To listen to an audio version of this article, read by the author, click on the play button below.
Without quitting or losing anything.
*Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or health professional, I’m just a regular guy who has removed alcohol and cigarettes from my life. Years later, I stumbled upon the scientific basis behind what I did differently (without realising at the time) which was why I was successful. Articles with any facts or statistics referenced, (marked with *) can be found at the bottom of the post.
March 2013, started as an alcohol-free month and now, almost six years later, I’m still alcohol-free.
I say alcohol-free because I’ve freed myself, from the alcohol industry and the social binds (particularly in Australia, the UK and New Zealand) that pressure us, and make us feel obligated, to drink at any occasion, in order for it to be an occasion.
- ”It’s Friday, let’s have a drink”
- “It’s Wednesday, lets have a drink”
- ”We’re on a date, let’s go for a drink”
- ”We’re at a sporting match, a concert, a festival, a movie, a barbecue – let’s have a drink”
- ”It’s someone’s birthday, it’s Christmas, it’s New Years, let’s drink”
- “I’ve had a stressful week, I need a drink”
- “The kids are driving me crazy, I need a drink”
Imagine if McDonald’s had managed to exude the same kind of influence across our lives so instead of drink, we said Big Mac?
“It’s your birthday, let’s go for a Big Mac?”
It’s Friday, let’s go for a Big Mac?”
People just wouldn’t stand for it, yet alcohol gets a free ride, without any arguments.
I recently read a statistic that wine glasses in Australia have doubled in size since the 1990’s*; which makes you wonder, is the alcohol industry behind it, or perhaps it’s a collusion between the alcohol industry and the glass makers to sell more of both, via bigger glasses! (I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation but I always love a good conspiracy).
One research group showed middle aged women are prone to drinking more*, whilst millennials are drinking less*, but without pointing fingers at who is drinking more, it’s the increased social acceptedness of alcohol consumption that can result in unwanted side effects. What I’ve noticed is, it’s the individual who receives the blame, “you have a problem with alcohol,” never to the industry, “you’re the problem.”
I don’t deny that mental health plays a part, as does upbringing and peer pressure, but there are so many excuses pushing us to drink alcohol, yet if ever there’s a problem, no one wants to take responsibility.
We’re led to believe that we need alcohol to relax, yet I can honestly say with absolute conviction, it’s totally possible to relax, without alcohol. All those preconceptions that you need alcohol to watch sport, be romantic or be creative? All lies. You can do all of those things without alcohol.
The trick is knowing how the brain works, to get essentially the same results. This is key to changing repetitive behaviour including drinking and smoking.
Why remove alcohol in the first place?
In Australia and New Zealand, not drinking alcohol is as foreign a concept, as working on a public holiday; so why would anyone choose not to drink?
The idea first came to me after reading an article about a woman who gave up alcohol* and how her life was dramatically changed. She found love, lost weight, and generally won at life.
Not all of that happened to me, but my reasons for wanting to remove alcohol was simpler, I wanted to write.
The time that I wrote the most was when I first got my motorcycle licence; with a zero alcohol allowance for learners drivers and riders, I was so paranoid about getting breathalysed, that I just didn’t drink, for nine months. Coincidently in that time, I also wrote a play, Compass, my first completed body of work.
I didn’t make the connection that zero alcohol led to increased writing, until five years later when I was living in New Zealand and my parent’s house burnt down in Australia.
Before I moved to New Zealand, I had stored all of my stuff, at my parents house, which included twenty years of writing, kept in notebooks. Unwittingly, one Christmas whilst I was on holiday in Australia, I had taken an external hard drive back to New Zealand, and on it, I found my play, Compass. After the fire, I self-published it to iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Kobo and Google Play.
After the excitement of self-publishing wore off, I was wanting to write my first novel but besides a few ideas, I didn’t have anything concrete. I thought back to when I wrote my play, and recalled the drive and dedication I had to complete it, and only then did I realise, that it was during a period of not drinking, that I had written my play. I was writing before work, during lunch breaks and all evening. No doubt there was other factors as well, but I decided to trial a month of removing alchohol, to see if it helped with my creativity.
What I gained from going alcohol-free.
Within a month, I’d written about fifteen thousand words of my novel, a dozen poems, a couple of blog posts and even composed a couple of emails to friends who I hadn’t written to in years. In short, I had written more in a month than I had in the previous five years combined.
(I should point out that in that first month, I started my day with a St. Johns Wort Herbal Tea (combined with blueberry fruit tea, because St. John’s Wort tastes like straw), which helped create a positive frame of mind. I like my herbal tea cold – a trait I picked up in Japan with cold green tea, which makes it more refreshing.
If I’d written that much in a month, imagine what could be achieved with three months, heck what about a year without alcohol.
It was like a cloud had been lifted. I had clarity and focus. I was smiling more, I had more energy. I was getting up early, because I slept better, and every weekend was now hangover-free which meant I was more productive, I went out, I did stuff and some weekends, I wrote, from 6pm Friday evening, until 11pm Sunday night. All this of course, made me happier.
I had gained so much in life by removing alcohol, I couldn’t understand why people referred to removing alcohol as quitting or losing?
I believe that the terminology is part of the problem. The perception of an alcoholic is someone who has lost everything to alcohol, can’t hold down a job, and someone who has to drink every day, In order to get by. Well that wasn’t me so there was no problem, right? Wrong.
The perception that only drinking on weekends or just having a couple of glasses of wine with dinner is totally fine, but as cultural norms change the bar as to what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to alcohol consumption, it’s easy to slip into grey areas.
It’s the grey areas that cause the most damage, because the perception is you’re not at rock bottom, therefore there’s no problem. I’m not going to bore you with health stats, but me deciding to remove alcohol stemmed from a particularly scary incident.
In a case of wrong place, wrong time, I was the victim of an unprovoked glassing incident in New Zealand, and whilst I was lucky enough to walk away, with just a scar (there have been numerous similar attacks where far worse has occured), however if alcohol had not been consumed that night, it simply wouldn’t have happened.
The events of that night got me questioning whether I really needed alcohol in my life, and the answer I came up with, was a resounding no. It wasn’t an overnight epiphany, but being honest with myself, I counted far more negative aspects that alcohol brought, than positive ones.
How the brain gets used to alcohol.
Many years earlier, I had checked out an AA meeting, to see what it was about; (I think it was after watching fight club) and it was a room full of senior citizens, lamenting the loss of alcohol, focusing on the past, and who had simply swapped alcohol, for cigarettes and coffee. (Not to say AA doesn’t work, I’ve known people that swear by it), but I felt it wasn’t a positive environment for me).
The rational behind my thinking was, No one wants to be a quitter and no one wants to lose anything. Even if you’re not the competitive type, it’s never nice to lose anything. (Chemicals released in the brain make us feel sad for losing). Backed up by the huge protests in Sydney when lock-out laws made people think they weren’t allowed to drink anymore.*
But removing alcohol or cigarettes, doesn’t have to be a loss because by removing alcohol or cigarettes, you’re not losing, you’re gaining in life, if anything, you’re winning.
It wasn’t till years after I had successfully removed alcohol from my life, that I watched a documentary, Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind by Dr Joe Dispenza which described scientifically, how I had changed my brain. Though I didn’t realise it at the time.
There’s also a book, Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind By Dr Joe Dispenza which goes into more detail.
In the DVD, Evolve Your Brain, to paraphrase, Dr Joe Dispenza, he describes how the brain can do amazing things, it can think thoughts, it can cause involuntary actions and it can also change itself to think new thoughts and actions.
Every thought process, creates a chemical release in your brain, which causes your body to perform an action. Over time, repeated thoughts and repeated actions become habits. (What’s to follow is about as unscientific as you can get, but I’m simply breaking it down, as simply as possible without all the big Latin terms).
When chemical X (not it’s real name, just an example) gets released because you’re stressed, your body presumes alcohol will soon follow because that’s what you usually do, which prompts the desire. Your brain releases a small amount of happy chemicals, as you near the liquor store, prompting (or rather confusing) you into purchasing alcohol.
In order to change the brains release of chemicals, you just need to create new pathways, by doing something different.
When that first time comes, where chemical X gets released, and you don’t consume alcohol, instead consuming say an iced-tea or ginger beer, your body starts to create a new, pathway. Basically it says to itself, ‘oh okay, this time you’re stressed, because chemical X got released, but you have something besides alcohol, like a ginger beer, okay, so that’s new, but okay.’
The second time that sequence of events happens, (chemical X gets released, you drink a ginger beer) you’re body goes, ‘oh wait, I know this, this one time, you got stressed, you had ginger beer, and everything was okay. In fact, you were happy. It’s not alcohol, but I guess we trust that it will be like that again.’
The third time that sequence of events happens, your body is like, ‘you know what? I got this.’ Making the fourth, fifth and sixth times that sequence of events happens of not drinking alcohol when you’re stressed (or whatever excuse you use) becomes the new norm.
Eventually you’ll have trained your brain into releasing happy chemicals, when you consume ginger beer or iced-tea or juice or whatever. It doesn’t have to be a drink, but prepping for that day when you walk into a bar, and don’t order an alcoholic drink. It’s nice to have something you’re comfortable with.
Recently I had a moment of stress and anxiety (my car broke down on Christmas Day), everyone around me was drinking, and I had a thought of alcohol, but the difference was, it was now a distant thought. Like a faded memory, it no longer felt like a thing that I did. It was just something I used to do. Like attending school, playing cricket or going to Australia’s Wonderland (defunct theme park in Sydney).
I’m not going to lie and say, removing alcohol was easy, but it also wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. Especially considering supermarkets in New Zealand sold wine and beer next to the bread and milk.
It’s important to understand what causes your brain to release happy chemicals and how that feels, because finding alternative ways to get the same happy chemicals, is key to finding alternatives to drinking alcohol, and changing your behaviour.
It’s actually the happy chemicals your brain produces that you crave (but your brain has a funny way of rewarding you with happy chemicals, when you drink alcohol) but there are many ways to prompt your body to release these happy chemicals, naturally. Having an orgasm, listening to music, certain foods like chocolate might trigger a release for you, as does spending time with family, friends or loved ones.
What works for one person, may not work for someone else so it’s important to recognise the feeling of euphoria, the rush of tingles as the happy chemicals spread throughout your body. Listening to ASMR videos on YouTube can also elicit the same response. Whenever I write intensely, and create a beautiful poem, that releases a rush of endorphins that is like a brain-gasm.
How I removed alcohol from my life.
To mentally remove alcohol from my life, all I did was focus on what I was gaining, rather than losing. The first two weeks, I had this little mantra I would say to myself:
Instead of saying, “Oh I miss having a drink, I wish I could have a drink”
I would say, “without alcohol, I have more energy, I feel happier, I have more money, I write more, without alcohol, I have more clarity in my thoughts, so I create beautiful poetry, without alcohol, I wake up feeling great, Without alcohol, I am always okay to drive, without alcohol, I’m more productive on my weekends, I feel calmer, and less stressed about work, without alcohol, I’ve been cooking more which means I have been eating healthier so I feel better and I feel more awake in the mornings and clearly by then my brain has realised that what I am gaining by removing alcohol, is far more, than what I am losing.
It was probably during the first two weeks that I had to make a conscious decision, to turn away from the wine aisle, and instead head towards soft-drinks (soda-pop) which is where I found my savior – ginger beer.
It’s important to note that just quitting alcohol, your brain will trick you into making excuses to drink – all because of those happy chemicals. However, finding what it is that genuinely makes you happy (which realistically, may not be in a bar at 2am) is key to getting your brain to release those same happy chemicals, doing things that don’t revolve around alcohol.
Once I had freed myself, I looked at all those usual occaisions like after work drinks, birthdays, New Years etc not as places to avoid, but I could confidently walk in, knowing I didn’t have to drink, knowing that my real pleasures were derived elsewhere. Sure I could go and have a chat and a ginger beer, and then head home to write or swim or whatever.
If you feel like you need an adulty drink without bloating up on coke and sprite, I recommend Bundaberg – Ginger Soda – Multipack of 4 – 375ml ginger beer. I was lucky that in New Zealand, there are lots of micro-breweries that make alcohol-free ginger beer, often organic.
Bundaberg – Ginger Soda – Multipack of 4 – 375ml Ginger beer is refreshing with a spicy kick, making it feel special. It comes in a glass bottle, it has a narrow neck, you sip it, much like a beer, but it tastes better and it feels like something you’ve earned, without the downside of alcohol. It’s also available in bars and receiving a drink in a bottle looks less like a soft-drink, so is less likely to draw the wrath of drinkers:
- “What do you mean you don’t drink?”
- ”So when are you going to drink again?”
- “How do you know you’ll never drink again?”
The hardest thing no one tells you about removing alcohol from your life is your tolerance for drunk people’s questions, also goes. The second hardest part of removing alcohol was the reaction from friends and family.
Some friends thought they could no longer invite me out at night, instead only making arrangements to meet up over coffee, during the day, like I was going to magically turn into a mushroom if I was out at night. However it’s not long before they’ll be calling on you, because you’re the only person who hasn’t been drinking alcohol, which makes you the only person who can drive.
All the non-drinking months set up – Dry July etc have helped to make it more socially acceptable to not drink alcohol, as has the clean eating movement. Until I was confidently alcohol-free (after I’d passed my first month) I was telling people I was on a detox, which no one questioned further. But the sooner you own it, and make it known (without making it weird) then the more comfortable you’ll be with going alcohol-free.
So for me, going alcohol-free was more than just a challenge, it was about wanting to write more, and five years later I’m now a freelance writer, with multiple books in the works (up to third editing stage of my first completed novel).
Overall the pros definately outweigh the cons. Life is different, because I feel free. I’m happier, I’m less stressed. My indigestion has almost dissapeared. I’m never hungover but most importantly, I write lots, and I’m producing the greatest work I’ve produced yet.
Whatever your relationship is with alcohol, from a glass a week to several bottles a week; we’re trained by the alcohol industry, by television and movies, by bars and restaurants, by supermarkets and vineyards to believe that we need alcohol in our lives to celebrate every event, to relax, to enjoy a meal; when in reality, it is alcohol companies that need us. Alcohol is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide (possibly trillion dollar industry, I couldn’t find any reliable statistics).
Be wary of any published research stating that alcohol is good for you, often it’s backed by alcohol industry providers, which has been part of the problem. Don’t fall for their tactics, according to The Truth About Alcohol documentary on Netflix, the same good antioxidants found in red wine, can easily be found in walnuts, blueberries, apples and many other everyday foods.
The one thing to remember is by going #alcoholfree, you’re not alone, there’s an ever growing list of lifestyle changers including celebrities like Blake Lively, Bradley Cooper, and Lucy Hale, to name just a few.
Live a happier, more productive life by going #alcoholfree.
The true test, when I knew I was finally free, was travelling with Air New Zealand on a ticket which included ‘The Works’ with access to the business class lounge, and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t care that there is free alcohol, I still don’t want it.’
You too, can be free.
Tweet me @jadekinsjackson or Instagram your favourite #alcoholfreedrinks to @jadekinsjackson
If you loved this post then check out my Podcasts Travelosophy, which features life lessons learnt from travel, along with my fun, educational podcast about anything and everything—Jade Talks Stuff.
Article sources (all links will open in a new page):
For further scientific reading, check out the following books:
Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind By Dr Joe Dispenza
Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon By Dr Joe Dispenza
You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter By Dr Joe Dispenza