Sunday, 20 December 2015

It's Okay Not To Drink

I used to love beer. I mean, I really used to love beer. So much so that I got a Melbourne Bitter stubbie with “TRUE LOVE” written across it tattooed on my right thigh. Due to a series of incidents and a major change of perspective, I have since gotten a big black “X” straight through the middle of it, and today marks 1 year since I decided to go completely sober. I’m writing this blog post to show how drinking affected my life, and hopefully deter those who may be on the same path of destruction that I was on.


People use alcohol for a number of different reasons… such as attempting to escape their day-to-day problems, social pressure, trying to fit in at a party, masking certain emotions or simply to “take the edge off” and have a bit of fun. Other people may not even consider the negatives associated with alcohol and just start to drink because it’s the “norm”. Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behaviour, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems such as: cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of the heart), arrhythmias, stroke and high blood pressure. Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including: steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast.

Now I’m not trying to say alcohol is a terrible thing in itself… if you enjoy having a few drinks with your mates and are able to remain in control of every situation, then by all means go ahead. I'm not here to tell you what to do, but please be aware that for every action there is a consequence. Whilst you may feel like you’re having some harmless fun, it can be very hard to draw the line and over time you develop bad habits that can turn into life threatening illnesses, deteriorate your physical and mental health, and potentially ruin relationships with family and friends.

Like most people in Australia, I started drinking at around 15 years old. Everyone was bringing alcohol to parties, and getting blind drunk/making a fool of yourself was almost encouraged. Being quite an awkward and shy kid (who am I kidding, I still am) I was immediately attracted to the way alcohol made me feel. It gave me much more confidence to talk to girls, I was less self-conscious and even the most ridiculous jokes seemed hilarious. At age 17 I started DJing in nightclubs, where my binge drinking habits only got worse. I started to meet many people who were taking drugs regularly and therefore considered myself to be fairly tame in comparison. I always told myself I’d never do drugs, however alcohol obviously impairs your judgment and whilst intoxicated you make decisions that you wouldn’t usually make sober. I eventually wound up getting sucked into trying cocaine, ketamine, speed, ecstasy and a host of other mind-altering garbage. I would go out and get drunk – sometimes to the point of unconsciousness – at least 2-3 nights a week.



In December 2012, I had a gig in the city and decided to drive in with a friend. Usually I’d get a taxi so I could get drunk without the concern of retrieving my car the next day, however the friend that I was with wasn’t much of a drinker and I think I was secretly hoping that he’d offer to drive home. When we got to the club, I started drinking quite heavily and then realised I had lost my friend. After a couple of hours I found him again, and to my surprise he was also quite drunk. I tried to sober up by drinking a few glasses of water, and then decided to jump in my car and drive home. We had to go through a booze bus, and although it’d been hours since my last drink, I had a blood-alcohol level of 0.116 – more than twice the legal limit. My license was immediately suspended for 11 months, I had to do a drink-driving education course and then go to the magistrate’s court to apply for a license renewal. Once my license was renewed, I had to have an interlock device installed in my car and blow into it every time I drove for the next year. Despite all this, I still wasn’t able to admit that I had a problem with alcohol and continued drinking and taking drugs on a regular basis.

The following year I was DJing at a large music festival in Melbourne on a Saturday afternoon. I had been out drinking all night on Friday and didn’t wake up until about an hour before the festival. Feeling completely run down, I decided to buy a gram of cocaine to “perk me up” for my set. It perked me up so much that I didn’t get home until late Sunday night. When I finally got into bed and tried to sleep, I felt an overwhelming sense of panic and anxiety. I experienced heart palpitations, tightness in the chest, sharp stabbing pain in the pancreas, vomiting and nausea. Although my body was incredibly worn out, my mind was racing and I felt as though I was being chased by a lion. I tried to just forget about the uncomfortable sensations arising in my body and kept telling myself “everything is fine, you’re just having a little come down. Go to sleep and when you wake up you’ll be back to normal”. As soon as I’d begin to drift off to sleep, my heart would start thumping and felt as though it was bulging out of my throat, then all of a sudden it would just stop beating for a few seconds. This made the anxiety much worse and I laid in bed staring at the ceiling for almost 8 hours, just trying to relax. I started having extremely morbid thoughts and genuinely believed that my heart would stop beating and I’d die if I fell asleep. My dad came home to find me shivering and shaking in my bed, and insisted that I went to the doctor. It turned out that I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms from coming off the cocaine, which led to a drug-induced panic attack.



This was certainly a big eye opener for me. After this incident I made a conscious effort to cut back on my drug & alcohol intake. I’d go a few weeks without drinking then start to feel much better and think to myself “you’ve been pretty well behaved lately, maybe you can treat yourself and have a few drinks tonight”. Unfortunately “a few drinks” always turned into “a few too many”, and I’d wake up the next day with a terrible hangover and feel very anxious for no apparent reason. This went on for a few months, and the hangovers got worse and worse until I'd finally had enough. I had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have the willpower to limit my drinking to a “safe” level so I decided the best thing for my mental and physical health was to go completely sober. Being a DJ who works in nightclubs and is surrounded by drunk people on a weekly basis was challenging in the beginning, but as time goes on it becomes easier to avoid temptations and keep on the "straight and narrow". Being able to observe people as they get progressively more intoxicated throughout the night has actually been a great deterrent, and to my surprise I've even learnt to ENJOY going out without having a drink.

The hardest part of giving up drinking for me was the feeling that I’d no longer be having as much fun as I used to, and that my lifestyle would become boring. This couldn't be further from the truth. I’ve taken up a heap of new hobbies such as cycling and running, and am generally much fitter and healthier due to increased motivation. I’ve also become much more productive with my work. Having total mental clarity at all times has meant that my problem solving skills improved dramatically. My relationships have flourished, as it’s become clear to me which people were only “drinking buddies” and therefore the friendships I keep now are of much more substance and meaning. My moods are far more stable and I've noticed I'm generally more optimistic about life. I'm also saving $300+ a week that I would have previously spent on drinks, drugs and taxi fares to cart my stupid drunk ass around town.



If you’re still reading, thanks for taking the time to learn about my experiences with alcohol. I hope you’ve been able to gain something from it; even it’s just been some mild entertainment. The message I’d like to drive home with this post is simply that it’s okay not to drink. Whilst drinking may seem fun or provide temporary relief from your problems, the negative effects that come with excessive alcohol consumption far outweigh the positives. Impaired judgment, a false sense of confidence, liver damage, and unstable moods - not to mention how expensive it is… it’s simply not worth it. There's nothing wrong with having the odd drink here and there, but sadly I didn't have the self-control to do this. For me it was all or nothing, so I had to choose 'nothing'. Think for yourself, analyse your current situation and if you find that drinking isn’t providing any value to your life, drop it immediately. Don’t be a sheep and follow the crowd just because everyone else is doing it. There's no need to hang on to habits that are no longer serving you.


DRINK COCONUTS NOT BEER :)
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© Mike Metro

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