Just over a year ago, I made the bold and brave decision to stop drinking – forever.
The decision was brave because I had built my life around drinking. I had been drinking for 20-plus years and, for a long time, I really enjoyed it. I revelled in going to wine farms when I was in Cape Town; attending whiskey, wine and champagne festivals; and having long boozy lunches and dinners with friends. I always found an occasion, or an excuse, to knock back a few.
But at some point, my drinking took a turn and I found myself drinking two bottles of wine every evening after work. My life became a blur that consisted of drinking, recovering from the hangover, and drinking some more. When I was out with friends, I drank even more – for every glass they drank, I had two. I would get drunk, but I never caused a scene, embarrassed myself or got arrested. I wasn’t a sloppy drunk, which is why I convinced myself I didn’t have a problem.
I hate labels and for a very long time, while I tried to figure out why I drank so much, I resisted calling myself an alcoholic. In my mind, alcoholics were losers; people who were not in control of their lives. I wasn’t like that – I had a demanding and successful career, I had successful friends, I travelled and, on the surface, I looked like I had my shit together. Plus, it didn’t help that many of my friends were like me: drinking every day.
In 2016, I started developing feelings of anxiety and shame about my drinking. I felt this way largely because I couldn’t believe I could drink so much… I was also starting to have blackouts. At some point, my brain would shut down and I wouldn’t remember a large chunk of what had happened that afternoon or evening. But that didn’t stop me from drinking the next chance I got.
Quitting is the hardest part
When I eventually tried to stop, I went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings but I would attend one and not go back. I basically wouldn’t follow through with the programme. I tried to drink less – hell, I quit for almost a year in 2017, and afterwards I thought I could drink moderately but I was fooling myself.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy. Going through this made it even harder to stay on my sobriety journey. And I was also back to my old drinking ways.
What finally changed? I did.
It was just after level-5 lockdown started in the early days of COVID-19 that I didn’t have access to booze. At this point, I finally surrendered to the fact that I had a problem and as much as I thought I had it under control, I didn’t. I decided it was time to stop.
It also helped that I was now living with my mother, who did NOT support my habit. And having recently moved to Cape Town, I was away from my friends, my regular haunts, and I couldn’t drink the way I always had. I now had very little temptation.
The first two months were agony. I thought about drinking every minute of every day. I questioned my decision to quit. Even though it was lockdown, my colleagues and friends spoke about drinking all the time and where they would get their next fix despite the alcohol restrictions.
When I was stressed or anxious, I could no longer calm myself down with a drink.
I had been seeing a therapist since 2017 and having her guide me through the first year of sobriety now saved my life and strengthened my resolve.
I had to learn why I drank so much in the first place – it certainly wasn’t because I enjoyed it. I joined online support groups, which helped me feel less isolated. It’s amazing how many people from all walks of life are struggling with alcohol addiction or are recovering alcoholics. I also read “quit lit” (autobiographies and books about kicking the habit) to gain tips on how to create a sober life.
The unexpected joy of sobriety
Now, I am happy that I quit drinking. There is an unexpected joy to sobriety. I no longer have feelings of shame and regret. I am clear-headed and present in my life.
Life isn’t perfect, and I still have challenges and problems. But I have had to find new coping mechanisms like exercise and meditation to deal with stress and anxiety. And I had to learn to talk about my feelings, however uncomfortable, instead of bottling them up. I am currently in remission from cancer and 100% healthy.
I am writing this not to gain pity or incur your judgement but to share my story with anyone else out there who is at a crossroads with alcohol. You are not alone, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
There are many outlets where you can reach out for help like aasouthafrica.org.za or na.org.za.