Let me tell you a story.
It's about a normal guy who drank alcohol.
A few glasses of wine during the week after work to relax. Some beer on the weekends with friends. A few drinks when celebrating birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and watching football games.
It was social drinking. Fun.
He didn't have an alcohol problem or got into trouble.
But it was part of his routine.
The years passed.
Over time, he put on 20lbs (9kg). A beer belly hung over his belt buckle.
His face looked puffy and weathered.
He wasn’t sleeping well and always felt tired, sluggish, irritable.
He liked his job but didn’t love it. His relationships were ok but not amazing.
He was merely existing. Not thriving. Not happy.
The man in the story is me.
On March 10, 2010, I went for a 'hangover breakfast' at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP), after a fun night at the South by Southwest festival.
Everything made me feel nauseous. The big, bright, bold colors on the IHOP menus. The sights and smells of greasy, unhealthy food.
I felt rock bottom so made the instant decision to go 30 days alcohol-free: a personal bet to test my self-discipline.
The first two weeks were hard. When I went out with friends and ordered water, they gave me a hard time. “You’re un-Australian!” they’d say.
But I survived those two weeks. I felt better, slept better and had more mental clarity.
After 30 days, I’d lost an incredible 13lbs (5.9kg) of fat around my stomach. Just from stopping drinking.
I had more money in the bank. My skin looked considerably better, and I enjoyed getting out of bed for early morning exercise.
“Bugger it. I feel great," I said to myself. "Just keep going and see how far you can go.” Little did I know just how far I would go.
After 60 days, I craved a cold beer. Or a red wine. Or a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic with a dash of lime.
When it was hot outside, I started dreaming, “I could smash a cold beer right now!” But I breathed deeply, downed some water, and the feeling passed.
After three months, I felt terrific. I’d dropped a few more pounds of fat and started to put on lean muscle in the gym. People complimented me on how good I looked.
Despite not drinking, I still managed to have wildly entertaining nights out – even with my drunken friends slurring their words around me.
I could be the life of the party, and no one would notice that I wasn't drinking.
I could still burn the midnight oil until 5 am but didn't want to: nothing good happened after1 am, anyway.
When I told women I wasn’t drinking, far from them thinking I was an alcoholic in recovery, they were impressed with my self-discipline. Conversations became more meaningful.
“Beautiful,” I thought. “I can stop drinking and still be fun, entertaining and attractive to women.”
Guys were always suspicious of my story, thinking that I was an alcoholic in recovery.
They called me a “Pussy!” Or said, “Just have one!” Or “An Aussie that doesn’t drink?!?! F$%k off!”
Some idiots even tried to slip vodka into my vodka.
It was part of the test. I just smiled, pointed to my head and said, "I'm too strong in mind."
I was then up at 8 am on weekends to hit the gym. I'd showered, had breakfast and was ready to tackle the day by 11 am when my mates were just dragging their lazy, hungover backsides out of bed.
Between three and six months I was in the zone. I felt energetic and healthy. I thrived on telling people I had temporarily stopped drinking.
Six to 12 months was fairly easy, but here I noticed the most dramatic changes.
My relationships became considerably better – romantic and platonic. I constantly thought, "How can I help others, rather than how can they help me?"
I became calmer and made better decisions.
My work productivity soared.
More opportunities – like an ESPN audition to host SportsCenter – came my way. When it did, I had clarity and energy to win the gig and host SportsCenter for two years.
When I reached the personal milestone of one year without drinking, I found myself back in Austin at South by Southwest. I went to a pub, ordered a Budweiser, and put it to my mouth.
I had every intention of drinking that beer. But something stopped me from taking a sip. I paused and thought about it for a minute.
I decided that all the pros of not drinking outnumbered the cons. So I said to myself, “I’ll just keep going.”
So I did. I put the Budweiser down and haven’t picked up a drink since.
I’m 20lbs (9kg) lighter today than I was when I started my 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. I’m 38lbs (17kg) lighter than when I was at my heaviest.
Drinking kept fat around my waist. Stopping drinking eliminated it. This is likely due to three main things:
1. Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories.
2. Drinking makes you eat a lot more food, especially junk like fries and desserts.
3. Quitting drinking gives you the energy to be more active.
You don't need to quit drinking entirely like I did. But my story clearly shows some of the positive benefits of even a 30-day break from alcohol.
Feel better, look better, lose weight, save money and have better relationships.
Now, that’s a cocktail.