Friday, 29 July 2016

Riding the Pink Cloud

I was chatting to Mrs D the other day and she was telling me about the Pink Cloud phase of recovery that many people experience - a period after quitting of feeling euphoric, an opening of the eyes, a time when you see all the opportunities and just feel generally super duper.

Snap! I'm definitely on the Pink Cloud at the moment. It explains why I'm so bloody cheerful and upbeat. I'm in such a good space I'm even starting to annoy myself! Some jerk half cut me off at a round-a-bout yesterday. Usually if someone cuts me off I lose the plot. This time, I just shrugged it off. What the hell is wrong with me!?

I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed to have a label for my good outlook. I thought I was in an orbit all of my own making, but it turns out I'm not so unusual. And my heart sunk just a little when Mrs D told me it wouldn't last and that some hard thing will happen to rip me back down to cloudier weather. Yeah, I know, deep down, what I'm feeling at the moment is totally unsustainable. And it is nice to think that, while hard times may come, I can always remember back to this time - to the time when I was truly calm and settled and happy in myself. A time when the usual petty frustration with my limitations and weaknesses had melted away for the first time in my adult life.

So, what am I doing with all this positive energy? I'm writing this blog. I'm trying to take opportunities to do extra little things for other people (it's a minor example but the other day I saw it was my French-speaking Swiss mate's birthday so I googled how to say Happy Birthday to him in French instead of my usually short birthday message).

I'm getting back into my running after being sick for a few weeks.

I'm reconnecting with friends I haven't talked to for a while and making plans to catch up. About a year ago I made loose plans to go and give climbing a go with my friend but because I couldn't be bothered following it up (oh, and I don't love heights) it never happened. So I'm using the Pink Cloud energy to make sure that happens in the next couple of weeks. Little things.

When I talk with friends or new people I look them in the eyes and REALLY listen and REALLY try to engage properly (I've always been crap at small talk).

I'm pursuing some writing opportunities and pitching stories to publications that I previously lacked the confidence to pitch to. I'm saying yes to things that make me nervous.

What I'm wondering is if all the good things that have started to happen to me is due to not drinking, or it's more about the change in mind-shift that I've made in order to quit. I think in the past when I've had time away from the bottle I was always champing at the bit to drink again. This time I don't feel that same yearning.

If anyone asked me at the moment if I'll drink again at the end of the year, I would say 'definitely not'. But it's not just about not drinking, it's about what you do to enhance your life without it.

I'm going to ride this beautiful Pink Cloud for all it's worth.

Long live the Pink Cloud!
If you could only take one song with you to the cloud this one's not too bad:
Eddie Vedder covers the Beatles' Blackbird

Monday, 25 July 2016

Keeping Your Hand on the Car

Someone reacted with disbelief when I said I was off booze for 12 months. "How on earth are you going to be able to do that? That would be so hard." I just told her I had made up my mind and I WILL do it. I KNOW I can do this although I am heading into the unknown in terms of the moments of weakness and temptation I'll inevitably encounter.

I recently read a story about this Nelson rooster, Chris Whiting, who won a car in local car dealer's "keep your hand on the car" competition. He remained in contact with that car, in at times freezing conditions, for 78 hours and nine minutes - outlasting 25 other hopefuls. That's more than three days. He had failed at a previous attempt to win a car in this fashion so was determined to do it this time. In terms of the determination side of things I relate to him. He made his mind up and so have I.

I also read about someone who had given up booze and how there was a honeymoon period at the beginning. I'm probably in this stage, where everything is new and I'm feeling great about my decision. But as reality and boredom sets in will going without become a chore and a burden? She said hard times set in, but two years down the track she's gotten through that and is positive she will never drink again.

For me, drinking alcohol was just something that was a part of my life, the perfect celebratory reward for all the little triumphs and there to soothe (or distract me from) the stresses and disappointments. In the next 12 months I guess I'll find out how important alcohol really is to me - how much it contributes to who I am as a person. At the moment I'm feeling like needing alcohol to function in this world is just one big myth. But who knows? I don't have all the answers, and may never have them.

As much as drinking was a part of me before, becoming the guy who doesn't drink will become perhaps more a part of my new identity, because I'm aware I'm swimming against the current in this. The only thing keeping me going is I've probably never been more at peace than I feel at the moment. I have an inner calm. But there are voices internal and real that are still telling me what I'm doing is not going to be an easy thing, asking me if I'm really sure I want to do this.

For all of you who have caught the sober train but are further down the line than me I have some questions:

Do you ever get used to not drinking? 

At some point is drinking alcohol something you no longer think about about much at all? 

Will I ever be at total peace with this? 

Will I always be a person that drinks but is constantly thinking about quitting or a person who doesn't drink but wants to? 

Is there any middle ground?

I remember one time I gave up Facebook for a while but the pull of social media, and of missing out, and of feeling like I couldn't live without it, drew me back. Is alcohol going to be like that?

I reached out to a mate the other day who I had noticed had posted something on Facebook about being five years' sober to tell him I was at day 35 and to ask him how the sober life was going for him. He told me how much better life is without booze, and encouraged me to keep going. I suspect reaching out to people like that will be an important part of this journey.

Today's musical offering is from:
The greatest band ever!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Finding the Buzz

I thought I should write a short post about the dinner party I went to last night. It was with our long-time friends I'll refer to as Mr and Mrs B. We've known them for about 20 years. They have two girls as well about the same age as our girls, so we took the kids and the adults had a few drinks over an early dinner. I was on my new favourite combo, ginger ale and lime.

As far as my new sober life goes, it was a total success! I woke up this morning still buzzing from how much I enjoyed it. The buzz from being sober and being completely comfortable with it beat the buzz of alcohol. I couldn't believe it!

I did indulge in a momentary glance of my mate's half drunk Steinlager when I arrived and thought of the old me, and how I would have been all over that like a rat up a drain pipe. For a second I felt like having one, but probably more out of habit that anything.

My wife and Mrs B drank the bottle of pinot noir I bought from the supermarket yesterday. Mrs B has a fairly straight-up and inquisitive mind. She's blunt and to the point. I really like that about her. She asked almost immediately if I was still being pure or would like a drink (my wife had told her I was cutting back). I said: "Nah, I'm not drinking for the next year." (I've decided certain friends will find out so should be told, but I've decided not to announce it in every social situation.)

"Why are you doing it? Tell us about it? It's not never, never is it? I could never do that! It's so much fun!"

It gave me a good opportunity to explain how I had been thinking about cutting back or quitting the "old booze train" for a couple of years and how I wanted to go without for a year to see if I'll be able to change my relationship with it. I told them I may not drink again. I told them I was sick of the blowouts, and sick of how regular drinking, even at a low level, made me feel crap physically and mentally. I said I was doing it for me and it doesn't mean I'll be less fun or be missing out or that they can't drink.

She joked that I would be able to record all their silly drunk antics and I joked that I would bring my notepad and pencil. The topic got dropped pretty quickly and came up briefly at other times during the evening, but I wasn't uncomfortable talking about it.

What I'm most proud about is I was able to be myself, and I actually enjoyed myself more than if I had been drinking. While alcohol can ease my self consciousness at a certain point it can make me worry about saying or doing stupid things. Sober, I'm in complete control of what I do and say. I inevitable do still say stupid stuff - and I did last night - but now I know that's me and not the booze.

I slept like a log and woke up this morning still in the good mood I was in last night. I played with the kids and then headed out for my morning run. I feel like I'm becoming a new man - a better man (not that the old me was a complete arse).

Note to self: Ease up on the ginger ale next time dude! Running with a stomach full of the fizzy stuff is worse than running on whiskey and wine fumes.        

Friday, 22 July 2016

No Regrets

The fact I've had basically no physical withdrawals and little in the way of cravings for my favourite tipples since I gave up alcohol makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. Did I really have a problem in the first place? Did I need to give up at all? Well folks, I have absolutely no regrets. I think I'd been thinking about cutting back or giving up for so long, when I finally made the call I was more than ready.

Lotta Dann writes regularly in her blog Mrs D is Going Without about the ways her life is better now without alcohol - the inner calm, the personal satisfaction, the being more engaged in her life and with those around her. She writes about facing the hard things in life sober and about being more in touch with her emotions, both good and bad. I'm already feeling all of those benefits. I've gone without for a few weeks here and there before, but this time is different. So, for me, it's not just about my body being free of the drug of alcohol, but it's about carrying a different mindset along with it.

All that drinking energy is now going in more positive directions. I'm more engaged with my daughters, I'm handling stress better, I'm focussing on improving my friendships. To put it simply I'm just happier now, and I see how the ripple effect of that affects others.

I'm grateful I've been able to give up with little disruption to my life or to the people close to me. I've had the odd nagging voice but no real internal angst. I go onto Living Sober and read of people's daily struggles to kick this drug and I marvel at how truly brave they are - to be in such dark places but to be fighting to get into the light. That struggle is inspiring to me.

As I change my view on alcohol I'm seeing it more and more in a negative light. Yes, I've had many more triumphant nights out drinking than train wrecks. But it serves me better at the moment to remember the bad times.

I've lost count of the number of weddings or engagement parties where I didn't stagger off into the night and redecorate a garden bed or footpath with the ghastly contents of my stomach.

I've never been able to hold my liquor. If the true extent of my public vomiting escapades were known the council would probably assign a cleaning crew to follow me around.

There was one fun night (actually it was pretty awesome) I decided due to lack of taxi funds to stagger home through Hagley Park at 3am. I zig-zagged the entire 10km home, not before falling asleep on my feet and walking face first into a fence. I thought that shit was hilarious back then as I explained my facial injuries to my mate later that morning. Now I'm not so sure. I was in such a state I was pretty lucky to make it home with just a few scrapes and scratches.

I'll always remember that time I was underage and drunk with a bunch of similarly underage drunk friends and we were all too pissed to realise the driver of the random van we all piled into was also drunk. You would think when he rolled the van and we had to haul our bloodied friend out of the back of the upturned van it might have given me pause for thought about my drinking. but of course it didn't.  

I used alcohol, like countless others do, to boost my confidence in social situations, to draw that slightly more extroverted version of myself out. To have something in my hand so I didn't feel the crushing feeling of self consciousness I always felt turning up to a bar to meet friends and being the first one there. I lacked self confidence. At times I truly hated being me. I always dreamed of being someone else. I think I felt I wasn't good enough on my own, that I needed the alcohol to become the person I thought people would like. It was very much about fitting in when I was younger, and as I got older drinking was just part of my modus operandi. I never questioned it. As I've gotten older I've learned to like myself more and worry less what other people think. That's another reason I think I'm strong enough to quit alcohol now.

I was never an angry drunk. I always thought I was a loveable, fun dude to be around. Most times I probably was, but what did I know. Looking back I think most of the time I was bordering on being more of a loud, annoying git. I know for sure I would never dance on a table in a Wellington curry house, or skull beers naked in a rugby changing room at midnight, or regale my captive dinner guests with my favourite sad-old-man music from my 300-strong CD collection if I were sober.  

What I'm enjoying now is the challenge of going to meet my mates at a bar and not having to drink to get through it. It takes practice but I've found I'm making more of an effort to engage and enjoy it now. And I'm probably better company.

Tonight my wife and I are taking the kids to a friend's house for dinner. I got sent to buy a very nice bottle of pinot noir I won't get to try, but that's all good. I'll look ahead to my run tomorrow morning with a clear head and a sober mind.

Enjoy todays musical offering, and be thankful it's just the one!
One of the depressing tunes from my collection of sad-old-man music.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Red Light Nights

The first time I got pissed - proper rolling on the floor, wucking up my mucking fords, walking into walls drunk - was when I was 13. It was at my mum's 50th birthday party at our house in run-of-the-mill suburban Christchurch.

It was the booziest affair I could remember at our house to that time. The biggest mistake my parents made, from my point of view, was trusting the bar duties to my 15-year-old sister and her best mate. They dressed up in black trousers, white shirts and black bow ties but that was about as professional as their operation got. I asked my dad if I could have a beer and he said, with what I can only describe as a proud grin accompanied by a bit of a head nod: "You can have one, but make it last son." To me that was code for: "Go for it!" He trotted out the old "make it last" line throughout my teenage years regardless of the copious amounts of booze I consumed. I always tried to make my one last but always failed miserably.

I finished my first one fairly quickly and headed straight for my sister's mate. She plied me with beers all night, as I made myself scarce from my parents. I probably had at least half a dozen Canterbury Draught but, whatever the number, it was more than enough for my skinny 13-year-old body. It was the greatest coup of my life. I remember my older University-aged cousin laughing as I did drunken commando rolls across our games room floor.

In the morning I woke up to find the upper half of my duvet completely smothered in a blanket of vomit. I can still remember that strangely sweet yet rancid smell and the fear of knowing I could have choked on my own vomit and died alone in my room.        

However, if there was ever a duvet to throw up on my green and orange paisley number was it. I don't particularly remember my parents being angry or upset. I think the prevailing thought was the shock of the experience would teach me a lesson about the woes of drinking. The prevailing thought couldn't have been further from the truth. I felt like I had done this forbidden, adult thing and, despite my nocturnal pyrotechnics, gotten away with it. I thought I would never be let out of my room again, but life just seemed to go on. I'm not having a go at my parents here. They were probably shocked and upset but were perhaps worried about making too big a deal of it. I get that. In hindsight they may question the standard of their host responsibly, but I was pretty determined.

During the months after the party I regularly snuck into my parents' alcohol cabinet and drank gin, topping up what I drank with water. Did my parents know? They never asked me about it, but surely they noticed the gin was tasting a bit weak. My relationship with alcohol was forming. It was time to experiment. It's a strange thing. At the time I thought it tasted fucking disgusting, but it was equal parts illicit, grown up and mind altering. It was like catnip for cats to a 13-year-old with crippling shyness.    

In Christchurch, you drive onto the one-way Barbadoes Street from Bealey Avenue and the lights are timed so you get every green except the last one at Moorhouse Ave. My drinking is like that. I felt like I had been given a green light at my Mum's 50th but ignored the orange, ran the red and ended up getting side swiped by a truck. I've had the green light running on my drinking for most of my life. And I've never been able to recognise where the orange and red lights are. I guess most people are like that. As I've got closer to 40 I've become more and more fed up with the Red Light Nights. That is why I'm living sober.

Tip of the day (and don't get used to pearls of wisdom - I will probably run out by week two): Keep busy. For me, learning how to play this fella's songs on my guitar is better than drinking. Here he sings about the love of a good woman, which also trumps the love of good alcohol. Enjoy!

The First TIme Ever I Saw Your Face

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Embarking on my Sober Year

I've decided to be a sober man for a year. I want to go without for 365 days to see if I can, and because I'm fed up with the role alcohol plays in my life. I want to change my relationship with alcohol, its power and allure. I want to use the year to learn about myself - to figure out what drives and triggers my drinking. I want to learn how to navigate the difficult things in life without it. I might get to the end of the year and drink again, but if I do I hope I'll have the power to drink on my terms. Who knows, I may never drink again. 

If I were more organised I would have started blogging about this on day one, but life gets in the way of our plans sometimes. Today is day 32. I haven't poured a large, cherry-red glass of pinot noir to drink while making dinner for the family for more than a month. I haven't raided our laundry cupboard for a cheeky beer to drink while watching the rugby, and I haven't chopped a celebratory rigger of cider for making it to the weekend. 

I'm blogging about it because maybe it will help me navigate the year. Also because I'm a chronic over thinker and analyser of life, and this stuff is better served put down in words than swimming around my already crowded head.

I'm calling myself Sober Man 365 because I think I'll be more honest and open about my drinking if I hide behind an anonymous moniker. Becoming a sober person, I've been told, can be a lonely experience. While you might find other like-minded people, or enjoy the support of your nearest and dearest, essentially it comes down to you. 

But I will tell you some things about myself so you can build a picture in your mind of who is hiding behind his suburban keyboard. I'm 39 years old. I have a wife and two children. I live in Christchurch, New Zealand. I write for a living. Oh, and I like photography.

Why have I decided to give up alcohol? I've been thinking about it for a year or so now. I think most people have the stereotypical vision of an alcoholic in their minds. The chronic drinker, who can't function without the drug, whose life is falling apart because of it. I don't identify with that. But am I a problem drinker? Yeah I would say so. It's become a problem to me anyway. A couple of months ago, after my last bender which ended with an eyeball-popping vomit in the toilet (yet again), I decided I needed to do something. I spent the rest of the weekend hung over. I would normally shake it off or file it under "amusing drinking antics", and carry on. But this time I just felt bad. I realised how unfair my drinking was on my kids especially. I tried moderation successfully for a month or so (in fact I hardly drank at all), but I got sick of the internal dialogue. When I decided to give up completely everything became clearer. It made things more black and white, and I'm more of a black or white person. It took alcohol out of the equation. While I still have to navigate in seemingly a booze-soaked world, deciding NOT to drink has given me the power. 

Over the next year I'll post about how things are panning out as I make sense of it all.