Last night I went to my first big house party since I quit alcohol. It was the joint 40th birthday of a couple of my high school mates. The other guests were among my oldest friends. Since university days we've been spread far and wide, living in different parts of the country and the world. For long periods we can have no contact but when we catch up the friendship we share continues unchanged.
I wasn't nervous about their reaction to my decision, as we've always supported each other. At some stage towards the end of the night we discussed my reasons but it was pretty much a non issue. It was a great (sober) night of laughing about old times, catching up on what everyone is doing now, and just relaxing in each other's company into the wee hours. I drove home about 1am looking forward to seeing my girls for Father's Day cuddles with a clear head.
However, I wasn't prepared for the light bulb moment I would have when I woke up this morning. I told my wife that it was one of the least boozy parties I can remember (they had a few drinks but no one was even slightly drunk). She replied that this group of friends had never really been big drinkers. Then I thought to myself, 'I've never really seen any of them rolling drunk'. And it dawned on me that it's me that has always drunk to excess in their company, that I had always viewed my times with them through a prism of alcohol. I'm finally starting to properly accept that I've overdone it with alcohol for most of my adult life.
One of the things I share with this group of mates is music. We played and recorded a lot of music together. We always liked to have a few beers together but we were usually too busy jamming to get legless. My other group of mates are the guys I played rugby with over the years, and I've formed some lifelong friendships with some of those guys too. But rugby and boozing goes hand in hand; the beers in the changing sheds straight after a game, the after-match functions at the clubrooms, going into the bars after that, and the occasional court (drinking) session. While real and lasting relationships were formed, alcohol was the social lubricant we bonded over. I remember we had a middle eastern guy in our team. He wasn't a natural rugby player but he could skull three jugs in under five seconds. We used to marvel at his ability to sink piss. For us I guess being able to play hard and then drink hard was a measure of our manliness. One weekend we had a crate day. We each took a crate of beer to one of our team-mate's flats. I think we started about midday and the challenge was to drink a crate bottle an hour for 12 hours. It got pretty messy but I think we still went into town afterwards (as if we hadn't already had enough!). This was the culture and I bought into it. I cringe now to think about the amount of alcohol we consumed, and some of the things we did in an alcoholic haze.
Binge drinking has always seemed so normal to me because that's how everyone around me drank (well the rugby boys at least).
I've had some incredibly fun times on the booze with all of my friends over the years. I have no regrets about the way I was, because I can't change it. But what I'm finding is I can have just as much fun with them sober (I can't remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did last night). And the bonus is this morning I can remember it all vividly.
The Ground We Won provides a stunningly realistic portrait of the culture within a typical New Zealand rugby team, boot skulls and all. It's probably the best representation I've seen of how rugby and booze are woven into the fabric of New Zealand life:
The Ground We Won