The World Cup final and the birthday party

Rowan | November 2018 | 10 minutes

I think I had always been in denial about how much I drank, as well as the impact drinking had on my health – physical and mental. I thought I couldn’t enjoy myself without alcohol, and I know it affected how people saw me. But most of my drinking was confined to social binging – and that made me feel like my drinking was ‘normal’.

"Then in April 2016 things changed when I was promoted at work and moved to a new city. Within two weeks of moving my father passed away in a freak motor vehicle accident. To complicate matters further I was now in a long-distance relationship with my then girlfriend of three years, and I had increased work demands which involved flights at least once a week. This series of major life changes caused a shift in my drinking; it became much more regular, and much lonelier.

"In early 2017 I left the company I was working for and made the decision to take a career break and go travelling. I went to a co-working, co-living retreat in Barcelona for a month and my drinking returned to social binging. After this was over it slowly became less social and more solitary again and I knew I wanted to make a change.

"I started working at Alcohol Change UK as Head of Development Programmes in January 2018. That was a great excuse to give Dry January a go. I asked some family members to sponsor me to provide additional motivation.

"My original intention was just to get through the January. Then in the first two weeks I started noticing some changes. On the positive side I started losing the weight I had put on in the past two years. On the negative side my sleep patterns initially became more erratic. As the month went by, though, my sleep pattern got back to normal and I continued to lose weight. I decide to continue with a Dry February.

"Fast forward to the middle of July and I was still ‘dry’ and had lost almost all the weight I had put on in the past two years. I had increased energy levels. Being ‘dry’ was my new normal; I set myself the goal of a ‘dry year’. But I hadn’t really taken any time to reflect beyond what the scales and step-counter app told me.

"Then reflection on two insignificant moments made me realise that because of six months of not drinking my mind had changed, as well as my body.

The World Cup final

"On 15 July 2018 I arrived in Moscow for the World Cup final. Attending the final of a World Cup had been on my bucket list since I first watched the Italia ‘90 final between West Germany and Argentina on TV 28 years earlier, and I was lucky enough to be successful in the FIFA ticket ballot.

"I arrived at my seat and got chatting with a very friendly fan from Colombia in the seat next to me. He offered me one of his four beers, telling me he had too many. I politely declined, saying that I don’t drink. After the game kicked off and his beers were finished he left, returning to his seat a couple times during the first half. At half time he left his seat and did not return until the end of the game when I saw him slowly swaying up the stairs with a blank look on his face. He sat down on his seat passed out and only woke up at the end of the closing ceremony.

"He may have had the best day of his life, and he didn’t harm anybody, so I do not pass any judgement on him passing out. This was not my first live sports event since going dry and my Colombian stadium friend is no different to any of the other fans who I have seen drunk or passed out at those events. Yet on this occasion it was a profound moment of reflection for me, as I felt like I was viewing myself in a previous life.

"Drinking and sport for me went hand in hand. I went to sports events because they provided an excuse to socialise and drink. The sport did not matter; cricket, rugby, football, they were all great excuses to drink heavily, and I loved it. I still have fond memories of many of these occasions, but I was also the person who left my seat to go to bar and yes, I had passed out at my seat before.

"In this moment I realised how much I don’t miss the drinking and how much I was enjoying the privilege of being at the World Cup final and present in the moment. I was there for the sport – not the alcohol.

The birthday party

"Three weeks later I attended a colleague’s birthday party. This was not the first social function I had attended during my dry year, but it was the first where I only knew my colleague and it was also on the night of my own birthday. My adult birthdays, as far as I can remember, always involved drinking. Alcohol was my social lubricant. Having a drink with people was the easiest way to break the ice. Except this time, it wasn’t.

"I didn’t have to drink alcohol and I didn’t want to drink alcohol. I could have conversations with people and remember the conversations the next day. I woke up tired but not hungover. I did not spend the next day in front of the TV eating pizza or take away. I did not drink through the hangover.

"I realised that alcohol no longer holds any influence on my ability to socialise. I do not rely on alcohol to make any situation more fun, not even my birthday. The feeling of being able to do whatever I want the next day and not worry about what I might have said, or how I may have behaved, far outweighs any benefits of drinking – even if it is more difficult to get on the dance floor and dance sober.

"These were my mountain top moments. I looked back and was struck by how far I have come. I feel better about myself, have a more diverse range of interests and have more money to spend on the things I really enjoy. Alcohol no longer defines my ability to enjoy life, and no longer influences how people see me as a person. Going dry has changed my psyche, my spirit, my soul for the better.

"I am not saying I will never drink again. But right now I am just enjoying the experience of being dry."

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