Monday, 26 September 2016

The Power of Suggestion

The power of suggestion has helped me in my drinking all of my adult life. I've told myself (and guests) at various times; You need a drink. You deserve a drink. You've worked hard today. It's time to celebrate. God I NEED a drink! It's been such a stressful day. That bloody three-year-old has driven me to drink! Just have another one. You might as well finish the bottle. You could open another bottle. It's nearly wine o'clock! We could have a water, a coffee, or a refreshing cider - go on I'm having one!

I've found every justification and excuse to pop the top off whatever drink is in current supply and there have been very few times over the years when there hasn't been alcohol in my house.

I found out recently I have a "high bottom". I'm learning new terms from the sober blogosphere every day it seems. Fellow blogger MIT ( and I both have them. My rock bottom was the result of a gradual unease with my drinking built up over years, with various negative alcohol-themed events tipping me to the point of first cutting back and then quitting altogether. (I talk about that moment in this blog post).

There was never any really major drama that went with my drinking - no relationship breakdowns (well I did get legless once after being dumped), no injuries due to alcohol (apart from falling asleep and walking face-first into a fence one night), no out-of-the-norm drunken antics that signalled to my friends and family I had a problem (I just blended in seamlessly with the drunken tomfoolery that surrounded me). I never hid empty wine bottles from my spouse after agreeing to an alcohol free day like Mrs D did, and I never tripped over an electric fence and into a gorse bush, before plunging head-first into an effluent pond, and nearly drowning, as my brave journo mate Katrina did (you can read her amazing story here).

Last night, my wife read the chapter in Mrs D's book where she hit her empty-wine-bottle-hiding rock bottom, and my wife asked me if I ever hid my drinking from her. I told her I never agreed to not drink and then drank behind her back. In the shower this morning I remembered the times I would buy two riggers of cider with the big Friday shop and then get on a roll and guzzle one before she got home from work. I'd chuck the empty in the big bin outside rather than the bin at the back door. Then when she'd get home I'd open the other rigger and she'd think it was my first. SHIT!!! I DID hide my drinking from her (I will ring her and confess before she reads this blog). At the time, of course, I thought I wasn't hiding my drinking, rather hiding the fact I was having more than my share of the weekend's alcohol supply (See how we justify these things to ourselves?).  

I haven't had physical cravings. My battle since giving up alcohol has been largely mental. The last week has been the toughest. At times I've felt like a fraud - or that I didn't have a problem - because it's been relatively easy for me (though I know it's foolish to compare myself with others). But I think it's started to dawn on me how much effort I'm actually putting into this; the almost all-consuming nature of always thinking about my sobriety is draining in a way I can't fully comprehend or describe. I just want to live my sober life and not have it inhabit my thoughts ALL THE TIME.

When I wrote recently about being visited by the mythical Booze Fairy (who told me quitting alcohol was stoopid) it was purely because I didn't want to admit I was the one questioning my sobriety; it seemed much more palatable to palm the thought off to a third party, an outside influence.

Every time I suggest to myself drinking again would be good I use the same power of suggestion to re-affirm my decision to remain sober. Whenever I think about the good ol' drinking times and how much I loved drinking, I remind myself of the bad times and the negative effects it had on my life. I reaffirm to myself how much better life is now. Being mindful of my triggers helps me navigate the shaky moments, instead of mindlessly heading straight for the wine like I used to. I know it will pass and it does.

I'm realising I am responsible for every decision, good or bad, that I've made in my life. Now, I'm solely responsible for living my life without alcohol.

It's up to me, and only me, to live the life I want.

I know I'm doing the right thing.

I know I wield the power to do it.

Note: The new photo behind the blog is a dusky scene from my recent Noosa trip - it's a happy, positive memory of my first alcohol free holiday (and I was getting sick of that Wellington Zoo chimp!).

Friday, 23 September 2016

A Visit From the Booze Fairy

By the recent Pink Cloud standard the last week has been a bit of a struggle; busy, unsettled, uncomfortable, stressful, frustrating (yet sprinkled with plenty of lovely moments of levity). Sounds like typical life stuff, and it is. My lot isn't much to complain about. My roller coaster is just in a bit of a trough at the moment but I know it'll head to higher ground soon.

Lately I've been contemplating a recent visit from the booze fairy (a term I've seen used on Living Sober). Last weekend I was riding a bit of a high. It culminated in finishing Lotta Dann's compelling sober memoir Mrs D is Going Without. It touched on so many things from my own life and experience, though I couldn't relate the crushing turmoil Lotta experienced in those early dark days after she quiz booze - the cravings and emotional upheaval. I finished the book and I remember feeling how solid I felt about my decision to quit alcohol for good. I was feeling damn grateful for the Living Sober people, the sober blogosphere, and my own realisation something needed to change in my life.

Later I was taking my girls to the bathroom for tooth-brushing time and the Booze Fairy chose that unguarded moment to invade my brain:

"This sober thing is getting so boring! You can't seriously give up alcohol for ever. Just give this up! You'll drink again! Just moderate. You love alcohol. You can't do this forever! You're a fool to even think you needed to give me up. What if you don't even have a problem? You're missing out!"

It's funny I would think that at a time when I was feeling the most solid about all this. So many good things have happened. I'm obviously still not immune to the doubts. I just haven't really had many of these strong doubts in the last 98 days, so it was a certainly a bit of a wtf moment. I'm a decision person. I made a decision and decided I wasn't going to regret it. Right???

Could it be that I'm just getting a bit tired of constantly focussing on this new state of perpetual sobriety; the good things, the future non-drinking events, the regular visits to Living Sober, the sober blogging.

Am I burnt out with all this? I do have a fairly obsessive personality and being sober has become my latest obsession in a way (being an all or nothing guy does help with this endeavour). I felt like blogging about this straight away, but instead I've just let it sit in the back of my mind all week. I'm not sure that was all that healthy. Better out than in (this was something I'd say to myself when I was feeling sick from too much boozing).

By the time I was reading bedtime stories to my girls I had already told the voice to "*@#k off!".

And it did.

But it's effect still lingers.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

My New Friends


friend /frǝnd/ n. & a. [OE frēond = OFris., OS friund (DU. vriend), OHG friunt (G Freund), ON frændi, Goth. frijonds, f. Gmc pres. pple of vb = 'to love', f. base of FREE a.] A n. 
1 A person joined by affection and intimacy to another, independantly of sexual or family love. OE. 2 A near relation. Usu. in pl., those responsible for one. OE. 3 A person who is not hostile or an enemy to another; one who is on the same side. OE. 4 A person who wishes another, a cause, etc., well; a sympathiser, helper, patron, (of, to); (usu. in pl.) a supporter of an institution etc., who regularly contribute money or other help. ME. b A helpful thing. LME. c A person who acts for another, esp. (Hist.) as a second in a duel. E19. 5 An acquaintance, an associate; a stranger whom one comes across or has occasion to mention again. Freq. as voc. as a polite form of irony, and (Hist.) used by members of the Society of Friends as the ordinary form of address.


I've always felt I've had trouble forming friendships. I often joke that my own friends like my wife more than me. But if I apply the definition of friend I realise I have an abundance of meaningful friendship in my life. I have my old friends who know me better than anyone else apart from my close family and my aforementioned wonderful wife; the friends who have seen me at my worst and my best and stick in this life with me through thick and thin. These are the friends whom I know are there despite the tyranny of distance or lack of contact.

Becoming sober has come to represent me being the best friend I can be to myself. I feel like I'm giving myself the most indescribably beautiful gift. I'm wishing myself well, I'm finally on my own side. My own ultimate ally. I'm finally able to give something of my true self to others, to support them, to feel like I'm worthy of giving and receiving that support.

When I joined Living Sober  six months ago I felt vulnerable and disconnected in terms of quitting booze, but now I don't know what I'd do without the friendship, support and sense of kinship I've gained. In 99% of the cases I'm connected to people I've never met (the fabulous Prudence and Mrs D the only exceptions). Our identities are largely hidden. It's an online connection but the unconditional love and camaraderie is powerfully real; blind to gender, wealth, politics and age. We wish each other well. We listen to each other's problems. We celebrate the triumphs and successes; cheering each other on in our endeavours and sobriety.

Since interviewing Living Sober member Prudence for an article, I've been helping her with a photography project. We meet weekly to go through it. She's become a friend. Without Living Sober and the article would I have ever crossed paths with Prudence let alone become a mate? It's unlikely.  
When my UK-based blogging buddy, who goes by the name of MIT (Make It Tea), told me reading this blog had given him the nudge to give up alcohol for a year and blog about it, I marvelled at how my words had reached so far across the globe and had an effect on someone else's life for the better. In reading his excellent blog I find we share much in terms of our outlook on life and how we're going about this alcohol free adventure. What's a friend? Well I regard MIT (and everyone I've met through my sober journey) to be firm friends.

This morning I read this comment on my previous blog from an anonymous woman in the US, and my heart felt like it was going to explode:


Dear Soberman,
I have been enjoying your blog very much. Thank you for sharing.
I've been a heavy drinker for 30 over 100 Days sober and I am discovering what you are saying... and it feels good. This is an absolute miracle. (49 year old female in the States). Never thought I could do is so much better. Please do keep us posted. Thanks again.


I feel like I've never had so many friends in my life.

A miracle indeed.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

The unhappy boozehound.

I was scanning through the photos on my iPad the other day and I happened upon this one. It's a sad, lonely, drunken, selfie I took about two years ago. I've seen it before but not from the perspective I've gained from becoming sober. I was actually a little shocked at my vacant, miserable appearance. It was like I was seeing it properly for the first time, and I didn't like what I saw. This is the old me (well the version of myself after much swilling of liquor). My drinking didn't take me to bad places every time I drank but more frequently than I care to remember. If I ever think it would be a good idea to return to the world of drinkers I'm going to look at this photo to remind me why that's not a great idea. But I feel like I've already left this guy in the past.

It's funny I have a guitar in my hands in this cheery snap. I had just learnt how to play one of my favourite dark and depressing songs; Elliot Smith's A Fond Farewell, and I'm probably utterly frustrated with how shit my guitar playing was despite more than 20 years of trying in vain to improve (or at least play something - anything - in time). How I thought I'd play better with a skin full of beer on board is beyond me now. In the last six months I've been practising every day and my playing is exponentially better, without the distraction of booze to blunt my potential.

I can't explain why on earth I'm cross eyed. I'm not usually. The red, bloated face is not a foible of the photographic process. I've always described it as a family curse inherited from my equally red-face-prone father. It only takes half a dozen beers or a couple of glasses of red before I feel my face starting to burn from the red glow. When I got totally wasted I would catch blurry glimpses of myself in car or shop-window reflections and cringe with embarrassment at my beet-red complexion. I always felt self conscious about my ridiculous red face because I knew people would see how pissed I was.

It's not something I have to worry about these days. I don't ever have to sit alone and drink my way through a bottle (or two) of red wine, sinking deeper and deeper into a drowsy, alcoholic state of discontent. I don't have to lie in bed wide awake as my head spins, knowing the only way to make it stop (and to have any hope of sleep) is to expel the alcohol from my booze laden guts. I don't ever have to worry that my friends and family will see how drunk I am, that I haven't managed to drink like a normal person. Life is far simpler now.

I also wanted to post a photo from my recent overseas holiday to contrast with drunk me photo. In this case a picture tells a thousand words of the change in me since quitting booze, both physical and mental. I'm at ease - truly at ease in my own skin. Confident. Happy. Life was good before, but it's so much better now alcohol is out of my life.

Life is good.

I realise I am revealing myself a little from behind the anonymous nature of this blog, but I don't care. I'm not ashamed. None of us should be. I just want you to know if I can do this, you can do it too. No matter how dark the tunnel is, there is light, happiness, peace and fulfilment at the other end.

Tihei mauri ora! 
(Behold there is life!) 


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Timing is Everything

I've been thinking recently about how my sober journey would have played out if I'd tried to quit at any other time in my life. In the past I've cut back at times but then lurched from moderation to yet another drinking folly. If I'd tried to quit in my early 30s I would've had a snowball's chance in hell. It would have been a disaster.

At 30 I was still kid free. It was a period when most of our friends were getting married. I was still playing rugby. I was just about to launch my career in journalism. Most weekends the booze was flowing for one reason or another. At my own engagement party my wife and I showed a stunning lack of host responsibly (in case the truck load of booze we bought wasn't sufficient I served vodka and champagne soaked watermelon) and the night finished with a family member falling off our third floor apartment balcony (somehow he was sweet apart from a broken collarbone). She'll be right mate!  

I had no brake on my drinking back then and no reason, apart from all the close calls to life and limb, to see alcohol as anything other than the ultimate vehicle to fun and hilarity. I hadn't yet built up the bank of negativity around alcohol I would gain during my time reporting on alcohol-related harm in the newsroom. I was still years away from becoming a full-time house hubby, when my drinking morphed from the pub-outing-with-colleagues type to the lonely afternoon-indulgence-while-making-dinner type that is so prevalent with at-home mums and dads.

Looking back now I can see the pain and distress alcohol caused me, but at the time I only saw it as a positive force. I was still prepared to experience the physical and mental effects of my benders as an acceptable, and unavoidable, byproduct of my boozing.

Six months ago I realised I was no longer willing to put up with the dark side of my drinking; the shame and the physical effects I was starting to feel more and more as I approached 40. I just knew I had to do something about it. I didn't make the decision to quit lightly. Now I'm 100% sure I'm doing the right thing. Having that concrete certainty is a valuable ally.

I asked my wife last night if she thought at any stage in the 20 years we've been together my drinking habits were a problem and she told me (while hearing me being sick from booze has never been pleasant) she thought my drinking was pretty typical and not out of the ordinary. That surprised me a little. I feel that casting alcohol as the villain is serving me in my sobriety. Of course I've conveniently forgotten the 90% of the times I drank that I kept it tidy and was responsible. I only remember the 10% where things didn't go so well. Now I'm overwhelmingly focussed on the ways alcohol hurt me. It's a loss of perspective I think is healthy in this case, because it's balanced by the overwhelming benefits I'm enjoying in my new sober life.

I also asked whether she'd noticed how quitting had improved my temperament, and she said yes, though I got the feeling she didn't think I'd changed that much.

I feel my life has changed in so many subtle ways in so many areas, for the better, and I know it's probably not that clear to other people. The most important thing is how I feel within myself. I did this for me and I couldn't be happier.  

According to Rolling Stone, one of the best songs of all time, and one of the celebrated civil rights anthems. I just think it's beautiful and inspirational, and I'm all about harnessing the power to change at the moment: A Change is Going to Come  

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Flying Solo

My wife is at a work conference till Friday and I'm holding the fort at home with my two girls (only one of which is a maker of mischief). My wife flew out in pretty stormy conditions yesterday afternoon ahead of the hurricane-force winds that buffeted Christchurch last night. Being a stay at home dad means I'm in my element, but being alone without backup adds a bit of a (albeit thin) layer of stress.

The girls are great. They've done nothing different to their usual antics. It's just me that's a bit stressed out; a little more frustrated by stupid little things, a little more grumpy when the girls play up at bedtime. While I don't have a strong urge to drink right now, I recognise that this is the perfect situation, the ideal set of triggers, that in the past would have led me to take the edge off with a drink at the end of the day. Like so many other at-home parents (and I take my hat off to all you guys doing this stuff on your own day in day out) I used to deal with the stress, the at times drudgery of it all, the days when your buttons get pushed over and over again, with alcohol.

Since I quit booze I've thankfully not had a strong physical urge to drink. The moment I swept alcohol off the table, made the decision, bit the bullet, set my sober course the inner turmoil melted away. But I've become mindful of when the perfect storms are aligning in my world that in the past would have led me to drink. Seeing it coming, I think, is helping me deal with it and move on rather then squash it down with booze.

These days, I think about how I would feel in the morning (slow and dead-headed), the fact that I'd probably enjoy sinking into the familiarity and the sensations of alcohol but still wake up just as frustrated and just as stressed as the day before. I'm focussing on the satisfaction I'm getting from being sober, and I'm feeling really good about myself at the moment.

I watched Dr Phil the other day and he was counselling an alcoholic. He revealed that he hadn't drunk alcohol for 45 years. Then last night I watched the Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe where he said he'd been sober for the last 26 years. The reframing of my identity revolves very much around being sober now. Being a sober person is becoming very important to me.

I'm looking forward to my wife coming back tomorrow andt despite my complaining I'm enjoying the time with my girls. When they pile into bed at 6am and I get the customary knee to my southern hemisphere before being hugged to within an inch of my life, I tell myself that these are the things I will look back on and miss when the girls are all grown up.


Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Lightbulb Moment

Last night I went to my first big house party since I quit alcohol. It was the joint 40th birthday of a couple of my high school mates. The other guests were among my oldest friends. Since university days we've been spread far and wide, living in different parts of the country and the world. For long periods we can have no contact but when we catch up the friendship we share continues unchanged.

I wasn't nervous about their reaction to my decision, as we've always supported each other. At some stage towards the end of the night we discussed my reasons but it was pretty much a non issue. It was a great (sober) night of laughing about old times, catching up on what everyone is doing now, and just relaxing in each other's company into the wee hours. I drove home about 1am looking forward to seeing my girls for Father's Day cuddles with a clear head.

However, I wasn't prepared for the light bulb moment I would have when I woke up this morning. I told my wife that it was one of the least boozy parties I can remember (they had a few drinks but no one was even slightly drunk). She replied that this group of friends had never really been big drinkers. Then I thought to myself, 'I've never really seen any of them rolling drunk'. And it dawned on me that it's me that has always drunk to excess in their company, that I had always viewed my times with them through a prism of alcohol. I'm finally starting to properly accept that I've overdone it with alcohol for most of my adult life.

One of the things I share with this group of mates is music. We played and recorded a lot of music together. We always liked to have a few beers together but we were usually too busy jamming to get legless. My other group of mates are the guys I played rugby with over the years, and I've formed some lifelong friendships with some of those guys too. But rugby and boozing goes hand in hand; the beers in the changing sheds straight after a game, the after-match functions at the clubrooms, going into the bars after that, and the occasional court (drinking) session. While real and lasting relationships were formed, alcohol was the social lubricant we bonded over. I remember we had a middle eastern guy in our team. He wasn't a natural rugby player but he could skull three jugs in under five seconds. We used to marvel at his ability to sink piss. For us I guess being able to play hard and then drink hard was a measure of our manliness. One weekend we had a crate day. We each took a crate of beer to one of our team-mate's flats. I think we started about midday and the challenge was to drink a crate bottle an hour for 12 hours. It got pretty messy but I think we still went into town afterwards (as if we hadn't already had enough!). This was the culture and I bought into it. I cringe now to think about the amount of alcohol we consumed, and some of the things we did in an alcoholic haze.

Binge drinking has always seemed so normal to me because that's how everyone around me drank (well the rugby boys at least).

I've had some incredibly fun times on the booze with all of my friends over the years. I have no regrets about the way I was, because I can't change it. But what I'm finding is I can have just as much fun with them sober (I can't remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did last night). And the bonus is this morning I can remember it all vividly.

The Ground We Won provides a stunningly realistic portrait of the culture within a typical New Zealand rugby team, boot skulls and all. It's probably the best representation I've seen of how rugby and booze are woven into the fabric of New Zealand life:

The Ground We Won