My journey into AF living began with a decision to live the remainder of this life free of alcohol. I was approaching my 60th birthday and considered myself to be living in the last trimester of my life on earth. The decision was made from a very dark place where existence had become so miserable that even though I believed that life without alcohol would be lived “unhappily ever after”, this still appeared as the only option.
It turned out that removing alcohol from my daily life was a great deal easier than I ever expected it to be. I stopped drinking and I didn’t miss drinking. In the early days I had habitual thoughts about it, at the point when I would usually have poured the wine, but that’s about it. Once or twice I had very brief thoughts of “wouldn’t it be nice if …”, on my birthday and my 30th wedding anniversary, for example, and was more of a conditioned thought than a craving. I haven’t experienced cravings. In my experience giving up smoking has been a great deal more challenging.
To put this into context, I drank regularly from age 16 to 60. In the last 20 or so years I drank every day, without fail, often alone and not for the purpose of being sociable in any way. I planned life around drinking and even resigned my position as a university lecturer rather than face up to the fact that my depression and anxiety were, at least partially, caused by drinking alcohol. I sometimes when to bed at night and consciously thought that it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t wake up in the morning. In other words, I really was “that bad”, no question!
I was ashamed of my behaviours whilst under the influence of alcohol and ashamed of the hurt I caused to the people who love me. I was ashamed of disrespecting those who loved me by not caring whether I lived or died, to the point of thinking it would probably be best for them if I did – although I was never suicidal. I was not ashamed of being addicted (or being an alcoholic if that is your preferred label). I was and am not ashamed for anyone to know that I have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol, that I do not have a functioning off switch, or that I lose control of my appetites when under the influence of alcohol. I am, on the other hand, willing (I used to say “and proud” before I started to tame the ego!) to tell anyone who wants to know that it is possible to free yourself from the addiction and discover a life worth living.
I learned about neural pathways in the brain, about how you can create pathways by repetition of the same behaviour over and over again. Your brain learns that alcohol can numb out the pain of depression and anxiety (fill in your own blanks here), so that reaching for a drink becomes an automatic reflex. I discovered also, however, that you can forge new healthier pathways, not to numb out or dumb down the pain but to actually deal with it and move beyond it. William Porter’s Alcohol Explained (www.alcoholexplained.com) and Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind contributed greatly to this new knowledge, fortified by a great deal of internet research and the wise sharing of Soberistas.
At about 18 months’ sober I came upon an overgrown pathway lying dormant within, one that I had abandoned at the point when Catholicism no longer served my spiritual needs. Without alcohol and with the fellowship of Soberistas (choosing language to describe this is challenging), I discovered mindfulness (www.headspace.com) and then meditation (www.tarabrach.com) and then the spiritual teachings of Eckhart Tolle which sent a train down that spiritual path (an old fashioned steam train pushing its way through the brambles and overhanging branches!). Woo hoo, what a pathway that has turned out to be. Without the constricts of dogma and with an abundance of faith I am discovering that I really am a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars. I always quoted that line from Desiderata, but it’s really actually true, really real! If you think that telling folks you don’t drink any more is challenging, try telling them that you’ve found spirituality – no kidding, like you’ve grown another head! Family and friends diving for cover at the mere mention of your name!
At this moment in time (working my way towards 1,000 days AF) I do not miss alcohol and I wouldn’t take up drinking again if I was guaranteed that it was no longer addictive for me. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week because we can only live in the present moment, none of us has a crystal ball. I am not ashamed of being addicted to an addictive substance and do not see it as a character flaw in the slightest. I am grateful that being addicted and stopping drinking has brought me to where I am right now, right at this moment. I am grateful for the friendships and support of Soberistas. This is a great big adventure so please, in the words of Freddie Mercury, “Don’t stop me now, don’t stop me now …”.
Nana Treen xxx