Last Friday night I headed to the airport after work as I was flying to Sydney to meet one of my closest friends. It had been a long week, and even though I was excited to see my friend, I could have just as easily gone home, put on my trackie pants and had an uneventful night with a pizza. However, as this is my thought process to nearly everything social in life, especially now I’m a teetotalling bandit, I sometimes need to be like Nike, and just do it. This ‘just do it’ mentality (to clarify: not all the time. I am no sadist. At times my personal slogan is ‘just pizza it’) will also help me to avoid turning into the dried date I fear I will become if I stopped socialising completely.
Last time I had travelled to Sydney after work on a Friday night was about 5 months ago. I had been travelling with my partner for a romantic getaway. Once through security we got a drink at the bar. I remember the rosé had tasted delicious, in a way only the first drink after a long week can taste. The flight was delayed so I had another wine at the boarding gate. ‘Small or large’, the woman behind the counter asked me. ‘Large please’, I replied on autopilot as I thought ‘pft small. Ridiculous!’. On the plane I ordered another wine, and then another. The wine tally was up to four. After we checked into our hotel we went in search of a drink and a snack, and ended up in a bar I wouldn’t have been surprised to be stabbed in. I ordered a wine (not delicious like first rosé at airport), and when my partner wanted to go I suggested we have ‘just one more’ in the stabby bar. After that glass was drained I suggested ‘just one more’ again. This time my partner put his foot down. I understood, the bar was definitely very stabby. My ‘just one more’ slogan had been around for a lot longer than the newly ‘just do it’ or ‘just pizza it’ ones that I had picked up in sobriety. It pretty much sums up my relationship with alcohol: I will always want ‘just one more’.
However, this time there was no rosé at the airport bar or at the boarding gate or on the plane. There was a mineral water at the airport, and a cup of tea on the plane. You might be thinking about how boring that sounds but it was a relief to not be stressing about where my next drink was coming from. You don’t really get on the teas for a whole evening, pleading ‘just one more tea’ to your partner/friend.
Once I arrived I made my way to central station to meet my friend. In the golden olden days I would have suggested going to a bar or grabbing some wine on our way to hers. One time when I had visited her in Melbourne for the long weekend a few years earlier I had got so drunk on my night of arrival she had to assist me to walk home. Oh the shame that still burns to think of it. This time, instead of a bar or a bottle shop, we made our way to a supermarket to pick up cheese and mineral water. We created a platter with our goods and settled on the couch, and it was 2am before we finally stopped chatting. No need for booze to lubricate our tongues… or loosen our leg muscles.
The next day I woke up feeling okay about getting out of bed. I’m not going to lie and exaggerate that I felt refreshed, ready to climb steep mountain peaks, and fight a gang of street dogs. I never want to get out of bed; drunk, sober, hungover, my birthday, it makes no difference to me. However, I COULD get out of bed and ease my way into climbing mountains, unlike how I have spent many a hungover Saturday, which required intense concentration and a small cherry picker to shake the dust off me. And we did climb a mountain. Eventually. Much later in the day, after a lengthy coffee-fueled breakfast and a missed train but we made it to the Blue Mountains for our walk to the canyons by mid-afternoon. It might sound late but I wouldn’t have made it at all if I was drinking, and then I would have missed out on the most beautiful views, and the sense of freedom that flows through you when you realise you are a tiny being in a world much bigger than you.
After our walk we headed back to the city. I would have been happy to engage my dried date self, and chill with my book and a pizza but as pleasant as that sounds one must push themselves sometimes, and we decided to go to dinner followed by a bar. It’s funny how for years bars can be your natural habitat, and then one day you realise you could quite happily live out the rest of your days without spending another Saturday night in a bar. I can still enjoy bars and pubs as an awesome social setting to meet friends but it depends on the bar. I don’t want to go to a wanky bar which charges you entrance so you can then pay to drink in their establishment, and I don’t want to go somewhere I can’t hear the person next to me. I also don’t want to line up forever for a drink or stand around awkwardly because there is nowhere to sit. Sobriety strips the pretense from an evening as it leaves you wanting the elements of a setting that you actually enjoy, not just tolerate due to the booze.
However, we did find a cute bar that played the right music, at the right volume, where we could sit and relax in the warmth surrounded by twinkling fairy lights. It suited my retired boozer status to a tee. I actually enjoyed being out, getting amongst it. My friend had a few glasses of red wine and I had a couple of mineral waters with lime. The only difference was I didn’t want to keep drinking endless mineral waters all night. At one point my friend was debating getting another glass of red, and I said I didn’t mind but she couldn’t decide. It was close to midnight so I made an executive decision, ‘let’ go home’. Being one of my oldest friends I don’t think she had ever heard me suggest we leave at a reasonable time. She’d definitely heard my suggestion to have ‘just one more’, and then ended up drinking heavily with me until the wee hours of the morning, like nearly every night of our holiday in Japan together, when we would down beers and sake in a karaoke bar until the sun peeked through, and then finish it up with a stop off to buy Maccas or convenience store egg sandwiches on the way home. I’m not going to lie, some of my drinking days memories put a smile on my face but then I remember the not so good drinking days and I’m confident in my choice.
Now this brings us to Sunday morning. If I was to draw you a pie chart of how I would have usually felt on a Sunday morning during a weekend away with a friend, probably on the back of a two-day hangover, I would thickly scribble with dark pen through the whole pie and label the emotion ‘death’. Now my pie chart is more varied: 20% groggy and wanting to keep sleeping, 30% excited for Sunday activities, 20% hungry, and 30% craving coffee (yep, I am a coffee addict but if I tried to give that up too I would strongly feel a decline in my will to continue breathing). There was no leaping out of bed but we eventually made it (I feel an irrational irritation for people who leap out of bed), and grabbed some coffees before making our way to the beachside suburb of Maroubra.
Once there we got more coffee and sat on a rock cliff staring out at the massive crashing waves. I told my friend a story I had heard listening to a podcast about a man who quit drinking, gave away all his possessions, and started a completely different career, and how he said when you give up the booze you need to change your whole life, not just that aspect. When had I listened to it I felt compelled to throw away everything in my apartment, even my partner’s possessions. He would probably come home, shake his sadly, and quietly call the hospital to have me committed whilst I lay on the floor doing snow angels on the hardwood babbling about how free I felt.
However, staring out at the ferocious swirl of the ocean I realised it wasn’t about possessions, or new jobs, it was about redefining your identity, removing all the elements that no longer fit, and starting fresh, allowing yourself to be the person you want to be. For years, I’d been the person that would have come to stay and got insanely drunk, possibly so much you had to assist me home, and then woken up feeling like arse, and not being capable of doing much except yelling out for coffee and hash browns to be deposited on the bedside table, and I would have thought this was completely normal. It’s about creating your new normal, and it’s going to take time, and it might feel a little strange or hard to begin but it also feels amazing and freeing, without even having to give away all your furniture.
On the plane on the way home I sat next to two beautifully dressed women, adorned with colourful headscarves and intricate patchworked designer clothing. Essentially they looked like the epitome of women that worked in the arts. They spoke well, and seemed funny and interesting. After the seat belt sign was turned off, one of the ladies turned to the other, ‘shall we get a wine?’. ‘Of course’, the other woman confirmed, and woman A began to rifle around in her purse for the funds. Time ticked on and the drinks trolley did not seem to be appearing any time soon. Twenty minutes later, the wine instigator, still clutching her money tightly in her hand, turned to her friend and complained that the plane would land before they got their wine. Her friend agreed and popped her head over the seat to check the trolleys progress before turning back to her friend with a sigh. A sense of relief rushed through me that I no longer felt this way. Old me would have been exactly same, irritated by the denial of my wine. I guess it’s just no longer part of my normal, and the normal I am creating doesn’t really care if a tea arrives or doesn’t.
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