Searching for freedom and acceptance

I recently came to realise, or I should say consciously acknowledge that I’ve been a pretty consistent, often daily drinker for close to 20 years. Once an elite athlete, upon retirement from sport I allowed drinking to become a new past time. At first I took to drinking because it signified freedom. In my training years I was expected to uphold strict, usually non-drinking behaviours, enforced by my coaches and myself. Exceptions would only be made for special occasions, like at the end of big races such as national championships, world cup races and world championships but we certainly made up for this on the ‘special occasions’. In spite of seldom drinking, when ‘allowed’, I could put the drinks away as quickly and plentifully as the next person. Upon retiring, having been bound by expectations for so many years, I decided it was time to do what I wanted and to find myself outside of sport.

It was a rough time mentally. I was adjusting to leaving sport behind even though I wasn’t 100% sure it was what I wanted to do, I just knew I needed change. I was also working at accepting my sexuality. It was late 1999, early 2000 and I’d begun to question my sexuality a couple of years earlier, although I hadn’t discussed it with anyone out loud. By 1999 I’d taken to writing poetry (I use the term loosely) to get my feelings out. I had journal after journal filled with poems of yearning for love, self acceptance and to find that what I was feeling was normal. It was then that I found a safe online space. I was new to the internet when I somehow stumbled upon a community of people who appeared to either be a lot like me, or at least to accept people like me. It was an Ani Difranco fan website. Ani was a musician whose music made me feel like someone knew what I was going through. The Ani inspired website was filled with like-minded people so I retreated into their online world. There was a poetry board and I would write, share, read and respond to others. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Though these people were online, they were my friends. I told them things I feared telling my ‘real life’ friends. I am thankful to this day that I stumbled upon this little gem of a community, for a time it was my sanctuary.

I wasn’t out about my sexuality in real life so socialising with ‘my people’ happened in my bedroom with strangers from other corners of the world. I’d begun having one or two (sometimes more) drinks and writing most nights. I was convinced that alcohol made me more expressive and free. It was becoming a habit but I thought it was a good one. I no longer had to get up and train two or three times a day, so as far as I was concerned, I was free to stay up late and drink if I felt like it. In my mind alcohol was allowing me to open up and be myself. Eventually I started coming out in my real world. It was nowhere near as bad as my mind had conjured up. Most people didn’t have much of an issue with my sexuality and those that did struggle with the notion of me being gay, came around pretty quickly. Irrespective, ‘The Gold Coast’ where I was living had started to feel claustrophobic and I felt the need to run away to find a new life, so i did.

Early in 2001 I moved to Brisbane, it was a bigger city and I thought it would allow me a fresh start as the person I now was. I started university and sought out gay bars. I made new friends at the clubs I frequented and fell into a world of drinking and drugs. Thankfully drugs scared me, so while I dabbled, they never really became my thing. Drinking however, was pretty much part of my every night, be it at home or out. At first, the home drinking was just a glass or two of wine. When I got in a relationship I began drinking a lot more. It seemed to evolve naturally, drinking was just what we did. Sometimes we stuck to wine or beer, other times and increasingly it was scotch, either way it didn’t matter, I was an adult and it was my choice. Even back then there were times I questioned how much I drank, but I’d convince myself I was fine, justifying it with the knowledge that others were doing the same, besides I was working, in a steady relationship, attaining a uni degree and generally functioning quite well at life.

The years went on I graduated from university and eventually suffered my first heartbreak when I realised that love isn’t always enough to make a relationship work. Leaving behind what felt like my entire life, with the woman I still thought was the love of my life was maybe the toughest decision I’d made to date. In an attempt to soothe my broken heart, I stupidly went out, got drunk and slept with an ex, after working my way out of that mess I got involved in a relationship with a woman who threatened suicide when I tried to leave her within a few short months. She held me hostage in my own home – phycologist visits resulted in access to prescription drugs which led her to overdose and me to rush her to hospital. Long story short, the next steps involved me talking to a hospital psychiatrist, forcing me to conclude that my only way forward was to leave. After having the stark realisation that I couldn’t return home, I drove to work where I’d been forced to take leave for the past few days. In tears, I explained what I could of my situation, they were incredibly compassionate and understanding and assisted me in getting a job transfer to Melbourne. A work friend helped me book flights. With police assistance I got my house locked up and with the help of my friend I hot footed it to the airport and flew back to Melbourne (where I grew up), leaving all my belongings behind and my car on the roof of the shopping centre where I worked. My poor dad and brother lumped with the task of flying interstate to sort that mess out for me. It was February 2007, things were calm for a little bit while I lived at home. After a couple of months I moved out, ready to start my next chapter. Another relationship and a one night stand came and went. I still wasn’t ready to release my mind from all that had happened and the emotional grip of love gone. So many things had changed but my old faithful companion, alcohol, remained.

In recent years I’d come to question myself a lot more frequently, how did I get from elite athlete, representing my country, to washed up daily drinker looking at others bad habits to justify my own? Deciding that I no longer wanted to live like this, I quit drinking and have been sober since February 7, 2019. At the time of writing this I’m 6 weeks sober and so far it’s going great. I feel like I’ve taken back control of my life. It’s early days but already I’ve found that I’m healthier and happier than I have been in years.

I’d like to make a couple of mentions and book recommendations for others trying to get sober. Firstly “The unexpected joy of being sober”, by Catherine Gray gave me more uh ha moments than I could have imagined, it was a necessary companion in my first couple of weeks of sobriety and also “This naked mind”, by Annie Grace.

I’ve come to realise, the freedom I was searching for in alcohol was a false, deceptive freedom. Real freedom comes from understanding that you don’t need alcohol, I don’t need alcohol, to feel free.

March 19, 2019

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