Life is a series of lessons, big and small

We can’t always be perfect but we can always try to do our best – not just in what we do but in how we do it. Striving to reach goals and aiming high for outward signs of success is all well and good, but I have become far more interested in just striving to be the best version of me that I can. I’ve noticed that there’s a small fraction of a difference between less than ideal, and terrible, between average and fantastic. It’s the details that count.

It’s those few words which are spoken or that decision to be there for someone when you really need to be elsewhere. It’s the seemingly slight changes we make to our diet which either contribute to a feeling of self-confidence or self-loathing – emotions which then often lead to us making further good or bad choices and entering into corresponding cycles of positivity or negativity.

Sometimes it’s the colossal events and momentous decisions that we take throughout the course of our lives that trickle downwards and affect all that is to follow – the partner we choose to marry, the children we plan to have (and which may or may not then materialise), the relocation we decide to accept. Such roads might lead us to a happier place, or not, an easier state of mind, or not, a fulfilling lifestyle, or not. We never know where those big choices will throw us out along life’s path, but we do know that we can try to be the best we can no matter where we end up.

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The lessons we learn as we mature can, and should, be utilised to help us achieve a goal of bettering ourselves. We can, if we examine our histories, recognise patterns of behaviour that have not worked in our favour. We might identify upon close retrospection what triggers certain, less-than-perfect actions. The time we spend alive can be perceived as a series of tutorials, a lifelong system of education, where each year is filled with mistakes that we can employ for creating a brighter future.

We probably won’t get everything in life that we set out to get. There’s bound to be disappointments and pain and suffering around the various corners we turn. What we dream of as children is likely never to come to fruition – at least, not all of it – but we can appreciate the bad stuff for teaching us where we went wrong.

If we begin our journeys through life as though we are a malleable ball of putty, then every knock and let-down, every exciting and happy occasion, each moment of pride and self-satisfaction that we travel through, shapes us further, until, in our old age we represent a lifetime of moulding, of experiences; a sum total of the human experience. Of our own personal human experience.

The 4 Emotional Stages of Sobriety

I stopped drinking in April 2011, embarking on a journey that began in the early hours of one spring morning and which has taken me on a convoluted and emotionally turbulent ride, finally allowing me to climb off into a place that resembles contentment and emotional stability. For anyone who has recently ditched alcohol, I have written the following; it outlines my experiences of the different emotional stages I travelled through in the 23 months between my last drink and today, and I hope that it might help those of you who are new to sobriety by giving you a bit of a heads up of what to expect in this new and exciting chapter of your life.

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Stage 1 – the joys of the natural high

As an alcohol-dependent person who had felt terribly out of control of her own life for many, many years, the first few weeks and months of living as a non-drinker were a breath of fresh air. The joy of waking up each day and not immediately running through a mental checklist of who I had insulted/let down/hurt the night before was beyond compare. I literally jumped out of bed each day, a massive weight of anxiety removed from around my neck. Gone were the fears of developing breast cancer or dying of liver failure; the dreaded guilt and shame that I suffered as a result of doing something stupid and/or irresponsible when under the influence were gone – I felt free as a bird. Going out socially was a wonderful experience, as previously I had always felt butterflies in my stomach as I feared how the night ahead would unfold, never knowing how drunk I would get and where that state of mind would take me. Instead I knew that I was finally calling the shots – I would decide who to talk to, what I said, whether or not I chatted someone up/allowed myself to be chatted up; this was me, and not that idiot who I became after too much wine. This first period was characterised by a sense of freedom, lightness and joy.

Stage 2 – boredom and why me?

OK, nothing lasts forever. After a couple of months, I became beset by a black mood and the doubts began to creep in. The little devil on my shoulder grew in his boldness and whereas the angel had definitely ruled the roost in the early weeks, the voice of addiction became louder and more assertive in this second phase. The following are examples of the conversations I had with my devil; what if I’m not addicted to alcohol? What if I just need to learn how to moderate? Could it be that my boyfriend would prefer me to be more under control to suit him better, and that’s why he professes concern at how much I was drinking?

Who is he to think he can control you? Doesn’t he see that you are a free spirit – you don’t run with the crowds, you are different, untamed; alcohol is a part of who you are. Everyone else in the world is allowed to drink and get drunk – why the hell can’t I? It’s not fair.

In the midst of this period, I initiated a blazing row with my boyfriend (now my fiancé) and told him in no uncertain terms that I was planning on drinking that night. He tried in vain to convince me that it was the addiction talking, but how could it be? It was so convincing and powerful – that was me talking, the voice was coming right from within me. We stormed up to the pub together and he ordered himself a pint and sat outside. I scuttled up to the bar after he had taken his seat, my heart beating ferociously and my cheeks burning.

I ordered a lime and soda.

Every tiny piece of me wanted to buy alcohol except for the tiniest voice, hidden somewhere deep inside me. It told me that I would never change if I bought a glass of wine now; this moment was definitive – it would determine whether I stayed on the road to self-discovery and a better life, or if I returned hell for leather to that old path of destruction. I couldn’t let myself down, and I stuck to my guns.

Stage 3 – resolute but bitter

I turned a corner that night and all doubt was removed. The devil fell away from my shoulder, but nothing replaced him for a long time. There followed months of falling in a vacuum; I accepted my lot as a non-drinker but I wasn’t happy about it. I missed alcohol terribly – I wanted to sit outside pubs in the summer, laughing gaily over a big glass of icy cold white wine. I wanted to get glammed up and drink cocktails in a fancy bar, enjoying the sense of relaxation, of throwing caution to the wind and forgetting my cares for a night. At times, I hated other people for being ‘allowed’ to drink. This was a very difficult stage.

After several months of this, I read Jason Vale’s book, ‘How to Kick the Drink…Easily!’ and my life changed. I suddenly saw alcohol for what it really is, and I knew that all those voices and cravings I had felt over the last year or so were as a result of slowly weaning myself off a very powerful and prevalent, socially acceptable drug. I gave myself a break – began to let go of the regrets and shame that I was still carrying around with me. The bitterness slowly dissolved into contentment; the sun began to shine once again.

Stage 4 – understanding me, as a non-drinker

The final stage is the best. Over the last couple of years I have worked through many emotions and feelings of regret, sadness, anger, bitterness, sorrow, remorse, jealousy and fear. After a good year and a half, the negativity became noticeably reduced; as my self-esteem grew and my appreciation of the world and everything in it was heightened due to the clarity that comes from not poisoning your body with alcohol on an almost daily basis, it was as though the bad thoughts were mopped up one by one by my new found positivity and optimistic take on life.

I stopped experiencing wine envy when I walked past a pub full to bursting with drunken, loud revellers, but I didn’t huff and puff either – drinking is their choice, just as not drinking is mine. I love my life and I am grateful every day that alcohol no longer plays a part in it. I never have moments on a Friday night like the ones I had in the early days – DVD, nice bottle of wine, oh how wonderful it would feel to just kick back and slowly feel the alcohol ameliorating all my anxieties. It simply isn’t a part of my consciousness any more – I drove it out and replaced my addiction with happiness and good health.

It would have been perhaps easier to jump straight from Stage 1 to Stage 4, but the journey has allowed me to learn so much about who I really am, minus the veneer of alcohol, and I wouldn’t have missed it out even if I could have. I had no idea that when I stopped drinking it would be necessary to undergo such emotional turbulence; to feel as though my old self has been through a seriously intense recalibration before being reinstalled with a new lease of life, eventually leaving a turbocharged version of me back in the driving seat of my future. I didn’t expect any of that, but I am 100% happy that it happened.