Two years ago I quit drinking alcohol. And I’ve never been happier.
My journey with alcohol all started when my career as a footballer was cut short by an injury at 23.
As a footballer, it was the usual Saturday/Sunday night post-match binge. I didn’t drink during the week, only after games. Compared to my friends in other jobs, I wasn’t drinking much.
But when football was taken away from me, everything changed. Until that point it had been my life. No longer being able to play football was world-changing.
When football was no longer an option, I moved into the world of finance, and found myself in the heavy-drinking culture of being a city worker.
In this new world drinking was encouraged and actively celebrated.
One or two days a week I would feel good, only to undo it all with another long lunch or night out. Weekends were tired and laboured, and I would have to siesta both days to recover from my week of boozing.
This was impacting on my family time and my energy levels were at an all-time low – which, for a former professional athlete, was hard to take.
I wanted to get back to my passion: performing at my absolute peak. I had always strived to be the best.
I was working hard, eating right, and exercising – but I had failed to address the elephant in the room: alcohol.
I wasn’t depressed or an alcoholic; I was just bored with the booze. Bored stiff of that never-ending hangover which rolled from one night to the next, when I’d suffer exactly the same horrific onslaught of symptoms. It was like Groundhog Day.
I was not making things better.
And so I decided to stop.
Having tried a month off alcohol before, I set my sights on 90 days booze-free.
I was never at the point of any physical dependency, so stopping the physical act of drinking was simple, but the psychological effects were massive.
The biggest problem of all was the social pressure. People don’t seem to like it when someone else stops drinking. It puts pressure on them to consider their own habits. So they spend much of their time trying to get you to ‘just have one’ – ‘don’t be such a lightweight.’
When I was unprepared or caught off guard I would cave in.
I can remember on several occasions reaching the bar ready to order a Coke. As I waited I could smell the lager, the crisps. I had been here a million times before. When asked ‘What do you want?’
‘Errr …. Stella please’
What the f***? What happened to the non-alcoholic beer and my goals?
It’s moments like this that make you worry you have a problem. But everyone is the same.
We have all been there, the non-alcoholic lager becomes a beer, the salad becomes a burger, the fruit becomes a cake.
I realised I did not have a problem, I was just unprepared.
Over time I worked it out that I had to prepare and plan. Trying to wing it simply did not work.
So I sat down with my friend Ruari Fairbairns and we came up with One Year No Beer. It’s a 30, 60, 90, or 365 day challenge, with support from the Professional Footballers’ Association to help others that want to stop drinking alcohol and who need some guidance along the way.
We both realised the hardest part about giving up alcohol is the peer pressure – it’s feeling like your world might end if you stop being the cool kid.
We thought – how can we turn it on its head, how can we make being tee-total the cool kids?
We decided to turn it into a challenge, to make giving up drinking something to be proud of.
I learned that it didn’t matter how many mistakes I made in the early stages. What mattered was that I kept going. Each slip-up was just a lesson on how to get it right the next time, and – through One Year No Beer – a lesson on how to help others quit.
In 2014, I started my own One Year No Beer challenge. And I haven’t looked back.
That’s not to say it wasn’t hard at first.
Some friends were a bit put out that I had stopped initially – and you feel that lump in your throat when they challenge you.
But after a few weeks they could see the difference. It wasn’t long before they wanted to know how I had managed it.
I had refocused my priorities, realising that I was in danger of sabotaging my relationship with my family because of some ridiculous pressure to do something I didn’t really enjoy.
I realised that I have a lot to achieve in this life, and I can’t do it surrounded by hangovers, low motivation, and anxiety. Put simply: Life is too short to waste on hangovers
Without alcohol, every part of my life is flourishing.
My children love having a dad who is fit, healthy, and full of energy to play with them. My wife and I have a wonderful, happy relationship.
I lost almost two stone, training more as a result of the increased motivation and energy quitting alcohol had given me.
And going alcohol-free has given me the time and motivation to go to back to university part-time, where I’m studying for a masters in psychology.
My productivity is through the roof. Suddenly I’m able to take on all the goals that had been put on back-burner due to hangovers and regret.
Thinking about giving up alcohol for a year is like standing at the bottom of Everest with no training, wondering how on Earth you are going get to the top.
So what you need to do first is reach base camp, 90 days, learn tips and tricks on how to survive sober and very soon you will be standing at the top knowing you achieved something incredible in your life.
My gut tells me by the end of the year you will have achieved a lot more than just getting through a year of no booze. You will have started that company, taken that promotion or finally got in shape.
So I urge you – if you are thinking about giving up alcohol – start with the 90 days. I promise you, it will change your life.
If you’re ready to take on the no-alcohol challenge for 30, 60, 90, or 365 days, head over to One Year No Beer to get started.
Interview by Ellen Scott