The Person We Could Be

“Why can’t I drink like a ‘normal’ person?”

This is a question I’m sure many of the people on Soberistas have asked themselves at one time or another; I know I have. “Why can’t I go to that party and enjoy a few drinks like everyone else, and not end up embarrassing myself or collapsing in a corner or arguing loudly and drunkenly with people?”

“Why, oh why?”

This morning I read this article in The Guardian, an incredibly sad and moving piece written by a woman whose mother drank herself to death and who, during her lifetime, was a loving mum (albeit with unresolved issues).

These two states of being are not mutually exclusive. When I drank, I was also, for the vast majority of the time, a good mum. My older daughter (the little one was born after I stopped drinking for good) has always been the apple of my eye. She saved me from a life of complete self-destruction because if anything was to pull me back from the brink, it was her gorgeous little self, born in 1999, a long time before I understood my demons and started to get a handle on them. Without her in my life, I have often supposed I wouldn’t be here at all today.

The Guardian piece made me think that there are many people in the world who just shouldn’t drink. Because we are not able “to drink like normal people”, and when we do, we turn into monsters; we change from the inside out, we are not the people we were meant to me. Donald Trump, as a famous non-drinker, cited his reasoning for abstinence as recognition of the fact that he had the alcoholic tendency in his genes; he knew he would get into trouble with drink. Trump is not a man with whom I find myself agreeing with over much, but in this case I absolutely do.

During the last six years that I’ve spent sober, I have gradually come to accept that I too ‘get into trouble with drink’. It’s a place I don’t ever want to revisit. That woman, who is not me – with the drunken mask that overshadows my real, true self – is one I never want to encounter again.

What a great thing it is to have this realisation and be able to slam the brakes on before we reach the end of the road, before we get to that place where people will describe our demise as one being brought about by alcohol. We have the chance to stop now, and not become the person who drank themselves to death. We have the chance to make new memories and show people that we are not those individuals who are governed and defined and repeatedly ruined by drink.

That chance is today, it is right now. It is the acceptance that some of us do not mix well with alcohol. And there are a lot of us; it’s not a unique condition. I believe that if we can have more conversations about alcohol misuse and the fact that many people are simply unable to drink in moderation then we will begin to get help to the people who want and need it.

Often, all it takes is a simple reflection, the chance to see in someone else one’s own behaviour. From there, a person is able to say, “That’s me. That is my story”. And usually, this marks the very beginning of turning the corner.

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Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; life without alcohol means living a life  that’s anchored in reality, rather than chasing the promise of the carefree and extraordinary pleasures that alcohol dangles but never delivers.

The reason I am reminded of this tonight is because it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. In days gone by, I would have been eagerly anticipating this occasion because somewhere amidst the cup of tea in bed, the handmade card, the thoughtful gift and the sudden and out of character display of help around the house, would have been the beckoning finger of several large glasses of wine.

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It might have been a meal booked in a restaurant, or friends or family invited round to the house for a Sunday roast, but however the celebration manifested itself, wine would have been on the cards.

The first glass would have been the appetiser, a taste of things to come. After half a bottle had gone, the nervousness would have begun – how long can I make that last for? Would it be terrible to crack a second bottle before we’ve reached 3 pm? Feeling slightly drunk and the meal is going to pot…would it be ok to just kick back and get drunk for the rest of the day?

The present and the handmade card would drift into a distant memory; the day would lose its meaning and become a lazy, hazy afternoon marred by the effects of the crisp, cold liquid poured into the glasses like a tinkling fountain constantly flowing until bedtime.

Thank God those days have entered into the history books. Thank God the person who did that has woken up to reality and seen the damage that those apparently innocuous and fun Sundays did to those around her. Thank God the person who drank alcohol in such a reckless fashion will be having a very different day on Mother’s Day, 2013.

This mum will be getting up with the baby at 6 am, because she can’t think of anything she would rather do than see that happy little face smiling from the cot at first light. This mum will be going to the gym with her eldest daughter later in the morning for a swim and a coffee, and then spending the afternoon with her wonderful family, eating, laughing and chatting. The day will be real. There will be no recriminations, arguments, or regrets. There will be no addiction looming in the mind of this mum, nothing to steal a single thought away from real life.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and it’s about mothers, and nothing else.

Hitting the Bottle

As my baby is almost six months old, I have made the decision to stop breastfeeding. Yesterday I reduced the breast feeds down to just one at bed time and plan to gradually decrease these over the coming week. A catalyst for this is because tomorrow, I turn 37, and my other half, my eldest daughter and me are off to ‘Go Ape,’ where we will spend a few hours swinging around tree tops and whizzing down zip wires; my alternative plan to the usual ‘let’s get plastered in a pub somewhere’ notion of how to have fun on your birthday (zip wiring was suggested by Sue on WordPress – thank you Sue). Mum and Dad are babysitting, hence it seems as good a time as any to begin the switch to bottle-feeding.

Giving up breastfeeding is an emotional rollercoaster, for me at least. I will most likely not have another baby, and so it follows that I will never breastfeed again, once I finish for good in a few days. There is something so uniquely wonderful about nursing your child, having the knowledge that you are providing their only sustenance and sharing a bond that no other person on the planet could have with your baby. Those middle-of-the-night rendezvous, the two of you cuddled together in private harmony, innately understanding just what it is you are meant to be doing to keep the other happy, the gulf of age bridged by the simple act of supplying food – there is nothing like it in the world. And I know that I will miss it.

I am happy that I chose to feed my baby in this way for the first half-year of her life, and I am even happier that the reason I am now switching to bottles is not because I want to drink alcohol again. I breastfed my eldest child for 16 weeks, and at the age of 23 that felt like an eternity. Keen to get out socialising again (for socialising, read ‘boozing’) I knocked the nursing on the head in favour of being able to get drunk with my friends again. I realise that age brings wisdom, but it still fills me with sadness that I could not recognise what a wonderful privilege breastfeeding is, and how making the ‘sacrifice’ of being teetotal for a further six months post-pregnancy is no sacrifice at all when you are providing your baby with such a good start in life. (I know that some mothers are unable to breastfeed, and their children are perfectly healthy – I don’t mean to point the finger here. It worked for me, and so I am naturally in its favour).

My life is becoming busier, I am working a lot on our upcoming website, Soberistas.com and am therefore becoming more reliant on other people babysitting, and I have fulfilled what I set out to do – exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months (just shy by a week or two). And yet deciding to switch to bottles marks a new chapter for my baby; that magical, primal connection that the two of us have enjoyed since the day I discovered I was pregnant, is reaching its conclusion. It feels like she is embarking upon the first tiny step she will take towards independence.

When I finished breastfeeding my eldest daughter, I remember being overwhelmed with guilt and confusion, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I knew that the real reason behind me switching her to bottles was because I hankered after getting some of my old life back, I felt as though I had done ‘my bit’ to a degree and I just wanted to get on with living. There are none of those feelings this time around, just an acceptance that now seems like the right time, for me and the baby, and the knowledge that I will miss it (although the thought of getting a proper night’s sleep is wonderful!) once it has gone.

When I feed her for the last time, it will be an emotional experience. But again I am reminded of how much I have grown up and become less selfish as a result of giving up drinking – I have made a measured decision, weighing up the pros and cons for both of us (mainly the baby) and doing what is right for her, primarily. I will continue to be teetotal, to eat nutritious food (and now to begin cooking/pureeing it for the baby too) and to treat my body with respect, just as I had to do during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I will do it as I finally have some self-respect, it makes me happy and because I am setting an example to my two girls.