In November 2015, one of the best things ever happened to me. My little nephew was born.
I don’t have children so imagine my joy when the cutest, happiest, funniest little creature came into the world and stole my heart.
For the first year of his life, I was drinking. Not that he would’ve known of course, but I was also smoking and I was conscious that he could breathe in chemicals from me. It made me want to give up smoking but I found it really difficult not to smoke when I was drinking. In an attempt to cut down smoking, I gave myself a stupid rule that I would only smoke if I drank .. and upped my wine intake accordingly!
I also found that this particular small boy made me morbidly ponder my time left on this planet, and with him. I was more than aware of the dangers of drinking and smoking and however, suddenly, my time became ultra precious. Why would I want to spend any less time with this boy for the sake of another bottle of wine or packet of cigarettes?
The overwhelming urge to spend as much time possible with him was too strong to resist and he became another massively important reason to overhaul my life. I wanted him to be proud of me, not to think of me as the alcoholic auntie, always pissed at parties!
So now he gets me. The real me. Not someone too hungover to play with him or someone too drunk to spend time with him. I plan on being the best version of myself for him and to be in his life for as long as I possibly can, sober and present. Lucky, lucky him 😁🙋🏻🐟
This weekend, my friend and I were talking about the good old times, of drunken nights gone by.
For example, when we went to the pub for a ‘quick one’ after work. After putting the world to rights, her with a bottle of Prosecco, me with a bottle of the finest red, we ended up playing Battleships in a dark corner of the pub. To this day, I still have no idea how to play, who won (but pretty sure it wasn’t me!), or if we ever actually finished the game, but we still laugh about how ridiculous it was now.
Or last summer, when I stayed with her in Majorca and we drank homemade Pina Coladas and smoked copious amounts of cigarettes, whilst dancing on the balcony, watching the beautiful sunset, listening to Chicane.
Brilliant memories of brilliant times, clouded for me however, by the dreaded hangover. The Battleships night was a school night, shortly after I’d started a new role at work. The next day was horrific, woken by the alarm that I mistakenly thought was the sandwich van. Yes, I already thought I was at work and hadn’t even made it out of bed yet. I was sick first and then had endure a whole day feeling rubbish, counting the hours until I could get back in bed and die.
The same happened after Pina Colada night. Sick. For hours. We ventured out for a drive and I just remember feeling ill in the back of the car, not knowing what to do with myself, saved only by a Big Mac & a fat coke in Magaluf and a dip in crystal clear waters.
My point is that, whilst I had fantastic times on a high, there was always a low. And my lows had become unbearable. I know some of my friends are starting to mourn the old me, realising it is unlikely she will ever come back but to be honest, I’m glad that I will (hopefully) never hug the porcelain telephone again (**).
I am starting to understand that a sober life is a much more steady life emotionally. It can feel a bit ‘flat’ at times however I think that is a fair trade to be in control and not ill. I dread to think of the damage I have caused to myself over the years and just hope that now, I can repair some of it.
I am not dead. I’m a work in progress, slowly transforming into the new me. Or perhaps I’m actually becoming the real me, not clouded by the deceiving cloak of alcohol; not hiding behind a large Sauvignon. Only time will tell whether I can be ‘just as fun’ without my faithful protector and whether I ever see beyond midnight again!
(**) – calling Jesus on the porcelain telephone’ – the act of clinging to the toilet basin whilst throwing up violently after a heavy night on binge drinking
I’ve been asked several times this week about my story, about why I’ve given up alcohol, about my ‘breaking point’ and about how I gave up.
I’ve touched on my story in some of my earlier blogs .. I’ve always had ‘an addictive personality’. This actually translates into ‘greedy piggy with no off switch’. Like many, I started experimenting with alcohol in my mid teens .. I distinctly remember downing awfulness like White Lightening cider and blue 20/20 and I also distinctly remember being sick the next day. One of my first memories of getting horribly drunk was about aged 16, at a house party and being sick into a bush from a balcony. And I’d had spaghetti for dinner.
In fact, I was nearly always sick the next day. To the extent that it became normalised. Go out, get drunk, come home, pass out. Next day, sick. Then we started drinking before we went out to ‘save pennies’. However, as the tolerance grew, I don’t think we saved any money, we just drank more. And more.
And basically that’s how I spent the next 20 years. In a vicious, self harming scenario of eat, drink, sick, repeat. Like some kind of slow, torturous death.
Alongside this self abuse, I was also getting myself into stupid relationships with men who were in even worse situations than me. They say you attract what you are and from where I am now, I can so see this is true.
The last person I was seeing was a totally damaged soul. I guess you could argue that I was too. And between us, we created more damage than either of us needed or could cope with. And it was this relationship that finally caused me to hit rock bottom. And ‘they’ say that until you hit rock bottom, you can’t start climbing back up. I knew that, for as long as I was drinking, he would continue to be a part of my life. And that had to stop.
So, in autumn last year, I decided I was going to give up alcohol for 2017. The plan was to stop drinking at midnight on 31 December 2016 and restart again on 1 January 2018. I would write a blog as an online diary, to record the highs and lows of an alcohol free life. If I’m honest, I expected far more lows than there has been and kind of imagined it would be a bit of a whinge fest! Luckily it couldn’t be further from this and instead, is one of the best decisions I ever made.
Then, out of the blue I got the opportunity to change my job after 11 years in the same company. Whilst it was the best thing to happen to me, I think subconsciously it stressed me out .. in addition, the ex was still playing me like a pawn in his game and then the flu literally floored me.
As you can see from my ‘before’ photo, I was sad, tired and ill. Drained by life. And so my year started early on 27 November 2016 at approximately 2am. My last drink, a large vodka, was ceremoniously poured down the sink before bed. And that was it. No more.
People ask whether I’m tempted to drink. The simple answer is no. I have too many embarrassing memories to think of that put me off ever picking up a drink again. Do I miss my old life? Of course I do but slowly, the craziness is becoming a distant memory. I do not want to be sad anymore, a pawn in someone else’s awful life. I want to be the Queen in my own life, happy and in control, and you know what, I think I’m well and truly on my way there 🙋🏻🐟
One of the parts of soberdom that I am still not finding easy, is partying in large numbers. I appear to be able to do anything that revolves around food (nothing new there) but really struggle when drinking is the main focus.
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with parties over the years. I think I’ve mentioned before, that I would always be the last to leave. But now I’m questioning whether that was because I was having such a great time or was just too hammered to even think about leaving.
When we’re young, and invited to a school friends party, there’s always something to keep us entertained. It could be going to an activity centre, or McDonalds or party games. There’s always something ‘to do’.
In the teenage years, it gets more awkward ‘pre alcohol’. The rigid school discos, where, despite the excitement crescendo beforehand, everyone ends up stood on the perimeter of the dance floor, wooden and scared. Until, five minutes before the end, someone, from deep inside their soul, gains enough confidence to enter the dance floor zone and then all the sheep follow. And the next day, everyone raves about what a great time they had.
Then, in the later teenage years, a new friend ‘alcohol’ joins the throng. And changes the way we party forever. No other activities are required, no one lacks confidence, the dance floor is rammed. We all have the best night ever. Or do we? I certainly never had the best morning after.
Since parting company with alcohol, I feel I’ve reverted back to an awkward pre alcohol teenager. I don’t quite know where to put myself. I’m stood on the perimeter, looking at the dance floor, wishing my confidence would return. Not that I particularly want to dance, I just want to relax, to get into the party mood. But I find it hard on sparkling water. I don’t feel ‘sparkling’. I feel quiet and dull. And these are definitely two words I have never heard used about me.
So where to go from here? It’s a toughy. I could politely decline invitations but that’s just being mean to myself. I have tried the ‘going early, coming home early’, but that just made me mourn my old life. My gut instinct is that I just need to ‘get over myself’ but unsure how to do it!
For now, I’m going to go with the flow and hope my awkward teenager phase passes swiftly. And hope that I locate my confidence and get back on the metaphorical dance floor again. Sober.
Humans are habitual. Fact. We like repetition and we all have addictions. We especially like doing things that are bad for us and love to indulge in modern day poisons! Why can’t we turn our habits around and be addicted to the good stuff?! It’s rare to be addicted to vitamins or lettuce or burpees.
One of the common words used about alcohol is that it is a reward, something to look forward to. We like the ritual of drinking .. buying a beautiful bottle, chilling it, pouring it into a lovely glass, decorating it with fruit and ice, savouring it, feeling ‘normal’ once the ritual has started. But once the ritual becomes more frequent, and the feeling is related to normality, the habit is formed and the love affair starts to dissolve.
Is there anything quite like the first drink of the day? That first sip .. the relief that we made it. I don’t think so. But once we start, we just can’t stop. Realistically, ‘just the one’ should do the trick, to raise the dopamine levels, to bring temporary joy from the day. But not many people that stop at one and more than one is a habit.
Cravings for alcohol are worse in a trigger situation. Trigger situations are caused by habit and need to be broken to survive alcohol free. Mine is, or was, getting home from work on a Friday night after a long week. 3 months on, it’s becoming much easier. I have replaced my wine with Elderflower Presse. I still have it in a lovely glass and I still decorate it with ice and lime and I now look forward to it in the same way I did a Sauvignon. After all, I deserve a treat too! It has just taken time to become the better option over the poison I was rewarding myself with before.
There is nothing wrong with spoiling yourself with alcohol free products if it makes your sober journey more successful. Changing your habit to something poison free is always going to be a better alternative. Avoiding trigger situations in the early days also helps with recovery. Don’t put yourself in a temptation situation unless you are totally sure you can resist. Habits are not easy to break but they are easy to replace. Transfer your love of the bad things to love of the good. And reward yourself with permenant goodness rather than a temporary high. Remember, what goes up, must come down! And usually that isn’t pretty!
‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going’ Jim Ryun