There are pivotal moments in everyone’s lives, key points when your very existence changes forever. For many the decision to quit drinking alcohol is one of them, and it certainly was for me.
Given their enormous significance and the life altering impact they have, they tend to be few and far between. I’d had three or four by my late thirties – when I moved to Tasmania with my family as a 10-year-old, the decision to finish my degree instead of quitting, the day I met Sarah who would later become my wife – decisions that completely changed the direction of my life forever.
In 2012 I had two of these life-changing moments in the space of 48 hours. First, my wife gave birth to our son Jack. I’d wanted to have a child for a few years, and when he finally arrived I knew instantly my life would never be the same again. The love a parent has for their child is like no other, and being responsible for the growth and development of a newborn is the ultimate life changing moment.
The second pivotal life moment came two days later, and was borne out of a situation of my own making where I knew I’d let my family down.
The beginning of the end
It all started around 20 hours before I collected Sarah and Jack from the hospital to bring them home for the first time. The night after Jack was born was a Friday night and I’d arranged to meet a few friends at a pub in Richmond to ‘wet the baby’s head’.
It wasn’t supposed to be a big night, but as had been the way for the better part of 20 years, once I’d had a few drinks and got the scent of a night out there was no holding me back. I’m not sure what time I crawled into bed, but it was in the early hours of Saturday morning.
When I woke up it felt like wild animals were having a fight to the death inside my head, and someone really needed to turn the sprinklers on in my mouth. I crawled out of bed and spent the next few hours getting myself together – breakfast, rest on the couch, shower, rest on the couch, get dressed, rest on the couch – you get the drift. After lunch I was feeling ok, but I was still pretty tired and my ferocious headache hadn’t gone away. I drove to the hospital to collect Sarah and Jack, collected our belongings, said our goodbyes and thanked the staff for their amazing support, and headed for the car. After loading the car with our bags and securely placing Jack in his baby seat, I asked Sarah to drive us home, the first sign of things to come.
Once back at our apartment I headed straight for the couch. The bags had been put away and Jack was in his bed enjoying a well earned rest, so I felt it was time to do the same. Sarah looked at me in disbelief, but that look was fleeting because as soon as my head hit the cushion I was asleep. For the rest of the afternoon I slept on and off while Sarah looked after Jack.
My wife had given birth to our son 48 hours earlier, yet I was the one who needed to rest for the afternoon. It wasn’t right and I knew it, but I just couldn’t help it, I needed the sleep.
Making the decision to quit drinking
The following day when the hangover had subsided I reflected on the events of the previous day. It was the only time I was ever going to bring my first child home from hospital, a momentous day in any new parent’s life. Yet how had I spent the day? I woke with a hangover of epic proportions, tried in vain to recover before collecting Sarah and Jack, asked Sarah to drive us home, then slept for the afternoon while Sarah did all of the work.
I have no doubt a huge percentage of men collect their wife and child from hospital with a hangover, I’ve been told as much since I first wrote an article about it for news.com.au. But for me it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I vowed never to drink again from that moment forward.
Why was that the moment to quit drinking alcohol? I’d actually made the decision to quit drinking alcohol four years earlier, but a combination of habit, culture and the lack of strength to go through with it meant I was still having the occasional big night out. On its own, the day we brought Jack home for the first time wasn’t the whole reason I quit drinking alcohol, but the culmination of a journey I’d been on to go from occasional binge drinker to teetotaller.
I knew I didn’t want to drink alcohol anymore, the costs far outweighed the benefits and for me it just wasn’t worth it. The enjoyment I used to get from drinking had subsided, I didn’t like the feeling of being drunk anymore, and to pay good money to get drunk then endure a hangover now seemed like madness.
Life is much better without alcohol
Since quitting alcohol almost four years ago my life has been immeasurably better on so many different levels. I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve been in many years, not just because alcohol causes weight gain and serious illnesses such as liver disease and a range of cancers, but I’m now far more conscious of my health and wellbeing. I don’t feel lethargic for several days after a big night so I’m more likely to go to the gym; I’m not smashing kebabs on the way home from a night out then munching on fast food while I recover from a hangover the next day; and I’m out and about instead of lying on a couch feeling sorry for myself. Not to mention I’m not spending money on something I don’t enjoy, sleeping is so much better, my diet is infinitely healthier, productivity is through the roof, and my self-awareness has become so much clearer.
But the most important reason to give up alcohol was my family. From that day when I brought Sarah and Jack home from the hospital, I made a commitment that I would never waste a day because I was hungover again. I am acutely aware we are on this Earth for a finite amount of days, and wasting some of them because I’d drunk too much the night before just doesn’t make sense anymore. I still go out to pubs and parties occasionally and have a great time, I just don’t drink, and the reality is it’s not that big of a deal. If you think you can’t do them same, you’re wrong. There are many ways you can enjoy a night out without feeling like you have to drink, either from the voices in your head or peer and societal pressure.
You can quit drinking too…
If you’re thinking of quitting alcohol, taking a break or reducing the amount you drink, take it from someone who has been through this journey…don’t wait another second to do it. You don’t have to drink at the wedding you’re going to in a month, or the holiday you’re taking, or your own birthday party that’s been planned for you. While it’s the Australian way to drink at social events, it’s not imperative for a good time. I wasted four years drinking alcohol even though I didn’t want to do it anymore, so don’t make the same mistake I did. While you may find it difficult for the first few weeks, once you get through that period you’ll be so glad you made the decision.