Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Final Chapter

Today is a special day for me. One year ago today I decided to quit alcohol for a year in order to change my relationship with alcohol. My drinking started in inglorious and ultimately messy fashion at my mother's 50th birthday party when I was 13. I'd never had a prolonged break from drinking in my life since then. I still remember the rollicking good times I've had drinking, but mostly now I can see how dysfunctional my drinking was at times and how it harmed me physically and emotionally.

It's funny how some things in life you never question. The way I started drinking - at a family event under the noses, and with the tacit approval, of equally tipsy adults - mirrors the experience of so many people I know. The idea that your kids are going to drink anyway so it might as well be under parental supervision is something that is intrinsic to our drinking culture. In the last year alcohol has been practically invisible in our house, rarely drunk by my wife (who has cut down significantly), and seldom even indulged in by our guests. My children may decide to drink, but now they have a non-drinking option modelled to them. I'm proud of that. I realise now that in the past I have been a facilitator of drinking for myself and for those around me, always offering our lunch or dinner guests alcohol - almost insisting they have one with me ("Go on, I'm having one!"). When my wife and I go out and socialise now, more than anything else, I notice how the majority of people in our lives don't actually drink to excess. I used to think everyone else drank like me (rushing to the bar to get a few under the belt in order to feel at ease), and that I was fitting in. It was my need to feel like everyone else, and conquer my natural shyness, that drove much of my drinking.

How do I feel this morning, as I write this? I feel deeply satisfied and a little emotional, that I've achieved what I set out to achieve. I've not only changed my relationship with alcohol, I no longer have any relationship with it. My wife has just told me she's proud of me. In the first few months I wrote a blog asking others if I'd ever feel comfortable in my sobriety or would I always feel that pull to pick up again. For those of you in the early days of your journey, battling with those same feelings, I can tell you that it gets easier. I no longer have any desire to drink again. Everyone's experience is different, but I wish the way I feel now for you also. It's a beautiful thing.

I've written at length about the benefits of sobriety but to recap briefly; I'm calmer, more connected to those in my life, less frustrated, more compassionate with myself and others, healthier and more confident socially.

Naively, I thought at the beginning that quitting alcohol would solve all my problems and I'd enjoy the fruits of a perfect life. But in reality quitting alcohol has made it impossible to avoid facing up to the stresses I'd always squashed down in the past (the bottle of red wine at the end of a stressful day at home with the kids, the rigger of cider to take the edge off). Knowing how great I have it makes me feel guilty and self indulgent to feel like I have any real problems, but the past year has been difficult. I've been dwelling on whether giving up alcohol has opened the door and ushered in the depression and anxiety I now battle. Despite my current struggles, I don't regret giving up alcohol one little bit. It was the best thing that I've ever done (apart from marrying my soul mate and having our children). I see this depression as a period of growth, from which I'll emerge stronger. Giving up drinking and now dealing with depression has put me on a path to living in the present and being more mindful. I've found it necessary to  keep things simpler, not dwelling on regrets of the past or agonising about the difficult things ahead. This is a very good thing for me.

Every story has a beginning a middle and an end. My story and sober path continues, but this will be my last blog. Writing it has truly helped me, especially in the early days. It's connected me to like-minded people around the world and around New Zealand - some of whom I've actually met! Reading your comments has encouraged me, enlightened me and educated me. Signing up to Living Sober was the best thing and I encourage anyone who is thinking about their drinking to do it. I don't know how I would have stayed sober without the support of the Living Sober tribe. I may have done it, but it would have been far harder. I'm not sure how to thank you really. It's the most supportive, open, generous place. Mrs D has created something very special for us.

A year ago I felt lonely, apprehensive and a little afraid as I contemplated giving up drinking. But now I feel like I have many friends - true friends - all bound by a common path. There is strength in numbers and I take your inspiring strength forward with me.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Turning Point

Today is sober day 352. I imagined that I'd get to this point and quitting the booze would have caused all my problems to melt away. Life would be perfect. Simple. Easy. But it's not that simple is it? Alcohol has helped avoid dealing with my emotions, avoid properly dealing with hard stuff. It's stunted my emotional growth, and now I feel small and vulnerable.

And it's not that I haven't noticed the turmoil and hard times being experienced daily on Living Sober. I've heard Mrs D talk about living life in the raw. But here's the common thread that binds us all. I haven't heard one person who has gotten themselves sober say they want to return to their old lives, no matter how hard things get. I feel lucky and grateful that I'm dealing with the ups and downs of depression and anxiety without also having to factor in alcohol. Quitting alcohol is still the best thing I've ever done for myself. I wouldn't change a single thing.

The antidepressants are slowly restoring me in both mind and body. It's a slow process but I feel a lot better. Everything has slowly improved; my concentration, my general mood, my energy. There are still downs, but nothing has been as bad as that first week after I started medication. I had a setback on Friday night. I had felt little peaks of anxiety throughout what was a frantic day. I did far too much and didn't listen to my body. At about 6pm I had a major panic attack - my breathing got out of control, my hands and back went numb and I burst into tears in front of my children. It was pure fear. But in many ways it wasn't as bad as my first attack last year, because at least this time I knew what it was and that it would pass.

Last night the anxiety returned just before Lotta Dann's book launch in Christchurch. I met some beautiful Living Sober members and talking to them helped me get through it. It was great to see Lotta (Mrs D) again. She asked me if I had seen the depression coming and I told her that in many ways I had seen it coming for most of my adult life. But by the time I was in real trouble it was too late to get myself out of it.

It was about 15 months since I travelled to Wellington to interview Lotta for an article I was asked to write about Living Sober for the New Zealand Drug Foundation (read it here). I had joined Living Sober and was doing moderation at the time, but I hadn't quit alcohol yet. While I was talking with Lotta I knew I was at a major turning point in my life. The energy, the wisdom, and the example Lotta sets for so many people is what makes her special. I returned to Christchurch and read her sober memoir Mrs D is Going Without, and I knew my life without alcohol would be so much richer.

Last weekend my wife saw her new book Mrs D is Going Within and bought me a copy. This book based on the Mindfulness techniques Lotta has found to deal with hard emotional stuff - was far harder for Lotta to write and she feels unsure about releasing it to the world when she is still so "wobbly" and unformed. But this is the inspiration of it for me. To know that quitting alcohol is just the start and that there is more work to do is golden. Life can be fucking hard, but the fact that we keep moving and working and trying and hoping for better is the generous and wonderful gift of Lotta's book. I hope at some stage Lotta can just bask in a feeling of pure pride at what she's done. She deserves that.

This morning I ran the Christchurch Half Marathon. I wondered how my body would cope after the panic attack on Friday. I even considered pulling out. But I slept well last night and felt relaxed this morning. One of the things I'm trying to do at the moment is not to hold on so tightly to things. Too many times I've failed to reach a certain time and for years I've dreamed of breaking 1 1/2 hours. Today I focussed on soaking up the experience, enjoying it even. Towards the end when my legs were screaming for me to stop, I told myself to keep going. No matter how bad things get, I'm alive, and lucky to be able to do something I love. I didn't run my fastest time but I enjoyed this event probably more than any other, and was truly satisfied with the result (this is really unlike me). My wife and children cheered me on as I crossed the finish line. My girls even made signs for me. I'm a lucky man.

Right now, as I write this, I'm feeling a nice, warm feeling of happiness and I no longer take for granted how good that feels.



Monday, 29 May 2017

Medicated but not Elated

It's been just over a fortnight since I began taking anti-depressants and on about day 11 the clouds definitely started lifting. My sharpness of mind has mostly returned and day by day the anxiety has eased dramatically (which my psychiatrist said should happen as I reach full dose). I'm far more relaxed and the days are so much easier to navigate.

My emotional state is still fairly flat. Moments of true elation have been few and fleeting. My reaction to situations of stark sadness (there have been plenty on the news recently) is not what it was. Mainly I feel numb rather than sad. I miss the former extremities of my emotions. You feel like a half person. But in time I know I will recover.

I have to mention a couple of moments that sparked a feeling of joy. At the end of last week, I found myself bursting with pride and unable to suppress a full-blown grin after my eldest daughter scored her first ever goal at netball. I was so pleased for her, and I noted how deeply happy I felt in that moment! I also returned to one of my favourite running tracks and as I descended through one section I felt a rare runners' moment of effortlessness. I imagined that I was floating just above the leaf-covered trail, totally lost in the moment. It was amazing.

Being lost in the moment has been one of my main allays this last week. When things have gotten difficult, or the anxiety has crept up on me, focussing on the task at hand has helped me through it. I've been getting through my days one task at a time, consciously avoiding thinking too far ahead. There's no need to rush. There's no need to worry about the past or the future. At the moment all I need to do is take care of myself and those around me.

I welcomed back my youngest daughter on Saturday, with a big bear hug at Christchurch Airport. Her eight days up North with her grandma and my wife's extended family gave her a lovely adventure and me the chance to get through the rocky first week on my medication. It gave the dust a chance to settle, and I'm so thankful to my mother-in-law for offering to do it.

Also on Saturday, I picked my parents up from the airport. It was my youngest girl's birthday party on Sunday and they came down for the occasion. It was a special time but all the rushing around caused me to crash a bit. I had periods of being extremely tired during the weekend and I lost my appetite. I struggled with being social. I'm also still not sleeping without the help of sleeping pills, not that it is stopping me trying. Last night I finally popped a pill at 11:30. Why can't I just accept that I need the help at the moment? Surely, like everything else, the sleep troubles will pass too.

I'm very thankful I sought help early, and that I didn't wait till I was truly broken to speak up. That would be my only advice to anyone out there. If you're not sure, but suspect something is wrong, you should talk to someone or see your doctor, or a counsellor. Don't suffer in silence.

I've been truly lifted up by all the messages of support, from friends, family members and readers. I feel so much love and concern for me and my family. My wife continues to be amazing. She came with me to my last counselling appointment. Love is an amazing thing. I am trying to pay back all the love I have been receiving to those around me and to people I bump into ... strangers. You never know the difference you can make to someone's day by talking with them or even just smiling at them.

I have been seeing many things as metaphors of my depression recently. The strongest one was when I returned for a run to Harry Ell Track on Friday. Parts of the upper track were engulfed by the Port Hills Fire earlier in the year. I hadn't been up there since the fires. Much of the charred forest has been cut down, the track bordered on both sides with blackened logs. The terrain is unchanged, but the devastation is sobering, large sections of formerly-forested hillside exposed, burnt and empty. But new growth is starting to sprout, grasses and moss blanketing the ground.

I feel like I've survived my fire too. I've accepted it has happened, and I'm growing again. I'm looking ahead to a bright future.



Monday, 22 May 2017

Thawing Out

I'm struggling my way up the steep and winding Rapaki track to the top. You're drained just running up the road to the start of the track. You hit the forest and the track opens wide and swallows you. You carefully step across the steel bars across the first animal stop and the sky appears again. Ahead the path is craggy and winding; the destination seems so far away. My breathing is heavier than usual. There's tension throughout my body. I feel like a shell of the runner I know I am. I'm just not there. Eventually the tracks levels off to a flat section and my breathing relaxes. I ease into a short downhill stretch, before the last daunting uphill climb to the top. It never seems to end. It's at this point I think of how this run encapsulates my depression. I acknowledge that life is harder than normal at the moment, but that essentially I'm okay, and if I keep moving forward - step after step - I'll get to where I want to go. I rounded the last bend and moved towards the top spreading my fingers to feel the cold kiss my fingertips. I feel like this moment was a turning point.

I'm reading John Kirwan's book All Blacks Don't Cry, about his struggles with depression and anxiety. I read it years ago and marvelled at how his inner turmoil was tearing him apart when the whole country assumed he had the perfect life. He writes about how he eventually reached out for help and how he has made himself well again - the work that he puts in daily to keep his life in balance. I am now reading it and relating far more to his experience. I see myself in his words. I saw him talk in Wellington years ago about mental health and he was inspirational. He took several years before he sought help. Initially he tried to guts it out, fighting it like it was another opponent to side step. Because of his example I recognised I wasn't okay sooner than he did, before I spiralled down too deep.

It's been a weekend of ups and downs. My wife has started to show signs of the strain that the last week has put on her. She's been unbelievable, taking on so much extra work on top of her busy job to keep the house running and take the pressure off me. Emotionally it's been tough for her. She's worried about the uncertainty that my depression has thrown into our lives. It seems complicated and messy right now. She's worried I'll suffer bouts of depression for the rest of my life. She hates seeing me struggle, the vacant look in my eyes when the clouds close in again. I told her I'll do everything I can to make sure I get well and stay well. I told her I'm worried she's putting too much pressure on herself. I told her I need to keep things simple at the moment, and that all I need at the moment is for her to focus on her work and at the end of the day I just need her arms around my shoulders. I told her that, while it's tough at the moment, this could be the best thing to ever happen to me.

The tide is turning. The anxiety is ebbing away and my mood is lifting by the day. My biggest fear at the moment is that I still feel like I've been turned to stone. I crave for a flash of joy or to feel truly sad. I haven't cried for days. I haven't been able to sleep for more than a week without the help of the sleeping pills I've been prescribed. I was dog tired the two days I decided not to take it and I still couldn't sleep. I just feel a bit numb. Last night I saw my wife's tears trickle down her face and I recognised her sadness, but also wished I could feel it too.

I've had some true moments of tenderness; hugging my daughter tight and telling her how proud I was that she was making decorations for her little sister's birthday party, kissing my wife's hand and in that moment reflecting on our life together and how lucky I am to have met my soulmate, seeing my youngest daughter's face on Skype calling my name, and when I kissed my eldest daughter goodnight and she said: "I love you so, so much Daddy."

I can't believe I'm quoting from Frozen here, but it's my daughters' favourite movie, and I have seen it more than a few times:

"Love will thaw a frozen heart."

I will feel again.



Saturday, 20 May 2017


On Thursday night I paced around my living room waiting to be picked up for a catchup in town with a few mates. I was shaking with anxiety, feeling so desperate I was on the verge of pulling out. But I decided to go and I'm glad I did. I told them about the depression because I wanted them to feel like they could speak up if they were struggling, and we chatted about it before moving on. They were supportive as I knew they would be. By the end of the night I felt great.

A couple of people have told me of the dark, dark place they found them self in with depression, one to the very edge of taking their own life. Seeing that they had clawed back to wellness and gotten their life back in balance is very inspiring. Seeing them thriving tells me I will get through this and also puts my current struggles in perspective. I feel grateful I called out for help early before I sunk too deep, that I'm physically fit, and sober, and that I have incredible support and love around me. I have the odds stacked heavily in my favour.

A good friend gave me the advice to: "Talk about it, and keep talking". Talking does help me, whether it is about the depression or anything. Having a connection to people is a lifeline. I'm finding isolation and silence the hardest conditions to navigate.

My youngest daughter has gone with her grandmother to the North Island. The night before she left, she came downstairs balling her eyes out saying: "I'm going to miss you Daddy!" That was hard. My wife and I wondered if we were doing the right thing sending her, but yesterday morning we kept things low key and she was far more settled and excited again about her big adventure. I got text reports all day yesterday saying how awesome she was and that she was loving her trip.

Yesterday was by far my best day since I started medication. It was the day I doubled my dose, and I felt the fog slowly lifting. I went to a morning yoga class which was absolutely brilliant for relaxing my mind, focussing the body and, most importantly for me at the moment, staying in the present. It was great for my breathing. As the class progressed I could feel the anxiety in my body ease. This will be a weekly activity. In the afternoon I went to Preschool to do my hour and a half helping the teachers pack up. One little girl was in such a happy mood it was infectious. Another boy helped me roll up the carpets. Spending time with the kids was healing. The teachers all showed their care and concern - one giving me a couple of wee easter eggs, and making me a cup a coffee as my anxiety returned and my mood, and energy, crashed. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but I felt my sharpness of mind had returned and my mood lifted, albeit temporarily.

Being around people is helping me. My counsellor gave me a piece of advice last week at the end of our session to try and avoid "turning into" the depression, and instead "turn out". I've thought about that quite a bit this week.

This morning I ran along the Heathcote River and watched the languid, steady flow of the water, wishing my life could be like that; easy, effortless, quiet, moving in a clear direction.

Right now my life is very simple; Sleep, medication, exercise, rest, staying connected, being with my family.

Those are the only things that are important right now. There's little to no room for desire, ambition or urgency.

In the last week I've become far more attuned to how my children and wife are feeling. One upside is I've deepened my bond with my children; looking them in the eye more, listening to them, and responding to their emotional needs in a far more connected way. Doing this has helped me recognise the ways they give that love and attention back to me; how much I need them and how much they need me. That is a gift. After nearly 21 years with my wife, our relationship has deepened too as we turn towards each other and discover the depths of each other's love and inner strength.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

All Things Will Pass

All things will pass. I know this, but I am afraid. Usually I'm in control of everything, but right now I feel like I control nothing. I feel like I'm slowly stripping myself back, but I am plagued by uncertainty about who I will be when I rebuild myself. Will I still be me? Do I even know who I am? Will things ever be the same again? Do I want them to be?

At the moment simple tasks are difficult; making breakfast, shaving, picking an outfit, making small talk. Making simple decisions has become a complicated business. I've just returned from a walk to the supermarket. My hands trembled slightly as I scanned my three items at the self checkout, and I stood paralysed when the machine commanded me to key in the code for the cous cous. I was just about to take positive action when the supermarket attendant moved in to help me. I miss my old sharpness and, till it returns, perhaps I should give the self checkout lanes a miss. Everything is taking me longer. I used to be able to rely on my punctuality but now I am finding myself hopelessly late for things and the more worrying thing is it doesn't seem to bother me (though I did get stressed out when I got stuck in traffic and was late to school pickup yesterday).

I have felt anxiety bubbling every time I've had to go out in public. For me it's just a simmering feeling of unease and uncertainty. It feels like all my nerve endings have been woken up and are standing to attention ready to riot. My breathing gets very shallow. Going to preschool yesterday was difficult (I resigned as Service Provider on Friday as part of the de-stressing process). For some reason being there was a trigger.

People have been popping in to visit. My parents ring every day, and my sister called from the UK this morning. Contact is good. It's nice to be able to talk. Today a good friend dropped off a cake she had made on behalf of the Preschool Board. People care, and it feels good.

I received this email from an overseas friend:


Sorry to hear you have been through the grinder and I really hope you will find stability and harmony again - you deserve it. I'm so pleased that you didn't use the alcohol crutch when it might have been the natural "comfort" to ease the pain temporarily. That is a major achievement for you and a blessing for your family.

You have been very brave through all of this, even though you probably did not feel brave. I have great admiration for people who are beset by these "invisible" illnesses. It is much easier to get support and encouragement when you break an arm or a leg than it is when you are struggling and there is nothing visible to show of the struggle.

You are blessed with a beautiful family - imagine the titanic challenge for someone who is in a home where there is constant discord and tension. They have the deck doubly stacked against them in their chances of being restored.

Cheering for you from across the ocean - you will climb this mountain, in the same way as you have become Soberman365.


I actually am glad I am at the stage of my sobriety where alcohol holds no appeal. I never even thought of drinking to 'help' ease the depression, because I knew it wouldn't help. I want to recover as soon as I can not sabotage my efforts.

As the anti-depressant medication builds up I hope things settle down and I start to feel better. There are signs some emotions are returning. Yesterday I felt frustration for the first time since last Friday (damn non-indicating drivers!!!). There are flashes of sadness, and flashes of joy. I have also felt very stiff and sore in my legs after my last couple of runs. I never really get much muscle pain from my running so I'm guessing it's the medication. I joked to my wife that it felt like I had four groins and they were all strained.

I am worried at the moment that my wife is taking on too much to take the pressure off me. I am determined to rest well now but start to contribute more. My youngest child is heading north with her grandma to visit family tomorrow. This will take some stress away but the next 8 days will be by far the longest I've ever been apart from her.  My daughters' arms around my neck is a great medicine. I'm going to miss her.

Tonight I'm going to see some friends for a monthly catchup. Tomorrow I will be doubling my medication. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Early Days

In the last few days my life has changed so dramatically I'm not sure if I'll ever get back to the way I was, or whether I want to. Since being diagnosed with depression on Friday I've stripped back most of my responsibilities in order to focus on getting well again, as soon as possible.

I've started on anti-depressant medication (Venlafaxine) and things have been so up and down. I don't know how I'm going to feel from one minute to the next (this will settle down as the doses build up and my body adjusts). There's no general pattern to my emotions, and nothing dramatic. It's more subtle than I imagined. Mostly I have felt generally flat, with frequent bouts of anxiety or fear. When the tears have sprung forth (which tends to happen in the morning) they haven't been precipitated by anything sad, mainly by a feeling of hopelessness.

Since Friday I haven't felt frustrated, or angry or sorrowful. I think the numbness is the scariest thing. For any of you who have watched rugby with me, you'll know I'm so invested in the result and I get so worked up and emotional it's like I turn from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde. It's lucky the referee's can't hear me shouting at them. But on Saturday night I watched passive and emotionless as one of the most gripping games of the season unfolded between my Crusaders and the Hurricanes. I just didn't feel anything. It's like a whole range of highs and lows have been swept away leaving me feeling lost somewhere in the middle.

I think the biggest change is that I now accept I am depressed, and am no longer struggling to hide it or deny that it is happening. As my counsellor said this morning: "You can't be half pregnant." You either are or you're not. Letting go of the control I had, even down to taking a break from most of my usual daily tasks, has been a huge adjustment. My wife took Monday off to take the kids to school and preschool, and we spent the day together. We walked alongside the ocean in Sumner and had lunch and talked about everything. I am so lucky to have her unconditional support. She has taken a huge amount of pressure off me, but I'm conscious I don't want her to overburden herself. As I recover I'll build things back up.

I have really focussed on engaging with the kids these last few days. I'm concerned that they're okay and, while they know I'm not well at the moment, they are happy and coping well. That makes me feel better. I love those guys so much.

My mind feels a bit scrambled at the moment, which is actually making writing coherently a bit of a struggle. On Monday I popped into the bank to deposit a cheque, and after some confusion, worked out I was in ANZ rather than Kiwibank. I tried to order lunch in Sumner and told the waitress three seperate things before I remembered which dish I had actually decided on, leaving her a little confused. This morning I lost my keys (which usually never happens to me). When I finally found them I couldn't find my phone which I had just put down to find the blimmin' keys! I know this will all settle down in time. My counsellor has encouraged me to just relax and not take on too much in the next week or so.

I haven't lost my sense of humour. I am lucky to be fit (running helps a lot). I am staying connected to friends and family (support is important). I'm open about what's happening to me, because there's nothing to be ashamed of. People aren't ashamed when they get the flu after all. My wife and children are incredible. I AM going to get better. I think I will be better, and more empathic, human being for the experience.

I feel this blog is quickly transitioning from the subject of sobriety to mental health. So be it. The two are connected in so many ways. I had planned on finishing writing when my counter clicks over to 365 days next month, but I feel compelled to continue as I work through this depression. If you'll have me for a bit longer.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Dropping the Facade

My last post (read here) was born from confusion and desperation - an attempt to explain and understand my struggles of late. Yesterday morning, I cried, vented and listened my way through my appointment with a very caring and professional psychiatrist at Christchurch PsychMed. My greatest fear was that she would say I was fine and send me on my way. She told me I ticked every single box for clinical depression, and talked me through the medication I will likely be taking for the next 6 - 12 months.

We talked about how I felt giving up alcohol had made it harder to squash my feelings down and regardless of whether it precipitated tipping me into this depression I didn't regret it for a second. I will say again: ALCOHOL WILL NEVER HELP WITH ANYTHING EVER. She agreed with me, but added that for people with anxiety it does work in the short term - as the alcohol gives immediate relief - but never in the long term. Alcohol is a "toxin", she told me (as I nodded in complete agreement).

The sleeping pills she prescribed sent me into the deepest sleep I've had for weeks. I needed it. Even after I woke up I lay in bed with a blank mind for the first time in forever. But now the facade has dropped. It was such hard work keeping how I was feeling hidden, and I no longer have the energy or will to keep the veil up (which is a little scary). This morning I struggled to make my toast and pour my coffee and just sat alone at the kitchen table with tears streaming down my cheeks, for no reason and every reason - my kids laughing and playing in the other room.

Yesterday I stepped down from my role of responsibility on the board of my daughter's Preschool. These people have become like another family. I felt torn between feelings of letting them down, and knowing I needed to take pressure off myself and look after me. I met with the head teacher who I had confided in earlier in the week, and she was amazing. I confided in a couple of friends late yesterday and they have been incredible, one sharing her own experience. The more you talk about these things the more you find common experience. I know I am far from alone. I'm lucky to have so many people around me who care and understand.

While my world is grey at the moment, my beautiful kids, my incredible wife, and my friends are providing me some light. I picture their faces and it provides me some relief.

It's funny how in the early days of my sobriety I poured out blog after blog of how I was feeling, several a week. Lately I've been lucky to have the inspiration to write one a month, but now I feel the need to rush to the keyboard and rationalise everything I am feeling in print. It seems to activate a part of my brain and helps calm me and ground me in a more productive reality.

I told my psychiatrist I was never going to drink "ever again" , especially now and her reply was a simple: "Good!"

Even though for a few fleeting seconds you think it will be the answer to all your problems, it isn't.

Right. I literally have 3 minutes till I need to take the kids off to swimming, and despite how I feel, life must roll on.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Man in the Mirror

At all times writing this blog has been very much to help me and also, hopefully, to help you. I have tried to be as honest and open about the struggles of giving up alcohol and as positive about the triumphs as I can. In recent months I have felt the need to share my thoughts here less and less as I've become more settled in my sobriety. I don't know if this has been the right thing, but from a writer's perspective I can only write if I have something to say.

While alcohol in no longer occupying my mind, the absence of it as a my go-to, fix-all, coping strategy, has left me somewhat naked and exposed. A post by Mrs D on Living Sober recently about how quitting booze is just the start and the importance of the work you have to do afterwards, resonated with me a lot. Mrs D is often talking about how without booze to squash things down you have to face life, and your emotions, raw. You can't avoid it any more.  

My last post talked about quitting alcohol being the "best decision of my life", and it is, but in the last few weeks I have felt very lost, culminating in a break down of sorts. I don't know what else to call it. I revisited my counsellor at the end of last week. I began seeing her after I landed in hospital with a full-blown panic attack last year (my first), but haven't been since last December. She helped me through that difficult period, but since then feelings of anxiety have frequently bubbled to the surface, triggered by one uncomfortable situation or another - a racing heart, shallow breathing, a shakiness and a feeling of loss of control.

On Friday I tried to explain how empty I feel at the moment, how I lack energy, how miserable it has made me feel. I told her that my mind has been racing - a swirl of mainly negative thoughts - and how exhausting that is. I told her how when I finally burst out crying I felt bereft and desperate, my shaking hands reaching out for my phone to email her an SOS. During my crises I explained to my wife how I was feeling and in the same breath how guilty I felt about it because by anyone else's measure my life is pretty sweet.

I hate labels. Problem drinker. Depressive. Obsessive compulsive. Perfectionist. Optimist. Pessimist. They try to jam you into a specific box but most things in life are far more grey. For as long as I can remember, I have ridden a rollercoaster of ups and downs, not really knowing if I were actually depressed or just suffering the same peaks and troughs as every other person. I still don't really know. Deep down I felt there was something going on that wasn't right, but I've never known what to call it. I see now that I have suffered, am suffering, and perhaps it doesn't have to be that way.

My counsellor says I have probably battled anxiety all my life, and looking back I agree with her. I have definitely used alcohol to cope with social anxiety. Fear of failure is another big one for me, and I know I don't hold the franchise on that. I've wasted so much energy on it, it has at times hampered my enjoyment of life.

But the good news is I have options. I have enrolled in a Mindfulness Works course next month. My counsellor says many of her clients have benefitted hugely from it. I'm about to see a psychiatrist to assess whether medication could help. And I'll keep seeing my counsellor. It has already helped talking about it all, reaching out for help. My wife has been incredible; taking the pressure off me this weekend by looking after our kids, being supportive, truly understanding, worrying about me, loving me. She's my best friend and always will be.

I caught up with an old friend a couple of days ago, and he told me everyone has a "cross to bear" and that "everything will pass". I know I will be alright, because I'm prepared to work on it. I know that life is good. And I know that someone like me will never be helped by alcohol.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Best Decision

Overnight my sober counter ticked over to 300 days. It seems like a lifetime ago when I had my last drink and went to bed with Day 1 ahead of me. My wife was out for dinner, and a running friend popped over briefly. We talked about my next event and shared a glass of red wine before he left. I still remember sipping on the wine knowing it was my last. I can remember the dregs of my half-drunk glass washing around the sinkhole.

In the months leading up to the day I quit I was shaky, uncertain and scared. Over years I had slowly come to the point where I knew I needed to do something. It had finally come to a head. I was mostly scared about whether I would miss alcohol, because I thought I needed it. In some ways I used it to define who I was in certain situations. I was always the first to offer guests booze. I don't do that anymore. I would always rush to the bar to get enough booze into me to navigate social situations. I don't need to do that anymore either. I eagerly waited for dinnertime, especially Fridays but often any day, so I could take the top of a rigger of cider and take the edge off a stressful day (or celebrate a good one). That never happens now. I deal with the stress and revel in the good times without alcohol. I've found this to be a far healthier way to live. I no longer have to stock up on booze at the end of the week, worrying that I haven't got enough (because running out would really not be worth contemplating).  

In the last few days I've been reflecting on how different my life is now - how different I am. Materially things are still pretty much the same, but things have improved in some very important ways. I've got a much clearer sense of who I am. Self confidence is an amazing thing. I dwell less on my limitations. I accept that I'm not perfect and I wouldn't want to be. I have a very strong sense of pride which stems from having successfully given up booze and which is now spreading to every part of my life, and to those around me. My physical and mental health has improved. I'm far more even tempered. In the past I've often been slightly frustrated and dissatisfied (at everything and nothing, but mainly with myself). Now the frustration has ebbed away and I'm just getting on with life with all it's ups and downs. I'm just taking life as it comes on my terms.

You can't truly understand these things until you've taken alcohol out of the picture and had time to feel and see the changes. That's the perspective I wanted when I started on this journey, and it's a true gift. Earlier on, I was worried about whether I needed to give up at all (still stuck in denial about how unhealthy my drinking was), but now that question is totally irrelevant. Why would I ever go back?

I can't think of another decision I've made in my life that's had such a profound effect for the better. For that I'm very grateful.  


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Holiday Mode

I have family visiting from overseas at the moment. I haven't seen them in a few years so it's been a great chance to catch up. We've had a couple of days in a rented house in Hanmer so everyone has very much been on holiday mode (which, for them, has included drinking alcohol of course).

The last few days have revealed to me how far I've come in all the ways that matter to someone who is trying to give up alcohol in our booze soaked world; being around alcohol and drinkers and not feeling tempted or that I'm missing out, not feeling self conscious about being a non drinker, not feeling the need to talk about it or justify my non drinking (it just is what it is, no more no less).

It hasn't been a booze fest by any means for my whānau, just a few drinks over the afternoon and evening, or with lunch as I used to do on many a Mount Maunganui family holiday - a relaxing time away. There were no drunken antics in Hanmer. Far from it. But alcohol was very much along for the ride, part of the scenery. In a lot of ways, being around my family members as they enjoyed a wine or a beer put a mirror up to my own past drinking (or the times I was able to enjoy it in moderation at least).

It's interesting to me these days that I find being around alcohol and drinkers makes me not want to drink again. It's only in the unguarded moments when appealing thoughts of drinking might seep in. The reality of seeing drinking is another thing. At lunch at a winery near Hanmer, when my wife smelled the bouquet of her freshly-poured Pinot and exclaimed how beautiful it smelled, I asked for a sniff too. These days, alcohol smells like diesel to me. The spell is broken for me.

If I think back to my first uncertain days of sobriety to how comfortable I feel now in my sober skin, I feel grateful I have been able to ride the ups and downs. Any real change takes time to bed in. The key to it has been starting with a solid decision. Everything that went before, every drunken episode, every hangover, every drinker's regret, steeled my resolve to walk away from it and try something else. That "something else" has been a true gift. Drinkers can't imagine how good it can be living sober, but every drinker can find out if they want to. I certainly never thought living sober would be so positive for just about every aspect of my life. I was scared about giving up alcohol because I thought I needed it. I thought I would be wasting my life without alcohol to make it better.

I thought so so wrong.

I don't tend to give advice in this blog, but if there was something I'd say to you it would be to persevere through your uncertainty. If you are thinking of trying your life without alcohol, do it and see where it takes you. If you are trying to quit but battling a crippling temptation to drink again, sleep on it and make a decision when you are in a different frame of mind. You'll almost certainly feel differently in the morning. Don't give up. One day you will be in a place where alcohol holds no appeal or power over you and you will thank yourself for holding on through the stormy weather.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Future

It's always in the unguarded moments, the times when you are the most relaxed about life or focussed on some other pressing matter, that thoughts of drinking again creep back in. 

For months on end I've opened the fridge and ignored the bottle of wine in the door, till last week when I lingered and I thought of all the 5pm moments of twisting the top open and pouring a hard-earned splash of chardonnay or a crisp, refreshing cider. I've been sober for 259 days now and I'm starting to think ahead to how I will celebrate day 365 - the end of my initial challenge to myself to go without alcohol for a year and change my relationship with it, forever.

I've been pretty staunch in my thinking that I will probably carry on with my sober life, because I know if I drink again I risk slipping slowly back to the way I used to drink. But just lately hairline cracks have been appearing in my thoughts around alcohol (Alcohol isn't all that bad if I drink responsibly. Alcohol isn't completely evil. You used to love it. You can handle drinking again, because you know you can stop again if you want to)

I met a fellow sober warrior on my way to pick up my daughter from school last week. She says she was sober for a couple of years but had gone back to drinking occasionally, which had been going okay. I had already been thinking about drinking again after my year is up so it was interesting timing to run into her.

Is this why I am feeling a little disconnected from Living Sober at the moment? There are a lot of people on there who are trying so hard to kick alcohol out of their lives forever and here I am thinking of turning my back on sobriety on a mere whim. Even though we all have to do what is right for us, and only we truly know what that is, I feel pressure not to disappoint others.  

When I started out on this journey I leant heavily on the experience of those further down the road. I imagined being where they were someday, notably Mrs D (her strength, enthusiasm, wisdom and encouragement were hugely valuable for me in the early weeks and months). When I was thinking about quitting booze, there were two friends from university I noticed had posted about their sobriety on Facebook. One was marking five years sober and the other eight years. They were extolling the sober life and appeared strong in their resolve to never drink again. I wanted to be like them. 

Now that I have the tools to live this life on my terms, and not have to rely on alcohol to navigate the inevitable stresses and hard times we all face, I'm letting thoughts of going back to the old way inhabit my brain. Perhaps I'm starting to realise what an pervasive force alcohol is in the world - in all of our lives, whether we like it or not? 

I know quitting alcohol has enhanced my life, and the lives of those around me. I know I'm healthier and happier. I know I'm calmer (generally). I know I have a greater sense of who I am and who I'm not. I know my self esteem and confidence has increased. I've developed better coping and social skills without the crutch of alcohol. 

So why am I thinking about going back to the old life?

Maybe you can tell me because my usually logical brain can't make much sense of it.   


Monday, 13 February 2017

Nothing Doing ... (which is good right?)

Of late the silence has been a little deafening; my silence on sobriety, and the relative silence in my head. My lack of output in this blogging forum I have created for my sober journey has been nagging at me daily over the last few weeks. But I'm wondering if I'm starting to run out of things to say. My urgency, or need, to work through my thoughts and feelings on quitting booze, by writing about it, has certainly waned.

Have I reached the point where writing about it no longer helps me work through things, but only serves to stoke up temptations and negative thoughts?

I'm not saying I'm sorted, because after 241 sober days, I'm know I'm just a child. But I have seemed to settle into a patch where I no longer think much, if at all, about alcohol. Apart from the odd fleeting temptation, I no longer have any desire to go back to being a drinker. I'm just living. And I guess that's what I wanted all along. Not to have it occupy every thought, take up too much energy.  

I recently went on a 40th birthday party, in the form of a bus tour around the garden bars of rural North Canterbury. It was an all-day affair followed by an after party at the birthday boy's house. With a driver for the day and a bar-tab provided at each venue, it was the perfect recipe for indulging without restriction. The old me would have binged my merry way throughout the day and night and ended up a sloppy mess and a very sorry boy the next morning. The new me drank a couple of Cokes, something approaching my body-weight in water, and even a mid-afternoon coffee (which didn't go unnoticed not that I cared). The host's wife was concerned I wouldn't have, or wasn't having a good time being surrounded by all the drinkers, however her fears were misplaced. I had a brilliant day, filled with much lively conversation and the observance of some truly spectacular bus-aisle dancing. At the end of the night I drove my wife home and at 7am the next morning we got up and went on a hill walk to make the most of our kid-free morning. I have mentioned several times in this blog, and to anyone who asks how the sober lark is going, that I cherish my mornings these days.

Waking up with a clear head and energy to sustain me through the day NEVER gets old.

I think it's a good thing that I've settled into my sobriety, despite having nothing much to write about at the moment. I feel lucky that it's not a daily struggle for me. I'm not marking time till my year is up and I can drink again (if I choose). Whether I drink again (and this is unlikely) is largely irrelevant to me now. I'm grateful to be experiencing a sober lifestyle for the first time in my adult life. You can't gain perspective on it while you're still drinking. I'm proving to myself that I can live, easily, without alcohol. I've debunked all the myths about alcohol that I used to believe; that it helps you have a good time, that it makes you more social, that it helps you deal with stress, that it makes you happier, that it's part of life so there's no other option than being a drinker, that it helps solve life's problems.

Anyway, before this turns into a unstructured rant I'm going to sign off.

I just wanted you to know I'm still here, I'm still sober, and I'm happy.

There's just nothing much doing (which is a good thing right?).



Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Nostalgia and Other Mind Tricks

It's been a tough time for many over the Christmas and New Year period. The added stress, the triggers, the life pushed slightly out of routine, the added temptation of holiday-season parties, have seen more then a few people on Living Sober posting with regret and angst about returning to day one. Thankfully I haven't had to deal with any strong physical cravings for alcohol. I don't relate to the stern daily tests many others are experiencing, the white knuckle ride many are describing. This has been why I have questioned at times whether I needed to give up at all (the multiple benefits of my new lifestyle have made this question largely irrelevant for me now).

However, during the holidays I have started to remember the good times, and frequently I've felt like joining in and have a few drinks with the others. At the cricket in Mt Maunganui I watched the parade of fellow 40-something-year-old men toting plastic cups of ice-cold beer around the boundary back to their seats. I remembered the last time I had drunk alcohol at the cricket, on a searingly hot afternoon at picturesque Hagley Oval, taking turns with my mates to buy the maximum four beers, spilling slightly more on each return trip as the beer took more of its sweet effect. I thought about the first refreshing gulp - I can still remember the taste - the eyelids getting slightly heavy, the speech slightly slurred, as beer after beer disappeared. I remember finding the drunken antics of others absolutely hilarious, feeling like I was part of the party, one of the gang.

It's funny how the mind plays tricks on you. Mostly I don't think about drinking at all these days, but just lately very specific memories have flooded my sober brain - the taste, the smell, the sensations of that first drink. The day dreams have mostly been about beer (which in recent years I had largely given up because it caused me skin problems). Is it a rosy-eyed remembrance of my youth, of the days when alcohol was the main vehicle of my social life, when I could drink what I liked and not have a hangover. Those days where when alcohol was the ultimate conduit of celebration, the convenient and instant salve for my problems?

Right now I'm nursing an injured AC joint in my shoulder. It has been dogging me for months and I have no idea how I did it. I went to my first physiotherapy session yesterday and I'm relieved that the prognosis is good. It will come right with the proper care and exercise to strengthen the ligaments around the joint. It turns out is likely to be old rugby injuries to the shoulder that were never treated at the time that are coming back to haunt me (and I can recall a few times I injured it). In those days my young body would bounce back quickly from most minor knocks. We'd all pile into town after our games and dull the pain of our injuries with beer, anyway. If it wasn't broken you'd generally carry on.

These days I can't avoid dealing with my problems - physical or psychological. I could have drunk cider and wine every night to help deal with my shoulder pain, but it wouldn't have solved the problem. Nothing, other than rehabbing it properly, is going to fix my shoulder. Alcohol is NOT an answer (before I quit I tried to make a list of the ways alcohol had truly helped me and I couldn't think of anything).

Like Lotta Dann says, life is often raw and gritty and tough, without alcohol to numb ourselves to life's struggles. But I wouldn't have it any other way.      

There is no way of avoiding the occasional rose-tinted view of my former glorious drinking days, but if I have to pine occasionally for a cold beer or two then so be it. It's a small price to pay for how much better life is sober. Maybe one day I'll be free of these thoughts as I get more and more sober years behind me.

I'm committed to living my life sober. And that's what I'm going to do.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Treading a Fine Line

Last night I helped celebrate another friend's 40th birthday at a courtyard party in town. It was the first big social occasion since I shared my post New Year's blog on my Facebook page - revealing my new sober lifestyle for the first time to my wider circle.

Amplifying my discomfort was having to attend solo - my wife kept home with a sore throat. I ordered a cranberry and lime soda and lingered awkwardly at the edge of a couple of groups' conversations till more people arrived. I soon mixed in and began to relax.

The questions I asked myself in the hours before the party were:

1. Would having revealed my sober stance/lifestyle to the masses make me feel self conscious and awkward?

2. Would it become the object of lengthy and tiring conversation - having to justify/explain throughout the night why I had to take such a drastic step?

3. Would my drinking friends feel like I was criticising them?  

The hardest thing about answering questions about my sobriety is the fine line I have to walk between describing the benefits without coming across as criticising the other person, or their choice to drink. It's hard having to walk this line when what I really want to shout to as many people as possible is:

"I've never been so happy, healthy, fulfilled, productive, settled, confident, socially at ease, and self assured as I have been since I quit this evil poison. Giving up alcohol is, hands down, the best decision of my life and I feel like I've saved myself a considerable amount of future misery and anguish. I can't recommend the sober life enough!"

To aid the mental shifts you make when giving up a vice such as alcohol, I've found it necessary to adopt a fairly negative attitude towards every aspect of alcohol. But I've consciously not adopted the same negative attitude towards people who drink. That is their personal decision. It's none of my business. My wife still enjoys drinking wine, as do most of the people I know. I can hate the game but still love the players right?

Did I get asked about my sober life last night? Absolutely, but it was fine. I actually enjoyed talking about it, and it didn't dominate the night. The theme of the night was great conversation with lovely friends, standing for a good deal of it beside a toasty outdoor gas fire. Our discussions about drinking alcohol, quitting alcohol, and the role of booze in all of our lives were funny, serious, and mature. What I am finding is that many of my friends are changing the way they drink as they move towards their 40s, totally independantly of my decisions around it.

Since I shared the New Year's post several friends sent messages that they too had quit alcohol (one friend has been three years' sober) and had enjoyed similar improvements in their lives.

So, it seems I have company!

I also know that my friends remain my friends regardless of our respective stances on alcohol. We often build these things up into major issues in our mind when most people care little about it, other than the odd passing observance. Many don't even notice.    

Last night, I chatted to the stragglers outside as the party venue was locked around us then drove a car-load of the happy revellers home towards the dark outskirts of Christchurch.

Being defined by my sobriety is no longer something that bothers me.


Monday, 2 January 2017

A New Year to Remember

As the clock ticked over to a new year (and I hugged, kissed and shook hands with each member of this year's small group of revellers) my sobriety spanned across two years for the first time since I was was a young bullet-proof teen.

I joined our friends as we shouted "Happy New Year" into the starry sky over Hanmer - happy and grateful for being with good friends celebrating another year alive - and I thought of all the train-wreck new year's nights in my life that alcohol has tainted. I also spared a thought for the drunken New Year's fun and hijinks I've had. After all, it wasn't all bad.

I embraced and kissed my precious wife, and our charmed life together flashed through my head; countless warm embraces, conversations of depth, a million moments of fun and laughter, our first weekend as a new enchanted couple 20 years ago (spent hand-in-hand walking the streets of Hanmer incidentally), the earth-movingly emotional moments our children were born, how truly I know and love her, and how generously she returns my love.

Truly sober reflections. Powerful. Honest. Real.

Tomorrow will be sober day 200. As the days pass, I feel increasingly grateful. I'm mindful of the countless small ways my life is enhanced, and the few big ones. I'm proud of myself and of my fellow sober warriors, who understand what it is to swim against a current so strong. In the nearly seven months of sobriety, I've come to highly value the hangover-free mornings. In the past, the morning was just the start to the day, and often not a good one. But now I regard the sober mornings as a daily gift to myself. It's not that all mornings are awesome. Some are truly rotten and grumpy. But most are pretty bloody marvellous. Is this mostly to do with a shift in attitude or is it a spinoff of my healthier state? Or is it a mix of both? Is it merely an absence of the dehydrated state left after a night of boozing?

One thing I know is that the sluggish, dead-headed mornings are no longer the price of a good (or bad) night drinking. My good (or bad) nights sober can leave me feeling weary from lack of sleep but generally fresh and ready for whatever I choose to do. I'm far more present and helpful to my children when they bound into our room at, or before, the crack of dawn.

The main thing I was looking forward to in the aftermath of the New Year's revelry was an early-morning run up Conical Hill. I left about 7am and had the hill to myself apart from a couple of fellow early risers. On the way down I saw one ashen-faced chap hauling himself up the track in spite of his pounding hangover, and I figuratively high-fived myself that I no longer have to recover from the same alcohol-induced physical malaise (I don't know for certain that he was hungover, but it works well for this particular narrative). I no longer have to drag my heavy bones out of bed or groan about my pounding headache, or how I drank one too many drinks (it's always one too many) the night before. It was just me and the soft underfoot crunch of the fallen-pine-needle track and the shafts of light sneaking through the stilt-straight trees. At the top I lingered to enjoy the view, my breathing heavy, my brow dripping alcohol-free sweat.

It's in these moments I can look with valuable perspective on how alcohol has been a handbrake on my life.

When I was a drinker, I thought it was an intrinsic part of life, that I couldn't (or wouldn't want to) do without. Drinking was just what people did - and managing/putting up with the negative effects of it on mind and body was just part of the deal. It was an adult right, and something to enjoy (but not too much that you came completely unstuck, or to the point it spilled over to affect your public or working life).

Now, mostly, I feel lucky that something caused me to pause and consider stepping back from it in order to work out if it was something I wanted or needed.

To know that alcohol's no longer important, and in fact never really was, and that life is better without it, is one of the great discoveries of my life.

All the best for 2017.

Sober Man

A few photos of Conical Hill in the early days, in winter and one of the pine-needle track.