Sober Session #3 - Secrets of an International DJ turned GP.

Dr James Stewart, from @the_na_guys tells me why he gave up his wild lifestyle to retrain in Medicine, and shares what we all know deep down. Your GP knows you’re lying!

James is a country raised, soon to be father who now lives in Noosa and works as a GP. His story is one of wild festival and nightclubs and excessive partying and drinking that eventually led him back to Uni to study to become a GP.

Today James has been sober for over a year and is on a mission to help others. Firstly, with his no-nonsense approach in his day job as a GP and secondly with his mate Sonny as one half of the @the_NA_guys. Together they explore and recommend Alcohol Free beers as a way of cutting back on or cutting out alcohol.

As an international DJ James connected his drinking to the lifestyle he was leading. He loved DJ’ing but thought that if he stopped, so would the drinking. But it didn’t. He talks me through the denial which plagued him, even as he trained to be a Dr, and how finally the penny dropped, and he quit for good.

The Aussie Way

James grew up in a country town. His Dad came home from work each day, cracked a few beers with his wife and James, like many of us, came to associate the after-work wind-down with (somewhat excessive) drinking. This association was so ingrained that even after deciding to quit the booze and study to be a GP, he still couldn’t detach from this ritual and, whilst he knew it was doing him harm, he couldn’t seem to break the chain.

The points of no return.

Realising he couldn’t sustain his DJ’ing lifestyle James made the decision to return to Australia and study medicine. He threw himself into study and aced his classes but, with the ‘end of the day’ ritual still engrained in him, he would come home after a long day, drop into the Bottle shop, and drink on most nights.

In 2017 at a mates wedding, he flipped the wedding cake and passed out by 9pm in the middle of the wedding with no recollection of it, or his antics. The shame, guilt and embarrassment, and a few gentle nudges from his now wife, led to his first real attempt to quit. For over 6 months he replaced his routine beers with Alcohol free options, got seriously into exercise and started doing marathons and triathlons, becoming fitter than he’d ever been.

In April 2018, as he celebrated his anniversary with his wife James decided he was ready to moderate. It started with a champagne, moved to a red and well, as many of us can relate to, went downhill from there. That Christmas he watched a video of himself at his in-laws, dancing, pant-less, to Eagle Rock, with no memory of doing it. A few months later, he found himself drinking alone, at the local surf club after watching his best friend complete a marathon. He went ‘totally off the rails’ that night and, the next day had to call in sick to work which is when he decided enough was enough.

He knew he couldn’t even moderate and decided he would never drink again. The sense of relief he felt, having made that decision, surprised him. In fact, once he finally accepted that he couldn’t moderate he felt he could relax, accept his fate, and really start living his life to the full.

Fast-forward to August 2020 and James has over a year of sobriety under his belt. He knows he can never go back and he doesn‘t want to.

How did he do it?

Alcohol free options have been a game changer for James and his ‘co-pilot’ Sonny. Whilst they still enjoy the wind-down ritual at the end of the day, they’ve found that replacing alcohol with AF alternatives still gives them the sense of relaxation they sought when drinking but without the downsides. In fact, they now realise it was more the process of stopping, sitting, and enjoying a drink that was needed, and now they still do it, just without the alcohol.

It took James a few attempts, but he got there in the end. And with his experience, he’s now in the perfect position to help those like him.

As a GP James see people regularly that are struggling with the cycle of denial. He believes people in general are drinking far too much and I was interested to learn more about his role and how he approaches the problem when dealing with others.

Your GP knows you’re lying

I think we all know it, deep down. And most of us have, or will, lie to our GPs at some point, so I’m not surprised when James reveals that the rule of thumb is to times whatever the patients says by 4 – yes 4! This applies to booze and ciggies, probably exercise too, but in reverse! Whatever we tell our GP usually needs a little, shall we say, tweaking, to get to the whole truth.

The bottom line - Your GP can help you, but only if you want to be helped.

How your GP can help …. or not!

If you’re in denial about your problem, chances are you go to the GP and pray the question ‘how much do you drink’ doesn’t come up. I know I did, and if it does, we lie.

James says ‘I know that when I was drinking, I thought I was fine, drinking a six pack a night. I never mentioned it to my GP. Now as a sober GP I’m aware people don’t tell the truth so I approach it in a joking kind of way, use common terms, make it less confronting, and a lot of the time you can tell if they’re lying. The average person is still having too much during week, as well as binge drinking but they don’t realise it’s doing them real damage’

‘It’s hard as a GP, on the one hand you identify people that are drinking too much, you go over time in a session and try and help them, and you get nowhere – it deflates you. Unfortunately, that happens way more often that anyone coming in and being ready to make the changes required. This to can be frustrating and also works to the detriment of people who really do want to change.

In short, there’s not much a GP can do, if you won’t, or can’t be honest. Whilst James explains that many underlying health issues would resolve with better habits, less drink, more exercise, and healthier eating habits, he also acknowledges that it’s extremely hard for people to make these changes, and many just don’t want to do the work.

What to do if you really want help.

It takes courage. Be honest with yourself, but also be kind. Realising that this is a common problem can help. You’re really not alone and you can get help. The number one thing is honesty.

‘If someone came in sat down and said I’m concerned I’m drinking too much and I need help” then we could focus the entire consult on this spend all the valuable time coming up with a plan. If you are still worried about saying to your GP then say it to a mate. You never know. They may be secretly battling the bottle also and you can team up and conquer it together.

And whilst this sounds simple, and in many ways, it is, the only way you’ll help yourself is by letting others in, taking a leap of faith and having the courage and persistence to do something that is ultimately going to change your life for the better.

James and Sonny’s top 3 tips for making changes to your drinking habits

1. Alcohol free alternatives – find a 0% beer or drink that you love and start to replace your knock-off drinks with these. Even alternating can be a good start.

2. Tell your mates – put it out there, be brave. Any good friend will support you and, may even join you in cutting back, as Sonny did with James

3. If you are really committed to changing and you need help, have a chat with your GP -but be honest! You have nothing tom lose, cos they know you’re lying 

James and Sonny are best mates living in Noosa and on The Gold Coast. You can follow their recommendations and outstanding athletic feats @the_NA_guys on Instagram.

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