My 2nd weekly personal blog - This one was hard to write.
I have an anniversary this week that I'm still trying to decide if, and how I should celebrate. The day marks 365 days since I made a decision that would turn out to benefit a range of physical, mental and financial aspects of my life. However, the decision was made after an event occurred that scared me into quitting.
I had been thinking about this on and off for quite some time, however, I kept coming up with excuses as to why I couldn't commit. Excuse after excuse, reason after reason. I always found one.
When habits are engrained into us it can be hard to break them. Especially when we find enjoyment out of them. The thing's that are bad for us can also bring us huge amounts of pleasure. I guess, part of the knowing that its 'bad' for you adds an element of gratification that we hold onto.
I allowed society to teach me that this was the way it should be to enjoy myself. I used this as an excuse. Kind of using a 'bigger' power as the reason I continued. Almost as if it is making the decision for me. The 'well it's just what you do, so accept it and get on with it' attitude.
The conscious thinking about this usually occurs when my mental health was at a low point and when I have an air of regret. I also had an element of fear in breaking the habit. Even though it has contributed to regular times of low mental health, I've also used the habit as a confidence booster, a mask, a costume, a disguise to my thought, feelings and insecurities. I've used it to my advantage.
Truth is, part of the reason for not quitting is the enhanced confidence I get assisted me meeting awesome people, making great memories, being included in friendship groups, being included. However, this same enhanced confidence was putting myself in situations that I'm not proud of and could have been dangerous.
After a considerable change in my life in the last 13 years, without realising it. I had been using alcohol as substance to help me have confidence to work out who I actually am. I didn't know until quite recently it was an unhealthy. Each weekend i'd put on a new costume and try playing a new character, with the help of a few pints and rum and coke. (kraken usually)
I don't class myself as an alcoholic and in the early part of my first year of being sober, I would tell people "I don't have a problem with alcohol, I just don't have the time to be hungover any more I want to be able to see the full day and make the most of my life" This is not a lie, but I just see it differently now and maybe more importantly for me. I can say it out loud. I did have a problem.
Let me tell you how I used it, maybe it will be familiar...
Stress of life builds. Sometimes without me even knowing. Hour by hour, day by day, week by week. Then I'd have a drink with friends and that lightness ascends. A relaxing feeling wraps my body and mind in comfort. I laugh, I joke, I have deep and meaningful conversations. Everything just seems a little easier and brighter. Life through rose tinted glasses. The feeling is addictive.
I would then have 3 or 4 pints and just want to keep that feeling alive. I wanted to feed the feeling with the thing I knew would keep it there longer. More alcohol. The feeling is great.
A common side effect of drinking alcohol is dehydration. As the night went on, I'd get thirsty and get more alcohol to quench my thirst. I'd got myself in a state that I couldn't see the difference between what the difference between drinking water or alcohol would have on my night. So, i'd choose alcohol.
I'd 'dance' ( will talk more about that later) I'd meet new people. I'd laugh and make people laugh. Life suddenly feels great! Work is work, financial worries, who cares. YOLO! At the same time, other feelings would also come to the surface. My low anxious thought would jump at me out of nowhere like a jack in the box! Get another drink and push the box closed again. I would also never admit this before, but I was lonely. The low thoughts and need to be loved would slowly and intently start to cloud my night.
There is a song by bastille that would resonate with me a lot in these times.
Those Nights. - these words sing so true!!!
"Those nights when your friends are gone
When you're holding on for someone to leave with
Those nights when you crave someone
To be there at dawn, to wake with 'cause aren't we all just
Looking for a little bit of hope these days
Looking for somebody you can wake up with
Looking for a little bit of hope these days
We are, we are"
This was me. Friends would make a wise decision to go home or they had found someone to go home with. I'd be there hanging on to the feeling of euphoria. Feeding the dark cloudy feeling with more alcohol. (rum and coke at this time of night) to hide the trickle of negative thoughts that had started to show themselves.
Then, its 6am! The sun is rising and I'm making my way home alone. The regrets are already starting to show, the anxiety would grow minute by minute. I'd tell myself that sleep is my cure. Get home,and re-hydrate
But then I'd wake and feel pretty terrible! Going over the nights activities and trying to remember all I said and did. Checking my phone, scrolling social media, checking in on peoples version of the night.
For the next few days I'd be 'fine', however functioning at 70/80 % of capacity. I'd still be tired from the all nighter. The effects of the alcohol are still making their way out of my system and I'd tell myself that "next time Lee, just have a couple and move onto water, or go home"
I never 'craved alcohol' I did crave the lightness that alcohol gave me. I could go sometime weeks without drinking it and I didn't really ever drink alone. A couple of times in lockdown but thats it. However, when I did choose to drink, I could never just stop after a couple. I'd want more. I'd tell myself I deserve this and it was going to be different this time. After 'the event', things had to change! Enough was enough.
When the time had come to stick to my decision I spoke with a friend of mine who had decided to give up a few years before. Having that person there to support was great. It wasn't because I craved it and needed a sponsor. It's because I didn't know how to communicate my decision to people on nights out and events where there would be drinking.
I started off by telling people " Im not drinking tonight" which would return a barrage of questions and comments;
Oh go on, just have one!!
Im only having a couple, just go home when I do.
I've not been out with you for ages and now you are not drinking
Oh, now I feel bad in drinking. Go on, have one with me and see how you feel.
and, if you are a woman, I sure there would have been pregnancy rumours.
Before, I caved at these taunts. Using them as the reason why I would drink and then I could also blame the person who encouraged me for drink if I got too messy that night.
This time was different. I had to stick with it and little did I know the biggest tool I would have to help me stick to what I wanted was language. Changing the sentence from "Im not drinking tonight" to "I don't drink".
The example I was given to help with this was.
Friend : Are you a smoker?
Me : No,I responded.
Friend : When someone offerers you a cigarette you don't say, Im not smoking tonight, you just say, I don't smoke.
That was it! I had to start owning my decision - so I did. One event and one challenge at a time.
So here I am, now a year down the line. The memory of that night that gave me the kick to kick the drink. Im not willing to put myself in a position anymore like that night.
Since I made the decision.
I have seen more sunrises where I have chosen to be up at that time.
My bank balance is greater and I invest a proportion of the money I would easily spend on a night out on me and 'my house'. Looking at preventative measures to help keep my body in working order.
My sleep is more structured and better.
I find a lot more enjoyment in being alone and no longer get FOMO (fear of missing out)
I find it easy to say no and feel comfortable in my decision.
I dance, I actually dance! My body no longer convulses to the rhythm of someone else in a club. I hear the music. I feel the music and I get the endorphin kick and I love it.
I have kissed far less frogs.
I have also enjoyed trying a range of non alcoholic beverages. Some are great, and yes! They don't all taste the same but thats ok. I have trained my taste buds and learnt to enjoy them. Just like when we go from full fat coke to diet or zero! We get used to it.
The more I talk about me not drinking makes it more normal to the people around me. Seeing people enjoy a beer, nonny or not and being able to enjoy one at the same time ( always nonny for me) is just great.
I do miss a glass of good red wine with a meal though. Enjoying a bottle with a friend and a plate of cheese! I also love mulled wine - that festive feeling you get when drinking it. It was fine though, enjoyed the smell and had a couple non alcoholic ones.
The question I get asked all the time is - will you ever drink again.
The honest answer is split in two. I'm stubborn so I hope not as I like being sober! At the same time I also think I'm not adverse to never drinking again, maybe I will! I am in a position where I can make a choice and I fully respect people where the choice is no longer there. I was not addicted to alcohol.
I very much feel ok at the 'one more day' - I don't wake up and have to think and tell myself "Im not going to drink today" because I don't drink and it's become part of who I am. - but one day, maybe I will enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese board with friends or even a lovely guy. (Still single)
On the single note, thats an interesting one and I have had 3 dates in the year. The first one I chose not to say anything before the date. It was while I was away with a friend in the early part of my year and I really 'stressed' my self over knowing what to say.
The second date, I just said! Im a lot more confident about who I am and my decision now. Funny that I think I used alcohol to try and work out who I was, but, i've never known myself better than I do now and Im sober.
I used to say to my friends that I wouldn't date someone that didn't drink. That was more of a reflection of me than them. I see that now!
I just wanted to end this very open blog on you, the reader... assuming there is one.
If a friend wants a night off drinking, great! Doesn't mean they have a problem or they are pregnant. They are just making a decision.
If you see a friend or an acquaintance who you know doesn't drink with a beer bottle in their hand. Don't assume and tell them 'I knew you would fail' There are a lot of awesome zero beers out there now!! it doesn't mean they are drinking and who are you to say they have failed!! Be a friend who supports and raises people up. Not someone trying to catch people out.
Anyway March is here and I'm actually on the ITV News tonight talking about this. It also means we are set to open the shed, clean down those paddle boards and embark on a season full of paddling and wholesome adventures!!
See you all soon