Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

How My Dry Week Became a Dry Year

May 7, 2014

By Tom Fearon

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

I had my first beer on a balmy summer's afternoon when I was 13. I was sitting between my dad and the man from across the road whose weed-infested lawn I had just mowed, feeling more like a man and less steady on my feet with each bitter sip.

Years later at university, I didn't need the excuse of a "reward" to drink on Friday or Saturday night - or Tuesday or Wednesday, either. I worked as a barman at a small rural pub to pay my way through my studies; serving booze each night to regular, working people only further legitimized drinking.

When my career in journalism - a profession that once depended on alcohol as much as the typewriter - brought me to China five years ago, I found myself again in a boozy playground. Whether your hangout is a Sanlitun dive bar or a hip hutong microbrewery, the flow of craft beers and cocktails makes it easy for the new expat to get carried away.

During my first few years in China, I drank often and hard without considering the impact it had on my health or other aspects of my life. My turning point came at a good friend's farewell party last year, or more accurately the awful hangover that followed.

I originally vowed to have a dry week to rid my body of the lingering metallic enzymes from watery Yanjing beer, but that soon turned into a month. Just as I was ready to hop off the wagon, my non-drinking wife persuaded me to hang on a while longer.

An approaching 30th birthday and desire to be healthier persuaded me to take the teetotaller road further by going a year without alcohol. Today marks the achievement of that milestone, but I'm not rushing to end my liver's holiday.

There were a few reasons I decided to give up booze. I didn't consider myself to be a "problem drinker," but I knew alcohol was taking more from me than it gave. I wanted to explore healthier ways to cope with stress and socialize better.

The first few months weren't easy, but the benefits were immediate; I slept better, felt less bloated and had new-found energy.

Alcohol is difficult to avoid, even in China where the custom of drinking at bars isn't culturally popular. Birthdays, weddings, work functions and other social gatherings all seem to be lubricated by booze.

I found it hard early on fitting in with friends by drinking soda at beer gardens, but cycling home was less challenging and my wallet was fuller. I gradually realized that all the activities I previously associated with alcohol - from writing to watching sports - could still be enjoyed without it.

After six months, a new addition to our family made me appreciate being alcohol-free. Waking every two hours throughout the night to change diapers and nurse a crying newborn can be tough enough sober, let alone if you're also nursing a hangover.

One year on, I'm trimmer and have found a modest exercise regime to be more effective at relaxing than sitting on the couch knocking back cans of lager.

A year ago if I had read an article like this I would have probably cringed at the writer's self-congratulatory journey of high sobriety, but it's a trip drinkers owe to themselves to take regularly, if only for a week or month at a time. It might not sound appealing, but the reward of getting a buzz without the bottle makes it worthwhile.

See the original article here.