This guest post comes from Tommy, a 27-year-old working in communications while training to become a counsellor.
Last year, I sat in a fancy restaurant in Wellington with a glass of Otago’s finest red in front of me. As I talked with my wife and best friend about the seven course meal we were devouring, another more anxious conversation was going on inside my head.
“You know this is the last drink you are ever going to have, right?”
Earlier that Saturday, in a time of reflection, I decided to quit drinking alcohol. Over the years, I had toyed with the idea of becoming teetotal, but was never able to convince myself to make that decision. I was always enticed by a freshly-poured pint or the tantalising glugging noise of wine being poured.
It is hard to explain why I had a problem with alcohol, because my recycling bin was never bulging full of empties.
In my uni days, I took part in binge-drinking sessions with my mates. But in my 20s, my drinking habits became more respectable and refined. Blowouts were uncommon. Instead, I enjoyed a couple of drinks at the end of most days. I learned to appreciate oaky wines and fancy beers. A few nights each week, I didn’t drink at all. Surely, my drinking habits were normal? Surely, I was okay?
What no one else could see was that alcohol was ruling my life. It ruled my thoughts, decisions and actions. At dinner parties, where everyone else seemed content with just two glasses of wine, I felt like drinking five – even if I didn’t.
At home, it wasn’t uncommon for me to tell my wife I’d only had two beers while cooking dinner, when really I’d had more. Sometimes, I would wake up at 3am with a thumping headache and a bone-dry mouth, because I had drunk too much.
Each time I considered giving up alcohol, I managed to convince myself my relationship with it wasn’t that bad. Alcohol’s power over me was very subtle. Most of the time – because we live in a culture that is soaked in booze – it was camouflaged. Only occasionally would I catch glimpses of it, peering out of the shadows.
Almost every day, I was in a constant tug-of-war, trying to control the voice in my head that told me I needed to drink.
My lowest moments were when I would drink too much (usually at a social or family function).
My wife raised her concerns about my drinking - but I was always convinced that I didn’t have enough reasons to make any massive changes.
It was when I began to read about the lives of sober people that I had a revelation: I didn’t need a reason to become sober.
Even though I wasn’t drinking a whole bottle of gin each night, I could still decide to quit.
Even if I was only having one drink each night, I could still choose sobriety.
For me, the problem wasn’t exclusively about the volume of my alcohol consumption. The problem was that I relied on it to function. From my teenage years, I used booze to help me relax, ease my anxieties and give my confidence in social settings.
But last year, at the age of 27, I decided that these reasons didn’t hold weight anymore. So, on that Saturday night in October, I finished my glass of red and decided it would be my last.
I knew that my life would be different, but I wanted to taste that new life more than I wanted to taste the latest craft beer. I was tired of waking up feeling foggy and dehydrated, tired of trying to “manage” my drinking, tired of not being honest with myself, and tired of feeling like alcohol was in control of me.
Initially, I didn’t tell anyone I had made this decision. I needed time to come to terms with the idea of a ‘Tommy’ who didn’t drink. I was scared I would morph into a very boring, very serious person.
But I was inspired and encouraged by famous sober people like Billy Connolly, who is still one of the world’s funniest comedians even though he hasn’t touched a drop in years. I am blessed to have a supportive group of friends. When I told them about my decision, they started turning up to dinner parties with sodas instead of shiraz.
My wife, who doesn’t drink often, has been a rock.
It has been four months since I pulled the pin. I have learnt a few tips and tricks to help with my journey. Blogs, podcasts and books on sobriety have been a huge help. Now, when I go to a bar or a social function, I make a plan. In my head, I rehearse my soda and lime order, so that when I am standing in front of shelves heaving with bottles of spirits, the experience is easier.
At 5pm, when I used to pour a drink, I now go running around Wellington’s waterfront. I have filled my social media feed with sober influencers who keep me inspired. Being connected to other sober people through communities like Living Sober is vital.
There have been hard days. Days when I would have loved to reach for a glass of wine to take the edge off. But even on my worst days, I take comfort in knowing that I am no longer controlled by alcohol. I am changing and shaping my life for the better. And, guess what? I’m not boring. In fact, I’m pretty interesting. How many men in their 20s do you know who have decided to get sober?
Sometimes, people don’t understand my decision to quit, because I don’t fit the stereotype of a “problem drinker”. Here’s the best way I can explain it.
When I was drinking, I was walking a dog that was too strong for me. It looked like I was in control, but really, I was being dragged along. Four months ago, I let go of the leash and walked way.
It is the greatest gift I ever gave myself – listening to that voice that told me to stop. My only regret is that I didn't listen sooner.