Eusebius McKaiser is South Africa’s favourite chat show host.
He facilitates an essential national dialogue on Radio 702 every morning from 9 to 12.
I have been on his show several times and he came to one of our workshops as a guest. He has been a wonderful support to Tribe Sober and has now sent me this fabulous guest blog – enjoy!
I last had alcohol on the 31st December 2018. Giving up alcohol is a process rather than an event.
I have noted a few of my reflections as I feel they may be useful for people trying to cut down or quit as well as their friends who are still drinking:
Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking
That is how much the consumption of alcohol has been normalised in society. No one asks you why you aren’t taking cocaine or looks weirded out if you say you have stopped taking cocaine …. or cigarettes … or fast food … or pretty much any substance or activity that may be harmful. Yet we sometimes shame someone who has stopped consuming alcohol into JUSTIFYING sobriety. Pure madness.
TIP FOR DRINKERS:
Do NOT ask someone who orders a non-alcoholic beverage why they aren’t ordering an alcoholic drink. Just don’t. It is a choice that doesn’t need to be explained. Any more than you need justify why you do not want to consume any product or substance you do not feel like having. It might FEEL like a mere conversational moment or sincere curiosity but I promise you it will cost you NOTHING to not ask. It will also HELP someone trying to form new habits to not feel your (unintended even) pressure to drink. Put differently – what will it cost YOU to not probe? Mind your own choices.
TIP FOR SOMEONE TRYING TO CUT DOWN OR QUIT:
You owe no one an explanation. When you first start out, you will workshop, perhaps even with a community of sober folks all trying to survive the social pressures of quitting, all sorts of “social strategies” for how to “survive a barbecue/the pub/outing to a sporting event”.
Sure, this is fun initially- rehearsing cheesy jokes about your decision, pretending to be nonchalant, etc, but quite frankly all of this eventually becomes tiring because you have to prepare mentally to help other people feel comfortable with a choice you are making about YOUR BODY.
While easier said than done, simply be firm and assertive. When I am feeling chatty, I might say one or two things about not drinking alcohol. But most of the time I do not respond to someone’s thirst (pardon pun) for some epic story of why you quit or why you cut down.
I must confess it is sometimes fun seeing someone dealing with their lack of satisfaction at your lack of explanation. Because they need to wrestle with why it bothers them. Not my drunk monkey. I am too old to be justifying a perfectly acceptable choice.
There is a limit to how much liquid you can consume
Initially, you will buy and drink substitutes. I still do. Like zero percent alcohol-free beer. The first time you order these or buy them to take with you to dinner, you feel so guilty that it is not “real alcohol” that you will VOLUNTEER your “sin”, because you too will, in the beginning, feel self-imposed pressure to explain yourself. But after a while, you stop announcing that your bottles, that LOOK like beer bottles, do not contain poison. And that is socially easier – talking of “social strategies”. Because if no one notices then you won’t be badgered by anyone to explain yourself.
But here’s the fascinating thing. After a few outings, you will no longer be able to consume the same amount of non-alcoholic drinks as your mates are consuming alcohol.
Because if you are not getting drunk, you are too sober to ignore your brain telling you that you are full!!! So the first time I quit for long periods, I would stock up on gallons of virgin G&Ts, beer, etc. Last year this time you may even have seen me making recommendations for the best ones on the market.
Now, one 6 pack of alcohol-free beer in my house can last me months. Because it is simply not natural, while watching a rugby game, to consume an insane amount of LIQUID without feeling sick. When that happens, you have to confront the social habit of always having something in your hand.
Because if you accept that your body cannot handle excessive amounts of liquid, then you have an empty set of hands and that feels weird. But, over time, you will stop being bothered. In the interim, just nurse the same bottle of water/alcohol beverage substitute for a long while.
TIP FOR DRINKERS:
Now that you know to not pressure a mate into downing alcohol with you, just be a sweetie and when you go to the bar, ask, “Eusebius can I get you another water, bud?”
And while you’re being a sweetie, resist the well-meant chirp you wanna add before or after asking this. It is hard for many people to quit drinking, don’t add to their struggle.
TIP FOR SOMEONE TRYING TO CUT DOWN OR QUIT:
Just because your mate is now a sweetie and not pressuring you, don’t “reward” them socially by saying yes to every water or soda offer. If you’re full, you’re full. You are mates because of who you are; not because you buy each other rounds, and if the latter is the main or sole basis of your relationship, then there is a deeper problem here anyway.
And it is okay to leave the club or pub before the rest of your friends, by the way. You do not need to feel compelled to leave together at 3 am just because you arrived together, sober still. Give yourself permission to not want to be with drunk people until the last round is called. You’re an adult. Own your agency.
You cannot bypass anxiety
One upside of drinking alcohol is that your social life is not something you have to think about.
Your weekend is easily plotted and choreographed because it revolves around drinking. In addition to that, the buzz you feel when you get tipsy also allows you to drown out any information your body is conveying about not being well, physically or mentally.
That is why many of us bypass anxiety, for example, by drowning, in alcohol, the messaging we are getting from our bodies.
Sobriety is challenging. You cannot ignore your anxieties. You are too sober. You can only ignore it by finding new distractions – other addictions like excessive exercising or emotional eating or other drugs or even technology addiction, or sex addiction…
Don’t waste your sobriety by substituting alcohol. Sit with and through your anxieties and if you lack the tools to do so, seek help. Therapy is under-rated. Getting drunk isn’t therapy. It is simply avoidance.
An unexpected gain – time!
The single biggest gain when you quit consuming lots of alcohol is time. It is 11 pm right now and it is Friday. If I was drinking, this would be a post related to drinking. As it happens, I am reading, thinking and reflecting on other stuff.
Even more shocking, when you first manage to cut back, is that you will wake up early on weekends. For one spectacularly obvious reason – you did not pass out. When your body is well-rested, it has no biological reason to remain in bed – if you’re not dead.
Anyone who quit successfully is laughing in recognition of what I am saying here. I know because it is the most unexpected gain people experience. You usually TRY to quit to lose weight, to stop being a drunk ASSHOLE, to save money. No one says, “I wanna quit because I want to gain time!” So when you DO gain time, it is the oddest little bit of joy.
WARNING: You will, initially, waste the time you gain because you are not used to it. What the hell are you supposed to do with yourself at 8 am on a Saturday morning? Eventually, you will plan ahead. Try new things. Go to the gym. Make Saturday mornings your preferred time for going to the barber, etc. Initially, it is weird to be well-rested on a Saturday morning.
Call that [to borrow from an excellent book title worth seeking out and reading], The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober.
PS: If you can handle your drinking, drink on. This isn’t a post motivating an alcohol-free life. It is simply reflections on the journeys many silently go through when they wish to quit or cut down but struggle. Respect each other.
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