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.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Old Grumpy is Back

Yep. There he is. Old grumpy is back. I wondered where he had gone. I don't think he ever left me really. He was just lurking in the wings waiting for a good mood to pounce on and tear to shreds. I wish I could sustain my ups, without having to feel like this - flat, snippy, a little bit dead inside.

I don't want to paint this as anything other than the normal ups and downs in mood we all experience. I'm just trying to work out what the hell happened to my élan and enthusiasm. Where does it go and why can't I just flick a switch and get it back. I've had trouble publishing this post because my internet has been down this morning. Now there's the perfect metaphor for how I feel at the moment!

I had an incredible response to my previous post. A record number of page views (new readers is good)! A record number of comments, and such generous praise! Fellow blogger Mrs D left a humbling comment and shared my missive like a demon to the masses on social media and Living Sober. She found my tumbleweed Twitter handle and shared it (and me) on blimmin' Twitter, which dragged me back onto the site for the first time in years. I had to go in and update my stale profile from my previous life as a parenting blogger. I'm useless at social media. I'm not sure I fully understand or have tried to understand the point of it, or it's potential, which is a little immature of me I guess. I have 53 followers on Twitter (the self-putdown I am intending here will be lost on those of you who have fewer than this).

Maybe the fleeting success of the post has precipitated my fall. Success by most people's measure, but it never seems good enough for me. It was the first post to break 200 views, but would I be satisfied with 500? 1000? 10,000? 1,000,000? I'm not sure. Well maybe 1,000,000. Crazy! When did world domination ever become a part of this excercise? I write because I feel compelled to communicate something of this. How do you measure success of such an excercise anyway? In page views? In people who have said it has helped them not drink? In the satisfaction it gives the writer? In the doing of it? In the creative outlet that stringing 500 disparate words into a particular order to form a narrative provides? The making something from nothing? Not knowing where it will lead? The friends that are made along the way?

But whenever I achieve anything I always seem to sink into a low mood soon afterwards. It's the resting on the laurels, the pausing to soak it all in, the crippling inertia of it all.

I should be bloody thankful.
Since giving up drinking (110 days ago now!) I've been forced to address this part of me, to encourage myself to celebrate what I can do rather than tormenting myself over my limitations. I've become better at working on improving at things I enjoy (guitar/learning Māori language) rather than wishing I was at some unattainable elite level. For example, I can run a half marathon in 1 hour 31 minutes and 47 seconds but part of me wants to break 1 hour. That would be nudging the world record. This is never going to happen. I'm nearly 6 feet tall and if I didn't run so much would probably be more than 90kg. Running maestro Mo Farah is 5 foot 9 and weighs in at 60kg. Hell, if I can break 1 hour 30 minutes I will die happy. But regardless I know I should be happy with what I've been able to do because, again, by most people's measure it's a success. I've pushed my limits after all. I've tried my best.

Lately, I've been trying to run when I feel like it rather than forcing myself out the door. And I'm approaching my next half marathon in a far less obsessive way than in the past. I want to enjoy it. And I don't want to tear myself apart obsessing over breaking bloody 1: 30. If it happens, it happens. It all feels a bit defeatist, but I haven't given up. I'm just trying to keep myself in a healthy mindset. If it happens one day, great. If not, I want to have enjoyed the journey.

Yesterday morning, I wrote my first song for a couple of years (with all the guitar playing I've been doing I've been wondering when a song would spring forth). I pressed record on my iPhone as I developed the words and chord sequence. The initial excitement has this morning been replaced by feelings of disdain for how average it is, and how terrible my playing sounds. Yet I know how unproductive it is for me to wish I had the songwriting ability or musicianship of Glen Hansard, Marlon Williams, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen.

I'm tired of wishing I'm someone I'm not.

I think I'll shelve the song for a little bit and go back to it when my good mood returns.

I shouldn't give up.

I should keep working on it.

Life is a work on.

I haven't shared a song in a while: Here's one I like (but not sure it's the best choice to cheer me up - ha ha):  
Love Will Tear Us Apart          

Monday, 3 October 2016

An Inconvenient Truth

I'm in a really good place at the moment. I've been reflecting on the content of my previous post, how I'm not missing alcohol. I've come through an intense period of obsessing about my sobriety, but lately I've dialled things back to the point I'm no longer thinking much about it at all. I made myself obsess, so now I've decided I can just as easily make myself not obsess. I'm starting to see how this new normal can work for me in my life, now and in the future.

I've been thinking about how much more fun I've been having out with family and friends without alcohol, and what an inconvenient truth that is for the alcohol industry. But I'm sure the barons of Big Alcohol aren't quaking in their money-stuffed boots about the prospect of bars being filled with sober punters any time soon. Maybe one day the sober warriors will be proved to be ahead of the curve on this, and the tide will turn against alcohol like it has with smoking.

You know, it always strikes me as disingenuous when spokespeople for alcohol companies wade into public debates about alcohol-related harm saying their company doesn't promote or encourage binge drinking and it's all about personal responsibility. It's the same when casinos talk about problem gamblers and it's all such BULLSHIT! They make huge sums of money from people over-indulging in alcohol. Alcohol is a highly addictive substance that affects decision making. Like the casino, there's very little luck involved. The odds are stacked in their favour. They can't lose. The shiny television ads depicting people gaining clarity, wealth, wisdom, popularity, a state of absolute awesomeness, from drinking one brand of alcohol or another are such propaganda. The real truth of alcohol, is it steals clarity, it makes you poorer, it makes you far less wise, it causes you to do things you wouldn't dream of doing sober, and at its worst it causes total mayhem and misery among its users. It breaks your body and your spirit. The reality of alcohol is someone passed out on a cold street with an eruption of vomit leaking down their torso. It's staggering home and rolling into bed with a spinning head. It's waking up to a head-jarring hangover the next day. It's the overcrowded hospital emergency departments. It's the driving element in the vast majority of the morning's court list. It's the battered spouses after another heavy binge. It's a factor in many of the deaths on our highways. I could go on.  
Being a diuretic it doesn't even quench thirst. It's a classic case of misleading advertising. If alcohol was a TV or fridge you'd be taking it back within a week saying: "It doesn't do any of the things you claimed it would do."

I feel like I want to tell the people in my life about how great life is without booze. But I know this is a revelation people need to find out for themselves, in their own sweet time, if they want to. I sat around the dining table at my father-in-law's place last night and everyone (apart from my pregnant sis-in-law and me) were enjoying a few drinks. There was a little bit of chit-chat about the booze as there usually is when people are drinking. My wife had earlier declared that she had a headache and wouldn't have a second glass of wine, but relented about 2 minutes later (a particularly nice smelling red had just been opened and she felt that "well I have a headache already so what difference does it make"). I had a chuckle with her about her swift u-turn. I remember full well the FOMO (fear of missing out) that would strike at my father in law's dinner gatherings. He buys particularly nice wine. In the past we'd decide who was driving and that person would have a small glass only (but would be secretly gutted at not being able to have more than one or three).

They've all been very supportive of my non-drinking, but there's no chat about what it's like living sober or how I'm going with it all. The fact that life is so much better sober is an inconvenient truth. They don't ask so I don't tell. I'm not going to try to convert them.

I happily sat and drank my lemon-slice-infused water and at one point thought about how I would have reacted 10 years ago if someone had told me life without alcohol was awesome. I doubt it would have even registered. It wouldn't have meshed with my (old) belief that everything in moderation is fine (even though my drinking has often been anything but moderate), and that there needs to be a balance in life. You don't want to deprive yourself of your adult right to drink alcohol, to have that treat, that release from the stress, the conduit for celebration or despair. You need to let loose sometimes. There were plenty of times I'd go out with the aim of getting drunk. I mean that's the whole point of alcohol isn't it? People who don't drink alcohol - at all? There's just something not quite right about that. It all sounds so fucking boring! How do they do it anyway? It's not natural. Yep. That was absolutely my old mentality.

My wife and kids went to the zoo yesterday with the extended whānau (family) before heading straight to my father in law's for dinner. I stayed home to do some jobs around the house then ran over. It takes about 45 minutes from our place. When I arrived I did some stretches on the lawn and my father in law came out and handed me a glass of sparkling water with lemon and ice. It was a simple gesture, but I saw it as tacit support for my new lifestyle. I really appreciated it.

Now I'm looking ahead to my 40th birthday bash on Saturday. Earlier in the year I didn't want to celebrate at all, but now I feel I have something to celebrate (maybe I feel people might actually want to help me celebrate my birthday - which is a positive shift in my self esteem). Life is good. Being alive - and feeling the way I do about being sober - is good. I'm actually looking forward to it and I'm really glad I gave up alcohol 108 days ago and not last week. I'm not feeling torn about it. I'm not fearful of giving in to temptation. I'm not worried I won't have a good time. I can't wait to catch up with the people I value most.


Sunday, 2 October 2016

I'm NOT Missing Out! I DON'T Miss Alcohol!

I've just had another dinner out. This time with my wife's two brothers and their wives. No kids (whoop)! It was a bit like the dinner out I had in Noosa (you can read about it here) but we had the full set of siblings this time. And it happened again. I didn't feel like I was missing out and I didn't miss alcohol - at all. I happily sipped my way through a couple of fizzy concoctions and a small-town's supply of water.

It was more than just not missing alcohol though. We all had a fabulous night; great food, total hilarity, classic yarns from the past, family camaraderie. Both the Noosa dinner and this last one have been among my favourite dinners out, that I can remember anyway, and I navigated them both without alcohol. There has to be something in that. Right? I actually consciously felt like I enjoyed them MORE - yes more - than the boozy ones. I had the clarity to go along with the good times. I was weary from the late night the next morning, but my head was clear and the memories of the night were intact.

I've known my brothers in law for 20 years, since they were young fellas. But I came away from the dinner feeling like I knew them a little better. Being sober is helping me to engage more effectively with the people around me. What a gift that is.

We spilled out of the restaurant about 10:30pm and took photos outside to mark the night. Then someone suggested going to a bar for another drink. My heart sank. For some reason I've always reacted negatively to the "going out for another" scenario. It could be that I'd been comfortable in one environment and dreaded having to walk into unfamiliar surroundings and start again. I've never really loved bars; the crush of people, the noise, the queuing for drinks. I said I'd go along with what everyone else wanted to do but I was privately freaking out. I mean I was stone cold sober. Then I thought, it would be a good chance to practice facing up to the uncomfortable feelings and getting better at dealing with them. I mean, I can't avoid bars forever.

We went to a beautifully decorated antique-themed hotel bar around the corner, where the waiting staff were dressed in early 20th Century garb. Small, not too rowdy, not particularly crowded. It was actually my type of bar, where you can sit around and talk rather than having to shout above the dance-floor throng. I had a lemonade, while the others had one last nightcap.

Then I ordered a coffee. I felt like one to finish the night (even though it would probably make it hard to get any meaningful sleep - and it did). I've never ordered a coffee in a bar before. I looked around at the other patrons with my sober eyes, and I realised no one seemed particularly drunk, apart from one lone old fella with a grey handlebar moustache who seemed a bit worse for wear. Most were deep in seemingly meaningful conversations. When I ordered the coffee I liked the feeling of being on the same sober level as the waiter. In control. Aware of my surroundings. Able to order a simple coffee without swaying on my feet or slurring my order.

It really was just one for the road. We said our goodbyes and departed into the crisp Christchurch night for home.    

I'm truly getting to that place where I really don't feel like I'm missing out and I really don't miss alcohol.