Two significant events happened on Sept 25, 2021. The first was that the Melbourne Football Club won their first Grand final in nearly 60 years. The second one was more personal; I stopped drinking alcohol on this day. For those who know me well there are two surprises. One is that I care about football, and the other is that I’m on the sober bandwagon. No one is more surprised than me.
The late-coming to-football-thing is left for a future blog post. The drinking thing I’ll deal with here.
I grew up in a house where the only booze was a bottle of sherry and a bottle of Sauterne that looked like fetid urine. In summer, there were a couple of bottles of Victoria Bitter, in the event that any of my uncles should drop by. The drink of choice in our home was tea, lemon cordial followed by more tea. Alcohol was something that happened in other places. As a result, I was fascinated by houses where people drank. If I happened to be near a cocktail cabinet I would hover and look at the bottle labels. The dusky-skinned woman on a bottle of rum, and a gin bottle resplendent with a man in an Elizabethan dress (Beef Eater) If no one was looking I would unscrew tops and sniff the contents. The only one that attracted me was gin – the smell made me think of summer and heat and happy times. I loved the TV ads for Lindeman’s wine. Beautiful women in white flowing dresses running over green meadows. Always holding a glass of wine. To me, drinking looked fun, frolicsome and interesting.
Fast forward to my teen years and it was Brandivino and coke Southern Comfort and coke, Bacardi and coke. Still, no drinking at home as there was nothing to drink but I started to get comments from mum when I’d stumble my way around the house at midnight after a night out seeing a band and downing too many Bacardis- $2.50 for a mixed drink, $5 in the posh inner city pubs.
I had an entry-level job in a government department. At one point, we had to move offices after an asbestos scare. For weeks, we shuffled files around our desks and would go to the pub for liquid lunches to get us through the afternoon. I developed a liking for a shot of Irish whisky to accompany my parma and chips. Somehow, I would manage to drive home.
Drinking made me daring, confident and more attractive. It enabled me to do exciting things, stupid things and sometimes just plain dangerous things.
Mum let slip one day, that her ex-husband had been an alcoholic; a drinker of spirits and hard liquor. She said this with such contempt in her voice that I didn’t pursue the matter though there were plenty of questions I wanted to ask. Such as, is this why you hate alcohol and rarely touch the stuff? Was he a violent drunk? Was it hard getting a divorce back in 1946? This explained her disdain for booze and all it entailed, but I was resentful that she was passing this on and trying to restrict my choices.
Time passed in a blur of so much booze. Lying under a table in Munich, hangovers from Arak in Israel, buying plastic flagons of wine for breakfast to see us through a long train trip in France. The Hong Kong years, when drinking was very much a part of expat life and seeking out happy hours became a hobby.
The Mummy drinking years when my children were small and the idea of a 5 pm glass of Chardonnay got me through the battleground of late afternoon tantrums and mayhem when the house was a mess, dinner was not thought of and I felt (again) that I had failed in parenting. Dinner parties and camping trips in a red wine haze and a semi-permanent birdcage mouth. The wine now had a different effect; hangovers were next level bad, not so much exhilaration and instead mournful regret of yet another blurry night. And I didn’t really want to give it up, just cut back and become a responsible grown-up. There were a few attempts to stop – one lasted 5 weeks- but I always went back to it.
Until that Grand Final Day in 2021, when the Demons won and there was great joy in our house. I’d drunk more in an afternoon than I normally did in a week. The final siren went, the speeches were made and then blankness. Woke up the next morning, realised I could recall nothing of the night before and thought, “I’m way too old for this. I might stop for a bit. If I get through today without a hair of the dog, I won’t drink again until Christmas.”
The day passed very slowly. I didn’t have a drink. Christmas beckoned and I went on the search for no alcohol products. Realised that no alcohol beer was better than no alcohol wine (happy to be proven wrong) and I survived Christmas Day.
I decided to try another 3 months – to keep going till Easter and Bluesfest. I could break the drought there. Not drinking was getting easier and easier. The music festival came and went and by this stage, I was past the 6-month mark. Could I do it for another 6 and make it a year?
Have I felt like falling off the wagon? Most often in the first month and it was only extreme stubbornness that held me back. And pride. I wanted to make it to the 3-month mark at least. At the 11-month mark the Queen died and I thought, maybe a drink for Liz? I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded, given her (alledged) propensity for a late-morning gin and tonic. But again, stubbornness kicked in plus I’d lost the taste. So instead of a glass of Bollinger, I raised a glass of apple juice instead to HRH – and the Melbourne Football Club for starting me on this very unexpected journey.
I still miss the bubbles and that first taste of a cold beer on a stinking hot day. I did not expect to start my sixth decade like this. A year on, I guess I’m reaping the benefits. Most of all, there’s the quiet satisfaction when I realised that all those things that I thought I couldn’t do – unless I had a drink to make me brave – I’ve done them anyway. Well done me.