. Emotions are hard work, none the least the negative ones. Fear had caused me to head these off at the pass, often in anticipation and with no good reason. I preemptively shut my system down. Released from the numbing effects of alcohol, I was suddenly free to experience the full gamut of emotion, or as it’s otherwise known, ‘life’.

I began to listen… and to pay attention. Real attention… to my family and friends, to my inner voice and to my body, to the birds in the trees and to nature. Listening builds trust, strengthens relationships and anchors us in the present… and when we listen, we hear! I began to hear music again. Those times I thought were lost in adolescence, when music would make me feel invincible, or reduce me to tears… they were back.

I began to care about myself. As I emerged from the fog I gave myself permission to feel important and to put myself first. I dedicated time to connect with my body and to consider my health. I began to care about who I was and how I responded to the world. I started to care about my place in the universe and to care less about what people thought of me. I took up Yoga.

I began to read. Especially in the evenings when I had TIME, when my busy mind would ask questions (what do we do now Dan?) and demand answers. I read more books back to back in those 90 days, than in several of the previous years combined. I always loved to read, and in the quiet of evenings, books invited into someone else’s world and was able to lose myself in their stories.

I began to live. The conflict was gone and I began to feel free. After 25 years of being a regular drinker, it was indeed time to change. I can’t say I’ll never drink alcohol again (who knows the future?) but right now it’s simply something I don’t want to do. The end was the new beginning. You don’t need much to be happy, and now alcohol is out of the equation, I appear to have everything I need.

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OYNB: Christmas Shopping with Eyes Wide Open

It’s a funny time of year… Seasonal madness has well and truly taken hold. The high-streets are crammed with frantic faces attached to stressed bodies dashing about. Agitated lines of men-folk worm their way uneasily toward perfume counters, Pandora stores have barricades and security to manage the crowds and the supermarkets are stocked to the gills with millions of unnecessary calories and gallons booze.

Last night I was quietly wandering the isles of my local store making my usual purchases. I was struck by how many staples were missing. Gone were my favourite mushroom pastry thingies and, in their place, were extra-rich and extra-large versions of Christmas fare, most with added booze… chocolate with Tia Maria, pate with cognac, pies with ale, champagne sorbet, cheese with gin (?), Prosecco flavoured crisps (I kid you not), red wine gravy, vodka marinades, chutney with port and the traditional but gout-inducing brandy butter.

Since starting and alcohol-free lifestyle, I have started to notice the pervasive nature of alcohol and how it is, quite literally, everywhere. There is no escape and is almost as if alcohol has become the foundation of our modern culture… we all know us British can’t have a party of any kind without an intoxicating drink to oil the process, but it now seems that we can’t eat in December without experiencing the marketing onslaught. Indeed, the addition of alcohol now appears to transform any moment into a special occasion worthy of a cheer and any food-like substance into a seasonal luxury item.

Last night I found myself shopping with my eyes wide open and, slightly horrified, came away with much less than I had anticipated… I must confess, needing no excuse to get both fat and shitfaced and using Christmas as an excuse, I have been known to tuck into an entire round of brie with little more than a cheese-knife and a bottle of red. This year will be different – OYNB is teaching me to be alert and prepared. I now see that brandy butter without brandy is just butter… the addition of brandy being the only reason to buy it.

On day 58 I can see that the system is out to hijack our sensibilities. It wants us to think that Christmas can’t be Christmas without spending £200 on a single trolley of food and drink items to feed a small family for a day. You can’t have fun without a champagne breakfast, fancy pre-lunch drinks, expensive and attractively packaged drinks to compliment your meals, rich and potent post meal drinks and an evening of further imbibing to ensure the party goes with a swing.

If, like me, you are embarking on your first Christmas for decades which will be alcohol-free, it’s time to strengthen your resolve, double down embrace the true spirit of Christmas: to create memories not hangovers, to tell people we love that we love them, sing ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham very loud, embrace family and to give what we can to those less fortunate than us – if we stay strong this will be a season to remember. Merry Christmas.

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A Moment of Clarity in the Darkness

It’s 4am in the morning. Tuesday I think. I’ve not been able to sleep, which happens occasionally. I usually have no problem. I get up early, battle through my working day, get home, make some excuses and sink a few drinks. I then resign myself to a night of restless and uncomfortable sleep, countless toilet visits and a thick head in the morning. It’s the same old pattern… ever since I can remember, coffee has provided my get-up-and-go and alcohol my means to relaxation. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise from the pages of this blog, but appearances can be deceiving.

Until recently I never realised I suffered from anxiety. Or perhaps I did, I just didn’t acknowledge it for what it was. Just lately I have felt a new wave of all-too familiar anxiety rising up, and it’s threatening overwhelm me again. Anxiety about work, my physical health, my weight and appearance, my relationships, money… I’ve been here before, only this time I have recognised the signs. The happy smile is becoming harder to fix and the air of ‘joire de vivre’ less convincing. My mood has been deteriorating and my drinking to relax becoming steadily heavier.

I’ve dabbled with the notion of going alcohol free for a while – even entertaining Dry January one year. I remember it was a challenge… but I felt great and wrote about it with gusto… I ran every day, waxed lyrical about sobriety and told the world how awesome I was. I stayed true to the end and eventually broke my 31-day booze fast with a huge blow out – the account of which is somewhere in these pages. At the time, it was like the hangover dragged me down from the pedestal I’d built for myself, gave me a good slap and I simply fell back into my old routine. That was several years ago.

Now, the fact that I am up in the small hours, on a school night, means that it is on my mind… I can see it now, on top of my other constructed anxieties. A moment of clarity in the darkness. I’ve decided to document my reasons to change, for no other reason than to get them down in black and white.

  1. Alcohol is making me ill. I am so used to the headache that it barely registers and the booze messes with my guts. I constantly worry about what I’m doing in the mornings and how far away the nearest toilet will be. I can no longer go running in a morning – I desperately want to run. Why would I want to be constantly ill?
  2. It increases my blood pressure, for which I take medication. Yes, you heard that right. I take medication to reduce blood pressure in order to reduce the pressure on my kidneys. This, in turn, will ensure I live longer and in good health. Why would I want to increase my risk – quite substantially – of a premature death?
  3. Alcohol doesn’t make me happy. In fact, it makes me downright miserable. Guilt, tiredness, lethargy and emotional turmoil are part and parcel, but it’s a habit that’s become so entrenched it’s become my way of life. Why would I want to feel guilty and miserable?
  4. It costs a fucking bomb. Four cans of cider costs £4-£5… and if there’s wine involved, it’s a tenner… a tenner a day! And I’ve just told you that I’m anxious about money. I mean, what?
  5. Alcohol makes me a slave to the sofa. The ironing doesn’t get done, I don’t prepare nutritious meals, I forget important tasks, can’t be bothered to go shopping, I casually neglect my family and I have lost my running-mojo. I can’t run when I’m drunk and don’t want to run when I’m hung over. This is no good for anyone.
  6. Alcohol makes me fat. I’ve often said that weight loss is 90% diet and 10% exercise. I can run 50 miles a week and not lose a single lb if my diet isn’t on-point. Having battled with my weight for 2 decades, I’m still kidding myself that ‘liquid’ has nothing to do with diet. Get real. There’s one primary reason I’m overweight and we all know it.
  7. It’s socially irresponsible. I can’t drive when I’m drunk, but because of my routine, I have to drive when I’m hung-over. This comes with obvious risks, and when I neglect my social responsibility, everyone is at risk. I never knowingly drink-drive, but I’m sick of the guessing game.
  8. It sets a terrible example to my son. He’s 12 and impressionable. He also loves his Dad and looks to me as a role model and for guidance. One day he’ll turn into me and whilst I fundamentally like who I am, I wouldn’t choose this path for anyone.

So there, in no particular order, are eight huge reasons to change. Each has been playing on my mind, and each has been sloshed crudely away with yet another swig of Thatchers. Change starts at home but I’m petrified. I know I can and will deal with the fear and I can and will get my shit in order. I’m making the change now.

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#Janathon Day 17: Ouchy Arms

Today I went to the gym for PT… Scott wanted me to do an isolation session, so arms it was. I spent an hour pushing, lifting, pulling and swinging heavy objects about until my arms and shoulders screamed. Somehow I managed to drive home and get ready to lead the beginner runners at Trentham RC. They’re on ‘couch to 5k’ and to be fair, they’re smashing it. Second week in and we’re running almost all the way – they’ll be all over the 5k in no time at all and pushing on to greater distances. Although tonight it was a relatively slow and short run for me, my aching arms let me know about it… I dread to think what tomorrow will bring – I have a feeling that ouchy arms are here to stay.

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#Janathon Day 16: Soggy Stafford

Its been a soggy day in Stafford… there has been a constant drizzle didn’t really fall, but hung heavy in the air. The town lies low and is surrounded by marshes which flood every year… The river Sow was swollen and throughout the course of the day the waters rose, so much so that one of the main car parks in the town began to fill up. Colleagues had to leave early to rescue their cars from the raising waters and as darkness fell, a chill descended. I was time to wrap up and run.

There were six of us for the SCC runners tonight. Keeping away from the river and any potential floods meant hills… we ran away from the town in the direction of  the castle, the spray from the road soaking us through. We soon warmed up and got into our stride as we wound around the Western Downs and through puddled residential streets for a steady but highly enjoyable 10k. As we arrived back in town the river had risen some more and it was still raining – It looks like Stafford will be pretty soggy for a few more days yet.

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#Janathon Day 15: Father Son Time

Everything I planned to do today didn’t happen – and it’s no bad thing. The bodywork that is hanging from my car has been there for 2 weeks and will be there next weekend when I come to re-attach it… C’est la vie… I was ready for a rest. And so it was at 7 this morning when I read a text that let me know the morning run was postponed… I could have got up and run solo, but I was cozy and warm and not in the mood, so I stayed put. Besides, the weather was vile. Later in the day, I knew I had to #Janathon. Having done not a lot, besides listen to Jnr on his Xbox, I decided to uproot his now, not insignificant frame from his gaming chair and take him swimming.

We had an hour of much needed father-son time in the pool… I did a few token lengths, but spent most of the hour or so having ‘holding breath’ competitions, underwater wrestling, doing handstands, playing sharks, hilariously freaking out the lifeguard by lying lifeless on the bottom of the deep end, bombing the old ladies (politely, of course) and chatting to the young ladies in black Speedo swimsuits… It was a lot of fun. Who says Janathon has to be hard work?

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