"These moments given, are a gift from time" (Kate Bush). Di-alcohol / Alcohol-free 22/03/15 always.

1 January 2017

An alcohol-free life

Notes on an alcohol-free life
I have adopted the idea of "recovery" in my own life, from the world of addiction recovery. Although I have never been addicted to any kind of substance, or gambling, I took a snap decision on March 23rd, 2015, that I could not take the risk of getting drunk, due to some deeply upsetting circumstances in which I found myself. (Including a very sudden redundancy). More positively, I know that my decision to stop drinking is ultimately grounded in love and, as far as I can tell, is likely to last forever.

Even at the best of times, a night out on the beer for me could sometimes lead to floods of tears, or perhaps some slightly erratic or compulsive (though not criminal) behaviour.  With my recently acquired training on mental health, I can now fully appreciate that alcohol is a substance that can and does change the chemistry of the brain. In the hands of a sensitive character such as myself - who tends to live and love very deeply - alcohol can be emotionally lethal.

My decision to stop drinking has remained unbroken since 23/03/15. It has also turned out to be one of the best decisions of my lifeWithin a year of taking the decision to go alcohol-free, I found myself active in the Club Soda on-line support group, throwing myself into the task of helping others who want to quit or moderate their alcohol consumption.

Later in 2016, I was appointed to the Management Board of The Living Room, Cardiff. I have found my engagement with both groups to be very humbling and grounding. I am taken aback by the seriousness with which my fellow Living Room trustees take their work, and I aspire to emulate their commitment to recovery. There is no question that my new empathetic insights have helped my new role as a caseworker for Mencap Cymru since April 2016. In that role, I am sometimes required to deal with highly emotive calls from members of the public - and to keep a cool head in response.

I recently attended the Living Room annual lecture, which was on the theme of "Recovery as an issue of Social Justice" by Professor David Best of the Department of Law and Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University. Professor Best argues:

“Of people in active recovery in the UK, 79.4 percent actively participate in their local community. For the general public that figure is just 39 percent. So people in recovery are more than twice as likely to be active community connectors. You are better off having addicted people in recovery in your community than people who have never had an addiction problem in their lives."

“So the purpose of recovery is not to get people back to where they started. It’s to get them to a positive growth point where they become an asset to the community. And this is not achieved by one 45 minute session every fortnight where clients have magic dust sprinkled on them."

Perhaps it is this social aspect which makes the idea of "recovery" so attractive to me. The determination to not be broken by the pain and heartache of previous situations, but to transform those overwhelming experiences into empathy for the good of society, whether by fundraising for charitable causes, or, perhaps more profoundly, by offering a listening ear to someone in Club Soda who may have hit some terrible life circumstances and has no clue what their next move is. By admitting that my own life is "in recovery" of sorts - and perhaps always will be -  I  am able to stand beside them in their heartache, to tell them that I've been in that sort of place as well, and to try and shine whatever light I can on their path ahead.
Just after I'd quit drinking, I had to face a quick succession of social occasions. Looking back, the fact that I stayed dry during these big occasions possibly saved my livelihood. As time has gone on, abstaining from drink is hardly an issue for me now. However it has continued to provide enough of a discipline, over a long enough period of time, to basically eliminate that slightly erratic side of me that could, on occasion, lead to emotional trouble.

My only regret is that I didn't quit drinking some 20 years ago, perhaps after my first term in University when I had my first experience of depression. Indeed, I often wonder how life would have turned out if I'd just stuck to the dry stance that I held until age 18, despite some pressure to drink from some of my schoolfriends. Back then, my goal was to emulate the teetotal values of my dear, late Grandfather, the Revd. Iorwerth Jones. 

Since going alcohol free, new realisations and perspectives continue to unfold. Very gradually, I have come to realise the prominent role that alcohol plays in families, friendships and wider society. It seems that in the UK, and not least in Wales, we have become hard-wired to drink, whatever the occasion. Non-drinkers are often questioned about their stance (in pretty much the same way that Welsh speakers are often questioned on why do we insist on speaking our strange language!) Yes indeed - being sober in today's world can feel like something of a political act.