Forging Your Path with Andrew Liddle | OYNB 086

One Year No Beer Podcast Episode 086 – Forging Your Path with Andrew Liddle

The subject of today’s interview is Andrew Liddle. Andy is a teacher who’s made great progress in his alcohol-free journey. In today’s episode, Andrew shares some of his history with alcohol. He says that he was introduced to alcohol at a fairly young age – around 14 or 15 years old. Like many people, he found that the people around him, including friends and family, enabled his alcohol use, and by the time he reached the age of 18, he was well-versed in drinking. 

Andy said that he had some great times and great holidays, and didn’t see drinking to be a negative at that time in his life. But by his early 30s, he had started to question whether this was where he really wanted to be in life. He was experiencing anxiety, especially when dealing with hangovers. And that’s where he was when he discovered One Year No Beer.

“Being alcohol-free, I’m just not as stressed anymore.”

Andy says that he had tried giving up alcohol before, especially by attempting to participate in Dry Januarys, but those attempts were unsuccessful. He talks about what it was like for him to give up alcohol – what his challenges were and what worked for him. 

Andrew also talks about his career, and what made him decide that he wanted to be a teacher. He explains how drinking affected his career and also how giving up drinking has improved things. He discusses how a colleague describes him as less flustered than he used to be. 

Andy also talks about how he got into running and doing marathons, and how being alcohol-free has helped him healthwise, as well as in terms of his personal life and hobbies. He also discusses the effects of going alcohol-free on his mental health. Finally, Andy shares his advice to people who haven’t yet attempted to give up alcohol and what he would say to somebody to convince them to try the alcohol-free challenge. 


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Episode Transcript

Ruari: Welcome to another truly epic edition of the One Year No Beer podcast, it's Ruari here. I haven't been on the podcast for a while and I have been very, very busy. There's been a lot going on in the world. Today, as I start hitting record on this, it is Wednesday, the 18th of March and it's kind of crazy in the world right now, but we're going to talk all about that in a minute. 

Today, I'm joined by a very, very special guest, a true legend. This guy is a bit of a superstar in the One Year No Beer community. If you're a part of One Year No Beer, not a […]. Without a doubt, you will know who I'm talking about. If you are not a part of One Year No Beer, what's wrong with you in the first place? No, but you will know him when you come and join us. This guy is an absolute legend.

I love it when we ask people to give us a bit of insight into them and this is just cracking so I'm going to read this out. Andy Lidl is 35 years old, a teacher, Londoner, former booze […]. Now, alcohol-free champ. My story is probably one like many others, of a life I thought I was living well—work, pleasure, socializing, existing—was based around drinking I had, however, bought into a lie.

The last 500+ days have completely changed my perspective and I didn't expect it at all. From fat, lethargic, and low to marathon, fit, and happy. I didn't think the change would be as remarkable as it was. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Andy Lidl. 

Andy: Thank you very much. That's very, very kind of you to say such lovely things.

Ruari: You are a star, it is such a pleasure. We've had a few chats along the way and touched base, all that good stuff. I can't wait to get into talking more about that. Why don't you give us a little bit of color there? Tell us a bit more about your story, Andy. 

Andy: I always took […]. Like many, I was introduced to alcohol pretty young, I reckon 14–15. I was enabled to some extent by my peers, my parents, and my family. We were completely soaked in alcohol. From the time that I was 14–15, I was allowed to go to the park and have a few beers. By the time I was 18, I was well-versed in drinking. Roll on university and it's incredibly, incredibly drunken. That'd continued very much into my professional life. 

There's a lot of it that I looked back on very fondly. I had some great times, some great holidays but I think the longer it got on and more in terms of my youngest 30s, I started to think that, perhaps, it wasn't always where I wanted it to be. I think the anxiety that came with the hangovers was not so great and it tends to get worse. Maybe the highs that I kept seeking, I never kind of hit. I kept doing the same things over and over again.

I'm always looking for my 10 out of 10 nights and regularly getting a 2 out of 10 nights but hangover that came from a 10 out of 10 night. That was when I stumbled across One Year No Beer, it was around that time. For a while, I put it off but I've given you a few things now.

Ruari: Before you go into the One Year No Beer journey—I can't wait to hear about that—you were saying that you were drenched in alcohol 14–15. Give me a bit more color into that. Would you have considered yourself a problem or were you just very sociable? Did it all feel normal?

Andy: Yeah, I think it's only normal. I have an older brother, I think I aspire to be like him and he was already with the cool kids who had the drinks. From the time I was 14, I wanted to be like him. By the time he was 18, obviously I was 16, he was drinking quite so hard and that would've filtered down to me on some level but it was certainly part of normal life.

Again, growing up in the early 90s, […]. It was the regard to have a drink with your friends. It would have seemed odd (probably) if I hadn't done despite the fact my body wasn't even legally allowed. 

Ruari: Crazy, isn't it? That sounds very, very similar, very similar story. I guess that's probably a similar story to most people in reality. It all just seems so completely normal, that's just we all do, and that's how we all behave. That must be quite an interesting thing, being a teacher, but we'll come on to that. 

There's this concept as well where you mentioned that you were constantly trying to get that 10 out of 10 nights but really only hitting 2 out of 10. Give me a bit more color on that. What was happening in these evenings to make them never quite spot?

Andy: That comes down into where my drinking was. You actually alluded to earlier, I never thought I had a problem with my drinking. What I think I did was that I had these nights out where I wouldn't drink, say, every day of the week but when I would drink, it was always until there was no one left to drink with. Often ended up drinking on my own and not doing the things that I wanted to do, like the next day or even that day necessarily.

I think what was going to happen was when you get into that routine, you see your friends, you do have these great nights, they're epic, and you talk about them but you think that everytime you drink, you're going to end up having one of those, everything is going to be fun, you're going to meet cool people, you'll end up in the cool club, wherever it'll be. 

Despite the fact that I saw those nights out, I regularly didn't get them. So often, you end up searching for those nights. They would never on but because you delude yourself into thinking that's the case. I ended up quite often getting hangovers, like I said, for 10 out of 10 out of 10 nights, about drunk as high as it would be one of those legendaries or epic nights but actually have the experience of really just going out and getting fastly drunk like a local boozer. Not ideal for a preparation on a school night.

Ruari: No. Again, absolutely normal or it's definitely totally normalized. Did you do university?

Andy: Yeah, of course. 

Ruari: You see, yeah, of course but I mean, no, I didn't.

Andy: Only when you […] like you said to me, I was a teacher. I'll be a strange teacher. I'm just going to fold my way into any other way. […].

Ruari: I didn't even know you had to go to uni to be a teacher.

Andy: Okay, you've learned something from this podcast already. Normally, you have a degree in a subject and you'll be able to teach in these roughly wherever you are.

Ruari: That makes sense. I'm sure that's the case with some of my teachers.

Andy: No, maybe that's the […] up as well. I went to Manchester. I grew up in Essex. I was attached to London, I go somewhere that I kind of only went in on some sort of special occasion. I always wanted to go to a big city but wanted to be far enough away from home effectively, that I felt like I was being independent and that I wanted to have the city life, I'm always attracted to a big city. I mean Manchester was glorious. There's no doubt I had a fantastic time.

I don't regret much of it at all, really. Once you find yourself, I was a pretty established drinker. I was. By the time I turned 18 years old, you attract to a similar crowd. I would've been in with the big drinkers in the time. I was there in the different sports teams, the things I did in the same areas, and laid the foundations for the next 10 or 15 years of drinking because that was how you learn to socialize, isn't it?

Ruari: This is a subject that I love to chat about because I think that's exactly it. I think there are breeding grounds for alcohol disorders and uni is one of them, or certainly going in. You get into this network and you're on the back for new people, needing to be a part of the tribe, there's a new tribe, there's a new way of existing, and there is a way for you to click in fairly easily but it's through the alcohol door. Almost everybody is doing it in that area.

Sure, you can choose to go down a different path, but not many people go down there. All the people who are drinking make it very, very public that those are the weirdos. You could go down the weirdo path or you can just go and join everybody else in the boozing. When you get into the boozing, student unions. I was not at uni but I spent a lot of time at university halls. It was a pound a pint, free shots, happy hours, and a lot of stuff.”

Andy: On top of that, certainly, I think you're right. I'd love to tell you now that if you gave me my time again, I'll do it differently but you probably wouldn't because you feel that calling to want to fit in. They gain it as a breeding ground, training ground for future alcohol problems. You're absolutely right as well.

I can remember there was Monday night's […] red balls, per pound. Looking back, I know I would go to the bar and I would order 10 at a time because I didn't want to queue, you know? I mean it's Tuesday, it's a pound a pint and this is it. I can remember in my first year, I think I'll admit that we worked out at some point, the boys that they're all away. There's only a handful of days that we didn't, not only just go out but not get drunk. It's pretty heavy going.

Certainly I'm young, I was 18 at the time, I didn't think that the drinking to excess had any effect on my mental health and I don't think to a certain extent it didn’t until a little bit later. I didn't see it as being negative at all. That's part of the delusion of it all that it makes you feel that you fit in and that makes you feel that you're part of something broader. It was something that was quite right, that can make you right. 

Ruari: I love everything you said just there and I recognized it so much because casting back to my own experiences, I didn't bat an eyelid. Even in the destruction and craziness, I was just like, “It's just fun.” Interestingly, I guess that's still going on. I guess there's still quite a lot of people who are completely oblivious. Certainly in the 20s, alcohol is the be-all-and-end-all, and I wonder what we can do differently. Certainly, what could we be doing differently to help people see the other part?

Often, the messages were there. I mean, I smoked for a while and it was all well-known. Still, that was a health problem that I didn't care about. I definitely didn't care about shortening down my life by five years when I was 20. I was like, “Have them. I'm not trying to have them a pack of fags now.” In fact, I even think I had conversations like that with people.

Andy: “No, I can remember that. That's the classic as well of every smoker. Every smoker session, I've got to die something.” It's that.

Ruari: Classic denial. Let's go off that. University, crazy time and then, I think you did a brief stint in finance?

Andy: Yeah, I'm very brief in finance. My family was based in that, my brother works in finance, I was in a bank for a little while. I got a little bit of experience of what was like, this corporate life. I quite liked it but I wanted to travel. I end up being the means of paying off both debts and then getting away really.

When I was away for 11 months before I went back to try, actually I've been trying as a teacher. Again, that was 11 months of pretty hard drinking, too, I kept thinking back on it. 

Ruari: Right. After that, you went back to uni, another 11 months and then, started. What made you want to become a teacher? I miss that bit.

Andy: I don't know what it was. When I came back off from travelling, it was just when the stock market crashed for the first time in 2008, I think it was. The world, when I was away for those 11 months, fell apart. I came back. This is a long-winded answer to the question that you gave me but I'll give you the truth.

When I was in school, I was always really good at other subjects, but I love history. Despite the fact that I found it hard, I always found myself coming back to the books and finding that there's something really interesting about it. Then, we came back to the world, it collapsed. I thought what was my one thing I really love and what was my one love and it was sticking with history.

I became a history teacher and I didn't think and I still don't know whether it will be the only profession I'll have. I'd like to think maybe there’s a big one of many things, actually, that will go as my life goes. I do think that history has always had a special place for me. I think more, as I've got older, I see that teaching is a vehicle to be so much more. If you would come back to that other question you asked of me, how do we influence people's perception on things, there's no better way to do that than your favorite teachers and the messages they got across. I fell in love with it in that way, too. 

Ruari: That's awesome, I love it. A very difficult time right now in teaching, but we can get into that in a second. Sounds like you've been teaching since 2009?

Andy: Yes, this is my 11th year, including my training. Yeah, a long time. I've always been challenging in the city schools; no different now. I've climbed the pole a little bit higher as I’ve gone up in a different place. That was 11 years ago.

At the beginning, it was incredibly tough and I can remember going to Bermondsey at the very beginning. To begin with, I was like a bouncer. I opened the doors to my class and the kids went in, did exactly what they wanted for an hour, and then I shut the door and told them they had to leave.

It was, “You two, you learn your skills, you get better at it,” and you realized what makes kids take in it. There's a lot of fun. Hopefully, you can persuade and teach other people to do that. It's quite rewarding and you give something back all the time. I'm happy with all I am professionally.

Ruari: I love it, I absolutely love it. With the teaching piece, do you think there was an element where you shifted from this alcohol-equals-fun, which is what we learnt in university and then into teaching with that added stress actually, alcohol-equals-relaxation. 

Andy: Yeah. I had fun though, I had been both. That was the time with alcohol. What you see is the panacea of everything. I think I had the, “It's Friday night, let's hit it,” because we've done a hard week of work but I also had the, “Oh, it's now time to wind down on a Wednesday night with my wife or my girlfriend,” she wasn't in my […]. I didn't deserve drinking in that way. 

It appeared as the cure-all but actually, now having been without it for such a long period of time, I realized what a massive limiter it was on my ability. The fact that it occupied so much of my time. I don't know how I used to fit in, to be honest with you. I sit down and you think about that and I think that it's absolutely because you prioritized it. I must have done to be able to fit it in.

I look back on that, that's one of the things that I've regretted doing, that's partly. I think there's so much wasted time and I do think that was it. The delusion was there and I think it bred from being young. The more you read it, the […] you see that there is that idea that you see your parents wind down with a drink or you see the party go off with a drink. That's ingrained in you. That's the passage, isn't it? It's learned behavior.

Ruari: 100%, social conditioning, peer pressure, marketing, all of those things flock together. And the delusion, absolutely. Tell me about the journey to thinking about taking a break from booze. Was it just something thought, “Right now, let's stop drinking,” or was it a long painful process like the rest of us?

Andy: Yeah. Definitely, it's the latter. I can remember thinking that there were a few things but it started off with a couple of attempts to try January, I can remember, and just failing pretty miserably the first time, like I'm-no-quitter sort of mentality as in I'm not going to quit drinking and thinking that I was better for it after I've abstain for a few days. I did it a couple of times. 

I can remember vividly sitting there with my wife and we were in a restaurant but we haven't drunk for like a weekend and maybe 10 days. All we were doing was talking about the wine that people are drinking around us and ultimately just saying, “We're not enjoying ourselves, aren't we?” So, we might as well drink and go back to enjoy ourselves.

We know I had lots of these times that I was personally, I would never, ever allow myself to go on now and drive. I wouldn't have thought it was worth going out if I wasn't drinking and I would've always made my message drivers or whoever else. I would have always got a taxi. Another massive part of my life, post not drinking is how much money I've saved on […], by the way. It's huge. 

I think when One Year No Beer, it really got primitive sense. I could remember that one of my friend’s deputy head, had gotten one of your early PDFs which was, I think, pictures of you on a night out or something like that, print it out and maybe read through it. I think everybody probably has a problem with alcohol. You know your reader and you think, “They've got nothing to do with me, how could I ever be?” Also that you're fine.

He said to me at the time,”You should consider doing night days, night at night.” I never need to do that. I didn't for a long time. I looked through your website and I think I might've alluded to another post or things I've spoken about. A few times, I got there and I was like, I refuse to pay to not drink. I got up there, kind of the final hurdle of the page, spent my money a few times after I pressed clothes and got rid of it.

It was just one time, I was meant to go, it's a half term at school. As you build up towards the half term, obviously the idea that I deserve to drink kept creeping up. It was a Wednesday and I went out and I had a beer. Probably by Thursday, I went out and got smashed and turned up on a Friday and then, probably hit it even harder.

Rolling on the weekend, this ended up being some four- or five-day massive bender. I was meant to be meeting friends on Monday to go for drinks and how I used to reserve my holidays. Some will ridicule how much you drank anyway. The idea that when you got holidays, I could catch up with friends I didn't get to drink with during the week because I was meant to be a responsible teacher. 

I arranged to meet up with a couple of friends on this Monday and I just literally couldn't face them and just something clicked in my head and said, “You know what? Sign up for it.” I only told a few people but a couple of my friends at the time nearly said to me, “It's a big thing. Do you really need to do it? Is it that drastic of a measure you need to take? Can you do it?” Those things built up a fire in me. I can be pretty stubborn, actually. 

Ruari: The, “Lo and behold.” They weren't getting you not to do it. They were forcing the decision more solidly.

Andy: I think that's it. When someone questions me definitely on that basis, it strengthens my resolve. Do you want to at least do it? What's been more interesting is the idea that […], actually was pointing more like 60 days. I started to feel there's more to it than this and so on. Here we are at 500 days and it still feels like there's still an awful lot more to it. 

Ruari: Brilliant. I guess from all of that, your wife has definitely perfected nonchalance because if she's in fact thinking about something, you're just going to dig your heels in. One thing I was going to say there is tell us a bit more about what started to happen for you and what changes led overall, because some of your stats, weight loss and things are absolutely phenomenal.

Andy: I'll tell you, initially, one of the things that happened, I realized that you get that mental clarity back. I would've easily gone five or six days without even thinking of, “I just didn't happen to have a drink,” as opposed to, “I'm not drinking.” Once you start to clock those days up, when you start to think, “Actually, now I'm getting momentum here. I don't want to break the streak effectively.” That was one of the first things.

I started to feel like I just want to own the days and that's a gain, something that I think is quite characteristic of being in a community, the idea of your own where you are, what you're doing on your journey, and I am so proud of where that was and wanted to up that number. 

I'm as prepared as to bare my soul at the beginning as well, which very bizarrely, I would never do that randomly in the pub or whatever. For some reason, you do. I did and I felt very right for doing so and the Facebook group as it turns out and the Slack group at the time when I used the Slack partners. You receive all this overwhelming support from really lovely people. That was quite the beginning.

At the same time, I think we're quite an early stage and guys, I think it's day three. I remember looking at other members. Now, they fit in their early stages, they're asked to a challenge. I decided that I was going to virtually swim the channel, I was going to amount to the amount of miles that it would do. I think it was on 28 or something like that. I saw them trying to get to one and do a 10K, I think is what I did.

Around that time, I got on this scale, I was 14 stone 10 which is after uni, I also had another massive weight game, I was around 15 stone as well. That was three years of just eating kebabs and just boozing really hard. That was equally the heaviest I ever was. It wasn't a great sight in the mirror, to be honest with you. 

Nothing too much. I stopped drinking. I was drinking a fair amount, you know? If you look back on it, three or four nights a week. I don't think I ever went to the pub and drank less than six or seven pints. On plenty of those nights you had all the chasers, the drinks, and the special occassions of champagne and shots, whatever else goes into amounts quite a lot.

I saw no wastage drop off me, I gave up on October and I can remember going in. We went to the races on boxing day, that's two months. Like my wife, there are pictures of us on Instagram and people are like, “Oh, my God. What's happened? How is that? How has Andy changed? What's happened? This is mental.” I started getting those comments and I changed school as well which is much of what my other friends were like, “What's going on?” This was not drinking. I was going to the gym maybe two or three times a week, nothing too heavy and just maybe going for a swim a couple of times as well. 

By the time that the new year came, I probably dropped about […]. I started to notice that I remember I'd run a 10K and I was a couple of minutes slower. When I ran this 10K around the turn of the year, I had been 23 or 24, and thought I was kind of skittish. I said to myself that I'd try to run faster, so I trained a little bit harder.

I thought I signed up for half marathon, which I did, and lo and behold, I went for 52 minutes 10K. I used to do 45 minutes 10K. Then, I started to go up and I was […] half marathons and I ran the big half, which I think was in March and I ran that 152, which, again, was a little bit slower than I'd only ever run one before. It was a bit slower than I'd run once I was gone and beat that time.

I started to build up. That was around the time I got the 90 days. People were like, “I had stopped buying a whole new wardrobe,” which is probably one of the nicest ways ever to spend money, by the way. Really lovely and going down from being as well. Mainly, I'd be wearing large clothes where I can remember wearing XL, it was because they just sort of felt short a little bit, but sometimes, particularly on those hangover Sunday mornings or whatever was happening today, and those things creeping in. Looking back, you’re making me think about it now.

I remember I spilled food down myself at one point, scoring that's going to buy a shirt. I trained myself to a 17-inch shirt. When I look at it now, it’s like the biggest thing. I feel like the guy off the subway. It's obscene that you ever used to be in those.

By the time that March came and I thought I'd run this half marathon, I was getting really quite thin and really put a lot of it together. Then, I started to notice that I got again around another 150 days. My fitness had a different gear. I started going to these half marathons and I was then running sub-40, which meant that I was standing with these skinny guys at the front. I was no longer one of the people at the back.

I said I was going to try and run a sub 40-minute 10K, which I did fairly recently. I went two or three months ago. I won a 39-minute 10K. I ran and then I'd just rip. I've managed to finally get down to a 130 half marathon, which is pretty quick and as I talk this down, I weigh in 11 stone exactly. So that's a pretty heavy weight loss from where I was. So, nearly 4 stone, 3 stone 10. We'll see.

As the journey keeps going, I intended to run the London marathon in April but obviously, that's been put back. But actually, I'd had a little more of an Achilles injury, so it's bittersweet because it means I can probably train for and try a little bit harder in the autumn that comes up.

Again, this is interesting because this is how the world has just changed in my life. The only reason I'm possibly upset about that is because I've got two other marathons that are alongside Amsterdam also in October, and the […] that's coming up in December. So, it's just a lot, all that in one time. But being alcohol-free, it gives me no fear to think about that it's just yet another speed bump to be overcome.

Ruari: Phenomenal, Andy. I just love that you found this passion over running and the marathons. Hats off to you, I'll never do a marathon. Well, I say never, maybe I'll see one day.

Andy: But there are some […] actually. Everyone tells me it's quite flat.

Ruari: Apparently is, enjoy it when you go. Send me a postcard. I've done a few half marathons and bits and bobs like that. But similarly to you, really found solace in running and so easy to just get out there and get the fresh air. It's so totally opposite to that whole drinking thing. It's almost like a sign of the transformation and you're like, “This is what I get.”

Andy: I think without a doubt it's been absolutely fundamental to my sobriety. It might just generally feel good about myself. I find it really meditation to go and run. I mean the world is put to rights in my head. I think I am angry, it just distresses me. I think as well on those that we want to be one of the biggest tips I could give to people would be on those Friday nights, those times when you feel that you deserve it, drink. Go and do some exercise and maybe your perspective completely changes. I'm a different person when I've exercised, I think as well.

In my year of sobriety, I have a little girl as well and they're always worried about trying to see how I was going to fit running into that. But again, you just prioritize it. I get up at 5:00 in the morning and I go run for an hour or whatever it happens to be a longer as a husband with his marathon training runs but it's absolutely fundamental. I don't know if I'll quite catch you up on this […] yet. I've been so prioritizing the running because I keep thinking I might fall off an obstacle and then it would stop me doing the marathons but maybe next year, I will stay.

Ruari: Yeah, That’s what helped me off that for ages. There are a few handful of injuries but nowhere near as much as what people make out there. Great to do, really. So I'll see you once in a while.

Andy: Hopefully, wins are never too far, so we should do that one day. That was my intention, it was to maybe do that at the end of the summer.

Ruari: Good. Well, it won't be anymore because they've moved them all back in the UK but that's all. We're going to get onto that in a minute. So, physically a complete transformation for you and really, from as you said, fat and overweight and those are your words. Now, in absolute tip-top marathon running condition. Although, you did just have an injury.

I'm interested to hear about the recovery from the injury because there's a lot of science out there that shows that actually alcohol inhibits recovery of torn muscles and ligaments, all parts to the processing and alcohol really just being poisoned. Have you noticed any recovery if you had injury before? Is there anything in there you've noticed?

Andy: In fairness, I wasn't as ever as fit as I have been. I can only go by my physios like pretty much near astonishment of how quick my recovery was. So, I think it's Achilles tendonitis when those things that limit people and hold them back for a long time. I pretty much went in there with a terrible case because I did what I think a lot of runners do which is that I ran on it and ran through the pain of it for about three weeks before I finally submitted to the fact I was injured. 

When she started to fiddle around and tell me I was really stupid for doing what I've done. This is another thing that comes with the discipline of being alcohol-free is that I also have the discipline to do my exercises every night and get on the phone although I didn't really want to and do all the things that perhaps with other little niggles and bits of new parks that I wouldn't have bothered to do.

Literally, I went from running to 10-, 11-mile half marathon to running nothing at all for three weeks, to being back running 10 or 11 miles within another two weeks. Once my recovery was done, the rehab work which I think for Achilles tendonitis was a pretty quick turnaround really. I think if I had run this marathon that on the marathon I would've been a little bit more prepared but I was in a really good spot. If anything, it just gave me another goal to focus on and to hit again. Absolutely it was done and it was achieved so yeah, it was great.

Ruari: Well done, absolutely brilliant. What about your mental health? How are you finding things now in terms of your teaching career, hobbies, mental clarity? What sort of […] have you seen there?

Andy: There's two things that you can have. Interestingly, I worked with the same head teacher during my drinking days. In a game […] hiatus and then we worked with him okay. The words that he used to describe me were “less flustered.” I'll tell you that in teaching, it's like one of those things that can be quite an easy job—I say it's too many jobs—but when the stress is really on and I'm not on those things that I would say that being alcohol-free, at least not as stressed anymore.

I'm not able to sort of judge things by their merits and I'm way up where difficult situations are and think about where and how I should act with much more purpose and that I think I did before. I think I was much more emotionally led where I can use a little of that more rational and logical side.

And then, I think the other mental health that is completely linked to the anxiety and I think that the lows that come from heavy binge drinking sessions, they have like massive highs which like a couple of days later, you feel like desperately poor. Just to not have those anymore is to have a level, a constant level, always just so nice.

Ruari: It's down. It's like, in a way you could always look at it as the heart monitor, the boop, boop heart monitor. But actually, you've just got that hangover bang really feeling in the head and days afterwards.

Andy: I can remember where I used to do things like I'd be feeling like 80, the big fear, the anxiety, or whatever was it would be. I used to think like I would be lucky someday and I wouldn't let my wife out of my sight. I wanted to be with me in case like something happened. Nothing I've seen, nothing happened but I used to feel like that. I just feel like I've got my independence back.

Ruari: That is needed for almost seeing struggle or whatever.

Andy: It's kind of embarrassing because you look at that and when you're in the pub with your mates you're like, “Billy Big Bollocks drink down on the pints.” Then, come Sunday morning you're desperate for a cold flannel and a cuddle of your wife and you wouldn't let a lay. But it was the case and that’s the mental side of that, all of that is now gone.

Ruari: I can feel myself inside. If only more people could understand it. I'll just say, all I want to do is be able to be a bit like the ghost of Christmas Past or whatever that is and just quickly drag people to the 90-day self. Just go, “Look. Here you go, have a look. What do you think now?”

Andy: Again, it’s quite interesting. I think one of those things that I've said and you spoke about, mine is how you start impacting people around you. I've got a couple of my good friends and big drinking friends that have either done stints like a long 90- or 100-day stint now on account of the fact of where I have been. My family have been big drinkers. My mom barely drinks at all now, my wife drinks very seldom. It has a massive knock on effect.

Ruari: That is just so fantastic. Goosebumps because you are showing up so much in your world, Andy, and you're an amazing human what you do in your choice of career, how much you've applied yourself to this, and just how much you grab life by the balls. Having the impact on other people, maybe this is a sign of that whole I-don't-love-myself thing but when I see something that's impacted other people, it really lights up my fire.

Andy: Yeah, it's really true. I remember there's that whole thing on some of the means and the tats that happen on that community but that concept of being the lighthouse. I think that you're a lighthouse when you don’t intend to be sometimes and that's one of the lovely things about being alcohol-free.

Ruari: So true the lighthouse and you are being that, my man. Tell me a bit more about some experiences with the community, One Year No Beer in general, and some of the journey that you've experienced. If you can perhaps give some guys who are thinking about doing this, some of your top tips.

Andy: That's an expansive question.

Ruari: There's a lot there. We can chop them up into two if you like, if that's easier.

Andy: One, you know better things first of all, I did tell myself in. At the beginning, I wasn't intending to. I just thought I'd post if I needed people. It's like going into any new group, you're just […]. But immediately, people are like, “I welcome you. Your story sounds broadly similar to many others.”

I'm trying to think at the very beginning, I went to a gig first of all. I think I went to a concert on day three or day four and I had the people on […]. I think it was Jen on your team that immediately emailed me and was like, “Email the venue and find out what drinks they do that […]. Decide a time that you're going to leave. Find out some other information. Go and find a place where you can stand and you could really see the band.” I could treat it like an experiment, go into it and at least see what it's like. I'd never been to a gig sober. Who would go to a gig sober? I did it. Not only that I went with my brother and not have a really big drinking friend. I stood there and pitied me.

Actually, as it turned out, I didn't have any alcohol for a day, but I had a Coke. It was really good and I remembered there was one of my favorite bands and I remember singing the songs and all those things. That was big and I knew if I could go out and not do it with them, I'll be able to go on from there. Another one, do things. Once I got into fitness ideas and a couple of people in the community, I went to a few of the London socials.

Recently, there was that alcohol-free bar that popped up in London which is if you haven't been to, you lost. It's sad and that was good to me and other people. I met a few members and got acquainted. I regularly interact in person and then I've got loads of people there. I'm very lucky enough to have that kind of comment and I interact regularly online. I think the last time I looked, is it 16,000–17,000 people just on the Facebook group alone? I've got your back and I don't think there's any other walk of life, I certainly don't have one. Well, I've got 17,000 people rooting for me. So, I think that makes it pretty special.

Tips for this second question, wasn't it?

Ruari: Yeah. Well, before we rush onto the tips one, here is a very special place. With an audience, with a place that area of course, there's often problems, issues, and stuff and we have to do a huge amount of work in the background, make sure that it stays being that amazing place that it is. Definitely, I've got some theories in here.

One of the things that really when you look at alcohol is numbing. If you're an emotional person and your life isn't in the right order, the environment isn't right for you. Meaning and purpose isn't there, you don't feel enough connection and your general health. If those things are not pointed in the right direction and you are an emotional person, then you are going to seek numbing in other things. Alcohol is the most prevalent numbing in our society but equally so is binge watching Netflix, so is porn addiction, gambling, et cetera. All of these other things is like trying to numb out.

What you realized or I have realized over the years is that when you help these people—that includes you, Andy, and our One Year No Beer members—give them the tools for them to transform themselves because you have done this all yourself, you are an absolute legend. When you give them the tools to do that, they realize what it is, still that very emotional individual, that very caring emotional person seeking connection. What do we have? We've got a community of people who are these more emotional, more emotionally attached, or more emotionally advanced, what do you want to call them. (I can get the words out right. It's been a long day.)

I think that's what you see and I think because people walk into that community like you did, they see vulnerability. You walk in there and it's like, “Gosh, people are talking absolute truths and really going into their heart, this, and that,” and then in the supportive comments are mostly 95%–99% is the same real vulnerable sharing. And because you walk into that you're like, “Wow this is a safe place. Wow, I can really open up and talk to people here and they will do the same to me.” I think that's what really makes it super special. Sorry, I went off.

Andy: No, no. It's really true. There are things I've shared in that group that I probably haven't shared anywhere else. That's not to say that I wouldn't, it's just I felt more comfortable than it being discussed in that forum. Also, I speak for myself. When you start to unpack some of where that went, where the drinking was, and why you drank the way that you did, or why I drank the way that I did, it's always nice to know that there are other people that have done largely similar things to you like you had those experiences and being able to draw on those emboldens you, and I think gives you another step up on that journey, doesn't it?

Again, from reading some of that literature as well, the 12 step idea which I don't buy into but that one of the final steps of being able to give something back is again very much part of ingrained in that one big community. Everybody knows what it was like to be on day one and everybody knows what it was like to be on day two probably, et cetera, every range of experience of all sorts of things and now the opposite of addiction is connection which is spoken about at length as well. I completely buy into that.

I can I can get the idea as well that you feel very real when you're not drinking and a lot of those emotions are brought up, I have some way that you feel safe and secure to bring those up, to feel that you're getting heard, and getting some reciprocity from your fears or worries is pretty epic.

Ruari: I lie awake at night thinking about my responsibility of enabling. What I mean by that is that there is a special sauce here which is that, when people have gone through this process and they've made this realization, they want to give back to others. At the moment we use platforms called Facebook and Slack for them to be able to deliver that, but to me that's not good enough. To me, I can see there is so much more going on here.

For instance, the reason why I'm able to drink in total control is because I feel in a way responsible for a lot of people who don't drink and that keeps me accountable. But if I have that and people want to drink in total control, how can I give them that? This is why we've been raising funds and why we want to invest in our technology.

Corona may have put a pause on things for now, but why we want to invest is such a wide key for the technology is that by getting this journey right for people so that when somebody goes through this process, they get support from the community, they can give support, and also that they can be empowered. Then, I think we will have clicked onto something magical which will truly change the world. I think we're just trying to piece all that together. Sorry, I sidetracked again.

Andy: No, it's interesting. I mean, that's brilliant for where everything is invested in. I think we all would be but being members of it, wants to see bigger and better things. It's already a bigger monster than the one that I joined 500+ days ago and I know better one. 

Ruari: It's getting there definitely, it's getting there. We've got quite the team and a huge amount of work to come through but yeah, it's exciting. It's really about constantly trying to make it better, that's what we are, what we're trying to do much better. It's already awesome which is great.

Andy, we were going to talk about your tips. Let's go through a few of them. What would be your advice to somebody who is still very much in the delusion? What would you say to them to get them to do this challenge?

Andy: I think the good piece of advice that I would give most people would be to try to attempt to do things so that once you've convinced them to sign up, which again, I would only do it by saying, “Here I was 500 days ago. Here I am now.” In terms of once you actually signed up, one piece advice that what I had in my head and was given was, at least give yourself the opportunity to experience it sober before you make a decision that you can't, like the gig that I told you about beforehand. I was convinced to go and see it sober.

Actually, when I turned up and saw it sober, it was really good. I've since been to loads of gigs since and they've almost all been better for being sober. The same thing with the party, the same thing with Christmas, the same thing with New Year's or whatever happens to be the. You'll be surprised at how much better those things are and they know it. A lot of what you put in your head about how they'll be […] is just not true. So, giving yourself the opportunity to experience them would be (at the very beginning) one of my first tips.

Ruari: Brilliant. And what about somebody going through this journey or further on, what other advice would you give people for this incredible journey?

Andy: I could go on here for hours, but I'll give you a few. I certainly would tell you to read some of the […]. I don't know if I should like pumps and some books up here that I've read. For me and me in the way that I was a drinker, I found that there were certain books that spoke to me because I’ve been a binge drinker. I don't think I had a massive emotional attachment to alcohol and I never found myself. Also, most of my drinking I never found myself in a desperate situation. I never drove drunk, I never end up in a police cell or in a really desperate dark place, so that's not to say I didn't do stupid things. I did lots of them. 

I didn't necessarily identify with the stereotype of an alcoholics per se. There were certain books that spoke to me in a way that others didn't. I found Alcohol Explained by William Porter, it was an exceptional read. He's also in Alcohol Explained 2 which is also very good and well worth a read. His chapter on moderation (by the way) is really excellent on any second book.

Ruari: What does he say about moderation?

Andy: I was thinking about revising that. He is anti-moderation which would go against some of your ideas but his idea would be that if you're willing to moderate, you’re still venerating booze to a certain extent and that you only moderate something that you still have an attachment to. There's no reason that you should have an attachment to alcohol. So, that's why he goes down that road.

It was interesting particularly when I got to the end of my year because I wasn't sure what I wanted to moderate and I'm still not 100% but that may be at least a thing I'm not ready to do yet. I want to see how far it goes before I'm going to make that decision. It's interesting. He gave a quite good analogy of the idea of going on a walk with this is more about a delusion of drinking. You've got a group of people and they're all wearing crap hiking boots that’s been sold to them by some man. They keep doing the walk, play a game really sore, and it's becoming really difficult.

Instead of blaming the things around them, they're just told that these boots are the only thing that'll get around. Actually, I'm trying not to do a disservice to the book here. The idea is that the boots were effectively […] alcohol are not great for you and you kid yourself into following this thing. You should read the book. Obviously, I can't read it very well. He is excellent, William Porter.

I found Catherine Gray. It’s unexpected to have been sober, really good, take the drink easily. I thought it was excellent alcohol explained, it was excellent and good. Just at the moment reading Professor Nutt's book on what is drink that has no signs of health, I think it's called.

Ruari: Is it good?

Andy: It's excellent. Again, I've always gone into the books that are a little more scientific in their basis because that's what just appealed to me. It's really interesting. I posted it on the Facebook group. Since the 1970s just reading his books. Since the 1970s, every cause of death pretty much in the world has come down leading up to 2020 and the only one that's still exponentially on the rise is deaths related to alcohol. That's unfathomable in the world that we live in and the way that we live that shows how alike we are absolutely still in alcohol's grasp presented as a globe and refused to see otherwise. He's book is really good. So, I would say […] it at the beginning. It is without a doubt.

Ruari: It's just great to really fill your brain with that stuff, isn't it?

Andy: I didn't.

Ruari: You might not agree with all. Some of it goes a bit off into your life. I don't know that.

Andy: I can remember if it's Jason Vaughn or Craig Backman, the one that said it like, “You shouldn't count your days.” I would say, I do and I find it quite important to do so. You take it, you take little bits. I think having Gray's book as well, I did mention her book is excellent. Yeah, yo do. You take little nuggets of them and you can build on them.

If she mentions Alan Carr's picture poem which was really another really great piece there in her book. It's really relatable. I think all those things start to go into the picture and then you stop at least having a different perspective of alcohol where mine was just this is the relax, this is the fun give up. Then, you start questioning whether it's actually true and you start to notice things about people, particularly when you're sober. You start to notice that maybe all the things that used to think that drinking amounted to it is perhaps not so fun.

I can remember talking but she said in her book I think many guys noticed that when people get past two or three drinks they tend to start repeating themselves. When you're one of those people, you think you're put in the world to rights like you're a sage of your time. But you listen to your friends when they have two or four drinks and you're sober and they just started saying, “Thank you,” over and over again. So, that was interesting, too, an enlightening part for me to definitely get involved with the […] there.

I found baring my soul to the One Year No Beer community to be really helpful. Do some exercise as well without a doubt, it's been one of my absolute. I know Kate Stones of the development so that would be what I would say particularly in the beginning to help people out.

Ruari: Brilliant. Andy, this is one of my favorite podcasts to do, just love chatting with you. It's so easy and I think you're a wealth of information that you've just had an incredible journey and it's so awesome to have you on. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story. Is there anything you would like to add before we finish up?

Andy: No, you put me on the spot here. I would say to anybody that happens to be listening that it's worth giving it a shot, that particularly, if you signed up to the program. I think that it only gets better once you join up. What would you put into it, you'll get back.

The idea of seeing a world through sober eyes is a really good one and we live in times particularly given where we're talking today in schools being shut down and all sorts going on in the world. You have a sense of inner calm and peace that perhaps you didn't realize were part of you. For no other reason than that, it's well worth the investment in making the most of being alcohol-free. 

Ruari: We didn't even get onto that stuff. We didn't even we didn't even talk about you going to speak on behalf of One Year No Beer in a pub.

Andy: I know.

Ruari: I can't open it up without it, you've got to tell everyone. So, I called you up out of the blue and said, “Hey, mate. There's this gig I've been asked to go to and I can't go. Can you do it for me? Yeah. And it's tonight.”

Andy: Yeah. That was strange, so I turned up to this place and I've known somewhere in […] where I think it was. David who has treated me like a mini celebrity to begin with because I think they thought that I was you. That was kind of good. They gave me a little bit of red carpet as treatment and they kept feeding me […] which is nice. Every winter kind of a few […] and bizarrely enough, I tell you.

Another good tip, by the way, I get invested into alcohol-free beer. There's loads of it and loads of it is great. I'd plug dry drinkers as well, they're terrific and they do loads of different things. I found at the beginning of my alcohol-free adventure, I just used to buy loads of different alcohol-free beers because I found that was one of the things that I like.

Friday night night arrived and it was like, “Oh, I'll try this new IPA. If I don't like it, I'll try another one.” You can then drink six or seven and you're never drunk and do whatever you want to do. You go to the gym the next day and feel terrific. That's one of my tips.

That night, I met that guy who was the founder of Lucky Saint which I think is the best alcohol-free lager. 

Ruari: You need to introduce me to him because I think it's brilliant. We've been drinking all the Lucky Saint at the place just opposite the office.

Andy: One knows that the alcohol-free world moves in. Obviously, it's not massive. I went into the, I don't know what it's called, it starts January, they […] special […]. It's run by Club Soda. […] Drinking festival. They have one of those and they had a similar one, the BrewDog Run.

I kept running into this guy from Lucky Saint. I feel like in the end, I was like stalking him on […] because of this thing you've set me up with. Anyway, I went in and I did this thing. Did you send the film crew to go to this? 

Ruari: I did.

Andy: I didn't know that I was about to be filmed. 

Ruari: I think I just threw you into it. I was just like, “Andy.”

Andy: They threw a microphone on me and said, “Andy, start to speak to these people.” I wasn't really sure because you told me that they would sign up to a magazine but I wasn't sure if I was trying to get them on board with One Year No Beer and you just said, “Just have a chat with them. It will be okay,” which in fairness, it was. 

Ruari: My team, their sides are going to be splitting when they hear this because the one thing I'm horrific at is briefs. I get an idea, it's like, “Yes! Land on the moon.” I go, “Can you? Let's land on the moon, we'll do it on Tuesday, got that?” She's like, “Ahhh.” Sorry.

Andy: No, it's fine. It was good, it was nice. I got to meet some faces of the alcohol-free beer world that you know.

Ruari: You just did a bit about your story and did you get a massive standing ovation?

Andy: I did get quite a good thing. I did get one of those things. If the Andy of 500 whatever days ago met me today, I wouldn't believe that it was me. I never would have believed that I would stand up and […] sang the praises of alcohol-free, never going to a room of strangers.

Ruari: Things you do for One Year No Beer.

Andy: Yeah, exactly, mate. They don't expect it. They're lovely.

Ruari: Love it. Awesome. Andy, it's been an absolute pressure to have you on. Thank you so much. We'll get this out shortly. Thank you very much for being a part of One Year No Beer and contributing as much as you do. You are awesome.

Andy: Thanks so much, a pleasure.

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