This guest post comes from Matt Calman (otherwise known as @emjaycee).
@emjaycee: I’ve played sports or trained in various forms since I was a young fella. The peak of my fitness was in my late 20s. For a short period my weekly routine was: two gruelling kickboxing sessions, playing up to two games of indoor netball, running about 100 km, attending midweek rugby practice and playing rugby on Saturday.
I especially loved the early-morning runs around the fog- lined, tranquil bays of Wellington. I felt like I had it all to myself, and some mornings I did. It was the best thing for calming my busy mind. I was so fit I revelled in a feeling of invincibility. That is until I crashed with a nasty case of glandular fever that knocked the wind out of my sails for the next two years.
Clearly, I haven’t always struck a healthy balance. Back then, my voracious food and alcohol consumption meant any sustained lulls in training would make my weight spike. Rugby and beer have been constant bedfellows, and my rugby days were certainly boozy. After I gave up rugby – about the time I was in the thick of a busy and often stressful newsroom – I quickly packed nearly 100kg on my 5-foot-10-inch frame (these days I tip the scales at 77kg). It was then I decided to become a regular runner.
These days I’ve given away playing sport in favour of running. I run three or four times a week and do one half-marathon-length event a year. I run mainly for the health benefits – both mental and physical. I look after my kids at-home so it’s pretty much the only time I get to myself. When I gave up alcohol in June 2016, it changed how my running felt in so many ways. I’ve lost count of how often I used to drag myself out of bed hungover to run. It would take me half an hour to warm into things, as I struggled to place one heavy leg in front of the other. My stomach certainly didn’t thank me. I too often needed to stop at a toilet along the way, sometimes as a matter of urgency (I’ll spare you the unpleasant details). That never happens these days.
Till I got sober I never really appreciated how I had been running on such bad fuel. My old philosophy was I would never use a hangover as an excuse to skip work, or a run I had planned. I regarded the fallout of a hangover was merely the price of my drinking, and I felt I deserved some degree of suffering. Now I tell myself I deserve how good I feel as a result of my sobriety.
My most regrettable drinking binge came in mid 2014 when we invited friends and their kids around. My plan was to have a few wines followed by a couple of drams of whiskey. Alcohol, however, seldom cares for your plans. I certainly didn’t intend to share a box of beers, three bottles of red wine and the whole bottle of whiskey with my mate. I didn’t intend for my then-four-year-old daughter to come downstairs at 11pm to complain it was too noisy for her to sleep. And of course I didn’t intend to violently expel the rotten contents of my stomach before I could get some semblance of sleep.
The next day I had planned a 20km run around the Christchurch Half Marathon course with a friend who had been helping me train for months. It was my last big run before the event the following week. I was in terrible shape – the blood vessels in my eyelids burst from the previous night’s pyrotechnics. I hauled myself around the course, feeling like I was dying but worse was the cutting sense of guilt for letting my friend down. He had given up hours and hours of his time to train me and I had thrown it back in his face, all for a ridiculous drinking session. The following weekend I decided to not even do the run.
That forgettable weekend was one of the factors in my decision to quit drinking. Letting others down can often be a catalyst for change.
How has sobriety benefitted me physically? Without alcohol, the skin problems that had plagued me most of my adult life have vanished. My weight has levelled out – no more yo-yoing – and has stayed stable for much of my sober journey. I generally feel better but especially love how good I feel when I run, when I can truly appreciate the difference being sober has made. I’m not sure what I would do if I couldn’t run, but I know I would find a way to keep active.
I also know that I’m grateful I’m no longer self-sabotaging by drinking the poison of alcohol.