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: