Hector Hughes, co-founder of Unplugged shares with us his changing relationship with alcohol. What happened when he drank again after a 3-month break, how the experience gave him a new perspective on alcohol, and how quitting helped him start his new business.
First pint down. It’s April 2019, and I’ve just finished three months sober – it feels good to be back.
Or does it?
If you’d told me, or anyone who knew me, two years ago that I’d spend three months not drinking, you’d have been laughed out of the room. Yet a particularly heavy December and a well timed conversation (and drink) with a great friend had led to us embarking on the challenge of three months without drinking.
You know what? It was easy! Once that decision was made I really did not struggle at all and thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be an incredibly productive three months.
Back to April – the night accelerates, many pints are drunk, I stumble to bed. The next morning my hangover is horrendous. I read somewhere that if you stop drinking for a while you won’t get a hangover when you next drink as your liver has revived itself – I can confirm that was not the case. The next morning I perched timidly on the side of my bed, waves of nausea sweeping over me, already nostalgic for the hangover free three months I had just spent, anxiety gnawing away at the back of my mind. Here we go again.
The next few months continued in much the same vein. Although I wasn’t and never have been a daily drinker, I was drinking 2-3 times a week and each session was heavy, often with disastrous consequences.
But all was not the same.
The anxiety and dissatisfaction with these heavy nights grew steadily. I was starting to make progress in my professional life and increasingly frequently my drinking got in the way.
Despite this conflict, I did not think for a minute of actually quitting drinking. It was part of London life! How many of my friendships revolved around sinking pints at the local pub?
Then, in October, I took the decision to quit my job to start a startup – Unplugged – with the goal of providing a digital detox in beautiful cabins in the countryside around London. Time to get serious!
And yet to my dismay the big nights continued. I was running out of ideas. I seemed to be setting myself up for a dramatic failure, until a stroke of luck.
By chance, I stumbled across an 8 minute YouTube video: “All it took was one book for Nikki Glaser to Quit Drinking”. The book in question is Stop Drinking Now by Allen Carr. Nikki talks about how awesome her life has been ever since. (Buy Stop drinking Now from Amazon UK, Amazon US or Amazon AUS)
I read the book and to my amazement it worked like magic.
That was 8 months ago and I haven’t been tempted to touch a drop of alcohol since. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Firstly I started enjoying social engagements even more. Sure, I’d duck out at 10pm, but I felt a huge weight off my shoulders and found myself just as chatty and relaxed as I would have been after a few drinks. The recovered sleep meant that these events no longer conflicted with the rest of my life and so I actually started socialising more, and reconnecting with friends I’d fallen out of touch with.
Secondly no one really cared. One of my biggest subconscious objections to stopping drinking was a concern for what others would think. It’s the classic human fear of being ostracized from the tribe! But everyone’s dealing with their own issues. They really don’t care, and any comments I did get were positive and supportive.
Lastly life just got easier. Drinking had always pushed me two steps back any time I was getting anywhere – but no longer. Despite the immense challenge of launching a startup my stress levels have been gradually falling for months whilst my happiness levels have been heading in the other direction. I’ve picked up all sorts of good habits in these last 8 months and, for the first time in my life, feel like I’m living on my own terms.
I’m never going to be the guy who tells people not to drink. We’re all different and we all have our unique relationships with alcohol – I certainly had some good times over the years! For me personally it became unsustainable and it’s only with hindsight that I see that. I spent the first 25 years of my life believing that not drinking was not an option. But you know what? I was wrong.
At the time of writing we’re a month away from launching Unplugged (cabin #1 pictured below!), and I feel completely content for the first time in years.
Cheers to that.
Hector Hughes is cofounder of Unplugged, a startup aiming to provide a digital detox* at beautiful cabins in nature, just an hour from London.
*Note this is a getaway from digital connectivity and not a medical detox facility for alcohol.