First, there was Andrew Symonds being sacked from the Australian cricket team. Then I read that one of the country’s most loved and timeless heroes, Don Bradman, credited his success to staying off the booze. There was also a “Quit Smoking” campaign ad that was mighty influential. It depicted will-power as a muscle that got stronger every time you used it to say “No”.
For me, drinking had become a pointless, expensive and problematic habit. Rather than only on a special occasion, it became a purely habitual, practically nightly bottle of wine.
Everything became a reason. A good day, a bad day, a blah day, a football game, a win, a loss, a draw. Day in day out, not much changed. From the ages of 18 to 34 my weight was always a problem. My kids waking me up 45 minutes before I thought I was ready to wake up was just as much of a struggle.
But in the end, I’m not sure whether it was Batman or my 2 year-old son that caused me to give up drinking.
There was a scene in one of the new Batman movies where Bruce Wayne turned up at a party with about 20 gorgeous ballerinas surrounding him. He strode off a helicopter and started a speech to an adoring throng of power brokers and socialites, grabbed a martini and wowed everyone in the room. With everyone cheering, he walks out to the balcony and throws the contents of the martini over the edge. Ultimate cool, I thought. Total mastery of booze.
Then a few nights later, I was watching my 2 year-old son play with his building blocks and being generally adorable. I looked down at my hands and saw a beer in one, and the TV remote in the other. Staring at the remote, I thought to myself that I needed a slow motion button for life.
Charlie was growing up far too quickly, and life was slipping through my fingers too fast. It was all so unfair, I whinged to myself.
In a moment of clarity though, I realised that I unwittingly had my finger on the fast forward button. With the three or four beers in my belly, I was only partially conscious and missing out on a full life.
I got up, tipped out the rest of the beer, and decided that I’d had enough. I’d more or less been drinking 4 or 5 nights per week for 20 years. Day after day, year after year – it was time for a new plan.
Over the first few days, it wasn’t easy, but it was about identifying the triggers, which for me, was boredom, anxiety, a knowingly wrong idea that it would help me to sleep and worst, the hours between 5pm and 7pm.
It was also about realising that the first drink was the killer. If straight me couldn’t refuse a drink, how could the lower-life-form of me with a higher blood alcohol level manage to right the ship. Don’t have the first one.
It was amazing how that first drink was so important. Even when going to the pub with my mates, after I had ordered and drunk a Diet Coke, I knew I would make it that night.
And without pointing fingers at any mates, it was really illuminating as to how unimpressive people become even after a few beers.
The original plan was to bail for a month. After a month, I thought, how about trying for 100 days. Hell, I’m on a roll. That turned pretty quickly into a year. I was fitter, stronger and more awake than ever. Half the amount of sleep had me feeling twice as good. I skipped over arguments with my missus. After 50 days or so, it felt as though a veil had been lifted. A literal, visual fog disappeared.
The only obvious social change was that I no longer danced at parties. But I think that was in everyone’s best interests. From there, not drinking was pretty much a snap.
Not only that, I got more kudos from friends admiring my fortitude and coolness than after skolling any yard glass. It was amazing how many people told me that they were desperate to do the same, but didn’t think they could make it two weeks.
It was damn empowering. Sometime after the one year mark, I’d convinced myself I had it under control. A nice and self-empowering thought, but the truth is, in hindsight you have to keep your eye on it. It’s a battle that’s never really won. It has crept back in – probably (…definitely) a bit further than I’d like it to.
So 18 months later, and having survived some massive life changes and grief, my new year’s resolution this year is to get back off the booze. And 10 days in, I know every day gets me closer to where and who I really want to be.