Tuesday, 30 August 2016

If I can do this, what can't I do?

In the past when I've tried to quell my urge to drink for any period of time, or haven't been able to drink for some reason, I've viewed it as a major sacrifice. I'm 74 days into my sober life and a seismic shift has happened in my thinking. While alcohol used to be a significant rung in the ladder of my life, now it's not even on the ladder at all. I've just come to see how utterly unimportant drinking is in the grand scheme of things.

While in the early weeks I was pondering whether I would give up alcohol for good at the conclusion of my sober year, lately I've hardly thought about alcohol or drinking at all. Today, for the first time, I said out loud what I had been thinking for some time now: "I think I've decided I'm never going to drink again." I blurted this out to a sober mate of mine. However, I'm such a flip-flopper I could have been a politician in a former life, so don't be surprised if I change my mind on this several times before the year is out! But I'm becoming more and more certain that this is the path I'll tread for the rest of my life.

I'll try to explain why. So many good things have happened to me since I quit alcohol. I'm harnessing my new-found energy and channelling it into new and exciting writing projects. I'm calmer, less frustrated with the minor inconveniences you encounter in life, more engaged with others, happier. I've actually always seen myself as an optimistic, happy-go-lucky, laid-back, glass is half full guy (despite the opinions of others that I'm more of an intense, uptight, serious, depressive type, but there you go). My life is great. I know I'm a very lucky guy to have had the love of an astoundingly amazing woman for the last 20 years and, more recently, from two beautiful daughters. But what I've found is more inner peace and a deeper sense of genuine happiness, within myself.

I think there's a certain increase in self esteem that comes with this journey. I like myself more now (not in an arrogant way, but more in the way I'm coming to accept my faults as part of my humanity rather than any particular failing).

I've gained strength in choosing not to drink, and being comfortable in my sober skin, when most people I know do drink, and will drink. I can totally understand where drinkers are coming from when they express disbelief that we sober people are choosing life without alcohol. They only see it from the sacrifice point of view, and why would they see it from any other? So if I experience any (self-perceived) pressure or judgement from anyone about my non-drinking I try to see where it is coming from and let it slide right off.

To all my sober cousins out there, if we're strong enough to swim against the current in a river this swift then what can't we do?



Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Family Reunion

I've just sent in my RSVP for a family reunion I'm attending later in the year and the banter has already begun. My cousins have been posting back and forth on Facebook about how the bar will need to be well stocked. My southern cuzzies are coming too. Most of them like to give it a good nudge and the old me would have been heading straight for the bar too.

I started typing something along the lines of, "I'm off the booze, but I'm sure that won't hold you fellas back." Then something in the back of my mind told me not to announce my sobriety to them. I thought better of it and deleted the flickering words letter by letter. I'll cross that bridge in December when either they ask me directly why I'm not drinking, or I successfully drink mocktails with nobody the wiser that I'm the only sober person in the room.

My instincts tell me to be discreet rather than forthcoming on this occasion. Similarly I'm not taking a loudhailer to my 40th in October, but I'm happy to tell people if they ask.

It's probably a moot point anyway. Knowing my parents they've probably already blabbed it to the entire whānau.

Am I worried what my family will think of my decision? Am I nervous I'll be challenged about my choice? Am I worried that they'll feel like I'm criticising them, and their drinking, by touting my sobriety? Maybe I'm feeling a little bit of all of those things.

When I decided to quit alcohol my sole aim was to try to improve my life. My decision wasn't made to cast shade on anyone else. I'm not trying to be better than you, the drinker, I'm just trying to be a better me.

I'm looking forward to catching up with my family. We don't all gather in the same place nearly enough, other than for a funeral.

It'll be a blast!

Do I secretly wish I could hit the grog with them? Yeah .... nah. There's always going to be some event on the horizon where the booze is flowing. It'll be valuable practice getting involved and not missing it. No more beersies for me.

Monday, 22 August 2016

What about the kids?

The other day someone questioned my sober life by asking whether I was missing an opportunity to model responsible drinking to my daughters (who are 6 and 3). I reckon this question is wrapped up in a part of our drinking culture we just never really question: How we bring the young ones through into the drinking world, as if it's inevitable that they will be drinkers.

It's the old giving your 13-year-old a few sips of beer at the family barbecue, buying your 16-year-old some drinks to take to a party, celebrating the right of passage that is their 21st with them chopping a yard glass as everyone cheers. I always cringe when see proud dads cradling their wee babies in their arms and giving them a tiny sip of something, or letting them suck on the end of a beer bottle. This is common. Is it to get them used to the day they'll be a drinker like dad? Is it to get their wee bodies acclimatised (for want of a better word) to alcohol? It's weird that people think it's harmless to give wee babies tiny sips of alcohol when it's generally accepted that there's no safe level of alcohol for pregnant women. One thing that makes me cringe as a dad is wondering if my daughters will drink like I did when I was a teenager.

Back to the question. Am I missing a golden opportunity to model responsible drinking for my daughters? My answer was that my wife can play that role now. She is a responsible drinker after all. She, perhaps influenced by my journey, hardly drinks at all now and I haven't seen her drink at home for ages. I've never been rolling drunk in front of my girls, but one of the reasons I decided to give up alcohol was I felt I was starting to model my drinking habits in front of them. It was the wine or cider while cooking dinner, and the drinking on the weekends at home that I was starting to get uncomfortable about. They were seeing me drinking pretty regularly. When my youngest started asking whether me or my wife were drinking "pinot noir or rose?", while heart-crushingly cute, it did give me pause for thought.

I know they will get to an age where they start to make decisions for themselves around alcohol. But here's the thing. My parents' mostly moderate drinking never influenced me one way or another. When I was 16 all me and my friends could think about every weekend was whether we were going to be able to scam our way to procuring beer. I'm not blaming my folks at all, because I hid 90% of my teenage drinking from them, but I might have benefitted from some frank discussions around the dangers of alcohol (or is this just the parent in me talking).

What I question now is why is it inevitable that our children will just be enveloped into the booze culture, as if it is their birth rite? And why do we have to be complicit in it? Yes, I know when they get older it will be their right to make their own decisions around booze. Yes, I know they will probably follow the crowd and drink before they reach drinking age. I know they will have to learn by their own mistakes rather than mine. But I've decided I'm not going to help them along in their drinking endeavours, other than giving them all the information they need to make their own, hopefully responsible, choices.

What can I tell you about the effect my non-drinking has had on them. Well, they no longer ask about what variety of wine we're drinking. They still have to deal with their grumpy sleep-deprived dad on occasions, but they haven't had to deal with their hung-over dad for months. Alcohol is just not really on their radar anymore.

They can be influenced by the drinking culture, by their peers, by their family and now they have another option - being a non-drinker - to add to the mix.

I think it can only be a good thing that they see that as a valid choice too.


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Sharing the load

I caught up with an old mate today. The last time I saw him his partner was going through some hard stuff. Now they've broken up sadly, and he's pondering his next move. He asked me what had been going on for me and I told him about ditching booze. He was supportive and we had a long chat about how his former partner has struggled with alcohol and the tension it caused between them.

I love how talking about my decision opens up stuff for others. We can all touch on common experiences.

I haven't been announcing my situation by loudhailer, and I've only told a handful of people I'm Sober Man365 (not that I'm ashamed of anything). When I'm tapping away at my keyboard I confess I feel a bit like a bespectacled Clark Kent - anonymous and free to write without a filter. I'm not sure my costume would be as cool as Superman's though. What would a sober crusader wear anyway (suggestions please)?

However, of the sprinkling of people I have told, many of them have talked about how they should cut down or of someone close to them who has/had alcohol-related problems. I've had very few negative reactions.

I think talking about problems with booze is a healthy conversation to have. Most of the time stuff like that is kept inside. It's an internal conversation that can go around and around in circles in your head. Your own partner might not necessarily know how you're feeling. You can tell if someone doesn't want to go there pretty quickly, but for those who do want to talk about it, that kind of conversation can be really helpful for both parties. I could tell my friend was stoked to be able to get some of it off his chest.

I've also been locking in the details for my 40th today. It's in a couple of months. I've just sent out the invitations on Facebook. I told everyone there would be a bar tab and nibbles (till it runs out). It makes me feel like such an enabler. Now that I'm living sober I see things from the sober person's perspective. I'm also considering the people that may be trying, like me, not to drink. Before I would only see things from my own drinker's perspective.

Events such as my 40th are the sort of events I'd usually try to turn up on time for, to take full advantage of the free drinks. Being at an event where there is a bar tab has always been one of the most dangerous scenarios for me. I would usually charge like a bull out of a gate and drink till I'd well and truly surpassed my limit. But I'm realistic that more than 95% of my guests will be drinking. I also need to think of them. I considered just paying for food and letting people buy their own drinks, but the host in me couldn't let me do it.

While I'm going to be drinking virgin cocktails or some such alcohol-free beverage, for everyone else the alcohol will be flowing. It's just occurred to me that I'll be the sober driver at my own 40th. How cool is that?! I'm also looking forward to dragging my creaky, but sober, 40-year-old body for a run early the following morning.

Looking at the upsides - seeing what is gained rather than what is being given up - is an important part of this journey I reckon.

I hope you lovely people are all okay.

I haven't shared any music for a while so here's another Marlon Williams gem I've been playing a lot on the guitar lately (how many songs include references to alcohol? It's seems a popular theme). There's a beautiful line in there about how "no-one's truly sheltered from the cold" ... and how how ... "it takes a little learning to grow old". Overall I take this song to mean: We all have hard times. Don't beat yourself up! Everyone deserves love. Hang in there!!!:

Lonely Side of Her


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Never ever, ever, never?

The recurring question that keeps coming up is if I'll ever drink again. It's mainly something I've been asking myself. It's early days but it's something I need to consider throughout this sober year in order to make a decision.

There's the potential to really tie myself in knots over this. If I over think it then it could make what is actually a very simple choice more complicated than it needs to be. I know deep down it will just be easier in many ways to stop forever. No more grey area. No more angst over how and when to drink and doing the moderation thing. If I had to make a decision now, based on a rational approach, I would never drink again.

But human beings aren't always rational. I know I'm certainly not. Emotions come into play. There's the nagging internal voice asking me whether it's necessary for me to give up completely. I could just moderate and I'd probably be fine. So what if I go back to the way things were. That wasn't all bad.

I've found it helpful so far to look at things in a cost versus benefit way.

Here is my list of ways alcohol has harmed me:

  • Alcohol has been detrimental to my health (not in a major liver-failure kind of way, but it certainly hasn't made me healthier).
  • Alcohol has led me to putting myself in harm's way (being a van passenger in a alcohol-related crash for instance).
  • I've made a damn fool of myself at times on the booze.
  • Alcohol has impaired my judgement.
  • Alcohol has affected my moods (I'm far more even-tempered and happy now).
  • Last year a bad hangover led to me letting a friend down in a way I'm still not proud of.
  • Alcohol helped me get through uncomfortable social situations (I'm seeing this as a negative now rather than a positive).
  • Alcohol has given me false confidence.
  • Being a bit cut at my daughter's fourth birthday party led to a bit of a train wreck in the pass the parcel as I was on music duty (I wonder now what the hell I was thinking serving booze to the adults at a wee kid's party!).  
  • Having alcoholic blowouts (blowout is my code word for vomiting violently at the end of the night) in front of my wife has made me feel like crap.  

How has alcohol helped me? Let me see.

  • I've had some fun nights out drinking with friends and family (though I see now I could have done this without alcohol).
  • I've celebrated and commiserated some big events in my life with a drink or two (I also question this too).

If you look at it in that light, you'd have to ask why would I want to drink again rather than why would I not want to.

It's interesting to me how a simple shift in thinking has led me to see that even the ways I thought alcohol was helping me, it was really holding me back.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Goodbye Noosa

It's our last night in Noosa. Tomorrow we head back home to Christchurch, and I can't help but think I'm returning a different man. I'm still the same ordinary, and flawed, person that landed at Brisbane airport a week ago, but I'm even more convinced now that the sober life suits me.

We just went to the resort's restaurant for our last dinner here. I drank a virgin mojito (it tasted pretty similar to the alcohol version) as my eldest daughter and her cousin danced like dervishes by our table. My three-year-old is ready to go home. She's struggling with a virus. As soon as I finished my dessert I walked her to our villa to read her bedtime stories. Some strange didgeridoo-esque bird sound, echoed across the resort as we walked up the steps - a truly Australian moment. I read a couple of books, and she drifted to sleep cradled in my arms.

As I think of home, I'm reflecting on this time away with a quiet feeling of satisfaction. It's not just the not drinking part, but in how much I've enjoyed the holiday without alcohol. In the past alcohol has gone hand in hand with holidays, yet this sober week away has been my favourite holiday EVER. There must be something in that. Aye?

My afternoon drinks have been soda/ginger ale with lemon, lime and bitters, ice and a slice of lemon. My newly pregnant sister-in-law and I have been sober buddies for the week. We had a dinner out and I laughed and chatted just like a drunk version of my sober self (I'm not sure that even makes sense, but what I mean is I'm getting better at being myself in social situations - enjoying myself - without the crutch of alcohol). It's all practice and being mindful about it. On Wednesday an old friend from University days come to see us and we spent time together at the beach. We drank quite a bit together that year, but I found out recently she quit booze the year after we graduated. Today she posted to Facebook about reaching eight years' sober. I really wanted to talk to her about her sober life. The one thing I'm finding hard is not being able to talk to anyone about this stuff - someone who truly understands. My wonderful wife is totally supportive, and she knows better than anyone why I'm ditching alcohol, but she can't truly share in this - not in the same way as with a fellow non-drinker. She does read this blog, so I know she understands what's happening with me but by talking with my friend I found the common ground I had been craving.

Today another mate came to visit. It was great. But we got talking about all the 40th birthdays happening this year and I told him I had quit drinking. He just said: "Why did you do that?" I don't think he was trying to be insensitive but I just think he didn't understand it, at all. I know I'm going to have to get used to that sort of incredulous reaction. It's hard to explain to people from the drinking world how great it is without booze. Yet, non-drinkers get it straight away. It's like we're all in a secret club. We all know how much better life is without alcohol. We also understand how hard it can be to quit. We can see through the common drinking myths. We get it.

I've been enjoying getting up with a clear head. I've been running nearly every day. I was fit before, but since I gave up drinking I've gotten into the shape of my life. I feel healthy and strong. I play cards much better sober. I wonder if this is the best version of myself so far? Have I reached some sort of peak? Will it all go downhill from here, or will I just enjoy the way things are for the rest of my life? Was alcohol the thing that had kept me locked into a closed and safe way of thinking? The mind shift that has come from giving up alcohol seems to have freed me to chase some the things I've lacked the confidence to attempt in the past. And other stuff has come along. Good stuff. I'm reviewing books - a first in my career - for a magazine I've wanted to be published in for a very long time.    

I'm not a religious person but there's no better way to describe how I feel at the moment than truly blessed.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

If I don't have a problem then why am I here?

I'm at day five of my Noosa holiday. The first two nights, while spent in paradise, were so stressful I was almost driven to drink. It was at a time when I felt I was in supreme control of my sober lifestyle. Sleep deprivation does funny things to people. After the second night of getting up multiple times to my squawking children my mental state was ripe for a slip up.

Later that night the booze was flowing, not like a waterfall, but at more of a steady stream than night one, and for whatever reason I felt like I was missing out. Big time. I watched my brother-in-law charging into the beers and I remembered how much I loved doing that on holiday. I truly did love that part of drinking, especially with close family and friends gathered to enjoy each other's company. Just chugging one beer after the other and getting a bit loose. Coming out of my shell. It wasn't much past dinner when a strong drinking urge invaded my sleep starved brain: "Fuck it! What am I doing this sober thing for anyway. Maybe I don't even have a problem. I could just pack the whole thing in and drink with the other fellas." For a moment I really wanted to drink, to just be normal again. But I saved myself by saying out loud to my sister-in-law: "I really want to have a drink" before adding, "but I'm not going to."

That took all the air out of the situation - vocalising my innermost urge to drink, having it hang in the air like a cloud of steam before it drifted away. Then I was okay. Now three days later I'm in a much better place. I've had a couple of good nights' sleep, I've been for a few runs, and I'm more than happy to still be sober.

Maybe I don't even have a problem.

This morning on my run I pondered how that thought had popped into my head. I thought about all the sneaky things my inner dialogue thinks of to say to me to get me to do all sorts of things I'd decided I didn't want to do. I thought back to the day I joined the Living Sober community. It was the morning after my last bender - a bender I had told myself before I went out with my friends I wasn't going to have. How many times do our plans around moderating alcohol get hijacked by alcohol itself? As I've gotten older, and since I had children, benders have happened less frequently. In the last few years they've been accompanied by feelings of shame, and deep regret. I sat in front of the computer screen looking at the Living Sober home screen, with my finger hovering over the mouse battling with myself over whether I'd join up. Did I even have a problem? Can I manage this myself?

In the end I decided to take positive action and, feeling like I had nothing to lose, I joined up. The answer to my question goes back to that day. If I didn't have a problem then why was I there, staring at that computer screen, making a decision that could change my relationship with alcohol forever. When I joined I didn't know If I wanted to quit or to try moderation, but I knew I wanted to do something different. After all, my modus operandi in relation to alcohol for the first 39 years of my life was deeply flawed. It wasn't working for me anymore.

I've come through my first crisis now.

Now that I'm on the other side of that, I feel stronger than ever.


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Breaking Through to the Other Side

I'm on holiday in Noosa, Australia. It's the morning of day two and I'm weary after the two youngest members of the family decided 3am was "morning time". We're staying in a magnificent beach villa with our in-laws. It's a special place. The kids are loving catching up with their cuzzies. Life is good.

In the past, holidays have meant relaxing, getting away from the stresses of the daily grind and spending time with family. Once the afternoon rolls around it's time for a few beers and then maybe some wines over the evening - no need to get up early for work, all morning to recover, not a care in the world. Sometimes we'd kick on, but heavy drinking sessions became a thing of the past once the kids arrived. Well, mostly. I can't remember a holiday in my adult life where alcohol hasn't been one of the main links in the chain.

Not this time. Well, not for me anyway.

This morning, I'm sober and clear-headed, apart from being a bit grumpy after the bad sleep. Before I left, Living Sober members told me I would savour this feeling, of not being seedy and hungover. And I am.

When we landed at Brisbane airport yesterday morning, we had a bit of time before our bus so we headed for a cafe to get something to eat, and a proper coffee. I was lining up and saw the rows of Corona, and Peroni in their front cabinet. Corona and Peroni have always been drinks synonymous with holiday mode for me. I flashed back to the countless Coronas I drank during our yearly trips to Mount Maunganui. Peroni became my favourite beer after my first, and only, trip to Rome, when my first Italian experience of note was sitting outside a restaurant eating real Italian pizza in the sun and sipping away at a crate-bottle-sized Peroni. It never quite tasted as good outside of Italy but since then it has been tops in my eyes (it's interesting how we lift a mere beverage, a brand, to such lofty status).

When we arrived in Noosa we got settled in and I went to help do the first food and beverage run. My wife put in her order for Rose, and the other lads stocked up on wine and beer. When we got back we started preparing dinner and my bro-in-law and father-in-law had a few quiets.

I think one of the signs that I've broken through to the sober-living side is that I don't feel like I'm missing out. I can go and do a beer run, I can see my old favourites in the drinks cabinet and I can be around drinkers and be fine with it. In many ways the easy part is deciding to give up drinking. It's what comes later that tests your resolve.

I catch myself watching people in public now, thinking things such as, 'you look like you've had a hard night on the turps last night' or 'you look like a drinker'. Stuff like that. I'm starting to see everything, and everyone, through my prism as a non-drinker.

It's being comfortable in the world of drinking that's the key. I'm 51 days sober today. I've never gone this long without drinking. But adding days to my sober tally isn't a slow, painstaking grind. It's getting easier. It's becoming part of my lifestyle, and a valued part of who I am.

I looked out to the beach from our balcony last night and soaked in the exquisite view. I took extra notice of the details. I sat there, surrounded by the people I love, and the people who love me, and felt truly happy. Happy in myself, and happy to be living sober.

I'm happy to be seeing things from a sober perspective.

I'm not sure that Sober Living was one of the main things on Jim Morrison's mind when he wrote this, but its title seems appropriate:
Breaking Through to the Other Side

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Being a 2-day-a-year Wine Buff

The last time alcohol passed my lips, 48 days ago, I was sipping a glass of pinot noir with a mate who had popped around out of the blue to visit. I hadn't had a drink for a few weeks and halfway through the glass I thought to myself, 'I'm not actually enjoying this.' I made the rare move, for me, of tipping the rest down the sink after my friend had left. It left me pondering whether I actually enjoyed the taste of alcohol anymore. On reflection, I wonder now if it's something I had just acquired a taste for over the years.

When I first drank at 13 I thought it was pretty horrid actually, but I persevered till it was bearable. For most of my 20s I drank lager or, after the craft beer revolution, pilsner. In my 30s I gravitated more towards chardonnay and pinot noir (some time I'll tell you about the time I ordered a chardonnay during a stag do and how I nearly lost my man card on the spot). In recent years cider has been my tipple of choice.

I like the buttery, vanilla - almost syrupy - chardonnays. I like a full-bodied, peppery pinot - not too fruity or sweet. But don't be fooled folks. While I know what I like, I'm no connoisseur. I'd be lucky if I frequent a vineyard tasting room twice a year. And I'm not one of those Mike Hosking types who pokes his nose in for a sniff (well I do sometimes, but I don't linger for too long), before gargling the stuff like mouth wash and spitting it out (not that there's anything wrong with that). If you drink every wine in the line-up you can actually get a bit of a glow on. That's what it's all about for me, even though I'll often talk up how I can taste the passionfruit in this one or the slight hint of pomegranate in that one (And I can only pull those things out if I've read on the bottle what I'm supposed to be tasting). For the other 363 days of the year I'm drinking the cheapest, yet still drinkable, plonk possible.

I had never liked whiskey till I took a distillery tour on a visit to the sleepy, fishing village of Oban, Scotland. I was told about the Whiskey Map, shown the best way to drink it, and discovered I could tolerate the smoky, peaty, middle-of-the-road varieties. But getting messed up on a large bottle of the stuff with my brother-in-law when I got back to Christchurch, when we had just intended on having a few quiet drams, had little to do with whiskey appreciation.

Looking back at my former drinking self from my new sober outlook, if I'm totally honest, it's always just been about getting the buzz really. It's not purely about how I love the taste of a good wine. I tried alcohol free wine once and it was absolute, almost undrinkable, shit. It's the same with decaffeinated coffee. Something is missing, and we all know what it is.

My old self would consider a triumphant, awesome night out was one where I seemed to be able to drink whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted and I didn't puke or seem to get too drunk to function. The next day I would actually think about how I'd been in top drinking form, like it had something to do with my innate skill rather than dumb luck. The fact I had a few lucky nights out shouldn't have masked the ugly reality that I was usually in terrible form. If Richie McCaw had played like I drunk he wouldn't have made it out of the Kurow under-10s!

I think back to the nights out which started quietly and ended in benders, the nights where the sole aim from the get-go was to get thoroughly pissed, and the countless nights where I'd just slip into the drowsy, familiar, word-slurring, shallow breathing comfort of half (or a full bottle) of wine on the couch - the edge truly knocked off, a stressful day in the rear-vision mirror, a muddled heavy head in the morning.

My new truth is, I don't miss any of that nonsense, and not being able to have the odd buttery chardonnay is a small sacrifice.

Today's musical offering to the gods of sobriety is the magnificent Mr Williams:
Everyone's Got Something to Say ~ Marlon Willams

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Pulling the Plug

My decision to stop drinking reminds me of the scene in Poltergeist with the flickering TV. I've basically unplugged from the world of drinking but the reminders of my drinking past linger like a ghost. I've pulled the plug but somehow the power supply still flickers. And, more than that, the images of people drinking, and of alcohol itself, are everywhere.

Everyday I log into Facebook and see mates and family members on holiday, in a pub or out for dinner, toasting good times with a glass of wine or a pitcher of beer. Has anyone else noticed how much drinking the folk on Shortland Street get up to? It seems all those people do is either work at the hospital or hang out at their pub, the IV, drinking up a storm. There's hardly a scene without a generously-filled glass of vino. I'm starting to wonder if an alcohol company sponsors the show. Also, you often can't get through the supermarket without walking past the aisles bursting with booze.  

To be a non-drinker you have to be able to live in this world where booze is waved in your face on a daily basis. And that doesn't include what you encounter when you venture into social situations.

Right now I'm having flashbacks to every embarrassing drinking folly. Yes, every, drunken, stumbling, foolish booze-fuelled moment in my life. I'm nearly 40 so this is taking some time to work my way through. There's the time a girlfriend broke up with me so I skulled a bottle of Marque Spew (at 16 you take what you can get) and ended up rolling around Sumner Beach legless. There was the time I went to a mate's wedding in Arrowtown and drank enough wine to tranquillise a Shetland Pony just so I'd have the courage to dance. I didn't think it would end with me playing lead keyboard for Def Leppard, minus the rest of the band, and the keyboard (that photo which someone kindly tagged me in was removed as soon as I saw it on Facebook).

Now when I look back on photos of myself throughout my adulthood at various weddings and parties I see them differently. Mostly they trigger memories of the state I got into later that night. One of my favourite photos of my wife and I was taken at friends' wedding in central Wellington. We'd just arrived at the reception and had our first drink in our hands. We're beaming. I weighed a bit more then, which suited me probably more than the skinny bag of bones I've become, and I looked healthy. But there was also a photo of me later where my shirt is untucked and almost completely unbuttoned, stained with the wine I'd split over myself. My face is beet-red (the family drinking curse) and I'm sweating profusely. I think there's a wide circle around me where people have given me room so they wouldn't get clotheslined by my drunken dancing. It's my least favourite photo of myself, apart from maybe the keyboard one (though even I can laugh a little bit at that).

I'm finding it healthy to confront these ghosts in my past, because it reinforces to me why I don't want to be that drinker anymore, and why I may never want to jump back on the slippery drinking slope. It's not that I didn't have a lot of fun on the booze, but if I think of the best times in my life they were experienced sober. I recall the vivid, beautiful power of when my first first daughter was born, holding my second daughter in my arms after putting her first onesie on, seeing my ever-smiling wife walk across the field and up the "aisle" arm in arm with her parents on our wedding day, looking out over a blanket of clouds on my first flight (aged 10) with Herbs' Sensitive to a Smile ringing in my ears, getting the life-changing call from my former newspaper boss when I found out I had a reporting job and would fulfil my childhood dream of becoming a writer.

I think I started unplugging from drinking in my mind years ago. I started seeing alcohol in a negative light on the job as a reporter. I covered community groups protesting about bottle stores opening near their schools, I wrote about drunk drivers, and one night I rode with police to observe a typical Friday night out on the beat in town. I saw them confiscate booze from underage teenagers (I can relate), help legless young women reach the safety of home or hospital, deal with drunken disorderly idiots and after 3am break up fights after the pubs closed. It was a different lens through which to view it. And it left a lasting impression on me. Another thing that stayed with me was the many times I covered district court hearings. I'd usually be there for a specific case, but would usually have to sit there for a couple of hours. Most of the cases that came up were offences fuelled by alcohol or drugs; drunk driving, assaults, domestic violence and stealing to fuel habits.

At the time it changed the way I regarded alcohol - I questioned it more - but it didn't make me want to cut down or stop myself. Now that I've given up I'm questioning everything; the culture around it, the health side of things, common drinking myths and the reasons why I drank.

I don't want to judge myself too harshly for my drinking past just like I don't want to judge others for their drinking. What's done is done. I can't change it. But I'm better off without all the nonsense that comes with drinking. Amen!        

Monday, 1 August 2016

Falling off the Pink Cloud.

While the last post was all about hanging on for dear life as I rode the fabled Pink Cloud of sobriety into the sunset, I can now report I have fallen off the cloud and landed with a resounding thud. It was more like a birthday balloon being popped. I think I probably over thought it. Somehow, knowing about the existence of the cloud made me aware I could fall off the bloody thing too!

So, grumpy Mr Sober Man is back. I don't get clinically depressed, but like a lot of people I have my ups and downs and I'm aware I'm in a bit of trough right now. I was going along swimmingly, till I had a three-year-old-tantrum-plagued, drop-my-honey-toast-on-the-kitchen-floor-honey-side-down, have-rare-argument-with-Mrs Sober Man, Highlanders-lose-to-the-blimmin-Kings, kind of weekend.

Yes, I know. These aren't major problems in the grand scheme of things but sometimes it feels like all the little things just add up and then you just feel like you're getting metaphorically slapped down by it all.

The lovely Prudence commented on the last post about her "first Pink Cloud" and how she got a pink streak in her hair and jetted down to Queenstown for the weekend. Ah, so I see how this works. You get more than one of these things. That gives me hope. I'm just sitting in my little roller-coaster car and I've dropped down from a great height, but I can see the plateau ending, and in the distance the track is about to rise up again, and I'll be away again!

I probably had my strongest cravings to drink this weekend. I was watching my favourite real estate show, Location, Location, Location, and the host was popping open a bottle of champagne. I watched them fill up the glasses and I was imagining the bubbles popping on my tongue when I snapped out of it and told myself to, 'get a grip!' I also saw an item on Sunday which featured a former police negotiator who talked about "numbing the pain" of what he saw in his job with alcohol. That triggered a memory for me of a story I wrote about the tragic hit-and-run death of a public servant for a newspaper I used to work for. It was probably the highpoint of my career from a journalism point of view. I remembered how I left the newsroom still surging with the adrenalin of what I had experienced. Not much earlier I had witnessed the never-before-seen sight of my boss and colleagues standing to applaud me as I triumphantly came back to the newsroom to write the story. I left about 9pm, and I went straight to the pub and proceeded to get drunk with my colleagues. We were celebrating. In the morning I woke up and read the story, the coverage of which ran across the first three pages, and the emotional gravity of what I had done, and the fact that a man - a human being who had a partner and kids who loved him - had been killed. I broke down and cried. I drank quite a bit during my newsroom days. There were many days like that which were taxing emotionally. The stories where you'd have to ring someone you'd just lost a loved one in a car crash. The relentless deadlines. The feeling like you were never quite good enough. The first thing you'd think of at the end of the day was finding out who else wanted to go to the pub for a few and you usually found someone.

I can think of so many times when I celebrated the hell out of occasions with booze and other times when I used it to cover up the grief and sadness and difficulty of life.

I'm an optimist. While I get stuck in these bad patches, I know better times aren't far away. Life is good. I'm a very lucky guy. I know that. The tools to get out of this funk, are in my hands. Writing about it is lifting my mood already. And what I'm finding is these ups and downs are easier to navigate without the usual go-to of booze.

A musical offering?

This is a song seemingly about how alcohol can solve life's problems, when really I think it's trying to point out the opposite. And I felt like a bit of Guided By Voices to start my day.
Drinker's Peace - Guided By Voices