On January 21st 2013, I decided to stop drinking.
It was a decision a few months in the making, so by the time I made it, it was actually quite a relief.
I have not yet decided if sobriety will be a permanent arrangement for me - I do not need to decide that now - but to be honest, I am feeling like it just might be a forever kind of thing.
I share my story and experience with everyone: I am very open about the fact that I don't drink, I am not ashamed of it, I don't need to justify it, but if people do ask, I let them know why.
And as a result I have had some very personal exchanges with my friends about their drinking habits as well. With no judgement on either side. It has been wonderful and enlightening and life affirming.
I know that problem drinking does not discriminate, certainly not by age, not by gender, not by income and not by relationship or parental status.
So I know that my experiences with drinking are in no way unique.
And I am going public with my story now because I think that as a society we love the idea of drinking (as long as we don't have a "problem") but we are very quick to make people feel ashamed and not provide them with the support they need if they allude to or admit to perhaps having said "problem".
At no point along this path have I referred to myself as an alcoholic. Labels can be very dangerous things.
I like to think of myself as a drinker who is not very good at moderation. I don't beat myself up about this. I don't feel bad about it. I just accept it.
All I can do in this moment, as in any moment, is make a choice. To drink or not drink. And right now, I choose not to drink.
A lot of us are drinking way too much and way too often.
But it is not healthy, it is not good for us, it is costing us as individuals and as a society. It is not actually cool.
Our culture is completely saturated with alcohol - we use it to celebrate, to grieve, to commiserate, to reward, to self-medicate, to relieve stress, to pass the time, when we are bored, when we are happy, when we are sad, when we are angry... whatever the reason, alcohol is generally part of the equation.
Today I turn 38. So apart from the last nearly six months (and when I was pregnant and breast-feeding - although I did not completely abstain) I was a pretty regular drinker for over 20 years. That is a long time.
Throughout that time, I had periods of minimal to moderate consumption, through to pretty heavy drinking. I was always a good binge drinker though, and my life was punctuated with extended periods of binging every Saturday night.
I can't remember when I first started feeling that my drinking was becoming problematic. But there were a number of events and understandings that really started to highlight some of the problems to me.
I was very unhappy. I felt unfit and unhealthy. I was concerned about the kind of example I was being to my kids. I suffered mild anxiety. I didn't have much patience. I felt like a bad mother. And if drinking is genetic, then I was a prime candidate for being a problem drinker.
There was one distinct moment (well, actually there were several, but this was the clincher) when I knew that something really had to change.
It was when I realised that I was starting to look at the clock at 4pm and wonder when I could have a drink.
And I know I am not alone in this. And this is why I am sharing my story here.
The last six months has been one of the most intense, challenging, enriching, rewarding, difficult, enlightening, confrontational, joyous and scary periods in my life. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
I knew from past experience of trying to cut down or cut out alcohol that it was a pretty difficult task. So I started doing some research about how I could do it and be supported. I looked into AA. Not for me.
And then I stumbled across an amazing space called Hello Sunday Morning and I started a 12 month HSM with other flawed and wonderful human beings.
It was a space of sanctuary and reflection and support. And it got me through the first few weeks and then three months... and now I am out here on my own and doing it just fine. In fact, better than fine.
My life is amazing. And I am very grateful for it.
However, I did not expect that signing up to an online forum alone would be a silver bullet solution.
So, I made some other positive changes to my life as well.
I started meditating daily, exercising regularly, eating well, being in bed by about 10pm each night, drinking lots of herbal tea and water and I made some very significant decisions about my personal relationships as well.
And I have learnt so much.
I have learnt that we are not alone. Our human experiences are the same. We all feel emotions and scared and lack of self-belief and insignificant and unworthy. But we are not alone. We just need to reach out and share to know that.
And through these shared experiences, we can learn to think and feel differently of ourselves, by showing kindness and compassion for others.
Since I started this journey, I have had some of the most genuine and authentic connections with other people - sometimes strangers, sometimes acquaintances, some of them actually online with people I have never met - than I have ever had in my life.
These connections have led me to great personal growth.
Most people are fundamentally good. We are all just muddling on through this life, doing the best we can. Very few of us are going around the place intentionally trying to ruin other people's lives.
Letting go of judgement and expectation of others is very liberating.
Accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions is empowering - to stop blaming, to not be the victim but to stand up and own your life. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is yours. All yours. With all its crazy colour and texture.
To make it a life worth living.
That amazing things happen when you surrender and trust that you are just where you are meant to be, that things are playing out just as they should, and to just try and go with the flow.
Being mindful, being grateful and being very present in the moment. This has been one of the greatest gifts for me.
Not drinking means that there is nowhere to hide your emotions. You have to deal with them. It can be painful and hard, but getting through to the other side of that and learning how to sit with uncomfortable feelings makes you strong and aware and empathetic.
There is great truth to that saying "and this too shall pass".
Being uncomfortable in your emotions provides the opportunity for self awareness, forgiveness and self acceptance. This leads to self belief and self worth.
Doing something hard that you really have to work at and for gives you self respect.
And I have learnt that I am really good at my work, and I am much better at it when I don't have a glass or two (or three) of wine in the evening. Better for me, much better for my clients. The results are speaking for themselves.
And on that note, keeping busy helps; having projects or activities or hobbies is a great distraction from drinking.
So today, on my birthday, I will be celebrating my amazing life with a soda water (with maybe a dash of lime) and it will be wonderful. I will sleep deeply tonight and wake up with a clear head tomorrow, ready to get stuck into the day.
And even though I might have missed a drink every now and again, not once have I woken up and missed having a hangover.
So for all of you out there feeling bad about your drinking. Please know this. You are not alone.
But if you are feeling bad (or even if you aren't but you want to have a break) and want to fully assess your relationship with alcohol, then maybe consider doing a HSM or joining the The Happiness Hunter Bootcamp and work through your stuff completely supported by other people using the same process that I went through.
The mountain is steep and rocky and very gritty, the climb can be harrowing and there aren't a lot of handrails, but the view from the top up here is so very worth it.
And I know that my kids love it too.
Fiona (a very happy non-drinker) xxx
Fiona Redding is the founder of The Happiness Hunter, life success coach & speaker. She is also co-host of #BusinessAddicts – the podcast. As an holistic visionary, Fiona’s gift is to get to the beating heart of your life purpose and business strategy, to help set your direction and map out the steps you need to take to get you there, whilst empowering you with the strategies, tools and mind-set shifts required to live an abundant, successful and happy life, with passion, joy and meaning.
The Happiness Hunter is built on three core pillars of reciprocity, connection & well-being. It is about giving us permission to place our happiness, health & well-being at the top of our priorities in life, to support each other, and to collaborate together to inspire and achieve positive change in the world. We provide walks, life & business coaching, healing, a leadership program connecting passionate and aware business leaders and entrepreneurs globally, The Happiness Hunter Bootcamp, The Healing Business online course, workshops, retreats and corporate well-being programs. Fiona is also available as a keynote speaker.