Wednesday, 30 December 2015

(Far From) Dry January

Speaking Easy: The Festive Edition
In the absence of alcohol, I have
to turn to other ways of
getting attention. 
Earlier this month, this blog turned one year old. I started writing after another nose-dive night out had left me disappointed with myself and resentful at how I always seemed to tumble out of the party in the most public, humiliating way after having 10 too many.

By the time I got myself into that state, the 'off switch' was such a distant line in the distance, and I didn't even know I had gone past it.

So I decided to take part in ‘Dry January’ and not touch a drop of booze for 31 days. This was as much a challenge of going past my previous record of abstinence which  stood at a week from the age of 18 along with being an exercise in self-exploration as I’d found myself unable to maintain a conversation about anything that didn’t involve my job, or some time when I’d got drunk and done something outrageous/horrific.

When you write a CV to apply for a job, you may choose to list some personal interests at the bottom, to show how well rounded your life is. Whether it was my interest in rugby, football, reading, writing, cooking or going to the gym, I had decided I would like for one to be true, like Joey in Friends with his ‘specialist skills’ for acting roles. Really I just wanted the next good time, and the job that would give me the paycheck to get the round in and help me get there.

I could talk you through the health benefits of a month of abstinence (I lost a stone, or 6kg, last January), I could tell you about how it feels to end January with money still in the bank and still having picked up some bargains in the sales, I could wax lyrical about making time to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

Instead, however, I wanted to blend this narrative into a ‘Q and A’ session – answer the questions I have been posed from my friends and those around me about living a sober life as a 25 year old in one of the most exciting cities in the world – and this may, if you are considering a month off the booze, give you the encouragement to venture somewhere new. Sobriety isn't a death toll for your social life, for one thing.

"Is it boring to not drink?"

Ah yes, the question I am often posed, usually when I’m halfway through my first pint of fresh lime and soda in the pub. There are two main dimensions to this answer for me.

Firstly, when your normalise a process of waking up fully dressed, in bed, potentially having pissed yourself, with no memory of how you got there and facing the prospect of going to work in 10 minutes and having to function in the job role you are paid to do, there is no better feeling than waking up with no hangover, no mental blank to untangle yourself from, ready to take on the world, and knowing your worth and value. 

Sober rave in Notting Hill with Morning Gloryville. Best
party I've been to in years.
For me, waking up or coming out of a blackout to find myself in the same situations, regardless of a whether it was a different bed, day, person, whatever, was what was truly boring.

Secondly, for me, not drinking doesn’t mean not being sociable and I’m more interested in what you have to say now as I’m not fixating on how long the queue is at the bar, and how much I still have left in my pint glass. I am more interested, and more interesting – lets talk about the exhibition I went to, who I’m dating now, my several personal projects. I also want to engage with you, and hear what you have to say – for me to get drunk with you and end up crying or being abusive, or hitting on you, isn’t the kind of interaction I would be aiming for when I picked up the first drink, but stick around long enough and we would probably get there.

It's not about not going to the party, it's just a question of changing how you behave at the party.

"Don’t you hate it when you are out, and everyone is wasted and you’re sober?"

Cooking Xmas dinner for friends this year.
It was hot in that kitchen, ok?
I get annoyed when I’m out and someone is drunk and obnoxious, but I also get annoyed when someone is sober and obnoxious. To be honest, the key word here is obnoxious – the level of intoxication doesn’t feature in my judgement. I don’t like it when people knock into me in a club and don’t realise – more often than not this is a case of them being drunk, but otherwise I’m all for a party. Just because I can’t handle my drink doesn’t mean I’m on a crusade to take that pint glass out of your hand too, I don’t resent you because your story isn’t my story, not anymore. I’m not here to judge, shockingly. Like you, I just want to have a good time.

"Will you ever drink again?"

I don’t know, but I am enjoying myself so much now, and am so much happier with myself that I don’t see a reason to pick up a drink at the moment. I can celebrate with a lemonade, commiserate with an coffee and a cigarette, 'slut drop ' (to the top, obviously) with a red bull and kick back with a non-alcoholic beer. I have some perspective now that tells me it is just a drink, just something I put into my body – it didn’t make me more confident or funnier, it just magnified what I was feeling and what I wanted – fun, sex, anger, frustration, sadness, happiness, friendship.
Last week's obligatory gym selfie.
Less emotional baggage, and 17kg
lighter than this time a year ago.

Ultimately I only need to answer to myself – if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but I don’t want one at the moment, and don’t see why I would.

"For anyone looking to lose a bit of weight and get fitter, would you say that removing alcohol has made a huge difference to you?"

My weight has yoyo-ed over the last few years – I went from being a fit 18 year old weighing in at 14.5 stone (92 kg), to being my heaviest aged 22, weighing 19 stone (120 kg). This time last year, I was back to being big – 115kg, and whilst I lost 6kg in January I quickly put it back on. I used the 'calorie calculator' on the Cancer Research Dry Jan website (check yours by clicking here), which told me I consumed an estimated 30,000 calories in alcohol each month, an additional 1000/calories a day to the already whopping portions I ate for breakfast and lunch. When I drank, I didn’t have time, or the energy, to exercise, and like many people, when I’m tired, food is my first ‘go to’. 
18th December 2014: 3 days before my first blog post, and
tipping the scales at 115kg.

Since July I’ve run 3 half marathons, with my last at an average of an 8 minute mile, joined a running club, and go the gym three or four times a week. I make better dietary choices, mainly because I’m not falling of a bus shitfaced and hungry at 11pm, but don’t get me wrong, do I sometimes collect a 15 inch deep pan on my way home from running club? Of course! And no, its not for sharing.

I’m now down to 98 kg, and am looking better than I have in years, but I also feel mentally balanced. A friend asked me the other day if I get bored of people saying how good I’m now looking. Are you kidding? Having heard no-one say that,  for years, I could listen to that all day. Self-absorbed… maybe, but who doesn’t , or wouldn’t love hearing that?

"Do you save loads of money by not drinking?"

This is a topic that I am not proud off. I wouldn’t ever spend £100 on a nice shirt, or jacket, but thought nothing of dropping the same amount of money on a Tuesday night drinking, with work to go to the next day. I could easily spend upwards of £400 in a weekend (weekend starting on Thursday, obviously) on alcohol, including the obligatory taxis home because I couldn’t walk or as I’d woken up in a part of London I didn’t know.

So yes, I suppose I save a lot of money by not drinking, although at the end of the month its not necessarily in my account. I buy clothes, get my hair cut, go for dinner with friends, do all the things I couldn’t ‘afford’ to do previously. I spent so long being overweight and badly dressed in the loosest clothing, unshaven and tired, that I can only say it’s the best feeling to dress yourself to look as good as you now feel on the inside. Schmaltz much, but gives a shit.

The fact that I sit here, in a café in Forest Hill, SE London, on my 118th day of sobriety is in itself irrelevant. If you can enjoy a drink, or 5, and be able to wake up the next day, get on with your life, and like the person you see in the mirror, then my story isn’t yours, and that’s fine. However, for anyone looking to try something new, to lose a bit of weight, to save money, get fit, see what else is out there for them, I’d say that taking a month off drinking is certainly an option to look at, and it won’t cost you anything at all. 
Xmas day, pounding  the West Country
Roads on a cheeky 12-mile run.

For me, and my unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it went deeper and forced me to ask and answer questions that I hid from and kick-started a process leaving me sat here, for the first time perhaps ever, really enjoying my life and what I have.  

The next Rough As workshop is on the 23rd Jan at the Canvas Cafe in Brick Lane, and is there for anyone who fancies swinging by to have a coffee and a natter, for those who have stopped drinking, want to stop, or are thinking about moderating their drinking - check out the website here for more info.

Find out more about me, or drop me a line here...



  1. Hi Harry!
    I left a message on G+, too.
    Great post with the questions.
    There really is a life after drinking, and it is as fun as I decide to make it!!!
    PS - Way to go on 118 days!!

    1. Happy New Year Wendy! Thanks as ever for reading, and yes, totally agree, so much life after drinking. I don't know if 'Dry January' is a thing in the states, but it's pretty big here so wanted to tie in with a post about how 'it is not boring to not drink.'
      Hope you've had a fantastic christmas, and holiday period, I'm heading over to your blog now :) xx