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Beach at Sunset

My Story

tony richardson alcohol freedom coach on the beach

My Alcohol story

 

Everyone has a story about their life journey and in particular their alcohol journey. 

Stories are what connects us, we can see in others elements of our ourselves and our own lives. They can give us hope.

My story spans nearly 50 years, but hopefully there is enough here for you to identify with and be inspired. My journey is your shortcut, you won't have to make the same mistakes I did! I have the experience, tools and tactics to guide you to the outcomes you want.

 

What does life look like for me now?

I am now happily and effortlessly living alcohol free, semi-retired with my lovely wife in a small country town that happens to have four pubs and a BWS outlet. Each day is a blessing to be experienced to the full without the fog of alcohol and the baggage it brings.

It wasn't always that way lol.

Earliest alcohol memory

 

My earliest memory of alcohol was after my Mum had held one of her legendary neighbourhood parties, I was about 9. Next morning there were cigarette butts, glasses with cigarette butts, half empty glasses of alcohol something, and glasses containing both. Yuck, still to this day I automatically screw my nose up at the memory of those sights and smells!

My first drink came later when I was a teenager, 16, about to depart on a great adventure joining the Royal Australian Air Force as a young apprentice tradesman. My Mum thought I had better have a least one experience of drinking under my belt before I departed. I don't have a lot of memory about it except I got very silly and ended up in the bathtub, no water but fully dressed, with Mums shower cap on. There is a photo.

Air Force years

 

Being in the Royal Australian Air Force was a dream come true for me, something I had wanted to do since I was little. We were sent to a country airbase to learn to become "good airmen" and proficient tradesmen. There were about 130 of us in our intake ranging in age from 15 to 17 years of age. All of us were under the legal drinking age and the Air Force was determined to keep us safe during our training. However, boys being boys far from home and lumped together on a training base, obtaining beer on a friday night through nefarious means became the thing. I remember my first beer, in a steel can with a textured finish, K.B., nicknamed Kiddies Beer. It was great at first but as I found out later not a good thing when you're homesick! Being boys in a man's world we learned to work hard, party hard. Through my career the drinking culture was something to be proud of, it was expected of you, non-drinkers were frowned upon and considered non-team players or just wusses.

 

Some of the highlights of my service drinking career included imbibing on social outings, to the point of vomiting down the side of the bus or taxi on the way home, a car crash with DUI charges, a motorbike bike crash, falling off a two storey roof after trying to steal a 12 foot fibreglass crocodile in Darwin and so on. I became known for falling asleep in a chair or slinking away to crash on a bed after too many beers, no matter where we were. Work career wise I progressed through the ranks over the years gaining more responsibility but still remained one of the "drinking boys" when the occasion warranted. Marriage and children slowed me down somewhat, money was tighter and drinking at home was at "normal" levels, usually weekends at BBQs or on the porch watching an afternoon thunderstorm. I worked in maintenance squadrons and spent a lot of my career in the training environment, instructing on various aircraft and equipment courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However there were still exercises and deployments away from home where the partying and mischief could resume. After 21 years I left the service, it was a sad to say goodbye to the defence life, the people and the camaraderie but I was ready for a change.

Corporate Life

 

I was officially out of the Air Force on a Friday and started work on the following Monday. In the year prior to leaving I had prepared myself to transition into an IT training establishment, becoming a certified training instructor. One of the amazing things I discovered at the Company I worked for was that you could drink your fill on the Company credit card, the only stipulation was do not drink the contents of the minibar when travelling. I never did take them up on it though, I would need to be my best in the classroom next day.

The downside of working for the Company was being paid monthly, and working long hours without recompense in any form, balancing the budget was really tough. Drinking continued at "normal"levels, maybe a carton of beer a week.

We built a house in the country after having lived in married quarters and rentals for most of our married life to that point.

The town we moved to had four pubs, amazing for a small population of about 1800 at the time.

Three years later, I left the Company and became a training contractor, gigs were good up until the dot com drama in 2000, then it all dried up. Work became harder to find, slowly but surely the drinking began to increase. If my wife retired to bed early, leaving me to it, I would invariably have some of her scotch once my beer had run out. To hide my consumption I used to top up the whiskey bottle with water, just enough so it wasn't obvious. She never knew until I told her much later.

After several years Monday hangovers had increased to Monday-Tuesday hangovers. Binge drinking became the norm, Friday through Sunday, then Thursday through Sunday, Wednesday through Sunday.

Missed Mondays off work, sometimes became missed Monday and Tuesday.

Designated alcohol free days Monday and Tuesday weren't really alcohol free as I was still ridding myself of the alcohol from the previous weekend!

Being "tired and emotional" if I did make a Monday, translated into grumpy and fatigued, shaky and anxious.

By this time I had secured long term IT contractor work. Some of the pressure came off but the patterns remained.

The internal questioning came, why are you doing this to yourself? Am I an alcoholic? Am I harming myself? Why can't I stop at one or two? Why can't I just stop when the beer runs out? I need to slow down, make more alcohol free days.

Night sweats, waking at 3 a.m. for water and recriminations. I developed gout, that was fun.

Indulging in my hobby of building an aeroplane while having a few beers (no less) led to mistakes and dissatisfaction with my efforts. Note: I redid parts when sober.

Drinking a cleanskin wine that I actually detested but still drank after the beer ran out, was the final straw. That and the monster hangover.

White knuckling mindset and whiteants

 

So, in 2007 I needed to stop, but how? Moderation hadn't worked, with each break came an escalation, like my brain needed to catch up with what was missed. I read a lot of the AA literature to help me change my mindset, I felt a lot of compassion for the people in the stories. I didn't feel I was one of them, but I could see something of myself in them. I absolutely did not want to become one of them. It seemed like that was my future if kept going. AA in a small country town seemed more like Alcoholics Almost Anonymous. The 12 steps scared the crap out of me. I believed what was written in the big book, I had a disease, I was not like normal people. I decided to go it alone without AA, relying on my changed mindset and determination. Cold turkey. White knuckling it as they say.

So I gave up. Each day I told myself I wouldn't drink, it was tough but I reminded myself daily of what I would gain and pushed what I would miss out of my mind. I signed up for a course in Real Estate development. I distracted myself with with building my aeroplane, relatively mistake free now and kept to the path I had set myself. I prayed a lot for assistance, it was given. I stayed away from places of temptation for about six months, no pubs, no restaurants, no life, for me or my wife! I was not easy to live with at times, when the deprivation led to angry outbursts. I would see people drinking having fun, laughing, enjoying their drinks and remind myself: 

 

You are not like them, you cannot drink.. ever.

I felt great though. My health and appearance had improved. Anniversaries rolled by, birthdays, Christmas, my first New Years without drinking myself to a stupor. A highlight for me later was to fly my aeroplane on New Years day, then message everyone with a photo or two of me above the clouds enjoying the early morning air. I counted the days, then the years. I felt the pangs of missing out on the apparent joys of drinking from time to time but I kept at it.

I remember the first time I felt free, I mean really free, I drove through a DUI station and felt immense wave of relief "I don't have to be scared anymore" it was a truly liberating feeling.

Several years in, I can't remember when exactly, I began to flirt, flirt with the idea of having just one. Flirting with the devil as it were.

I would mention it to my wife, we'd talk, I wouldn't take that drink. Like white ants in the foundations of a house, my beliefs had begun to surface and question my sobriety, question why I was depriving myself, question why I was so different and not being able to drink, slowly eating away my resolve.

I could have just one, just this once? NO!

I continued to build my aeroplane, in 2013 I re-gained my recreational pilots licence and added new endorsements to enable me to fly cross country at a local flying school. Our CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) mentored me through the various phases of my training. We celebrated the successful test flight of my aeroplane in 2014, all the training had prepared me well. I was part of a small community of pilots that revolved around the school. In December 2015 the CFI passed away suddenly. I knew they were unwell but unaware of just how unwell they truly were. Being a private person they had told no one. I grieved.. quietly, internally, painfully.

 

The noise in my head got louder, it became more negative.. you're broken, you have a disease, you are not like normal people, you know - you may as well have one. This went on for about two weeks until I caved, it was too much. I needed to numb out, stop the pain, stop the rot.

I bought four 500ml cans of Stella Artois, and secreted myself away in my shed. I opened and downed the first one. I really thought I was going to be struck by lightning with all that praying I had done. I cried at the stupidity of it.

I didn't tell my wife for a few months. I had begun the sneaky drinking phase. My sobriety had held out 8 years and 9 months.

When I drank I felt so ashamed at what I was doing to myself, again, it was like adding rocket fuel to the problem.

Fessing up was hard, my wife couldn't believe I had started again, all the work, all the words, all the bestowed praise, all the benefits of not drinking, gone.

Operation Catch Up

 

So in 2016 "operation catch up" began, my second drinking career. In a fairly short time I was pretty much back to the same levels of drinking I was at, nearly nine years previously. We went on a 3 week trip to Italy, I marvelled at the price of a Peroni beer in the supermarket .27 Euro.

My family's dissatisfaction with my resurgent drinking on the trip became apparent, when at times, drinking became the focus rather than the amazing country we were visiting. Peroni became my go-to beer back home. Certainly for the taste but more for the 5.8% Alc volume. 

We were somewhat more affluent by this time as I had a steady public service job, mortgages had been paid and the children had left home long ago, so buying larger quantities of alcohol was no problem. Wednesday to Sunday was on again. Binging was back. I made an effort to change alcohol free days around, start later in the day, have a soft drink in between, leave Sunday free, all the things but I wasn't successful in my strategies to cut down my drinking.

Fast forward a year after restarting, I began to notice a pain in my right side under my rib cage. We were on holiday in Bali with family. I googled cirrhosis and read terrible things. Couldn't be that. Or could it. I had tests done when we got back. Bloods taken, ultrasound. No apparent issue.

I took medication for an ulcer for a month, no change.

I slowed down a bit on what days I drank, but I began to notice I needed more to get the same effect, 8 or 9 became the new six-pack.

Instead of one carton a week it became one and a half, sometimes two. I shocked myself momentarily when I calculated how much ethanol was in a carton and a half of Peroni's - 690ml. That's more than a bottle and a half of whiskey. I could never drink that much whiskey a week!

But in effect I was.

 

The grumpy and fatigued, shaky and anxious me had returned on Mondays.

Activities around home became a means to an end, drinking after gardening, cleaning the pool, going for a short drive, just watching the clock.. waiting for a reasonable time. Yep 11am, time to relax.

Outings to the pub for a meal almost always ended in a drinking session at home.

 

The joy began to filter out of the one thing I loved most, flying my aeroplane.

Pull it out the hangar, preflight it, fly a few circuits, put it away again.

Hurry to the bottle shop on the way home, grab a six pack, have that first beer in the carpark. 

The sense of satisfaction and joy after nailing a great landing or going on a cross country, or just the happiness I felt after closing the hangar doors disappeared.

In the military parlance, alcohol had become "Front and Centre"in my life.

Life's ebb and flow had stopped, almost everyday was becoming the same.

It was then that I thought I really might have a problem. Everything had started to become the same, something to be done before drinking. How long before it was just drinking and nothing else?

I just had to find that mindset again, however my subconscious had other ideas!

I was "stinking thinking" five beers in, why was I drinking, why couldn't I stop.. why? why? why?

 

Just give in to it, you're fine, why bother.

Like a comforting grey blanket, the thought descended over me.. it's just too f*ing hard.

Like a siren's call to mariners long ago..

Give in..  there is no hope

Its hopeless

Crack another beer.. wait

NOOO!

I pushed that thought away, it was too scary to contemplate anymore.

This Naked Mind, the Book

By this time it was late January 2021 and I remember saying to my wife that if I can just get my mindset back as it was in 2007 I'll be ok. I'll be able to do it again, I had to hope. It might be effing hard but I'll try.

So began the googling. I entered "Alcohol Free Mindset", one of the first things that came up was a book ad "This Naked Mind" by Annie Grace. The reviews were so good, I ordered it.

I began reading it on the bus to work, it made so much sense right from the start and Annie's story was compelling. The people around me must have thought I was a weirdo.. "Oh.. that's why!" I exclaimed when read a particular explanation. It was like lights going off all the time with each paragraph or chapter. I read it five times, just to be sure it would stick. I still drank but maybe with much less fervour!

After going through the book, I signed up for the 30 day Alcohol Experiment online, with a view to moderate. Afterall I still believed that alcohol on some level was essential for my survival. I did the work, I even journaled, occasionally, I watched the videos, I wrote lists, slowly I came to realise that I didn't want to moderate. I wanted the freedom I felt before when I drove through that DUI station so many years ago. The object of the 30 day experiment is to get you to experience a break from alcohol, do the important work to understand why you do what you do and if you desire, make a firm decision to either stop or moderate your alcohol intake.

Experience had shown me that moderation for me was too hard. I chose to stop.

I haven't looked back since the day I stopped. Some might say the long years of sobriety were wasted when I took that first drink, but they weren't, they taught me a lot about what it takes to quit and what it feels like to not drink on anniversaries, Christmas, New Years, births, deaths, marriages, etc. when social expectations to partake are high. (Even small periods of sobriety would give someone the same experience as I had over the longer term.) Those experiences might have been harder than they needed to be, but they were gold.

I have no sense now that I am somehow being deprived of alcohol and am missing out on some wonderful experience in the company of a beer or glass of wine. I haven't bothered to count days this time around, been there done that.

I wake up energised and ready for the day each morning, I give thanks and gratitude for privilege of just being alive on this amazing planet. My wife and I recently completed two back to back house renovations to get them ready for sale, I would never have had the mental and physical fortitude to do them if I had still been drinking. At the first big problem, and there were many, I would have sat down with a beer or gone to the pub and wasted the time. Mentally working the issue but not actually doing anything. Hangovers would have meant no work for a day or days.

What was key to being successful? It was the accumulating right knowledge, building the emotion and taking action to stop drinking the destructive poison I had become addicted to. 

The same knowledge, emotion and action can be learned and applied by anyone to change their relationship with alcohol.

Everyone has a story, perhaps you have a seen a little of yourself in my story.

All you need to start is the genuine desire to make a change.

Certifications

  • Certified This Naked Mind Coach

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