When I got sober, my husband did too, we worked through it together. However, my journey to sobriety was very different to his, we had different struggles and certainly different starting points and past experiences. This guest post is by my lovely husband and I never knew the whole story, in fact some of it shocked me! I never knew the true extent of his drinking, probably because I was too caught up in my own, although I do remember him becoming a different person, especially towards the end. I found this story inspiring and I hope you will too.
Journey to Sobriety (Guest Post)
I remember my first taste of alcohol, at eight years old I was fascinated with the froth on top of my Dad’s old tankard which he used to fill with McEwans Export when he finished work in the evening, I wouldn’t have placed my Dad in the heavy drinkers category, he just liked his beer and after a hard day working the farm who could have blamed him.
I don’t ever remember him drunk or influenced by alcohol to the extent where he didn’t become his usual self, I just remember that as a family alcohol was always present whether it be cans of beer at a barbeque or a bottle of Asti with Christmas dinner – it was always there in some shape or form.
By the age of 9 my Grandma used to buy me ‘Top Deck’ when I went to see her at weekends (Top Deck was a low alcohol shandy drink available in a variety of flavours and marketed to children in the United Kingdom from the 1960s to the 1980s – source Wikipedia) and on the run up to Christmas I used to save up the tins so there was plenty to drink on Christmas Eve, it was like a grown up drink for kids and certainly better than orange juice…
As the years went by that froth on top of the McEwans Export turned into a gulp of beer and at 12 years old I enjoyed my first full can of Pils lager on new years day, I say ‘enjoyed’ because unlike most kids who drank at that age did so because it was ‘hard’ or looked ‘cool’ and didn’t like the taste I actually did like it.
Don’t get me wrong, as a youngster I wasn’t rolling around inebriated every day, it was very rare I got the opportunity to drink but when that opportunity arose I took it.
A glass of white wine with Christmas dinner or a shandy in a restaurant was not uncommon though – as a result I never did end up being one of those kids that acquired a stack load of cheap beer or cider, didn’t know the pitfalls and ended up violently ill, I saw it happen numerous times and took pride in myself that by the age of 17 – 18 my drinking was not ‘new’ or stupid as with so many others that had discovered a new found freedom that would shortly have them on their backside feeling like death warmed up.
Drink Driving? – No Thanks
Living out in the sticks on a rural farm meant that I needed transport to do anything, from 13 my first job was washing dishes in the local pub where in a hot kitchen the manager would buy myself, the waitresses and two chefs one drink per shift – mine was a shandy and later shortly before leaving that job at 17 it was a pint of bitter. Having passed my driving test first time I was free in a way I will always remember – there is much to be said about getting your first wheels when you live miles away from your friends.
Drinking was crossed off the list for a long time as drinking and driving was something I simply did not want to entertain, friends had been lost through it, I valued my old Ford Escort (and the freedom it gave me) too much and the consequences should anything have happened through sheer stupidity did not bare thinking about, I had been around alcohol all my life thus far and working in the pub was a real eye opener – especially as it was near the local army barracks, nearly every weekend claimed the license of a squaddie or higher rank and I did not want to be in that position.
Then There Was 12
As I entered into my 20’s going out every night in the car was no longer an option and the novelty was beginning to wear off which resulted in more nights in. Knowing that I could I would buy an 8-pack of beer, after all there was nothing wrong with that was there? I was over 18, not driving and it was something to enjoy.
I suppose the start was when eight cans became twelve, something happened which made eight cans not enough, not that I would drink all twelve but a safety zone was required ‘just in case’.
Over the years those twelve cans became a full crate of beer, again not all of it would disappear but a full crate offered the safety that I would not run out. Having moved to the suburbs of Newcastle in my early 20’s new friends were made and they were all drinkers – some heavy drinkers and summer barbeques were a little on the crazy side, buying Stella Artois from the local corner shop became more and more frequent to the point where not having beer in the house made me agitated and annoyed. I was however embroiled in a drinking culture and this was just the beginning…
GIVE UP OR MODERATE? WHICH WORKS BETTER?
A Year of Hangovers
Another thing that happened in my early to mid twenties was landing a management job for a large retail chain which meant spending a week at a time near Glasgow and Stirling in Scotland, my accommodation was the local hotel and of course it had a bar. Having only a couple of work collegues who might decide to go out on the odd occasion evenings where pretty boring, pulling late shifts were better as I didn’t knock off until 8.30pm but the earlies finished at 5.00pm and boredom soon took over and the bar beckoned.
Working the following morning was horrendous with a throbbing head and all the usual symptoms of a heavy night before plus it was not doing my bank balance any good at all. Drinking at the bar all night with a company paid for steak and chips was life five nights a week for just over a year, it was great to get home at the weekends where thinking back the cycle never actually stopped.
A few career changes later and exactly one year to the day before leaving for Spain we bought a house, still in the North East of England but this time we had our twelve month old son with us.
I had taken to being a house husband while my partner worked as a teacher and during my time at home and in between nappy changing I researched a move to Spain which later became a reality, my drinking remained the same although I didn’t start until the evenings when the family was settled in for the night.
I actually had no desire to drink during the day, being a parent changes your outlook on life entirely plus researching a life changing move for your entire family kind of focused the mind.
We left the UK at 4.30pm with our entire life in two cars and a caravan, three days later, after two stops in France, numerous hiccups and at 5.30am we pulled up outside our new home – if you could call it that, this place was going to need a lot of work…
Going from the North East of England to inland Andalucia in August is a drastic change when it comes to temperature and having to work in 40 degree heat takes some getting used to especially when you are not used to it. Living in a caravan on site was a real adventure, I still have short waves of excitement now remembering what it was like back in 2004 when we made the move.
You might think that sinking cold beers all day in the Spanish heat was going to be the thing to do but in all honesty I couldn’t do it, three months of hard renovations later and I had lost nearly 20 kilos (3 stones) in weight, yes the beer was still in the fridge (or milk churn filled with ice in the early days as we had no power) but the desire to drink had diminished, the reason? I had a goal, aims and a purpose of creating a home, that was my job, my responsibility and too much beer the night before was not going to make me less productive the next morning when there was so much to do and be getting on with. Unfortunately that was not to last and although I did not know at the time the years to follow would put me on a downward spiral in alcohol consumption.
Renovations complete and not even a year into our Spanish journey we were running out of cash at a rapid rate so we needed an idea which came out of the blue one Saturday afternoon in a tapas bar. A few months later we had created an online business selling speciality Spanish food, the business grew and became a success in a relatively short period of time.
I had to take a crash course in self taught web design and all that goes with it from a business point of view – a beer was always next to the keyboard as I furiously wrote articles and blog posts.
Drinking while working was making me more creative (or so I thought), writing recipes and posts until some nights I wouldn’t finish until 2.00am. The success of the business was crucial, we had seen several Brits come and go and that was not going to be us – failure was not an option.
As the months went by I ended up buying beer every day – I thought I needed it to get me through the working hours, how was I going to write stone cold sober? How would I be creative without a beer to get me writing like a possessed journalist trying to meet a last minute deadline?
In truth, the whole thing was a nonsense, yeah I churned out a lot of content but was it any good? Yes it was but it could have been better and looking at the articles written later in the evening the typos began to creep in – some nights I would give up as I literally could not type anymore.
What made matters worse was the fact that we sold Spanish beer and lots of it as it was a very popular product, buying beer by the pallet meant alcohol was available on tap, no longer did the Spanish shop owner think I was an alcoholic buying a crate every day and I didn’t feel guilty buying it either, that’s right, it got to the stage where I would feel guilty buying so much and wondered what people must think.
“Drinking while working was making me more creative (or so I thought)”
As the business grew we acquired a warehouse and built a self contained flat inside of it to save travel during weekday, this is where we live as I write and it is here where life smacked me in the face one night and made me realise enough is enough.
I am a healthy person, always have been so why was I pouring alcohol into my system daily, I filled out the online forms to test if I was drinking too much, was I an alcoholic?, all the tests came out RED – STOP, GET HELP, REDUCE YOUR INTAKE NOW! Online tests though right? Government guidelines are something I have never adhered to when it comes to health – the advised units per week for men is 14 (depending on who you listen too) and I was consuming ten times that easily.
The thing was I knew it had long become too much and I was changing as a person when I drank with family taking the brunt of my bad moods verbal aggression.
One night it all changed, I had a rotten cold, blocked sinuses and a bad cough, I started coughing and the next thing I knew the whole family was around me in panic – I had passed out.
At the time I dismissed it, it was fine, I had a cold, these things happen but deep down the alarm bells were ringing and I knew I had to do something about my drinking, the problem was I didn’t know where to start, a few weeks later decisions were made and the climb to becoming sober begun, little did I know how difficult it would be and also how rewarding, just as we had endeavoured on a life changing move to Spain, a life changing mind set and plans on a journey to sobriety were put in place – things were about to drastically change for the better.
Killing the Beer Monster
Giving up drinking – where do you start? It would be easy to say that giving up alcohol is all about your mindset and although this is a crucially important part everyone is different, I had to do this my way, whatever worked for me, if I had to fail in the process then so be it – as long as success was to become a reality I was not going to beat myself up about going back to day one.
After a fortnight I stopped counting the days and found myself continually looking forward to feeling better in myself, beer was on my mind 24/7, it was strange leaving the local shop without it, I felt empty, what I thought I needed had been rejected and the daily ‘routine’ of drinking as soon as we’d picked the kids up from school stopped.
At the same time it was also exciting, I used my passion for photography to keep me busy, the dogs got longer and more frequent walks and over the first few weeks and months I realised that I needed to put three extra holes in my belt I was losing that much weight.
By far the best tool I had in my armoury though was support, I freely admit that I could not have given up alcohol on my own, a journey to sobriety is like a tug of war with you right in the middle, no side is winning and it could go either way, I can’t count the times that something would happen to cause stress, finances or another ridiculous example of Spanish red tape that made no sense, problems with the kids at school, anything at all and I would immediately think ‘beer’, I had to knock back half a crate of beer to take the edge off the stress.
The support I had from Gayle was the most important part in getting me through these situations, alcohol does nothing to relieve stress, the issue remains whether you drink or not and amplifying it through alcohol intake actually makes it worse – I realise this now.
“By far the best tool I had in my armoury was support”
For me the first four days were the worst, don’t get me wrong I wasn’t a shivering wreck in detox or anything like that but I missed the hit. Sleeping was an issue for about a week, it was difficult to get to sleep, I found myself staying up later as normally the beer would have me in bed much earlier and I could not write anything for toffee, for a good fortnight I just couldn’t get creative in front of the computer, all the years of drinking had conditioned me to write when I was under the influence and suddenly that was gone and my creativity gone with it, when it returned though it returned with a vengeance!
Over the years on the odd occasion I didn’t have a hangover in the morning (usually through feeling rotten the previous day) I would walk the dogs in the morning relatively fresh and think to myself how good it felt, how much better it was not to be tired and worn down, these days used to be a rarity but now they are every morning and they are still something I look forward to, for the first 3 mornings sober I actually remember feeling like I’d drank the night before even though I hadn’t , this might sound odd but it was like my brain was telling me ‘you should feel hung over, what’s this sober thing all about?’.
I no longer need a bottle of water next to my bed to keep the dehydration at bay and I don’t get up in the earlier hours to go to the toilet, in fact I sleep right through, a 6ft 2″ 200lb baby zonked out without a drop of beer to help or hinder. Sweating is no longer an issue either especially in the summer, I would wake up in the middle of the night and the pillows would be soaking wet, I no longer sweat as much during the day either.
I can’t pinpoint the day when I thought to myself I’d actually made it, I don’t think that there is such a thing, again, everyone is different and for me I just took and continue to take each day as it comes, I no longer think about drinking, what I do concentrate on is how fit and well I feel each day and how much more productive life has become without alcohol.
Drinking in the afternoons through to the evening means you can’t go anywhere, now we have re-opened that door and can do things that we wouldn’t have been able to previously, going out for example is easy – there is no ‘I won’t be able to drink so the night will be shit’, instead we just go and have a good time without giving drinking a second thought.
Giving up alcohol is a real joy – if you are drinking on the level that I was then giving up will change your life, make you a better person, present opportunities and improve your health, clarity is a wonderful thing and something that can be experienced daily without that thumping head, feeling of regret or trying to remember what happened or what was said the night before. Support however is crucial in whatever shape or form you choose to receive it, in my case my partner continually pulled that little bit harder in the tug of war and the beer monster eventually lost.
I was free.
‘A Journey to Sobriety’ was written by ‘Mac’