monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Around the world on my eightieth day

It’s day 80 – and lately I’ve been having recurring thoughts about losing alcohol experiences when I’m traveling.

My partner and I are planning some international travel for 2014 and we’re talking about exotic destinations.  So many places and cultures have really unique drinks and drinking cultures and they’re so much fun to experience.

I’ve got fun memories of wine next by the Rhein, Sangria in Spain, Liquorice vodka in Scandinavia, vodka in Poland, beer in Germany, Guinness in Dublin, Campari on ice in Italy, Sake in Japan, Cider in New Zealand, Pina Colada made with fresh coconut cream in Samoa, a Singapore Sling in… well… Singapore.

Travel drinking is also tied to the excitement of catching up with friends and family – or meeting new people and sharing fun times.

As we plan our trip I’m remembering fun times and getting hung up on the experiences I won’t get to have in the future.

WAIT A SECOND – what a self-indulgent first world problem!

I’ve got the opportunity to travel across the world, to taste new things, meet different people, have zany experiences and do amazing things and I’m getting hung up on a type of liquid.  Oh boo hoo – in a few months I might be kayaking past icebergs in Greenland or hiking on glaciers in 24 hour daylight but I won’t be able to warm myself up with a cup of potent Greenlandic ‘coffee’. Poor me, poor me…

Maybe I should just tell myself to shut up.  Maybe I’ll have more spending money for the trip since I’m not sucking back copious quantities of cheap & nasty booze?  Maybe there will be new types of experiences which I never had on previous trips – because I was too busy steering my travel companions into the nearest pub?

Time to get some perspective.

PS:  And yes I’ve recently seen ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and I now want to go to Greenland.

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We have the technology, we can rebuild him…

So I’m back into running with a vengeance.  I’ve swapped hang-overs for energy and now I’m training to run a half-marathon (21.1km or 13.1 miles) in April.  I’ve got plenty of time to prepare.  I’ve done a few big runs lately and I know that I can do the distance – the next step is to improve my speeds (I’m like a slow-moving zombie).

I’ve noticed that lots of the sober bloggers write about the importance of running in their lives.  I’m not sure whether I’m just following people with similar interests – or if running is actually a common hobby amongst people in recovery.

When I was drinking I ran for fun reasons, like enjoyment and satisfaction, but also because of:

  • Denial – I was proving to myself that my body/health was still OK
  • Denial – I was trying to make a point (to myself) that I could still achieve goals despite my drinking
  • Damage control – It was the most energy-intensive exercise I could do to offset the oodles of calories which I was drinking (not to mention the crap food cravings & willpower which evaporated after a few beers)
  • Damage control – I was trying to be super-healthy in other parts of my life to over-compensate for my extremely unhealthy drinking patterns.

When I was drinking it felt like I was running on a treadmill – working super hard just to stay in the same spot.  Now I can see fairly rapid changes in stamina, weight loss and my body shape. I’m running for the challenge, the sense of achievement which comes from doing something I never thought I’d be able to do, and to be as healthy as I can be.

Maybe some other reasons running is popular amongst people in recovery is that it appeals to that addictive/obsessive streak which many of us write about – or the perfectionism and self-imposed high standards? I know that once you get some initial improvement in fitness it’s easy to ‘get into’ running and some people talk about getting obsessed.

At this time, I don’t feel the need to pathologise my running. It doesn’t feel problematic or unhealthy… And hey – even if it got slightly obsessive, I would happily swap drinking for amateur running any day!

Part of me is also probably running because of boring mid-life crisis issues. In a few months I’ll be FORTY and I’m probably trying to prove to myself that I’ve still got it (I still think running is heaps better than the other clichés like an expensive convertible, plastic surgery or an affair).

The best reason for running is that I lost a lot of physical condition during 2012 after a few cancer treatments/surgeries. Running makes me feel like I’m not just rebuilding my body – I’m improving it.


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Onwards and upwards

Call me paranoid but things are going so well with quitting that I sometimes get suspicious. For the last 8 years my life felt like it was being controlled by alcohol and everything was brought to a head during 2012 & 2013 as I had my second and third rounds of cancer treatment.

Since I made the decision to quit (unconditionally, completely and forever) all of the stress, angst and uncertainty has just evaporated… like vodka off a hot tin roof.  After so many attempts at moderation and quitting I can’t really pinpoint why this time has felt so different…

All I can put it down to is:

1)       I (unsuccessfully) tried so many approaches to moderation and controlling my drinking that I realised that quitting was the only realistic option.

2)       I had several attempts at quitting for short periods that I had some practice about how to do it.  ‘Failed’ attempts are not always failures – they can also be learning experiences.

The situation reminds me of when I worked at a family mediation service working with separating couples. A common situation with some separating couples was that the partner who ended the relationship had spent months debating the options, being unhappy/angry, and trying to work things out before they made the final decision.  They had often spent months, and sometimes years, grieving the loss of the relationship before it officially ended.

The other partner was often taken by surprise or was finally confronted by the situation and could no longer deny the problem. They did most of their grieving after the relationship ended. Mediation about separation agreements could be difficult with these couples because:

1)       One partner was quite matter-of-fact, focused on the future and wanting to sort out the separation details (sometimes with an almost clinical, business-like approach).

2)       The other partner was still deep in grief, focused on what has just happened and sometimes still clutching at straws hoping to reconcile the relationship.

They were awful and messy dynamics and sometimes if mediation could be delayed we would recommend waiting a few months so both partners could make clear-headed and rational decisions. I think I’m like the partner who ended my relationship with booze.  I did my crying, wailing and gnashing of teeth for most of 2012 and 2013 – and now that I’ve ended the relationship I feel free and focused on the future.

After a relaxed and sober Christmas and New Year I’m looking forward to a great 2014.  I hope the same for anyone reading this!


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Out with the old and in with the new

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the other sober bloggers out there. Overall, I had a relaxed and mellow festive period and it was a nice coincidence that New Year’s Eve was also my 50th day sober (there’s something satisfying about round numbers). Woo hoo – that must have been my first sober New Year’s Eve for 21 years.

A couple of experiences over the festive season were:

  • Most people are matter-of-fact. I was surprised how much of a non-issue my not-drinking was for most people. At events my partner usually announced that I wasn’t drinking and made faux-outraged comments – I’d then say he should be happy ‘cos he’s scored a designated driver. Then after a few chuckles and the group would switch to the next small-talk topic without a second thought. Done… people stopped asking me if I wanted a drink.
  • A couple of uncomfortable moments… During some of the ‘not drinking’ discussions a few people made harmless, joking comments about ‘yeah he had to quit because he was a raging alcoholic’. I laughed along with the jokes (while shuffling from foot to foot and glancing uncomfortably at the floor). It always surprises me that people around me seem to have no idea about my drinking.
  • I got a bit jealous. New Year was a sedate and relaxed affair. It was a small party with some friends that we don’t see often (about 12 people). None of them are big drinkers – although they were drinking more than normal because it was a ‘big night’. I was jealous that even on New Year they effortlessly paced themselves and slowly savoured their drinks. Then, one by one, people started saying ‘no thanks – I’m right’ and stopped drinking. Urghhh – I wish I was built with an off-switch and a speed dial!
  • I felt a bit left out. They drank like classy adults! The host had a collection of Whiskies and was tasting and comparing them with some other guys. I stood with the group and felt like a detached observer as they slowly sipped and discussed the drinks. I’ve never been a Whisky drinker and part of me was thinking ‘I guess I’ll never get to really appreciate them now’. Realistically I wouldn’t have appreciated them anyway – I would have either been gulping them or been distracted by the compulsion of wanting more and trying to control the feeling.

I think my challenge for 2014 is to focus on developing new traditions. It’s easy to start to get caught up on the things you’re giving up – goodbye old routines, shared celebration rituals, familiar traditions. Boo hoo, poor me, I’m such a martyr…

I think it’s healthier to focus on the new. Instead of ending a year by getting smashed – I could start the New Year with a day trip to the beach or a picnic/hike in the mountains. Something special which doesn’t involve alcohol and where it just won’t be missed. 2014 is full of new opportunities and experiences and I’m really looking forward to it.