On 16th November 2017, I celebrated by 40th Birthday. In the weeks and months leading up to this, I experienced some dread! Not what you might expect though. I actually didn’t mind too much about the age thing. Something that many people make out as a move into middle age. In many ways, I was looking forward to the milestone age. I was in the best place I had ever been. Mentally, Emotionally, and not too far off physically.
What was my greatest cause for anxiety was the potential blow-out it would bring. The two nights (at least) on the booze. Even though I was fully responsible to keep the partying under control, I knew that it was going to be difficult to just have a few and take it easy.
Looking at back at other big milestone birthday’s I’ve had, they’ve always been big sessions. My 18thin Dublin was a total blow out. My 21st, I seem to remember lasted a few days. My 25th, something similar. And my 30thwas all set to be another big session, but with the passing of my grandmother on the weekend of it, that was shelved, or postponed for a few weeks at least. It’s safe to say, birthday’s and booze were synonymous in my past.
I didn’t want the occasion to pass without a gathering, and it was a good excuse to persuade some of the close friends and family from home to come to Cork to celebrate with friends I’ve made in the previous 9 years. That was my overriding reason to go ahead with it. I kept telling myself, I’d take it relatively easy, but knew deep down that would be hard. The internal battle had started.
The Birthday weekend started off on the Thursday (the actual day of my birthday) where my Aunt, Uncle-in-law and I met up in Dublin to go to the Killers concert. While this started off very civilized, with a nice meal and some wine, it quickly escalated to JD & Coke and whatever else we could drink during the concert. The excitement was too much for me and the bouncers in the gig agreed. After a few attempts to calm me down, they asked me to leave. I obliged of course but the separation from the family resulted in a messy end to the night. Both of us arriving back to the hotel separately. A great start to the weekend, eh!
The next day, I woke feeling ‘ok’ but a strong sense of gloom lingered for the day. I knew I had a long day ahead too so that didn’t help. Oh, and with Saturday and Sunday also to come, I was feeling a bit edgy. ‘I should be enjoying this’ I thought. Something had to give. But when & how!
Having successfully navigated the drive home, via Longford to meet the rest of the Family, I was pretty wrecked come bed time that night. Honestly, all I wanted to do was chill out for the rest of the weekend. But plans were made, and I couldn’t let everyone else done.
One of my best friends from home (Longford), who was now living in Wales, flew over for the weekend. It was Michael’s Birthday the following week (7 days later exactly) and we had arranged to have a 40thcelebration in both Cork and Cardiff. So, with Mike in Cork on Saturday, we met up early to have some ‘brunch’. Now, you might guess that brunch was code for a sambo and some pints. I remember walking into town that morning. Feeling ok and looking forward to the day ahead. Catching up and having a laugh. While that was my plan, my inner chatterbox was having none of it. That voice was pushing for more than just a few! We had a few beers in town then got some to bring back to my house where we could relax for a few hours. As others arrived down from Home, the atmosphere built up over the course of the day. Naturally, I was delighted to see so many good friends come down and was in flying form as the evening rolled around. At this point, all was going well.
When we did make our way into the venue where the party was held, I was feeling good but knew I had to keep myself together. As a type 1 diabetic, diagnosed in mid30’s, I always had to keep myself in check from a blood sugar perspective. The diabetes was a big wake up call and turning point for me when I got diagnosed in 2012. It definitely came at a time when I was beginning to figure out myself more. It actually helped accelerate that. Anyway, this night, while I did my best to keep things in check, there is no doubt that I was acting like a normal person for the evening. With Champagne popping, and the drink flowing, I was beginning to let loose.
As the Party moved from the pub to the nightclub, the levels of excitement increased. Anyone that knows me, down the years, are aware of my unique ability to convince myself that I was (and am) a cross between John Travolta in Saturday night fever, a Russian Army Cossack Dancer and A Professional break-dancer when I had a large amount of alcohol consumed and with some classic 80s music blaring. This was the case again the night. And after numerous attempts from the bouncers in the club to persuade me to refrain from spinning around in perfect (or so they felt) 360s in the middle of the floor, one spin too many was had. So, they politely asked me to leave AKA escorted me outside. Another night that ended not how I had hoped.
I woke up Sunday morning with a fogginess. Another familiar sense of gloom and anxiety. But this time, a little bit different. I had got through the night. In one piece. And while I didn’t exactly do myself proud, I had a sense of relief that it was over. No question at the time, anyone looking in, would have said I was really enjoying it. And they’d be right. However, inside, I wasn’t dancing. That extrovert me that emerged, as I’ve said in a previous post, was more the chatter box letting lose. The real me was the one that was left to pick up the pieces the next day. For years, I real me had to take that onboard and get through it. That had to stop. And while Alcohol was in the picture, it wouldn’t. It couldn’t. The party had one night left. But one that I didn’t expect to be such a defining moment in my future year, and life.
6 of the group that came down from Longford, two best friends, their partners and my Aunt and Uncle-in-law stayed down for the final fling. They were right to make a proper weekend out of it and I was glad to have them down. We decided to take a more relaxed approach to the day. When we met up around 4pm, we decided to go on a mini-pub crawl of Cork. It was also the evening where the Cork Christmas Lights were officially switched on. Adding something different into the mix. And keeping us out of the pub for a bit.
As we wandered from pub to pub, casually taking on a drink here and there, and including some food, the conversation inevitably turned to just how bad we would feel the next day. How we were all dreading it so much. Talk of the 3+ hour drive back to Longford the next day was already causing anxiety to rise. For me, I was already expecting to wake up every 5 minutes during the night not only seeing, but having full blown conversations with dead people. As you can suspect this was not the first time we had these chats. Anyone listening in would think we were either joking or that we were on a day release from a mental institute. Neither were the case!
Then we got to the classic conversation about ‘giving up the drink!’ How great it would be. But equally how difficult. I had completed Dry January that year. It was tough but very rewarding. Richie then said he heard a guy on the radio a week or so before talking about his 2+ year journey of being ‘drink free’. How difficult it was initially but, after some tough nights, and near misses, he started to enjoy himself on nights out. He had to ‘relearn’ how to enjoy himself. Bit by bit, it got better. He started to find himself. To know himself a bit more. It could be done. The reconditioning was possible.
That’s when it happened.
“Let’s do a year off the drink?” I suggested (or Richie did..that part is foggy too).
We started to tease it out. Firstly, we put an incentive on it. A €500 wager. If one of us broke it, the €500 would go to a charity of our choice. Then it became more real. Others in the group were laughing. Eyes were rolling! It was the drink talking seemed to be the general impression. But I felt something different this time. It felt real. I had said it a thousand times in the past 20+ years, ‘never again’…..and then proceed to drink again within the hour or day. Never again, followed by a laugh. But in this moment, it felt different. Not sure why but, like many other events that happen along your journey, it can be a question of timing.
As we continued on with the night, Richie and I started to formulate the terms a little bit more. When to start? From tomorrow? No…..how about from 1stJanuary? Do it for the full 365 days of 2018? That seemed to fit better. For the rest of the night, with that bet in focus, I felt clearer. Focused. Certain. Committed. This time I was going to do it.
As I write this, it’s 365 days from that discussion. A year on from the handshake and nearly a year on from the complete alcohol cull! I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning on the journey so far in these posts. So many new perspectives. So much less embarrassment. A lot more self-worth. Improved confidence. Impending Fatherhood. Getting Engaged. Zero escorting from nightclubs. Zero conversations with dead people. Zero attempts at breakdancing. Zero lost jackets.
It’s funny though. When I was more frequently out at the weekend and suffering from a bad Monday or moody Tuesday, I would blame it all on the booze. Not just that. Anyone that knows me, is aware that, on occasion, I can sneeze literally hundreds of times a day when my allergies are on fire. In the past, I would always blame that on my excessive night out at the weekend before. It was the obvious thing to do. Which would result in me giving myself a harder time and feeling worse. Now, I’m happy (not sure that’s the right word) to say I still get the allergies without the beer. I also still get anxious. Feel uncomfortable. Question myself and other insecurities emerge. But I know that’s normal. It’s just part of life. And I can’t now blame it on the beer. Which makes it more acceptable.
I don’t gamble often but this is one bet that I’m glad I wagered. One that I’ve won on every day since. It maybe is the epitome of gambling responsibly. The fun, for the most part had stopped with drinking. And when the fun stops, stop.
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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