21 March, 2019
Recently I came to realise, or I should say, I decided to consciously acknowledge that I’ve been a pretty consistent, often daily drinker for close to 20 years.
Once an elite athlete, upon retirement from my sport I allowed drinking to become a new past time. At first, I think it signified freedom. During my training years I was expected to uphold strict, usually non-drinking behaviours, as enforcd by my coaches and myself. Aside from special occasions, usually at the end of big races like national championships or world cup/world championships, alcohol would seldom pass my lips. We certainly did make up for this on the ‘special occasions’ though, and when ‘allowed’, I could put the drinks away as well as the next person. Upon retiring from sport, having been bound by expectations for a number of years, I decided it was time to do what I wanted and to find myself outside my sport.
It was a rough time mentally. I was adjusting to the decision I’d made to leave my sport behind, inspite of the fact that I wasn’t 100% sure it was what I really wanted to do. I just knew I needed change. Beyond this I was also adjusting to accepting my sexuality. It was late 1999, early 2000. I’d started to realise my sexuality a couple of years earlier but 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, yearning for self acceptance and yearning to find that what I was feeling was normal, it felt normal to me.
I found a safe online space. I was very new to the internet but somehow I stumbled upon a community of people who appeared to either be a lot like me, or at least to accept people just like me. It was an Ani Difranco website. Ani was a musician whose music made me feel like someone else new what I was going through and this website seemed to be filled with like-minded people so I retreated into their little online world. They had 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 felt like friends. I told them things I feared telling my ‘real life’ friends. I am thankful to this day that I stumbled upon this little online world. It became my world for a time.
At this stage I wasn’t “out”, so I wasn’t going to clubs. I had begun having one or two, sometimes more drinks at home and writing. I felt like it made me more expressive and free to write. This was becoming a habit but I thought it was a good one. After all, I no longer had to get up and train two or three times a day, I was free to stay up as late as I wanted, to drink if I felt like it. The way I saw it was that it 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 in my life didn’t have much of an issue, and those that, at first, struggled with the idea that I was gay came around pretty quickly. But still i felt the need to run, to find a new life, which i did.
In early 2001 I moved to a different city, started uni and seeked out gay bars. I started to frequent clubs, made new friends and fell into a drinking scene. Drinking was now 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. Once in a relationship for a while it changed. We were drinking a lot more. Sometimes wine, often scotch. Either way it didn’t matter. I was an adult, it was my choice and I was convinced I was fine with it. There were times I questioned in my mind how much I drank, sure. But then I’d tell myself I was fine. After All others were doing the same. A few relationships came and went but the drinking remained.
In recent years I’d come to question myself a lot more frequently. I don’t want to question myself anymore. I’m now six weeks sober. I decided to quit drinking for good. So far it’s going great. I wanted to take back control of my life. What I’ve found so far is that I’m healthier, definitely happier, according to the laughter of girlfriend (of 8 1/2 years) I’m funnier and I think I’m whole lot nicer to be around.
Thanks to a couple of audio books, first “The unexpected joy of being sober”, by Catherine Gray, which gave me more uh ha moments than I could have imagined. Then “This naked mind”, by Annie Grace, I’ve come to realise, the freedom I thought I was searching for in alcohol was a false deceptive freedom. The real freedom, I’ve found comes from understanding that you don’t need alcohol (i dont need alcohol) to feel free. You are more yourself and more free without it.