Socialising Without Alcohol - Guest Post by Chris Williamson

Sparked by participating in dry January to prepare for running the London Marathon for ABS, Chris Williamson shares with us his experience of giving up alcohol and the positive effects this has had for him. He successfully completed the Marathon last weekend. We wanted to share this article with you today in line with April's theme of 'Exercise and Nutrition' and May's theme of 'Social Aspects'. Often, socialising and networking are associated with alcohol. Chris shares his experience of how he socialised without alcohol, and found it quite enjoyable!

"In order to prepare for the London Marathon I managed an alcohol free ‘dry’ January and actually enjoyed it so much I continued into February and March and have decided to avoid alcohol for the rest of the year. It’s actually surprising and reassuring how easy it’s been for these first few months.

I’ve never drunk a lot but probably like most of us drink too regularly, going to events, exhibition openings, book launches etc. Walking through the door and being greeted by a silver tray of polished glasses full of welcoming champagne. I thought I needed that one first drink to ease into the evening, particularly when faced with a room full of strangers. But it turns out it was just habit and these evening events are actually more enjoyable sober.

I’ve found that habits are relatively easy to change if replaced by other less harmful habits. I would never have thought that tonic is just as tasty without gin-providing the glass, the lemon and the ice press the same triggers. There’s a great scene in ‘The West Wing’ where Leo (the President’s alcoholic chief of staff) is asked what he’s misses about not drinking. He gives a fantastically long detailed description of the look and feel of the cut glass and the sound of the ice cracking as the whiskey is poured over it and the beautiful burn in the throat “but apart from that, I don’t miss it at all’”. I’ve realised you can have everything about the alcohol without the alcohol. And it’s much more enjoyable. Apart from red wine with cheese. For that there is no substitute so I’m eating less cheese which is in itself a good thing too. There are reasonable alcohol free whites and sparkling wines but no red. Where it says “alcohol removed” on bottles of red wine it should also add “taste removed too”.

One of the problems we face in our relationship with alcohol is its association with good times and happy memories. We tend to think that those summer nights, those intimate moments, evenings with friends, great meals are made memorable by alcohol. But after 60 days the realisation has dawned. That alcohol is just a common denominator and by no means an essential ingredient. Life is just as much fun, it not more so without alcohol and I feel more inspired, more creative, more energetic with greater focus without the fuzziness which alcohol induces. Friends ask why give up altogether, why not drink occasionally. The reality is deciding what is occasional and taking the decision away is the easier option. It’s simpler. One less decision to make. Also if you don’t have a first drink you won’t need to make a decision on your last. Over the last few months I’ve been more aware of how entertaining and interesting dinner companions quickly become repetitive and boorish by the end of the evening. But I’m sure they would say the same of me even without the drink. I do have the fantastic quote from Raymond Chandler from The Big Sleep in my head.. “Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine.”

If my will power ever threatens to falter on a Friday evening after a difficult week I remind myself how George Best broke my heart when I was 14. I had a huge poster of George on my wall. To me he had everything. Just helped win the European cup and was dating Miss World, but despite his protestations to the contrary it really did all go wrong and his career was over before he was 25. Later despite having a liver transplant he still couldn’t avoid drinking. It’s terribly sad and I realise how lucky I am to be able to change admittedly more moderate behaviour. But not everyone will think giving up alcohol is easy and I have noticed how much it invades our lives. I’ve written to my local MP, Catherine West to suggest that point of sale displays are made less glamorous and that we look again at product placement to try to achieve the same results as has recently been attained through a similar approach to tobacco use. Luckily I’ve never been a big fan of the pub. Queuing to get served and drinking pints of liquid is not my idea of fun. But I can still have a beer after a tennis match- the alcohol free ales and lagers are actually really good. The big test will be after a long summer’s day playing cricket or gardening. We’ll see just how satisfying ‘Becks Blue’ is then.

But in the meantime I really am enjoying my sobriety. I’ll just have to learn not to bore everyone with it."

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