When I was a little girl I had two imaginary pets, Cocktail the parrot and Ebvory the cocker spaniel (the name of the dog being derived from its monochrome colouring, ebony and ivory, and one of which I was terribly proud of inventing). Every morning when I left the house for school I would remind my grandma who lived with us to feed the animals and she dutifully did this I’m sure – when I came home in the afternoon there would always be a bowl of water on the kitchen floor for Ebvory, and a smaller one on the side for Cocktail (oh the irony of that name choice!). For quite some time I would take the dog out for walks, requesting that it sit at the edge of the road to wait for passing vehicles, and generally ensuring he behaved himself at all times. The parrot would sit on my shoulder, serene in its demeanour.
It absolutely did not occur to me that this was in any way strange behaviour. I don’t think I spent a single moment pondering the reasoning behind my make-believe pets nor did I consider that other people might regard me as something as a curiosity as I wandered about with an outstretched arm (holding the dog’s lead) and chattering away to myself (or so it would have looked to observers).
My imaginary pets gradually disappeared into the ether when I was about nine years old and I don’t recall any significant departure or goodbye ceremony. I probably didn’t need them anymore and so happily allowed them to drift back off to wherever they came from.
But several years later (twenty-six to be exact) I stopped drinking, and although Ebvory and Cocktail didn’t witness a magical resurrection, I did conjure up another imaginary being, this time in the shape of me – specifically, a (happily) non-drinking version of me.
I had no reference point to draw upon when it came to learning to be someone who didn’t touch alcohol. I was, after all, a serial drinker, or just a drinker. However you thought of me, I was a drinker through and through. And so I found myself visualising the sober me as a way of providing myself with a goal, a target to reach – a person I wanted to grow into.
There is science to back up the notion of visualising the things we want to happen in our lives, so if you are trying to lose weight then it can be helpful to repeatedly picture yourself ordering a salad in a restaurant and refusing a pudding. If you’re trying to quit smoking then you could visualise yourself doing something else other than lighting up at a routine cigarette break. And similarly, if you’re aiming to cut out alcohol then it can really help if you imagine yourself asking for (for instance) a soft drink at the bar, or how you will inform your friends that you are no longer drinking.
I did this, but I took it to the extreme. I started to see myself as someone who focused on health in all areas of life, a person who was confident and satisfied with a life that didn’t feature booze anywhere in it. I looked to people I admired who I knew didn’t drink (or who didn’t drink much) and borrowed bits of them that I liked. I basically dreamt up a new me, and I gradually allowed myself to blend into her. I saw her in various situations, how she would handle socialising and everyday life, sober.
When we don’t like who we are as a drinker, it’s really helpful to have an alternative version of ourselves to aspire towards. This was a key piece of ammo in my fight to move on from an alcohol-fuelled existence so I thought I’d share it with you – I hope it helps.