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Cutting back the booze

Monday 6th January 2014

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to cut back on the booze. Jackson Wood gave up drinking just over a year ago, and has only one complaint: stop forcing OJ on the sober drivers.

“Hi, my name is Jackson. Yeah, I’m not drinking. Nah, it’s alright I don’t want a beer. No seriously, I’m good. Why aren’t I drinking? Well, I just don’t drink. No, it doesn’t suck – it’s pretty good actually.”

Just over a year ago I made the decision to stop drinking. 

Since then I’ve been having conversations like the above example at every single social event I go to.

On the first of December 2012 I was in a pretty bad state. More on that soon.

Since my first real drink — a bottle or seven of my mate’s dad’s home brew when I was 15 — I’ve had this urge to drink. It put me at ease. It made the awkward teenage years that little bit easier. It levelled all us nerds to the same incomprehensible station as the jocks. It made my wit sharper, a wingman to help me make friends. Or at least that what I thought it was doing.

That night culminated in a slamming crash into bottom of a bottle of Talisker whisky and a handful of sleeping pills. The next morning (or was it afternoon?) was a messy affair.

I did the whole “I’m a student, so I can drink every day” shtick. I managed to wade through a sea of beer bottles and nights at the Big Kumara to get an undergrad degree. (Although it took me a few years longer than the three it said it would on the box.)

This pattern of heavy drinking continued when I edited the Victoria University magazine Salient and then into my first real job. It never caused problems. I was never drunk at work; I thought I was hiding my hangovers.

I never really looked back at the carnage my drinking was causing. Losing friends, screwing up relationships, just generally being a bit of a shit person. I was never the breakfast beer kind of guy. I never drank to black out. I always drank to the point where bad decisions started to look like good decisions. It wasn’t making me sharper and it definitely wasn’t helping me win friends. No need for the gory details: you get the picture.

The first of December 2012 was one of those nights. You know the one. Where you go out to get hammered and look forward to the hangover because you know it’ll be a badge of what a great drinker you are. 

That night culminated in a slamming crash into bottom of a bottle of Talisker whisky and a handful of sleeping pills. The next morning (or was it afternoon?) was a messy affair. Vomit. Bile. Piss. Shame. Regret. 

Suddenly 12 years of increasingly heavier and heavier drinking crystallised into one clear message: stop drinking before you really start to ruin your life, start trying to make it up to the people you’ve hurt, and most of all: don’t drink.

So since the second of December 2012 I haven’t picked up a drink. And it turns out that it actually isn’t that scary. I still go to parties. I still have a social life. My friends love that I don’t drink and are supportive of me not drinking. In fact, I couldn’t have done it without my friends, family, and colleagues. They’ve acted as a support network. I figure the more people who know, the likelihood of me picking up another drink decreases.

A glass of orange juice
"Please, for the love of God and all that is holy, don’t provide orange juice as your sole non-alcoholic option."

Flickr

Giving up drinking is not for everyone. Abstinence is a big step and it doesn’t suit all. Not everyone who drinks or even drinks heavily has a problem. My fiancée can quite easily enjoy a few beers, stop drinking and still have an awesome night. Not so much me and many others like me. Do what feels right for you. But always keep track of how much you’re drinking and how often you’re drinking.

Conversation is a powerful tool to share stories and change attitudes. I wish I could sit down with all of you and talk this through, because it is a pretty complex situation to internalise. I hope that by starting this conversation with you – by saying “hey it’s actually okay to not drink” it might go a small way to challenge the way people who don’t consume alcohol are treated.

Because I can’t sit down with each and every one of you here is a conversation I prepared earlier: 

“You must be pregnant *insert dudebro laughter here*”
*Jackson rolls eyes* No. I’m a dude, dude. Pregnancy is physically very improbable. Drinking is not a masculine thing, not drinking is not a feminine thing. I’m not a pussy, or any other vaguely sexist, mysoginisty term you want to label me with. Skulling back a dozen beers in no way proves you’re a man. If you need verification of biological gender go get a blood test.

“It sucks you can’t drink.”
No. It really doesn’t. I quite enjoy being a functional nice human being who doesn’t wake up feeling like shit with a splitting headache, nausea, and wallowing in regret. Oh and the money. It’s great. Moral of the story: it’s great you can drink, it’s great I don’t drink. I’m happy, so please be happy for me too.

“Oh come one, you can just have one.”
Wrong. I, and many other people, can’t. For me, one always turns into two. Two turns into about 17 and ends up in some awkward situation. I’ve said I don’t want an alcoholic drink, please respect that. I shouldn’t need to have one in my hand for you to feel comfortable.

“You’ll be able to drink one day, eh?”
I don’t think so. Please don’t tempt me. I’d rather not chance it.

“So it’s a health problem?”
Kinda. I’m not going to go into anaphylaxis or start clutching at my chest if I have booze. Too much of a good thing is bad for you, and I always had too much. Alcohol is a drug and for a while I was dependent on it. There were negative health effects. Now that I have stopped drinking I don’t experience them. Who’d have thought!?

“We’ve got orange juice… or, like, water.”
Orange juice is the non-drinkers hell. I hate that shit. Unless you’re hand squeezing, please, for the love of God and all that is holy, don’t provide orange juice as your sole non-alcoholic option. Especially if you’ve got at least two types of beer and three types of wine. There are heaps of decent soft drinks. Live a little.

“What about other drugs?”
Nope. Clean and sober. Gettin’ high on life.

“Have you found God?”
Hell no. It just became quite obvious that alcohol and I were a bad combination. Both for me and the people around me.

“Did you wake up to Jack Daniels on weetbix?”
No. There seems to be a popular idea that you only have a problem with alcohol if you start drinking it before midday regularly. I don’t think I ever had a six pack for breakfast or brushed my teeth with vodka. Drinking still got the better of me.

“Are you cool with people drinking around you?”
Yip. That’s okay. As long as you’re respectful. There is nothing worse than getting told you’re a pussy because you’ve got a lemonade rather than a beer. And once people start getting too drunk I’ll probably sneak off. Have you met drunk people? They’re basically dicks.

“But what about karaoke!!!??!!1!?”
Have you even heard my rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody?

“Have you become a wowser, Jackson?”
Nope. Other people can enjoy the benefits of alcohol. I can’t and am resigned to the fact that I won’t drink booze again. That doesn’t mean I will call the fun police on you for having a few beers.

“I think I have a drinking problem too, what do I do?”
There are heaps of ways to get help:

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