Guest blog from Club Soda member Amy.
One week to go until the next Mindful Drinking Festival and I’ve just had a quick check over my travel plans from North Wales to London, the flicker of nervous excitement not dissimilar to the feelings that the prospect of a night of drinking used to invoke. I’ll be 2 years sober next month. This will be the 3rd Mindful Drinking Festival by Club Soda that I’ve attended, each one a different experience from the last, and I anticipate this one will be the best yet now that I’ve truly settled into sobriety and found my feet.
I remember shaking with nerves on my way to the first one in January last year, still fresh in my new life in spite of my belief at the time that I had made all the transformations that could possibly be made in recovery, naively imagining the process as a linear timeline that I’d already worked my way along to ‘recovered’. I’m not even quite sure what that word means. If I do ever reach the state of being ‘recovered’ I’m not totally sure what that would even look like. Sobriety is subject to change, much like everything else in life, and I’m much more relaxed about not drinking now that I’ve accepted that nothing ever stays the same.
It’s not as if it was my first solo trip to a strange city. But it was a first without my hip flask. By then I was nearly 11 months sober. The pink cloud had evaporated around 7 or 8 months and I was truly feeling all the feels that reality has for us sensitive humans, with no blanket of liquid anesthetic to dull the sharp edges of life’s twists and turns I was finding that every week threw up a new challenge in one form or another. I nearly didn’t get on the train that weekend, but by the time I was catching my return train I was grateful that I’d pushed through the nerves that morning and ignored the niggling doubts that my cynical brain was circling the night before; ‘what if someone tries talking to me and I start blushing profusely’ (a terrible affliction of mine even when I’m not feeling particularly shy), ‘what if I embarrass myself, what if I get lost or miss the train home, what if I get mugged….raped…MURDERED?! AAHHH I CAN’T GO!!’ The usual.
Then I remembered all the reasons why I wanted to go. Thousands of reasons really. Thousands of individual reasons all packaged in human form making up an entire community of sober or sober curious people, each one different and yet fundamentally the same at the core. I had found my people and the event was the perfect environment for us to meet at. This time I’ve made arrangements to attend both days. I intend to soak up as much of the atmosphere, information and free samples of Kombucha as I can get my hands on!
By the time I attended my first Club Soda event, the Mindful Drinking Festival, I had been a member of Club Soda for a year. The stronghold of thousands of like-minded people had talked me through my anguish and conflicting emotions during the time that I was still defensively drinking, arguing blindly that I could moderate, that I could decipher the formula that made moderate drinking a feasible reality for me. For so many years I’d watched my husband (also known as The Bearded One to those who’ve followed my posts) drink moderately, awestruck by the sorcery of his ability to drink one or two and then stop. How? And more importantly WHY? It seemed bizarre to me that anyone would choose to stop after one or two drinks if the option to have more was there.
It took a long time for me to realise that the fundamental difference between mine and my husband’s drinking was the motive. He drank to be sociable, to merely take the edge off, but no more than that. His drink accompanied the evening. My drink was the point of the evening, and the desire was for a complete overhaul of my mood and my mind. I drank to escape myself, whereas the bearded one was already comfortable in his own skin. I remember how that used to annoy me. I saw his easy, laid back approach to life and I thrust angry drunk words at him like ‘arrogant’ and accused him of being full of himself. A sad jealousy that I was unable to share his steady composure.
I’d like to say that as soon as I stopped drinking, I found that cool, calm, steady composure that I so longed for when I was a drinker. But that, as I’m sure many of you all know, is just not how it works. If it was that simple, we could have all stopped drinking effortlessly long before searching out the help of sobriety forums. If anything, I got worse for a while. I unraveled often and had to find ways to be ok without resorting to drinking. I still remember thinking to myself “this is impossible” as I tried to meditate through negative emotions after one hell of a day sometime during the early months. It turns out it was possible after all. It was just really very hard, and that’s different, and as it turns out it’s a good thing. All those incredibly hard times of having to deal with rough days, bad feelings, anxious situations, awkward conversations and jaw clenching cravings made me resilient.
It’s not a tangible tool kit so it’s hard to notice when it goes from being barren to full to the top with techniques and skills that make rough days just a day that needs a bit of extra self-care in the evening rather than being an absolute trigger fest that brings me to my knees. It’s such a gradual process that I only notice the huge change when I compare myself now to how I was before I gave up the booze.
I’m sitting here now looking around my house which is organised, clean, and relatively clutter-free (there’s 2 kids in the house, 3 if you count the bearded one, so it’s never going to be perfect). A far cry from the cluttered disorganised mayhem that I dismissed daily when I was drinking as being impossible to sort out; not enough hours in the day, nobody but me ever cleans, blah blah blah. Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink, as the saying goes. The number of hours I sat on my arse pouring wine down my neck I probably could have single-handedly built myself a cottage on the farmland at the back of the house.
I claimed back the great gift of time when I swore off drink and finally made it stick. I’ve achieved things in small pockets of time that I didn’t know I could do. I’ve proved to myself that I’m far more capable than I’ve been giving myself credit for. It wasn’t actually me who was decidedly average in life. It was the effect of being drunk-hungover-tired-moody-drunk REPEAT! That was my life for 2 decades except for when I was pregnant with the children. I, of course, convinced myself I didn’t have a problem with booze because I found it so easy to not drink when I was pregnant. Just because I was counting down the weeks, and in the late stages of pregnancy the days, didn’t mean a thing. Obviously.
Anyway, I’m rambling. The point is that by the time I went to the 2nd Mindful Drinking Festival my self-confidence had bloomed. I was still an anxious monkey shaking as I left the station, frantically asking Google where the bloody hell I was going. But I felt good. There was more relaxed conversation that came easy instead of stuttering false starts that made my cheeks burn ever more beetroot by the second. There were no feelings of needing to escape or for the ground to swallow me up.
This is not to say that I had a terrible time at the first one. I’m not sure I’m selling this very well. Perhaps I should have begun by really hitting home the severity of the anxiety and panic I suffer with. It’s debilitating and often physically painful. So regardless of how much I want to be somewhere, and even when I’m glad that I have gone there, I must include the anxiety as part of the experience in order to stay true to the facts.
The fact of the matter is I have a much better handle over the anxiety and panic these days than I ever have done. I’ve tried medication but I’m a firm believer that I can do this without a medicinal blanket. My tool kit is damn near overflowing after nearly 2 years of strengthening my sober muscles.
One more week to go before I see my fellow sobriety comrades in the flesh, and I’m so excited that I think I’ll need an extra cup of chamomile tea tonight to get me settled.
I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to convey my gratitude to Laura and all the team at Club Soda for creating a place where we have all been able to meet each other, and to support each other. Giving up drinking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. There is no doubt in my mind that I never would have done it without Club Soda.
To anyone still sitting on the side of the booze-free pool wondering if it’s safe to jump in, all I can say is dive on in. It’s scary, and in some parts, you’ll have to swim harder than other parts, but it’s glorious and you won’t drown, no matter how much you feel like you might. Maybe dip a tentative toe in the water and come to the festival. Talk to some people.
I’m going to be brutally honest and admit that I was totally surprised to find that all the sobriety folk I met were very cool, highly intelligent, funny and quirky people, a far cry from the drab stereotype that the word sober conjures to mind. Then it dawned on me in a lightbulb moment that it makes sense that everyone is so interesting. We’re all a bit bonkers and we’ve been trying to use booze for all these years to shush the crazy and turn the brain noise down. If we were all steady and passive it’s unlikely we ever would have had a need to abuse a numbing substance.
I am raising my mug of chamomile tea to all you fellow monkey brained incredible humans, thanking you all for your wit, your warmth, and your unwavering support, and looking forward to seeing at least a small percentage of you on the 18th and 19th January at the Truman Brewery for mocktails and mischief! Or a nice cold AF beer and a civilised chat.
And I’ll be bringing my copy of the Club Soda book along for signature scribbles!