This guest post comes from member @emjaycee. A writer friend of mine (and sober hero!) based in Christchurch.
Once you have made the decision to quit alcohol, the practicalities of navigating the social spaces of your life loom into view.
In late May, 2016, when I was considering total abstinence, my main worry was impending events; a family holiday to Noosa, my 40th in October, Christmas (of course), New Years, and a friends’ reunion (touring the vineyards around Queenstown no less).
Every time I had tried to knock the drinking on the head for a period, that worry had dominated my thought processes. I mean, is there ever a good time to quit? There’s seemingly always something pulling you back to the bar. When you make the decision to quit indefinitely, or forever, you have to make peace with all of this.
Like most, my first drinking was within the relative safety of family parties at home, followed closely by the usual teenage experimenting. A lot of my heavier drinking was done in the testosterone-filled environment of the various rugby teams I played for; the after-match drinks at our tatty sponsor pub, or the ‘fun’ and games of the changing-shed Court Sessions. Most of us played for the ‘reward’ of drinking after the games, most commonly well into the night.
Solid, life-long friends were made on those nights, but the binge-to-fill-your-boots philosophy carried into my general drinking and became my unhealthy pattern. In those days, the boozing seemed an essential part of being a man – a rite of passage. The classic rugby documentary The Ground We Won reminds me of that time in my life.
Mainly, I drank to relax into social settings, to feel a part of things (one of the boys), to feel less of a self-conscious outsider. Alcohol gave me confidence, or so I thought. Now, of course, I see the harm it did to my body and spirit. In recent years the messy aftermath of my worst binges became more and more unacceptable to me. Towards the end my drinking was causing me to feel shame and regret.
A year and a half ago, I flew to Wellington to interview Lotta Dann for an article about Living Sober. I told her I was rethinking my drinking. I had a catchup with my old Dad’s Group mates at a pub the next day and I confessed I was nervous about not drinking. Her advice helped me hugely in my early sober days. This is the gist of what she said:
“Is it about seeing your mates and have a good time with them?” she asked. “Or is it about what’s in your glass? Concentrate on your mates.”
Once I had made the decision to quit, stressing about being around drinkers was counterproductive. But everything takes practice. Every night out is an opportunity to practice feeling comfortable sober in a booze-soaked world. I choose to focus on the positives; being able to drive, waking up in the morning tired but not hungover, remembering everything, being connected. I told myself that if anyone was a dick about my non-drinking then it would be about them and not me.
If you’re solid in your decision, no one can move you.
At my 40th, I concentrated on savouring the time with my guests, and testing myself to make my speech sober. I remember the sense of accomplishment in how much I had enjoyed the party. I proved to myself that I could have a BETTER time sober – that I didn’t need alcohol to survive socially.
I occasionally pine to be part of the drinking when the boys gather and the first round of beers hits the table. But these feelings pass. With the passing of time alcohol has become less and less important to the point it no longer appeals at all.
I love being sober.
I have no regrets.