There are many chances to get off the train; you don’t have to wait until the last stop.
In recovery they talk of the ‘yet’s’. I haven’t lost my job ‘yet’, I haven’t lost my partner ‘yet’, I haven’t lost all of my friends ‘yet’, I haven’t lost my health ‘yet’. My train stopped at many stations, and thankfully I managed to get off before the last stop.
My blog is about the changes made by an Aussie middle-aged male, from one form to another. As I discovered, these changes were/are mostly within myself. Life didn’t change. My perspective and choices have.
I’m married with two children, a house, dog, cars in the driveway, toys in the garage, and veggie patch in the garden.
I grew up in metro Melbourne in a loving supportive environment. I went to a good school, university, then into a career that I adored. A career that started with a broom and a forklift licence, and finished with a fancy business card, good remuneration, global travel, area of responsibility crossing continents, cards in my wallet that allowed me to VIP-skip queues (oh, the ego!), and right in the pocket of my passion and interest – The Wine Industry.
Twenty-three years were dedicated to making, selling and promoting wine. Building brands, businesses, developing people, achieving targets; revenues, profits and market shares. I was at the height of my career in an industry I loved, working alongside people I genuinely admire. Wine was my life, my career, my friendship circle, my status, my identity.
For most of this time my relationship with alcohol was ok. It wasn’t until my forties when life’s pressure became apparent, that my use of alcohol turned from enjoyable to medicinal. Over a relatively short period of time I went from enjoying a glass of wine over a meal, to stacking the empty bottles back in my wine rack in the hope my wife didn’t notice the quantity I was consuming. Behind the shiny ‘outside in’ perspective I was breaking down mentally. I had no idea how to get out of it, so I consumed more wine. It made me feel better. It filled an empty hole, it calmed my mind, I could push on.
I’ve always been physically active. I’m one of those weirdos that enjoys running. Road running, bush trail running, running in groups, and on my own for meditation. Even while I was drinking, I still managed to get myself out of bed and run as part of a running group. The picture I’m trying to paint here is, that from the outside in, my life looked pretty darn fine.
Well from this perfect ‘picture’, on July 18, 2018 I ended up in Emergency for two days, unconscious and on life support as a result of a complete breakdown. I was sick of fighting the addiction battle and just wanted the noise and pain to stop. How did it get to this…?
Stepping back a bit from that episode, several years earlier during my ‘serious growing-up-adult phase’ – that is, career progression, asset generation, life planning – my use of wine to deal with stress and pressure was directly proportionate to the volume of tasks and achievements in play.
At home I was still a ‘fun’ dad, my family were looked after (financially), my kids had fun with me, we had holidays, participated in activities etc. I may have been guilty of falling asleep early a few times on the couch.
The little voice in my head told me this wasn’t sustainable, and something had to change. I just didn’t really want to (yet).
My marriage was starting to have problems. My ‘distance’ or lack of presence was impacting us. My wife would try and connect, and I would retreat into myself and consume. I am not a good communicator or expresser of emotion. I deploy a business-type façade in all aspects of my being. Strong face, stand up straight, push forward, solve problems, NEXT! This might work in business, but it sure as hell doesn’t work in a marriage. And it sure as hell doesn’t work within a relationship I’ve never really nurtured, that is, the one with myself.
I owned up to it. Christmas 2017 – I’m drinking too much and I need help. This was the start of the next phase. Sobriety, drink, lie, cover up, sobriety, drink, don’t get caught, get caught, lie, hide.
Finally, after 18 months of trying and failing, after hospitalisation and rehab, and more work on myself, I got it, and want it. In the early days when I made the decision to heal and work hard on recovering, I knew from trying on my own, succeeding, then failing (repeatedly), that I absolutely could not do this alone. I needed professional and peer help. So I sucked up that ego I spoke of earlier and simply listened and did what I was told, not what I wanted to do. This was not easy. Professional help dealt with aspects such as depression and anxiety, and peer help (such as Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program) guided my recovery. In addition to these resources I now include online peer groups.
With these tools I am now able to practise gratitude, mindfulness and empathy intuitively on a daily basis, with a clear mind and focus. This gives me the strength in my defence not to pick up a drink.
I’m so fortunate that my wife supported me through this journey. I know it wasn’t easy for her but we have grown so much stronger together and now have a scar we can talk about. I made the decision early on to share my vulnerabilities and challenges with friends and family; I really believe this kept me accountable. While in the rehab hospital my running group would meet me three times a week and run with me. The hospital staff had never seen anything like it. The perception that I would be lonely through this journey couldn’t have been more wrong. People stepped up (often not the ones you would expect) and every time I spoke of my battles it would open up a conversation ‘my brother/aunt/Mum/friend is struggling with alcohol too’. Being vulnerable is very hard but can be so rewarding when you can see you are helping others.
My life looks entirely different now. Staying in the wine industry wasn’t an option for me. I remember the moment when my wife came to me and suggested we start our own business making non-alcoholic drinks. It was like all of the lights were turned back on. That passion and sense of purpose returned. I was excited to put into use all of the knowledge and skills I had learnt in my previous working life.
My mental and physical health are so much better than they have been for years. I have a clarity of mind and perspective that has been missing. Over time, the removal of alcohol from my life removed also the depression, anxiety and insomnia. I am now fully present with my family and friends. I still fall asleep occasionally on the couch, but it’s from genuine activity exhaustion and I’m okay with that.
Jason Quin is the Co-Founder of ETCH Sparkling.
Jason and his wife, Andy, launched ETCH Sparkling last year. ETCH is short for Every Time Choose Health. ETCH is also on Instagram and Facebook @etchsparkling