Melissa’s journey to be alcohol free took 22 years. This Naked Mind is one of the tools she used to break free.
I live in Melbourne, Australia. I am single and do not have children, but I am incredibly close with my family – parents, brother, sister, sister in law, niece, and two nephews. This year has been a big year of change for me. I quit my job of 17 years and started studying full time at University to be a Primary (Elementary) School Teacher. I have just completed my first year of a four-year degree. I also turned 40 in August and in June this year I finally made the decision to stop drinking alcohol for an undetermined amount of time. It was the beginning of my journey to be alcohol free.
If a year ago someone would have told me I would be in this situation I would not in a million years have believed them. I never thought it would be possible for me to go alcohol free and actually enjoy it and feel like it is the best decision I have ever made in my life. I’ve not put a time limit on this break. As I come up to 7 months I know I want to experience a whole year alcohol free. If I am being truly honest my dream is to never drink again. At this point that doesn’t feel out of the realm of possibility.
Alcohol did not have a place in my upbringing or my family home. I am the youngest of 3 children. My father had me when he was a bit older at 47 and Mum at 37. I have never seen either of my parent’s drink to excess or be drunk. Before I was old enough to remember I’ve been told my Dad used to love to drink. From the stories I have heard he was a happy drinker but a drinker who would have a few too many. He liked to drink beer after work and on a Saturday afternoon in the backyard.
I have the vaguest memory of him sitting under the tree in the back yard having a quiet afternoon beer. When Dad was around 50, he had a slight health scare. The doctors told him to stop drinking for 6 months. Once the 6 months was up he never started drinking again.
He is now 88, fit and healthy and loving life. He has not drank in over 38 years now and is another one of my inspirations. My uncle is a functioning alcoholic, but still going strong – issues with alcohol may be something that does run in our family. My sister doesn’t like drinking at all, and my brother will have one or two but nothing to excess.
When I was around 15, I was staying at a friend’s holiday house. Her parents liked drinking. They came home late one night. They were both obviously drunk but I had never seen a drunk person before. Shocked and confused, a bit scared about the silly behaviour by these adults – I had never seen anything like it before. It was nothing bad, just laughing, silly jokes and carrying on but I didn’t know that was what it meant to be drunk.
I never had much interest in alcohol growing up. It was not on my radar until I was about 17. Then we started going to parties on the weekend. My friends would want to drink so we would talk a friends Mum into buying us a hip flash of Jim Bean to share between the 3 of us. We would of course tell her it was for 30 people. We never got really drunk on this as we were too scared to drink it all – just a bit tipsy.
When I turned 18 and had just finished high school there was an end of year party that everyone went to. I went with friends and my boyfriend at the time. He brought some older friends along. Before the party we drank this 40% Polish vodka in the park. It tasted like rocket fuel, it was so disgusting. I drank it anyway completely unaware of how powerful and dangerous this liquid was. That night I got extremely drunk and vomited at my friend’s house. I believe that was the first time I blacked out from drinking too much. At the time I didn’t realise this is what happened.
I felt terrible the next day but instead of putting me off alcohol I guess that was the start of the next 22 years of drinking. I never told my parents about that party because they didn’t drink. They would frown on this behaviour so I never let them know if I had had a big night or if I was hungover. If only I had known then what I know now. I guess I had to go on that journey to get to where I am today. My journey to be alcohol free taught me so much.
In all honesty my twenties were a lot of fun. There was A LOT of partying and a lot of drinking. Too much drinking but that was what my friends and I did. Loving to dance. Hanging out with friends, I loved having fun. I also loved to drink when I did all those things!! The only time I didn’t love to drink was when I drank too much and couldn’t remember what I had done or said the last half of the night. When I think about it this happened on far too many occasions than I care to think about. I’d say I’d remember but I often I didn’t remember.
My friends and I would go out Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday with a purpose to party and drink to excess. I never consciously thought I want to go out and get hammered tonight but it always seemed to happen.
Along for the ride
It almost felt like it was out of my control, once I started drinking that was it. The night had a life of its own. Before we went out, we would pre-drink as it was fun and we would save money. That often meant by the time I left the house I was already drunk and adding more alcohol on top of that. I was very lucky that nothing extremely bad happened to me during those years. There are a few of incidents that I still find difficult to think about now that do stand out in my mind. Casual sex incidents that happened when I was drunk. I completely wish they hadn’t and still feel shame about today.
So, all through my 20’s I drank regularly usually every weekend. I wouldn’t black out all the time but often I did. I won’t go through every ridiculous, embarrassing and stupid thing I did as that could be a book on its own. My drinking was purely social. I have never liked to drink alone. I am not the person to come home after a hard day at work and open a bottle of wine to relax. No, I like to drink with people at a celebration, party, dinner party with friends, weddings, engagement parties, and birthday parties. So, in one way I was lucky to not drink every day when I did drink and lucky, I never drank or enjoyed drinking on my own.
What Grounded Me
I found that if I was in a relationship I didn’t party as much, and my drinking behaviour was more under control. When I was single I was out there and pretty wild. If I had a boyfriend that didn’t drink a lot, then I would not drink a lot. If I had a boyfriend who like to party too then it was game on.
Alcohol has most definitely impacted all the relationships I have been in but had never been the reason why they ended.
It is so ironic now that I am on my journey to be alcohol free, I sometimes worry men won’t want to date me because I don’t drink. When I drank it caused issues anyway. I would always have shame and regret after huge nights. Alcohol had weaved itself into the fabric of my life.
I have countless pages in my journal over the years berating myself for drinking too much and vowing never to do it again, but I always did.
When I turned 30 I knew I didn’t want to have a huge party with unlimited alcohol. If I did, I would get so drunk I would make a fool of myself and worst yet not even remember it. So I planned a lunch for my 30th to avoid this but that didn’t go to plan. I ended up staying out till 4 a.m. and don’t really remember the last 3 hours of the night. Thankfully I didn’t do anything too ridiculous. Just after I turned 30 I broke up with the man I thought I would marry and was single for the majority of my 30’s.
I don’t say this in sad depressing type of way as I am quite happy single but I believe I just have not found my person yet. At the age of 35 after a particularly drunken night at my fitness club’s mid-year party I decided to address my drinking. I have always been a fit and healthy person (except for drinking) and at my gym people trained hard and partied harder. At this mid-year party I blacked out from drinking. Uncharacteristically telling my sister who was trying to get me to go home to “F#ck off.” The next day she had a serious conversation with me about my drinking. I knew I had to do something but I wasn’t sure what. She is the first and only person to ever talk to me about it and I am extremely grateful for that.
My first journey to be alcohol free
So I went to see a psychologist about my drinking habits. It was comforting and helpful but I still never stopped drinking. I tried to quit for 3 months but 3 months felt like an eternity and I felt so scared about stopping. The idea of stopping seemed to paralyse me with fear. My journey to be alcohol free stopped before it ever really started. So I decided to do the moderation thing.
No more than 4 drinks when going out. We all know by the 4th drink you are already affected by alcohol. For me stopping at 4 was pretty much impossible. Successful on some nights, but having to be strict and conscious about it. That was draining. I got so tired of always having to think about it.
So after about a year of moderating and being mildly successful I felt I was better. I stopped paying too much attention to my drinking. My sister thought I was better. I was still having incidents that I just never told her about. She had no idea I was still going out and getting hammered fairly regularly.
My claim to fame is going on holiday to Las Vegas for 6 days and managing not to get drunk once.
Maybe having a drink here or there but never getting wasted. Although, I also went to New Orleans on that trip but I cannot say the same for Bourbon Street. I can still feel the hangover from that night.
Why did my journey to be alcohol free take so long?
Over all these years the only person to say anything to me about my drinking has been my sister. Probably because she is always sober at events. Everyone I was hanging out with was as drunk or drunker than me so they didn’t know how far gone I was. I know that not everyone experiences blackouts but that has been something that has happened to me on and off my whole drinking life.
Nothing to stop me
To be honest I thought I would go down the traditional path. Get married, have kids, stop partying and drink less. This would all go away but that did not happen. Instead my friends loved partying. They loved partying with me because I would drink and the drinking continued.
Australia has a massive drinking culture so binge drinking is what most people do and think absolutely nothing of it. That is normal in this country and I always joined in.
We never went out for one we went out for as many as we could drink. I am also the person who doesn’t have an off button. I will never ever say “Oh I had enough now, I will stop drinking” and I am not the person who says “I’m tired, I want to go home” when I am out drinking. Instead, I am out for the long run which is never good.
I now realise that nothing good ever happens after midnight whilst consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol.
Catching up with me
From 38 to 39-and-a-half I went out regularly, not every weekend but 2 times a month to party. I was having black out drinking episodes either once every two months and sometimes once a month. After all these years I had pretty much trained myself somehow to not say or do anything stupid. That was not all the time. Making a fool out of myself still happened. At this age the shame and embarrassment it caused me was horrendous. My hangovers would last 4-5 days after a massive night and the shame, guilt, and embarrassment could last longer.
Is this my future?
Nearing 40, I didn’t want to behaving in this manner. I couldn’t take the hangovers anymore. Ultimately I was scared that one day after I blacked out I just would not wake up. Most of all, I didn’t want to do that to my family or myself.
The price of this partying just became too high. I knew deep inside something had to happen. I either stopped of my own accord or something out of my control would make me stop.
Alcohol stripped me of everything I was. It took away my essence as a person and that filled me with fear and shame. When I was that drunk I didn’t know myself anymore. I didn’t recognise myself.
My journey to be alcohol free
Since I have stopped drinking, I have experienced my 40th birthday alcohol free, many friend’s 40th birthdays alcohol free, been on a pub crawl alcohol free. I have been on a holiday alcohol free and I am gearing up to have my first ever alcohol free New Year’s Eve! I don’t feel that I have had to use willpower at all to stop drinking.
Something inside me shifted. Not drinking is the only option for me going forward.
I’ve not struggled with not drinking. It has been challenging navigating other people’s expectations on me and getting to know the sober me. Thankfully I do truly believe I am just a better version of myself when I am sober. I am still fun, I will still hit the dance floor. Now, I remember everything. My family has been super supportive of my decision and the friends that I have told have been as well.
Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am to be alcohol free. I am so excited to continue this journey, make new memories and to keep untangling and removing alcohol from my life.
I get support from listening to your podcast, re-reading your book and any other books about the subject I can find. I follow heaps of sober Instagram accounts. This network of support is so helpful and motivating.
Are you on your own journey to be alcohol free? Start reading This Naked mind</em for free today and learn how to do it without willpower or regret!
Sharing our stories
All these combined makes me realise that I am not alone on this journey. So many of us out there are striving for the same thing. A happy and healthy alcohol-free life! I have discovered life is SO much better without alcohol. Thanks for all your help, guidance, support, and inspiration, Annie! You have such a positive impact on people’s lives. I know I wouldn’t be this far without your book. For that I truly thank you.
Have a story about your journey to be alcohol free? Please share your stories so you can help others!