On the Solidarity Wagon

So… Sober October, eh? Do you or anyone you know take a break from booze during October? Or perhaps my old nemesis, dry January? I think it’s a fabulous idea for those of you who aren’t alcoholics or have a problem with alcohol. Hubby is doing it this year, and it makes me giggle how I’m abstaining from alcohol free beer to show solidarity! Isn’t that quite funny? The alkie showing moral support for the non-alkie who’s on the wagon for a while. I think it’s brilliant.

I suppose it could be a number of things. Macmillan Cancer Support is a charity here in the UK that is largely behind the concept and they’re a wonderful charity that does heaps of good up and down the country. They also organise the Mighty Hike, of which there are several different ones you can do and we did the south coast challenge in the summer, now toying with the idea of the Jurassic coast. Whichever we choose next, I’m looking forward to see what difference all the running and working out will make – lots, I’m sure – as I was absolutely destroyed last time. So anyway, even if the only objective for your Sober October is to raise money for a good cause, that’s a brilliant reason in its own right.  Hey, lots of people grow a tash only to raise money for a good cause rather than fashion reasons, so I think it’s a pretty solid reason. It could also be that you just fancy being super kind to your body for a while – an excellent reason too. Or you’re embarking on a health kick temporarily or kick starting a healthier life style and using Sober October to get firing on all cylinders. Awesome. Maybe you’re even toying with the idea of cutting alcohol out of your life altogether, not because it’s a problem but because you just know you’ll be better off without it? Then again, if you don’t have a drinking PROBLEM it clearly wouldn’t be causing problems, so what do I know? I’m trying to figure out if I’d have any real reason to stop drinking alcohol if I could “enjoy” it in a “normal” manner. You can tell how alien this is to me, the alcoholic, by my excessive use of inverted commas. It just doesn’t exist in my world.

What about when you’re an alcoholic like I am though, or have what you’d consider a drinking problem? What about Sober October then?

Well. In my ever growing tribe, people regularly discuss how to explain why they no longer drink. Some people don’t feel comfortable openly saying they have a problem for various reasons, which I can completely understand. In this instance, Sober October or a dry January offers a brilliant cover story and you start your sobriety shoulder to shoulder with everyone else who’s giving it a whirl and no one has to know you’re any different to the next person. I’m sure that makes things easier in a lot of cases and that’s terrific. Then of course at the end of it, you can just say you enjoy sobriety so much you’re just going to stick at it. Your sobriety is your business and it’s up to you how, when, why and if you share and, indeed, what and how much you share. Whether you are ready to tell the whole world your story or otherwise, I’m sure a first foray into a booze free existence is made easier when lots of people are doing it too. As with everything though, each to her own.

Personally, I never did Sober October. I just didn’t bother with ‘sober’ anything, to be honest. Some years I attempted dry January but for me it was only ever something to suffer through and then afterwards (if I managed more than a couple of weeks that is – which I don’t ever remember doing more than once) go on to drink more than ever to make up for it. As I’ve outlined before, I could only stop drinking once something clicked in me and I just knew I was done with it, and not a second before. This was MY experience, I don’t claim it’s anyone else’s – we’re all different, remember. So, for me, I don’t know that it would have made any difference, not even from the undercover perspective because when I was done, I was DONE and one of my ways of anchoring my sobriety has been to tell absolutely EVERYONE (and a few more people besides) exactly why and precisely what my reasons to stop were (and ARE – not like my reasons are going anywhere). That’s MY story. Had I reached that turning point at the beginning of October one year, I suspect it would have been coincidental to me, I can’t imagine it would have made me less likely to open up but again, that was one of my ways of getting a handle on my new life of sobriety. I mean, sharing about drinking, alcoholism and addiction is why my tribe is so important to me, but it’s been equally important to be able to share with my family and friends.

It’s funny because it rolls off my tongue quite easily now. I think I always felt at peace with saying it once I had that click and truly wanted out of my addiction, and although there were times I did worry about people’s reaction it was never enough to stop me from speaking the words. No one reacted badly anyway. Mostly the response has consisted of hugs and assurances I’m doing a good thing. So yes, I suppose I’m very lucky. In particular, hubby and Cherokee should both receive some sort of award for how much they have listened, engaged and talked with me – hubby many, many evenings on the sofa, and Cherokee via long e-mail exchanges. My brother D should also be given a medal for scooping me up in his arms and hugging me like he hasn’t done since he was four and crept into my bed after having a nightmare, only this time I suppose he felt he was protecting me and not the other way around. Oh fuck this, I didn’t mean to turn all soppy, where were we?

Sober October.

I guess what I think of it is this: GOOD STUFF. I mean, how can anything that prevents us from doing something that is harmful even in moderation be negative? If you’re a normal drinker and you use this one month to raise money for a good cause at the same time as you’re being good to yourself, awesome. If you want to kick start a life of sobriety, awesome. If you piggy back on it to get into the sober way of life without too much fanfare or spotlight on your personal situation, that’s awesome too and I wish you all the best. Welcome in, you’ll like it here – sobriety is fucking amazing.

Today I’m not going to drink.

October Piggy Back

Another Monday and unlike last, it’s a good one. Last Monday was super shitty. Today is just… ..normal, I guess. I’m not in a mood in either direction, I suppose I’m in that weird space inbetween that used to be so alien to me: the middle. Not euphorically happy or devastatingly sad. Just a standard, nothing-to-report, uneventful FINE. Is this what the third gear feels like? Strictly speaking it’s not entirely true because I’d still say there is excitement in me, a sense of joy and freedom – just not overwhelmingly so. Just, sort of, life’s great! I slept badly and had weird dreams but when you don’t have a hangover, once you’ve had that shower and got some coffee inside you, it’s all good. Think I may have a cold lingering – Bambino came back from his dad’s yesterday and had a temperature. I can always tell when it’s genuine sickness – as opposed to Playstationitis – because Bambino gets all needy and cuddly when he’s poorly. He’s just not an affectionate kid, never has been. Not at all like my nephews who are all about the hugs and snuggling. Bambino will endure a hug, but he’s never, not even when he was tiny, been the kind of kid who’d nestle into my arms and stay put. When he’s unwell, he does though, and this morning I got a lovely, extended embrace, the kind when he stays in the hug for a while. He was boiling so I sent him back to bed. He’ll be an adult soon enough and can struggle through forcing himself into work when he’s unwell then.

This third gear stuff though, it’s really quite lovely. When I was drinking and all emotion was numbed, it’s a different story. I never consciously drank to numb any feelings of course, if anything I drank for the opposite reason – to enhance how I felt – but this is inevitably what happens with booze. It puts a wet blanket over everything. So to feel anything at all, everything needs to be extreme and powerful. Gentle simply can’t get to you when you’re anaesthesised. I always used to put it down to my personality, that I’m just one of those people who feels everything to extremes. This is of course true – I do! – but now I get to experience that bit between the highs and lows. Drunk Me would have scoffed at this and wondered why anyone would bother, so when I write this it suddenly seems like it might not make sobriety seem so appealing from that perspective. I was never interested in that middle bit, you see. That middle that I find myself in today: feeling fine but not ecstatic, looking forward to the gym or a run later (haven’t decided which) but nothing going on that’s explosive, extravagant or note worthy. Sure, sometimes I was really fed up and envied anyone who could be more level than I am, but ultimately I always felt grateful that what I feel I tend to feel strongly. So if I were to travel back in time and tell Drunk Me how lovely it is – lovely but not extraordinary – to just have a bog standard Monday in the hope that she might come to her senses (quite literally) and want that too, Drunk Me would have turned her nose up and poured that wine.

I just don’t know how to sell the middle except to say it’s freeing. Freedom.

But that’s half the problem, if not most of it: Drunk Me would have thought she still had reasons to drink – ceeeee-leeeee-brate good times, come on! – and if all I were to offer her were nondescript Mondays, God knows if she’d even let me finish. It would have seemed like madness to give up something I associated with fun, happiness, relaxation, madness and giggles to just get… ..ordinary. Having said that, Drunk Me was increasingly and desperately tired of waking up feeling like death. And true enough, discovering nights of solid, quality sleep and waking up clear and alert was more than enough to send me giddy with joy and gratitude almost from the word go. And I suppose that’s what’s so lovely about a day like today. I don’t need anything else today. I don’t need extraordinary to blow me away because feeling healthy and well is enough. It’s more than enough.

October is here, and of course with it goes Sober For October. Lots of people do it, some for charity and others just to give sobriety a whirl or lose a few pounds. Hubby is doing it and is abstaining until Boy #2’s birthday at the end of the month – he’s booked a father and son day and it’s a cocktail making course, but this still leaves almost four weeks. Hubby doesn’t have a drinking problem, he is one of those mythical creatures with an off-switch. He can have a beer. He can have a couple of beers. He can have five beers. Or he can have nine beers and finish off with tequila shots. But it’s his choice. I’ve seen him tipsy on occasion, full on drunk a handful of times, but I don’t think he knows what black-out is beyond what I’ve told him. He’s probably what you’d call a very average, normal drinker. A few beers here and there, wine with dinner sometimes. At a guess he has a small amount of alcohol (small to my mind being two or three drinks) perhaps three evenings per week. When we first met he tried to keep up with me but soon discovered he couldn’t function at the level I was at so he stopped trying to match me drink for drink. Still, until I stopped drinking, the years we’ve been together he drank more than he has at any other stage of his life including the messy teenage and early 20s years. Of course now that I’m not guzzling wine like there’s no tomorrow, he’s back to drinking at a level that falls well within recommended limits but he wants to lose a few pounds so is hopping on the Sober For October bandwagon. Not that he needs to, he is perfection in every way in my eyes, but I think it’s good for everyone to go sober-curious here and there.

Because he is a man and life is unfair, he’ll probably shed three or four kilos based on cutting those few beers alone, but I suspect he’ll also notice a difference in health overall. He has a fitness watch that tracks his heart rate – even at his moderate drinking levels, I’ll bet his resting heart rate will come down a tiny bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can suddenly do more at the gym and ends up finding he can run a little further and a little faster. Anyway. On the one hand I think Sober For October is a little ridiculous as it shouldn’t be a challenge if you drink like my husband. On the other, it’s a great excuse for anyone to have a go at the sober thang. Of course, it also gives a great little excuse and cover story for those of us who perhaps have a drinking problem, to piggy back on it, hide amongst “normal” drinkers and point to the challenge instead of facing questions that feel too personal. It’s a good thing.

And me? 251 days today and I am so grateful. Stopping drinking is the best decision I ever made. Yes, you can of course say that having Bambino and marrying hubby were my best decisions in life and whilst this is 100% true, without my sobriety there would be no life in the first place. Winning. That’s what sobriety is for me, with all its ordinary, bog standard Mondays and all: winning at life. Fucking awesome if you ask me.

Today I’m not going to drink.