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



Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Half Way, But to Where?

Today is day 180. I'm no mathematics genius, but I'm aware I'm not quite at halfway in my year without booze. But I like round numbers, and 180 has always marked the six-month point in this journey for me.

The thing is, the further along I go I'm less sure about the duration of what I'm doing or even what the destination is. When I tick over to a year sober, I'll most likely regard that as merely the first stop along the way.  

The truth is, I keep an eye on my sober days tally on Living Sober but this sober goal has long ceased to be an exercise in marking time. It's not a grind. At the moment I'm attending the many Christmas season shin-digs. I've just returned from a family reunion. I no longer see attending social gatherings as an exercise in will power or regard them as something to get through.

I looked forward to my family reunion. The booze flowed - and I laughed when I realised my hotel room overlooked the local liquor-store's car park - but that didn't affect what a fantastic and precious time it was for all of us. It was more about spending time with loved ones than alcohol.

I'm getting good at socialising without alcohol in my glass, and in my body. I'm more in control and more confident without it. I can remember everything and I can drive myself home. I don't get hassled by the insecure drinkers who think my non-drinking is about them, maybe because I'm truly owning my sobriety. Mostly people are supportive, even if what I'm doing will never be for them. I don't feel the need to mention it or to hide it. If asked about why I gave up, I'm happy to explain it, and also the benefits I'm enjoying. If I'm to be the poster boy for sober living then so be it.

I'm writing about it less - and this blog is suffering somewhat as a result - because there's less angst and internal turmoil. When people ask if I'll ever drink again I tell them: "I'm giving it a year, but probably not." In my head I'm saying: "Why the hell would I ever go back to it, when I've gained so much?"

Alcohol holds not power over me.

Alcohol no longer appeals to me.

Alcohol is no longer the reward for a hard day's work.

Alcohol is no longer the salve for my stress and anxiety.

Alcohol is no longer my go to in times of pain or sadness.

Alcohol is not a conduit for my celebrations.

Alcohol no longer inhabits my thoughts or desires.

My life is FAR BETTER without it, and yours will be too.

Believe me.


(The liquor store view from my hotel room - classy!!!)

Friday, 2 December 2016

Emerging Again

The last month has been a portrait of extremes for me. Strange, calm, beautiful, ugly, tumultuous, hectic, normal, happy, miserable, stressful, and scary. I am finally breaking out of my writing inertia to say I am still here. I am still sober. And in terms of my relationship with alcohol (or lack thereof) I've never been on more solid ground. I'm 168 days sober and I continue on my way feeling a hard-to-describe state of pride and self esteem.

Yet I have let a single, isolated situation with an unresolved debt reach so deeply into my life it has left me feeling vulnerable and shaky. Two weeks ago I had my first, and hopefully last, panic attack after months dealing with this situation. I hadn't realised how tightly wound I had become. It was pure fear and helplessness - being rushed to hospital, feeling pain in my heart, my hands and feet numb, emotionally spent and falling apart. Last week I went to my first counselling session to try and unravel why it is I hold on so tightly to the things I can't control, and that don't even reflect on me.

Is this the part of being sober Mrs D pre-warned me about? When you go from the euphoric feeling of early sobriety and then something painful happens and you have to face it square in the face and deal with it, no longer able to squash it down or numb it with alcohol.

This week I have been trying to apply the tools I have learnt in my sober journey to deal with this situation, without compromising my mental or physical health. I've also been reflecting on why it is my choice to go to counselling and not the debtor's. It is my reaction, and poor coping skills, in dealing with him, that led to the panic attack.

My counsellor asked me last week if there were other events that I had reacted in a similar way to, and I said that this was the worst. Things are starting to come back to me. The truth is I have strangled the life out of plenty of uncontrollable situations in my life. The latest situation is merely the peak.

In the past I worried most about what other people thought of me, or about failing at something I really wanted to achieve. These days I've decided, apart from wanting to maintain my reputation and be a good person, not to care about the opinions of others. I've decided I'm finally sick of my fear of failure holding me back. Living sober has given me such a strong sense of who I am and what I want from life yet during the last few weeks I feel I've lost myself a bit. At times I've looked in the mirror at the end of the day and seen a deadness in my eyes, like it is someone else staring back.

This morning I ran a familiar route on Christchurch's Port Hills. I felt the rain washing down my cheeks, and finally felt like I was emerging from the gloom into the light again. I feel like I'm coming back. In my silence of late I have thought of each and every one of my you - my sober friends - and I hope you are happy and doing okay.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A Never Drinker's Perspective

One of the main reasons I write about my sobriety is because it seems it has a butterfly effect on others. Occasionally I've shared my blog with people I think might be interested. Last week I was emailing back and forth with a mate of mine and I remembered he had mentioned when he visited last he didn't drink alcohol. I didn't ask him about it at the time, but it stayed in the back of my mind. His response was more than interesting. It turns out he has never drunk alcohol - ever. But alcohol has loomed large at times in his life, touching the lives of those around him. I asked him if I could use his thoughts on booze because I thought his perspective on it all could be valuable to a great many people.

As I head past five months' sober I am finding reading about the experience of others hugely valuable.

So here it is, practically in its entirety. Let me know what you think. 


I was planning on replying to your note today and woke to hear you had another earthquake in the 'hood. No fun in that and I hope all is well with you. 

But the real reason for writing was to let you know I've read every line of your blog and I am very impressed. You are a terrific writer and it's interesting how you can make your words both personal and educational at the same time.

We both come from a culture that is blessed and cursed with alcohol; blessed because it can be a social convener, but cursed because it can be a massive limiter to one's personal growth. You explained how alcohol is used by people to allow them to be comfortable in their own skin during social interaction. However, conversely, alcohol limits their ability to overcome that discomfort, as it can be used as a crutch. Some people use the crutch throughout their lives and don't even know that they are doing it.

A well known alcoholic ... said the wisest words on this topic for me when he said, "People look at alcohol as the problem, but alcoholics look at alcohol as the solution". Those words really opened my eyes as to why people drink to the extreme and I feel bad for them.

I have had a lifetime of sobriety among a cadre of heavy drinkers. I am the most popular designated driver on the planet. I spent all my younger days in pubs seven nights a week, drinking orange juice that I'm sure most people thought was vodka and orange. I was a shy person by nature, but was dragged into all the drunken carousing by being part of the gang. The beauty was that I could act like I was drunk, and have great fun but, as you mentioned, the morning after was solid for me. 

Not drinking did bring extra responsibilities, such as cleaning off my friends' suits of vomit before we took them home to their parents, fishing false teeth out of toilets, breaking up fights between friends (who wouldn't remember the scuffle the next day) and all-in-all being a sober eye when things went awry. The problem was that I was too immature to see that my friends were self-harming and some, as I mentioned before, died way before their time and I miss them.

I have no idea why I did not drink; my father drank every day, but I only saw him drunk once. After I left for [the country I would settle] my younger brother became an alcoholic, but thankfully has been sober for approximately 35 years. Interestingly, when I arrived ... people assumed that, because I didn't drink, I must have a drinking problem

There were many times when I was working in a high stress job, where I would come home to [my wife] and say "today is a day that I wish I was a drinker!". But innately I knew that alcohol was not going to solve my problems - the problems were tough enough for a sober mind.

Here's a mantra that my mother used when I would whine about how the world was mistreating me. I have made it my own and I use it to give myself a head shake when I am wallowing in self pity. It's part of a longer poem that you can get on the web - written probably a hundred years or more ago, but it resonates big time for me!

"Don't look for the flaws as you go through life,
And, even if you find them,
Be wise and kind, and somewhat blind,
And look for the virtues behind them."

And that's my sermon of the day. Keep right on writing on!

Best to you and the lovely tribe.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Too Busy to Drink

These blog posts have become less frequent, as I've had less and less to write about. As the days pass I've been feeling a little bad for neglecting this online space I've carved out for myself. I think about my mate and fellow blogger MIT, and how his posts have petered out somewhat and I wonder if he's still trucking along on his merry sober way. My silence has been because life has gotten in the way of the navel gazing required for this blogging caper, which is just fine with me.

The truth is I've been too busy to pop online and blog. I've had an intense period of work, interspersed with chasing a outstanding debt from a transaction gone sour, and pouring 9 - 12 hours a day into finishing a book project I've been helping a good sober friend with. The manic rushing around and late nights laying out book pages was on top of my primary role as a stay-at-home-dad. Madness. For the last week alcohol hasn't been either at the front or the back of my mind. I just haven't thought about it. I've had no time to let a period of boredom, and inactivity set in and lead to thoughts of a counterproductive exercise such as drinking booze. Would booze have aided me in getting through the last furiously-busy fortnight? Hell no!

It's funny. A couple of months ago I was writing about how intensely a newly sober person can become focussed on sobriety. It had become my latest obsession. I questioned whether it was just another thing for me to do well at until I was bored with it. I think I even mused about whether boredom (with sobriety) would lead to me packing it all in and drinking again. I looked into the future and wondered whether it (drinking) would be something I never thought of much, if at all. I feel like the last week has given me an insight into what a life without booze can be like - hectic, chaotic, stressful, joyous, satisfying, full. Yes, full. Is this what a life lived to the full is like?

I love my life right now - the way I feel in myself. I used to err on the side of staying in safe zones - places where I knew the boundaries, kept within my limitations, didn't put myself out there too far, stuck to what I knew. I've always been a person that works hard and effectively in bursts to achieve things, but then crashes to a low ebb shortly after and needs time to veg out on the couch and do pretty much nothing to recharge the batteries. I'm an all or nothing kind of guy (which is perhaps why moderation is not for me). I've taken on so much lately there is no longer room in my life for couch time, and I don't miss it.

I have purpose, and you need a bit of that.

I've opened myself up to opportunities.

I'm embracing the unpredictable. It no longer scares me.

Life's not so safe but it's far more interesting.

Booze is the last thing on my mind, which is the state of being I wished for when I decided to kick that shit out of my life.

Till next time.

Sober Man xo



Tuesday, 1 November 2016

When 'no' means 'no'

My head is still foggy after my midnight flight back from Melbourne yesterday. I was there to surprise my oldest mate for his 40th birthday lunch. I was only in Australia for a day and a half but the travel has taken it out of me. I'm struggling to catch up on the sleep I missed and my brain is functioning at about 60% capacity. I had a great time catching up with my friend and his family. They were a special part of my early life, and still are. I didn't miss alcohol. Drinking would only have detracted from the purpose of the visit, to spend quality time with a friend I don't see often enough. I'm grateful I didn't fly back into the country with a hangover. In fact, I haven't had to recover from an alcoholic hangover in 137 days (if you add my few months of moderation, when I hardly drank, I haven't had a hangover in more than seven months).

That is something to celebrate.

I'm reluctant to drag the details of my mate's 40th into this blog, because I don't want to be seen to criticise his or other people's view of alcohol, and their view of people like me who don't drink. They are still on the other side of this, in the world where alcohol plays a role in their life, where they haven't questioned drinking to the same degree as I have. They may not need or want to question it and that is fine. It's up to them, not me.

It wasn't a particularly boozy affair. A few quiet drinks passed a few thirsty lips, but it wasn't a piss up. However my mate did notice I wasn't drinking, and I told him I'd given up. He then asked what I had been drinking at my own 40th which he came to a few weeks ago, and I replied:

"A couple of virgin mojitos, a couple of ginger beers and water."

He had just assumed I had been drinking that night.

Later, after everyone had left and there were just a few of us around the table talking, and the top was taken off a particularly potent smelling Chinese spirit called Dragon's Blood. A box of delicate coloured shot glasses were produced and my mate said: "You'll just have a little bit won't you?"

I called this post "when no means no" because I've found that often when you tell people you've given up drinking completely, they think that you must still have some from time to time, that you surely haven't given up totally. It's not like I was ambiguous when I told my mate I don't drink at all. Maybe he was struggling to separate the old drinking me from the new non drinking me. He has known the drinking version for a lot longer after all. Maybe he thought I wasn't being totally serious. Maybe he didn't completely understand the depths of my decision and the level of commitment I have to it - and how could he? Only I can truly understand what it is that I'm doing.

I drank shots of tap water as the others sipped the potent Chinese fire water. As his partner snapped photos of us clinking our glasses I wondered about how a photo of me seemingly drinking spirits would go down among my sober friends.  

Perhaps because of my non-drinking, conversation centred on alcohol (specific types of drinks), drinking stories and even one of my own drinking follies, for what seemed like an unnaturally long time. I felt a little uncomfortable, but it wasn't consciously done to make me feel that way. It's just part of living sober in a world where most people drink.

In the morning it came up again and I had the opportunity to talk more about the benefits of my sober life, and the reasons for it. It was good to be able to add a bit of context in a sober environment.  

It's interesting, because back in the day when my teenage mates and I were rushing headlong into copious amounts of beer drinking, this particular mate only ever had one or two or none. He was always a bit of an outlier in terms of not-going with the crowd in stuff like that. I admired him for it. He was far more wise and mature than the rest of us.

Far from feeling confronted, criticised, or undermined about my sober decision, I came away from the weekend feeling stronger about it. I accept that alcohol is a part of other people's lives. It is going to be at probably all of the big celebrations I attend in my life. I'm comfortable with who I am. And I don't mind shining a light on my sobriety if someone asks me about it.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

An Afternoon Visit to the Pub

Weary from four hours on the golf course, I walked through the door of the semi-rural hotel pub, on the outskirts of Christchurch, and it was like going back in time. The general decor, from the tatty rugby posters pinned to the tatty, peeling walls, to the thinning, mustard-brown carpet, was seemingly last updated in the 1970s. There were about a dozen weather-beaten, locals and the odd construction worker perched at the leaners, jugs of beer strewn across the table in front of them, generous beer guts straining to burst out of their chequered-flannel shirts, half-full glasses of amber liquid half cocked in their hands. A replay of the All Blacks latest rugby test against Australia was playing on the big screen, live horse racing on the other seven or so screens. A sedentary lone punter, his shoulders slumped, was playing a one armed bandit in the dimly lit pokies room. Names of regular bar goers adorned the whiteboard announcing the meat-pack winners from the latest weekend raffle. Two young women and an older lady were busy serving drinks behind the bar, a hive of activity. It was a busy old place for 4pm, I noted to my golf partners.

"It's always busy," one of them replied.

I had been playing golf with my visiting friend and his father and uncle. The golf course's bar and cafe had been closed, which was the reason we had driven to the nearest watering hole. I hadn't played golf in a couple of years, and my muscles ached from the high number of swings I had made, the walk and the dusty heat. I ordered a ginger ale and was given a glass of crushed ice to pour it into. My cohorts ordered beer, rum and mixers.

My friend knew I had stopped drinking and when we were alone I found myself asking him to back me up if the older men gave me "any shit at the bar". I was half joking and half serious. I can stand up for myself, but I thought it wouldn't hurt for him to be in my corner. He may have mentioned something to his dad who asked almost immediately after I sat down: "You used to drink beer didn't you? I remember you being a drinker in the past."

All I needed to say for the subject to be dropped was: "I used to drink."

Later my friend asked whether I would drink again after my sober year was up, and I said I wasn't sure but "probably not". The older guys asked whether it was for a bet (like it needed to be the result of some macho challenge, for no other reason than to prove that I could), and I said I was having a "holiday" from drinking, a "break from it".

"Good on ya!" they said almost in unison.

It was really no big deal, but I didn't want to explain things in too much detail.

While I made conversation I observed the people in the bar, what they were drinking, how much they were drinking. I looked at their bodies, how the weight hung from their torsos - their grey, clammy skin and their vacant, bleary eyes. I pondered how comfortable they seemed to be at the pub drinking on a weekday afternoon, how they were in their element. I wondered if any of them were secretly miserable alcoholics. I wondered about their lives, and how important - how much a part of their lives - drinking was to them.  

You walk into any hotel bar like this on any afternoon and the regular drinkers will be there. It's a depressing scene - the sad, solitary drinking.

I'm glad I'm not a part of it (other than to be an occasional observer).


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Certainty. Yeah right!

My last post was all about how I didn't need Living Sober because of my iron clad certainty that I never want to drink again. Now less than a week later I miss logging into Living Sober to chat with my sober pals (don't be surprised if I slink back in through the ranch slider door in a day or two as if my dramatic exit never happened). And I'm a whole big fat bunch of uncertain about everything. I've just turned 40, but I feel like such a child. I feel like I've gained a lifetime's worth of insight and clarity during my sober journey, but experienced hand Gerry is right (see the previous post). I'm only a few months in and I realise now how vulnerable I am and how I'm really just a scared boy, more alone than ever, cast adrift from the world of drinkers and not knowing where I fit in with my sober cohorts.

I went on my step-mother-in-law's 60th birthday lunch at a beautiful vineyard restaurant, set overlooking a stunning North Canterbury valley. Our 20-strong family group were taken about an hour north of Christchurch to Black Estate by bus, the perfect scenario for a few sneaky wines (see some photos of Black Estate HERE HERE & HERE). We sat outside at a long table and made stimulating and relaxed conversation over some truly magnificent food. My table neighbour made a few references to the delicious Rose, and how easy it was going down. Every time she or anyone else mentioned the wine I found myself taking a big gulp of water. It was an involuntary action. every time I did it I wondered to myself why I was doing it and if I wanted to draw attention to the fact I wasn't drinking? Was I feeling subconsciously self conscious about it? Eventually she asked after another obvious water gulp from me if I "don't drink or just not today?" to which I replied I had given up four months ago. We chatted about the not drinking thing for a bit and it was no biggie.

Later I found myself catching up with another of my step mother's family members, whom I like a lot. She's a literary person and often asks how the writing is going. I found myself blurting out I was a sobriety blogger. We had a fairly intense discussion about the benefits of not drinking and she told me about some of her experiences of being sober at dinners out with a bunch of big boozers and resenting sharing the bill equally with them. She was supportive and I didn't mind talking about it. But later it hit me how hard it will be to avoid those intense discussions, especially if I can't keep my big mouth shut. Maybe it's dawning on me now how much sober living cuts against the societal norm of drinking at just about every one of life's special occasions. I know I'm happier and healthier and better off without alcohol, but am I happy to be the outcast forever? I already anticipate feeling like a big loser at my family reunion in December, because my cuzzies like a drink or two. How will they react to me? Will they feel criticised by my non drinking?

Later back at my father-in-law's house (he of the nice wines) we prepared an early dinner for the kids and everyone had a few more drinks. I was tired from the day, in a wee grumpy patch about a minor disagreement with my wife that was my fault and for which I swiftly apologised, and another family member I don't know very well appeared from nowhere, said hello and gestured to chink my beer bottle with his. It was an awkward moment mainly because I didn't have anything in my hands let alone a bottle of beer, a total air shot. Like when you go to high five someone and you both miss and end up looking and feeling like total dorks. He asked if I was having one and I said "no not today". I was short with him. Because I was grumpy, but I was also pissed off he assumed I was drinking. I soon realised it wasn't his fault. He didn't know about the sober thing. He didn't mean to make me feel like a freak, and I should have just brushed off his awkward attempt to say g'day and chatted with him.

Is that what it's going to be like? I haven't been all that bothered about navigating the social situations sober till now. But at the vineyard I seemed to feel uncomfortable when little was made of my sobriety, and equally uncomfortable when a big deal was made of it. Am I going to get sick of explaining my non drinking for the rest of my life, or will I just get better at avoiding having to? Why should I have to explain it? Why can't I just live in a world when it's just not that big a deal?

Lately I've been thinking more about when my sober year is up, and if I will go back to drinking -because in some ways it's just easier, less of an effort, just what everyone does. Will apathy be the reason I drink again. The family member I revealed my blog to at the vineyard said she did six months sober, but just really loves to have one or two wines now and again. I would love to be able to do that. Just occasionally have one or two lovely pinot noirs. Relax and take the edge off. Let my mind drift slightly from the stresses of the physical world.

This is becoming harder than I thought.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Leaving the Fold

It's been a strange sort of week. Stupidly busy. Busy, but somehow flat since the crescendo of my 40th a week ago. I'm still more than a little chuffed about how that went, how relaxed I was about the whole thing. However, during my sleep (after the 40th) I must have done the old teeth grinding again, because I've had tension in my skull and a sore jaw for most of the week since. I thought I was relaxed, but subconsciously I must have been under some strain.

I haven't blogged since last Sunday, but to be honest I haven't been thinking about the drinking thing much, if at all. Life is good. I've got no complaints about anything really. But it seems the more solid and sorted I get with stuff, the more restless and unsettled I become in other areas.

I decided a while ago to pull back from the awesome Living Sober community. But I thought I'd tell them yesterday, not just drift away quietly. If something has been so valuable then why leave?

My instincts told me it wasn't the right place for me anymore. I stayed logged in till the end of the day and read people's comments. Mostly people were kind and supportive, even though I felt/feel like a bit of an arse about it all.

Gerry said:

"I find it odd how after a few months of blogging that people think they don't need this site, like they are cured. Imagine if people in AA thought like this there would be no 'old timers' to keep the message of sobriety going and probably no AA. A big thank you to the old timers on this site who keep coming back. Good luck."

I've been thinking about Gerry's comment, and I see where he's coming from (also I wondered, oh hell, what does he know that I don't?). I imagine it's coming from long-term experience of seeing people drift in and out of Living Sober, leaving when they think they're sorted and reappearing after a fall, or when things get tough. I get that. People often view the situation of others through their own prisms.

I didn't join because I was addicted to alcohol, but rather because I felt uncomfortable about the negative aspects of my drinking and because I had built up a negative view of alcohol in recent years. I reached a tipping point rather than a rock bottom. I think there's a difference, and I'm aware that by trying to make that distinction risks making a value judgement about myself and others. I don't mean to say I'm better or worse than anyone else, or that one person's experience with alcohol is less or more valid than another's. Or even that I do or don't have a problem. We all occupy a position on a very wide spectrum. I'm merely trying to describe my own truth and take control of my own narrative. I can only be myself.

There are plenty of moderate drinkers who join Living Sober, just as there are those who have had more chronic drinking habits. In a lot of ways it's irrelevant. Whether AA is the vehicle or logging into a community such as LS, or taking the solitary road, it's not easy to give up alcohol; to question the habits of a lifetime, to retrain a brain set on auto pilot for so long. You have to do what works for you.

At the moment I want to keep things as simple as possible. Engaging with Living Sober feels wrong for me now. It reached the point where it was putting my life slightly out of balance. Was I helping myself anymore? Was I helping others? Was I going through the motions? Was I merely being sucked into the vortex of other people's drama? Was logging in becoming a compulsive unthinking action in the same way alcohol used to be? It's not that I don't care about the people in the community. I really do. How do you say goodbye to friends? Should you? Will I log back in and ask for help if I need it? Of course.

New members of Living Sober will still be welcomed and receive the wisdom of the long-term members regardless of whether I'm there or not. Mostly I felt I couldn't relate to a lot of the experiences and feelings I read about on LS, and that other people were more qualified in giving advice to those people. I'm going to continue to keep the message of sobriety going in other ways; through this blog (till it runs its natural course and sinks into oblivion) and through my own example as a non-drinker to my children, friends, whānau and strangers. I want to continue to shine a light on sober living through writing articles. That can reach many people. It's not like by logging out I have un-met my sober peeps: Prudence, Mrs D, Seedynomore, Wildchild, Vwlheel, Morgan, Enzedgirl, Mtedenmummy. The list goes on. I'm sorry if some feel like I have abandoned them.

The indefinite logging off from Living Sober led me to question why I should even continue to write this blog? I started in order to navigate my early angst of giving up alcohol. I felt I had something to say and the training to say it. Writing is what I do for a living, but it's more than that. It is an important part of who I am. I love the creative process of writing. I've only been writing the blog for a few months, but to me it feels like a lifetime ago that I was a drinker. It's carried me on a wave of uncertainty to a new way of living. It's led me on a bit of an adventure, connecting me with people around New Zealand and the world. How great is that!? That in itself defeats the buzz of alcohol. 

I've been thinking about the concept of certainty a lot lately, and about how I'm certain I want to live sober for the rest of my life. How do I know I am never going to drink again? Well, if I wasn't sure then it wouldn't really fit into the category of certainty would it? But how can you be totally certain about anything?  

In 2004, my wife and I watched Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me in which he ate a shitload of McDonalds every day for a month. While it left him fairly unhealthy and confirmed what we already knew about excess eating of fast food, the McDonald's child-targeted pervasive advertising campaigns left a negative impression with us. We vowed to boycott McDonalds and haven't eaten it since. Neither of our children have ever set foot in, let alone eaten, McDonalds. Rightly or wrongly, my negative attitude towards McDonalds was swiftly added to my core beliefs and moral code.

Alcohol is the same for me now, it's just taken longer to adopt the sober ethos and, as my friend Katrina says, kick that shit out of my life.

I've boycotted it. It's off the table. I deplore it. I regard it as a poison. It's in the same category as Roundup (weed killer) as far as I'm concerned. I'm certain I'm not going to drink weed killer so why would I drink alcohol? I'm not sure I know how to truly quit Living Sober, and whether that will stick, but I do know I've left alcohol behind for good. 

For me that's certainty.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Surviving the 40th

I am no longer a nearly-40-year-old sober blogger. Overnight I turned 40, and celebrated at a bar in town with good friends and family. I didn't want to just survive my 40th. I wanted to thrive, to feel comfortable in my own sober skin in an environment in which the old me would have used alcohol to prop up my confidence.

I'm still buzzing from last night. Buzzing from how much I enjoyed myself, from the meaningful conversations I had with my guests, from the feeling of driving home alert and full of energy, and from waking up fresh in body and mind. I remember every conversation and every warm hug, and the feeling of control. To paraphrase the signature line of a fellow sober blogger, sober absolutely suits me. I bloody owned it last night!

Six months ago I wasn't sure I even wanted to celebrate my 40th. I can recall the apprehensive guy I was - unsettled, frustrated about something but not knowing what, still not quite sure of who I was or wanted to be, knowing there was something that needed to change but was it alcohol, or something else? I'm so grateful I marked the occasion. It was an opportunity to take stock and tell people directly how much I value them.

I'm glad I had 113 days of sobriety behind me. I was able to just enjoy it without any inner angst. I didn't feel like I was missing out on drinking. I didn't battle any feelings of temptation and I didn't feel weird. I don't wrestle anymore with whether I needed to give up or not. Life is exponentially better, so that question is totally irrelevant to me now.

Most people already knew I had decided to give alcohol a break. The first two guests to arrive brought it up after I ordered a mocktail and seemed a bit surprised when I told them I was "probably quitting for good".

I added quickly, to prevent an awkward silence: "It doesn't need to be weird for you! I'm fine with people drinking around me! I want you to have a good time!"

More guests arrived and easy conversation began to flow.

I started with a virgin mojito and a ginger beer, but mostly drank water with ice. No one really noticed. I did get plenty of people asking, "Do you need another? What are you drinking?" I hadn't counted on that. The first time it happened I asked for a ginger beer and an old mate raised her eyebrows a little and asked, with a hint of urgency, why I felt I needed to stop drinking. (She's pretty familiar with the old me. I hadn't seen her in a while.) I explained my reasons and she totally got it. Another long-term friend said later when she found out: "Good on you!" For the most part it was a non issue.

I soaked in the beautiful words of my wife's speech, and then delivered my own speech in which I used my improving te reo (language) skills by greeting everyone in Māori.

"Nau mai haere mai ki a koutou ki taku ngahau huritau (Welcome everyone to my birthday celebration)." I began. "He mihi nui ki a koutou, kua tae mai nei i tūārangi (Especially to those who have travelled from afar)."

Being sober really helped me stay in the moment during my speech. And remember it. It gave me the poise, and power, to say what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it. I thanked my wife for her love and support. I gave thanks for my children. I told my guests how lucky I was to have them in my life.
With my sober eyes I saw how the vast majority of my guests drank in moderation - far more moderately than the old me would have. There was the odd person who I noticed was a bit worse for wear as the night wore on. I talked to one groggy chap at the end of the night and pretty much saw a flashback of myself, which was revealing.

Due to my passion for running I've been in fairly good nick physically for several years now, but last night my wife and I both received heaps of compliments about how "trim" I looked and what "good shape" I was in. They wondered aloud to my wife about what my secret was. Some pondered whether it was the non drinking. There was something different about me that people couldn't quite put their finger on. I think it's because my good mental state, since quitting drinking, has finally caught up with my physical state. I do feel within myself how much I have changed; there's a lightness of spirit, a happiness and a contentment about me now. A darker cloud that has hung over me has lifted.  In some ways I feel like last night I was introducing my true self to people for the first time - that they were seeing a new, better me. I realise now that the sober me is good enough (the old me was too but I just wasn't kind enough to myself to admit it).

Right to the end of the night I was able to speak coherently with people, laugh with them, properly listen to them and enjoy their company. In the past I would have been slurring my words, swaying on my feet a little, with one hooded eye on the bar and my next drink, my mind sinking into a booze-soaked stupor.

I got home and looked at my face in the mirror and I liked being able to see clearly. I thought of all the times I'd come home from a party and seen the red-face though my blood-shot bleary eyes, my clammy grey skin, my dishevelled clothes - a sloppy, unsteady, half-man staring back.

Last night has told me so very much about the way I want to live my life. It's not just about being sober. It's about fostering my friendships, being open to opportunity, valuing that feeling of being clear headed and present all the time, harnessing my abilities and living with enthusiasm.

I realise alcohol won't help me live that way.

I have left it far behind me.

I am free - finally free.

This morning I woke up and watched the All Blacks put more than 50 points on the old foe South Africa, in South Africa. Wow! What a birthday gift!
You can enjoy the highlights here:

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Breaking the Contract

The other day I thought about how I would feel if I just packed all this sober malarkey in. Just unplugged from my sober support network, mothballed this blog, jumped on my horse and rode into the sunset with a beer bottle clutched in my hand. As if the major decision of quitting alcohol had been merely a whim that could be washed away as quickly as pouring a glass of pinot and just drinking it down.

It was just a fleeting daydream, over in seconds and then consigned to the dustbin of one million similar daydreams. Gone. Not seriously contemplated.

I know how I'd feel. I'd feel like a pile of crap. I've seen people go back to day one on Living Sober and the pain that causes them (though I've also seen how slipping has helped them find more solid sober ground).  However, I've made a contract with myself. I'm doing at least one year without booze and that's exactly what I'm going to do! Full stop!

But you see contracts broken all the time. What about the countless sportspeople who have backed out of contracts for money, or because of a falling out, or a change of heart? What about the employment contracts and the business deals that fall over every day. There always seems to be an out-clause that can free you from any contract, no matter how water tight. Contracts are not worth the paper they're written on, is a common cliche. There's no honour.

For me this is about more than money (apart from the money I'm saving each week by not buying booze). As each day passes my sobriety is becoming more and more a part of me. It's becoming too much a part of who I am to let go of it.

If I go back to drinking then who am I?

This contract with myself has to be honoured. If someone else breaks an agreement with me then that's on them. But if I drink again then that's on me, and I don't want to face that. I've got too much skin in the game now. I've made too many gains. I've gleaned too many insights. I've invested too much time in this. I've learnt so very much from others. I've had too much help to throw it all away as if it's nothing. I've gotten to the point where alcohol doesn't tempt me or even appeal to me anymore. I've worked hard to climb this far. It would be easier to keep climbing than go back down.

I've just read the latest Sober Story on Living Sober featuring 38-year-old Sydney-sider Stella (you can read it here). She battled depression and drank to numb the pain. Before she gave up for good she was taken to the brink of suicide. The most powerful quote of hers about the benefits of sobriety is:

"A clear head is priceless. But nothing beats actually wanting to be alive."

I love this idea. It's just hugely inspiring.

She also talks about trying everything to fix her life but not admitting, till she finally decided she had to quit booze, that alcohol was her problem. I've had a comparatively charmed existence. I've had the usual ups and downs, but I've never experienced the absolute despair she experienced. I've been wondering lately, with the benefit of being free of alcohol, whether my main problem all these years was actually alcohol or whether my problem was me. Being free of the booze has helped me get out of my own clumsy way, and forced me to work on stuff that I've avoided for decades. It's helped me see what I really want from my life. And it's not booze.

Alcohol to me was a road block. It was holding me back. It helped me build false confidence, but never genuine confidence. It blunted the celebrations and stopped me dealing in a proper way with pain. It disconnected me from the world and from people. It never did anything meaningful for my life.

I'm happy to see the back of it.