Her Sobriety: the ultimate gift of self-love

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Since I can remember, I’ve had nightmares where I’m in public and I’m missing an item of clothing. Usually it’s underpants. I’m cool, calm and collected, until I look down and realise I’m naked from the waist down.
I’ve come to understand this might be a fear of being ‘exposed’ quite literally, or a fear of being vulnerable, to really be seen.

So, I guess this is me facing those fears.

This piece of writing is like my public declaration of some major life changes that have happened in the past six months. The biggest change and the absolute catalyst for everything that has followed, was my decision to give up alcohol.
There are people who know me, who don’t know I’ve given up drinking. That’s not a coincidence. Until recently, I carefully orchestrated the events and social gatherings I went to so that it didn’t come up, or if it did, I didn’t make a big thing of it. Afterall, I had my non-drinking L-plates on and didn’t want to make it any harder on myself.

Today I’m strong enough to deal with it being a big deal. It is.

When I have socialised I’ve noticed there is always that moment. People know I’ve been a fervent consumer of all things booze for many years, so when I’m there with a sparkling water in my hand, there’s always the question:

‘Aren’t you drinking?’

‘Let me get you a drink?’

‘What’s up with that?’

To which I reply:

‘I’m not drinking.’

And then one of the following response follows:

‘Tonight or for the month?’

‘Like not forever, right?’

‘Why would you do that?’

Or, there’s the really stupid response, ‘Are you pregnant?’ (Like yeah, I’m 42 with three grown children and a husband who’s had a vasectomy but yeah, I’m pregnant!)

This is when I admit:

‘Yep, for good.’

The irony is, if you replace the word ‘drinking’ for ‘smoking’ you see just how weird these conversations are.

I read once that alcohol is the only substance you must justify not taking (thank you Annie Grace).

After the initial realisation that I’m one of ‘those teetotallers’ now, people either move away so fast it’s hilarious, or change the subject which is just as funny. But more often than not, further questions follow about my decision and ultimately, they then give me their five minute monologue on why wine is so important to them and how it is the cornerstone of their life and how they could never do that.
Mind you, I never asked about their consumption and my decision has nothing to do with them!

I’ve included so much detail around these conversations as they were part of the greatest fear I had around giving up. I believed I’d be lonely, people wouldn’t like me and I would make others uncomfortable with my decision.
When I was very early on with sobriety, these thoughts plagued me, and I tried to control and plan for every circumstance to prevent them from happening.

The truth is, my fears were absolutely realised. I made myself lonely by isolating myself and thinking no one else could ever understand my decision. Yes, people did get uncomfortable. Hell, I think people are going to choose not to read this because it makes them so uncomfortable. But guess what? That says more about their own decisions and how/why they make them, then it does about mine, so I’m okay leaving that were it belongs – with them.

Onto the next part: Why?

I found this initially very hard to verbalise, even to my husband (who has not made the same decision as me and that is 100 per cent okay).
In 2017 I did two separate dry months, just because I felt like it and to see if I could. At no time did I think it was a rehearsal for the Big End to my drinking career, it just felt right at the time.
Towards the end of November, which was my second dry month, I just didn’t feel the need to start drinking again. But, Christmas was on its way and by mid-December I started to drink again, mainly at social functions and friend’s houses to ‘celebrate’. As usual, we stocked up the beer fridge for the coming holidays and let’s just say Dan Murphy’s was very happy with us, as he always was.

But drinking had lost its sparkle for me. I was either stopping after one or two drinks and then feeling bummed out for no particular reason or I went way over the top and drank until I feel asleep. It was like a bad marriage between wine and me, that neither of us wanted to be in but couldn’t leave. We still wound up in bed together somehow and all the same feelings of guilt and shame followed the next morning.

I found the days I did drink, even one glass, I would hear myself saying, ‘I can’t believe I drank today’ and not really knowing where this voice was coming from. I wasn’t on a ‘dry’ month and had made no promises to myself or anyone else around drinking. The argument in my head was becoming exhausting.

I should give some perspective to my story. I don’t identify as an alcoholic and drinking has never stopped me from turning up to work or getting my kids to school. I wasn’t at a point where alcohol prevented me from functioning in my day-to-day life.
I do, however, describe myself as a problem drinker. We started dating, alcohol and I, at the very early age of 13. Every emotion I ever felt was celebrated or commiserated with a drink.

Happy, wine. Sad, wine. Stressed, wine. Celebrate, Champagne. Long day, wine. Missed budget, wine. Made budget, wine. Fight with my husband, vodka. Date night, wine. Catch up with friends, cocktails. Alone on the couch, wine.
Drinking had a quality to it that I can only describe as seductive. The first glass was the warm up. With the second one I felt its smooth release and the third, well, that was the gateway to finishing the bottle. And when I say glasses, I’m not talking about the standard glass (did you know a bottle has between six and eight standard glasses?) I’m talking about my favourite crystal glasses that, when filled to the widest point (so it can breathe, darling), would be two standard drinks easily.

Over the years I learnt that when I drank my emotions, they didn’t go away. They just got pushed down and compressed. If I went to bed with my stress levels at half way, I woke up with my stress levels half way. I thought those glasses of wine were helping me, but they were just numbing me so I didn’t have to feel. The next morning, I could ‘feel’ and it was never a good thing.

This is where my self-proclaimed definition of ‘problem drinker’ comes in. I wasn’t dealing with any of my emotional stuff. Not the day-to-day things and certainly not the trauma and events from years gone by.
Anger was a go-to for me, it was my default emotion and many, many people have been on the receiving end of my temper. I read a quote a few years ago, ‘Anger is Sad’s bodyguard’. I knew this was another breadcrumb to follow but didn’t make the connection until much later.

When I had dry months, I got a glimpse of what it was like to actually deal with your own stuff. I’d have these Defcon 5 reactions to things and I would even surprise myself and think, ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ I now know those were my real feelings ‘un-numbed’ coming to the surface.

My explanation for being a non-drinker now, is one of two ways:

  • My life is better without it (in social situations)
  • So I can feel all the feels (with closer friends)

I actually have a connection to myself now. I know what my heart, soul and body are trying to tell me, to show me. To know that I learn from what I feel and how to be an emotionally mature adult and deal with it, in a healthy way. To heal myself by feeling the pain and working with it (like childbirth) instead of numbing it and resisting the teachings of my own life.

My first 90 days of sobriety were tough, and yet they were also a beautifully, awkward awakening at the same time.

I felt completely lonely as I’ve described above, and I also felt completely raw and exposed. It was as though my nerves were on the outside of my skin and I could get emotional about anything and everything.
But in those days and months, I received the gift of clarity. Things just seemed so clear to me and direction became obvious. I kept thinking, ‘Why haven’t I seen this before?’

I felt more connected to my husband and my kids and actually started hugging people! I used to describe myself as a ‘prickly person’ who didn’t like human contact. If you came in for a hug, I’d literally step back and extend my hand instead. I could never let anyone ‘in’ physically or emotionally. I could never be vulnerable, and without that, I’ve learnt, you can’t have real and deep relationships with people. It’s no wonder I’ve been described as aloof, bitchy or stand-offish in the past.

During this time I started to write more, and it seemed to resonate with more people because it was real. I couldn’t help but feel, and then inject that into expressing myself.

This clarity has led to expansion in my business and a new business direction as well. I am so aware now of what I find fulfilling and what I don’t. I now have these things called boundaries where I get to choose between the two and I feel okay about saying no to stuff that doesn’t light me up.

I will never say I can’t drink. To me, that surrenders my ability to choose and my power of free will that is my birthright. I prefer to say I choose not to drink, because it’s my decision and I take full responsibility for that choice and the reasons behind it.
I don’t want this to sound like it has been easy, or that after a few months, I’m some guru of sobriety – neither of these are correct.

There are regular moments where I walk into my kitchen and I hear my brain give the order for my hand to grab a glass of wine and I have to physically tell myself, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ Or, we go out to dinner and I see fully stocked walls of red wine and beautiful glassware and think how perfectly a South Australian Shiraz would match my meal and warm me up on a cold night. In those moments, I remind myself that it would be harder to stop if I started again and to think of all the benefits I’ve found from not using alcohol to fill myself up, literally.

Social media is another tricky area. I can scroll through my Instagram feed and see groups of women smiling in a gorgeous setting with champagne flutes, saluting the camera. That somehow makes me feel different to everyone else. But I again remember, I’m choosing to be different for the gifts it brings.

This is not my attempt to become the evangelical saviour of all women from the perils of drinking or the start of a rebellious campaign against alcohol availability or tightened drinking laws. I know many people can partake and not have the same emotional attachment or, let’s face it, relationship with alcohol that I did.

This is my attempt to add my voice to the others who have decided sober living is a better way of life for them. To let people know there is another way to live.
For me, sobriety has become the ultimate gift of self-love that I can give myself.

Are you wanting to change your relationship with alcohol? Hello Sunday Morning is a fantastic online community helping people do just that, in a supportive and safe environment.

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