When I hear the saying ‘Dutch Courage’, it always brings me right back to my mid-to-late teens. To a time when I started to frequent over-18’s discos (I looked a bit older than I was and didn’t have fake ID..honest!). I can’t say it brings back all happy memories or nice feelings. Some, but more a reminder of that awkward time when peer pressure was very real, and, most likely, you had to take a drink to fit in. Even though you didn’t like the taste perhaps.
‘Get that into you, it will give you some Dutch Courage’, might be commonly heard on nights out.
I’m not sure if it’s a saying or phrase that’s universally known. Maybe only in Ireland and the UK (and maybe the Netherlands). Back when I heard it first, and for years since, I never actually wondered where it came from. It’s one of those saying that you just take on board without wanting to know the meaning behind it. But it’s one you intuitively understand even without an explanation.
Having developed a fascination for etymology for words & terms over the last couple of years (I generally like to know the background on something I write about as it makes me feel like less of a bluffer), I did a little bit of research on it. The explanation behind it is worth a look. In brief, it involves alcohol (Gin to be precise) and English & Dutch Soldiers at War!
Anyway, when I look back now to those early drinking nights out, how I acted pre-drinking v post-drinking was very much different. The freedom, reduced anxiety and relaxed inhibitions that accompanied copious amounts of beer and shots really helped with ability to chat, dance, and generally behave very different to what my normal state was. I know this maybe is the case for nearly everyone after a few drinks. But for a more naturally predisposed introvert, even more so.
I’ve always felt that I was more at ease in 1-1 situations and more comfortable in smaller groups. I wasn’t sure why but it just felt that way. Over the last few years, thanks to work I’ve done through coaching on self-reflection, developing my own self-awareness, and, more recently, from learnings taken out of Susan Cain’s book Quiet, I’ve come to the conclusion that I fall, at least more predominantly, into the Introvert category.
For many years, that stretched well into my twenties, I felt the need to fit in, which meant being out, about, and having ‘the craic’. And where there is craic (just in case anyone isn’t familiar with this word, it’s not a form of heroin, but an Irish word used for having fun that, for the most part, has some alcohol consumption closely connected), there was booze. The outgoing me would emerge, could fit in, feel popular and generally be comfortable in the surroundings. But, in the main, it never felt fully right. Deep down, I always knew this, but wasn’t mature enough, or ready to push back. I didn’t have the tools or strength to go against the grain (is there a pun there?). Now, just to note, it wasn’t all bad. Over the years, there were many great times. But, as the twenties became the thirties, the feeling of fun and newness waned. I wouldn’t have changed it though. Everything that happened was all part of the learning.
Turning Curve, not a Turning Point.
I’m calling this a turning curve rather than a turning point as my own change and realisation wasn’t a single event, but more a gradual process. The reoccurring pain point that dotted out points on this curve was dealing with the aftermath of a night out. Not only did I find that the sense of anxiety normally accompanied with the withdrawals was getting too much, on top of that I would also have to deal with that fact I could have done or said something that 1) was not me in my normal state and 2) sometimes couldn’t even remember what that might have been. That Extrovert that lived inside me and came out full guns blazing when boozed up would retreat, leaving the more reserved and quieter introvert to deal with the clean-up. Which sometimes would be very difficult to cope with indeed. Especially if the introvert didn’t have a clear memory of what the extrovert did or said on the night before. That horrible feeling when someone says, “do you remember when you did this?” or “what did you say to them last night?”. If you know, you know. Not fun! You might be familiar with the phase ‘Never again’ or ‘I’m never drinking again’ or something along those lines? Well, I had been saying that for years but never sticking to it. It was time for a change. And that’s what it came down to. Timing.
Who Am I?
Definitely over the last 7/8 years, the tide turned. I’ve worked hard on my own sense of identity, values, purpose and that whole ‘who am I’ question. I’ve developed a comfort level around being an introvert. I’ve been able to find more of a balance. And, again to reference Susan Cain’s Quiet, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the traits and characteristics that are more on the introverted side of the spectrum. The stories, research and findings in Susan’s book have struck more of a chord than just a note for me, helping make sense out of some of those feelings I couldn’t explain but always was aware of. Like why I would be more at ease in smaller groups or in 1-1 situations than in larger groups. It helped me understand why I preferred to talk about deeper subjects first and small talk last in conversations. Extroverts prefer it the other way around it seems. It’s in the Science.
So, taking on a challenge like doing completely off any alcohol for a full year was going to put my Introversion to the test. But it’s one I was up for, even if my Extrovert buried in there somewhere wasn’t too happy. Now in September of Dry18, I’ve gained even more of an appreciation for embracing who you are, rather than who you are trying to be. As I mentioned in the previous couple of #Dry18 pieces, I’ve been attending social events, work nights, conferences, parties, and have been on holidays\vacation, all booze free, and have been in many situations that certainly thrust me into a zone of discomfort. That was part of the purpose of this whole adventure. To face the fear and do it anyway. To learn and grown. To notice what if felt like to be in a situation of unease, be ok, and even develop ways to enjoy it. To discover a level of comfort with yourself and the surroundings. And with the choice or the option of a beer, to help ease the situation, taken out of the equation, it has made things much simpler.
In my coaching work, I often focus on identification of personal or a team’s Core Values. My own 6 core values are well formed, and, ironically enough, one of them is Courage. It’s been one that I’ve had to rely on when making tough decisions over the last 20 years. Courage is something you can practice and develop over time. Over the last 9 months, I feel I’ve had to continue to develop my own courage in a real way, without the need for the Dutch part.
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 Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics.
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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.
Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below:
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