“In a very short amount of time, I was in a much healthier, happier place” - GANDALF ARCHER MILLS on how quitting alcohol changed his life

Are you sober-curious? Dry January, AKA going alcohol-free for the first month of the year, is a challenge that helps millions of people reset their relationship with alcohol for the year. Gandalf Archer Mills, Program Director for BODYJAM, has had an evolving relationship with Alcohol and has been sober for almost 2 years now. LES MILLS INSIDER caught up with him to find out what sobriety has done for him.


Hi G! You’ve been sober for almost 2 years now. Why did you stop drinking?


It's a very personal subject for me, so honestly it feels strange sharing this information. I’ve kept it very close to just my family and loved ones. But I’m really proud of the changes I’ve made so, OK, here goes:

For most of my adult life, since maybe my early 20s, I had regularly consumed alcohol. And, over the years, it went from being a weekly occurrence to daily.

I would have one drink in the afternoon and that was it, or I might end up having five drinks in a day, then do it again a couple of times a week. And what I have realized since then was that a constant daily intake of alcohol was making me feel super crap, a lot of the time.

Last year, early 2019, I was tired, all of the time. I would wake up feeling tired, so inhale four or five black coffees. I’d feel better, so I’d smash out a workout and I’d feel better again. But every day, about 2pm, I'd start feeling tired again.

I was teaching overseas and I got sick - not alcohol related - and so I didn't drink for a few days. As the sickness decreased, I thought I’d try not drinking at all for a while. At the time, I wasn’t thinking that alcohol was gone from my life forever. It was more like, I want to see what happens if I don’t drink at all.

What was the first thing that changed after you stopped?

After maybe two weeks of not drinking, I started to sleep so much better. I would actually fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed and I was sleeping straight through for seven hours, which felt amazing. It was a different kind of sleep – one I hadn’t experienced for a long time. Before that, I would always wake up for at least an hour every night around 1 or 2am.

And how did not drinking affect your health?

Within a month I noticed how much better I felt, how much healthier - which never happened when I was consumed alcohol every day. I was like, wow this was the best decision ever, I love this. I’m just going to do this forever now.

I also noticed that I started losing weight quite easily and found that, if I did gain a bit of weight - holidays or Christmas - I could get back to normal much faster.

After maybe two weeks of not drinking, I started to sleep so much better. I would actually fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed and I was sleeping straight through for seven hours, which felt amazing.

How did you tell people you’d stopped drinking?

Initially, I didn't tell anyone. It was months before I even told my closest friends. It felt like a personal thing - like an experiment where I didn't know what the outcome was going to be. I didn't talk about it because I just didn't really know where it was going or if it was going to last more than three months or six months or a year... I just knew that I really liked it, which made it easier to just keep going.

When I was two or three months into it that I realized how much I loved not drinking and all of the mental and physical benefits that were showing up. So then, if it came up a conversation, I'd be like, yeah, I'm not drinking, I'm just doing this new thing now and I'm really enjoying.

And what kind of reaction did you get?

I found a lot of people were really surprised when I told them, and by far the majority were like, “Wow that’s so awesome congrats”. There were also those who I found became defensive, no matter how I framed the conversation. Some people reacted like I was judging them. I've never passed any judgment on other people’s lifestyle choices: I just said, I’m choosing my own journey and I'm trying my life now without alcohol.

What has it been like to socialize without alcohol?

On a night out, and as the night goes on, the music needs to be particularly good for me to continue enjoying myself. But mostly I enjoy causing chaos with my wife, she is a master of mischief at events. I guess, if you’re out with somebody you really like being with, it makes not drinking much easier.

I love waking up in the morning and feeling great. I remember hangovers… man they are the worst. When I was younger they never seemed that bad – or perhaps they were and I just pushed through it. But getting hangovers later in life made me think, what the hell why would I do this to myself?

And 2020, yeowzers what a year huh? 2020 for myself, along with some people I’m close to, has been an excellent time to look at behaviors and patterns we engage in without really thinking about it - doing what we have always done - and now I know that if I am invited to a party or event and I don’t really want to go, I just, won’t go. Because maybe, if it’s something that you’ll need to be drinking at to enjoy yourself, then it’s not something you really want to do?

Some people reacted like I was judging them. I've never passed any judgment on other people’s lifestyle choices: I just said, I’m choosing my own journey and I'm trying my life now without alcohol.

So what do you drink instead? Alcohol-free substitutes?

I found it hard to find something interesting to drink when I wanted a delicious cold beverage. The market has very, very limited options of alcohol-free drinks that make you think “damn that was delicious”, although it is getting better.

I went through a long phase of drinking sparkling water with ice and lime. It’s the closest thing I've found to that drink feel.

Lately I’ve been addicted to this kefir drink you can get in New Zealand called Redeem. I’m drinking way too much of it for sure, but it’s gotta be making me healthier. Kombucha, and I love tea, also restaurants normally have a good selection of non-alcoholic cocktails.

It’s commonly thought that alcohol helps us to relax. How do you relax instead?

I think people feel they need alcohol to relax; that was certainly something I thought.

The first thing that I learned was that I was really craving a state change, and so I’ve found other ways to create that change.

I discovered that I love being in peaceful environments, ideally in nature. When I'm traveling (wow remember traveling?!?), I just walk and ride bikes and find really scenic places - and stay the hell away from looking at my phone. I certainly wouldn't call myself proficient at meditation, but I've learned some basic skills and that's helped me find comfort.

I’ve also got four kids and a big job, so it's really loud in my house all of the time. As soon as it's quiet, I can switch very quickly into a relaxed headspace. Last night, after all the kids had gone to bed, I went downstairs and sat looking into the garden of our house and it was warm and raining and it was divine. I sat there staring at nothing, just being in my own head. That’s what I find most relaxing.

So would you describe yourself as an introvert?

Yeah, for sure. I am super comfortable in my own space without any external input, which I think people find surprising, I guess because of my job. I love traveling and I love being around and meeting new people, the events, and teaching on those huge stages is the absolute best. But when it’s all finished, I love being by myself again. Or like I said, hit the streets for adventures.

I’m really happy that I no longer have an alcohol habit and I now maintain a lifestyle where I get to choose when I drink – versus it being out of my control.

Would you ever drink again?

I turned forty, six months ago, and I had a big party. And, if I'm completely honest, it was cool, there were some amazing moments, of dancing and laughing, but also I didn't have the best time.

Partly it was because I was trying to organize everything – logistics and transport for people and stuff – it was constant all night.

But I think the other reason was that I did have a few drinks. When everyone arrived at the party I pulled out some whiskey and was like, oh, I’ll have some whiskey. Because I hadn’t drank for a really long time, I felt comfortable not needing alcohol anymore. So I had some whiskey and tequila, which was super fun for a minute. But then, like after two hours, I didn't feel in control. And feeling in control of my headspace and of my environment is one of the things I love most about not drinking.

I’ve also had some red wine a couple of times since then, just because it was ridiculously good wine and I wanted to enjoy the flavor. I’m really happy that I no longer have an alcohol habit and I now maintain a lifestyle where I get to choose when I drink – versus it being out of my control.

But even the small amount of alcohol I’ve had in the last six months, I haven’t really enjoyed. It’s just not for me any more.

Did you find it hard to quit?

Honestly, no not really. I felt so much better, so fast, that it felt, for me, it was easy to just stick with it.

I grew up in suburban Auckland, so like a lot of people there was alcohol and drug abuse with family and friends. I was surrounded by it. I've seen how substance abuse can negatively affect people's lives for the long term.

I suppose I was really, really lucky that it didn’t feel crazy hard for me to make those lifestyle choices. I know that for some people, giving up addiction is huge, the biggest biggest thing. It can take years and years, it can be an ongoing battle, and I have mad respect for anyone that does go through that because addiction sucks. It needs to be treated as a public health issue. I’ve always hated how politicians write off whole swathes of society as being useless because they have an addiction - whether it's alcohol, gambling, or drugs. I know it’s the environment that people grow up in that have led them to those choices.

So what advice would you give to someone who is considering doing Dry January?

There’s probably lots of people who feel like they could use a month off alcohol. If you feel like that, and this is just my suggestion, how about take a whole year off!

This is just my journey. Everyone reacts differently to substances. I was reacting a certain way to alcohol and I decided to remove it from my life and see what would happen. As I've aged, my perceptions around many health-related issues have changed and evolved. Eventually, I realized that I didn't want to go down the road that I was going any more, having alcohol as a daily part of my life. And I just started feeling so much better straight away that I knew I made the right decision.

Now, I like being in my head. I like me. And I like not having to step out of that; I really enjoy my own presence more, being in my own headspace. I love not feeling dulled or foggy, being in a constant daze. The life that I've been rewarded with by not drinking is far superior to the life I had before where I felt like I needed to have alcohol to enjoy myself, to relax, or to have fun at parties. The advice to those who are thinking “I want to do Dry January” is, listen to your body and take it day by day, you don’t have to think of it as a rule etched in stone. Maybe start with less alcohol each week? Or one night off a week? Or, why not, try Dry 2021?!? It’s your life, you’re in control.