I pounded the paste some more, the wonderful fragrance of chili, garlic and coriander root tickling my nose.
“We need some more galangal”, I whispered, with some urgency, to my new girlfriend Jane, who was hovering nearby. Smiling, she grabbed a knife and made out for the garden to harvest some.
“And lemongrass!”, I cried after her.
An hour or so later we were eating the most stunning thai curry either of us had ever encountered. No less than 7 of the ingredients for it had been grown in my garden.
It tasted even better because it was lunchtime on weekday, and all of my old coworkers were no doubt at their desks reading legal contracts.
Three years ago I probably wouldn’t have been interested in growing that food, or pounding the paste before lunch. I wouldn’t have been hung over as such (most days), but I could have been a little flat, perhaps without even realising it. Certainly too flat to enjoy doing the things Jane and I had been doing this week – swimming in waterholes, riding horses, volunteering at a local school and building a food forest in my back yard.
Three years ago I would most likely have been at work too, as a Partner in a massive law firm, and possibly entertaining clients as ‘the beer guy’, founder of Australia’s leading beer website, and contributor to the international book on beer, ‘1001 Beers You Must Drink Before You Die’.
All lofty and pretty cool stuff. But it didn’t involve me not going to work, finding a new girl and moving to a paradise near the beach on the Gold Coast of Australia to make a curry paste from my garden.
That came later.
It came after I gave up alcohol for a year, on a whim, not long after the 1001 beers book was published. After I pushed myself though the physical, social and mental challenges that giving up the grog presented, and ended up with a zen like clarity about my own life and alcohol’s effect on it.
I wasn’t alone. I sought out like minded men and women who had similar stories and almost to a person they reported back that abstaining had changed them and their lives permanently - for the better. It wasn’t that alcohol was killing them (well, most of them), but rather that the cycle of drinking, being hung over or tired and then planning for another drink had stopped them from seeing their lives objectively. From living deliberately.
These Clear Thinkers, as I called them, were not just healthier and happier off the drink, but were actually making real changes to the way they lived at a macro level. They were able to see the woods for the trees, taking take a step back and viewing the world, and themselves, as they truly were – Matrix style.
Some of them, like me, ended up quitting their jobs. Others (like me, for a period) worked out how to do their jobs better to earn more money or take back more time. Some split from their partners and found new love. A select few slept better at night after working out that, as they had suspected, their lives were pretty much in order after all (but thanks for all the extra time!).
Most didn’t return to the drink after their time off. At least for now.
As for me…. well, I’ve spent the past three years as a Clear Thinker completely rewriting my life’s script. It turns out that my existence as a beer expert and author and partner in a major law firm wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time after all.
My life between drinks is much more exciting than that.
My alcohol chronology
Introduced to beer by my 15 year old cousin at the Stradbroke Island pub. Bouncers think about throwing me out for reasons other than my age, but don’t. I trade my beer for a chocolate liquor as it tastes funny.
Start drinking for real. Friend’s 16 year old brother tells me that alcohol “is an acquired taste, but a taste well worth acquiring”. As far as I can tell, he’s right. I form strong bonds with peers while drinking Jim Beam before moving to beers. My parents think I am having sleepovers and watching videos.
Seasoned drinker among the Brisbane pub scene. Fake IDs grant me full access rights, which is just as well as I’m at university man, and going to pubs with your mates is what kids do. It’s awesome.
Spend a year abroad in Canada working as a tent erector and C++ programmer. Change workmates’ lives for the better through drink, but they secretly think I’m an alcoholic. Obviously they have never been to Australia, or the UK for that matter.
Return to Australia with an international drinking perspective. Decide to share my new ‘knowledge’ with the world and form AustralianBeers.com (which I still run, some 14 years later). This in turn introduces me to Australia’s top brewers, and their beers. A revolution is happening in Australian brewing, and I have a front row seat.
The Sydney Morning Herald calls me “a dedicated suds swiller, with a genuine appreciation of pub culture”. I ask my family to inscribe this on my tombstone when the time comes.
Go off the drink for 8 weeks after suffering from work related panic attacks. Promptly get fit, start snorkeling Sydney beaches and lose 8 kg (1.3 stone). Seem more relaxed so start drinking again and replace the beach for the beer garden before regaining the weight.
The UK’s leading beer expert says in his book on international beer culture that I “love not only beer but the culture that surrounds it and what that culture says about being Australian.”
He also says that I thought about beer exactly the same way he did.
This pleases me immensely.
Become partner in Queensland’s largest law firm, in part due to being everyone’s best mate as I’m a beer guy. I regularly host beer tasting evenings for clients and have at least one long lunch a week. Tasty, although my pants keep shrinking for some reason.
I’m asked to represent Australia in the leading international book on beer: 1001 Beers You Must Drink Before You Die. I see this as equivalent to winning a gold medal at the beer Olympics.
I write 33 beer entries, which on a per capita basis must be up there. It is fun, but hard, thirsty work.
The book is published in many languages around the world and I see it in airports when I travel. The Sydney Morning Herald noted that I had a passion for beer. This also pleases me.
Truth be told though I’m exhausted, and once the massive beer book (my gold medal?) arrives I decide to take 12 months off the drink as an experiment.
Still between drinks. Not drinking has given me the ability to sit back and think about my life, which has resulted in me making massive changes, including clearing all my debt. As I write this I’m watching the sun rise over bush land in the Australian Gold Coast hinterland. Kookaburras are making their early morning calls and hunting grubs in my vegetable garden. Most of the fruit trees are sprouting in anticipation of spring.
I won’t be going to work today as I threw in my massive job for a better existence. Instead, I’ll be going to the beach, which is free.
In my alternative, sliding-doors existence, I wouldn’t be writing at this hour (5.30 in the morning). I wouldn’t even be here. I would be in the city feeling a little less than optimal (at best), getting up and going in for the slog. Flat. Tired. Thinking about maybe catching up with a mate for a drink on Thursday night to lie about girls and moan about clients.
You know what I’m talking about. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Not drinking, at least for a while, can help you get your life back to what it should be: off the mindless, drunken treadmill that goes hand in hand with the rat race and into something deliberate and authentic.
Something you choose, not the system. Not your booze ridden culture or your mates.
This is an extract from Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers, a book written by the founder of this website. It is available for purchase from Amazon.com and other good retailers.