This week’s guest blog is from Vari Longmuir, a Melbourne-based illustrator and life coach. She helps creative women build businesses with more intention, authenticity and clarity. Vari has just celebrated 12 months since she chose to remove alcohol from her life. She shares her journey so far and why traumatic rock bottoms are not necessary in order to choose a life without alcohol.
Last week – with a mug of tea in hand – I quietly celebrated 1 year since deciding to remove alcohol from my life.
I will forever feel incredibly fortunate that my story of transition out of alcohol is not one of traumatic rock bottoms.
But, the truth is, having no ‘rock bottom’ almost makes it harder to make the decision.
If there’s nothing majorly at stake, and life appears to be ticking along just ﬁne, then why change anything?
It’s true – there was no major external drama around my drinking. Internally however, my relationship with alcohol had been something I’d been uncomfortable with for a long time.
Forever maybe …
When I look back, there were most deﬁnitely signs – in my late teens and early twenties – that me and alcohol did not have a healthy relationship.
Being suspended from school in New York, aged 17, for being drunk at a school basketball game, was just one of them.
But drinking had always been part of who I was. It was part of my identity – ‘Vari can sink pints with the boys. ’ – and my culture.
Wherever you go in the world, the Scots’ reputation for being able to ‘hold our drink’ precedes us. And man did I try to live up to this!
I knew that full-blown alcoholism was in my family. I’d watched it happen to family members, as a kid. The kind of addiction that actually kills people. I knew I wasn’t ‘like that’. So I must not have a problem … right?
I know … perhaps I’ll just moderate my drinking …
Moderation was useless for me.
Part of what made me uncomfortable about my drinking was how much energy it stole from me. Trying to decide if I’d drive tonight and have a drink tomorrow took up way too much of my already depleted energy.
My breakup with alcohol did not come with a big pre-planned announcement.
I didn’t wait for the start of a new month, or week, or day.
I just quietly decided – at 8pm on a Sunday night – that it was time. And the glass of wine I’d poured went down the sink.
Here’s what scared me the most when I thought about a life without alcohol:
I’d lose friends
I’d no longer be invited to things (and if I did, it would be excruciatingly painful to be there sober)
What would it mean for me and my guy if we couldn’t go out for a drink or have a bottle of wine with dinner?
Holidays, birthdays, weddings, family gatherings – how do you do these without alcohol?
But this seemingly insigniﬁcant, low-key decision changed my life. It changed my life in ways I could not have imagined.
I decided that I didn’t want to be someone who had iron-clad willpower to resist alcohol. I decided that I would be someone who wouldn’t have the desire for alcohol.
I wanted to be the woman who was interesting and creative and funny and outgoing. And who didn’t think about alcohol.
I wanted to be the woman who would happily go to a bar or have dinner with friends who were drinking. And not feel like the odd one out.
I wanted to be the woman who got on a plane, asked for a sparkling water and felt the same excitement as my champagne-sipping travel companions.
I wanted to be the woman who could pick up her keys and drive anywhere at any time. (This was a big one for me as a mother of two growing boys.)
I wanted to be the woman who could enjoy the natural pleasures of summer – long hot nights, ocean swims, warm early mornings – without diluting them with alcohol.
I wanted to be the woman who could count on herself every moment of every day and do what I said I was going to do.
Today, I am this woman. This is what a year without alcohol has gifted me.
My internal discomfort with alcohol was drowning me. It was distracting me from emotions that had to be processed, relationships that had to be healed, art that had to be created, words that needed to be written and decisions that had to be made.
The rich, full life I dreamed of was not available to me while alcohol was still present.
What I know to be true is this:
Balance does not come from the hardcore workout followed by the wine-fuelled nights – an increasingly scary zeitgeist of our time.
It comes from compassion and curiosity and gentleness towards myself.
A sober life doesn’t only ask us to step away from alcohol. It asks us to step towards ourselves. To be more fully us. To embrace our vulnerabilities and insecurities with all our beautiful shyness and nervousness.
Because that is when people see the real us. That is when we authentically connect on a soul level. And it is this willingness to be seen for who we truly are that inspires others to give themselves permission to do the same.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article may contain images of people who have passed away.
This week we have a guest blog from Kerry. Kerry is a proud Wiradjuri woman from Condobolin, New South Wales. She’s a personal friend of our Health Promotion Manager, Sabrina, who reached out to her to ask if she’d be willing to share her story about her life and her relationship with alcohol, in light of National Sorry Day, on Sunday May 26.
On 26 October 1972, just 5 years after Aboriginal people were counted as part of the census and no longer seen as part of the flora and fauna in Australia, I was born to an alcoholic mother who lived on a mission in remote NSW. I was removed from her care before I was released from hospital; thank God for my beautiful grandmother who loved and cared for me. She loved and cared for me in a home that my two violent alcoholic uncles lived in; it was the only life I’d ever known. When invasion happened, pubs were set up within weeks. Aboriginal people were forced off their land and forced to help build what is now known as Australia. They weren’t seen as citizens back then so they were never given a salary; they were paid with alcohol and tobacco and so began my people’s problems with alcohol.
Statistics say, contrary to public perception, fewer Aboriginal people drink alcohol compared to non-Aboriginal people. The media reinforce stereotypes and ignore Aboriginal people’s efforts to keep communities dry. However, the trauma suffered by my people and the effects, continue to be felt today and Aboriginal people drink at more risky levels, putting them at high risk of experiencing alcohol-related harm.
The house Kerry’s Grandmother raised five children in
I remember, growing up, I often thought that when I had kids, I would never drink and never have them around alcohol. At 17 I fell pregnant to the local hero footballer (also Aboriginal) who was an alcoholic. I asked him not to come home when he was drinking, (at least he listened to me) and so begins my life as basically a single mum. I have another 2 kids to him, and after 20 years the unthinkable happens, while he was out on one of his weekend binges, a woman falls pregnant to him. My world (even though it wasn’t perfect) comes crashing down. I find the strength to leave him – my youngest was 9 years old. Now a single mum with this new-found strength (but still very angry), I started to ask my grandmother about her childhood and why she never shares her stories. I began to hear how she had to live her life hiding her light-skin kids at the mission she brought them up on, because she had witnessed her two older brother’s kids forcibly removed from their family homes. I was told about how they worked (mainly as domestic servants) and how the government ‘took care’ of their money, taking out their rent and giving them food vouchers that they had to pick up from the police station, then the remainder was put into ‘savings’ that they were never to see. Again, and contrary to public perception, Aboriginal people were never given anything free. It wasn’t until now I understood why she hid me under the bed when the ‘welfare man’ come around and why my upbringing was so different to my white friends.
Hearing these stories, and along with the anger I still had from my ex-husband and the death of my beloved grandmother, when I was 38 years old I have my first drink of alcohol. Although I didn’t drink through the week, on the weekends I began to binge drink; it felt great, and all these memories were so distant, but soon I’d start having blackouts and not remember what I was doing, and it started to affect everyone that was important to me and my health.
Kerry is in the middle, next to her Grandmother
Thankfully I had some strong people around me who I could talk to. My doctor wanted to put me on anti-depressants, but I was always anti medication (maybe it was my subconscious telling me this is what I was trying to do with alcohol too) so I decided to take control, I joined the gym, started eating healthy. I did give up alcohol completely for 3 years after this. I moved to the city, worked my way into a senior public servant position and completed a degree at Sydney University. My youngest child, my son, was contracted to the NRL and is now happily completing a carpentry apprenticeship. I have two beautiful grandkids who have parents that do not drink and none of our lives revolves around alcohol. As a proud Aboriginal woman this is one of my greatest achievements and I now work with an Aboriginal organisation advocating for the rights of Aboriginal children, families and communities.
“I have been drinking since time immemorial; so much so, I can’t pinpoint an exact time in life where I didn’t indulge in alcohol to get through the day. What I did not realise is that I relied on booze to escape my pain, the kind that has no cure. Although I must admit, it got me far.”
Ever since my mother passed away, everything seemed surreal. Considering the fact we had a tough childhood, barely making ends meet, it was our mother that got us through the toughest of times. The sacrifices she had to make, slowly and eventually, sucked the life out of her. I guess it is this guilt that eats me alive, seeing how when I finally stood on my feet, there was little I could do to comfort her as she took her last breath.
Now you know what caused me to lose myself to alcohol, you must understand it did me more harm than good
I could always rely on booze to drown my pain and sorrows, but it never allowed me to recover. By recovery, I refer to a state of happiness. What is even more saddening is I have a caring husband, with two adorable children and yet I feel sorrow. No matter how hard I try, my past seems to haunt me. What I have realised is that alcohol adds fuel to fire, making my life more miserable, although things were not as bad as they seemed.
“The biggest drawback of alcohol consumption is that you lose your self-esteem. You pity yourself while your confidence wavers.”
The purpose of sharing all this is so that others realise they are not alone. I wish for them to change their ways, for a healthier and prosperous future. Everything may seem well and good in the beginning. Eventually, there will come a time when it will be difficult to function without alcohol.
The affects of an alcohol dependancy
Since I was finding it difficult to deal with my addiction, I thought it necessary to do a bit of homework to find the motivation I needed to get myself sober and stay that way. Believe it or not, it worked! I got over alcohol for good and now I feel a lot more confident, happy and efficient. For this reason, I thought it necessary to share my experience.
The list of problems caused by alcohol can go on and on, with the most prominent of them being lack of happiness, satisfaction, and self-esteem. Even though you may get rid of your drinking habit, your problems will not disappear into thin air. However, it will give you the breathing space you need to think with clarity, thus eradicating the chance of making terrible mistakes that could affect you and your family.
At the same time, you will learn new things about yourself
It will take some time before you reach your true potential where your self-esteem gives you the ability and confidence to build relationships with people that matter.
Eliminating alcohol from my life has done wonders for me. I feel positive, doing whatever it takes to serve as a role model for my family, to show them they can aim high and be happy, instead of punishing themselves for not being the person they want to be. I’ve also put a limit on caffeine consumption and have made significant changes to my eating habits to boost productivity.
As absurd as it may seem, small steps lead to big things, and that is a fact. Also, don’t shy away from seeking professional help. The idea here is to grab whatever opportunity comes your way and make the most of it rather than complain about everything. This requires courage and self-belief, which is not all that difficult to gain.
No matter what problem you are dealing with, just know this, you are not alone. Alcohol never was, and never will be the answer to your problems. If you are willing to take a leap of faith, by taking small steps, you will never find the need to depend on alcohol again.
If you do need support to change, check out Hello Sunday Morning’s behaviour change mobile program Daybreak.
Blog written by Hello Sunday Morning supporter, Jenny.
Looking at social media and the news in the past few months, you might have noticed more and more people talking about the challenges of motherhood; the physical, emotional and financial toll it can take on a person, and how the end result may be feelings of stress, anxiety and exhaustion. Many mums may end up feeling guilty about these challenges, feeling that they should be more like other mums and this in itself feeds into more negative feelings.
The good news is that this conversation is now being had openly, and we have an awareness that this is a really big issue. As wonderful as the experience of becoming a mother might be, in reality there are also challenges and the need for support.
Many movies and jokes on social media will involve mums drinking copious amounts of wine to cope, and bonding with each other over boozy evenings out where they get to shake off their responsibilities. It is a hard (perhaps the hardest) job and there does need to be a release!
At Hello Sunday Morning, we are well aware of this as a lot of our Daybreak members are mums who have had this exact situation. They all have busy lives, busy schedules, full time caregiver roles and not a huge amount of support or time to look after their own needs. Having a wine at the end of the day represents the closing of a chapter on the day, some ‘me’ time and the opportunity to switch off and recharge those emotional resources.
The only problem is that, after a while, alcohol tends to take more than it gives. One glass becomes two or a whole bottle, and those emotional resources don’t get topped up, but rather becomeso much as drained even more from hangovers and disrupted boozy sleep.
That need for some ‘me’ time and unwinding becomes something that steals some of your energy for the next day, that actings like a big foggy blanket over a daily routine.
On top of this, alcohol actually affects our sleep as well so even if we go to sleep more easily after having a couple of drinks, our sleep quality is much worse when we’ve been drinking, and we don’t get as much REM sleep, which is the really good quality, deep sleep.
Better ways to unwind
Many Daybreak mums come to the conclusion that alcohol is perhaps not the best way to unwind (at least, not every day) and that there are other ways of topping up those emotional resources.
Here are two lists – one for mums, and one for those who are supporting mums. We generally know that when we have ways to replenish our emotional resources, we are more likely to feel better at the end of the day, and less likely to feel exhausted, drained, frustrated or just sad.
Tips for Mums:
If you are finding that you are drinking more than you would like, visit our Daybreak app to chat with some other members about what has helped them. Often other mums will be experiencing similar pressures and rituals, and will be able to offer support and advice. Sometimes even just checking in with the community during the time you are most vulnerable, is enough to change that behaviour.
Tips for family and friends of mums
If you are a partner or a friend of a mum who is struggling with stress or pressures, here are some things that you can do to help:
– Offer to help out for a day so that she can have a break to go and top up those emotional resources – whether this is to go out to see friends, take some time to herself or head to the gym. Offering to do this might be invaluable for the mother.
– Give feedback. If you know a mum who is doing a great job, let them know! They might be feeling like they’re not doing well at all. Giving support doesn’t have to be all practical, sometimes it can be a text message or a passing comment about what they are doing right and it can be much appreciated.
– For partners of caregivers, perhaps encourage her to make time for herself, whether that is by organising someone to mind the kids, arranging to work from home or take a leave day. For primary caregivers, down time and time to themselves can be of huge importance, but might not actually happen. As someone who is not at home during the day, perhaps you are able to recognise the need for ‘me’ time more than them and make some suggestions on how to make that happen.
– Remember emotional resources are hugely important when you are a mum – they are what we need for empathy, energy and planning. When we are feeling tired or drained, our emotional resources are also low and so we may struggle to keep on top of things. Finding ways to support yourself and asking others for support, can be a really good step. In addition to this we know that wine often goes hand in hand with unwinding or socialising, but when we are using it to top up our emotional resources, it can quickly become a drain rather than a booster.
If you’re finding yourself stuck in this pattern, have a look at what others have to say on Daybreak, other members can be a great source of advice and support, and you can also access health coaching for some additional advice on how to manage stress and drinking.
On the road to a better relationship with alcohol, we lean on the people closest to us; our spouses, our mates and our families. When friends help, they get us through the difficult nights, help us move on from our mistakes, and push us not to give up on ourselves. However, if we’re not careful, our support network can also help us make excuses. Having a friend or a family member who is a sort of “partner in crime” can turn defaulting on resolutions into a shared experience, one that somehow feels more permissible than if you did it alone.
The essential takeaway: our support networks have a measurable effect on how we behave. Pursuing relationships with people who have similar goals, helps us achieve our milestones, while other relationships will need work to make sure they function as support and not as obstacles.
Humans are social animals. It’s how we were made. We form close connections because having these relationships make our lives better. Unconsciously, we mirror behaviours practised by the people in our social circle. We base some of our internal definitions of what is okay by looking at how people around us behave. What this means for someone who is trying to change their drinking habits is that the people in your social circle are capable of both helping you or slowing your progress. Communicating effectively about what you need, and how they can best support you, can make the difference between the two.
You can get closer to your goals when your friends help
How can your friends help?
Listen: Sit down with you and have a conversation about what kind of situations can trigger your need to drink. If they know about your triggers, they can back you up and help you cope with them when they occur.
Socialise: Encourage you as you expand your social life with new activities like exercise and events where drinking isn’t the main focus. You can even sweet talk them into accompanying you if you’re nervous to go alone.
Connect: Pursue new people and new experiences, but don’t feel like you have to leave your old mates behind. Ask them to be there for you even if you can’t drink with them.
Three ways your friends help at social events
Understand that sticking to your goals is important to you, and they should not ask you to drink with them if you’re trying not to.
Help you find a non-alcoholic drink to have in your hand to avoid awkward questions.
A good way to hold yourself accountable is to volunteer to be the designated driver for the group. You’ll have additional motivation to stick to your goals, and you will be everyone’s favourite person for getting them home.
We are who we are around
In this day and age, we have a newfound ability to really reflect on who we want to spend our time with. We have access to more communities than we could ever possibly reach out to. What this means for us is that if we want to change who we are and what we do each day, we have the ability to reach out and find people who are doing the same thing. To make connections with people is to be human, and to fear losing these connections is more human still.
Changing what you do with your Saturday nights is scary, because you may lose people who expect you to drink as heavily as they do. The liberating aspect of modern society is that while you may lose some friends who can’t accept your changes, the number of people and communities for you to reach out to is limitless. Your potential to find new people, and new things to do with your Sunday mornings is limitless.
What can you do with this information? Talk to your friends, talk to your spouse. Telling them about your goals with alcohol is good, but telling them about how they can help is better.
The new year can be overwhelming. On one hand, we suddenly have a lot of time to reflect, renew, and recover from the year just passed. On the other hand, it is also a time of debauchery and excess. Sometimes we can get caught up in this and miss out on the incredible opportunity that is presented to us. It’s the opportunity to look at the next 12 months and decide what we want to achieve.
The good news is that we can have both self-reflection and celebration. It is all a matter of approaching things in a new and curious way. Holidays can be an intense time, but they can also provide space for figuring out what comes next.
We want change to happen quickly, but the reality is that lasting change is an ongoing process. Change mostly involves just showing up every day and taking committed action. Even for a lot of high achievers, ongoing success involves self-reflection, routine and a community of supportive and like-minded people around you.
Here are some ideas for starting the new year in the best possible state of mind. Be clear about your intentions and realistic about what’s achievable.
We recommend you find a pen and paper and sit somewhere peaceful to answer the questions below.
Consider where you might want to be in a year’s time. How would you like to have changed? What things would you like to have learned? What things would you like to have removed or reduced in your life?
Reflect on what is going really well in your life. Achievements that don’t usually feature in your self-appraisal are really important!
When you have made changes in your life previously, what has supported you in this? Perhaps you are the kind of person who benefits from having like-minded others around you (eg. a fitness buddy). Or, perhaps a very structured approach is best for you, with time set aside each day for each goal.
Consider the very best times in your life. What was happening during those times that contributed to your happiness or success? Was it to do with the people you were spending time with? Or was it more to do with your sense of purpose or personal growth? It is likely that there were several things that were contributing to you feeling contented and optimistic.
How do you want to be of service? Many find the pinnacle of personal growth is when they realise that their needs are sufficiently met to then look at meeting others’ needs. For some people, this involves caring for children or family members. For others, it means being of service to the community or spending time thinking about how to solve problems in the world. When we look at grandparents (who are the best examples of this idea), we see that not only are they often incredibly contented, they are also an invaluable source of support and guidance for those who need it. Bringing the values of compassion and empathy into our daily lives can be beneficial both for us and for those around us.
Have a conversation with your future self. What kinds of things do you think they might say to you? What questions might you ask them? This can be a profound exercise in perspective-taking. What might be on your mind as a 50-year-old self, or a 70-year-old self? What might be important to that version of you, and what might they tell you to focus on and appreciate now, in the present?
Take it with you into the new year
When you are considering the new year, it’s a good idea to give yourself some space to think about these ideas. See if you can reflect on them with those around you. Perhaps others have been thinking similar things or have found that they were able to make changes in their own lives.
Remember, a big part of this is showing up every day, keeping an eye on the big picture. There will be times during the year when none of this makes sense; all that is visible is the short term, and that is fine. Often, the goals we make in the new year will shift or change. What is important is that we have taken the time to think about what it is that we truly want and the things that really matter. Here’s to an excellent 2018!
For someone trying to change the way they drink, how to survive the holidays can be a challenging question. Most events like Christmas parties and family get-togethers come part and parcel with drinking. We take leave from work and connect with others; it feels natural to relax and have a few extra drinks. For many Daybreak members, this can result in slipping back into a lifestyle they are wanting to move away from.
Reflecting on past holidays can be a valuable tool
Some good questions to ask yourself might be:
“When my holidays are over, what would I have liked to have done?,” or, “In previous years, what did I wish I had spent more/less time doing?”
Now, looking towards the near future, take a moment to ask, “What would I like to spend my time on?” The holidays are a precious, limited time to be close to the people we love the best. It’s worth taking a few minutes to think about how you want to spend it.
Have a plan to survive the holidays
Having a plan in place before you get to these situations is much easier than trying to make something up on the spot. When speaking to people at Christmas parties and end of year celebrations, you can say something like, “I’m focusing on my health at the moment and have noticed that alcohol is really setting me back in terms of fitness,” or, “I’m not drinking this year, as I want to feel refreshed after the holidays, but please don’t let that stop you.”
Another good strategy to survive the holidays is to have a plan in place for triggers or situations that might compromise your goals. Ask yourself, “What am I going to do if I have an argument with my siblings and feel overwhelmed?” or, “What am I going to tell my parents when they offer me a drink at lunch?”
Sometimes our loved ones are worried that if we aren’t drinking, we might judge them or behave differently. It will be good to emphasise that you don’t expect them not to drink. You are just not drinking at the moment. Not drinking doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Ideas to make the transition easier:
Have a non-alcoholic drink in hand. The varieties of non-alcoholic beers are increasing and the potential for mocktails is limitless.
Not drinking doesn’t have to be a subtraction. Explore all the amazing things you can do when you’re not sprawled on the couch. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, start a game of backyard cricket, head down to the beach or pool for a swim or kick around a footy. If you’re in a cold place, organise a day on the slopes or a family talent show inside.
Or, you could be everyone’s new favourite person by offering to be the designated driver.
Be kind to yourself
Understand that holidays and family get-togethers can be very challenging, particularly if there has been a conflict in the family. Sometimes we can feel anxious or exhausted by being back in the family dynamic, and also without the numbing effects of alcohol. The good news is that often it is alcohol that triggers arguments and disagreements within families, and not drinking will allow you to step away from that and look at things differently. Sometimes alcohol can feel like it is necessary to deal with family, but when we take it away or reduce it, often we find family gatherings are less tedious.
A good way to survive the holidays is to acknowledge that they are a bit of a mixed bag. There will be stressful situations and perhaps a tense conversation or two, but the holidays also come with these bright moments, those moments of connection and celebration that make all the stress worth it. Sticking to your goals on changing your relationship with alcohol drinking might not stop your mum from asking you pointed questions about your love life, or your crazy uncle from airing his political views over dinner, but you may find that you come away with more of those brights moments, because you made choices about how you wanted to spend your time.
Terry Cornick, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Perfect‘, talks about his dad, being a dad and how drinking and mental health tie into the whole story.
That sweet amber nectar. It can taste like “liquid gold,” I tell my wife after my first sip of a cold ale. I chime in with trademark sarcasm, such as, “I don’t normally drink, but go on, then.” The perfect accompaniment to a celebration, a new birth, birthday, marriage, religious celebration (some), promotion, divorce (?!) and sporting victory.
On the flip side, it is also seen as the perfect tonic for tragic news and disappointments, deaths and funerals, divorces (again), losing your job and many more hard knocks that somehow send us directly to its clasp. I can remember my first sip. It was on one rare weekend visit to my dad’s house for his “access,” which went from weekly to yearly to twice in one decade very quickly. But that’s another story.
We usually went to the pub, but on this occasion he must have been struggling for cash (as it was conveniently located 50 metres from his house), so we headed to the Off-Licence (Bottle Shop, for my Australian brethren). Trudging back with a case of Fosters–a terrible drop, by the way–I sat in his lounge on the floor watching television. While laughing he passed me a can and encouraged me to sip it. I winced as I gulped. How could adults ever enjoy this stuff? I would rather drink soap.
Alcohol was present in the early years of my life. At one stage my mum worked in the pub and my dad drank there. I can even remember as a toddler (pre-divorce) wandering around the pub with a pint glass as all my dad’s friends put their change coins in. I had this rotund belly on a skinny frame so they would call me “PB” (pot-belly), poke my tummy then chuck their money in. As strange as that sounds the glass filled up quickly, not a bad racket for a four-year-old.
These fun times were tempered by memories of dad coming home hammered from work and the carnage that followed. Another, far deeper story for my book.
But the reminders of the damage were never far from the surface. At around six years old he came to watch a football tournament I was playing in. He was pushing my baby brother in a pushchair and I never forget seeing half his face covered with a bandage. It turned out he was glassed in a pub after picking a fight with someone. As always, and as an almost silent child, I never questioned it. There were other frightening, dangerous alcohol-fuelled post-divorce events that I experienced watching on as a child. Their impact on my mental health at the time and now, are still deep and processing that can be difficult. I leave that for my Doctor visits.
Back at my mum’s house post-divorce we rarely had alcohol in the house. My mum barely drank anyway and after my sister’s birth in 1995, I would go as far as to say she was allergic. One bottle of Bacardi Breezer and migraines followed for days. So when I finally got to experience alcohol “properly” I was around 13 years old. A few of my friends’ parents were out for New Year’s Eve nearby. None of my close friends were huge tearaways, by the way, but some could be described as troublemakers.
After watching a film and playing PlayStation, one friend suggested we have some alcohol. Eventually I relented and we searched out every kitchen cupboard. We found a bottle of vodka. It’s clear in colour, we thought, like water; what damage could this possibly do? In the lounge ten minutes later we devised a simple game. The loser had to drink “some” of the vodka. Having no knowledge of measures we used a pint glass and poured two-thirds of a glass and downed it when we lost. The burn was deep. Fifteen minutes later the world turned into a wonderful fluffy marshmallow and we all danced around the room, wrestled, laughed and eventually passed out asleep with no real damage.
A couple of years later I witnessed my brother going “out on the town” dressed up and somehow getting into pubs and clubs at sixteen. It must have been the pin-striped pants, shiny black shoes, Ben Sherman shirt and black mafia-style overcoat that did the trick. The look of the day. When it was my turn to try my luck it came about by accident. My friends on the estate we lived suggested we go to a house party near our town centre. On route we realised it had been cancelled and before I knew it, fuelled by two sickly orange vodka alcopops, I was paired with a mate and his two girlfriends that looked far older and confident than we.
Five hours later my mum picks me up from the town centre clearly angry as I try and feign sobriety. My shin the next morning bearing testament to falling up the nightclub stairs and smashing it on the metal step. But a hangover? Anxiety? Depression? None of that. Come midday we all met up to play football for hours.
The university days of life saw darkness creep in concurrently with alcohol. Fresher’s Week, student nights and boredom meant substantial, encouraged drinking. But I never drank for taste. As a shy, introverted guy it was just an attempt to fit in. I figured I would be less visible that way. £3 three-litre bottles of cider before we went out were our poison.
Hangovers at this stage meant anxiety-filled days of barely leaving my bed: heart pounding, heavy chest, curtains were drawn and pleading, hopefully, that I would not have to face anyone that day. The escape of intoxication provided 12 hours previously had long gone. I was quiet and moody by nature, or so I thought at the time, so no correlation with mental health was considered. I did, however, crave Cherry Coca-Cola, a regular saviour post-booze. Post-university, friends and I discovered “Snakebite” (a horrific concoction of beer, cider and blackcurrant juice). Ironically we went to an Australian-themed bar called Walkabout on Friday and Saturday nights and post-football on Sunday. Severe dehydration meant waking up in the middle of the night after a session, usually panicking.
Curiously, I never drank during the week at home. Ever. I always wanted to function well at work, probably more than most. It was rarely in my own culture or those around me to drink at home. You went to the pub for that, the heart of the community. And on an English street, there are more hearts than Hallmark on Valentine’s Day.
Then Australia came calling. “The Great Escape,” as I call it. Unable to come to terms with, or get help for my mental health and sheer pain I was feeling, I somehow ended up on the other side of the world. A shift in my drinking culture followed.
At work I could not believe that we actually got to have a beer at 4 pm on a Friday, while still working! Mind Blowing! That gradually became a Friday lunch, then as I started to do particularly well I realised that in the sector I was working in, it was commonplace to go out on a Thursday night or meet a client for a beer mid-week. We worked alongside Sydney Harbour, after all, everyone reasoned.
As my income increased and my tastes in parallel, I developed a love for red wine or pale ale and cases of $70 craft beers. Spirits or shorts have never been appealing. But with this love has come an increased casual approach to drinking, on the whole a better approach, I think. But that shift has its own challenges.
To add to this, my mother-in-law works for a wine company. Their Hungarian background revolves around family dinners and a glass of wine or schnapps. A responsible yet enjoyable approach to drinking. Temptation is increased further as my wife, Carolina, works for an events and marketing company. Her biggest clients and accounts? Alcohol brands. That means events and freebies.
Some weeks I can drink one or two beers with dinner most nights, then have a few on a Friday or Saturday watching a movie at home. Taste is now more important than quantity. Once a month on average I let my hair down at a wedding or birthday, but by midnight I am in bed.
When stressful times appear and my cloudy spells increase, there is no denying I am thinking, “When I get home I am going to have a beer.” Thankfully, I do not have the urge to go on an all-night bender. Occasionally when this casual intake creeps up I have ways of dampening it for the good of my head. I managed to do a dry January, a huge feat for me. But some other useful strategies have emerged, some by accident.
Carolina barely drinks anymore. Motherhood has certainly affected that. And with this has become a tradition of hers. At 8:45 pm every night I make her a camomile tea. It has become so ingrained in our routine, and on most nights this influences me to not have a beer. With a few Best Man appearances and bucks parties on the horizon to organise this year, these will test my currently strong resolve.
By far the biggest influencer has been fatherhood. The seismic shift I have previously spoke of means I consider my 14-month-old boy first. They need to be fed, looked after, changed, dressed and played with. You are at their mercy. There are no chances to feel sorry for yourself with a hangover. It is non-stop all day until bed, and by getting outside when feeling a little dusty, it helps no end for my head. By no means am I suggesting having a child to regress drinking, but man, it helps.
My work with Mr. Perfect has increased my determination to develop an even healthier relationship with alcohol. I play sport and exercise regularly, so the balance is there but I have also met some incredible guys at our Monthly Meetups that on the face of it are ‘Mr. Perfects’. They have jobs, family and may be in great physical shape. But you never know from a surface understanding of a person what they may be going through. Some have confided they have been trying to change their relationship with alcohol for years. It fascinates me.
Ultimately I want to understand what my dad went through with his drinking. I used to just hate him for it and his lack of care or presence for his sons. But as I came to terms with my own mental health struggles I conceded he himself had something going on inside. A silent sufferer, as I used to be. He was killing himself slowly with the booze. It pains me to think I will never truly know why. Some family comments have suggested his long hours in his (for some time successful) London job from the age of 16 and the pub lunches that came with it, slowly turned into his addiction. He worked with his dad and he was known to “love a beer” (insert emoji for understatement).
What truly keeps me responsible is the final sight of my dad, just two days before he passed away. He sat silent and trembling, somehow making it out of bed to his couch to sit in the lounge as his wife and I chatted around him. The conversation was interrupted when my dad grunted. I had no idea what it meant but his wife did. She jumped up and returned seconds later with a tumbler of what I assumed was Coca-Cola. The pungent smell of rum soon told me otherwise.
Starting out as a hobby, Terry created a grassroots men’s mental health support network named Mr. Perfect that is growing by the minute. Although it does not pay a cent, it pays handsomely in purpose. You can check it out at www.mrperfect.org.au
Want to help support our charity and spread our message further? You can represent us in your very own Hello Sunday Morning shirt, singlet or hoodie! Purchase our apparel from hellosundaymorning.org/store
Whether your Valentine is your high school sweetheart or you met them on Tinder a few days earlier, here are some Valentine’s Day date ideas to spice up your love life.
The key to a great Valentine’s Day
Have no expectations. It’s usually appreciated when you have planned and put effort into creating the perfect date, but spontaneity can also work wonders in the romantic world. Try not to become too attached to an idea or a reaction from your date, as sometimes things don’t always turn out as you have imagined.
There is no positive outcome from comparing. So what if you’re friend got flowers sent to her work, was picked up in a limousine and taken to an exclusive day spa followed by a candle lit dinner on top of a tower? Maybe that kind of extravagance doesn’t suit you or your date and something a little more low-key is just right.
Nerves are a good thing for a great date
Although people tend to drink before a date to calm their nerves when they meet a potential Mr. or Mrs. Right, not all dates need to involve drinks at a bar. A lot of the time being nervous means you’re excited! Go with an open mind, dress comfortably and just be you. Make the most of those butterflies in your belly: they don’t often stick around after the honeymoon phase.
Date Ideas ♥♥♥
Cook dinner together
What’s more delicious and comforting than homemade pizzas? Nothing. Tie your hair up and get a little messy. Cooking is a great way to learn about people and it gives you an activity to do for those awkward lulls in conversation.
Try to include ingredients out of the list of aphrodisiac foods that are proven to spark romance, such as:
Check out what’s on
Check out if there is anything interesting or new happening in your area, like a film festival or outdoor cinema, an art exhibition or a pop-up food truck.
Keep it simple
Find a scenic spot such as a headland, rooftop or beach. Pack a blanket and pick up some takeaway goodies like fresh prawns and ginger beer. Don’t forget a portable speaker to play smooth tunes in the background.
Our favourite love songs:
Moondance ♥ Van Morrison
Let’s Stay Together ♥ Al Green
Your Song ♥ Elton John
Just The Two Of Us ♥ Bill Withers
Let’s Get It On ♥ Marvin Gaye
Go on an adventure
Take a walk and explore the city, hike in the bush, swim in the ocean, find a waterfall, or search for a secret spot where you can be alone.
Try something new
Sign up for a class like dancing, pottery or photography: you never know what may spike a shared passion.
See a gig
Share a taste in music? Head along to a live gig and let the music serenade your ears and the feeling of love satisfy your heart.
Road trip! There’s nothing like heading down the highway with the wind in your hair and a lover beside you. Head out of town for a day or night, park up somewhere beautiful and bring some delicious snacks.
Need to reignite an old spark?
Take this specific time of year to really appreciate your loved one and your relationship. Reflect together on the start of your love, or on memories that make you smile and make your heart feel full. Try something new if you have been doing the same thing together for a while; maybe it’s time to mix it up with an adventure or an outing to somewhere different. It’s remarkable what a little change can do.
It’s the start of a new year and generally people will be feeling pretty optimistic about the time ahead. Resolutions have been made, goals have been set and a plan of some sort has been established. Perhaps you’re feeling like you can take on the world!
Here are some tips on how to keep your good vibrations up while getting back into the swing of things.
How to stay optimistic throughout the year
Listen to music
“Music, the combiner, nothing more spiritual, nothing more sensuous, a god, yet completely human, advances, prevails, holds highest place; supplying in certain wants and quarters what nothing else could supply.” Walt Whitman.
Plug that speaker in and let the magic happen. The power of music can do wonders on lifting moods and keeping us feeling good. Check out these 52 songs to cheer you up every time.
Listening to tunes that make you want to shake your hips or tap your feet has been found to lift your energy levels. When music sparks something in us or makes us want to bop our head, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that produces positive feelings. In fact, it has been proven by physiologists that playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.
“Often we behave in a rigid, planned and fixed way because of anxieties and worries we have … Instead of worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, acting instinctively allows us to engage fully in what we’re doing at the time, and focus our whole attention on this.”
But how do you become spontaneous? We have some ideas to add a little spice to your life by mixing it up:
Jump off the bus a few stops earlier and wander back home. Remember to stop and smell the flowers.
Leave a weekend day free to wake up and do whatever you feel like doing.
Be impulsive once in a while; it keeps things exciting.
Just say ‘yes’ and don’t over analyse.
Sustain optimism by getting outside
It’s hard to feel stressed while lying in a fluffy patch of grass with a gentle breeze tingling your skin and the sun shining through gaps in the trees. Spending some quality time with nature can be beneficial for anyone who wants to increase their Outdoorphins or Vitamin G (green).
A little bit of sunlight and exposure to UV-B radiation in the sun’s rays is the best natural source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health, including decreasing chances of osteoporosis, and assisting in healing skin conditions.
The daily top-up: get enough sleep
We have all heard these before: “sleep tight”; “beauty sleep”; “well rested”. And for good reason. There are many benefits to getting the perfect night’s sleep for your physical, mental and spiritual self. Not getting enough pillow time can lead to irritable moods and a gloomier outlook on life.
It’s easy to get caught up in work and responsibilities and not make time to do these things we love doing and after a while we can even forget that good feeling that comes over us when we’re pursuing our passion.
It’s important to find the time to fit the passion in to keep the pessimistic attitude out.