After sixteen years of it being my favourite hobby, I called time on my drinking career in November 2018. This blog is not an attempt to preach about the virtuous path of teetotalism. Instead, I hope some reflection on the realities of abstaining from alcohol will give readers further understanding of a tricky topic.
 
That, despite the grandest of intentions, I still drank on six occasions in 2019 could be interpreted in a few ways. Does it show I genuinely cannot give it up? On the other hand, that I didn’t actually need to? All were attempts to see if I could do so in moderation. Half were successful, half not. All were led by my perception that, in those situations, it would be easier to drink.
 
Looking around, it felt like I should have been able to join in. A few quiet drinks shouldn’t be an issue. The problem is that the non-eventful pints rarely happened. If I were to write list of the top ten stupidest things I have done under the influence it would take hours to agonise over what to leave out.
 
Yes, we are all guilty of daft actions when the inhibitions are lowered. The impact is different for everyone. I had a tendency to distance myself from any concept of booze being an issue. “ I don’t drink like he does!” would give me comfort as did knowing I didn’t drink every day. Later on, something I had read that Ricky Ponting said about drink stuck with me. It made me think that it’s possible to have a problem with alcohol without meeting a criteria- establishing clinically or socially- of alcoholism.
 
In the future I’m sure I will continue to unravel more on why I spent so much time and money on drinking, to the point of harming other areas of my life. The truth for why I chose to stop was down to what it did to my health.
 
Since facing up to clinical depression, I have tried a host of different things to look after myself. Many have persisted and make an enormous difference- meditation, more exercise, journaling- but the biggest barrier to being healthier in mind, as well as body, was my commitment to alcohol.
 
Yes, over a period of years my intake declined. Yet when I downloaded the Drink Aware app to aid a more sensible approach I found I could not regularly stick to the guidelines. I gave up on this self-regulation, believing it was too restrictive. As a result symptoms became exacerbated. Drinks on a Saturday night would have an impact until around the following Thursday when I would feel right again.
 
I was overlooking the thing that was causing me the most problems. I’d said countless times it was time to quit but on an otherwise unremarkable winter morning, I had serious resolve to not drink alcohol.
 
I now have more time and energy. As my sleep has improved, I now do things that I would not have before. With such a big part of my life removed, I have been forced to do new things. These are generally more active and challenging. The excuse of a hangover is gone. I feel healthier and make decisions to continue that. The money saved means  I no longer look at a bank statement puzzling over transactions.
 
The key is that it has done wonders for my mental wellbeing. The same challenges are there but I deal with them much better than before. It can be difficult to maintain but I remind myself of how much improved my day-to-day life is as a result.
 
It wouldn‘t be right to only mention the gains. There are difficulties in avoiding alcohol and the social element is the main one.
 
I have missed out- either by declining to go or not being invited- on gatherings of friends when nights have revolved around alcohol. Other times I have left early, anxious to pick the right time to leave so I can enjoy the occasion but also not get tempted to drink again.
 
There is also an element of a loss of identity. My personality in social settings had been formed in large part through alcohol. So many shared experiences, for good or bad. The extent of change has been tough too. I had drank regularly and often heavily since the age of 16. Initially, it was hard to think of how the gaps where beer once was would be filled.
 
Regrettable as it may to some, drinking is the default in many social situations. Post-game cricket being one of them. That said, I have found that few are bothered if you choose not to drink. Those who seem to be annoyed or perplexed- both of which happen- probably need to think for themselves why someone else’s decision bothers them.
 
The key here is to communicate. It is intimidating making a step like this if you have relied on alcohol as a social lubricant and companion for so long. Explaining the reasons for stopping can be hard to articulate but those who care will make an effort to understand.
 
You will notice the benefit so it is worth trying time off the booze, irrespective of how long it is for.
 

Further reading
 
https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/alcohol-and-depression
 
https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/freddie-flintoff-alcohol-is-a-depressant-if-you-ve-got-a-problem-with-your-skin-you-don-t-sit-out-in-10404229.html
 
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket-sorry-ponting-admits-drink-is-a-problem-drink-1075338.html
 
https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/may/07/cricket-booze-drink-culture-putting-off-kids-ecb-problem
 
https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/31/the-spin-is-staying-sober-just-not-cricket-england-australia
 
https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/cricket-has-a-dangerous-relationship-with-alcohol-20161223-gthbyl.html