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!