It’s been over a year since I gave up alcohol. When I tell people, the automatic response is, “Oh Mr fitness guy”, but that’s not the reason I stopped drinking.
I decided to quit when I woke up in a Spanish prison cell, where I remained for the next two days. I had no recollection of the previous night and no idea what I’d done. My mind went to some dark places – what if I’d killed someone? I’d never felt so utterly powerless.
Eventually someone spoke to me in English and told me that I’d fallen asleep in the back of a car that turned out to be stolen. They didn’t charge me with anything, but it was one hell of a wake up call.
This wasn’t the first time I questioned my drinking – I’d got in a few minor scrapes with the law in the past, and since my teenage years there had been plenty of nights when I’d completely forgotten what I’d done. At first I thought this was normal, but now I cringe at all the embarrassing states I must have been in.
I wanted to share my experiences over the last 13 months. It’s been a long road of self development – people say it changes you and they’re right. Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s given up booze (and there are more than you realise) have said that amazing things have happened since quitting.
My intention with this article isn’t to demonise anyone who drinks, or tell anyone to give it up, but I think my experiences will resonate with a lot of people in the City who are trying to cut down on the sauce.
The hard part
Giving up drink completely is daunting. I worried that people would judge me or act differently around me. I started to drink water or lemonade out of a wine glass to disguise the drink, and I’d stress out about having to explain myself every time someone noticed I wasn’t drinking. In social situations, non-drinkers can feel like outsiders, like the kid at school who nobody wanted on their team.
I’ve been out with friends – or perhaps “friends” – who tried to get me to take a drink for 12 rounds straight, as if I would realise that I was being silly and just lighten up. People often tell me they would be fine not drinking, but it’s a very different story when everyone is half cut and you’re the only person nursing a Diet Coke.
There’s a mistrust of people who decline drinks, like you’re spying on their night out, reporting back to the fun police about all the naughty things they’ve been getting up to. Some people get anxious about their own drinking and tell you that, actually, I don't drink that much myself. Others avoid you altogether.
None of these things come close to how bad alcohol made me feel. That dread of wondering what I did last night. Being reminded of what I said. The embarrassing moments that come back in horrifying flashbacks. The radio silence from people I upset or offended. It also affects you in a more solid, immediate way; sleeping through your alarm, missing events, cancelling on your friends.
The older you get the more painful hangovers become, and yet I persisted for years. The old me has no idea how good it feels to wake up without a hangover, to spend a Saturday morning without a pumping headache and an upset stomach. I now look forward to my weekends, and they feel much longer now I wake up before noon.
The (literal) cost
I dread to think how much I spent each month on alcohol. Now I actually have money sitting in my bank account at the end of the month. I hardly ever spend much money when I’m out with friends; my drinks cost a fraction of what they used to and most people are happy to add a soft drink to their order.
On a night out, I’ve become so much more aware. I love watching people now, seeing how they interact with one another. I see how people change as the night goes on, and it usually reminds me why I don’t drink.
Last year I went to Coachella and I didn’t touch booze. It was a challenge but afterwards I remembered all the acts and events. I’d say it was up there with my favourite trips, and a lot of that was down to remembering everything. I remember best man speeches, dates, lectures, conversations. It’s a powerful thing to be fully present.
It’s also helped in the gym – working out is much easier and I feel fitter than ever. I’m doing things I couldn’t do 10 years ago. I have more time to push myself and set new challenges. It’s also far easier to keep your weight down when you remove the thousands of calories you consume through alcohol.
The best part of being sober is taking ownership of my decisions. When you lose the safety net of blaming your behaviour on being drunk, you find that you make better decisions. They say your true colours come out when you’re drunk, but I disagree. Problem drinkers have a tendency to hide their true colours behind a bottle.
Not drinking definitely changes your life, but not necessarily in a negative way. And those friends who tried to get me to drink have mostly come around now.
If you’re thinking about giving up drink, I’ll leave you with a recommendation of a book that really helped me – The Unexpected Joys of Being Sober. It brings home that giving up alcohol doesn’t have to be a negative, or a loss – it’s a positive decision, and it’s not as hard as you might think.
• Harry Thomas is a life coach and personal trainer at City gym No.1 Fitness. To book a session go to no1fitness.co.uk