On the Rocks with Thando Pato


There are so many inspiring quit-lit memoirs out there but very few from South Africa.  Apart from Melinda Ferguson’s “Smacked” and Sam Cowen’s “From Whisky to Water” there has been a distinct lack of inspiration coming from the Southern Hemisphere.

However, that’s all changed thanks to my podcast guest Thando Pato who has just published her Quit-Lit memoir, “On the Rocks”.  When Thando wanted to get sober she struggled to find a book by someone she could relate to.  So she has put this situation right by becoming the first black South African woman to write a Quit-Lit memoir.

As it says on her book cover:

“Thirty-nine-year-old Thando is living in complete denial about her drinking. On the surface, her life appears aspirational – she has an enviable job, a cool apartment, and a snazzy car. But behind the facade she harbours a dark and shameful secret – she can’t control her drinking.”

In this Episode

  • Like many of us, Thando’s drinking career got started at University – that combination of being away from home with access to cheap booze and drinking buddies gets to many of us.
  • However, she was not at all worried about her drinking as it just felt normal.
  • In fact, she displayed a very sensible attitude towards alcohol as she ditched it for a year while she was doing her post-grad at Rhodes – she was paying for her own studies and well aware of the heavy drinking reputation at Rhodes.
  • However, by 2012 she had got into the habit of drinking a bottle of wine at home most evenings of the week.
  • She was still not particularly concerned, but when her therapist told her she was an alcoholic, she stormed out of the room and promptly sacked her. Thando was still in denial about having a problem but the therapist had definitely planted a seed!
  • Thando’s drinking accelerated in 2016 when she had two personal setbacks.
  • Using alcohol to deal with disappointments can easily become our default and it’s actually a big sign of progress when we can deal with our lows (and even our highs) without reaching for the booze.
  • Thando described 2016 as a bit of a blur – often having to leave her car and collect it the next morning, not remembering the journey home, awful hangovers, feeling a lot of shame, etc.
  • I think many of us can identify with that blurry stage – that’s when you really need to make a change and step off the slippery slope of dependence.
  • Of course, Thando was making (and breaking) rules by this time, but finally accepting that she had a toxic relationship with alcohol. Like many of us, she had no idea HOW to make a change.
  • Like me, she trotted down to AA, and like me, she listened to the shares and decided that she wasn’t “that bad” and that she didn’t fit in at all!
  • Now that I look back on the AA experience and that feeling of being “ok” because we are not drinking in the morning, etc, it occurs to me that we should be comparing ourselves with the best version of ourselves that we could be – rather than comparing ourselves with the hardcore “alcoholic”.
  • Thando made a pact with her brother to not drink for a year and he would be a support.
  • Thando’s decision to take a year off was a brave one but it had a fatal flaw – she was under the impression that this sabbatical from the booze would mean that she would be able to reset her habits and drink “normally”.
  • This was futile because once our drinking has crossed that line into dependence we can never go back – we have to go forward and create an alcohol-free life – a life we don’t want to escape from.
  • Tribe sober can help you do that – so why not join our tribe?
  • Thando’s therapist pointed out that the fact that she was taking a year off indicated that she did have a problem with alcohol as it would never occur to a “normal” drinker to do that!
  • She was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and told that she displayed the traits of a functioning alcoholic.
  • What helped Thando finally accept that she was a functioning alcoholic was the explanation she got from her therapist of alcoholism being a spectrum – two extremes with many degrees of dependence in between.
  • At one end is the stereotype alcoholic (that homeless man in the park) and at the other end is the non-drinker – most of the population fall between those two extremes.
  • Back in 2012 Doctors Nowinsky and Doyle published a book called “Almost Alcoholics” – these people are still holding it all together, but edging up to the alcoholic end of the spectrum.
  • The trick is to keep an eye on your relationship with alcohol and your location on the spectrum.   If you’d like one of our free pdfs called “Signs you have a drinking problem” then email me at janet@nulltribesober.com.
  • Once Thando had got through her sober year (mostly by white-knuckling it), life threw her a couple of curved balls which meant that her intentions to moderate were completely derailed.
  • She was diagnosed with breast cancer and, as drinking was her default mechanism for dealing with trauma, she drank more than ever to cope with the stress, the surgery, and the various treatments.
  • Then came the pandemic but this turned out to be her saving grace.
  • South Africa implemented an alcohol ban and Thando was able to isolate herself and build up some sober time.
  • Although she felt like she was “losing her mind” during those first few months of sobriety she hung in there and it got easier.
  • At month 9, she started to write her book and after a year she stopped obsessing about alcohol, she stopped romanticising it.
  • She changed the way she saw alcohol, her mindset – that’s such an essential step and we’ll never thrive in our alcohol-free lives if we don’t change our mindsets.
  • So Thando got sober by a combination of being locked away due to the pandemic and getting some therapy.
  • Her therapist helped her to understand that she was actually an introvert and needed time alone to recharge – extraverts draw their energy from being with people whereas introverts need time alone.
  • Another conclusion she reached through therapy was the fact that she was attracted to men who were emotionally unavailable – her therapist helped her to realise that by drinking, she was emotionally cut off from herself.
  • These days Thando feels that she understands herself so much better and has adjusted her lifestyle to ensure that she gets plenty of time alone.
  • Her social life has evolved accordingly and she spends time in smaller groups rather than going for long boozy lunches with big groups of people.
  • Apart from getting to know herself better, Thando’s main benefit of sobriety is more capacity – for herself and for her to connect with others – her relationships are deeper.
  • So many young professionals will identify with Thando’s story – her book “On the Rocks” is available in bookstores on Kindle and can be ordered online via Amazon and Loot.

More Info

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