Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Best Decision

Overnight my sober counter ticked over to 300 days. It seems like a lifetime ago when I had my last drink and went to bed with Day 1 ahead of me. My wife was out for dinner, and a running friend popped over briefly. We talked about my next event and shared a glass of red wine before he left. I still remember sipping on the wine knowing it was my last. I can remember the dregs of my half-drunk glass washing around the sinkhole.

In the months leading up to the day I quit I was shaky, uncertain and scared. Over years I had slowly come to the point where I knew I needed to do something. It had finally come to a head. I was mostly scared about whether I would miss alcohol, because I thought I needed it. In some ways I used it to define who I was in certain situations. I was always the first to offer guests booze. I don't do that anymore. I would always rush to the bar to get enough booze into me to navigate social situations. I don't need to do that anymore either. I eagerly waited for dinnertime, especially Fridays but often any day, so I could take the top of a rigger of cider and take the edge off a stressful day (or celebrate a good one). That never happens now. I deal with the stress and revel in the good times without alcohol. I've found this to be a far healthier way to live. I no longer have to stock up on booze at the end of the week, worrying that I haven't got enough (because running out would really not be worth contemplating).  

In the last few days I've been reflecting on how different my life is now - how different I am. Materially things are still pretty much the same, but things have improved in some very important ways. I've got a much clearer sense of who I am. Self confidence is an amazing thing. I dwell less on my limitations. I accept that I'm not perfect and I wouldn't want to be. I have a very strong sense of pride which stems from having successfully given up booze and which is now spreading to every part of my life, and to those around me. My physical and mental health has improved. I'm far more even tempered. In the past I've often been slightly frustrated and dissatisfied (at everything and nothing, but mainly with myself). Now the frustration has ebbed away and I'm just getting on with life with all it's ups and downs. I'm just taking life as it comes on my terms.

You can't truly understand these things until you've taken alcohol out of the picture and had time to feel and see the changes. That's the perspective I wanted when I started on this journey, and it's a true gift. Earlier on, I was worried about whether I needed to give up at all (still stuck in denial about how unhealthy my drinking was), but now that question is totally irrelevant. Why would I ever go back?

I can't think of another decision I've made in my life that's had such a profound effect for the better. For that I'm very grateful.  



     

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Holiday Mode

I have family visiting from overseas at the moment. I haven't seen them in a few years so it's been a great chance to catch up. We've had a couple of days in a rented house in Hanmer so everyone has very much been on holiday mode (which, for them, has included drinking alcohol of course).

The last few days have revealed to me how far I've come in all the ways that matter to someone who is trying to give up alcohol in our booze soaked world; being around alcohol and drinkers and not feeling tempted or that I'm missing out, not feeling self conscious about being a non drinker, not feeling the need to talk about it or justify my non drinking (it just is what it is, no more no less).

It hasn't been a booze fest by any means for my whānau, just a few drinks over the afternoon and evening, or with lunch as I used to do on many a Mount Maunganui family holiday - a relaxing time away. There were no drunken antics in Hanmer. Far from it. But alcohol was very much along for the ride, part of the scenery. In a lot of ways, being around my family members as they enjoyed a wine or a beer put a mirror up to my own past drinking (or the times I was able to enjoy it in moderation at least).

It's interesting to me these days that I find being around alcohol and drinkers makes me not want to drink again. It's only in the unguarded moments when appealing thoughts of drinking might seep in. The reality of seeing drinking is another thing. At lunch at a winery near Hanmer, when my wife smelled the bouquet of her freshly-poured Pinot and exclaimed how beautiful it smelled, I asked for a sniff too. These days, alcohol smells like diesel to me. The spell is broken for me.

If I think back to my first uncertain days of sobriety to how comfortable I feel now in my sober skin, I feel grateful I have been able to ride the ups and downs. Any real change takes time to bed in. The key to it has been starting with a solid decision. Everything that went before, every drunken episode, every hangover, every drinker's regret, steeled my resolve to walk away from it and try something else. That "something else" has been a true gift. Drinkers can't imagine how good it can be living sober, but every drinker can find out if they want to. I certainly never thought living sober would be so positive for just about every aspect of my life. I was scared about giving up alcohol because I thought I needed it. I thought I would be wasting my life without alcohol to make it better.

I thought so so wrong.

I don't tend to give advice in this blog, but if there was something I'd say to you it would be to persevere through your uncertainty. If you are thinking of trying your life without alcohol, do it and see where it takes you. If you are trying to quit but battling a crippling temptation to drink again, sleep on it and make a decision when you are in a different frame of mind. You'll almost certainly feel differently in the morning. Don't give up. One day you will be in a place where alcohol holds no appeal or power over you and you will thank yourself for holding on through the stormy weather.

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.