This episode of our podcast is dedicated to men drinking mindfully. One of the things we find fascinating is that in the mindful drinking world, unlike so many others in society, it’s the voices of women that you’re most likely to hear.
Whether you read quit lit, listen to podcasts or join online communities like Club Soda, you’ll find women taking the lead building happy and healthy lives and putting alcohol in its place. But the truth is, change is for everyone, men included. So in this episode of the Club Soda Podcast, we wanted to amplify the voices of some men drinking mindfully – men who’ve changed their drinking habits, from this summer’s global Mindful Drinking Festival.
We got together two panels, one in the UK and the other in Australia to talk about men drinking mindfully. Both discussions opened with a chance for these guys to share their stories about how they’ve changed their drinking, whether they’d quit or cut down, and whether they were newbies or old hands. We think there’s something to learn from all of them.
Hosted by Jason Quin from ETCH Sparkling with, ex-DJ now GP James Stewart and Sonny Aplin from NA Guys, Byrdi’s Luke Whearty, and Clinton Schultz from SOBAH. If you want to watch the full webinar you can see the link to the video at the end of this blog.
Hosted by Martin Tod, Chief Executive of the Men’s Health Forum to discuss how men are beginning to change their drinking habits and the challenges and barriers they still face, from peer pressure to the fact that the online spaces are largely dominated by women. The panel includes Ruari Fairbairns from Scotland-based One Year No Beer, Club Soda member Anit Chatrath, Antony Moss Professor of Addictive Behaviour Science at London South Bank University, and Dan from Boozebreak Podcast. If you want to watch the full webinar you can see the link to the video at the end of this blog.
The whistlestop background born in Scotland, West coast, synonymous for drinking culture. But I mean, so is most of the UK. I moved down to London to become an oil broker and really two worlds collided for me, partying and being successful. The more I partied, the more successful I was, I was very good at my job. You know, after 10 odd years at oil broking, really the booze started to wear a bit thin. The thing is for me, alcohol was never really a problem. Nobody was telling me I had a problem. It was perfectly normalized in the job I was in. And, you know, I’d be sociable at work and I’d probably hang out with friends at the weekend. I could be drunk two or three times a week. I would never go home and drink. I never people weren’t like, you need to go and sort this out.
It wasn’t really on my radar. But what I did have was the issues around the side, and I never really paid attention to those issues. I didn’t really link them all up to one thing. I had skin problems, I was seeing a counsellor for depression, I was unhappy, miserable. I was overweight. I had all of these things – in 2013, I came across this thing called Headspace, which of course we’ve all heard of now. I started meditating on the train and I got this awareness. I thought ‘you know what? I think alcohol is causing me more trouble than I realize’.
Where is my drinking now? I did two years, not drinking, totally transformed my life in that period. Now I tell people I drink as much as I want whenever I want. I just usually choose not to have a drink. I think that’s the place where it’s no longer a part of any need. Like there’s no coming home and needing a drink. There’s no associating with food. There’s no if I go out to party, I’m expected to all of that kind of stuff.
For me as, as a father – I was getting down, I wasn’t drinking all the time. I’m not the sort of person who ever drank during the week or anything like that. But last November we had a couple of big weekends in a row. I went to the races one weekend and then my birthday was the following weekend. Backing up on the Sunday and trying to look after my kids and do things I thought ‘ I don’t want to do that’.
Sunday comes around and not sitting on the touchdown hoping they don’t ask me to do ‘this’. I’m now sort of going, let’s go do this. Let’s go for a ride, let’s go do a walk on the beach. Whereas before, when I was feeling trashed out, I’d hope they’re happy to sit around and watch the iPad.
I’ve been alcohol-free five years. My drinking started to escalate from about 2010 where I really started to misuse alcohol as a coping mechanism. I had lots of issues that I wasn’t dealing with such as diet, self-esteem, confidence, etc, and alcohol was really undermining my progress. Basically, I decided I wasn’t really being the best human being that I could be. I was about 22 stone in weight, really unhappy, in a depression, eating too much, working too hard. I wasn’t looking after myself. I was binge drinking. There was all manner of matters going on lack of emotional connection and relationships. I had a couple of rock bottoms.
I tried to for a bit moderate for a bit, but I never actually dealt with the fact that alcohol was the actual issue causing the problems I was using alcohol to cope with. I think that’s where it really started to escalate to the point where I actually became physically and psychologically addicted. I’m not ashamed of saying that. On the 29th of August, 2015, I came out of a health centre suffering withdrawal. I decided my own behavioural change program, consisting of exercise and meditation, spirituality, volunteering, learning about alcohol and culture and social conditioning. I basically changed my behaviour, rewired my brain. I’m happy to say that I hope to be alcohol-free the rest of my life. I don’t miss it at all. My life has been transformed.
You can read (and hear) more about Anit’s story in Club Soda’s book ‘How to Be A Mindful Drinker‘, available in all formats including audiobook – where Anit reads his own story.
I’m down here in Melbourne. I’m the owner of Byrdi, which is a bar and restaurant that focuses on Australian products, exclusively using Australian spirits and doing a lot of fermentation and distilling and that sort of thing. Low and no alcohol is a big part of our offer. I’m a fairly new father. I’ve got a two-year-old at home, but I think it’s just about balance for me. I’ve been working in bars and restaurants for the majority of my adult life.
Obviously, I’ve built a career around alcohol. For me, it’s just about moderation and, and keeping it in check. Realising that there’s a bigger picture. When I was younger alcohol was a big part of my life, but for negative reasons, my father had a very tough struggle with alcohol. So I’ve always found it quite ironic that I chose to build around alcohol when I was watching my father and basically the worst parts about his life. What was tearing his life down was due to alcohol. I think I learned a lot from that experience and saw that alcohol is something that you have to control.
I became a heavy daily drinker as a result of a continuous cycle of just drinking more and more. And it just became the norm. I’m a photographer, I’m a lecturer – definitely alcohol within the creative industries has a big role to play. I’ve always said that creatives have a special relationship with alcohol. What happened was I would start to become concerned about the amount of alcohol that I was consuming. I would try and do things like that Dry January and Sober October and I couldn’t do them. What scared me the most was this inability. It just crept up on me on the fact that I couldn’t stop drinking or I couldn’t cut down. I would always go back to this square one. I really struggled with willpower and tried several times and learned a lot along the way.
Then my daughter came along nearly three years ago and cut down a little bit, but not really, it kind of came back to normal. I could totally function. I could run a business, I could be a lecturer and be a father, but I just felt like I wasn’t being a hundred percent all of the time. There’s a lot of guilt wrapped around that. Not being present at all times.
That started to have a real effect on me, this kind of parenting. And like I said, I’ve tried several times to cut out alcohol and cut down. I’m three months alcohol-free nearly. I started a podcast which was a kind of exploration. It was a way of keeping committed to this idea of not drinking for an extended period of time. I’ve never really ever said that I would not drink again. Although the longer I go down this road the more I won’t because I am not ready to give up these benefits.
I am 370 or so days alcohol-free and still loving my beers. We are hunting for the best non-alcoholic beers that we can find.
Drinking alcohol is mindless drinking, and that’s what people resort to doing to numb the mind. I think mindful drinking is making a conscious decision. Originally I was worried about how I was going to handle the situation by not drinking. Now I’m proud to say, no, I’m not drinking. My mind is very clear. It’s going to be clearer than yours in the morning in that sense. It’s just, I think it’s such a fantastic term mindful drinking, and we should label alcohol drinking as mindless drinking because that’s really what it is.
Mindful drinking is about actually questioning when you’re drinking, why you’re drinking and what you’re actually getting from drinking.
Drinking to cover pain issues, traumas, negative life events, then you kind of just running and you can only run for so long before it’ll catch you up. That’s what I found in my life. You know, I’d spent 15 solid years trying to run and it just hit me hard by the end of that. My body was worn out, my mind and spiritually screwed.
My wife and I started Etch last year. I had a 23 year career making wine. I’ve jumped from producing alcoholic drinks across Australia, New Zealand, Asia PAC, and even in France to really enjoyed this opportunity now producing a wonderful non-alc drink. I’m at 18 months of sobriety and really enjoying this new phase of mindfulness existence. My story is about the progression of that. I think when we’re talking about mindfulness and awareness of what alcohol can do to your mind.
My example is someone with a good career had a job, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got kids, I’m reasonably fit-looking, two cars in the garage, house, toys. My life looked pretty rock solid, right. But I think that the thing about that escapism, for me, what happened was the social side and the mindless side converted to medicinal at some point. I can’t actually recall when that happened, but it happened. When that converted from social to medicinal for me, and that mindlessness was taking over, that was that process of shock and awe. People talk about rock bottoms and those things that happen in your life. But it took that [noticing the social to medicinal] for me to become aware. For me, mindful drinking is aware drinking, and that’s, what’s been a real blessing for me in my 18 months of sobriety. Every day just gets better and better. It’s all of the examples, certainly playing with the kids, the awareness of what this is doing to my life is so much better.
I have an academic perspective and don’t have a particular story around alcoholism, but am a social drinker.
But I’ve always been fascinated. I specialise in addiction more broadly and with alcohol specifically because of the fairly unique hold that it seems to have over us because of the cultural pressures and norms. A lot of the research that I do is around messaging and trying to spread greater awareness about alcohol. It is amazing, for a drug that’s probably more ubiquitous than paracetamol, just how little people actually know about it.
There are so many myths, so much misunderstanding, whether about the psychology or the physical pharmacology of alcohol. People understand really very little. I think that partly often sits behind some of the challenges that we face when trying to, not necessarily support individuals that have got quite severe alcohol dependence problems, but the much larger group of people that simply experience some harm from alcohol.
There’s this strong binary that I think most people would probably recognise that exists where you either accept you’ve got a problem, or you’re okay with alcohol – and accepting that you’ve got a problem is synonymous with being an alcoholic with all the stigmatising language that sits around that.