Triskelion: an old Irish Symbol representing the connection between Body, Mind and Spirit
Life is full of ups and downs. I got over my recent downer and, like my injured dog, George, who has since been healed, I bounced back into life. So much so that I feel more alive now than I ever did. But while I was stuck in the negativity, I thought I was cracking up. And then I remembered one of my favourite songwriters of all time, Leonard Cohen, when he said,
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
How brilliant was he! He said so succinctly what I know now to be true. It is during those dark moments when we are most vulnerable that we discover what it is to be human.
Light through darkness
On further pondering Leonard’s words, it made sense to me that we are all living in the dark as there is so much that is unknown to us. We struggle away in our own worlds, each of us doing our best to make sense of things and every now and again, something happens to enhance our understanding as though someone has shone a light for us, and we are filled with hope. The most powerful light that has been shone for me has been the light of love. Just when I feel the pain of existence is almost unbearable, somebody extends the hand of love and support.
Compassion, not judgement
Since I stopped drinking, I feel myself going through some major changes. I feel a deeper sense of connection with the world. Through the various support systems that I put in place almost nine months ago, I have discovered that alcohol and drugs do not discriminate. Anyone can become a victim of dependency and lose themselves to the toxic chains that tighten around the throat and incarcerate us in a life of self-loathing and joyless living. Now, when I encounter a person imprisoned in this way, I feel only compassion for them. There is no room for judgement. Nobody chooses this path as a way to happiness. They choose it as a means to kill the pain they are carrying inside of them. And it isn’t just the people we see huddled in doorways drinking or taking drugs, there are plenty of people battling away with dependency in their suburban kitchens, workplaces and drinking holes across the world. Problem drinkers or drug users can be functioning people who still go to work every day, housewives who still support their families, young people who struggle with anxiety and people in stressful jobs such as paramedics, nurses, doctors etc. They self-medicate to help them cope with life. I know how trapped they feel, and they do too.
Climb every mountain
It feels as though a huge mountain lies before them and they haven’t got the energy, motivation and support to climb it. It fills them with fear and a sense of hopelessness. Having been through this myself, I’ve learnt that the brain’s ability to function normally is impaired by the regular use of alcohol and/or drugs. The brain grows to depend on the substance to function and without it, it is unable to balance its own chemistry. One of these chemicals is a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which induces a feeling of relaxation and sedation when released by the brain in normal conditions. A reduction in GABA can trigger panic, restlessness, insomnia and potentially convulsions and seizures. No wonder people find it so hard to stop using. The early days of withdrawal are tough.
A glass full
To make matters worse, I was also grappling with the challenges of menopause and was wondering why, despite all my exercise, I was gaining weight. I consulted Dr Google and discovered that the diminishing levels of hormones were the cause of much more than just weight gain. It also explains the symptoms we have come to expect such as hot flushes and night-sweats, but what’s interesting is that many women report an increase in these symptoms as their alcohol consumption increases. Isn’t it ironic how the one thing we thought would give us relief from our anxiety is now adding to it? I can vouch for this because as soon as I stopped drinking, I noticed a massive reduction. In fact, I no longer get hot flushes or night sweats and that’s without any hormone replacement therapy. According to the health experts here in Australia, moderate drinking during menopause is okay but guess what… moderate drinking is classified as one drink per day, yes, that’s right, just one. And that drink should be no more than 150ml of wine, based on an average alcohol content of around 12%. Who measures their wine when they pour it at home? I reckon a standard glass of wine in my house was at least 200ml. And I was having about three most nights. And there you have it, problem drinking just like that!
Sober in the suburbs
I’m so convinced of the benefits of an alcohol-free life that I just cannot help talking about it. It’s as though I can’t deny other people the right to know. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in myself recently is how much nicer and kinder I am to those around me. I think I can confidently speak for my immediate family because of the feedback I get from them. You see, embracing sobriety isn’t just about giving up alcohol. It is about recovering the person I was always meant to be. It is about forgiving myself for the stupid, mean and selfish things I did in the past and showing compassion towards myself for the struggles I have endured. Now here’s the thing. You might be thinking to yourself ‘would you ever stop thinking about yourself so much’ but the good news is, because I have forgiven myself and become more compassionate, I am now extending the same to everyone else. It starts with me. I want to be better than before so that I can be better for myself and others.
So, I decided to reach out to others and offer them support in order that they too can experience this freedom to thrive. I have been inspired by many people along the way including the lovely Shanna Whan, founder of Sober In The Country, a grassroots organisation and charity that aims to bring about a culture-shift in rural Australia regarding alcohol.
I have started a Facebook page called Sober In The Suburbs and linked to it is a private group that people can request to join. Once accepted into the group, they can seek support, share information and make new friends in confidence. I am promoting it as a local community page where I live here in Perth as I believe it’s important to provide people with opportunities to find support, meet up and practice healthy, positive living beyond the pub and drunken barbecues. For some people who have embraced sobriety, they find it hard to be around their old drinking haunts as there are too many triggers. Others simply find the whole drinking culture boring once they’re sober. Like Shanna Whan, my vision is to make it okay for people to talk about sobriety and all the positive things they do instead. Just because many people around us think it’s okay to drink to excess does not make it right. Since starting this page, I have been contacted by a number of people who are relieved that they have a place where they can start the conversation. It’s early days though and I’m hoping that it will grow into something helpful and positive in time. I believe in my heart that it is an important part of my journey to be of service to others.
Before I go
I’m pretty excited this week as in two more sleeps I will be heading back to the Emerald Isle for a family reunion. My darling Dad is turning 80 and we are going to have a big party back in the motherland to mark this special birthday. I will do my best to write my blog next weekend and will publish it from Ireland on his birthday, Monday 10th February GMT. I have a feeling the subject matter might just be family related. Mum and Dad will be staying in a house with their six children, all under one roof, for the first time in about 33 years. This will be very interesting indeed!
Until then, thanks for taking the time to read this. Please share it with anyone you think might benefit from my experience. Thanks, and take care.