Every cell in my body wanted to drink. To take away the pain.
After five months of sobriety, this was my biggest test yet, and it was hitting me hard.
My partner had left me, completely without warning.
I’d just sold my house as we prepared to move in together and create a blended family with five children between us.
I was deliriously happy, in love and excited for the future.
Then, overnight I was single, about to be homeless and completely heartbroken.
All I wanted to do was drink. I’d never faced a life crisis without alcohol.
Drinking was my go-to coping mechanism for dealing with tough, painful emotions.
I’d been a heavy drinker since I was 15.
For 27 years, I used alcohol to celebrate, commiserate and connect.
Almost a year ago, I made the tough decision to quit drinking after coming to the realisation that it was controlling every aspect of my life.
I drank to mark lunch, the end of a gym class or having made it through Monday.
Every day I battled with myself not to drink.
I’d wake up and the first thing to spring to mind would be, ‘Right, I’m not drinking today.’
But invariably by 6pm I’d have given in to that bottle of wine. Because I deserved it.
I’d had a long day at work. I needed to treat myself. Release the stress.
I was ashamed that I couldn’t get my drinking under control and so I hid much of it.
I often drove to dinner with friends and left as early as I could so I could go home and crack open a bottle.
I spent weekends at wineries, maintaining the pretence of wine as a sophisticated interest, a hobby. Not a problem.
I was short with my kids, willing them into bed so I could drink alone on the couch.
But the more I drank, the harder it was for alcohol to get me to that happy place.
At work I was starting to struggle with memory and focus and mood swings.
Things came to a head in early January during a holiday to Thailand where I drank by the pool and partied every night.
I was sick of feeling slightly dusty every morning. Sick of being ruled by that internal voice asking, ‘is it wine o’clock yet?’
Something had to change.
I stumbled across the 'One Year No Beer' sober community on Facebook and was inspired to set myself a 90-day challenge.
I’d start on February 1st and let friends, family and work colleagues know on social media, to keep myself accountable.
Although I spoke to my GP and prepared as best I could, it was a scary decision. I worried I’d fail.
How would I have the confidence to socialise without feeling fidgety and distracted by the urge to go home and crack open a bottle?
But the more I practiced sober living, the more confident I became. The benefits far outweighed the negatives.
My relationships got stronger, my thinking became sharper and more focused, and my physical and mental health improved.
I was less reactive, with fewer mood swings.
The cravings were still difficult, but I was starting to enjoy my new life without alcohol.
Then my relationship fell apart and with it went a key pillar of support during those first five months.
All I wanted to do was numb myself.
But I knew deep down that drinking would only make everything worse in the long run.
So I let myself feel every bit of the pain.
It was the first time I’d processed shock, grief and anger without alcohol.
I cried. A lot.
There were some very dark moments. Moments where I felt the pain was too much to bear and that I’d be better off not waking up in the morning.
But through it all, I had a mantra repeating in my head: ‘He has taken enough. He will not take my sobriety’.
I took time off work and managed to get myself to my GP for a referral to a psychologist because I knew I needed help.
I talked with friends and did a lot of reading, trying to understand some of the feelings I was experiencing.
I read The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray, and found a woman not unlike myself who partied hard into middle age only to find that alcohol had taken over.
Reading about her inability to drink in moderation, I realised that this was the very thing that I struggled with.
Suddenly it made sense – alcohol is a drug and I was addicted.
It dawned on me that this was not going to be a 90-day break. It needed to be a forever decision.
At first, this was a terrifying realisation. But ultimately, getting through one of the worst periods of my life without alcohol was a life-changing experience.
Shock moved to grief then to anger and finally acceptance and recovery.
They say everything happens for a reason. For me, the breakup meant I would learn how to do this thing called life without turning to drinking and escaping the hard stuff.
Rather than break me, it became a defining moment.
I now remember every interaction. I’ve bought a house, and I hang out more with my kids, who tell me I’m a calmer, more present Mum. I’m someone they want to be around.
I am living in the moment every day and choosing to live a full and mindful life.
No longer is my behaviour secretive, dramatic or reckless. No longer do I make choices that I regret in the morning.
Today, my life is on my terms.
I am stronger, more content and standing on firm ground. It’s a really good place to be.
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Photography: Scott McNaughton