I've just woken up on a crisp, crystal-clear Sunday morning in the UK. The sun is just poking its head above the roofs of the houses over the road from me and is starting to shine directly through my study window and into my eyes. There is a carpet of grass laid out in front of me, sparkling with dew.
The word that springs to mind is "clarity". Everything is fresh. The light is bright and the volume on the morning bird-song is right up. I am alert and tuned in to all of this in a way that I wouldn't have been back in my drinking days. I can see and hear everything in high definition.
Eight o'clock on a Sunday morning and the clarity of the day outside is mirrored in my mind. I am full of energy and purpose and raring to go. I have a plan for the day and am feeling excited by it. I can't even remember what it used to feel like when I was drinking and I woke up on Sunday mornings - I have to struggle to locate the memories. I do know that my mouth, my breath, my mind, and sometimes my body were stinking on a Sunday morning. That I was as far from "raring to go" as someone can get. That I was infused with fear rather than energy. That I was scared to get up and talk to my partner for fear of what I would find out about what I had done the night before.
Sometimes, people ask me "when was the moment you turned things around, the moment you changed your future and stopped drinking for good?" I'm trying to remember the specific point at which I knew with the required decisiveness that I was going to stop drinking but it's hard to pinpoint one singe moment. I know that I tried several times before I actually did it.
I remember another Sunday morning several years ago, waking up clear-headed and full of optimism, having determinedly not drunk anything the night before. I remember going for a walk on my own in the countryside that sunny Sunday morning, enjoying the beauty of the nature around me. I saw horses, sheep and birds of prey. I even marvelled at the crazy rainbow-like colours on the back of the flies crawling all over the sheep poo decorating the field I had sat down in to admire the views. I was full of hope and positivity. I was tearful with the beauty and the hope of it all. I could imagine my future without alcohol. We were about to move house and location and I could picture clearly starting a new life, a new career and making it work. I felt certain that this was it. This was the end of my relationship with alcohol.
I think it lasted a week.
At the time, I had recently taken redundancy from a very successful career and a job which I loved. The project I ran was being taken over by a new managing organisation and, when I had researched this organisation, I had concluded that I didn’t want to work with them (I didn’t want to watch the project I had worked so hard to build up, and that was doing such a good job of helping people, to crumble in front of my eyes). So, I had fallen back into teaching English at a secondary school in the UK as a means of earning some money for a year to see my son through college before we all moved on. I had taught English decades ago before moving into leadership and management roles and this is something that I thought I could do quite well and bring some new insights, skills and knowledge into the role.
This is a bit of another story but that one year of teaching was hell. I had naively thought that I would “pick it up again” and had told the school honestly and openly that I would need support and mentoring with the teaching side of things. I was also helping the leadership team to transform their practice with some coaching and that side of the job was great. The teaching part wasn’t. The school didn’t give me the support I needed and I felt like a complete failure. I had gone from feeling super-confident, credible and successful to feeling out-of-my-depth and lost.
The job had also taken over my life. I was either preparing lessons, marking work, teaching, working with the leadership team or travelling to and from work 12 hours a day, including weekends and holidays and when I was sick. This in itself wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, but the feeling like a failure bit I wasn’t used to. My confidence had taken a huge knock and my mental health suffered.
So, suffice to say, the only joy in my life at that time, the only molecule of pleasure I was able to derive, came from drink. It was pure escape and relief to pour my G&T in the evenings and have that first drink. Of course it was also hard work because I had to put energy into limiting how much I drank on teaching days. Weekends were all about the wine. And, in retrospect and from my vantage point of clarity and wisdom, I can see that, although drinking felt like a relief, it was exacerbating the stress and depression I was experiencing.
So, my sunny morning walk with the nature, the wildlife, the jewel-like flies on the sheep dung, the positivity, the certainty and the hope was a bit of a blip in an otherwise alcohol-laden year. It was like the sun poking through the clouds and then vanishing again.
However, that glimpse of sun, that imagined future and that hope stuck with me somewhere. Although I carried on drinking for a while after that, there did come a moment when I knew I was going to stop for good. It's odd that I can’t remember now exactly when that moment was.
What I do remember is creating a change in my identity. I went from being someone with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol to a non-drinker. It was like a switch in my head that went from one to the other. It was as simple as that. It was a belief that took root. I knew from the moment I had decided it that I was now a non-drinker. And, because I knew I had the tools to make it happen, there was no doubt and no uncertainty. I was totally confident in my ability to do it.
I don't mean that it was easy, I mean that the decision was a simple one. And, making the decision gave me the motivation, commitment and determination to do the work I needed to do to make it happen.
I think my ability to do this came from practice. It came from all the times I had practised stopping and then started again. It came from fear. Fear of what would happen if I carried on. It came from all those times when I’d needed the pain and shame of the hangovers to remind me why I didn't want to drink. And, it came from a desire to create a different future for myself.
Looking back from where I am now, as I’m writing this and thinking about it, I can see that everything I imagined on that sunny Sunday morning walk a few years ago has actually happened. By imagining a future of hope, positivity and fulfilment, I have created it. I'm now living the life I dreamed about that day. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t happen straightaway, it matters that I made it happen by bringing what I imagined to life.
You have to start with imagination. It’s a powerful tool. When you imagine the future you want, you're telling your unconscious mind that it’s possible. And when something becomes possible you can make it happen. The more you focus on what you want, the more attention you give to it, the more detail you give it, the more real you make it.
How will you be different when you're living the sober life you want? What needs to happen for you to make the decision to change things for good? Leave me a comment below and let me know.
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