A pub with no beer

Before my Mother got Alzheimer’s, her party piece was the song

  There’s nothing so lonesome like a pub with no beer.

At every single family get together, she’d be asked to sing it. It’s a great party piece with catchy sing along lines. All of us, even the smallest kids would join in on the final line of each verse,

There’s nothing as lonesome as a pub with no beer

A happy childhood memory

We always loved when my Mother sang the song. She had a nice voice and could sing all the verses and choruses perfectly and with great emotion. I loved watching her sing , because she is a shy woman and this was one time she did not mind being the certain of attention. She would share the song with her audience looking at each of us individually.
We kids and the adults would all join in on the final words of each verse-

the pub has no beer.

The joy of singing along with all the adults and feeling connected and bonded -to feel like a part of this adult group is one of my happiest childhood memories.

A pub with no beer and a man cries

As a kid, I though the song was magical. In one of the verse the chorus goes

Old Billy, the blacksmith, the first time in his life
Has gone home cold sober to his darling wife
He walks in the kitchen, she says, “You’re early, me dear”
Then he breaks down and he tells her that the pub’s got no beer

I always wondered at this. Imagine. A grown man crying because there’s a pub with no beer. It shows how important alcohol is- a disaster when there’s none around. I could not wait until I was old enough to drink and be one of the adults.

The brain washing starts early

So the brain washing that alcohol is essential to a happy life starts early. People will say it’s just a song, don’t take it so seriously. But the songs we sing and the language we use make us part of what we are, it defines us and help us make sense of our world. Every generation growing up has its own singers who help them understand and live life. From the Beatles, Queen, Taylor Swift, Drake, the songs we hear influence us. What Irish person has not enjoyed the Fields of Athenry at a sports match?

Young children think being Irish means drinking

We don’t exist in a vacuum, we’re influenced by everything that goes on around us. A Trinity College study showed most children of just 10 years in Irish primary schools already believed being Irish mean drinking. When packing their spaceships to leave Earth most of them included alcohol, because we’re Irish, that’s what we do. The cute pictures they drew showed the Leprechauns holding a pint.

pub with no beer

In Ireland, a hangover is a sign of a good night out rather than a sign of physical damage to the one and only body we have.

A shield is needed

Living in this toxic alcohol (alcogenic) culture, it’s really important we protect ourselves from absorbing these messages that alcohol is this harmless drug that’s a key part of living happily. That we need alcohol to connect to other people.

So surrounding ourselves with people who have a healthy attitude to alcohol is important. Make a point of listening to or reading content which goes against the majority view that alcohol is healthy and is vital to a happy life.
Even after years of listening to people’s stories of being harmed by alcohol, I can still find myself feeling isolated because I don’t want to drink or I only wanted one drink. One time, I’ve even given myself a hangover !

The cruel irony

Finally, My Mother can no longer sing. She talks strings of words which are hard to make sense of. On a good day, she can smile and hum along to a song. “Non-verbal” the doctors call it. A word that does not come close to describing the pain of my lovely Mother not able to talk to us.

What would I give to hear her sing the song, pub with no beer, one last time? To watch her sing and move in happy blissful connection with our family, lovingly looking at each of us in turn. Even just thinking about it, makes me cry.
I know I’d make sure someone would record her singing so I would have it for all time.

I’d also bring her to the new pub that does not sell beer .

The cruel irony is not lost on me.

You can hear the song below.

Alcohol made my depression worse

I have depression. So understanding the impact alcohol has on my mental health helps me make good conscious decisions about my drinking habits. In order to understand why alcohol has a negative impact on my mental health when drinking, I first had to educate myself about what happens to my brain when I drink.

Alcohol causes depression

Alcohol is a depressant. This means it messes with your body’s natural “happy chemicals” like serotonin and dopamine.  If you’re anything like me and have to take medication to help make up for the lack of serotonin in your brain, you’ll know you’re not really willing to part with any more happy chemicals. . (Editor’s note, many commentators disagree that lack of serotonin is the case of depression. See more details here

At first I get a good buzz

I was once that person who would get a good buzz at the start of my drinking. Then I would start to feel sad, angry, anxious, depressed and sometimes even aggressive. Some people, like me who suffer with anxiety and depression will use alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, in the long run this can create more anxiety and stress.

Anxiety and depression can make us drink too much

As the alcohol leaves the body, stress and anxiety can actually intensify due to the impact of alcohol on the brain. People who drink heavily are also more likely to experience symptoms of depression and alcohol can also intensify negative emotions. I find suffering with a mental health issue, means it is imperative I learn to cope and manage my stress and anxiety without alcohol. It is a very easy road to go down and become dependent.

It’s difficult in Ireland to say no

In our Irish culture most events and social life revolve around alcohol. People don’t realise alcohol is a psychoactive drug. So it can be really hard to say no when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

We’ve all been there;

“I’ve had such a bad day, I’d love a few drinks!”

But if we are using alcohol as a solution to our problems, whether that’s stress, anxiety, boredom, or anything else, we risk becoming psychologically dependent on alcohol.

Simple things help

A few ways I found to help manage the struggles in my brain is living a healthy lifestyle. Simple things like nutritious food and a good exercise regime to help encourage those natural endorphins. Meeting a friend for coffee and getting some worries off my chest. Learning some breathing and stress management techniques to help me calm down when feeling overwhelmed or even seeking professional help from the GP. There is no shame in admitting we need a little help managing to get through this crazy journey we call life.

If you would like more tips on controlling your drinking, click here.

If you are not sure what help you need you can call the HSE Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459 during office hours

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

Is there a message in the bottle?

Maybe one of most precious things we can cultivate in life is self-awareness and the message in the bottle does not help self awareness. Knowing why we are choosing to live in a certain way or (re)acting to something is priceless, and we owe that to ourselves if we are committed to a happy and fulfilling life.

Hard to spot

It is amazing how we human beings, can easily get caught up with old habits and patterns. Once they become ingrained in our everyday life, it can be hard to spot them because we identify ourselves with them. These difficulties can be quite avoidable, if we are able to cultivate self-awareness.

Use lots of kindness and self-love

However, self-awareness must be cultivated with kindness and self-love. This way, we can make sure that we fully understand why some types of behaviour have a grip on us, accept and work with them. But it must be done always with kindness, self-acceptance and self-respect.

Self-awareness is not self-criticism

Self-awareness has nothing to do with destructive self-criticism, which is harmful and counterproductive. We need to connect with our truth and be aware of our self-talk.

Life is a continuously evolving process and whatever we learn to be true will help us move forward or hold us back in life. What messages is life sending to us? Can we understand them?

Are these messages in the bottle really part of us?

It is important to read those messages, knowing where they are coming from and if they are really part of us or just a learned behaviour. When it comes to the habit of alcohol consumption, for example, it pays to be aware what it is trying to tell us about ourselves.

What if we could read the message in the bottle?

When we do that work, it is easy to stop on the surface rather than diving deep. It can be challenging and scary at times. What if we think that there is a message in the bottle, waiting to be read and understood?

Editor’s Note

There are many ways to develop self-awareness, some of which we list below.

  1. Meditation can be very useful. Click here for more details

2. Understanding how your childhood is affecting your thinking can also help. Click here for more details.

Are you affected by “Silent Voices”?

Silent Voices, is a new campaign which aims to show how Ireland’s toxic relationship with alcohol hurts so many people.

This campaign is not about blaming people, or pointing fingers. Silent Voices want to stop the cycle of damage repeating and repeating across generations. As Father Peter Mc Verry says

Hurt people hurt other people”.

Marion, Barbara and Carol are 3 brave women

The 3 brave women leading the campaign have spoken out about the impact of their parents drinking on their lives.

Marion Rackard has been acutely aware of the silent stress including feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Barbara Whelan had feelings of anxiety and depression throughout her life. She began to realise the impact it had on her and sought professional help.

Carol Fawsitt found her self-esteem was “shot”. She felt different to everyone else, always on the outside, never being good enough, always feeling inadequate.

By setting up this campaign, these brave women are helping to start a much needed conversation about the harm alcohol does.

 Fergal felt shame was like his second skin

The celebrity BBC TV presenter Fergal Keane grew up with alcohol misuse. He felt shame all the time. It was like a second skin. The other big feeling he has is grief, because he never had a normal childhood.

In the video launching the campaign, Fergal talks about his own misuse of alcohol. He also makes the really important point that his parents did not wilfully set out to harm him. Useful to remember if you’re a parent drinking too much and feeling ashamed of the impact on your children.

Fergal’s book a memoir of his life called  “All of these people” is well worth while reading and is available from libraries or online

Are you more likely to have a problem with alcohol?

The research on whether children with parents who misused alcohol are more likely themselves to have problems with alcohol is mixed. Some studies report there is a higher risk of such children going on to have problems with alcohol, other say it is less likely. It seems to be generally accepted though that children affected by alcohol harm are more likely to have mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression etc. as adults. Silent Voices has more information here.

Everyone in Ireland knows some affected 

Since the early 1960’s our average drinking per person has gone from 4.9 litres per person to a high of 14.3 litres in 2001. The Health Research Board report that over 1.3 million people drink too much and the Silent Voices group estimate over 400,000 adults have been affected by parental drinking

silent voices

Are you a silent voice?

Are you an adult child affected by your parents’ alcohol misuse?

Well half the battle is to acknowledge that alcohol harmed your childhood and this harm may still be affecting you to-day. It might even be affecting your own ability to manage your drinking.

You might find it useful to read the stories of other adult survivors which you can find here.

You might also find our tips here on coping with emotional neglect useful.  Click here for details

More Irish people coming out about their drinking problem

The stigma around drinking too much is still there. It stops people from getting help because they are afraid of been seen as bad people. It also means treatment services are not as good as they can be. For women in particular, there is a real fear they will lose their children if they admit to a drink problem.

It’s changing

It’s changing now though with more and more people going public about drinking too much. So in this post we look back on the stories of some of people who have gone public about living with an alcohol problem.

Emma was a high flyer with a drink problem

Emma had a degree and was well on her way to qualifying as an accountant with one of Ireland’s top accountancy firms. Click here for Emma’s story.

The Rose of Tralee “confesses” to an addiction problem 

Did she really have an addiction problem though? Click here for her story.

Alan was a successful entrepreneur with a drink problem 

Yet no one noticed he was drinking too much. Click here for his story.

Valerie could never stop drinking

Until she found out why she was drinking too much. Now she helps other people. Click here for Valerie’s story

SouthLady drank to drown out her anxiety 

She did not realise her drinking was making her anxiety worse. Click here for her story

Lucy saw herself as one of life victims 

But she was a feminist  so how could she be a victim?
 Click here for Lucy’s story

It’s good these brave people are going public. But there is still a long way to go before society’s attitudes towards alcohol become healthier.

Mc D stops going to pubs

Attitude change

As time went on I found that I naturally started to drift away from going to pubs.  Sure I still go out and socialise in them, but if there are other options I will take them first.  I find that I can catch up with friends better just by going for a good walk and a cup of coffee.

I stopped being brainwashed

I stopped the brain washing that automatically assumes that being with friends involves alcohol.  It does take some time. I did have one or two setbacks, but all they did was remind me just how much I hated hangovers and how booze left me feeling rotten about myself.

Unexpected Surprise

Along with a lot of people, one of the reasons I started drinking to begin with was to combat shyness. I realise I am a lot older now and a lot less shy as a consequence.  I have found that through socialising without booze, I have become a lot more comfortable in my own skin and am confident in any social situation.  Meeting new people in new places was sometimes intimidating to me without the crutch of alcohol.  Meeting people without drinking has allowed my natural self to blossom and grow and my true nature has been allowed to develop fully.

Did I mention money?

Although it was n’t the main motivation to stop drinking, I noticed straight away just how much money I was saving by not drinking.  Not getting into rounds, no taxis, no expensive wine with meals and no drunk internet shopping meant a lot healthier bank account.  As a consequence I have been able to treat myself to a few luxuries I would have not dared buy when boozing.  The irony is n’t wasted on me, year after year I squandered pots of cash by drinking it, while thinking I was unable to afford something I really wanted.


Overall I found socialising without alcohol tricky at first, having a plan on what to drink and what to say to people when questioned is very important.  Making it a rule that drinking is just not an option and sticking to this rule solidified the decision in my mind and gave me strength in times of discomfort. 

Going to pubs does not bother me

Having said that in the beginning, I only went to events that really appealed to me so I would not be in constant temptation and I also removed alcohol from my home.  Now I am less inclined to go to pubs and when I do it really does not bother me to be around people drinking when I am not.  I thought to get to this stage would never happen to me.  Experiencing all the benefits of stopping drinking, let me know that I am missing nothing at all.

Editor’s note

Mc D does a lot of things right. He

  • Listens to what he needs
  • He makes a plan
  • Initially he avoids events unless he really wants to go
  • He accepts he will make mistakes and does not blame himself for them
  • He uses the money he saves to buy things he really likes
  • When he’s more confident, he starts going to pubs again-when he really wants to!

Photo Background photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com

Mc D discovers socialising sober can be done in Ireland

When I initially stopped drinking I was very nervous about going out and socialising sober. Without the crutch of alcohol would I survive?  I was sure that I would be bored senseless and also be judged boring by those around me.  However, I was determined to go about my life as normal as possible and I didn’t want to live like a hermit now that I had put down the drink.

Preparation is key

On the occasions that I did go out, I was well prepared beforehand.  I knew what I was going to drink. I also had a backup drink to fall back to if my preferred alcohol free option was not available.  I choose to drink alcohol free beers. I found they gave a good sense of beery satisfaction and were a godsend in the early days.  By filling my glass with a beer it stopped unwanted attention from people enquiring into my drinking status. Socialising sober wasn’t something that I wanted to broadcast in the early days as I wasn’t yet comfortable with my new change in lifestyle.

Growing in confidence

Every time, I socialised sober without alcohol at an event that would have been a drinking event in the past, my confidence grew.  Initially, I had dreaded socialising without the crutch of booze, but then I began to look forward to being able to drive to an event. I could enjoy meeting people, engaging with them properly and driving home afterwards, knowing full well I would wake up refreshed the following morning.  I also discovered that if a situation was boring alcohol added nothing to it.  People would just get drunk and get even more boring/morose/ argumentative as the night went on.

Questions and Answers

After some time I couldn’t hide the fact that I was no longer drinking.  I had built it up in my mind that the people in my life would be extremely interested in this new change and would be trying to get me to drink at any occasion.  Two things happened.  The first was that people were supportive and just said “fair play” and would only mention it again in passing to see if I was still not drinking.  

A mirror to our own drinking?

Others would feel the need to tell me that they do not drink that much and so there would be no point in them giving up.  It’s often said that when we stop drinking it holds up a mirror to other drinkers. It forces them to confront their own relationship with alcohol.  If they are not that comfortable with their drinking, they usually feel the need to explain or deny their drinking habits.

People are more wrapped in their own worlds

I have also discovered that people are just generally more wrapped in their own worlds than I realised.  It was quite narcissistic of me to think that they would be overly concerned with me kicking the drink.

Staying strong  & socialising sober

Having said that on one or two occasions, when I was socialising sober, I did get people looking at me as if I had lost my marbles and told me that it would only be a matter of time.  Only once did I get a person who asked me outright if I was an alcoholic and I treated this comment with the contempt it deserved.

Editor’s note

You can see that preparation is key to managing an alcohol free  social life. Mc D thought carefully about the situations he could handle and took it at a pace that suited him. He used alcohol free beers until he was comfortable saying he did not drink. In his case most people were supportive but when he got a bad reaction from people he did not take it on board. He realised it was the other person’s problem not his.

Mc D continues to not drink

Mistakes are seen as learning

I decide to continue to not drink and extend my challenge to 365 days and yes I did slip up, make mistakes, but I got up and dusted myself off again.  I realised that making mistakes was normal and were a great way to learn more about myself and also how to safeguard myself from future blowouts.  I became obsessed with all things alcohol free.

I did not drink. I did n’t need it

I listened to podcasts, read as much quit lit as I could get my hands on.  This newfound freedom and perspective on life had given me real zeal to absorb more information and strengthen my resolve. Stopping drinking was not a chore it was a revelation.  I attended many social occasions and didn’t need to drink.  I began to realise that for the first time, alcohol was unnecessary to socialise.  In fact my confidence in myself continued to grow.

I’m still at it

I’m still at it now.  I have joined other sites such as Soberful which is run by two addiction specialists Veronica Valli and Chip Somers who have years of combined experience and were instrumental in getting Russell Brand sober.  The insights they have to addiction are extremely interesting and insightful and have a weekly podcast that I listen to.

Safe places

Another is Soberistas a website started by single mum Lucy Rocca after she gave up drinking and wanted to create a safe place to meet likeminded people with the shared interest of stopping alcohol.

I find a sense of community

My journey continues.  I recently started attending AA.   I realise that it’s not for everybody but with my newfound confidence and willingness to try things with an open mind.  I take what I agree with and leave the rest and have been finding a sense of community in it.

I can never say I will not drink again, it’s a sneaky and insidious drug and I will continue to work on my sobriety and the lease of life it has given me.

What do I think of alcohol now?

What do I think of alcohol now?  I think it just a socially acceptable drug.  We have been programmed to think that alcohol is the answer to life’s problems and society has been hoodwinked by the drinks industry for too long. 

Go for it, it may change your life

It’s a nasty destructive poison that ruins people’s physical and mental health.  Taking that leap of faith and giving up the sauce has got to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I don’t know what the future holds but for me I will looking forward to it alcohol free.  If you’re curious to take a break from alcohol.  Go for it – it may just change your life.

Editor’s note

Mc D approach to AA is spot on. He’s used it to find a sense of community and people he has something in common with. He just takes what he agrees with. He does not accept the AA view, that if he fails it’s him that fails. He does not blame himself, but sees drinking when he does not want to as an opportunity to learn. For a review of AA see here  

If you would like a different type of community try Smart Recovery who focus on not drinking but do not refer to a higher power.

Mc D’s discovers the ups & down of his sober challenge

This week Mc D tells us how he got on with his sober challenge.

Confidence and Anxiety

One of the biggest revelations was in my confidence and anxiety.  I have always felt that deep down alcohol was holding me back and making me jittery. I always used it as a crutch and at times literally hid behind a pint glass when talking to new people, as my self-esteem was so low I felt like a nobody.  Only when I was a couple of pints down would I come out of my shell, slurring my words and thinking I was hilarious.

I was flawed

For a long time, I have believed that I was fundamentally flawed in some way.  I never could muster a lot of self-belief no matter what I accomplished in my life.  I realise these feelings can be caused by a number of different factors but for me alcohol magnified and exaggerated them.

Slip ups, restarts and learning

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, I had to re-start my sober challenge a number of times before I really started to get some alcohol free time behind me.  As time progressed it became easier, life was shinier and I started to feel good about myself.  The program not only got me to stop drinking but looked at other areas of my life that could be improved.

I no longer dreaded Monday mornings

In no time, I had started a regular mindfulness practise.  I started journaling and increased my exercise.  Anxiety that had been a constant in my life began to disappear.  I no longer dreaded Monday morning and went into work with a spring in my step. I slept better and started to love early mornings.

I had to start dealing with emotions

I also had to start dealing with emotions and feelings that I would normally have repressed with alcohol. This for me was a steep learning curve and it is something I am working on to this day.  Overall my confidence started to drastically improve and for the first time in a long time I started to feel comfortable and happy in my own skin.

Attempts at Moderation

I tried moderating alcohol after a slip up.  The beer monkey had me convinced that I was not that bad and compared to other people I was practically teetotal.  I understand now that this is common issue when people stop drinking and it’s only the addicted mind trying to rationalise further drinking. 

For me it was pointless

It also took a huge amount of energy to start planning when, where and how much I would drink.  It became emotionally exhausting and the few times that I did try to moderate, I failed.  I had always liked alcohol for the buzz it gave and one or two drinks would inevitably turn to several.  I would then suffer bad sleep, anxiety and the self-loathing hangover the next day.    Trying to moderate would also undermine my new healthy regimes and turn me into an insufferable grump.  In the end it was far easier to just stop completely as I knew it was not possible for me and therefore pointless.

Reduce or take the sober challenge?

Editor’s note

Mc D discovered reducing his drinking just did not work for him. Everybody is different in what works for them. For some people, like Lisa Jean just reducing what they drink can work. If you’re trying to find out whether the sober challenge or moderation is best for you. Click here