WARNING: cheesy self-help buzzwords were used in the making of this article. Anyone offended by blatant use of such vocabulary should stop reading now.
The end of November marked an interesting time for me: 18 months alcohol-free.
I have to say, the first year felt like it flew. In contrast, the last six months have felt like treading through treacle.
Not that it’s been tough in a "boy, I fancy a drink" sort of way, but that does not mean it’s been easy, either. Far from it. It’s been an ongoing battle in my mind.
As I tackled the first year, I assumed it was the hardest. It is, in a way, but it's also a time of absolute clarity… You know where you stand in the first year.
You don't really say things like "I'm never drinking again" because why should you? You are setting yourself a shorter target. You tell yourself, get the year out of the way. That's tough enough.
I remember listening to Freddie on one of the early OTI podcasts saying something along the lines of "after the first year, it’s tough because you don't really know what to do next". I now get that.
Of course, I can’t go back to drinking. I don't want to go back to drinking! But what does that make me? Who does it make me? Who am I?! Deep, I know.
On the plus side, in the last 6 months my anxiety has really started to go down.
Looking back all throughout the first 12 months or so, I remained anxious and agitated most of the time – on constant red alert. I was always worried about the thoughts of others, mainly regarding my new-found non-drinking approach to life. (Silly, really. Why is it that we put the views of others before our own well-being?)
The penny is now starting to drop. I need to look after myself, not worry about what others think or about straying away from the flock. A flock that likes to drink, talk nonsense, feel rough, de-motivated, stick together, and most importantly, keep drinking.
I am now a happy bunny. I take pleasure in the simple things in life. I love sitting down with a cup of decaf tea and some biscuits and watching a little TV. I love going to bed at daft o’clock (by which I mean 9pm, not 3am – my kids think it’s hilarious).
I’ve also learned to love the mornings. I love getting up early to go for a run or head to the gym. I’ve slowly developed an early morning routine that includes using a mindfulness app, planning for the day ahead, and having some breakfast in peace before the house gets too hectic.
I now see the benefit of day-to-day things that I used to take for granted. I love being fortunate enough to coach my daughter's football team, helping out as a Mentor to a local charity helping schoolchildren, and going out for walks or family days out.
I am generally a lot more grateful for all the simple (and wonderful) things around me. I am not constantly looking for the next high of a big night out or trip away.
I am, for the first time, finding the 'authentic me'
This guy is alright. I am not constantly looking for kudos or laughs. I am comfortable in my own skin.
Soon, I’m off to take part in a marathon in Spain. I am going on my own, and am looking forward to the simplicity and headspace. It’s a well-deserved gift to myself for 18 months AF. How cool is that! Travelling on my own, remaining sober, running a marathon, and being comfortable by myself for a few days wouldn’t have happened under the old regime.
It’s probably not everyone's cup of tea. But that's not the point, is it? The important thing is that it’s my cup of tea. Not the flocks’.
Of course, it’s not always easy. The weeks have highs and lows. I find I need to listen to my body, get plenty sleep, eat well and take time out from work when I feel myself getting anxious and dipping in mood.
The problem with not drinking (if you can call it a problem) is that there is no drowning out your thoughts or feelings. Everything is there – in full technicolour.
I sometimes feel like the odd one out... the Outcast.... the one everybody is talking about.
I imagine people gossiping amongst themselves, "you see him over there? He used to like a drink. He's gone a bit weird. He’s stopped drinking and doesn't come out as often as he used to. When he does come out, he goes home early. I think he's weird. Let’s tell everybody to spread the word".
Now, clearly people don't say that. But don’t you have similar paranoid thoughts circling your mind?! I try to listen to these voices, hear them out, and politely tell them they have no place in my head.
Even if my paranoid thoughts were true, what would it matter? I am not going back to drinking because, as we have already established, the new life suits me far better.
I can occasionally get a bit morose, thinking about why I needed to stop drinking completely... It seems a little drastic sometimes. I am not going to suggest for a moment that moderation is the answer. But I can’t help but wonder, why me? Why did I need to be so excessive in my drinking that I now feel I need to be aggressive in my non-drinking?
But again, I remind myself that such thoughts are unhelpful. Things are the way they are. It’s the path I am on, and whilst not even or smooth, I have to believe it’s the right one.
It’s best I focus on the positives about the new, non-drinking me. I am a better Dad and Husband, I am healthier, more relaxed, living in the moment, appreciating the simple, and not sweating the small stuff. I like myself a lot more and I am more productive at work. My sleep has taken a while to settle, but I’m finally sleeping better.
To all those in the early days, I hope this helps. Keep at it. It really does get better. You won’t necessarily be able to switch it off totally, or ever really ‘crack it’. But really who wants to? This is all part of life. As for anyone with more days under their belt than I, please tell me that it continues to get better. I know it will, especially when I stop giving a flying fart what other people think about the fact that I don’t drink.
Oh, and I forgot to use the word Journey! So here it is:
I remind myself once more that this is all part of my AF journey. I know deep down I am lucky to be here.