Our extract this week is The Accidental Soberista by Kate Gunn, in which Kate chronicles the challenges she faced on her path to freedom from alcohol.
The First 30 Days
They say that it takes just three weeks to break a habit. But what about a deeply ingrained habit of a lifetime that everyone else around you partakes in? What about a habit that you’re not really sure you even want to break? If you consider yourself a social drinker, a normal drinker, a midlane drinker or basically someone who doesn’t have a drink problem and isn’t an alcoholic, then taking a break for a few weeks should be pretty easy. Right? To me, 30 days sounded like a life sentence. How would I manage? I committed to writing off the month as a long, boring experiment. I would hibernate for October and be ready to come back renewed for the pre-Christmas social mayhem. My main concern was that I would lose the hard-earned tolerance I had built up over the past couple of years. Other concerns included being bored, not having anything to talk to Aodhan about, my dreaded hangovers getting worse when I went back to drinking afterwards, what people would think, Aodhan wanting to continue longer than the 30 days and him finding out that I’m actually really boring. (‘You are,’ my sister assured me.) And then there was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Did I have the sheer willpower to see it through? When I was about 10 years old, I was deeply religious.
We would have family prayers together every evening and Sunday mass was a given. I was a member of the Legion of Mary and during Lent I would go to church every day at 7:30 a.m. before school, and like many other children I would give up sweets for the full 40 days. Sweets were my thing. I adored them. Quarters of Sherbet Lemons and cola cubes, pennies spent on flying saucers and fizzle sticks. I ate far more than I should have and my poor teeth suffered. Giving up that much-desired treat was hard, but it was a good lesson in willpower. Being the child I was, I always took things further, though. I would do random daily fasts from time to time. I think my mother tried to persuade me not to, but the girl was not for turning. At one friend’s birthday party I explained matter-of-factly to her mother that I couldn’t have any of the party food because I was fasting for Our Lord. I didn’t understand the pity and confusion on her face as she wrapped some of the birthday cake and Rice Krispie buns in a napkin for me to take home. Later I laid it all out on the kitchen table and sat there in my party clothes waiting for the clock’s hands to move around to 6 o’clock, my self-imposed finish time when I could devour the lot. Daily fast complete. Amen and Praise the Lord. I was a weird kid. Now, 30 or so years later, I was about to embark on a new fast. My treat was alcohol and giving up didn’t seem quite so straightforward as in those innocent childhood days.
I contemplated whether flexing my willpower so solidly through my early years would help. And if not, there was always prayer – after all, He owed me. But first, I was heading to Amsterdam for one last wild weekend. Aodhan had booked a trip as my birthday present, a long weekend of pure escapism. It fell just after he had been for that doctor’s visit, so we agreed we would enjoy our trip and then begin our 30-day sentence. We travelled over on the Friday and spent the next three days wandering cobbled streets, visiting his sister and her family, strolling around galleries and detouring into coffeeshops and bars. We sat in Hill Street Blues, a famous bar that his sister and brother-in-law helped to manage. It was dark and smoky and the best place imaginable for people watching. Dreadlocked hippies and hardcore bikers mixed with a scattering of sleepy-eyed tourists. We sipped our pints, smiling. ‘I’ll miss this,’ I thought to myself. I didn’t want to say it out loud, as it would make Aodhan feel bad – he already felt guilty that he was the instigator of the fateful no-drinking month. But it was true. It reinforced my idea that alcohol equalled enjoyment and that without it our lives would be lacking. Over the weekend I did what I had done on countless other trips: I drank without questioning it. I believed it added to the holiday.
Never in my wildest imagination could I have pictured spending that weekend alcohol free. I would have been depriving myself of all the enjoyment of the foreign break. No way. We were in Amsterdam from Friday to Monday, and in a case of truly terrible timing, the day after the trip I had to make an important presentation at work. I tried my best to push all thoughts of it aside for the weekend, but it would pop into my head despite myself, a quick jolt of panic running through me as I wandered around the Banksy exhibition or strolled along the canals. Each time it entered unannounced I would shove it out the door again, but it sat on the curb watching me, ready to creep in when I least expected it. By Sunday, the anxiety had started to rise. I drowned it with a stiff drink. By Monday, The Fear had set in. Captained by our good friend alcohol, they set sail with a vengeance. We sat in the airport waiting for the flight home to arrive. My head was sore, my body tired and a feeling of dread had settled in my stomach. There were two huge leather massage chairs at our gate. We popped in the coins and lay back. The soft whirring and a strong pummelling lulled me to a better place, but there was no denying it. I felt awful. We turned our aching heads towards each other and nodded. We were ready. We had already agreed that we would stop drinking after the trip, but that morning it was easy to follow through on. A relief, almost. And so on Monday, 3 October 2016, I began my 30 days on the dry.
The Accidental Soberista
by Kate Gunn is published
by Gill Books, priced €16.99
and is available here
Image courtesy of Your Story Photography