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The diary of a sober sister

Michelle O'Connell shares snippets of her sober adventure

A little over a year ago, I quit drinking. It has been the single best thing I have done for myself.

As I have so much to say about this particular great adventure to anyone who asks me, Sophie [Editor-in-Chief] suggested that I write it down and share it, so here I am, staring at a blank screen, wondering where to begin.

I chose to open that bottle of vino most nights because I could. There were no rules for me, I could do what I wanted when I wanted, so wine became the reward for working hard, or as a treat for a little win that may have happened during the day, or as a consolation to some bad news, blah, blah, blah, the reasons and excuses would go on an on. But this reward scheme was flawed because it was never just one glass, and when one glass turned into two, or three or more, then so many changes took over as a result. Dependency crept up on me stealthily and steadily, giving me nothing and taking everything.

I started to think about stopping quite some time before I actually did, though, which took the form of imposing little rules to myself, you know the usual sort of thing that we all do like, no drinking during the week, only to break those rules as soon as wine o'clock came around, for the most pathetic of excuses, like, it's the dog's birthday! Or, it's the finale of Line of Duty! I would, of course, tell myself, as I was opening the bottle, that tomorrow is a fresh new day, so what's the harm?

I think, however, that the reality finally hit me. I had no major "rock bottom" I just felt more and more that something was missing, that I didn't 't feel authentic; it was a strange and kind of off-balance feeling. I appeared to be in control to the outside world, an independent business woman with a fantastic family, a loving partner, and the best girlfriends. All of that was and still is true, but there was something not quite right. Something was missing, and it took me about a year of researching, soul searching and looking inward to face the fact that there was no place for alcohol in my life. More than that, it was stopping me from getting on with my life.

"How will I enjoy myself as the new booze-free me? Will I still be fun? Will I still have fun?"

I needed to make a lifestyle change, and that new direction started when I found myself being drawn to a book entitled "The Sober Diaries" by Clare Pooley. As I devoured the pages, I thought -this could be my story. It resonated. I then read copious amounts of Quit Lit, including the equally inspiring "the Unexpected Joy of Being Sober "by Catherine Gray. She tells her story with such honesty, but more importantly, she delves into the science, the chemical reactions triggered with that very first sip, and all the neurological and physical damaging effects that alcohol causes. I couldn't get enough knowledge, I started listening to podcasts, notably Alcohol Free Life by Janey Lee Grace, and something switched in my head. Instead of being my friend and comfort, I looked at that chilled glass of Sav Blanc as something to be treated with trepidation and, for me, fear.

That was it for me; on the 11th February 2021, I stopped.

That was the easy bit. During those first few weeks, I found that I didn't miss the vino. This was going to be a breeze, right? Wrong. I quickly discovered it was not the wine I missed but the idea of it. The ritual. The chilled glass that I would pour when starting to cook each night. The lovely feeling of meeting a girlfriend for dinner and enjoying that first drink together, bursting with news and talking at 100 miles an hour. Then there is the whole subject of going to a restaurant for the first time and not being involved in the wine choice. How will I enjoy myself as the new booze-free me? Will I still be fun? Will I still have fun?

Looking back at those first few weeks and months now, I was in a bit of a whirl. I was in a hurry. I wanted to ditch the booze and have this fantastic life like now. But I was breaking a 37-year habit. I soon realised this was going to take time and commitment. This project was a choice, not a challenge to be endured, and I needed to enjoy this! And you know what? I have.

Michelle will be sharing more about her sober adventure in the next issue of Manner.


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