I haven’t drunk alcohol for many years. I used to drink a lot. Too much in fact. Too much for my body to take. To me, it was like I was getting one over the world. Like the kid smoking behind the bike shed who thinks he’s is a rebel. I wanted to rebel. Against what? I never knew, I was always too drunk to find a cause. In the end not drinking became my cause. I put that first and then everything started to fall into place behind it. I know why I stopped, I had to. I couldn’t take it anymore. Years before I had sought help for depression when I was left with two choices; death or help. Reaching out for help was the smartest thing I ever did. Drinking backed me into a similar corner; death or sobriety. I hated pretty much everything and everyone by that point but I still wanted to live. Fuck knows where the optimism was hiding but it was keeping me going. I decided to quit. The second greatest decision I ever made.
So what has kept me going? I don’t have a program per se. I don’t have a god or higher power, beyond life in all its glory. I don’t have a daily routine. I have sat in cold halls on winter nights in AA meetings trying to find something to get me through. I have meditated and exercised. I’ve travelled far and wide. I walked pilgrimages and read books. I’ve listened to music that gave me the strength to just get through. I cleaned my workshop from top to bottom when my mum was having brain surgery and I wasn’t sure she would pull through. I’ve phoned people when I have needed to. I try to give as much of my sobriety away as possible. It doesn’t disappear by sharing it. It only gets stronger. I have realised, that like any animal, I will do whatever it takes to keep going. And without sobriety or being alcohol-free, I will have nothing. To drink is to die. As long as I remember the pain and suffering I had to go through to get to today I will never let it slip away. I will do whatever is needed whenever it is needed to get through. I do not care what people think. If the people who know me would rather me drink to be fun than to be sober and live, they do not have my back. They are not interested in supporting me. They are either afraid of me holding a mirror to their lie or I am supporting the platform that makes them feel better about themselves. I will not die for social acceptance. I say no to expectation and yes to life. Even in its current muted form.
I had to find a system that worked for me. I had to find what I liked and built an ad hoc plan. Which has a current success rate of 100% for as long as I haven’t drunk. The first time I quit I was 29 years old. My liver was screaming for a break. I lasted seven months until I succumbed to boredom and listened to the tales of deception that I weaved for myself. “It’ll be different this time,” so says the alky at the top of a slippery slope. A speedy return to the days of old was the reward for that bit of delusion. As if by magic alcohol returned and my money and integrity vanished. On reflection what I hadn’t done was fill the void with anything meaningful. I was just bucketing water out of the Titanic. I didn’t have the tools to keep a mental note of the weather in my head. I didn’t see the storm clouds on the horizon.
Now, I know. If I’m getting uneasy or wound up, I go for a walk. Or a run. Plus, I need a creative outlet. I have to eat well, sleep well and generally treat myself as someone I like. Which means I buy myself treats. I use the same reward system that I used for alcohol; I have done XY today, so I can have some chocolate. It keeps me moving. It keeps me balanced. That’s important. Balance. I used to crash through moods like a rocket returning to earth. Adulation would be replaced by despair within an evening. Mania and depression were just part of life I thought. I thought wild swings were normality and the only people who had balance were flatlining. I still have moments of wild thinking thankfully I became my own horse whisperer and soon the metaphorical back legs stop kicking with some steady rationalisations.
I like to think about time as a token to be spent. There are a lot of them. Some people have more than others and yes I have made some questionable purchases but now I have options. I have a wide range of activities to choose from. Why, then, would I choose to spend my time miserable, full of guilt and self-hatred? Why would I opt for that life? Because that is the life alcohol brought me and will bring me back. To drink is to turn my world black and white. The vibrancy and colour would diminish as my focus points to one thing only. I have a weakness for alcohol but if I don’t drink I maintain my strength. It’s simple; I don’t drink. I was devastated when I quit. I watched my world collapse and could do nothing. I was on my knees. I was beaten. I will never let it do that to me again. I choose peace and serenity. Creativity. Laughter and love. Fuck the chaos. This middle-aged hippie is happy to be free. Not only from alcohol but the lifestyle that goes with it. Do I miss it? Sometimes, of course. But not in a desperate desire way. More in a poignant recollection that I might have for an ex-partner who I would have liked things to have worked out differently. But I know it was the right thing to do and there’s definitely no going back.
I don’t think there is a single answer. AA works for some. This naked mind has helped many. Some handle going cold turkey. There is no magic bullet. There is just freedom to find out what works for you. To use the time that alcohol took and focus it on something that is fulfilling. Quitting drinking is the opportunity to build a healthy body and healthy mind. It is a journey. Sometimes difficult. Sometimes wonderful. It is what you make it. Without replacing the negative thinking patterns and negative behaviours with positive ones there will always be the romanticised allure of alcohol. But if it caused destruction once. The chances are it will do it again. Life is too short to spend it wondering what sobriety would be like. And we have too much potential to waste it trapped in destructive habits by our fears.