One Friday evening in the early days of getting sober…

I was feeling shattered and there was no food in the house. I was also feeling slightly tense as I would normally be fixated on the opening and pouring of my gin and tonic and subsequent bottle of wine and instead was concentrating on changing this habit into something else more healthy. Only I’d been busy and hadn’t prepared anything.

So, I reasoned I had four options:

Option 1 = decide what to cook, go shopping, come home and cook (absolutely no way - too tired and didn’t want to face parking/people at supermarket - plus it would be late by the time I had got all that done)
Option 2 = fish & chips from the local chip shop (didn’t fancy that as did it last night after long and late drive home from work)
Option 3 = takeaway (expensive and we’d been unsociable enough this week)
Option 4 = local pub which had been recommended but we hadn’t tried yet (the winner!)

A month or two earlier in my sober journey and I couldn’t have contemplated going to a local pub in the evening, much less one that I didn’t know and where I didn’t already have an easy relationship with the staff and customers. It would have been too much of a challenge and would have caused too much anxiety.

However, these days, because I don’t consider that having an alcoholic drink is an option - I'm secure and confident that I'm not going to do that, I know I’m safe and I look forward to the food that is going to be cooked for me, dishes that are going to be washed for me, and a cosy and convivial atmosphere. I’m also curious as to what people I might meet and I’m much more open to engaging in conversation. I still have to concentrate on all this though, it's still WORK and I'm looking forward to the day that staying sober has become automatic for me and I don’t have to think about it or give it any energy anymore.

So, this is just a really quick blog intended as motivation and inspiration:

On entering the pub, which was as lovely as had been described to us, we went to the bar and my partner ordered a pint. My unconscious did a quick flip back into its unconscious programmed habit and went “bar, smell, clinking sounds, people, lights, atmosphere = WINE = good time and conversation and fun and relaxation and escape.” BUT, I’m so much more conscious of my unconscious now that I recognised immediately what was happening and ignored it, and so I rather self-consciously ordered a peppermint tea.

This took a little commitment and strength but because I had already spent time beforehand imagining being at the bar, imagining ordering my drink and imagining how good it would feel to stay sober, it was so much easier than it could have been. I did feel some small sense of loss or disappointment… as if the moment wasn’t as good as it could have been if I was drinking, but I recognised that for what it was too - my unconscious mind trying to convince me of why I should be drinking - trying to persuade me to resort to its familiar patterns. So, I just told myself that, although it felt weird and different, I could ignore that voice in my head, nothing bad was going to happen and I would end up enjoying myself if I stuck with it and sat it out for a bit.

The super-friendly and helpful woman behind the bar didn’t bat an eyelid when I ordered my peppermint tea and even offered me a large mug instead of a cup, some cold water in the top to make it drinkable, and a separate saucer for the bag in case I wanted to take it out. She couldn’t have treated me better if I had ordered a full bottle of her finest red. The burly men drinking their real ale at the bar didn’t bat an eyelid and simply returned my smiles.

It's a constant source of amazement to me that no-one else actually cares what I order or drink. It's only me that makes an issue of it. It's only me that's self-conscious and it's wasted energy.

I think the feeling of slight disquiet and oddness came from me feeling like this wasn’t me. This slightly uptight, sober, sensible and shy person ordering tea at the bar was a far cry from the loud, rebellious, “I can drink any man under the table” person determined to have a voice and a party at all costs. I am still going through a period of adjusting: to new habits; to a new version of me; a new identity and new experiences in familiar settings. There is a part of me that still doesn’t want to fully embrace this new person and is in mourning for the old Jo.

The upshot of the evening was that my partner and I really enjoyed the excellent food and caught up (if rather tiredly) on the last few days’ events. Midway through the evening, our conversation started to become animated and we actually connected with each other (compare with me when I was drinking – the only thing I would have been connecting with would have been the wine). After the first 30 minutes or so, I started to loosen up, my confidence and playfulness surfaced and I ended up leaving the pub on a high.

And, as for waking up the next morning… ah. The bliss of waking up clear-headed, remembering the environment, the food and the conversation. And all without the familiar stale alcohol fumes. This is still a relative novelty and I hope I don’t forget and take it for granted.

On reflection, what I have noticed is this: I didn’t think about alcohol all that much and I didn’t miss it after the initial tug when I got to the bar. The evening’s enjoyment came simply from being treated well, the food on our table and the conversing and catching up we were doing. There was no stress and there were no pangs or feelings of “missing something”. There is a subtle and quiet level of excitement about each new activity/event I undertake sober – it feels good in a wholesome and purposeful way. I can look forward to the next morning and what tomorrow will bring.

What I want to emphasise is that even if, in the early days of changing an unwanted habit like drinking, a sense of deprivation is what you find yourself focusing on, you can expect this to change eventually. You will begin to focus on what you are gaining instead of what you’re missing out on. Sure, there are times when the unconscious kicks in to its programmed responses and habits (like when I ordered my tea and felt a sense of lack or disappointment), but when you recognise these, they are easily let go.

Looking forward to the future, whether it’s the next morning or month or year, rather than dwelling in the past or the “what ifs” is so much more satisfying and healthy.

Here’s to more “sober first” experiences!

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