Are you serious? Did something bad happen?
I didn’t know you had a problem?
I wish I could do that.
Call me when you’re back on the wagon. Surely this won’t last, right? But everyone else drinks.
These are just some of the responses I have had in the last year of my life.
In the last year of my life, I haven’t consumed any alcohol. I quit drinking. And people almost fall off their chairs when I tell them, although maybe that’s because they are usually wasted when it comes time to explain that I am not drinking. Watch: Maz Compton chat to Mia Freedman on No Filter. (Post continues after video.)
Either way, the reactions I have had range from totally understandable to completely insane. The first real question I get asked most, aside from hurtful comments listed above, is why? Why would I feel compelled to stop doing something that everyone does, most of the time?
For me personally, alcohol has been not only free but the fabric of my ten plus years that I have worked in media: there is always a party, an opening, an event, a celebration, a break up, a bad day, a boyfriend, a bottle of Veuve in the cupboard. There are a million reasons why it’s been so easy for me to consume booze almost daily for a long time now.
It’s the backbone of our society and it fuels our social lives and our social feeds. It’s just what we do. It’s how we catch up with friends, celebrate the wins, mourn the losses, deal with the heartbreak, nerves, anxiety, pain, sadness, joy and every other emotion and moment you can imagine. We make plans around it, we define ourselves by it and we cast out those who don’t conform.
So why did I quit?
I get asked this question the most when I am surrounded by people who are drinking because yes, even though I don’t drink, I still go to my friends birthdays and attend events where there is alcohol, I think this is a key if you decided to quit, don’t change your entire lifestyle, just change your habits.
When I am in a playful mood I just say, because I can, or that I just felt like a break. When I feel like explaining myself I tell the real story.
I’ve been asked by so many people online why, so here is the real story, feel free to have a drink as you read this, so it feels like we are at a pub hanging out!
My manager and one of my closest friends died suddenly in Sept 2014 and I didn’t handle his death well, at all. I needed to find a way to grieve and deal with such a huge loss. Not only was Mark my Manager, He was a man I trusted with my secrets, a man who truly believed in my dreams, my potential, a man who hadn’t hurt me or tried to change me.
He built me up, he invested in me, he breathed life into my dreams and we were a great team, a winning team. He was a man I could share my true self with, without judgment, he was my safe place, my inspiration and he helped me believe I could do this. (By this, I mean forge a successful career in media that straddles several mediums including radio and television).
When he was suddenly gone my world fell apart and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. The pain and sadness that I felt seemed to consume me and I really did think it would last forever, I just had to find a way our of that pit and somehow turn this test into a testimony.
It took a while to conjure up the strength to face the truth; that Mark was gone and I had to battle alone. To honour his life, I decided that I would say no to drinking, and each time I refused a drink, I would remember him, I would know that he was close by and proud of me.
It started off as a month long experiment to deal with grief and it’s turned into an incredible journey of self discovery, behavioural study, friendship tests and above all, raw and honest living. Behind the incident that triggered the decision, my life was slowly unraveling into a disaster zone. Our lives are directed by booze. And my life was certainly becoming dependent on it when Mark was alive.
Did I have a drinking problem? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of a problem, doesn’t it? I was able to hold down an awesome job, host amazing events, have great friendships, get promoted, be the life of the party, succeed, move interstate, show up and kick butt everyday.
On the outside, on paper I was a totally successful, cool chick who was on the up and always up for fun times. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I would, more often than not, have a drink in one hand, sometimes one in each. I would drive my car to a party with the intention of just having one or two, and find myself still fully clothed in my bed the next day nursing a hangover with a taxi receipt hanging out of my purse and zero idea on how I got home, until I figured it must have a cab, because, you know, taxi receipt, ‘duh.
I think a lot of people wind up in this place.
From the conversations I have had, while sharing my story, this is common place for us as a generation, where all of a sudden you can’t find a free weekend to have ‘off the booze’. You can’t slow down, you can’t say no, you just have to keep running on that hamsters wheel, night after night, BBQ after BBQ, long lunch after long lunch. You get in this slipstream, where alcohol is apart of absolutely everything you do. And if you manage to spend a few days booze free, you are so chuffed with yourself that you celebrate by getting next-level wasted as your reward.
I told myself many things to make it ok. You’re still hurting from the divorce. Everyone drinks, so it’s fine. You’re fun and happy when you drink. It’s impossible to stop. It’s an expectation with my job. I’m stressed. I’m sad today. I need it to relax. I live alone. I’m single. I need it to cope. I’m not hurting anyone. I miss my family. When you start saying no to dinner plans with friends, so you can sit in your courtyard, alone and drink a bottle of wine, just because you can’t face anyone, because you feel like a fraud, then perhaps yes that is a problem.
This is about where I was up to.
I was lonely, living interstate away from my friends and family, I had a super demanding job that required me to be out a lot, and I somehow managed ‘to cope’ with all of this in front of anyone who was watching, I kept up appearances and made a Logie winning performance that I was ‘doing really well.’ But when I was alone, I was really alone, I had a panic attacks at night, anxiety, I was frustrated with my continual bad decisions, I was sad, I hated myself, and even though my face was on a billboard and it seemed like I was ticking so many boxes, I was empty inside.
And let me tell you right now, no matter how much you drink, it will never fill up that emptiness in your heart, the only thing that fills that hole is love, for yourself, and you don’t find it in the bottom of a bottle, ever. Let’s put this in perspective, this was a very manageable, first world problem. A very disguisable, easy to hide, easy to maintain, kind of problem. A ‘not really even a problem,’ problem.
I think it’s this gray area, somewhere between binge drinking on weekends and full blown, “I lost my family, job, license and dignity because of drinking”, somewhere in the middle of those two points is where a lot of us sit, quite comfortably. It’s a huge gray area, that personally I think most people in society exist in, and they think it’s the green zone.
Just because it’s not the red zone, doesn’t mean you are in the green zone.
Just because you are out of the darkness, it doesn’t mean you are living in the light. Just because you won’t consider you might have a problem, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a potentially serious one. I managed to live this way and build up and huge tolerance, because I was really successful, and people don’t really question you when you are kicking life in the dick.
No one really asks if you are ok, they assume you are, because your output by definition is success. That coupled with my ability to put on a brave face and ‘always be positive’, makes people just guess that you are ok, because you are not a disaster. But when you are at home, by yourself and you are face to face with a bottle of whatever, and you know who will win, and it’s not you, those are the lonely moments. You cannot reach out and tell anyone, you cannot admit it to yourself, you cannot break the cycle, you just continue.
So this was my life when I lost my world, when Mark passed away, and I had never felt loss quite like it. I felt like my heart broke beyond repair, that my dreams suddenly came to a screeching halt. I felt a part of me had died with him. It was in this place of deep pain that I realized, if my world has fallen apart, I had to build a new one, with better boundaries, bigger dreams, and I knew that Mark would always be looking on, always. I also know that if you continue to do the same thing and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity.
So with my sanity, just, in tact, I decided to change my life, so it didn’t just look good on paper but felt amazing, that was truly purpose driven. I wanted a lifestyle of health and happiness in mind and body, not just the appearance, a lifestyle I could truly be proud of and I knew Mark would be too. I decided to go away for a week as it was the only way that I would actually go a week without drinking, to get completely away from my normal life.
My normal life had become a vacuum of a highly stressful and demanding job, a long distance relationship with several complications, living away from my family, and a bottle of red every evening, at least. So the only thing I could think to do was to sign up for a fitness holiday where drinking was not an option, I could focus on my body and hopefully kick-start the new me.
I found a fitness holiday in Thailand and it was such a life-changing week. I already had in the back of my mind that I was going to Quit Drinking for the first month in 2015, a good and achievable goal.
For the last few years I had been an ambassador for Dry July, I always looked forward to this because it meant I had an excuse to stay away from alcohol for a month, which I did, surprisingly. Knowing I could do it in July with an ambassadorship as my accountability, I had some hope that I could do it if there was a big enough reason. Honouring Marks life was. Public shame seemed to be a huge motivator, so for the month of July I could abstain without any issues, this was difficult towards to end of my drinking destruction but still possible. Once I had my eyes focused on a week of exercise, eating raw and pushing myself in a new direction, I knew I would be able to handle the first month on 2015 without alcohol.
There is never a good time a give up. January is full of parties. February is still hot and it’s still light til late. March is my birthday. April is Blues Festival in Byron Bay. May, it’s getting cold, June is winter, July is Dry etc. I promise you this, there will never be a month on your calendar that you can clear so you can get your habits under control. You have to force it into your agenda and make it a priority. I learnt this in Thailand. I had made significant inroads within one week.
I had attended every training session, group activity, yoga class, nutrition seminar, spiritual session, recovery massage, I did it all, aqua aerobics, kettle bells, Frisbee, stair climbs, tabata drills, hill sprints, water polo, trekking, mountain biking. I did it all, and I turned some of those gazillion liquid calories into pure muscle. I lost 4.4 per cent of body fat in one week. One of the best results in my group. I was surprised that I didn’t lose any weight though, I still weighed in just under 60kgs. I’ve never really been one for the scales, as long as I fit into those cute shorts, I’m happy.
I didn’t feel like eating clean everyday but I did and I did feel like smashing a few cans after a hectic training session but I didn’t. It was this week that taught me that doing what you actually feel like doing isn’t always what you should be doing. What I realized, after that week in Thailand, was that all this time sitting around consuming booze, whether it was the enjoy a party, to accompany a meal, hide the pain, drown out the voices, numb the feelings or to just get me to sleep… was taking a toll on my body.
English Simon, one of the guys on the Fitness Holiday sat next to me at dinner one night and we started talking, somehow it came up that he hadn’t had a drink for four months. This blew my mind. I quizzed him on his decision and was fascinated by his motivation. He was a regular guy, working a semi stressful job and it was commonplace to hit up a typical English pub after work and sink a few pints of beer. A few pints of beer, every afternoon! That’s a lot of beer a week. It was just the done thing and no one questioned it.
He realized soon into this pattern, that this was fast becoming a problem, he now had a beer gut and less energy and the only way to break this spiral into a sad existence for him was to give up drinking for an extended period of time.
This was his second stint at the Fitness Holiday in three months and he hadn’t had a pint for four months. He had lost a heap of weight, and was about to embark on a 100km bike ride after the Fitness Holiday through Thailand for charity. This inspired me. If this British lad was motivated enough to quit drinking then surly the girl with a heart to be an influencer and role model, could, no wait, NEEDED to start her journey of sobriety.
He recommended me a book, I ordered it immediately that night. And within two weeks of returning home I had read the book and had my entire mind blown by what I read. I had my last drink (night of drinking and boy was it a night) on December 31st 2014 and have not had a drink since. For the first month I felt quite strong in my decision because I truly was honouring Mark’s life.
Each time I politely refused a drink, I would quickly look up to heaven and steal a quick smile. I loved this. I felt so empowered by this choice. It was tough to be out with my friends and especially work colleagues seeing them all enjoying themselves and carrying on but for this month I had a higher purpose and it was an easy four weeks, to say no, to honour my friend, that was my decision each time.
I must have refused a thousand drinks in that month. People were mean to me, people said some pretty rough stuff, but I stayed true to my choice and said no regardless of the pressure or how awkward some people would try to make me feel. So with a month down, something switched. I felt like I had moved past the lost feeling I had when Mark died, I felt close to Him and I felt really strong about my decision, so I decided to keep going.
The stress of my world became more manageable, my relationships were flourishing, I seemed to be a better, more in control, more thoughtful, positive, fun and fit human. And I kept going. It’s a no brainer these days, with a year down, it’s my norm and everytime I tell this story, people get either inspired, have their mind blown or become a bit jealous.
This has been the most empowering and rewarding decision I’ve made.
I am not a slave to any vices, I am not trapped, I am free, I am in control of my decisions and I feel like I can take on the world, which is a very different place to where I was when my world came crumbling down. If you are considering taking some time off, I highly recommend it. The book I read was ‘The Easy Way To Control Alcohol,’ by Allen Carr. Maybe I should write one too.
Also did you know that Bradley Cooper doesn’t drink either, and who doesn’t want to be like Bradley Cooper?
This post originally appeared on Maz Compton’s blog and has been republished here with full permission.