Welcome to Celebrate Good Times, my 83rd blog. Follow this link to watch or listen instead.
We’ve just marked four years since we took the pledge not to let alcohol mess with our lives any longer. The last time my husband and I had a drink was on Mother’s Day 2019 which, here in Australia, falls on the second Sunday of my favourite month. It’s also the month in which we got married. On May 114th we clocked up 19 years of married life. Now you can understand why the weekend just past was special. We celebrated with a seriously delicious vegan cake (featured photo this week!) that my gorgeous daughter made for me with love and appreciation.
I hope you’re all doing OK. The fact that you’re reading or listening to this is a sign that you are taking time out to be kind to yourself. I’m glad about that. I can’t let this week go by without reflecting on how these last four years have changed me for the better. So, come back with me to 2019 and let me show you why that change was necessary.
Have a look at this other photo.
Do you see someone with a drink problem? I masked it quite well, didn’t I. But behind the smile and the make-up, I was scared. I felt like my life was on a cliff edge. If I fell, there was every possibility that I wasn’t coming back up again. The smouldering anger was starting to burn and suffocate the life out of my relationships. The insidious self-loathing that had been building for decades felt as though it was about to consume me. The photo was taken on Mother’s Day 2019 after I’d had close to a bottle of champagne, and another was yet to be consumed before the day would be over. I had on a nice dress, the make-up I wore softened the reddening caused by the excessive wine from the night before, and I did my very best to show the world that I was just fine. Looking at me then, it wasn’t so obvious that I was struggling. And that’s the thing. Most of us are very good at masking our problems. We do it because we want others to accept us. We want them to think that we are worthy and that we have our shit together. But I had a secret. And that secret was going to destroy me if I didn’t air it and loosen the hold it had over me. The secret was that I was deeply disillusioned with my life because I kept reaching for booze to make me feel better and it was doing the complete opposite.
I knew before I went to bed that night on the 12th of May 2019, even in my drunken state, that the time had come. At some point during the day, I had stopped to read again the Mother’s Day card written by my daughter and I was moved by the fact that she believed I was the best mummy in the world. I knew that I wasn’t. I knew that I was not only half the mother I could be, but I was also a terrible role model. At 12 years old, my daughter was learning from me that drinking heavily was normal and that irate mummies in the morning were part of life. Waking up the next morning with the familiar and almighty hangover, I looked at my husband and said, ‘today is the day’. I had come to the end of the road in my relationship with the substance that I had used to numb me for decades. I know I’ve written about this on many occasions already, but, just to recap, it’s important to remind people that I had many false starts previously. I struggled to come to terms with the fact that even small amounts of alcohol had negative repercussions for me. I desperately wanted to be normal, to be able to drink like everybody else. And that’s when I had an a-ha moment. I suddenly found myself questioning the benefits of drinking at all. People everywhere reminded me that socialising was much more fun with a few drinks in you. Yet here I was feeling the opposite. You know when people say to you that ‘you have to know your own mind’? Well, I’d been relying on other people to know my mind for me. I looked outwards rather than inwards. I did what others did in the hope that it would work for me too.
Now, four years on, I know my own mind. I know what works for me, what serves me well and I know what drags me down and prevents me from living the life I desire. I watch the sparkly advertising that glamorises booze and I see a company peddling a drug that causes more destruction and pain than any drug ever invented. I witness the clinking of glasses and the downing of alcohol, and I see people who are too anxious to socialise without altering their state of mind with a drug. You might say that’s harsh. But it is the truth. If people were to be really honest about why they feel the need to drink when they socialise, they would probably say that they feel awkward socially without a drink. How is that when we are apparently ‘wired for connection’? Why do we struggle to connect with each other as our authentic selves and need booze to take the edge off? Experience as a sober socialiser has shown me that it gets easier as I become more comfortable in my own skin. It was counselling that gave me the tools to find that comfort. Talking to a professional helped me know my own mind, to discover my authentic self and accept her as she is. I used alcohol and drugs to alter myself as I wasn’t OK with my real self. But you know, inside every one of us is an amazing person who doesn’t need to be altered in any way. All we need is to know and love that amazing person. Any behaviours that impede our ability to be who we truly are must be addressed with courage and self-compassion.
It’s always worth it
Now when I socialise, I focus on the other person and take a greater interest in what they have to say. Because I’m less self-conscious, I am more relaxed and less concerned about being judged. Given half a chance, I will dance as though no-one is watching, and I will dance with my shadow if I have to because I love to dance. There is video evidence of this on my Facebook page if you don’t believe me. When I sing with my choir, I can’t always reach the high notes, but I don’t beat myself up about it or grow red in the face with mortification. No, I mime the really high ones and work on improving my breathing and diaphragm control in order to strengthen my voice in the hope that one day I will reach them. Knowing who I am and what makes me happy empowers me to pursue the things I love to do and often that involves a bit of effort, but it’s always worth it.
Do it for you!
The Mother’s Day cards that my kids gave me this year moved me to tears. They both acknowledged in their unique handwriting how proud they are of me and the person I’ve become. I feel so lucky to have found a way to become a better mother to them and it is paying off. While it makes me incredibly satisfied to know that I am a positive presence in my kids’ lives, I must make it clear that to make lasting changes to my life I had to do it for me, not just for my kids. I wanted to be a better person than I had been. I am reminded of a story a sober friend of mine told me years ago about her childhood. She remembers sitting on her bed as a little kid with tears rolling down her face as she listened to her parents fighting. She heard her mother beg her father to stop drinking as it was destroying the family. She implored him to do it for his kids, if he couldn’t do it for himself. As it turned out, he wasn’t able to stop and my friend had a very difficult childhood, especially as her father died prematurely from the booze. My take is that her father didn’t stop because he didn’t feel worthy. He felt he was broken beyond repair. So, my advice to anyone who feels that way is to seek help from a counsellor who will listen without judgement and hold a safe space where a person can come to terms with what is stopping them from seeing their own worth, knowing their own mind and learning to be OK in their own skin. What will follow from there will benefit everyone else. It starts with us.
Thanks for tuning in and reading this far. Stay well and stay in touch. Love, Gill x