Before I even start, i'm going to say that this is not going to be facts or figures about alcohol induced diseases and what they can do to you. And this is not going to be a GIVE UP ALCOHOL NOW, Alcohol is the devil post. I feel that anyone can write that and everyone by now knows all the statistics. This is going to be my personal story about why I stopped drinking, because when I say I don't drink people are genuinely curious as to how and why I don't. And no, I do not and would not ever force my clients to stop drinking. This is something that if they want too, they have to come to terms with themselves. It is their choice and I never judge anyone if they tell me that they drink. I know for many people it is not that easy to just one day decide to stop and that there is a lot going on under the surface that alcohol helps them to deal with (this could be it's own blog post which I might even touch on).
To get the big picture, let me take you back to the college days of my first degree in Canberra. The days were short but the nights were long. There would be the Lighty (Lighthouse pub) on Wednesday nights, Uni bar on Thursdays, usually going out in the city on a Friday and lets be honest Saturday too and then for good measure usually a Sunday Sesh somewhere! So lets say that alcohol was plentiful, exercise was minimal and nutrition was not even on the radar. The fact that I could walk home from most places we went out during the week was an even bigger bonus. Look I don't regret it for a second, I made some of my best friends in Canberra and had some of the best memories that I will always treasure and now laugh at and my liver slightly recoils in panic when I remember them.
At the time I remember thinking that was normal. That's what college was all about wasn't it?
And for me back then it was. I think that I had to come through that to be able to see the other side and where I am now. It was when I came home from Canberra that I really saw the effects it had on me. Hello gaining 15kg. The fresher 15* decided to come back to Sydney with me - how rude! They clearly weren't invited - could they not have stayed in Canberra where they belonged?
*In America/Canada it is termed the Freshmen 15 as most people gain 15lbs in their first year of being at college - and yes my body didn't do the imperial to metric conversion so just decided to gain 33lbs instead hehe.
So, after living in denial for about 2 years and slowly gaining more weight (I had put on a total of 20kg at my heaviest), at the beginning of 2012 decided to get a Personal Trainer which is where my love of Fitness and Nutrition started (you can read the whole story in the get to know me section). And look, I was still drinking but not as much as at college. She told me straight out - to lose weight you need to give up alcohol. And at that stage I was prepared to do anything and I had said to myself I am going to do whatever she says - I'm an all or nothing type of person - give it my best or don't give it at all. And so from that day forward I didn't touch a single drink for 3 years, almost to the day. It was then at my sister and brother-in-laws engagement in March 2015 that I had 1 glass of champagne to toast them (and i'm pretty sure I didn't even finish it). And no I wasn't pressured into drinking, I felt like I wanted to. Before the event I had not even said to myself ok, at the engagement party i'm going to have a glass of champagne, I just split decision on the day decided to have a drink.
When I tell people that story they give me looks of a mix between horror/ disbelief/ wonder and amazement and ask "wasn't it hard?", "What did your friends say?"
To be honest, no it wasn't hard because I had a goal. I knew that to lose 20kg, I needed to stop drinking and my goal was bigger and better than any glass of alcohol could be. It also taught me that, yes you can go out and not have a drink - it is possible believe it or not. And you can have fun without alcohol. You do not need be absolutely intoxicated to enjoy yourself. One other main thing was that I just didn't make a big deal out of it. I didn't say to myself "Ok i'm giving up alcohol for 3 years" or "I'm never drinking again", because to anyone a blanket statement like that seems near impossible (and let's be honest, after a big night most people proclaim that to only then be drinking again a few days later). What I did do is break it down into smaller chunks. I would say ok i'm not going to drink for the next 2 weeks. Then another 2 weeks and break it down into smaller time frames. Sure, in the beginning there were events where I felt like I wanted to drink but I knew if I was in this for the long haul I would need to be able to overcome these sooner or later and they always say it's always easier to rip the bandaid off then to slowly pull, so cold turkey it was.
In terms of what did my friends say - I told them, but again the key to it was that I didn't make a big deal out of it. It's not as if I screamed from the rooftops "I'm giving up alcohol" so to then draw attention to it and myself. I just started declining drinks and saying that I was driving and then after a few months with no alcohol It just started to be normal that I wasn't drinking. Look to be honest this was the easy part - my friends would either get on board with my not drinking or it would be "Byeeeeee, Felicia!" (I actually don't even know what movie that quote comes from but It's one of my favourite quotes and always laugh when I hear it). Any of my friends who didn't support me in doing this weren't worth my time or effort. I lost a few friends but then I realised if all that we had in common was going out and alcohol then was our friendship actually real? Do I need them in my life? My life was starting to change and get healthier and I wanted people in it that supported it and encouraged it, not be a constant battle with them to defend myself for not drinking (which I felt I had too). Ok so take home message from this is, you need to have a goal as to why you're not drinking anymore, health reasons, weight loss, fitness, have something that you can see is going to make your life bigger and better than that Sunday morning hangover. And that your friends are either going to support your choice and you might even inspire them to do the same or you may need to reevaluate the friendship. Not totally cut ties but just scale back.
So what made me decide to have a drink again after 3 years and after that drink did I then go to start binging every weekend again as I had gotten my taste for alcohol back?
No, the opposite. I allowed me to learn to be able to drink in moderation. I now will have the occasional drink - as in like maybe total 3 or 4 a year usually less, for special occasions and it's never more than 1 at a time generally. And I understand people are going to want to have an alcoholic drink more than once a season, but for me that is what I want my moderation to be. I could have more if I wanted, but to be honest, I never really feel the need too. I never actually liked the taste of alcohol when I was at college - probably because we were drinking goon/ really cheap wine so the hangovers were twice as nasty and lasted twice as long. Now when I drink, I actually have to have a glass of wine that I actually like the taste of, usually red. Because I think if I don't like it then what's the point in having it. Even more so now, there's no way I would eat a meal that I didn't like so why would I have a drink that I don't like? And personally I would much rather eat my calories than drink them - give me salted caramel or mint chocolate cheesecake over alcohol any day!!
Even now I still say that I don't drink, as I would hardly call a few glasses of wine a year any cause for concern. But it has allowed me to not be pressured into whether I drink or not. I have taken back the control and choice and my friends and family are actually surprised now when I say "yeah I'll have some wine". So often I hear my clients say "But I HAVE to drink at work events" - I'm sorry but I always question that as an excuse. And that is what it is. An excuse, and it is shifting the responsibility from yourself to someone else. Unless someone is putting an IV of alcohol in you, you have a choice. I would much prefer my clients to say, "but I LIKE drinking at work events" as you are then acknowledging that yes it is you that is doing the drinking and no one is forcing you. And that is fine to like drinking - I clearly get it - 95% of the population does. I'm not going to be the one that turns you into sober Sally if you don't want to be.
What do I say to my clients when they ask when their alcohol consumption should be?
This is a touchy subject for most people as most of the time until they say it out loud, they don't realise how much they are actually drinking. For a lot of people there is an underlying reason as to why they are drinking and alcohol is used as a blanket or crutch to help them overcome a situation and they are going to need to find another way to deal with it before they can really reduce their alcohol consumption. I just say to them straight up that I don't drink and the easy answer for me to say would be to give up alcohol completely. However, that approach does not work for everyone. For people like me, who are all or nothing, that works and they prefer to just cut it out completely, even for a little while, then to scale back slowly. But other people would find that way too daunting and still want to be able to have the occasional glass of wine and that is fine. But it is when your drinking is getting in the way of your health and achieving your goals that I then say look you don't have to cut it out completely but even working on scaling back the alcohol is going to get you feeling a lot better sooner and I work with them to find an approach that suits them and give them all the tools to help them succeed.