“When you quit drinking you stop waiting.”
― Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story
I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life.
It’s a form of procrastination, thinly veiled as perfectionism with a sprinkling of fear.
Perhaps you recognise it?
“I’ll do W when X, Y and Z are done”. My safe mantra.
Last year, I pulled myself up as these words slipped out. A friend and I were enjoying brunch sans alcohol when I mumbled my mantra. We both laughed in unison, recognising this most human experience. I’m blessed to have others supportive of my sobriety as I approach Day 150 — alcohol and coffee.
Strangely, drinking coffee was a trigger for wine-o-clock shenanigans. It was a vicious cycle: a hit of caffeine that sent my cortisol soaring, intensified by a sugar hit à la pastry du jour. The inevitable mid-afternoon slump sent me fossicking for chocolate and by 5pm, I was salivating in anticipation of my first glass of wine.
I fooled myself into thinking I was in control. I had the usual tactics: Only drink after 5pm; never on a weekday … unless it was a special occasion. Suddenly, life was fat with special occasions. Only drink top shelf — not cheap, cask crap. I would swirl the ruby brew, proudly proclaiming, “Life’s too short to drink cheap wine”.
But the truth is, life’s too short — period. It’s too short to not live on purpose; in fierce clarity; with every cell, sense and fibre fully engaged. Alcohol fucked that up. It made me dull, slow, sad.
I’d muddle through the usual guilt-filled, self-recriminations to “start again after Father’s Day; in the New Year; on Monday; next month; after my birthday”. Some imaginary, arbitrary, phantom time that would never come …
One day, whilst sitting at my desk, tapping away at a poem, I stopped mid-slurp. I watched my hand lower the sticky glass, glazed with smudged, red fingerprints. I could taste equal amounts of acidity and revulsion.
How did this happen?
I’d always loved a drink or three. There’s an endemic drinking culture in Australia, as in the UK where I lived during my twenties. But I can trace the tipping point to my mother’s cancer diagnosis and death. I nursed her for 9 months, whilst raising my 10 year old son.
Wine, coffee and sugar were my coping mechanisms.
I began to drink alone. I had three bottle shops on rotation, lest I be seen as a lush. I used alcohol to numb the intense pain; lack of control; loneliness. But it’s only recently that I’ve identified it as a form of ‘self-medication’.
I can’t recall the exact moment … perhaps it was cumulative … but one morning I woke and decided I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I have too much I want to create, explore, experience. It was time to kick alcohol to the curb.
It’s only early days but here’s my M.O to say bye to the bevvy:
#1 I’m kind to myself. I forgive myself. I’m not perfect (who the hell is?!). I have an amazing support network of family and friends. Some people may be (unintentionally) dismissive of your efforts. Alcohol is so culturally and socially acceptable, it can feel hard going against the grain. I only told three people when I started: my son, father and best friend. Start small. If anyone else asked, I said I was taking a break. End of story.
#2 I started reading blogs, books, everything I could get my hands on about sober living and the dangers of alcohol. I’m still reading. I grew up thinking of alcohol as some benign, social lubricant. Certainly not as a drug like heroin. Childhood memories of sipping the froth of my father’s beer; eating “advocaat and cream” — a Dutch dessert — at Christmas, seemed unremarkably normal. It’s a re-education and fortunately, we have amazing resources at our finger tips.
#3 I signed up for Kate Bee’s 6 week “Sober School”. And what an amazing initiation and experience. Not only have I dispelled dangerous myths regarding alcohol consumption, but I was able to share with other women in a loving, non-judgemental, supportive environment. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing you’re not alone and others have your back.
#4 I joined Hello Sunday Morning — a social media website and app where people share their journeys of sobriety, in particular, a hangover free Sunday.
#5 Keep reading. And journalling. Perhaps blogging. I’ve found writing a cathartic process. Maybe painting, photography, dancing, gardening or cooking is your thing? Whatever floats your creative boat, do it.
#6 I’ve upped the self-care through yoga and meditation, massages and essential oils for evening bath soaks. I’ve been in the kitchen, concocting healthy, mouth-watering elixirs, served in beautiful glassware. One of my favourite afternoon drinks is freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, a good squeeze of lime and mint leaves topped with soda/mineral/tonic water. Tart and tasty.
#7 Try not to overthink it (I’m SO good at this ;)
Forever is a long time so try not to think in absolutes / black or white. Every day presents many choices. Whenever I feel the urge to drink I ask myself, “What do I think alcohol will give me”? I know in my heart alcohol is a taker, not giver. And I choose to give myself the best life I possibly can. If you slip up, forgive yourself. We’re deliciously, messily human. Shit happens. Sometimes, a situation is “opportunity disguised as loss”. So rather than beat yourself up, see it as an opportunity … “What was going on for me? What emotions/feelings can I identify? How did I think alcohol would help”. Write it down. Remember. Recall. Release.
#8 “No” is not dirty word. Saying no is de rigueur in order to say yes to yourself. I’ve found this challenging at times — being a mother, daughter, sister, lover, friend. Saying no is not my default setting. But I remember hearing this aphorism: “You’re rejecting the request … not the person”. And filling our own cup first, fosters our ability to share with and support others.
So how is life different since saying au revoir to Mr Vino?
* What stands out the most is my overall sense of calm. I can’t remember feeling so serene and peaceful. Even in previously precarious yoga poses, shifting and wobbling, I’m now still and solid. Grounded. A calm mind, body and soul is just the elixir.
* I’m back in the kitchen rather than dialling a pizza after downing a bottle of wine. My sleep has improved — I rise with the sun and relish my morning beach walks … seeing the world with fresh eyes.
* I’ve been making my bed … something that I previously approached with a laissez-faire attitude. It just wasn’t a priority. But now my boudoir is a sanctuary of silk linen, fresh flowers and frankincense in the warm glow of a Himalayan salt lamp.
* Clutter has been replaced with clean lines. The kitchen, once littered with empty wine bottles and takeaway cardboard boxes, proudly displays bottles of homemade kefir; fresh herbs and botanical teas; fruits; and a beautiful jug of water with lime and berries.
My creative work is back on track as I develop new, daily practices.
Life is good.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.
I wish the same for you ♥
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Launching April 2017: