Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Restringing the Clothesline Sober

My father has just turned 80. In his father's generation, the man was seen to be the leader of the family, the breadwinner, and the dominant figure in the house (although my dad's mum was a very strong woman and a leader of her family in many less overt, but no less important, ways). My wife and I have always had an equal partnership. We're both  leaders for our children; our roles frequently overlap, and we bring our respective skills and strengths to the table. 

The other day I was thinking about how giving up alcohol for me is part of how I'm leading positive change for the family. Our family life is fairly similar and was always good but the emphasis has shifted with alcohol out of the picture. Earlier in the year alcohol was an almost daily part of life. We weren't drinking every day, and most of our drinking was done in the evening, but it was always visible to our young children - the bottles of red wine perched on the top shelf of the bar, the riggers of cider in the door of the fridge, and the reserve stock of wine club bottles waiting on the wine rack for a thirsty mouth, or the glass or two of booze sipped while making dinner and before bedtime. There were the conversations about stocking up for the weekend, the boxes of wine delivered to our doorstep and unpacked to the aforementioned laundry-cupboard wine rack, the weekly perusing of the supermarket alcohol section with our toddler wriggling in the shopping trolley, and me asking my wife as she came through the door from work: "Would you like a wine darling? I'm having one."

I blogged previously about how my three year old had begun asking if we were drinking rose, pinot noir or chardonnay. I also mentioned in a previous blog how one of my friends questioned whether my decision to quit alcohol would mean the kids would miss the opportunity to have responsible drinking modelled to them. They now have both responsible drinking (from my wife) and non-drinking (from me) modelled to them. For them to know they have the option of living sober, if that's what they want, I think is powerful. It's not inevitable that they will become drinkers. It's both possible to live without alcohol and it has a positive effect in so many parts of life.    

Very early in my sober journey I cleared the bar and the fridge of alcohol so I didn't have to look at it every day. In the last six months we've rarely had alcohol in the fridge and maybe only a couple of bottles of wine stashed in the laundry cupboard. Over Christmas we've had the fridge stocked with wine and beer for our guests - and my wife has enjoyed sipping on the odd glass of wine - but my sober Christmas (my first completely alcohol-free Christmas for 27 years) has meant I have viewed it through a different lens. 

This year, Christmas was navigated without booze by me, but it seemed far less boozy in general compared with previous years. I remember the Christmas Days from before we had kids, when we would start drinking over breakfast and walk between various family members' houses for the rest of the day, drinking on our merry way. Booze was a big part of the day. Even last year I ended the day feeling totally stuffed full of food, red wine, beer and champagne - a day of absolute excess. This year assorted family member gathered at our house for a pancake breakfast and present opening. They enjoyed a glass of bubbly but it was all about the kids and sharing family time. I drank ginger ale out of a champagne glass - three cans of it (I've never been one for moderation!). The middle of the day was down time before we all headed over to my father-in-law's house for a swim and dinner. Down time for me was spent re-stringing our clothesline and, with the help of my dad, levelling a sunken section of our lawn that has bothered me for three years. Try restringing a clothesline with a skin-full of alcohol and let me know how you get on!!! I prepared sushi for pre-dinner snacks and then ran over to my father-in-law's while the others went ahead in the car. 

There were a few quiet drinks but the emphasis was on family. I drove the family home later in the night, weary from the big day but happily sober. 

I had the Christmas Day I wanted, on my sober terms, and it was the best Christmas I can remember since I was an excited kid. I predicted that I wouldn't feel like I was missing out, or that I wouldn't regret drinking ginger ale instead of bubbly. 

The only (small) regret I have is that I didn't see the light and quit alcohol sooner. 




Thursday, 22 December 2016

Merry Sober Christmas

This time of year brings with it the added stress of last-minute shopping, madly rushing to get all your work done for ever-demanding clients before the close of the working year, more people on the roads trying evermore ambitious and crazy manoeuvres to get to where they want to go as fast as possible, and the impending arrival of family and friends for a Christmas toast.

My parents are staying at the moment and they've stocked my fridge with their wine and champagne for the big day on Sunday. There have been several conversations about whether there is enough booze or whether everyone's tastes have been catered for. I've been an unwilling party to these logistical discussions. Unwilling, mainly because I've long opted out of all that. I mean, I bought some wine for them due to the fact that I am the person in our house that does the shopping, but that's as far as I intended to be involved. Listen to me! The old me would have been just as worried that the unthinkable would happen and we'd run out.

These days I renounce all booze, it's physical and mental effects, it's effect on society, it's role in our lives and, yes, even discussing it. It's not that it makes me yearn for it - quite the opposite actually. It's just no longer a factor in my life, as it is for others.

I had someone from my inner circle, who knew I had quit booze, ring me to tell me they had a drinking problem and wanted to do something about it. They wanted to ask my advice about how I've gone about it, which made me feel both hugely proud and privileged. I sent them helpful links and words of encouragement. I stressed the importance of reaching out and connecting with like-minded support, in terms of other people striving to live sober lives.  I wished the person well and said to keep in touch - that I was always available for a chat.

I asked someone I respect greatly (Lotta aka Mrs D) whether I had given the right advice and she said I had and that in a similar situation "the main thing I always try to convey is hope and excitement about an alcohol-free future ... and a real sense that it's hard work but totally possible. I just really want to will people along because I know without a doubt that it is majorly life-changing if they can do it".

Lotta also pointed me to an AA tenet about "attraction not promotion" which means "the very best thing we can do for anyone else is just stay sober and model happy alcohol-free living. More than any words we say, that is the most powerful. Being a living breathing example of sobriety. That is gold my friend. Gold".

It's funny. At my 40th I had more than several comments from friends and family about how "well I looked". I knew what was at the root of it - my sobriety - but it was something they couldn't quite put their finger on. As I've settled in to my sobriety I think I'm a far-more-comfortable-in-my-skin type of a person. I'm happier and I'm finally at peace with myself, and I think that peace is radiating to the people around me. I donated plasma the other day and the nurse immediately commented about how relaxed I looked. This is a first for me. I have been used to comments about how tense, unsmiling and worried I look all of my life. I was all of those things without even realising it. But now I feel understood, and I feel people perceive me the same way I feel.

The thought that living a sober life can, and is starting to, inspire others is hugely powerful for me at the moment. It is why I write this blog - to share with those who are interested just how much better life is without alcohol. It's also a chance to write about the mental shifts you make, the shedding of old beliefs and ways of doing things, and how you make room for new ways thinking.

It's been quite an amazing six months in my life (And it's not like life was bad for me at all). I could say it's been transformational - and it has really - but I'm still the same person. Just a far happier, more settled and productive one who is more certain about what he does and doesn't want in his life.

As I head into Christmas, I'm not worried I'll regret not drinking champagne with the others, and I don't feel like I'll be missing out at all. I'm looking forward to focussing on what's important - family unity, love for and from my wife and children, and sharing good times with friends. I'm also looking forward to my clear-headed mornings.

Where does alcohol rank in the grand scheme of things?

I'm happy to say it just doesn't.

Merry Christmas y'all!

Sober Man xo



Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Half Way, But to Where?

Today is day 180. I'm no mathematics genius, but I'm aware I'm not quite at halfway in my year without booze. But I like round numbers, and 180 has always marked the six-month point in this journey for me.

The thing is, the further along I go I'm less sure about the duration of what I'm doing or even what the destination is. When I tick over to a year sober, I'll most likely regard that as merely the first stop along the way.  

The truth is, I keep an eye on my sober days tally on Living Sober but this sober goal has long ceased to be an exercise in marking time. It's not a grind. At the moment I'm attending the many Christmas season shin-digs. I've just returned from a family reunion. I no longer see attending social gatherings as an exercise in will power or regard them as something to get through.

I looked forward to my family reunion. The booze flowed - and I laughed when I realised my hotel room overlooked the local liquor-store's car park - but that didn't affect what a fantastic and precious time it was for all of us. It was more about spending time with loved ones than alcohol.

I'm getting good at socialising without alcohol in my glass, and in my body. I'm more in control and more confident without it. I can remember everything and I can drive myself home. I don't get hassled by the insecure drinkers who think my non-drinking is about them, maybe because I'm truly owning my sobriety. Mostly people are supportive, even if what I'm doing will never be for them. I don't feel the need to mention it or to hide it. If asked about why I gave up, I'm happy to explain it, and also the benefits I'm enjoying. If I'm to be the poster boy for sober living then so be it.

I'm writing about it less - and this blog is suffering somewhat as a result - because there's less angst and internal turmoil. When people ask if I'll ever drink again I tell them: "I'm giving it a year, but probably not." In my head I'm saying: "Why the hell would I ever go back to it, when I've gained so much?"

Alcohol holds not power over me.

Alcohol no longer appeals to me.

Alcohol is no longer the reward for a hard day's work.

Alcohol is no longer the salve for my stress and anxiety.

Alcohol is no longer my go to in times of pain or sadness.

Alcohol is not a conduit for my celebrations.

Alcohol no longer inhabits my thoughts or desires.

My life is FAR BETTER without it, and yours will be too.

Believe me.


(The liquor store view from my hotel room - classy!!!)

Friday, 2 December 2016

Emerging Again

The last month has been a portrait of extremes for me. Strange, calm, beautiful, ugly, tumultuous, hectic, normal, happy, miserable, stressful, and scary. I am finally breaking out of my writing inertia to say I am still here. I am still sober. And in terms of my relationship with alcohol (or lack thereof) I've never been on more solid ground. I'm 168 days sober and I continue on my way feeling a hard-to-describe state of pride and self esteem.

Yet I have let a single, isolated situation with an unresolved debt reach so deeply into my life it has left me feeling vulnerable and shaky. Two weeks ago I had my first, and hopefully last, panic attack after months dealing with this situation. I hadn't realised how tightly wound I had become. It was pure fear and helplessness - being rushed to hospital, feeling pain in my heart, my hands and feet numb, emotionally spent and falling apart. Last week I went to my first counselling session to try and unravel why it is I hold on so tightly to the things I can't control, and that don't even reflect on me.

Is this the part of being sober Mrs D pre-warned me about? When you go from the euphoric feeling of early sobriety and then something painful happens and you have to face it square in the face and deal with it, no longer able to squash it down or numb it with alcohol.

This week I have been trying to apply the tools I have learnt in my sober journey to deal with this situation, without compromising my mental or physical health. I've also been reflecting on why it is my choice to go to counselling and not the debtor's. It is my reaction, and poor coping skills, in dealing with him, that led to the panic attack.

My counsellor asked me last week if there were other events that I had reacted in a similar way to, and I said that this was the worst. Things are starting to come back to me. The truth is I have strangled the life out of plenty of uncontrollable situations in my life. The latest situation is merely the peak.

In the past I worried most about what other people thought of me, or about failing at something I really wanted to achieve. These days I've decided, apart from wanting to maintain my reputation and be a good person, not to care about the opinions of others. I've decided I'm finally sick of my fear of failure holding me back. Living sober has given me such a strong sense of who I am and what I want from life yet during the last few weeks I feel I've lost myself a bit. At times I've looked in the mirror at the end of the day and seen a deadness in my eyes, like it is someone else staring back.

This morning I ran a familiar route on Christchurch's Port Hills. I felt the rain washing down my cheeks, and finally felt like I was emerging from the gloom into the light again. I feel like I'm coming back. In my silence of late I have thought of each and every one of my you - my sober friends - and I hope you are happy and doing okay.