Living a life free of alcohol for the past 13 years, not only has had positive physical, mental and emotional effects on me individually, it has also helped me transform my life and break a generational cycle.
I am lucky enough to be proud of many things in my life, apart from being a Dad to 5 beautiful children; 13+ years of sobriety, ranks at the top of my personal achievements.
This is my story.
After years of seeing alcohol consumption as the norm; growing up, family and teen parties, after sports games and general weekend activities; it was a little over 14 years ago, I made a positive decision to take control of my life, have ownership of where I was headed, get back on track and on a positive path.
It was the weekend of January 26th, 2005. I was on my way down the Hume highway for a weekend of touch football but if I was being honest, a weekend of partying, copious amounts of alcohol. I had been making this trip since about the age 13. Obviously at such a young age it wasn’t about drinking, but the drinking and partying culture of the Yass touch football knockout to me, was everything I had loved and everything I had wanted to be part of since my very first experience.
This trip to Yass would be like no other, this trip was to put me on a path to recognising and understanding that alcohol had been problematic for me and it would plant the seed of my recovery.
I was joined in the backseat by a close friend whom I’d love and respected like a brother. Chris Ferguson (Fergo). Fergo and I had been on the party scene for a couple of years since I turned 18 and in Chris’ words to me and others in the past; I was like a younger version of him.
We got to talking and after an hour or of small talk, I asked Fergo why I hadn’t seen him around for a while. As mentioned above, Fergo and I, through the tough football scene, were regulars on the Sydney Kings Cross and inner Sydney City party scene.
‘I don’t drink anymore, I haven’t for two years’ I half scoffed at the comment and immediately asked ‘what do you mean you don’t drink anymore, you partied with the best of them’
That conversation with Fergo was the very first time I had ever heard that someone ‘doesn’t drink anymore’ it was the very conversation that planted the seed for me that, maybe I too, ‘could get off the drink.
Fergo and I being good mates and both being life of the party, decided to room together for the weekend; call it coincidence, fate or whatever you will, it was the very weekend that changed the course of my life.
I remember vividly the conversation we were having about his sobriety, I was so intrigued, mainly because it was everything I wanted. My life had become very problematic to the point unmanageable and I had identified that, almost every single negative situation that was happening in my life, weather it be, poor form on the footy field, arguments at home, separations in relationships, fights and trouble in general, there was one very common theme; every single negative situation in my life that was happening, the common denominator, was that alcohol was involved. The thing is, I wasn’t a violent drunk, some would agree that I was a bit annoying and a pest, but for the most part, I was always happy, laughing, singing, doing my best to what I thought was entertain people; but when I started, I didn’t like to stop, in fact, I couldn’t stop. No matter how many times I ‘promised’ those close to me that I will only have a few drinks, once I had that first one, I felt like I just couldn’t stop.
I remember the conversation with fergo like it was yesterday, ‘that’s it, after this weekend, Im going to stop also brother’ his response stumped me, ‘why wait until you get home, why don’t you stop now’?
The truth was, I didn’t think I could, so many aspects of my life, socially, involved alcohol – the thought of not drinking anymore was entertaining, but I honestly didn’t think I could stop. I remember that instant thought rush over me whenever I contemplated stopping was; how on earth would I be able to function in a setting where a few drinks was so accepted; and the one thing that people didn’t realise, and to a point I didn’t realise at the time also, I was drinking for so long, as a band aid to what was going on inside my head. For a major part of my life, I had been living with suicidal thoughts, ideas and tendencies since my early teens, alcohol was the mask I used to quieten down the noise. So, for many years, not only was alcohol a way to socialise and be the life of the party, it was also a way silence my inner most demons.
I went out and partied pretty hard that weekend in Yass, as I had done for many years prior.
It was the car trip home that Fergo went to work on my mind once again. He could see the demons ringing loud and clear with the hangover, he could see that I was ‘sick and tired’ of being ‘sick and tired’
The limited conversation on the way home, managed to plant the seed that changed my life.
Fergo arranged to pick me up the following evening to take me to AA – Alcoholics Anonymous.
My journey in AA has been one of many great lessons, but the main lesson has been, it has been the example that people can live without alcohol in their lives; if they could, maybe I could also.
The main tools I have learnt through my journey I take with me every day. Mainly because of the society we live in, alcohol is such a common additive to many, many people’s lives and many areas of our life.
When I first started my journey of sobriety it was tough. I can’t for one second sit here and pretend that it has been easy. There have been countless occasions the cravings have jumped up on me and tried to convince me to ‘just have a couple’ or ‘it wasn’t that bad of an issue for you, this time just control it’, again I wasn’t the aggressive or troublesome drunk, so it would have been very easy to convince myself it wasn’t a great issue.
One of the most important lessons I have learnt is that, alcoholism is something that I will carry with me for life; because Alcoholism is a genetic disease that I will carry with me until the day I die.
People get the term Alcoholic wrong. The common misconception is that an Alcoholic is someone who drinks every day, who depends and needs it to survive, who sneaks drinks with no one watching. All of that is true, but an alcoholic can also be a top-class executive, professional sportsperson, even a judge in a court of law. An alcoholic is an individual who suffers with the genetic illness alcoholism. The term illness could even be questioned, with alcoholism now widely talked about as genetic, with it being placed in the genetics of an individual since birth, genetic illness’ are chronic, meaning these illness’ can be classed as chronic disease – meaning you have it for life.
The day I realised I have this illness/disease for the rest of my life, was the day I began to learn, ‘I don’t need to beat it, I just have to manage it’ day in day out. The same goes for my mental illness. I have good days and bad days, but I have a mental illness, that I won’t beat, it stays with me for life, I just have to manage it.
Recovery for me has been up and down. I have been in AA over 14 years, but I haven’t remained sober the entire time. My first stint I went 11 months without a drink and then found myself listening to the quiet devil on the shoulder convincing me ‘it won’t be that bad’. I had hit rock bottom again; without beating myself up, I dusted myself off and sought the help and support I needed – and got back in the rooms of AA.
Thankfully for me, I have been sober now over 13 years but the journey is always changing. There are good days, there are days where the cravings are coming in hard and think, those are the days I must stay close to the things, tips and tools that have kept me on the path of sobriety.
During the past 13 years of my sobriety, I have noticed the relationship between alcohol and the greater community has become normalised, and even at times, alcohol consumption in excess is applauded. Many occasions’ individuals are applauded for how much we drink, or how wasted we become. Alcohol and the affects of alcohol in our communities are having massive negative implications and many issues in our communities are heightened with alcohol consumption.
If you give it some thought, there are many of the issues in communities that have alcohol as a major ingredient.
My sobriety I hold close with great pride. There are many reasons I need to stay on this path but the most important is to role model behaviours to my children. My kids are my main motivator in everything I do. If I want and expect my children to live a positive life, I need to role model those behaviours to my kids. One of the strongest statements and proudest statements I have ever heard come out of my eldest son’s mouth was when he was about 3. He said to his mates at pre school when talking about their Dads. ‘My Dad doesn’t drink beer, he drinks water’. That statement shows me that there is impact in my behaviours.
Another main reason for me never wanting to touch alcohol again, isn’t just the physical, mental and emotional effects it had on me, it also is the historical implications alcohol has had on my people. As a first nation Wiradjuri man I have promised myself to never touch alcohol again. It is known fact, that alcohol was used as a tool for payment for Aboriginal slavery. During these times it is also documented that women were used as sexual objects – I owe it to those old people, both men and women, particularly our women, who were used as sexual objects when our men were given so much alcohol to the point they would black out and unable to protect them. I owe it to those very ancestors, to not touch that poison again.
My journey of sobriety is ongoing, will I stay sober forever? I hope so, I want to lead by example, prove to those who can’t, that a life without alcohol is possible, a life without alcohol, you can live a life with ‘fun’, be happy and successful.
Today, as a man who is sober, compared to the functioning alcoholic; I am a completely different person. I often talk about pre & post in education forums I facilitate; pre & post alcohol abuse. The difference is non comparable. I got great advice from a close friend in my early sobriety. He told me ‘no matter what you do in your life, you will be better at doing it without alcohol; if you are a father, a doctor, sportsperson or garbage bin collector; you will do your role better without alcohol. He was right!!!
I have grown, personally, spiritually and mentally as a man.
How do I do it – I stay sober today, in this present moment, now, one day at a time. I can’t control tomorrow, I can only control me, now, today! Who knows if ill drink tomorrow, I can only control now, and I know I won’t drink in this present moment right now, today, that is all I can control – now!!