I had always planned to write about my experiences (or lack of) while going through the Dry18 challenge. I’d have a bit more time on my hands, so decided early on to keep a journal along the way! Initially, it was for my eyes only. When I put together the first 100 days piece, it was more for me than anyone else. I very nearly didn’t post it at all. I always tend to have that internal battle, the voice inside the head shouting at me, providing me with many reasons not to. I experienced the same sense of resistance before releasing podcasts or videos too sometimes. But, I can’t let that stop me, and I’m glad I didn’t again with that piece.
The response from it was, and still is, very positive. It’s always nice to hear from friends that it connected with. It’s also nice to hear from people you don’t know that it resonated with too. In many ways, that’ even more powerful. So, when Maddy Lawson, from Alcohol Concern UK got in touch, to say the article was something they’d like to share, I was delighted. It made it all worthwhile. Even better, Maddy asked if me I’d be interested in putting out a series of posts over the rest of the year on the Dry18 adventure. I was delighted to oblige. She suggested that I start with one that gives a bit more detail on my backstory and why give up alcohol at all. So, I put together the following piece to give some context on my ‘why’. I hope you enjoy it.
My relationship with alcohol has been what you might call quintessentially Irish in nature. I don’t drink Guinness (often), but ‘the drink’ has been part of my life for a long time.
I think I had my first drink at the age of 16. The guilt of breaking my confirmation pledge still sometimes floats into my mind (and has just now as I write this). For the first year, it was the occasional alcopop on a Saturday night (didn’t like the taste of anything else). Then one night, that all changed. I was introduced to whiskey. That was the first night that I got ‘drunk’.
For the following 23 or so years, alcohol has always been a part of my life – sometimes a big part. Too big. It was a prominent feature during my college nights (and sometimes mornings) in Galway. Throughout the rest of my twenties nights out, weddings, holidays, and any other social occasion always had a ‘session’ at the epicentre. Even sporting activities, like playing for my local football team, where you’d think getting and keeping fit was the main objective, had booze as a key component. We would often celebrate victories (and defeats) after the match on the Saturday, often into the Sunday, and I seem to recall a couple of Mondays too. Hardcore.
Somehow, I was able to juggle a busy work life with the busier social life and, for the vast majority of the time, I kept the show on the road.
While all this was ‘only a bit of fun’, the pain of the recovery after a heavy weekend, where I may not feel 100% again until Wednesday or Thursday, was outweighing the fun. That was a sign, but one that I mostly chose to ignore until I hit my thirties. I didn’t have the self-awareness to realise, or maybe the confidence to make the change.
Then in 2008, I did. Job cuts where I worked, with the Big Crash looming, gave me an opportunity to leave with a few €uros in my pocket. I hit reboot, moving jobs and cities. My relationship with alcohol started to change too. Sure, they say don’t run away from your challenges, but sometimes a change of environment does help. And it did for me.
Flash forward to 2017. I’d been living in Cork nine great years. I had settled in great with the city, the people and the culture. Work was fulfilling and I was in good place. I had made a lot of positive adjustments in my life, running half marathons, cycling and eating better. Developing a practice for Meditation was a big deal for me too. Lots more on that on the blog page.
Over the years, my relationship with drinking had softened but never completely stopped. There were still a few occasions each year when I’d drink far too much, and I’d feel demotivated and down for a few days as a result. As someone who loves to get the most of my time outside of work, being hungover on a Sunday had a double negative impact on my mood; not only was I feeling like crap as a result of the booze, I was missing out on getting good stuff done in my time off!
I had often contemplated going off drink 100%, but never been able to commit. But as my own life was getting busier, I just had no time for or interest in spending any time with a hangover. Developing Type 1 Diabetes at 35 was an additional wake-up call. I had a lot of incentives to make me want to quit. I just needed do some experimenting.
First up was Dry January in 2017. That was a relative breeze. I came through with flying colours. I learned that going dry wasn’t so bad – the opposite in fact.
Then, on the weekend of my 40thbirthday in November 2017, despite great fun and celebrations, I knew there was gloom and doom lurking around the corner. After two days/nights ‘enjoying’ myself, I felt like enough was enough. As we wrapped up the Sunday night, my friend Richie and I started to pick into the ridiculousness of our boozing and how it would impact our mood for the next few days. Richie started to explain how he heard a guy on the radio the week before detailing how he had given up drink two years earlier.
So, as this conversation developed, both Richie and I started to play with the idea of going off drink. Before we knew it, the idea of a Dry18 was born. Both of us are pretty stubborn so when we make a commitment, we tend to stick with it. We added in some financial incentives that a charity would gain from if either of us were to break. The bet, even though made after numerous pints, gave me a lift.
And so it came to be, that, at midnight on 31 December 2017, Dry 18 officially came into being. It felt right. I like to set goals at the start of every year and try to make them SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. This one had all of these ingredients (even if my friends and family questioned the ‘achievable’ part). Plus I had a big incentive: zero days wasted in 2018 as a result of a hangover.
While the goal was exciting, I was under no illusion that it would be easy. Jumping from 31 days in January to 365 days is a bit of a leap. But I wanted the challenge and knew it would be the perfect year to try this out. With huge optimism, and a clear plan of attack for the year in place, I was ready for 2018. Time to walk the walk.
The article is posted on the Alcohol Concern blog page also here.
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics. Rob is currently a director of strategy and business operations with Dell IT in Cork, Ireland.
Check out all the great work that Alcohol Research UK are doing here
The 11th April 2018 marked the 100th day of 2018! During that period, we’ve experienced (in Ireland at least) the #BeastfromtheEast 1, 2 & 3 (was there a 4th ?) and a winter that seems to have lasted for roughly 18 months. It’s not all been bad though. For me, it marked a milestone on my #Dry18 challenge. To go 365 Days without any beer, wine, or any other alcohol related tipple. I’ve had some positive new learnings and experiences too. So, I decided to mark the first 100 days of the journey with a retrospective on what I’ve learned since I had my last sip of beer (at around 8:32pm) on 31st December 2017. With #DryJanuary in 2017 being a relatively easy month, I decided to over 10X that and go for the full year. I felt I knew what to expect. I was still curious to see how though the first few months would turn out to be. In no particular order of significance, here are 7 stand-out observations and learnings.
First off, I’m still on track. Over 100 days done. I’ve learned I can do this. I was very staunchly no-beer from the outset. I even considered non-alcoholic beer off the table at the start of the year. But after consulting with my #Dry18 partner, Richie McCaffrey, who felt non-alcoholic beer was ‘ok’, I allowed it. You’re probably thinking ‘it’s non-alcoholic’ but there is still a trace of a percentage in some of the ones out there. A barman reassured me that there was a similar amount of alcohol in mouthwash. These guys know what they’re talking about. So, while there have been a number of times that the temptation was there, at no point did I give in. I now know I can do this. Well, the first 100 days part at least.
When I wasn’t on a self-imposed alcohol ban, it never struck me how often alcohol or drinking comes up in conversation. It’s just not something I was that aware of when it wasn’t off the table. But, when you’re dry, you begin to hear how intertwined it is in conversation and how much it’s a key part of socializing. Maybe I’m stating the obvious. It’s certainly amplified when it’s off-limits. It’s somewhat analogous to the situation you might find yourself in when looking for a new car. You identify a model that takes your fancy. One weren’t aware existed before. Now you have this awareness of it and, ever since, it’s the only car you see on the road. They are, literally, everywhere. Ok, what is called the ‘frequency illusion‘ maybe a poor analogy here, but my learning is that drink is still very much engrained in our consciousness. It may have been even more focal 10 years ago. Before the coffee shop boom, the pubs, instead of Starbucks, were busy on a Tuesday evening. That’s progress I guess.
So, I have to be clear. At the point of starting out on the #dry18 challenge, I considered myself very much in control of my alcoholic consumption. Much more so than I was 10 years ago. So, going into it, my reasons for doing it were more to squeeze more out of my days and weekends than to detox. However, so far, it’s been very interesting to see what others reaction to is has been. I’ve generally observed three responses.
The most common reactions was a raised eyebrow and a sense that the person I was talking with might have thought I had a problem upon hearing I was ‘off the drink’. At which point, I’d find myself having to give a detailed explanation as to why I’m doing it. I noticed I was having to be explicit and clarify that I didn’t have a drinking problem. That seemed to be the default place many folks were going to when hearing I was giving it up for the year. The irony here is that I’d never been more in control of alcohol intake than I was leading up to the crafting of the bet.
The second most common response was it’s just a bad idea in general! To deprive yourself of a relaxing wine or beer over a meal or at the weekend doesn’t make sense to a good section of those I know. When you’re in control of it already, why deprive yourself? Fair point & one I’m probably in most alignment with now!
The third and final category turned out to be more frequent than I expected. Those that think it’s a great idea and have confided in me that it’s something that they’d love to do themselves. It’s probably the stage of life many are at. Around the 40 mark and keen to curtail or stop drinking altogether. That the downside or after effects outweigh the upside of a few drinks being the general view.
It’s been interesting to see these different perspectives. Even in this short time, I’ve become a lot more relaxed saying ‘no thanks, I’m on the dry’, without having to give the backstory. Progress for sure.
For the last 22+ years, my self-imposed ban probably lasted 4-5 weeks max. Prior to Dry January in 2017, I hadn’t abstained much. So, going into the start of the year, I was interested to see how this experiment would play out. What I’ve learned about my own decision making over the last few years has played out again with this challenge. It can take me a long time to make a decision or commit to something. Especially when it’s a big one. But once I made a decision, and also opt to tell everyone I know about it (whether they care or not), it really ups my level of accountability to it.
This has been very true for #Dry18. Without question, I’ve had a few really shit days so far in 2018. Days that would have, in 2017, 100% lead to a bottle of red wine in the evening, just because I could. No real justification needed either. With that choice off the table, I just had to look for an alternative activity to focus on. Which I did. That has been a big learning. Maybe validation is a better word.
Probably the most notorious day in the Irish drinking calendar is that of our patron Saint, Patrick. The 17th of March is typically the day where a large percentage of our population celebrate. It’s a day for the pubs and a lot of Guinness or whatever your favourite tipple might be. Some even manage to get drunk twice in the same day. So, it was to be expected that I’d see this as the first big challenge to my 2018 sobriety.
As it transpired, this St. Patrick’s Day was to be a 4-pronged attack. I had a Friend’s 40th Birthday to attend. If that wasn’t bad enough, the location was to be Galway. Anyone that has been to the city of the tribes knows that it’s not a quiet place. Finally, to really put the icing on the cake, the Irish Rugby team were playing their last game of their Grand Slam winning 6 Nations against the old enemy England. Kicking off. At 2:30pm. On St. Patricks day. The 4-leafed clover was complete. Arriving in Galway in time for the match kick-off meant I had a solid 10 hours in packed pubs ahead. I had this already played out in my head as a big struggle!
My anxiety levels were at their highest in the minutes after arriving into the packed pub before the game started. In truth, even when I was drinking, these initial moments would always have been somewhat uneasy. Being more on the introverted side, a crowed bar in the early afternoon would make me a little edgy. In the past, I’d have masked this with a couple of quick pints in the first hour to ‘settle in’ to the atmosphere. That was the norm. This time around, I had a couple of non-alcoholic beers, and started to chat one-to-one. I must say the placebo effect of just having what looked like a beer in my hand helped. As the day progressed, I was expecting a lot more push back on being the ‘non-drinker’ of the group. It wasn’t to be the case. It was proving to be easier than I’d expected. Come 6pm on St. Patrick’s day, you start to see the first wave of drunkenness emerge. Many out since noon start hitting the wall. It was a sight to behold and was nice to be on the other side of that for a change.
As the night came to an end, and after switching from zero percent Pauliner to Apple juice, I decided to make what’s known as an Irish-Goodbye! As I left the pub, the party was still in full-swing. I had survived the day. Survived might be too strong a word. I enjoyed a lot of it to be fair. And had made the effort to be there for my mate. We all are keen to do the right thing and keep everyone happy. But it’s key to make sure you’re happy first. Nobody else really can do that for you. I had built up this day in my mind for a few weeks as the first real big test! I am often guilty of overthinking things and this one of these occasions. Anyone could try to hide away for a year but then that wouldn’t really have tested out the experiment. Galway on St. Patricks day could be considered an extreme test. But it was one I learned a lot from.
As I’ve progressed in years, my resilience or ability to recover from a night out or an ‘all day session’ that many of us have been on, has taken many steps backward. You might remember the time when you could socialize two nights at the weekend and be fresh on the Monday. Well, for me at least, those days/nights are long gone! Over the last few years, one night out would take me a few days to recover, and it would need to be a Friday night, so I’d be able to fully function again by Monday. Physically, I’d be pretty ok. Emotionally and Mentally, I’d be fragile. What is known as the fear is just not fun at all. So, I was very much looking forward to not experiencing this phenomenon in 2018.
What I’ve learned here has been interesting. In the past number of years, I would have blamed a moody Monday or even a terrible Tuesday on an excessive night out over the previous weekend. I’d give myself an extra hard time over those days and resolve ‘never again’ and all that goes with that self-defeating attitude. Since the 1st of January, I can now say that sometimes the Mondays or Tuesdays (or even Wednesdays or Thursdays) can still be tough. Never full on fear but still be dotted with anxiety, stress and mild overwhelm. My default, in the past, was to blame it on partying at the weekend. This would/could spiral into self-defeating territory again. Now, with that variable out of the equation, I’ve concluded that it’s ok sometimes not to feel ok. That’s part of being human. Bad days will come. Just accept it and move on.
Over the years, wasting mornings, days and time in general has become a big annoyance for me! The older I’ve become; the more appreciation I have for the time I have and how much I can get done with it! So, without doubt, one of the benefits I was expecting and looking forward to with zero days wasted during 2018 was that of increasing productivity and learning new things.
In the last few months, I’ve been able to stick to my morning routine without fail. This has been hugely satisfying. Not only have I been able to get up at 6am (5am for April as it’s the April Challenge), I’ve developed a habit of getting real/deep work done every morning before leaving the house for the day job. This really sets me on fire for the day ahead. I’ve developed a habit, which I’m calling the rule of 3, and it’s paying great dividends. 3 tasks before leaving the house. 2/3 are typically the same and one varies. Like writing this! This has been a big win. Consistently getting stuff done and winning the morning.
#Dry18 is my BHAG for the year (check out my post on goals for the years from December here) and, as I finalise this piece, I’m well into the century. Overall, I’ve been surprised at how smooth it’s been to cut it out. Not easy but totally worth it! In the vast majority of cases, I’ve received great support and words of encouragement. I wanted to challenge myself, first and foremost, to see what life, especially nights out and social events, would be like without any alcohol as the focal point. I wanted to learn or maybe re-learn how to actually have fun and enjoy myself when I’m out completely free of alcohol. It’s been an eye-opening experience so far. Almot 1/3 of the way through, and with the summer sunshine, beer gardens, cold cider, vacations, and many more temptations coming in the next 100 days, I’m sure new challenges and learnings are ahead! Maybe it’s a good thing after all that Ireland didn’t qualify for the World Cup in Russia!
One nice observation that has come in just in the last couple of days is that I seem happier. Much like meditation and it’s benefits, I think others close to you see changes before you do. Upon hearing it, and taking a moment to process it, I would have to agree. That would be number 8 and probably the most important if I could dare include it.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something from it too!
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of strategy and business operations with Dell IT in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics.
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