On January 1st, 2017, I decided to complete several challenges to raise money for charity in memory of my father who died of cancer in May 2015.
No social media for a year
No alcohol for a year
Isle of Wight Ultra Marathon (66 miles)
I did get a bit over confident a few weeks into the year and decided to add some additional endurance events including a 200-mile bike ride as well as a second 66-mile ultra-marathon. I managed to cycle 100 miles non-stop in training however I had to draw the line and pull out of the 200-mile bike ride and admit my limit had been reached. Unfortunately, my second 66 ultra marathon had to be cancelled because I fractured my foot falling through a man hole cover (you couldn’t make it up if you tried).
I am on course to achieve what I set out to do. I have not been on social media, I completed the 66-mile Isle of Wight Challenge in 21 hours and 21 minutes and to everyone’s surprise I have not touched a drop of alcohol for 255 days and counting.
Thanks to a generous group of friends and family I have raised over £8,300 which will be split equally amongst Sobell House Hospice Charity, an Oxford based palliative care hospice who looked after my father so well in his final days and Cancer Research UK, a cancer research and awareness charity in the UK. Hopefully I will get close to the £10K mark by the end of the year. I would also like to say a huge thank you to my wife, Suz, who has been and continues to be a huge support. Another thank you goes to my two corporate sponsors Lalani & Co and Sherlock Parties.
Given I had previously completed an ultra-marathon there was not so much hype around my fitness challenges and not being on social media has not required much effort. The main area of interest for people has been around my decision to stop drinking alcohol.
Why give up alcohol for a year?
In truth, I had not really processed the sudden death of my father in 2015. He lived in Florida and came over to England on a scheduled visit on May 1st 2015. One of the reasons for his trip was to get a check-up relating to some back pain that his doctor in the US had failed to diagnose. After a few attempts of getting a proper diagnosis for the back pain we were brought to our knees on the 7th May, a week after he arrived in the UK, when we were told he had stage 4 terminal bowel cancer. He died three weeks later on the 30th May 2015. It was such a quick process that I barely had time to register what had happened as at the same time I had just finalised a new job which I started two days later on 2nd June 2015.
At the time, I had a solution that I thought would get me through the grieving process; keep busy and time heals all wounds. Of course, in hindsight that was totally incorrect as the longer I waited to address the emotions connected with the loss of my father the more difficult it became to access those feelings. They got tucked away, buried out of sight but still seemed to affect me even though I was not consciously aware of what was going on beneath the surface. In short at the end of 2016 I knew I had some unresolved issues that I needed to address and that the root cause was probably linked to my father’s death. So, what better way to address things head on than doing something in his memory which would mean facing my unresolved issues.
I also had a nagging feeling that I was not fulfilling my full potential and wanted to improve my life and become a better version of myself. I wanted to step beyond the way I was living life and embrace a set of new habits. I read somewhere that to create the level of life you ultimately want to have you need to change something you do on a regular basis.
Prior to 2017 I think everyone would have described me as a person that liked a drink and a night out. I would drink alcohol around four out of seven days a week and would enjoy a night out once or twice a week whether at the weekend or during the week. I did not see my consumption as out of the ordinary and know people who drink more and less than I did. It is a fact that drinking alcohol is more than a habit in the UK, it is a cultural trait. I have always liked to do things that people say I can’t or couldn’t do, so I decided to go against the norm and chose a journey that has certainly been worth my while. There has certainly been temptation along the way but I have resisted.
So, what happens when you abstain from a well-loved and engrained cultural trait?
The effects of not drinking for a year are both direct and indirect. The direct impacts of not drinking alcohol are quick to take shape even after one month of abstinence:
- more focus
- more energy
- no hangovers, beer fear or regrets
- save more money
- sleep better
- lose weight
- improved liver function
- improves blood pressure
- improved blood sugar levels
- skin looks visibly better
- stronger immune system
- lowers risk of getting cancer
The impacts above all have clear benefits however it is the knock-on effect of these direct impacts that have been the most interesting. These indirect benefits will vary depending on a person and their motivations and not all the below happened at once or immediately but have evolved as the year has progressed.
I drank alcohol generally to relax, have fun and sometimes as an escape from stressful situations or things I didn’t want to think about. I found that I have had to learn to deal with a higher focus on the present and there being no ability to ignore what life throws at you. This can be great when you enjoy the happier moments of life with more focus and clarity however this has made dealing with stressful situations and difficult issues the hardest part.
I have had to discover new ways to process stress and anxiety when they arise and find new ways to relax and switch off. After reading several articles about health and well-being the best way to process issues is to allocate more time for yourself. Because of this I have developed a new routine. Due to the knock-on effect of having more energy and sleeping better I get up at 5am, leave home at 5:30am to commute into work. I have a 35-mile commute from Oxfordshire to London. I choose to leave early for the added benefit of a quicker commute and to travel with less people around me. I make a conscious effort not to check work emails and keep the mornings for personal endeavour. I meditate, although this sounds much earthier than it is, using an app called Headspace which offers 10 minutes of guided meditation. It is quite amazing what a difference this makes. I spend more time reading and focus on mindfulness and well-being. At 6:45am I go to the gym and am in the office to start working at 8am having excised my mind and body.
The other aspect to a better combination of sleep and more energy is that my weekends are not wasted. Pre-2017 my weekends were often spent suffering from sleep deficit. Even just a few drinks can have a knock-on effect to quality of sleep and energy levels. The sleep deficit can become even more pronounced when having to do a long commutes during the working week. I now enjoy my weekends to the full and spend more quality time with my family. My wife & son, I think, also see a different version of me. Thankfully they don’t refer to my big belly anymore and see me being more active which can only be a good thing. I think I have become a better husband and father and at the very least can say I give my full attention to time I spend with my family
I have naturally forged new habits which has ultimately meant that I have less interest to go to a pub or bars. Don’t get me wrong I have no problem meeting people for drinks but now I like to go to places that are not just for drinking and DO more things. This is now making me sound very anti-social but I would rather go to people’s houses, a restaurant or somewhere you can do other things and not be limited to just drinking boring non-alcoholic drinks. If ever there was a million-dollar idea it would be for someone to come up with a decent non-alcoholic drink that would tempt me to go to a pub or bar.
A further knock on effect is that I am more productive and motivated than ever before. Children will also do that to a person. I have become motivated to put a lot of the things I used to preach into practice and as a result I have become more productive and hard working. I have taken up two non-executive director roles, one for a start-up recruitment company and the other with a small family office and I am also studying for some finance related exams.
The effects however are not all positive. The biggest drawback has been losing touch with people. I have lost touch with some people because I have not been out for drinks as much and often don’t get invited to things because people assume that I won’t come because I’m not drinking, which sometimes is a fair assumption but not always. It is a fact that because I am not drinking I will now get overlooked but I am also to blame as I am in a new routine and doing new things. I will have to get better at balancing this point as friendships run thicker than lager.
In summary, what started as a challenge and a way to raise money for charity has been a life changing process giving me a different perspective on life and new set of priorities. While abstaining from alcohol has been of huge benefit it has not been a ‘magic bullet’ that has solved all my problems in one easy step. What I can say, is that it has been the catalyst for several positive changes that I have made to my work life, family life and my own personal well-being. It has been a process of compounded interest.
People keep on asking me what I will do when the challenge finishes. So, what’s next:
For the time being I have decided that I will continue not to drink alcohol and to continue challenging myself in new ways. I would like to spend time not drinking alcohol just through choice and not as part of a charitable challenge. My relationship and view on alcohol has changed. I don’t view it with any negativity but I think I have found my off switch and if I ever decide to drink again it will be on a rare occasion and not as a regular habit.
Once my fractured foot recovers I am going to continue to raise money for Sobell House and Cancer Research UK by setting further endurance goals and am now planning to trek 270 miles across the Pennine Way (UK) in 2018 and 275 miles across the Kungsleden (Sweden) in 2019.
For those who have already contributed or pledged, thank you, and for anyone who would like to help get past the £10,000 mark you can donate directly on my Virgin Money Giving page at Hall2017Donate
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