A comedian's guide to a month without alcohol...Days 17-33 (spoiler alert, I went longer!)
October 5, 2017
19/09/2017: DAY 17
Meet Dave and Dyson for drinks, after the failed attempt by me and Dave to get into the Foo Fighters Arms pub. Have 4 alcohol-free Austrian beers. Speak to Dave about how UK humans on average only have about 697,000 hours on Earth; and whether we’d like to waste two of those waiting to get into a (relatively average usually) pub which has been decorated in tribute to The Foo Fighters. We decide no. And glance inside as we leave to head to another pub (much nicer) down the road…there’s no sign of Dave Grohl or Taylor Hawkins pouring Foo Fighters-branded beer, so we decide we made the right choice. Speak to Dyson about his brother living in Bristol and not paying himself enough last year with his music business to have to pay tax….but that ‘he’s way happier than I am” in his work. We speak about valuing your working life and how many is great but it should never be the forefront of determining personal happiness. I see some great beers on offer, but decide I’m perfectly happy in life without alcohol. I start to appreciate the pub for its decorative atmosphere and feel content for once at sitting in a drinking establishment and not feeling the place is synonymous with having to drink.
20/09/2017: DAY 18
Have a ‘lie in’ until 7.50am (my usual alarm is an hour earlier). Have a call about an all-day Push event, and then head to Euston for my train to a Push workshop in Liverpool. I think about alcohol only when passing my favourite pub/bar…one with a cool red door, and thinking that the last time I was in there I had a fruitful and entertaining chat with the barman about good things to do across Merseyside. Now wondering if it was more the chat that was good, rather than the beer…and now wondering whether I’ve convinced myself that I need beer to have a fruitful and entertaining experience…which worries me slightly.
21/09/2017 - 27/09/2017: DAYS 19 – 25
A rare gap in my timetable without PUSH presentations or comedy work. This is where I am least (or most) likely to slip in my quest…when I know I am on the hone straight. I can’t decide if I am more (or less) likely to slip…and decide to really sit and ponder on it, which makes me think of alcohol, as if I had a pre-planned ponder to make about something important in my life, I’d usually do this with a nice cold 330ml IPA by my side.…I still can’t decide whether to get a beer and just give up, but I know I’d be angry at myself. I’ve had so much non-alcoholic beer all claiming to taste like the real stuff but tasting nothing like it, that I decide to switch to Pepsi and Lucozade (and even that childhood classic from my area: Vimto); I almost feel more dirty for switching to sugary drinks, as I rarely drink them and try and keep my sugar intake low by avoiding clearly sugary fizz, as I know it is hidden in most things. I start contemplating the complexities of whether sugar is better for you than low-strength alcohol like IPA or ale…when found in the same-size 330ml cans. I then start scaring myself by wondering if there is in fact just as much sugar in an IPA or ale, which suddenly makes me realise that resistance to the sugar monster is futile, and that I’ve actually been drinking a lot more sugar than I thought every time I smirked at sipping an IPA whilst the commuter opposite me had a can of Coke. The whole week blurs…and I keep buying 0% beer, which is starting to taste sugarier by the day. I focus on work, and exercise, and food (I’m definitely eating more crisps – like a smoker switching to copious gum or a pregnant mum craving takeaway chips). I sip a water with ice and fresh lime in, whilst working from home; the Kinks’ “Should I stay or Should I go?” comes on the radio. Exactly what I was thinking, regarding this 1-month task: it is like getting a sudden cramp when you can see the finish line of the London Marathon…and you’ve got your friends running alongside you saying “there’s no shame in dropping out, think of your body first: it is the journey that counts, not the finish”.
28/09/2017: DAY 26
It’s getting harder to write this blog each day, not because I’ve wanting to honour writing something each day and it is nearing the end of such a dedication, but because I genuinely don’t have alcohol on the brain anymore. Realise I’ve not had even an imitation of alcohol in 6 nights – which is proof that my psyche must be changing. The only two times in the last 7 days where I’ve really felt a craving for a beer (which both dissipated within 5 minutes) was after two different days of scuba diving; one on Sunday evening after a day diving in Chepstow, near Wales…and then on Tuesday evening after assisting on scuba diving skills for beginners at the beautiful hidden Soho Pool (go and check it out: Art Deco interior galore) because after being underwater breathing through a tube from a steel tank, your mouth gets rather dry…and I like to convince myself I’m a stereotypical David Gandi-esque deep water diver straight from a Clive Cussler novel…who would look damn good swigging a bottle of ice-cold beer, whilst still in his diving suit. I’m not this, but somehow the beer seems to make the image feel more likely in my own mind. I resist, and go home. I sleep well. I’m feeling strong-willed enough to go into my local Clapton Craft, which I have avoided like the plague for the last 27 days because they stock all manner of oldies and newbie craft ales. I go in and, after my catch-up with the owner, who on seeing his favourite customer is not in fact dead or abroad, but merely on a zero-booze-30=day-cruise, smiles and tells me he once did 7 days working in a Brewery, drinking nothing but water (not THAT is strength). I boldly ask if they have any non-alcoholic beer (sacrilege, I know). He points me to a Paulinger and a BrewDog Nanny State. I throw him a psychological bottle opener and crack his head full of wondrous beer facts; he says an interesting thing about beers that state they’re 0.5%...it is because there is a 0.5% leeway with non-alcohol. He also says beer stays in the system for 3 days, and you will feel sharper and sleep better without it, but that it is nothing compared to stopping coffee for a while. That brings headaches, and some sleepless nights. He said he would much rather stop coffee than alcohol. He also said that 0.5% beers used to have alcohol, hence the 0.5% either way, but that the Becks Blues and other type of non-alcoholic beers that never ever started with alcohol in are a bit like Diet Coke: hidden chemicals and probably worse for you. He said the ones that originally started with alcohol are healthier, if you can state such a thing. He said they’ll still be full of calories and sugar, and I mention I felt a little blush come on (the Asian-drinking-curse) when I had a Paulaner recently before a gig. He said it definitely would have been a placebo, as 0.5% won’t affect a person (if there even is the 0.5% in there still brewing away).
29/09/2017 – 02/10/2017: DAYS 27 - 30
Really struggling now, and the days are blending into each other even more with more and more fluid intake that solely reminds me it is isn’t beer. Getting harder and harder to write this blog – I’m flagging on the home straight, and I even forget to start making notes each day as to how I am feeling. People say they feel sharper without alcohol, but I decide that is a huge generalisation – surely it depends on how much you intake. Yes I am told alcohol stays in your system for 24-48 hours but the human body is a complex system with many many working parts: I am told there’s still bits of food in my bowel from my childhood (according to colonic irrigation fanatics) and I’m functioning pretty well each day, without having to get that removed from my system: I wake up myself, get changed myself, motivate myself to get work done and meet deadlines, I can do my job myself (I work solo most days) and I’ve never had the fear or embarrassment (touch wood) of failing to deliver what I would say is the best of my abilities each day. I start thinking it is better to drink one 330ml can each day, every day of the week than to say “oh, I’m off alcohol this week - I’m cleansing my system” then binge drink back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, then stay in bed all day Sunday feeling sorry for myself…followed by another cleanse of the body the following Monday to Friday.
03/10/2017 – 05/10/2017: DAY 31 – 33
The final evening of wanting has arrived, and it has gone in a flash. I'm so zoned in and focused on the prize, that I get an early night and sleep pretty well. The next night, I've still not touched a drop - technically I could have started in the morning but that would really make me feel like a raging alcoholic who had launched himself off the wagon. I've stayed teetotal all day, on my first day of being allowed precious beer once more...I'm at the Eden Project...I'm sat in the communal area (surprisingly trendy) of the hostel at the Eden Project, prepping a big Push session me and a colleague are due to present the next morning to over 150 visiting students. I stare at some lovely beers on show from local breweries (told you it was trendy), and decide not to have one, after 32 days...since I have a big big event tomorrow that could have very positive repercussions for our non-profit organisation in the region, should it go well...so I say goodnight to my colleague...and I head to my accommodation - the only ones within the project - and I dream of hops (shipping containers - warmer and comfier than you'd think). I am there. I made it. I’ve conquered the non-alcohol month…although I do fear that if you added up all the 0.01% non-alcoholic beers I’ve imbibed over September (lots) it would add up to a 6-pack (at least). This makes me feel inadequate, but doesn’t make me want to jump on the “only water for a month” challenge. My god. We live in the 21st Century, and beer has been around since before Christ – people have always turned to the fermentation process to get by (drinking beer because it was less dirty than water, in times of poverty and disease) and I don’t see why I shouldn’t have it in my life. I think to this last month as a training programme on how to drink much more responsibly – and how much better it tastes when consumed slowly and mindfully. I also work out the number of evenings I haven’t bought a beer of any sort: roughly 3 or 4, which disappoints me somewhat, and takes the shine off what until that moment felt like a pretty good achievement. I have gone so long without beer (it really does feel like a long time) – I notice I’m saying ‘beer’ and not ‘alcohol’ which I find interesting, as my psyche seems to prove to me that my brain immediately latches on to the notion of ‘beer’ as a reward/treat/hobbie and not ‘alcohol’. I conclude that the first taste of a beer is indeed the best, and I have an even greater disdain for binge drinkers and the idea of binge-drinking, after this non-alcohol month. I stared really closely for the first time ever, in my life, at a beer being poured close up - all the carbonated magic of the bubbles and foam forming – and it made me realise I have a much greater appreciation for what happens when you imbibe alcohol, the science behind it, the importance of drinking it slow enough to enjoy it but not so slow that the bubbles disappear. I think more and more about the mantra ‘quality not quantity’. In fact, the idea of drinking more than 2 x 330ml cans in one evening now makes me scowl, and I can’t even think about ordering a pint. In conclusion what has happened this last 33 days? I’ve decided I am never going to give up beer because it is alcohol, and that I don’t like people who drink a lot of alcohol. My brain is frazzled at the thought – but I wouldn’t say fresher or sharper from a month without drinking…and ironically the moment I have my first beer in 33 days staring at me, and able to drink it (a lovely golden ale purchased at the Eden Project - brewed locally), I decide to carry it all the way back to London in my travel bag instead of toasting to a very busy last 7 days culminating in a successful event at Eden for students aspiring to higher education. And there it remains, for another night at least; I place it carefully in my fridge – noticing the Japanese Kirin beer I bought halfway through the month when visiting a Sushi Restaurant. I am reminded that my work colleague who runs the Sushi place also introduced me to the French book ‘The Simple Pleasures in Life’, with one chapter being dedicated to that very first sip of beer after a long wait. I introduce the Cornish ale to Sensei Kirin, and they sit alongside each other…I imagine them beginning to ask each other questions, the kind one asks when immediately feeling an affinity towards another human who shares common interests and views on life. I leave them side by side and shut the fridge door. I pour myself a tap water and feel sick at the thought of breaking up their new friendship. I’ll sit down and ponder the last month, and turn on the TV. I sip my water and decide that they can have tonight together, and maybe even another. I love beer so much I don’t want to interfere…what a politely British perspective on abstinence.