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