• Nelson Dore is a musician and front man of the band Napier. He works as an apprentice electrician and lives in Melbourne
At 12.01am on January 1, 2017, I had my first beer after an entire year of no drinking.
As a 25-year-old musician and electrical apprentice, it had been a difficult 52 weeks with plenty of scoffs from mates and colleagues. But it was also rewarding.
The motivation behind the decision to stop drinking came from feelings of anxiety and depression that heightened towards the end of 2015. I felt like I had no real energy or motivation to get up in the morning; I hated my job as an apprentice, and even my passion for music was dwindling.
I thought of myself as just a social drinker, until I suddenly found myself routinely drinking alone in the hope to feel something good. The buzz soon wore off and I was sick of going out all night, spending half my pay and sleeping all the next day. If I kept it up, I knew I wouldn't make it through the next few months without really damaging my mental health.
I needed to do something to change and I needed a goal. I decided to make a New Year's resolution to go a year without drinking, quit my job, and start again. The typical "new year, new me" resolution.
Being a musician and the front man of a band, I knew it was going to be hard - saying no to free drinks, not being able to hide the nerves behind a couple of beers. But I also knew how important it was.
THE FIRST THREE MONTHS ARE THE HARDEST
The hardest part was breaking the habit and the positive associations with being out and having a drink.
It was the small things that would make me question my commitment. Going out to dinner and not having a pint with a chicken parma was the hardest to resist.
It was difficult to explain to people that I can't just have one or two. I wasn't ready to admit to people why I wasn't drinking - there's a stigma both in the music and tradie industries and a fear that if you open up about mental health you'll be seen as "soft".
That said, it was great not having hangovers and this was a reminder for why I wasn't drinking. Soon I didn't even miss drinking.
A few months in I felt more alert and energetic in my daily life. It's as if a three-month long hangover had finally cleared and I could see myself and things around me more clearly.
I was waking up earlier and felt more productive. I found it easier to exercise, and I didn't suffer from the common cold or flu at all last year. A naturally healthier lifestyle was a direct result of not drinking, and during the course of the year my body fat percentage decreased from 28 per cent to 21 per cent.
Without the Band-Aid of alcohol, I was more in touch with my own thoughts and emotions - good and bad. Drinking can help us fake our happiness - without alcohol you can no longer hide. I could now see how long the road to improving my mental health was going to be, at least I could finally see it.
YOU REGAIN CONFIDENCE
For a long time, I longed to naturally possess the confidence I have when I'm drinking - to be social and boisterous. With my own music, I wanted to have the confidence to talk about it and get it out there.
I still find all of the above hard, but a year of not drinking has pointed me in the right direction. Last year, my band launched their debut single along with a film clip, followed by our debut EP. It felt good to have finally achieved goals that I previously lacked the confidence for.
I also found I'm exactly the same person, with or without alcohol - it just heightens what you are feeling at the time of drinking. What I learnt was that it's not about going out and getting drunk, it's about the people you are with.
AT TIMES YOU'LL FEEL EXCLUDED
Yes you're the same person, but people's ingrained attitudes towards drinking meant that at times it was harder to connect with people. A friend at work once told me that if they gave up drinking, they wouldn't have any friends left.
For me, it showed me who my true friends were and got me outside of my comfort zone - I was forced to get involved and find new ways of having fun.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
The first weeks of 2017 have been interesting - after a few celebratory beers, I soon realised I hadn't missed much.
Drinking can bring people together - but it doesn't have to be the only thing. Now that I've finished my challenge, I fully appreciate the support I have received from friends, family and my own determination.
The past year has taught me that if I put my mind to something, I can achieve it. This is the season to make resolutions, and so often we hear of them failing, but I think what helped me achieve this goal was that I was determined to show myself I could stick to something, even when I didn't feel great.
The lessons and the alertness that came from not drinking will always be a part of me. In many ways, having a year off has been a reset. I've cleared my head, organised my thoughts, connected better with others, and found a better path to improve my mental health. I'm still learning how to deal with my own emotions, but if this year has contributed to becoming a better person in my own skin, cheers to that.
Tips for sticking to a no-drinking resolution
1. HAVE A SAVINGS GOAL
I was spending $300 a week on going out and drinking, so I estimated a savings of $15,600 in 2016. Keeping that figure in mind motivated me to stick to the resolution and I ended up saving $15,000 and paid for my own EP recording and release.
2. START SMALL
A year can be daunting for some, so break it up into smaller goals. Knowing that it's "just a month" or "just a year" can make it more achievable.
3. DO ACTIVITIES THAT DON'T INVOLVE DRINKING
You don't have to commit to a year off drinking, but you can commit to having a few nights off a week doing things that don't involve drinking.
4. ALWAYS HAVE A BEVERAGE ON HAND
In the beginning of the year-off, it helped to always have a drink. Get a non-alcoholic beverage for a placebo effect and keep your hands occupied. Make jokes about "staying hydrated" and find the fun.
5. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SUPPORTIVE PEOPLE
Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed. That's just a good lesson in life - don't put up with people who only want you around as a filler. Find people who support you and support them.
A 2015 report by Victoria University found Australian music industry workers are ten times more likely to suffer from anxiety and five times more likely to suffer from depression than the average person. Sleep deprivation, drugs and a lack of a stable income are key factors - but so is a culture where alcohol is widely condoned.
The year opened my eyes to an alternative, and I learnt much about myself, as well as the culture of drinking within both the music and tradie cultures.