Today marks the day that I am 365 days off alcohol. For most of my friends and family this is crazy!
Before I gave up alcohol I was always the life and soul of the party. I loved a glass of wine with dinner, I loved a pint of Guinness, I loved espresso martinis, margaritas, tequilas, sambuca… I loved to travel – around Australia, Thailand – I was having a ball, the best time of my life… and all of it involved alcohol. It was part of my lifestyle – what and how I drink reflected where I was living, who I was hanging out with, whether I was dating or not – but wherever I was and whatever I was doing, you could find me with a glass of wine in my hand.
Do I regret any of that? No – not even for a single second.
Would I do anything differently? Nope.
But, having discovered alcohol in my mid-teens (not something I’m proud of) and drinking almost into my mid-thirties – I’d had almost two decades of regular alcohol consumption and that’s going to start to wear on you.
Why did I stop?
I knew I wanted to stop drinking for about two years before I actually did. I rarely got bad hangovers which meant that there was no incentive to cut down or take a night off. Plus, in this job, working as a film producer, you find that a lot of your time is spent socialising…
Great day on set? Let’s go for a pint!
Business dinner? Yeah, let’s have a bottle of wine with that?
At the airport? Have a drink.
On the flight to LA? Yeah, I’ll take a beer, I’ll take a wine with my dinner. A gin? Sure!
Arrive in LA? Let’s get a Margarita!
You know, no matter where I went, whether it was work, play or nothing in particular, alcohol was ever-present.
And I found I wasn’t really enjoying it any more. I was thinking, what am I even doing here? Then I’d get the first few pints in, start enjoying myself, go a bit crazy… and then wake up a bit groggy and start all over again. It was an unhealthy cycle.
Beer Baby, Burn Out and Bad Staff
Then, about two months before I gave up drinking I started having stomach problems. My belly swelled up so much I looked like I was 7 or 8 months’ pregnant. My lifestyle, after 20 odd years, was beginning to catch up with me. My doctors were telling me I needed all sorts of tests – blood tests, a camera down the throat, a camera the other way…
I stopped drinking – overnight – just like that – bang – that was it!
And with the drinking out went the junk food, the bingeing, the greasy treats the morning after – that was the first change I saw – I cut out all the crap and got back into swimming.
But the health issues didn’t stop there, the test results were just starting to roll in – the camera down the throat found a hiatus hernia and the camera the other way found diverticulitis – both caused by my lifestyle. As my head got clearer I realised what I’d been doing to my body – I hadn’t realised how unfit I was, the level of body fat I was carrying.
Then the blood test came back and said my bloods were off and it was something to do with my liver. At that point I completely freaked out and thought ‘What the fuck have I been doing to my body? My liver is fucked!’ I thought I hadn’t stopped soon enough and had made myself seriously ill.
They booked me in fast for some more tests – I had a liver scan, a gall bladder scan, a kidney scan – I got everything scanned.
All of these health worries came on top of my running the production company. I was flying around the world chasing my films into festivals, working commercial after commercial. I was working non-stop.
My new mental clarity began to shine light on problems I didn’t even know I had (the joy!) – I looked at my business and thought ‘What the hell is going on here?!’ We had taken on clients who weren’t a good fit and who were not providing a worthwhile return on the time they demanded. Worse, when I trained my newly sober sights on my staff I realised that there were some bad apples in the company that urgently needed removing from the barrel.
So, what did I do?
I wrote it all down. I wrote down my health worries. My business worries. My relationship worries. My scheduling worries.
And then I hit pause.
Then what happened
When I took the time and energy to really look at my life everything swirled out of focus for a bit. My business dipped, my social life dipped and my health dipped.
Thankfully I got my first win at this point – the scans started to come back positive – I’d lost over a stone (which I didn’t even know I was carrying!) – I was looking and feeling better and finally I was signed off by the doctor with nothing to worry about (that is, other than the hernia and the diverticulitis!).
Business dipped because I wasn’t out socialising. I wasn’t getting new clients because I didn’t know how to do it sober. I was determined to find a way to do business without the bottle, and fully prepared to become a hermit in pursuit of that goal. Likewise, my social life took a dip because all my friends drink and I didn’t want to bum them out with my new lifestyle, so I sort of withdrew from my world a bit. It may sound a bit glum but in truth I was enjoying my own company – swimming every day, working on the business, watching Netflix, and generally taking a break (a well-earned break).
But all the while I was racking my brains to work out: where do you fit into the world as a non-drinker? Where do you go? Where do you socialise? Where do you meet clients?
The answer came from two places: one non-drinking friend (of 13 years’ vintage) and one definitely-drinking friend who was peeved that he hadn’t seen me.
And the answer is… the pub, the restaurant. All the normal places in life.
I didn’t wholly believe my non-drinking friend when he told me to get out there and stop avoiding the world, however, when my definitely-drinking friend insisted that I spend time with him, I had my aha moment. We headed to a club and we had an absolute ball – we danced all night, I was back to my normal, social self – just without alcohol. From that night I knew that was it, I didn’t need drink any more.
So, has stopping drinking created positive change in my life? A million percent yes.
Two years ago, my life was chaotic. I was working 24/7, I had a cohort of clients that wasn’t working for me, I was saying yes to work I should have been saying no to. I was making decisions with a groggy head. I was always playing catch up – while everything got done in the end, I was in a constant panic and I felt like I was just making deadlines by the skin of my teeth. Even though I wouldn’t change that time in my life, neither would I want to be living that lifestyle now.
Since I’ve stopped drinking everything is so much easier, calmer, in control. I’m flying around the world shooting a documentary called ‘The Evolution of Success’, our movie ‘Release’ is currently in the festival run, we’ve a documentary on the Homeless World Cup (starring Colin Farrell) coming out this year, my acting school is going from strength to strength… lots of huge projects (bigger than anything we’ve done before) and yet it all feels (almost) effortless. I’m working with better people – driven people – people I enjoy being around. I’ve picked up meditation and swimming and I’m making decisions with a clear head. I’ve reconnected with old friends and with my family. I can take the daily stresses and strains of production in my stride – the lost footage, the late edit, the broken camera, the missing actor – previously I would have lost my head but now I just… deal with it.
Would I recommend it?
No. What I would recommend is writing down the most important things in your life – maybe your health, relationships, work life, whatever – and ask yourself whether alcohol is affecting those most important things. Is it stopping you playing football or going to the gym? Is it causing arguments? Is it causing you to make irrational or lazy decisions in work?
When I did this exercise and asked myself the question ‘is alcohol having a negative effect on this important thing – the answer was yes to them all – yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
So I had to stop. What you do is up to you. If your relationship with alcohol is holding you back then tweak that relationship. Maybe drink less frequently, or give it a break for a few months and see if you notice any benefits. But don’t let alcohol be more important than the things you really care about.
Will I go back on it?
Right now, today, the answer is no. The freedom I have found is too valuable – I mean that mentally and socially and business-wise – I made so many decisions based on the desire to drink alcohol. For example, I live in the city centre because I didn’t want to pay for taxis home from pubs (and obviously I couldn’t drive) – I’m literally paying hundreds of extra euros in rent solely to be closer to pubs.
Now, when I travel to LA I get off my flight sober and relaxed after a nice sleep. I jump into my rental car and drive to my friends for a dip in the pool. I don’t arrive hungover, tired, groggy and a little bit overweight.
My health is better than ever, my business is better than ever, my relationships are better than ever and my social life is better than ever. Now I’m moving into a different chapter in my life – I’m growing my business into new directions and I’m really excited about the future whereas before, for years, I had a cloud over my head because I wanted to give up drinking but thought I couldn’t.
Now I’m just really, really happy with who I am, what I’m doing and who I have in my life and I’m just going to focus on that and on them.
Stopping drinking has been the best decision that I have made in my life.
If you decide to give it a go, let me know how you get on!