Friday, 3 March 2017

The Future

It's always in the unguarded moments, the times when you are the most relaxed about life or focussed on some other pressing matter, that thoughts of drinking again creep back in. 

For months on end I've opened the fridge and ignored the bottle of wine in the door, till last week when I lingered and I thought of all the 5pm moments of twisting the top open and pouring a hard-earned splash of chardonnay or a crisp, refreshing cider. I've been sober for 259 days now and I'm starting to think ahead to how I will celebrate day 365 - the end of my initial challenge to myself to go without alcohol for a year and change my relationship with it, forever.

I've been pretty staunch in my thinking that I will probably carry on with my sober life, because I know if I drink again I risk slipping slowly back to the way I used to drink. But just lately hairline cracks have been appearing in my thoughts around alcohol (Alcohol isn't all that bad if I drink responsibly. Alcohol isn't completely evil. You used to love it. You can handle drinking again, because you know you can stop again if you want to)

I met a fellow sober warrior on my way to pick up my daughter from school last week. She says she was sober for a couple of years but had gone back to drinking occasionally, which had been going okay. I had already been thinking about drinking again after my year is up so it was interesting timing to run into her.

Is this why I am feeling a little disconnected from Living Sober at the moment? There are a lot of people on there who are trying so hard to kick alcohol out of their lives forever and here I am thinking of turning my back on sobriety on a mere whim. Even though we all have to do what is right for us, and only we truly know what that is, I feel pressure not to disappoint others.  

When I started out on this journey I leant heavily on the experience of those further down the road. I imagined being where they were someday, notably Mrs D (her strength, enthusiasm, wisdom and encouragement were hugely valuable for me in the early weeks and months). When I was thinking about quitting booze, there were two friends from university I noticed had posted about their sobriety on Facebook. One was marking five years sober and the other eight years. They were extolling the sober life and appeared strong in their resolve to never drink again. I wanted to be like them. 

Now that I have the tools to live this life on my terms, and not have to rely on alcohol to navigate the inevitable stresses and hard times we all face, I'm letting thoughts of going back to the old way inhabit my brain. Perhaps I'm starting to realise what an pervasive force alcohol is in the world - in all of our lives, whether we like it or not? 

I know quitting alcohol has enhanced my life, and the lives of those around me. I know I'm healthier and happier. I know I'm calmer (generally). I know I have a greater sense of who I am and who I'm not. I know my self esteem and confidence has increased. I've developed better coping and social skills without the crutch of alcohol. 

So why am I thinking about going back to the old life?

Maybe you can tell me because my usually logical brain can't make much sense of it.   


Monday, 13 February 2017

Nothing Doing ... (which is good right?)

Of late the silence has been a little deafening; my silence on sobriety, and the relative silence in my head. My lack of output in this blogging forum I have created for my sober journey has been nagging at me daily over the last few weeks. But I'm wondering if I'm starting to run out of things to say. My urgency, or need, to work through my thoughts and feelings on quitting booze, by writing about it, has certainly waned.

Have I reached the point where writing about it no longer helps me work through things, but only serves to stoke up temptations and negative thoughts?

I'm not saying I'm sorted, because after 241 sober days, I'm know I'm just a child. But I have seemed to settle into a patch where I no longer think much, if at all, about alcohol. Apart from the odd fleeting temptation, I no longer have any desire to go back to being a drinker. I'm just living. And I guess that's what I wanted all along. Not to have it occupy every thought, take up too much energy.  

I recently went on a 40th birthday party, in the form of a bus tour around the garden bars of rural North Canterbury. It was an all-day affair followed by an after party at the birthday boy's house. With a driver for the day and a bar-tab provided at each venue, it was the perfect recipe for indulging without restriction. The old me would have binged my merry way throughout the day and night and ended up a sloppy mess and a very sorry boy the next morning. The new me drank a couple of Cokes, something approaching my body-weight in water, and even a mid-afternoon coffee (which didn't go unnoticed not that I cared). The host's wife was concerned I wouldn't have, or wasn't having a good time being surrounded by all the drinkers, however her fears were misplaced. I had a brilliant day, filled with much lively conversation and the observance of some truly spectacular bus-aisle dancing. At the end of the night I drove my wife home and at 7am the next morning we got up and went on a hill walk to make the most of our kid-free morning. I have mentioned several times in this blog, and to anyone who asks how the sober lark is going, that I cherish my mornings these days.

Waking up with a clear head and energy to sustain me through the day NEVER gets old.

I think it's a good thing that I've settled into my sobriety, despite having nothing much to write about at the moment. I feel lucky that it's not a daily struggle for me. I'm not marking time till my year is up and I can drink again (if I choose). Whether I drink again (and this is unlikely) is largely irrelevant to me now. I'm grateful to be experiencing a sober lifestyle for the first time in my adult life. You can't gain perspective on it while you're still drinking. I'm proving to myself that I can live, easily, without alcohol. I've debunked all the myths about alcohol that I used to believe; that it helps you have a good time, that it makes you more social, that it helps you deal with stress, that it makes you happier, that it's part of life so there's no other option than being a drinker, that it helps solve life's problems.

Anyway, before this turns into a unstructured rant I'm going to sign off.

I just wanted you to know I'm still here, I'm still sober, and I'm happy.

There's just nothing much doing (which is a good thing right?).



Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Nostalgia and Other Mind Tricks

It's been a tough time for many over the Christmas and New Year period. The added stress, the triggers, the life pushed slightly out of routine, the added temptation of holiday-season parties, have seen more then a few people on Living Sober posting with regret and angst about returning to day one. Thankfully I haven't had to deal with any strong physical cravings for alcohol. I don't relate to the stern daily tests many others are experiencing, the white knuckle ride many are describing. This has been why I have questioned at times whether I needed to give up at all (the multiple benefits of my new lifestyle have made this question largely irrelevant for me now).

However, during the holidays I have started to remember the good times, and frequently I've felt like joining in and have a few drinks with the others. At the cricket in Mt Maunganui I watched the parade of fellow 40-something-year-old men toting plastic cups of ice-cold beer around the boundary back to their seats. I remembered the last time I had drunk alcohol at the cricket, on a searingly hot afternoon at picturesque Hagley Oval, taking turns with my mates to buy the maximum four beers, spilling slightly more on each return trip as the beer took more of its sweet effect. I thought about the first refreshing gulp - I can still remember the taste - the eyelids getting slightly heavy, the speech slightly slurred, as beer after beer disappeared. I remember finding the drunken antics of others absolutely hilarious, feeling like I was part of the party, one of the gang.

It's funny how the mind plays tricks on you. Mostly I don't think about drinking at all these days, but just lately very specific memories have flooded my sober brain - the taste, the smell, the sensations of that first drink. The day dreams have mostly been about beer (which in recent years I had largely given up because it caused me skin problems). Is it a rosy-eyed remembrance of my youth, of the days when alcohol was the main vehicle of my social life, when I could drink what I liked and not have a hangover. Those days where when alcohol was the ultimate conduit of celebration, the convenient and instant salve for my problems?

Right now I'm nursing an injured AC joint in my shoulder. It has been dogging me for months and I have no idea how I did it. I went to my first physiotherapy session yesterday and I'm relieved that the prognosis is good. It will come right with the proper care and exercise to strengthen the ligaments around the joint. It turns out is likely to be old rugby injuries to the shoulder that were never treated at the time that are coming back to haunt me (and I can recall a few times I injured it). In those days my young body would bounce back quickly from most minor knocks. We'd all pile into town after our games and dull the pain of our injuries with beer, anyway. If it wasn't broken you'd generally carry on.

These days I can't avoid dealing with my problems - physical or psychological. I could have drunk cider and wine every night to help deal with my shoulder pain, but it wouldn't have solved the problem. Nothing, other than rehabbing it properly, is going to fix my shoulder. Alcohol is NOT an answer (before I quit I tried to make a list of the ways alcohol had truly helped me and I couldn't think of anything).

Like Lotta Dann says, life is often raw and gritty and tough, without alcohol to numb ourselves to life's struggles. But I wouldn't have it any other way.      

There is no way of avoiding the occasional rose-tinted view of my former glorious drinking days, but if I have to pine occasionally for a cold beer or two then so be it. It's a small price to pay for how much better life is sober. Maybe one day I'll be free of these thoughts as I get more and more sober years behind me.

I'm committed to living my life sober. And that's what I'm going to do.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Treading a Fine Line

Last night I helped celebrate another friend's 40th birthday at a courtyard party in town. It was the first big social occasion since I shared my post New Year's blog on my Facebook page - revealing my new sober lifestyle for the first time to my wider circle.

Amplifying my discomfort was having to attend solo - my wife kept home with a sore throat. I ordered a cranberry and lime soda and lingered awkwardly at the edge of a couple of groups' conversations till more people arrived. I soon mixed in and began to relax.

The questions I asked myself in the hours before the party were:

1. Would having revealed my sober stance/lifestyle to the masses make me feel self conscious and awkward?

2. Would it become the object of lengthy and tiring conversation - having to justify/explain throughout the night why I had to take such a drastic step?

3. Would my drinking friends feel like I was criticising them?  

The hardest thing about answering questions about my sobriety is the fine line I have to walk between describing the benefits without coming across as criticising the other person, or their choice to drink. It's hard having to walk this line when what I really want to shout to as many people as possible is:

"I've never been so happy, healthy, fulfilled, productive, settled, confident, socially at ease, and self assured as I have been since I quit this evil poison. Giving up alcohol is, hands down, the best decision of my life and I feel like I've saved myself a considerable amount of future misery and anguish. I can't recommend the sober life enough!"

To aid the mental shifts you make when giving up a vice such as alcohol, I've found it necessary to adopt a fairly negative attitude towards every aspect of alcohol. But I've consciously not adopted the same negative attitude towards people who drink. That is their personal decision. It's none of my business. My wife still enjoys drinking wine, as do most of the people I know. I can hate the game but still love the players right?

Did I get asked about my sober life last night? Absolutely, but it was fine. I actually enjoyed talking about it, and it didn't dominate the night. The theme of the night was great conversation with lovely friends, standing for a good deal of it beside a toasty outdoor gas fire. Our discussions about drinking alcohol, quitting alcohol, and the role of booze in all of our lives were funny, serious, and mature. What I am finding is that many of my friends are changing the way they drink as they move towards their 40s, totally independantly of my decisions around it.

Since I shared the New Year's post several friends sent messages that they too had quit alcohol (one friend has been three years' sober) and had enjoyed similar improvements in their lives.

So, it seems I have company!

I also know that my friends remain my friends regardless of our respective stances on alcohol. We often build these things up into major issues in our mind when most people care little about it, other than the odd passing observance. Many don't even notice.    

Last night, I chatted to the stragglers outside as the party venue was locked around us then drove a car-load of the happy revellers home towards the dark outskirts of Christchurch.

Being defined by my sobriety is no longer something that bothers me.


Monday, 2 January 2017

A New Year to Remember

As the clock ticked over to a new year (and I hugged, kissed and shook hands with each member of this year's small group of revellers) my sobriety spanned across two years for the first time since I was was a young bullet-proof teen.

I joined our friends as we shouted "Happy New Year" into the starry sky over Hanmer - happy and grateful for being with good friends celebrating another year alive - and I thought of all the train-wreck new year's nights in my life that alcohol has tainted. I also spared a thought for the drunken New Year's fun and hijinks I've had. After all, it wasn't all bad.

I embraced and kissed my precious wife, and our charmed life together flashed through my head; countless warm embraces, conversations of depth, a million moments of fun and laughter, our first weekend as a new enchanted couple 20 years ago (spent hand-in-hand walking the streets of Hanmer incidentally), the earth-movingly emotional moments our children were born, how truly I know and love her, and how generously she returns my love.

Truly sober reflections. Powerful. Honest. Real.

Tomorrow will be sober day 200. As the days pass, I feel increasingly grateful. I'm mindful of the countless small ways my life is enhanced, and the few big ones. I'm proud of myself and of my fellow sober warriors, who understand what it is to swim against a current so strong. In the nearly seven months of sobriety, I've come to highly value the hangover-free mornings. In the past, the morning was just the start to the day, and often not a good one. But now I regard the sober mornings as a daily gift to myself. It's not that all mornings are awesome. Some are truly rotten and grumpy. But most are pretty bloody marvellous. Is this mostly to do with a shift in attitude or is it a spinoff of my healthier state? Or is it a mix of both? Is it merely an absence of the dehydrated state left after a night of boozing?

One thing I know is that the sluggish, dead-headed mornings are no longer the price of a good (or bad) night drinking. My good (or bad) nights sober can leave me feeling weary from lack of sleep but generally fresh and ready for whatever I choose to do. I'm far more present and helpful to my children when they bound into our room at, or before, the crack of dawn.

The main thing I was looking forward to in the aftermath of the New Year's revelry was an early-morning run up Conical Hill. I left about 7am and had the hill to myself apart from a couple of fellow early risers. On the way down I saw one ashen-faced chap hauling himself up the track in spite of his pounding hangover, and I figuratively high-fived myself that I no longer have to recover from the same alcohol-induced physical malaise (I don't know for certain that he was hungover, but it works well for this particular narrative). I no longer have to drag my heavy bones out of bed or groan about my pounding headache, or how I drank one too many drinks (it's always one too many) the night before. It was just me and the soft underfoot crunch of the fallen-pine-needle track and the shafts of light sneaking through the stilt-straight trees. At the top I lingered to enjoy the view, my breathing heavy, my brow dripping alcohol-free sweat.

It's in these moments I can look with valuable perspective on how alcohol has been a handbrake on my life.

When I was a drinker, I thought it was an intrinsic part of life, that I couldn't (or wouldn't want to) do without. Drinking was just what people did - and managing/putting up with the negative effects of it on mind and body was just part of the deal. It was an adult right, and something to enjoy (but not too much that you came completely unstuck, or to the point it spilled over to affect your public or working life).

Now, mostly, I feel lucky that something caused me to pause and consider stepping back from it in order to work out if it was something I wanted or needed.

To know that alcohol's no longer important, and in fact never really was, and that life is better without it, is one of the great discoveries of my life.

All the best for 2017.

Sober Man

A few photos of Conical Hill in the early days, in winter and one of the pine-needle track.



Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Restringing the Clothesline Sober

My father has just turned 80. In his father's generation, the man was seen to be the leader of the family, the breadwinner, and the dominant figure in the house (although my dad's mum was a very strong woman and a leader of her family in many less overt, but no less important, ways). My wife and I have always had an equal partnership. We're both  leaders for our children; our roles frequently overlap, and we bring our respective skills and strengths to the table. 

The other day I was thinking about how giving up alcohol for me is part of how I'm leading positive change for the family. Our family life is fairly similar and was always good but the emphasis has shifted with alcohol out of the picture. Earlier in the year alcohol was an almost daily part of life. We weren't drinking every day, and most of our drinking was done in the evening, but it was always visible to our young children - the bottles of red wine perched on the top shelf of the bar, the riggers of cider in the door of the fridge, and the reserve stock of wine club bottles waiting on the wine rack for a thirsty mouth, or the glass or two of booze sipped while making dinner and before bedtime. There were the conversations about stocking up for the weekend, the boxes of wine delivered to our doorstep and unpacked to the aforementioned laundry-cupboard wine rack, the weekly perusing of the supermarket alcohol section with our toddler wriggling in the shopping trolley, and me asking my wife as she came through the door from work: "Would you like a wine darling? I'm having one."

I blogged previously about how my three year old had begun asking if we were drinking rose, pinot noir or chardonnay. I also mentioned in a previous blog how one of my friends questioned whether my decision to quit alcohol would mean the kids would miss the opportunity to have responsible drinking modelled to them. They now have both responsible drinking (from my wife) and non-drinking (from me) modelled to them. For them to know they have the option of living sober, if that's what they want, I think is powerful. It's not inevitable that they will become drinkers. It's both possible to live without alcohol and it has a positive effect in so many parts of life.    

Very early in my sober journey I cleared the bar and the fridge of alcohol so I didn't have to look at it every day. In the last six months we've rarely had alcohol in the fridge and maybe only a couple of bottles of wine stashed in the laundry cupboard. Over Christmas we've had the fridge stocked with wine and beer for our guests - and my wife has enjoyed sipping on the odd glass of wine - but my sober Christmas (my first completely alcohol-free Christmas for 27 years) has meant I have viewed it through a different lens. 

This year, Christmas was navigated without booze by me, but it seemed far less boozy in general compared with previous years. I remember the Christmas Days from before we had kids, when we would start drinking over breakfast and walk between various family members' houses for the rest of the day, drinking on our merry way. Booze was a big part of the day. Even last year I ended the day feeling totally stuffed full of food, red wine, beer and champagne - a day of absolute excess. This year assorted family member gathered at our house for a pancake breakfast and present opening. They enjoyed a glass of bubbly but it was all about the kids and sharing family time. I drank ginger ale out of a champagne glass - three cans of it (I've never been one for moderation!). The middle of the day was down time before we all headed over to my father-in-law's house for a swim and dinner. Down time for me was spent re-stringing our clothesline and, with the help of my dad, levelling a sunken section of our lawn that has bothered me for three years. Try restringing a clothesline with a skin-full of alcohol and let me know how you get on!!! I prepared sushi for pre-dinner snacks and then ran over to my father-in-law's while the others went ahead in the car. 

There were a few quiet drinks but the emphasis was on family. I drove the family home later in the night, weary from the big day but happily sober. 

I had the Christmas Day I wanted, on my sober terms, and it was the best Christmas I can remember since I was an excited kid. I predicted that I wouldn't feel like I was missing out, or that I wouldn't regret drinking ginger ale instead of bubbly. 

The only (small) regret I have is that I didn't see the light and quit alcohol sooner. 




Thursday, 22 December 2016

Merry Sober Christmas

This time of year brings with it the added stress of last-minute shopping, madly rushing to get all your work done for ever-demanding clients before the close of the working year, more people on the roads trying evermore ambitious and crazy manoeuvres to get to where they want to go as fast as possible, and the impending arrival of family and friends for a Christmas toast.

My parents are staying at the moment and they've stocked my fridge with their wine and champagne for the big day on Sunday. There have been several conversations about whether there is enough booze or whether everyone's tastes have been catered for. I've been an unwilling party to these logistical discussions. Unwilling, mainly because I've long opted out of all that. I mean, I bought some wine for them due to the fact that I am the person in our house that does the shopping, but that's as far as I intended to be involved. Listen to me! The old me would have been just as worried that the unthinkable would happen and we'd run out.

These days I renounce all booze, it's physical and mental effects, it's effect on society, it's role in our lives and, yes, even discussing it. It's not that it makes me yearn for it - quite the opposite actually. It's just no longer a factor in my life, as it is for others.

I had someone from my inner circle, who knew I had quit booze, ring me to tell me they had a drinking problem and wanted to do something about it. They wanted to ask my advice about how I've gone about it, which made me feel both hugely proud and privileged. I sent them helpful links and words of encouragement. I stressed the importance of reaching out and connecting with like-minded support, in terms of other people striving to live sober lives.  I wished the person well and said to keep in touch - that I was always available for a chat.

I asked someone I respect greatly (Lotta aka Mrs D) whether I had given the right advice and she said I had and that in a similar situation "the main thing I always try to convey is hope and excitement about an alcohol-free future ... and a real sense that it's hard work but totally possible. I just really want to will people along because I know without a doubt that it is majorly life-changing if they can do it".

Lotta also pointed me to an AA tenet about "attraction not promotion" which means "the very best thing we can do for anyone else is just stay sober and model happy alcohol-free living. More than any words we say, that is the most powerful. Being a living breathing example of sobriety. That is gold my friend. Gold".

It's funny. At my 40th I had more than several comments from friends and family about how "well I looked". I knew what was at the root of it - my sobriety - but it was something they couldn't quite put their finger on. As I've settled in to my sobriety I think I'm a far-more-comfortable-in-my-skin type of a person. I'm happier and I'm finally at peace with myself, and I think that peace is radiating to the people around me. I donated plasma the other day and the nurse immediately commented about how relaxed I looked. This is a first for me. I have been used to comments about how tense, unsmiling and worried I look all of my life. I was all of those things without even realising it. But now I feel understood, and I feel people perceive me the same way I feel.

The thought that living a sober life can, and is starting to, inspire others is hugely powerful for me at the moment. It is why I write this blog - to share with those who are interested just how much better life is without alcohol. It's also a chance to write about the mental shifts you make, the shedding of old beliefs and ways of doing things, and how you make room for new ways thinking.

It's been quite an amazing six months in my life (And it's not like life was bad for me at all). I could say it's been transformational - and it has really - but I'm still the same person. Just a far happier, more settled and productive one who is more certain about what he does and doesn't want in his life.

As I head into Christmas, I'm not worried I'll regret not drinking champagne with the others, and I don't feel like I'll be missing out at all. I'm looking forward to focussing on what's important - family unity, love for and from my wife and children, and sharing good times with friends. I'm also looking forward to my clear-headed mornings.

Where does alcohol rank in the grand scheme of things?

I'm happy to say it just doesn't.

Merry Christmas y'all!

Sober Man xo