Yes, being sober in the beginning is incredibly difficult, but it is worth every moment of pain, anxiety and fear! The night I stopped drinking is a story in itself, but beside the occasional moment when I could happily gulp down an ice cold beer or slam a couple of tequilas, I honestly don’t miss drinking most of the time. There are celebrations when it would be lovely to partake in a chilled glass of champagne or a fruity sauvignon blanc, especially at events like weddings and birthdays, but all I have to do is remind myself that “one drink is too many and a hundred drinks are never enough”. I am almost certain I am misquoting, but you get the idea. It would be one or two quiet drinks and then the intensity would increase, and before long there’d be general mayhem. So when those feelings start to arise in me, I just imagine how bad I would feel the following morning and how thankful I am that I have the willpower to get through the next few hours. I picture myself curled up in bed, shaking and sweaty, the alcoholic gloom enveloping me. And that is all it takes for me to order another mineral water. These events are not always easy because the important people in my life tend to drink excessively at times. So I have learned to relax and just embrace the chaos. I’ve also acquired the skill of quietly taking my leave from big parties when they start to get out of hand and the festivities become too much for me to endure. At this point I’ll just slip away, leaving the revelers to their own devices.
Smaller gatherings are much less challenging, and my friends are comfortable that when I slip away it is not because I don’t value them. It’s just that the evening has drawn to a natural close for me and although I love them, I do not want to hear the same story for the third time or sit around and watch while they get silly. But it’s taken time and effort on everyone’s part and there were definitely some incredibly tense moments in the initial months, and even years. My family is by far the hardest to endure when they have spent a night guzzling wine and talking nonsense. For some reason they seem to irritate and aggravate me far more than anyone else has ever managed. And if the truth be told sometimes after a few too many they seem to have all the answers to my life questions, which I’d rather not hear when they are somewhat sibilantly challenged. They also tend to get overly personal and I’d actually rather not be around them when they decide to have a bender, and be brutally honest about what they think one any number of subjects…including me.
Let me assure you that if you are finding the initial days and weeks of not drinking challenging because you feel out of place, simply stay away from events that may include alcohol, which pretty much means all of them unless you are in a dry county or at an AA meeting. Right from the outset I decided that I was not going to cloister myself in my sobriety and from the very early days I started to attend parties and gatherings where alcohol was served. I didn’t see the point in staying at home and making myself feel excluded and self-ostracised. So initially I’d just drop in at the early stages of a party and stay until the drinks really started to flow and people’s behaviour inevitably deteriorated. It required going through a fair amount of “big-girl panties” at the time, because it wasn’t easy to watch my friends relaxed and breezy, while there was a war raging inside me. But I persevered and fought the urges to grab a stiff drink or the nearest taxi! I’d often stick to the fringes, not mingling too much and sipping on a glass of sparkling water. Not having a drink in my hand would often lead to offers of one and then a myriad of questions if I refused it, and I was ready to profess my alcoholism to mere acquaintances. After a couple of hours I felt a deep sense of relief at being able to go home, crawl into bed and read a good book.
My close friends were incredibly supportive of my choices. They didn’t push me or try and dissuade me from my path. They were simply there…waiting to see if I stumbled and fell I think. And then slowly the most incredible thing started to happen! I started to feel well. My anxiety and depression eased, I began to sleep properly and I just felt amazing. People would constantly comment on how fantastic I was looking and ask me what I was doing!? I also lost weight and my face wasn’t blotted and blotchy. My pallor improved and my entire body started to feel like it belonged to me. And the better I felt the less I wanted to drink. Looking back at photos from my early 30s and comparing them to photos that were taken after I had been sober for a mere six months, the difference is strikingly obvious. My eyes regained a sparkle and my skin a lustre. It was nothing short of a rebirth for me. I also had time for everything. Weekends were long and luxuriant, with plenty of hours to pursue the things I adored. Exercise became part of my routine and my job a source of reward and happiness. I could hardly believe I hadn’t experienced this 5 years previously when I’d quit, but the circumstances had been completely different and I was not suffering through losing a business before the age of 30.
Yes, there are some things that have never been the same since I gave up drinking on 1st January 2007! I have become far more discerning in my choice of friends. Decisions about my life are based on intellect and reason, and not hungover reaction. I have grown emotionally and spiritually and my work life has gone from strength to strength. Sure, I don’t dance on bar counters anymore, in fact I hardly dance. And I am not the first to arrive and the last to leave, but I spend quality hours with my friends and loved ones when I see them. There is not as much frivolity in evenings out, but there are memories made and remembered! Drinking and driving is a thing of the past, never wondering how I got home, but always happy to be the designated driver. My life now is full of rich rewards, both personally and professionally. My future plans are fueled by passion and determinations, rather than strong bourbons, and I have a completely new perspective on my purpose in life.
Yes, it takes time to get here! But it is a road that is worth taking as the joys and abundance far outstrip any boozy night out, not matter where you are or who you are with.
‘Til next time
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in the wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)