Picture the scene: The sun is going down over the green hills behind a little white-washed Spanish town. Cool, grey shadows are creeping up the walls on one side of the street and I’m sat outside a little bar with my mum and dad, all drinking bottles of Cruzcampo 0,0 (a Spanish non-alcoholic lager) despite the fact that mum and dad both drink alcohol and, as far as I’m aware, both have a completely healthy relationship with drink.
When I first decided to stop drinking, I was beset with worry, fear and anxiety. I was full of consciousness about what I was doing. It was a big deal. I’d been paranoid for a long time that people might think I had a problem and I didn’t want them to. I didn’t want anyone to know how bad I was feeling about myself. So, it was all about pretence. I had been “acting the part” of being fine, of being great, of being “normal” – of someone who didn’t have an unhealthy relationship with drink.
And so when I stopped drinking, it felt important to me to make it not a big deal, to keep it quiet. I didn’t want to talk openly about what I was doing because then it would reveal that I had had a problem and that felt terrifying to me. So, I played it down. People were used to me being interested in health and fitness so it was easy to pass it off as a health kick. I told people that I had stopped drinking because I was looking after my overall health: body and mind. This was completely true but it wasn’t the full story and I still felt a sense of embarrassment or awkwardness when I explained to people why I wasn’t drinking. I still felt like I was hiding something.
As time went on and I started to feel better, as I started to lose the self-consciousness and my not drinking became less of a big deal for me, I no longer had to pretend that I didn’t have a problem because I didn’t have a problem! Not drinking just became my normality.
And I discovered all sorts of benefits to my new sober lifestyle: better sleep, more energy, better brain function, better memory, I was happier, no more shame, no more guilt, no more paranoia, no more self-consciousness, a healthier relationship with myself, more self-confidence and more self-belief. And, as I started to become more and confident with myself, it became less of an issue to talk about having had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I guess, because it was in the past now, it felt more distant. The me that had had this unhealthy relationship with drink was the old me and it became much less scary to talk about the old me because the new me was doing great.
I also did more and more research and learnt that this was a huge problem for lots of people and that other people, like me, were hiding it and not wanting to reveal how drink was really making them feel, behave or think. Shame was a common experience and stopped people from wanting to talk about what was going on for them.
So it became important to me to be completely open about my own story and my own reasons for stopping drinking so that
- People experiencing similar problems would feel less alone
- It might encourage others to open up and It would become okay to openly talk about unhealthy behaviours and relationships with alcohol without feeling shame
- We could start a more positive conversation about stopping drinking to make it easier for people to get sober
- People would start to understand that it was not them that was a problem but their behaviour, and it was possible to change their behaviour.
And, I was much more confident about talking about it myself because I no longer had a problem.
The hardest challenge I’d had to face when I first became sober was what to tell my parents. I didn’t want them to worry about me. I didn’t want them to be ashamed of me. I didn’t want them to think I had a problem. And, so by playing it down and making light of it initially, this helped me to deal with those conversations with them.
Fast forward to now and I’m totally open and honest with them and others about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it if the conversation goes that way. I feel no shame or self-consciousness at all. In fact, I feel a sense of pride in what I have done, how I have done it and I can acknowledge the strength and skills that have helped get me to this much much happier place.
Yesterday evening mum, dad and I sat outside a little bar in a beautiful Spanish town. We had had a lovely (and steep!) walk around the town and had chatted to some of the residents who were very welcoming and friendly – so much so that we had a real laugh with them – and we felt happy and hot and like a cold beer would be a fitting end to the afternoon. I ordered a Cruzcampo 0,0 and mum and dad did the same. I had introduced this lager to them the last time they visited me here and they had agreed with me that it was really good. So, there we were, sitting in the evening sunshine, sipping our cold beers and watching the local world go by, listening to the snippets of Spanish conversation drifting past as people came and went. A beautiful, relaxing evening with no shameful consequences.
In my drinking days, all three of us would have chosen an alcoholic drink. I would have led the way, dad would have followed eagerly and mum might have hesitated but, in the end, she would have followed suit.
My confidence in, and honesty about, what I’m doing has led to a relaxed and easy approach where it’s no big deal for me to not be drinking. This, in turn, has led to other people taking an interest and sometimes following my lead, even though they have a healthy relationship with drink, and going for non-alcoholic options as a healthier choice.
Having this influence with the people around you is not the same as changing the world but it’s a small start and it comes from developing the kind of healthy confidence in yourself that enables honesty, lightness and easy conversation. The kind of conversation where you feel free to reveal who you really are because you’re truly happy with who you really are.