On the 31st August last year I went for a meal to my favourite restaurant. I knew the next day I was starting a new life without booze so this was my no holds barred goodbye to booze feast. It felt like my last supper or maybe more like the last meal for an inmate on Death Row. It had all the hallmarks of some strange self created ritual. Waiters brining me a succession of favourite drinks; Czech lager to start, white wine with the starter, red wine with the main, dessert wine, liquors. It was my last night and nothing was going to stop me. I went home and drank gin and tonic until midnight. I half wanted to make myself sick, to wake up with an horrendous hangover to have that abiding memory, to stir my resolve for future times when I might weaken. But no, a month of constant drinking had increased my tolerance levels. I felt fine the next day. At the time I just wanted to enjoy my last day with drink. Looking back I can see I was indeed making a ritual of it, a rite of passage, an identifiable marker between one phase of my life and another. Having created that day of overindulgence and expense my new life of sobriety had to work. and it did; for today marks a full year without booze. I’m surprised that I have able to do it and I’m also proud as anyone who has done this should be. It was the right thing for me, but it has come at a cost. Crucially, I must add, a cost well worth paying.
Sure, pubs and restaurants just have not had the same allure since I gave up and that is a loss as I loved pubs.. I remember doing my counselling course back in 1990 and in one group exercise we had to revisit loss in our lives. It involved visualisation and we were all instructed to start our journey of loss through our lives from a place of warmth, comfort and safety. We started there and we ended up there. After the session we shared our “safe” places. For most it was either a family home or somewhere they had been with their family. My place where I felt most comfortable? – an English country pub with a log fire and beer. Says it all really but it made a few of my fellow students smile. Now I avoid pubs and a sadness for me is the realisation that much of my love of pubs was not the cosy surroundings or friends, it was the beer. Pubs were places I drank and I could drink there with an abandon I never could have at home. Some good times, some wasted times.
Even now I sometimes miss the experience of going for a walk and enjoying a cold beer sitting by a river or village green, so yes, I did enjoy a drink sometimes.
Then I remember how I needed a drink at other times; to overcome some social anxiety, to fit in, to feel normal.
Then there were the times when I hated drinking but I did it anyway- feeling lost, heavy with dysphoria, drinking to block or obliterate, torn in two hating it but watching myself pour another one.
So I happily exchanged the occasional enjoyment of booze for being able to rid myself of the need and hate it often brought me. It became an easy and obvious transaction. In many ways my life was on the line. Probably it was the best deal I ever made; but a deal is a deal and a deal involves parting with something. That’s the thing that needs facing and confronting.
If I have a message for anyone who has got to the place where they know in their hearts that moderation will not work for them and alcohol is having too many negative impacts on their life; it’s this. You will be giving up more than a drug, you’ll be giving up lots of associations. We live in societies where alcohol is woven into the fabric of our social, cultural and psychological lives. When the physical craving is gone the other cravings and pressures will still be there. That’s when you need to remind yourself of why you are doing this. Get through that and you start to see the many advantages; health, sleep, relationships, productivity, financial – the list goes on. Never take those for granted. And be prepared for a battle.
So one year, great. I am pleased but it’s tempered by a realisation that I could have done a lot more with my life if I had stopped earlier. As I have said before, this blog has been key to me doing a year successfully. People sharing stories, the positive, the negative, ups and downs, things that have worked, traps to be aware of- all of this has helped me. I’ll also add that I’m quite competitive so there was no way I wanted to come on here and say I’ve had a drink. I like to win, fairly of course and so far in this “game” I feel like I’m 2 sets to love up. Games can change in an instant so as I go into year two, I’ll enjoy the feeling of winning at the moment but I won’t let down my guard.
Again for those in the early stages of going alcohol free; it’s a very individual experience but with many commonalities; you have decided it’s worth it, my advice is to plan for it, make a proper commitment to doing it, prepare for it, get support, always remind yourself why you’re doing it and what benefits you’ll get and strengthen your resolve. There will be times when you’ll want to abandon this challenge but you can get through those tough times and you’ll be stronger each time you do. On these blogs are stories like mine; people who didn’t think they could ever give up booze who are proving they can. Ordinary folk with extraordinary support. If we can do it with support so can anyone, so can you.
I shall celebrate today with AF sparkly wine and an Everleaf and tonic. I’ll also be able to carry on and meet some friends and play table tennis afterwards. No muggy feeling, no wasted day, no hangover. It’s great being sober! Life is fuller, richer.
No brainer really!