Jeremy is one of thousands of Australians who have signed up for the Hello Sunday Morning program to cut down on drinking. He shares his experience of how the program has changed his life with Niamh O’Brien, VicHealth's Senior Project Officer for Alcohol and Tobacco.
By Niamh O’Brien
Most 20-something-year-old students probably wouldn’t volunteer to give up alcohol for a month, let alone three. But when Jeremy was on stage in front of 300 peers, he was dobbed in to do just that. With nowhere to hide, Jeremy knew his binge drinking days were numbered.
After overcoming his initial panic and ensuing reluctance, Jeremy decided to rise to the challenge – but he knew it would take an extraordinary amount of effort to succeed.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy, who told me about his experience taking part in Hello Sunday Morning, an online community platform that encourages people to cut down on drinking and improve their relationship with alcohol.
At the time, Jeremy was the social convenor of a university college, meaning it was essentially his job to facilitate social events. So, pretty much one of the toughest gigs possible without alcohol.
Jeremy recognised that there needed to be some kind of cultural change around alcohol on campus.
"It’s so easy to be sucked into a very heavy binge drinking culture within on campus residences and at university in general," Jeremy says.
“Taking part in Hello Sunday Morning pushed me really hard to create events that were fun and engaging that weren’t saturated in alcohol.”
Jeremy explains that taking part in Hello Sunday Morning also meant forgoing a chunk of his earnings each week. As the lead singer of a band with a weekly residency, half of his payment was a large bar tab. This was rendered useless except for a small list of mocktails on offer.
I find it staggering that not only did Jeremy complete the three months, he has repeated the program three times since then – making an entire year of sober Sundays.
“My first attempt was by far the hardest. I got a fair bit of stick from my friends at college, especially my male friends about why I was doing it and the effect it was going to have on my social life.
“It was tricky because even though these things are somewhat said in jest, when they’re said so often, they’re now no longer a joke.”
One of the hardest things was going to events where everyone had a drink in their hand. Not wanting to stand out, Jeremy developed a “safety mechanism” of always having a non-alcoholic drink in his hand.
What started out as a social handicap became something that Jeremy was confident to speak freely about, without inhibition or sense of interrogation.
The motivation for repeating the sober stint differed each time, Jeremy explains. One time he had his sights set on a gold medal for his hockey team. The team hadn’t won top place in their league for 31 years, and this was Jeremy’s last tournament. Despite coming close to winning several times, his team had been robbed of victory for decades, largely hindered by the effects of too many late nights.
As captain of the team, Jeremy’s motivation was to get as fit as possible and he knew this meant giving up alcohol.
"I knew that the memories of winning that medal would far outlast the memories of having a good night out."
“When we won – it was epic! At that point the sacrifice became supremely worth it.”
Another time it was about saving money to go on a holiday to New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji.
After doing some budgeting, Jeremy calculated that it would take about 12 weeks to save the full cost of the trip, which was around $2,500. He was able to save an average of $200 per week, but says it wasn’t easy to account for this money because his spending on alcohol fluctuated so much at the time.
“You might not go out for a drink at all one week, but the next week you might go out two or three times.”
Looking back, years after that daunting moment on stage, Jeremy says that taking the plunge has made him more aware of his alcohol intake, which has in turn helped him be more honest with himself about life in general.
Whilst he doesn’t aim to push the program on his friends, many of them have been influenced to give it a go.
"Knowledge is the greatest gift you can have. For me, Hello Sunday Morning was a chance to know myself a little better. You don’t have to search for a massive change in your life. All you’re searching for is knowing a little bit more about yourself."
“I’ve now moved on from trying to avoid the question or provide excuses to just giving a rationale for how beneficial it’s been for me and it could be for other people.”
Jeremy’s story certainly brings VicHealth’s research on Hello Sunday Morning to life, which found that more than 50% of participants reported improved physical health and that the program can change the way people think about alcohol.
You can read VicHealth’s report on Victorians' participation in Hello Sunday Morning here.
To find out more about Hello Sunday Morning, visit www.hellosundaymorning.org.