Sam Delaney is a journalist and broadcaster. Entrenched in the British binge drinking culture, he felt like he was living the life until he wasn’t. In today’s episode, he discusses the “toxic and dysfunctional” British drinking culture and how he left it behind.
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I’m so fascinated with the British cultural relationship with booze where alcohol is an entrenched part of our culture and drinking to excess is often a given.
A little while ago I was a guest on Sam Delaney’s podcast and I really wanted to have him on the Soberful podcast because he has such an interesting story.
As a TV presenter of many years and a part of the 90s Britpop culture, Sam is the type of person I’d see on TV talking about an exciting life of partying and drinking.
But seven years ago, he stopped drinking and surprised himself when he realized that he loved life sober.
In this episode, Sam shares his experiences with British drinking culture, his journey to sobriety, and why it’s so important to have positive role models of all walks of life in recovery.
Enjoy the episode!
About Sam Delaney
Sam Delaney is a journalist, broadcaster, and author. His writing has appeared everywhere from The Guardian to the Telegraph to the NME. He is the former editor-in-chief of Heat magazine and was also editor-in-chief of Comedy Central UK between 2013 and 2015. He has published three non-fiction books: Get Smashed (2007), Night Of The Living Dad (2009), and Mad Men And Bad Men (2015). His next book, on men and mental health, will be published in 2022 by Constable.
Sam writes The Reset newsletter via Substack about addiction and mental health. The Reset is also now a successful podcast that has featured a range of guests talking about mental health from Sean Ryder to Alaistair Campbell to Seth Meyers. He also hosts the popular podcast Top Flight Time Machine which has had over 9 million downloads since 2018. In the past he has made TV documentaries with the BBC and Channel 4 and hosted radio shows on Talksport, Talk Radio and BBC 5 Live.
He lives in London with his wife and two children and is a recovering addict with almost seven years of sobriety.
90s Britpop & Hedonism
“In my opinion, most people are part of a toxic, dysfunctional relationship with booze in the UK.” – Sam Delaney
Growing up in the 80s and 90s in the UK, everything centered around drinking and football.
Add to that the laddism and aspirational lifestyle promised by magazines like Loaded, it was almost inevitable that Sam ended up with an extremely unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
“Loaded basically took this life of wanton hedonism and elevated it and packaged it as something that was really aspirational.” – Sam Delaney
Go hard or go home
From around the age of 13, for Sam, going out with friends meant getting completely wasted.
Drinking or getting high was the main event, and nothing else really mattered.
“We’re all going to gather, I don’t care where, and we’re going to put substances into our bodies until we become ill, or incapable or so consumed by fear or paranoia that we just have to go home or pass out.” – Sam Delaney
It all comes from this messaging we receive that alcohol is the only way to have fun. It’s ingrained in us from a young age and even in moments when it’s totally unnecessary, it seems like the thing you’re “supposed” to do.
“It’s Friday night. I know we’re having a relaxed night in but I’m going to have to go buy a number of super-strength cans of lager because if not, I’m just admitting defeat in life. I might as well get the pipe and slippers.” – Sam Delaney
The breaking point
Looking at Sam’s career, you’d think that his time in the media industry would have been his worst moments of partying and going overboard with celebrities, drinking, and taking substances.
The truth is much less glamorous.
During the most stressful points of his career, Sam pulled back from the party lifestyle, not trusting himself to perform well under that pressure.
It was later, living in the suburbs with his wife and kids that a lifetime of different stresses and strains that he’d covered up with drugs, drink and distraction finally caught up with him.
Approaching 40, Sam started to secretively self-medicate with alcohol and cocaine.
“The truth is a lot of my problem drinking and drug-taking was very quiet, in suburban pubs, on my own, in the middle of the day.” – Sam Delaney
“The same silly TV shows and films that glamorize drinking also spread unhelpful cliches about recovery and therapy and put off blokes like me.” – Sam Delaney
After stopping and starting over and over, Sam realized that if he was going to get sober, he had to bring his problems out of secrecy and be fully accountable.
In the middle of the night, he reached out to a rehab facility and then panicked when they returned his call in the morning.
Fighting his instincts that it was a big, dirty secret he had to hide, he went to the rehab facility and met a wonderful woman who helped him first shift his thinking.
She was a psychotherapist and former addict and the way she spoke broke his fear that this was all going to be a hippy-dippy path where he would never belong.
That day he agreed to see her once a week and after asking her advice for getting through the first days of sobriety she shared a phrase that stuck with him: “No one ever regretted not having a drink, did they?”
A sober life
“Building a life that is so much more fun and exciting and dynamic and full of possibility. That’s really the best cure.” – Sam Delaney
Over the years, Sam built his own program for sobriety. Working with an addiction expert and combining therapy with reading and group work have built a strong foundation for his sobriety.
Through that, he’s built a life that he loves and which is so much better than what he had before.
But it wasn’t easy to embrace it in the beginning.
Even after accepting that he couldn’t simply cut down on his consumption, the first six months of sobriety had Sam drinking a lot of non-alcoholic beer, espressos, and even the odd spliff.
In his mind, he was still buying into the messaging that you can’t live without the buzz so he tried to find it elsewhere.
It was only when he got serious about recovery and decided that he didn’t need a superficial buzz that he found a whole new and different life that was more fulfilling and nourishing than he would have believed possible.
“I think that had I met a different sort of sober person, a different sort of therapist, it might not have worked.” – Sam Delaney
Having positive role models who are sober is a massive thing.
When I got sober, I was sure I’d never have fun again. For Sam, his view of sobriety was quite dreary.
Luckily, by the time he was getting serious about sobriety, he had people in his life who were sober and seeing that they weren’t boring but in fact, were successful and dynamic gave him a push forward.
Finding people who have similar backgrounds or experiences to you is a massive benefit and can make the sober journey much easier and more enjoyable.
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