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“The First Six Months Of Our Daughter’s Life I Didn’t Go A Single Day Without A Drink”

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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Chris Picking is the founder of Pickings & Parry (pickingsandparry.com), a menswear store / barbershop in Fitzroy. He’s also not had a drink for six months and, what’s more, he’s determined to stick it out for a full calendar year. Here, Chris explains how he’s made his stint of abstinence work and what he’s learned about alcohol-free IPAs.

“When I became a dad, I did start drinking more frequently in those first few months just to try and get through it. Once I realised that was happening, it definitely spurred me on to want to change that habit. Having kids does force you to look at yourself a little bit harder.

“But the decision to stop drinking had been coming for a while. I’m turning 40 soon and that milestone was a source of motivation, too. I wanted to hit my 40th feeling the best I could possibly feel.

“Business was also a big part of it. We were expanding and trying to get our cash-flow sorted. Suddenly I was more time-poor than ever before and I thought, if I wasn’t drinking then I’d maybe be more productive.

“My mother died of alcoholism, too. Ever since that happened I’ve always been more conscious about how much I drink. But at the same time, I’ve always liked a drink too. I started drinking in parks when I was 14 years old and I’ve been drinking regularly since then. I’m from Northern England, so it’s in the blood.

“I mean, I love getting drunk
– it’s great. But the older you get, the more responsibilities you have and, after a while, taking care of those commitments takes on more value than getting drunk. It’s the same with drugs. At some point the comedown just isn’t worth it any more.”

“Before all this, I used to regularly take a month off the drink – just to make sure I could. I got into the habit of trying to do that three times a year. But when I opened the business in Melbourne six years ago, my stress levels went through the roof. I’d sold my house and invested all I had. From that point onwards, I didn’t take much time off the booze. I was struggling to get through a month because I was having bad days and dealing with more stress. Plus being your own boss, you have more flexibility. A customer might come in and say ‘Fancy a beer?’ at 3pm. And it’s like, ‘Why not?’”

“Then, last year we expanded and started a womenswear store next door and invested more money. At the same time, my wife was pregnant. We opened the new business in March and my daughter Pepper was born in June. So it was an incredibly stressful time.

“At that point I was drinking every day. The first six months of our daughter’s life I don’t think I had a single day without a drink. It was like an emotional crutch. It’d be like, ‘Phew she’s asleep! Let’s have a glass of wine!’ It became so regular. It’s not that I was getting drunk every day. But I was just always having two or three drinks.

“Nearly all my friends with kids have found the same thing. It’s not binge-drinking so much as habitual drinking. When you almost can’t get through a day without having some gentle form of relief.

“But my 40th birthday was looming. I thought that giving up the booze for a year would benefit the business, benefit my daughter and make me healthier and more productive. Suddenly, I thought I’d get all these things done that I hadn’t done because I’d been hung-over.

“I started telling people I was going to do it and they’d say: ‘You’ll never manage that.” But that just made me more determined.

“Easter Monday was the last drink I had. So it’s six months now.

“I haven’t changed my life
that much. I’m not going to stop going out and having dinner with friends. I’ll just find something else to drink. There’s some really good non-alcoholic options out there now. I go to Black Hearts and Sparrows – the world’s best bottle shop – and they’ve got a load of non-alcoholic craft beers. There’s also a great German non-alcoholic IPA called Unn, that I get from Wild Things in North Fitzroy. You’d barely know its alcohol-free. There’s also a new company called Sobah, an Australian alcohol-free beer company that uses indigenous ‘bush tucker’ ingredients. Brew Dog Nanny State from Scotland is good as well. I even don’t mind Carlton Zero – it’s quite refreshing. But one thing I’ve tried that I wouldn’t recommend is alcohol-free wine. It’s terrible.”

“Since I stopped drinking I lost six kilos without even trying. After we had the baby, even my 34-inch jeans were getting a bit tight. Now my 32s are generous. It’s crazy. I’m exercising the same amount, eating the same food, in fact, I’m actually eating more now. I just got lean. Before I’d be drinking at least a beer and a couple of glasses of wine a day. On Friday it would’ve been double that. I’d never thought about all those calories mounting up.

“There are also real financial benefits, I reckon I’m at least $100-$200 a week better off. That’s 5-10 grand a year!”

“I also didn’t realise how much I planned around hangovers. Before, I’d know that on a Saturday or Sunday – one of those days at least – I’m going to be a bit dusty and need to get up a bit later. But that’s completely gone. It’s amazing. If you’re tempted to have a drink, always think about the next morning. You won’t regret not having gone out then.”

“At the moment I’m tempted not to drink ever again. I probably will because I do rather like drinking. And I miss the taste of certain drinks. Like on a Saturday after I’d cut the grass and done a bit of weeding, I used to love sitting down and opening a really nice IPA. You have one of them and it’s ‘Wa-hey’. I miss that initial buzz. But I don’t miss hangovers or being drunk drunk. When I do start drinking again, I think I’ll just try to keep it to a couple on the weekends only.”

First two images from Instagram @pickingsandparry