Seize Sunday


WORDS Hannah McNicholas

Getting back the morning after with Hello Sunday Morning.

Saturday night out always sounds like a great idea. You get dressed up, have a few drinks, everyone has a great time, until you have a few tequilas too many, someone’s throwing up in the bathroom, and you wake up on Sunday morning with a hangover of epic proportions. You know the one I’m talking about. The kind of head-pounding, gut-churning morning after that all the black coffee and popcorn chicken in the world can’t cure, and you find yourself swearing you’ll never drink that much again. You really mean it this time.
Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) is out to change all that, turning those miserable mornings into Sundays worth remembering.

We rarely stop to consider our drinking choices, but university students are especially susceptible to the lure of alcohol and the drinking culture that is widespread among young Australians. The Hello Sunday Morning campaign urges drinkers to take a break from the booze and consider their personal relationship with alcohol. Over 10,000 people have taken on the challenge since 2010, and now, HSM is launching at Macquarie University.

The program is simple. HSMers sign up online, committing to a period without alcohol – usually 12 weeks – and set goals to achieve during their abstinence to help motivate. Instead of spending Sunday mornings recovering from a Saturday night binge, HSMers are encouraged to use their time to pursue other goals, hobbies and social activities. The goal is to empower people of all ages to make responsible, informed decisions about their drinking habits.

[quote]I’ve found I have a better relationship with alcohol now[/quote]

Rhys Gill, Brand Manager of the HSM initiative and Macquarie University student, undertook the program in his first year of university life. Living out of home for the first time, he found himself drawn into the carefree student lifestyle of partying and heavy drinking.

“For my first semester, alcohol was a huge part of my life,” he says. “I could drink every day if I wanted to, with a big group of people. Then I did my three months over my birthday and Conception Day. By the end of it, I almost didn’t want to drink alcohol again.

“I didn’t want to go back to that. When the first drink was put in front of me on the first day, I was kind of reluctant. But what I didn’t realise is that over the twelve weeks, I’d built up a kind of muscle that allowed me to be more autonomous in that regard. I’ve found I have a better relationship with alcohol now.”

For many young people, socialising and drinking go hand in hand, so taking a break from alcohol can present a unique challenge. University social life is often fuelled by alcohol, and when all your friends are drinking, staying sober can be a struggle.
“At first going out was a challenge,” says Rhys. “Being out in a social circumstance, having everyone ask ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’ and having to say that I’d quit. But I’d still go out while I was sober and still have heaps of fun.”

While the HSM campaign began with the idea of a productive, hangover-free Sunday morning, it ultimately fosters will-power, responsibility and positivity, and encourages participants to apply that mentality to every hour of your week.
“The 12 weeks is a chance to step back and look at why you drink,” says Rhys. “I looked at myself and saw that I found confidence in drinking. Once I figured that out, I started looking at how I was supposed to be confident when I wasn’t drinking.”

The HSM website provides a blogging platform, allowing users to reflect upon their journey, share their experiences and support each other as they undertake the challenge. While Rhys admits he wasn’t religious about keeping his blog up to date, he did publish the occasional post and found it helped him through the program. “It helped me put my thoughts into words,” he says, “and to understand why I was doing it and what I was getting out of it.”

Rhys agrees that the HSM program wasn’t always easy, but he found that the benefits far outweighed any difficulties. Not only did he develop a better attitude towards alcohol, he discovered the true impact alcohol was having upon him, and saw the unexpected benefits of reducing his drinking.

“I lost about nine kilos in a month and a half, I didn’t even have to do anything, which goes to show how much I was drinking before. I got a girlfriend. I saved heaps of money, it helped with uni. Everything was positively affected. There was nothing negative from taking on the three months.”

[quote]For about six months, any doctor would have called me an alcoholic…[/quote]

“My habits have changed,” he goes on. “For about six months, any doctor would have called me an alcoholic. Now I drink on occasions that call for it, like the State of Origin or at a festival. But if I’m just going out to dinner I don’t always feel like it. I think that’s what I’ve learned, the ability to say no. I don’t drink when I don’t feel like it, instead of just suppressing that and drinking anyway.”
He laughs and continues: “I’ve cut out the one beer too. There’s no point in the one beer. It’s like a cheeseburger, that’s all it is. There’s no point.”

Rhys is currently working on establishing an HSM group at Macquarie, in the hope of encouraging students to reconsider their drinking habits. He knows he’s got a tough job ahead of him. “Drinking culture is pretty well ingrained,” he says. “I was well, well into it, which I think helps me most understand how to approach the challenge. My main goal for the next year is to register 500 Macquarie students online.”

“The ones who haven’t had a good education are the ones who can fall through the cracks,” says Rhys. “People aren’t used to it, they don’t want to be responsible for teaching good alcohol habits. It’s too taboo. How do you tell kids that something that makes you feel good should only be had in moderation?”

And moderation is the key. HSM does not call for permanent sobriety or drastic, life-long change. Instead, it encourages a short, voluntary break from alcohol and gives participants a chance to reconsider their drinking habits and the impact alcohol has in their lives.
Above all, it’s about setting and achieving small goals and working towards the development of a better, more self-aware drinking culture.

Rhys agrees that the real strength of HSM lies in its power to create positive change in individual lives. “The fact that you’ve gone out and achieved something, that’s going to make you more positive,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how you get positive, if you’ve got that positivity you’re more likely to succeed at whatever you’re trying to do.”