June 19, 2016, I gave up drinking. Admittedly I had a brief interlude in 2018, where I started again, but even then I knew it really wasn’t for me. I have talked little about this journey, although in retrospect, like so many big decisions, events, joys, and tragedies life delivers us all, this one has had lasting effects. The impacts I know, are evident in every day I live. A life, I now live, with a load more clarity.
Call it an addiction, call it overdoing something or call it an escape. Whatever you label it, (and it could be working, drinking, eating, exercising, sex, too much news or social media or anything that makes you want to run away – from yourself, your situation, and life) – it is ALL the same. My escape was drinking. It didn’t stop me being a successful busy productive business owner, single parent, and overachiever. I was functional. It was ‘just’ a few wines to drown the endless overwhelm, forget the ‘busy-ness’ for a while or to switch off and escape!
There is always an excuse. I could come up with the best of them and I used them all. We justify our behaviours in what we say to ourselves versus what it really is.
- I deserve <insert your own escape route> after that ‘hard day at work = I need to escape reality.
- I need a drink just to relax = I need to numb my senses.
- It is a celebration, its Xmas, St Patty Day, my birthday = I need to fit in to the rules that life can’t be celebrated without alcohol
- I don’t get hangovers = I am just pure grumpy after a big night – guess what – that’s aka a hangover
- Catching up with friends = wine o’clock,
Wine not? It would be rude not to, one for the road, the day, the week, the occasion. Any reason will do, the day has a Y in it, was a good one :). It was the only way I could escape.
It is at some point you have to question. What are you masking? The fact you hate your job, can’t talk to your spouse without a few under the belt, the reality that life, as it stands is not all roses? Countless times I wasn’t present because I was hungover, I missed something or didn’t have energy. Then the guilt would set in and I would beat myself up over being a bad mother, partner, or boss.
Giving up your route to escape means having to face life head on. This is THE hardest part of it. Reality is right bang smack in your face, no filters. There is no escape. You must deal with life and all its emotions, when they occur instead of burying them, or ignoring them, or shutting them down. You have to remove the mask and ask yourself WHY a whole lot more. Why do I need to escape? What from? There is vulnerability in admitting you perhaps have a problem, no matter how small or big it is. It is easier to leave life as status quo, even if that sucks also.
We think we can handle stress with a few glasses. Sadly, that is a short-term fix. The resulting hangover, associated anxiety bouts (which for me, got worse as I got older, even after a couple of drinks) , then create more stress and guess what – those same problems I was running from still existed the next day also.
The control is however what finally convinced me. I wanted to be the one in control, not letting alcohol dictate that I ‘needed’ that wine at the end of the day. I didn’t want the amount I drank control where I went (because I couldn’t enjoy just one drink and would have to drive home). I hated feeling a loss of control, the necessity of stopping at a liquor store to stock up and make sure there was enough in the cupboard when people came to visit. God forbid we ran out! Waking up fresh and having true clarity is pure gold. I am in control.
It does become normal
At some stage, whatever your vice, or escapism or addiction, it becomes “ok” to do without. Instead of feeling you are the abnormal one (which I still deal with – “oh you don’t drink”), over time I have adjusted my own perception. Our society is changing and also becoming more accepting of “not drinking”. There is rising trends with seed lip, Kombucha and amazing mock-tails in bars. Young people are seeing how senseless it is to waste our lives in a blur and how good it is to be authentically you.
Some societies (especially in the family and country I grew up in) make alcohol an expected norm. I would think I needed alcohol to join in the fun, belong and be part of the party. In reality, the fun of a party, is seeing people and having valuable and deep conversations. So many rituals involve alcohol; weddings, celebrations, relaxation with friends or the team spirit of joining in Friday night drinks. If we look at the reason behind the ritual, our focus can move to amazing conversations, lifelong friendships, forming new rituals like walks in nature – soaking in life and not the liquor. All of a sudden these occasions have MORE meaning, not LESS. We are gaining something, not missing out!
Changing the mindset
It took years to transform from saying to others (and believing myself) “I am not drinking” to “I don’t drink. I am not drinking, means for today, or this month, or for some particular reason or occasion. The connotation is temporary and highlights where my thinking was at then. This is a vast difference to being able to say “I don’t drink” which takes a complete change in mindset. It is the beliefs and perceptions of how we see ourselves, as a different person.
Self-awareness in any form is a journey, and discovering this consciousness has been a big part of giving up drinking for me. I love the clarity. This isn’t just enjoying early mornings without the foggy brain, but in facing up to who I am, instead of escaping. I love knowing I am in control, responsible for everything in my life, and in how I act and react. I love the fact, it has opened doors, to doing things I would not have otherwise considered. Walking this path, seeing my own weaknesses only increases my appreciation for people and where they are at on their own journeys.
It has certainly taught me to have patience with myself throughout a very long process (which is ongoing!). The process has taken a raft of approaches; great books, podcasts, people and insights to get me to where I am. I could write another blog on tools and lessons learnt. Please sing out if that is of interest and maybe I will :).
And if you are just starting out, or considering taking up this challenge, please also reach out – I would love to chat and share anything I can that helped me.
Work-life Balance My Ass!
EARLY HEADS UP – I have written a book! It is due to come out in late July. If you want to be notified about it, please complete the form hereDebbie Ireland