This week’s guest blog is from Samantha Webb, who is passionate about educating people with to our drinking culture and the impact of heavy drinking on physical and mental health, relationships and general wellbeing. She’s now involved with Untoxicated – an alcohol free social tribe. Find out more about them here.
On the 1st of February this year I stopped drinking. This wasn’t a decision I came to overnight.
For 27 years I have been a heavy drinker – from the age of 15 I have turned to alcohol to celebrate, to commiserate, to connect with friends, to bond with work colleagues – hell, in the latter years I drank to mark lunch, the end of the week, the end of a gym class or having made it through Monday. Any excuse – happy or sad, drinking controlled every aspect of my life.
Every day I would wake up and the first thing to spring into my mind would be ‘Right I’m not drinking today’. It would then occupy my thinking most of the day as I battled with myself to not drink – invariably giving in by 6 pm to that bottle of wine. Because I deserved it. I’d had a long day at work. I needed to treat myself. Release the stress. It was exhausting, living with it in my head all the time. I felt completely unable to stop and get it under control and hid so much of my drinking – doing the majority of it on the couch, on my own, because of the feeling of shame. I was short with my kids, willing them into bed so I could drink, and finding it harder and harder to get to that happy place with alcohol. I was engaging in riskier behaviours and starting to struggle at work with memory and focus and mood swings.
In late December and early January, I went on holiday to Thailand and I drank my way through relaxing by the pool and partying in Phuket’s finest establishments and midway through was sick of feeling obliged to drink every day. Sick of feeling slightly dusty every morning and sick of being ruled by the call to drinking – is it beer o’clock yet?
I stumbled across ‘one year no beer’ on Facebook one day and thought I would give the 90 day challenge a go – in the spirit (no pun intended!) of setting myself up to succeed, I thought 90 days felt like a stretch but an achievable goal. I agreed in my head that I would start on the 1st of February having done Febfast in previous years and that I would let some people know about it on social media, to keep me accountable. It felt good to make the decision – this was going to be hard, but I hoped at the end of it all I would see some real health benefits and perhaps I would crack the addiction that drove me to drink every single day. Perhaps I would be able to have some alcohol-free days and maybe I would feel strong enough to socialise without the need to down a couple of glasses of wine before arriving?
My partner at the time hardly drank, so it seemed like a really good time to take this on. I would have the support of my family, friends and partner – and my wonderful workplace, Beyond Blue – where mental health is talked about openly and we all know how alcohol and drug use can affect good mental health.
So, 1 February rolled around and I started my 90 days, enthusiastic but a little afraid of failing. I joined Daybreak for online support and was given a book to read called, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray. Within the pages I found a woman not unlike myself who grew up and worked in the UK and who partied hard into her middle age, only to find that the drink had taken over. It was such a wake-up call – as I read about Catherine’s inability to moderate, I realised that this was the very thing that I struggled with – and it started to make sense to me. Alcohol is a drug and I am addicted and no matter how hard I have tried I have always failed to be able to moderate the amount I drink. It dawned on me that, for me, I need to eliminate alcohol for life. This was not going to be a 90-day break – this actually needed to be a forever decision.
At first I was angry and scared. But little by little as I practised sober living, I realised that the benefits far outweighed the negatives. My relationships improved, my thinking became sharper and more focussed. My behaviour became less reactive and dramatic – my kids told me I was a nicer, less angry person! My physical and mental health improved – fewer mood swings, much better gym sessions and recovery, and even though I still found the cravings difficult I knew if I prepared I could handle any social situation and I actually started to enjoy going out without alcohol!
Then, five months in, I went through a major life crisis. My partner left me overnight – without warning. I had just sold my house and we were planning to move in together, combining our households with five children between us. We were, I thought, deliriously happy. In the eight years of dating since leaving my husband I had never once felt so content, happy and sure of the relationship I was in. I was completely in love and excited about our plans for the future. Then overnight I was single, about to be homeless and completely heartbroken, and worse, without any clear understanding or control of why the decision had been made.
Every cell in my body at that moment wanted to drink – to take away the pain. To numb myself. BUT I put the following mantra on repeat in my head, ‘he has taken too much, he will not take my sobriety’. I knew deep down that to drink would only make everything worse in the long run. Instead I took time off work and spent the first few days in shock. I felt every bit of the pain. I cried a lot. I’m not going to lie, there were some very dark moments. Moments where I felt the pain was too much to bear and that I would be better off not waking up in the morning. I managed to get myself to my GP to get a referral to a psychologist because I knew I needed help to talk through all of the feelings and emotions. And I took advantage of my EAP service until those sessions could be arranged. I talked with friends and did a lot of reading, trying to understand some of the feelings I was experiencing.
Shock moved to grief then to anger and finally acceptance and recovery. All in all, it only took 12 weeks to move through and start to feel better and now I can honestly say I really did dodge possibly the worst decision of my life! I am content and happy with my new home and my single life.
The experience of doing this without alcohol has literally been life changing. I have NEVER moved through a life crisis without numbing the pain. I have NEVER properly dealt with these tough painful human emotions. I have NEVER processed properly, shock, grief and anger. To do so has been a wonderful experience – and I think part of the reason why I have gone through the experience. They say everything does happen for a reason – and a big one for me was to learn how to do this thing called ‘life’ without turning to drinking and escaping the hard stuff. I also learned a lot about myself and what I don’t want in a relationship – how I truly don’t NEED a partner. That’s not to say I don’t want one – but I don’t NEED one. That’s a very big difference.
I now remember every interaction. I am living in the moment every day and choosing to live a full and mindful life. No longer is my behaviour dramatic and reckless – no longer do I make bad choices that I regret in the morning. My life is on my terms and I really like that. If I have a bad night out, it’s because I chose to be in a place I didn’t enjoy – not because I drank too much and ended up putting myself into a risky situation.
This really has been the best and the worst time but ultimately I am stronger, more content and standing on really firm ground – that’s a good place to be and I encourage others to seek that firm ground – whatever that looks like for you.