May 21, 2013 by John Buckley
“It’s 3 o’clock in the morning, and I’m on the streets again”, Phil Lynott always reached that note perfectly; I on the other hand could never hit it. The song always reminds me of coming out of the nightclub, still pumped, buzzing on sugar, booze and the atmosphere. Ready for more. Probably 10 pints plus down the neck. Loving it.
And there’s nothing wrong with it really. I wasn’t doing any harm really, was I?Well I don’t know if I was, but I know that I was losing time, I was losing energy, at times losing my mind and I was draining the cash back option.
For me there is a essential part to the alcohol debate in Ireland and that’s harm. Alcohol action Ireland tell us that it cost the country €3.7billion each year. Well, that’s a lot of cash. But individually, harm means different things. It means missing a day of work, liver problems, relationship issues, mental health, dependence, throwing a few punches, trying for that kiss that isn’t wanted…there’s an infinite list.
I like to think of the drink debate in 3 ways
– The abstainers
– The Bingers (who don’t have awareness sometimes, but other times do)
– The moderate inbetweeners (with an awareness)
We know the abstainers, we’ve met them, and they make up a sizable proportion of the Irish legal drinking population, over 20%. The bingers are the ones we hear all about, “the phoenix park crew”, sure they’re the “young people” aren’t they? No they cross all demographics and probably are the people we need to support and focus on reducing harm with. The Moderate inbetweeners, now there’s the goal. The people who drink, enjoy it, but also look for enjoyment on a night out where they don’t need to binge or even any alcohol at all. They have an awareness of harm, their limits and don’t have to drink to have fun. This is where we want to get (well that’s what I think)!
I’m writing this blog in the context of a planned 6-month break from alcohol. Well now it’s time to be honest. It didn’t happen, but a lot of things did happen and I want to share that learning with you in the hope of making a bit of a ripple.
I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while, but I was afraid. Afraid that I’ve let people down, sure I was off booze, I was setting an example, I feel bad for slipping. I think I’ve learnt more in what’s happened though as a result.
I got to three months and it was easy! Not a bother. What I was finding was a reconnect with life, getting that time back, improving my mental and physical fitness. I then decided a few beers would be fine (which of course it is), but the few beers was more then a few. And where the harm was for me was my mental health, I could clearly see that connection between the drink and dark places. It was a correlation I knew was there, but never full understood. This happened twice and I really had to battle back.
What I also found was that while my immediate networks were incredibly supportive, the wider environment, not so. I had a weekend away with the lads where if I drank anymore caffeine or sugar based drinks I was going to become a diabetic, alcohol free cocktails are more expensive then ones with booze and the ‘why aren’t you drinking question’ comes up all the time. The answer I didn’t have, but why should I have had one? If you want honesty, I’m not drinking because I don’t know that alcohol is good for my brain and me.
Relationships were strained with some people in my life as a result of fear about drinking around the non-drinker. It was tough. It was also tough not to judge others for drinking to excess, and I have no right to judge others in the personal choices they make with alcohol, it’s their bodies and minds. What I see now is that we have to look at our own experience and try and gain that awareness of how the drink impacts in our own lives.
I didn’t make the 6 months, but it’s not about that. What I found was something more powerful. It’s not about focusing on the break; it’s about what you find out. And I found out how I can enjoy alcohol, enjoy life and not need alcohol to enjoy life. Last weekend I managed to have two beers and see Leinster win the Amlin Cup, surrounded by mates, few platters of pub food, having a laugh, but for me there was no harm. With that I still had my Saturday morning in the gym and Sunday out in the mountains.
When I think back to the start of my blog, I speak about sugar, booze, atmosphere and all the rest that comes with a night out. I now know that drink isn’t what fuels that; it’s my enjoyment of life. I have that now and I have an awareness of the point of harm.
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