Stop Drinking, Start Living

A few things helped me along the path to quitting booze permanently: stubbornness, writing, fear, perseverance and running.

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In addition to these, a true belief in sobriety ensured that I stuck to this way of life through thick and thin, even when I was desperate for a glass (or a couple of bottles, more accurately) of wine. I didn’t give up because fairly early on in my new alcohol-free life I started to believe more in not drinking than I did in drinking.

I wasn’t the sort of person who you’d once have imagined ever believing in not drinking. I was rather proud of my reckless ways, my love of getting smashed via excessive amounts of wine and all the messy things that went along with my boozy lifestyle. I thought people who chose to not drink were either alcoholics or miserable buggers who didn’t know how to have fun – I felt sorry for all of them. What was the point of life without drinking? I seriously felt that way, for twenty long, alcohol-fuelled years.

But stopping drinking felt as though I’d had a pair of heavy-duty blinkers removed, as if I’d been shackled in a cell for years and then suddenly released into daylight and fresh air. Very quickly, I came to realise that many of the things I thought were true about me were, in fact, skewed. I was skewed. I didn’t know who I was, had never become properly acquainted with myself as a result of living in a fog of alcohol. Planning a drink, having a drink, recovering from a drink, beating myself up over things because of drink…my headspace, free of booze, had never been allowed to flourish.

The benefits soon began to outshine the fact that ‘I could no longer drink’. After about a year and a half I had absolutely no desire to drink. I stopped believing in it as a valuable aspect of life. Me, sober, was a much better concept than me pissed. In every capacity – as a parent, a friend, a girlfriend, a worker – I was better without alcohol.

I could not have imagined me as a non-drinker, once upon a time. I would have run screaming to the hills if someone had told me that aged thirty-five, I would never touch a drop of alcohol again. But…I am majorly grateful for the series of events that led to me putting down the bottle in April 2011. I’m grateful that I got the chance to see life as it really is. I’m grateful that I found out I wasn’t a bad person after all. I’m grateful that I got to live a life free from regrets and shame. I’m grateful that I became alcohol-free.

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Something Worth Fighting For…

Nobody wakes up one day and decides that they fancy frittering their life away on drugs and booze. The drinking and the partying are just elements of what a person initially perceives as being fun and the more of it they do, the more it becomes acceptable. The lines get blurred. What was once off limits appears not so scary. The restrictions that prevented the bad stuff occurring are slowly eroded, and a wilderness fills the void – a barren landscape in which time is fluid and reality not certain.

Underlying my own alcohol and drug issues was a malignant desire to hurt myself. I relished in self-destruction, wore it like a badge of honour. The scars of my lifestyle were embraced and absorbed into my rebellious nature, it’s what I wanted to be. Dangerous. Free. Unconventional. Brazen. A warrior, fighting against my self, at war with my mind and inflicting neglect and suffering on my body. I liked it like that; there was a comforting familiarity to it all.

I think in the midst of this, I was frightened to acknowledge my future in a particularly honest way. I did not, for instance, fully accept that the chances of me developing cancer or liver disease were being significantly raised as a result of my alcohol consumption. Occasionally I’d be hit by a morbid fear, but there was always the drink to wash the worries away. I thought I liked who I was, and I never gave consideration to an alternative way of life. It was meant to be that way, wasn’t it? The time for casting roles had long since past and I was who I was, in my shoes, walking my path. Defined by drink and getting wasted. The one who would always take it a step further. And people who weren’t like that bored me to tears. I was a part of a tribe to which non-hedonists did not belong. I didn’t want anything to do with real life. Outside of my bubble of mind-altering substances, nothing interested me.

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But if you give life a chance, sufficient time spent not under the influence of alcohol and drugs, it teaches you how to live it. Things become apparent and it starts to grow easier to exist. The demons that ate away at me in my teens and twenties have all been eradicated. I have a broader cognisance now, which has allowed stuff to fall into place. It isn’t necessary to hurt yourself to get your point across or to show the world just how different you are. There’s nothing unusual about getting out of your skull every day – people are doing it everywhere.

Conversely, this quiet acceptance, a real love for life’s minutiae as well as the major things that we exist amongst, self-awareness, self-compassion, reaching goals, being proud, having clarity, being calm, a ripple-free life, relationships on a plateau, less anger, more control – that’s different. That’s special. Being in tune with yourself as a human being, listening to your body and mind, and recognising who you truly were meant to be, that’s worth something. It’s worth fighting for.

Not Drinking Is A (Great) Way Of Life

Alcohol is a strange old business. Ostensibly it’s just another beverage, but we all know it’s so much more than that. Drinking can often become a person’s defining characteristic. It’s the stuff they are made from: the rebel, the sex goddess, the sympathetic friend, the party animal, the sophisticated hostess. It turns the ordinary into the extraordinary – or so we like to imagine. Wrapped up in booze is a massive array of interwoven emotions and hardwired associations – a glass of chilled white wine on a summer day, a pint of real ale in a country pub at the end of a bracing walk, a cold beer on a Friday evening after work. The connections we make between alcoholic drinks and life are tenacious. It takes a lot of work to undo them.

I think I constructed my old persona as one that was intrinsically linked to alcohol because it was a means of avoiding how ashamed I was of the amount I was consuming – I wore my binge-drinking like a badge of honour, at least on the outside, and this helped me to push the negativity to the back of my mind. Waking up in bed next to someone who I could barely remember speaking to the night before? This was something to be laughed off with bravado, a funny thing to do after yet another night of hard partying – except I wasn’t laughing on the inside. I was filled with self-loathing (not that anyone would have ever known).

In the years since I stopped drinking, I’ve fully embraced life as a Soberista. Of fundamental importance in staying alcohol-free is learning to love sobriety, not resenting the fact that alcohol is no more a part of life but loving that it isn’t. I never thought I’d be able to do that. In the initial sober months I hated how I couldn’t drink alcohol without becoming falling-over drunk. I hated how other people seemed to have an off-switch and I didn’t. I hated beer gardens on hot summer evenings, filled with people laughing and drinking. I hated everything about being sober.

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I had to find a way of turning not drinking into something that worked for me. A new element of me that fitted with my personality, rather than this alien lifestyle choice that I had been forced to adopt (or, at least, that’s how it felt). Gradually, being a non-drinker became something that I was proud of. I stopped feeling so apologetic for it. I started to feel like I was a part of a new wave of people, a mini-revolution that had sprung up out of a widespread disaffection for wasted weekends, poor health and too many heartfelt regrets.

The things that mattered to me as a drinker still matter to me. The stuff that I was ashamed of, the less-than-perfect parts of my life have been resolved, dealt with, closed. The good bits have grown better. The crap has disappeared. I genuinely believe that kicking booze out your life is a very cool thing to do. Living free from the fog of alcohol, experiencing true clarity, knowing yourself inside and out, feeling intuition and being able to trust yourself to act upon it, loving and caring for yourself, feeling passionate about stuff other than drinking, knowing that you are doing your best in life – this is what being sober means to me. And I’m very happy to be feeling it all, right now, today – it’s a very good place to be.