The first six weekends of being alcohol free were absolutely appalling and I asked myself daily what the hell I was thinking. Not being able to check out of a hard day, a hard week or a hard meeting with a glass of wine was excruciating. The voice in my head screamed at me to abandon this madness and go straight to the nearest pub, but for the first time in my life, my instinct was stronger and the consequences of drinking were overriding the desire to do so. Alcohol free beer saved me more than once. I was shocked when I drank it for the first time and realised it tasted exactly the same as regular beer. How did I not know that?
Reading a book called ‘The Easy Way to Stop Drinking’ by Allen Carr was amazing. It claimed that my relationship with alcohol was based on association and years of programming. I associated relaxing and having a good time with alcohol and on top of that, I was Irish. Everyone in the world associated Irish people with drinking, so the reputation had to be upheld. As teenagers, we don’t usually like our first taste of alcohol, but society and clever marketing campaigns tell us that we do. They tell us that alcohol will help us to relax, we’ll be more sociable, we’ll have a better time drinking it and we buy into that.
After three months, time was glaringly apparent. I didn’t know so much time existed because usually my week was spent recovering from one weekend and living for the next one. Monday morning meant a hangover so nothing got done. By Tuesday, I felt better, but so caught up in hating myself that I fought self loathing and anxiety for most of the day. Wednesday saw a full recovery and I was productive and Thursday, my best day was super productive. Of course I’d reward myself with a glass of wine at the end of it and the cycle of sabotage continued. Suddenly it was Friday again and I was left wondering where my week went. Weekends with kids were busy, picking up and dropping off so I drank less, but the thought was always simmering in the background, waiting for the chance to strike and force a bottle of beer into my hand. Weekends without the kids? I was hungover, full stop.
My new alcohol free status meant I did yoga on Friday night, shopped on Saturday, read, caught up on work, walked in the woods and cleared out my house. I was energised and jobs that had been avoided for years were finally getting done. Very soon and without trying too hard, I lost weight. Hallelujah!! My skin improved, I felt healthier, my anxiety reduced and my creativity blossomed. For the first time in my life I had consistency because normally, I either binged or starved, worked a lot on my writing or did nothing, went to the gym or went to bed. Balance had introduced itself to my life and I liked it.
My relationship with my children saw the biggest transformation. I was more present with them and we spoke to each other. Three teenage boys meant a lot of grunting, but we began to have real conversations. I was energetic and active instead of tired and irritated from too much wine and we did what they wanted to do, instead of what I wanted them to do. The cinema was something we all enjoyed, but I’d been known to suggest pizza and Netflix from time to time. I’d tell myself it was because we could have a cozy night in, but it wasn’t, it was because I wanted to drink. Instead of a mad dash on Sunday night, their gym bags were washed and repacked by Saturday and they had pants and socks in their drawers. No more searching through the washing baskets!
They noticed and I had mixed feelings about that. I was happy to at last be giving my sons 100% of my time, but also riddled with guilt that it had taken me so long, and just be clear. I was a good mother, I never doubted that and my sons had me, they just didn’t have all of me. They didn’t know the internal struggle within me, only I knew that. I knew how often I was irritated and impatient with them due to alcohol, I knew the real reason a take away pizza might happen on Monday night and it was because I couldn’t be bothered to go grocery shopping and I knew that sometimes when they went to their dad’s house, I was happy to see them go so I could enjoy my wine in peace. The guilt tore through me, but after a few weeks I decided to let it go. I took a deep breath, put down the baseball bat I was using to bash myself over the head and focused on going forward.
No hangovers meant my number one excuse for not getting anything done was gone. My bad time management, procrastination and borderline laziness, (I say ‘borderline’ because I can’t yet admit to just being lazy) were all blamed on my hangovers and now I could no longer do that. Taking alcohol out of the equation allowed me to see that I was still projecting my life into the future. Everything I wanted was still on the other side of tomorrow. I’d be organised soon, I’d be skinny by christmas, love was just around the corner, my career as a writer and speaker was just about to take off, happiness, peace and joy were all on their way. I thought I lived in the present moment, but I didn’t and now I could see it clearly.
Like a slap in the face the truth of my life hit me and at times I wanted to abandon this foolishness, recreate the illusion that everything was fine and have a nice glass of wine. Facing who I actually was, raw and unabashed for the first time was hard and I felt lambasted by it. The stark realisation that if I wasn’t living how I wanted to live now, happy, complete and fulfilled, then I simply never would be. I’d never achieve what I wanted to, because the finish line would keep moving with me. I was pushing it forward by projecting my life into the future and my dreams would always be one step away. This was the single most transformative moment of my journey and although I didn’t turn into superwoman overnight or magically have all the answers, I could now take responsibility for my life and stop blaming my inadequacies on alcohol.
Always a glutton for punishment, my first alcohol free trip had to be to Ireland and arriving at an airport and not going straight to the pub was weird, add a three hour delay and it was super weird, but I read my book, had a couple of alcohol free ciders and when I got to Belfast I hired a car. I saw the sights of Northern Ireland, had a ball and when in the pub, I drank alcohol free beer and couldn’t believe how many drunk people there were, I’d always been one of them so hadn’t noticed before.
My first transatlantic flight was even better. Did you know that you can fly to America without being absolutely bombed off your face? I didn’t, because I’d never flown across the atlantic any other way. Now flying to Orlando I was sober and when offered champagne, I declined. Wine with my lunch was declined, are you sure madam’ the stewardess asked, ‘what about a gin and tonic or a beer, we have prosecco?’ Declining them all, I smiled at the irony of my situation, normally my sole intention on these flights was to get as much alcohol as possible and now that I didn’t want it, it felt like it was being forced on me. Was the universe testing me I wondered?
Universal Studios, somewhere I’d been many times and despised was amazing, I loved the rollercoasters and I loved hanging out with my boys, no longer preoccupied with thoughts of a boozy lunch or rushing back to the house for a few glasses of wine. I was having fun with no rush, no agenda and no alcohol.
I like cream cakes, I didn’t know that. I like hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows. A cup of tea is a celebration for me and chocolate from the freezer reduces me to tears. Having dinner with friends without watching their wine glasses, wondering if they’re as anxious as me about wine running out, is fabulous and watching scary movies with my kids is great and although I liked these things before, it seemed as if my senses were dulled by my desire to always include alcohol into whatever I did.
Throughout my life I’ve been carted, carried, dragged and sometimes kicked out of more parties, weddings and black tie events than I care to remember. I’ve traveled all over the world and have had amazing experiences but the reality is this. Walking the great wall of China, I had one of the worst hangovers of my life and prayed for our guide to return so we could get off it and have the hair of the dog. When I snorkelled Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I tried desperately not puke on the cute, little fish swimming around me and failed. The Louvre in Paris was a blur as I bolted around it, had a fleeting glance at the Mona Lisa, then practically ran to the nearest wine bar and when I walked with lions in South Africa, the cold sweats and red wine headache is an experience I will never forget. New York City has destroyed me every single time and skiing in Europe has only ever seen me drunk or hungover.
I feel no shame, I have absolutely no regrets because I had a bloody good time but I don’t want to have these amazing experiences with hangovers anymore. I’ve been let in on the world’s best kept secret and it’s this: Alcohol doesn’t add anything to my life, it doesn’t relax me or help me have a good time. I was brainwashed by media manipulation that told me I had to drink to fit in and if I stopped I’d miss out. Now I’m free of it. The only thing I’ve been missing out on is the incredible vibrancy of my life and I’m ready to stand out, loud and proud.
To those who can exercise control, have a beer after work or a glass of wine at the weekend, I bow to you and god bless you. Those, like my ex husband who can go beer crazy for a night or a weekend, beat yourself up for 5 minutes and then get on with your life, you are my heroes but that was never me. Whoever made me forgot to include the off switch and alcohol will never allow me to live my best life.
Exploring sobriety is about exploring me and I like the sober version of me. I’ve broken thirty years of bad habits and maybe I’ll appreciate a glass of wine one day, without wanting the whole bottle and maybe I won’t, but if I choose to have a drink, I’ll do so knowing the consequences and that’s my decision to make. Right now, my soul is at peace, I have nothing to prove and no desire for alcohol. Right now I have chosen to live an alcohol free life and right now that feels like the best thing I’ve ever done.