That first day I gave up alcohol was hell. Not because the giving up drink was hell but because I felt like hell. I had a hangover which meant a splitting headache and I had gout which meant acute pain every time I tried to move my left foot or my knees.
My eldest daughter and son-in-law had been staying with us and were still there that morning so I had to make the effort to get out of bed and go downstairs, and once there I just sat with a glass of water feeling awful and ashamed at the condition I was in.
The only saving grace I had was in my head. I kept saying over and over to myself – ‘Never again. This is the last day I will ever feel like this because I will never ever drink again.’ I had said these things to myself before of course, probably hundreds if not thousands of times over the years, but this time it was different – the message was for me and for me alone. I didn’t and wouldn’t say anything to anyone else, I wouldn’t do the usual ‘I am quitting drinking!’ announcement purely to receive the derision that message so rightly deserved, no, this time I would keep the knowledge secret to me and tell no-one until they noticed I hadn’t been drinking. Then I would drop into conversation the fact I had quit.
I sat quiet for most of that day, planning how I would quit, and going through all the things that would make up my methodology and that are set out in my book ‘I Don’t Drink!’ I started making lists of things I would need and things I would need to remember, but most of all, I determined the one big thing I was going to focus on – gout. I was going to beat gout and change my life. I was not going to die before my time like my brother had, I would beat gout and by so doing, live and be healthy.
I sat quieter still and thought some more. My wife remembers me cowering into myself as if I was a crab withdrawing into my shell, and it probably looked that way.
A far better analogue to look back on is me being a caterpillar creating a chrysalis, because just as happens in the insect world once I emerged from that cocoon there was no way back. I would be something and someone new!
As I sat there planning I wanted to shut the day and everyone in it out, and I so wished that day could be over so I could start the first real day of my life. I was even counting down the hours until bed-time.
I drank gallons of water that day, I tried to flush every drop of alcohol I had ever drunk from my system. I imagined my poor liver getting just that little bit better because of the water and my drinking nothing alcoholic. I told it I would try harder and drink lots of water every day from there on.
To be honest I thought about drink a lot that day, not from the perspective of wanting a drink but what I would miss. I thought about the nice times that involved drink such as a glass of cider after a hard swim, or a refreshing glass of wine sitting by the beach. I had to keep reminding myself I had been there and done that and focus back on the negatives such as the gout and not wanting to die.
By tea-time I felt a little better although my knees were still swollen and I carried on with the water diet. My wife looked at me quizzically and must have wondered when I was going to have some wine, but mercifully she didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to explain what I was doing.
The strangest thing is it felt like I was being watched that day. It felt as if someone or something was focusing on me and testing my resolve. Perhaps it was my subconscious working overtime and talking to my conscious self – telling me there was no way back, and that this thing had to be done!
I went to bed very early that night. I remember laying back with my head on the pillow and smiling to myself. By this time, I had given up thinking about wanting a drink or the drinks I would miss because there was no point, there was no countdown that had started until the time I could drink again, this was it, forever. As I lay there staring at the ceiling there was already a strange and unexpected calm coming over me. In retrospect I believe it was the lack of mental planning about booze that was so refreshing. I wasn’t doing any of my normal ‘didn’t drink today so I can have extra tomorrow’ routine. All that had been switched off by my subconscious as no longer being relevant.
This really was day one of a whole new life. Nothing would ever be the same again, and I couldn’t wait for the next day to begin. I had found a calendar I would use as a non-drinking star chart to reward myself with a star each day and I had even found a packet of stars to stick on! The first thing I was going to do when I woke up was stick on that first star and count one!
I knew it might be a difficult journey I was taking, I knew there would be trials and tribulations and even regrets perhaps, but I was determined. This new ‘forever’ was an unknown alien world I would face in the morning, but I was ready to meet it head on. If someone then had told me how easy a journey it would turn out to be, I would have laughed in their face.
PS I still have some free copies of the audiobook version of One Less for the Road to give away. Simply enter the competition on my website.