Handwritting by Bianca Cash
It has now been over a year since I gave up alcohol completely. It’s actually been one year, one month and twenty-six days. One year, one month and twenty-six days isn’t a very compelling number to write an experience after – I myself prefer round numbers. I should have written this at one year. That would have fitted nicely, but I had to wait until now. Why? Well to be honest, at one year, I wasn’t sure what it all meant anymore. This date was roughly two months after I ended my eleven and a half year relationship and I was unsure how alcohol related to that. Can I be single and alcohol free? In my angst, I didn’t want to announce that I was and then become a hypocrite. So it was only after one year, one month and twenty six days of exploring why twelve months was such an issue, that I got the clarity I needed.
Being in a safe secure relationship where everything is comfortable and dandy is a great place to be sober. With nothing really challenging your reality, there is no reason to rock your teetotaling tendencies. And if anything did get rocked, support is always close by. It was only when my life was in a constant state of flux, that I started to wonder if I could really keep it up.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]Having the challenges and being able to work through them without compromising myself has reinforced that I am capable of anything.[/pullquote][line]
Basically, I have spent the last four months a bit lost. Mentally as well as physically. In between travelling, couch surfing and house sitting, I have been in a lot of different situations that have bought up a lot of emotions – some good, lots bad. It has been an enormous gift, which I am only starting to realise the extent of now. Having the challenges and being able to work through them without compromising myself has reinforced that I am capable of anything.
This realisation hasn’t manifested because I am particularly special – ask any one of my friends and they will happily point out one of my many flaws – bossy, demanding, impatient, etc etc – hardly heroic or graceful qualities. I am underwhelmingly average. Do I have incredible will power? Absolutely not – otherwise I would be able to control myself from eating a bowl of espresso ice cream covered in crumbled biscuits, topped with chocolate chip hot cross buns slathered in Nutella (yes this did happen, no it wasn’t raw/organic/paleo, yes the hot cross bun also had butter on it!). Is it because I am a martyr and I enjoy being stubborn and depriving myself? Again no – I don’t believe in living life with such a boring negative outlook. This resilience has been driven by forces bigger than this – an unshakeable belief in myself and of who I want to be.
Several years ago when I was in the thick of my drinking, I was a dick. I would rock up to parties having smashed at least a bottle of wine and who knows which Cat was present. It was either the most charming social butterfly you had ever met (well in my haze anyways), someone who was completely obnoxious and inappropriate or anywhere in between. What followed would be torture – a terrible hangover extended for days with a heavy blanket of self-loathing and remorse. What was intended to be an avenue of making friendships and developing social circles was in reality doing the opposite. My inability to control my drinking was destroying every single goal I was hoping to achieve and my soul ached as a result.
So what changed?
Many years ago I read an exercise in a book that changed my life. The change didn’t happen then and there though – but it amazes me what can stay with you tinkering in the back of ones mind. The exercise was a simple one – imagine the person you want to be, and what behaviours that person exerts. Think what does it mean to you to be successful? What traits does the person you are destined to come possess? Well the answer was sobering (ha!).[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]imagine the person you want to be, and what behaviours that person exerts. Think what does it mean to you to be successful? What traits does the person you are destined to come possess?[/pullquote][line]
Being a drunkard slurring and stumbling around social events, throwing up on sides of houses and barely being able to articulate sentences to the types of people I aspired to meet and mix with just didn’t fit in with the visualisation of who I wanted to become. It was clear – if I wanted to one day be a successful entrepreneur who inspired and influenced others – alcohol couldn’t continue to be in my life. As mentioned, knowing this didn’t change anything immediately. It did however, sow a seed that continued to grow. It then took several years as outlined in my previous articles, but one day it clicked. That day, February 16th 2014, I woke up and decided I wanted to start being that person then and now. I was finally free. Alcohol no longer served me or could be apart of my life because I was no longer scared of working towards the person I wanted to be – I was more scared of not working towards it.
So how does that relate to being clean one year, one month and twenty six days – aka the most unsexy, unmarketable sobriety story ever?
Two weeks ago I went to a party with my new flatmate. This party was hip and cool and full of happening people… and I knew none of them. In a previous life, in this situation I would always have my backup buddy – my ex or my best friend to stand by my side as a safety net. The party started off fine – I was chatting along, meeting everyone and building new foundations with ease. “I can do this” I thought and “I can do this well”. Then two events happened which caused all of that to go out the window in the space of two minutes:
1. I found out the guy I had been shamelessly flirting with had a girlfriend. Shit.
2. Then the girlfriend’s friends started asking me all sort of stupid questions about why I don’t drink and how boring it must be because alcohol was so amazing and terrific. Fuck.
I had gone from feeling a million bucks on top of the world to feeling very small and uncomfortable – and there was no phone-a-friend to alleviate any of it. I was stuck. I was really really stuck. Who was I to come to a party full of strangers and think that I could instantly fit in without playing to their rule set for socialising? Self-doubt start to cripple me and I suddenly felt extremely exposed and vulnerable. Unable to discuss it with anyone, I continued to socialise as before trying not to appear any different, quietly exiting down the dark alley by bike at around 2am.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]From the outside it appeared like I went to a party sober and confident, but on the inside I knew I was a fraud[/pullquote][line]
From the outside it appeared like I went to a party sober and confident, but on the inside I knew I was a fraud – at least in that moment – how the fuck was I going to do this? Having come so far so easily, it was a pretty scary thought that the walls could tumble just as easily. Intellectually I didn’t want to drink – I have achieved so much and my life has improved a million percent and drinking would not have made that situation any less unpleasant, but emotionally and socially it was a different story – so I was at a stalemate – I couldn’t go back, but I didn’t know how to go forward.
So what changed?
How did I then make it to one year, one month and twenty-six days after coming so close to having to start again? Well I kept coming back to my original focus. I simply did not see myself as that person any more. I had to remind myself of this. I focused on the end game. Giving in and drinking due to perceived peer pressure (and I say perceived because no one was pressuring me to do anything, it was my own self inflicted internal torture) would have been a short term fix. It would have been a band-aid to cover a bruised ego that lasted several hours which would have been full of the same self loathing I used to have, but magnified because I would have compromised all of my progress so far.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]If you ride the wave of uncomfortableness, the emotion will pass and you will be back to being on top again in no time.[/pullquote][line]
So over the next week I reached out, I visited my favourite old therapist who had contributed much to my original success. She reminded me that I was being extremely hard on myself and told me to recognise what I had achieved so far. That I had gone through an extraordinary amount of change and that I was coping better than most – a lot which had to do with the fact I had given up drinking. She also reminded me that developing friendships takes time and that the whole experience wasn’t wasted because I had sown seeds with everyone there by mingling and getting along pleasantly which reminded me that absolutely I could do this and my limits were mine and mine alone.
As mentioned, in the end, this freak out was a gift. A reminder to never forget yourself in uncertainty and to always think long term – compromising yourself to appease people who mean nothing to you is only detrimental to you. At the end of the day they will go home and not think twice about any throw away comments they have made, so it isn’t worth acting on any of it. If you ride the wave of uncomfortableness, the emotion will pass and you will be back to being on top again in no time.
This event hasn’t deterred me from going out in similar situations; it had the opposite affect. I have now changed my approach. Thinking everyone will have the same reaction as my close friends to my sobriety was naive. I was caught off guard. It has been a humbling reminder, an experience that has made me more resolved than ever before.
So that’s me. I don’t drink. Not ever. Not for no one. Never again. It’s non negotiable. It is an unshakeable core belief.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]So that’s me. I don’t drink. Not ever. Not for no one. Never again. It’s non negotiable. It is an unshakeable core belief.[/pullquote][line]
And as I finally came to peace with myself again that brings me here, writing to you via my iPhone’s Note app on a plane on route to NZ, one year, one month and twenty-six days since I stopped drinking with my final thoughts:
- You are not what happens to you, but how you react to those happenings are decisions that you can make that will shape your future – they can either be for the better or the worse.
- Terrible feelings will pass. Remember these because then you’ll appreciate the good times.
- Enjoy the struggle – these are what makes you know what you really stand for. Every time you have a breakthrough, it’s like levelling up Sonic the Hedgehog style.
- Rounded chronology is passé – so enjoy your individual pace – it is yours to set and yours alone.