The Great Pretender

Drinking alcohol is fun. The advertisements all say so. You can build a boat with mates which will eventually sink, but have fun while building it. You can jump in the spa with your girlfriend and almost drown her with the bubbles, and have fun while you’re doing it. You can paint a porch, have a barbie on the beach, swim in heavenly waters with goddesses, you can even dance to Flashdance in your leotard. All good fun things to do. All done with alcohol.

Where do you go to see the not-so-fun side of drinking alcohol? The domestic abuse. The broken families. The coward punch. The emergency rooms. You watch the News to see all of this. Watch the News on any weekend and I can guarantee you will see at least one of these not-so-fun-drinking-alcohol stories.

So why do we portray drinking as fun? Is it a plot run by advertising companies to make us think we can be smarter, funnier, more interesting when we drink?

We drink to commiserate, to celebrate, to console, to open up, to let down our guard, to feel no pain. Why? Why can’t we achieve these things without the Great Pretender?

One of the hardest things about giving up alcohol is breaking through these barriers and relearning how to celebrate or commiserate without social lubrication. I say ‘relearning’ because there was time when we didn’t drink, and we could do all these things and so much more while sober.

Can we get back to that state of mind? Of course we can. And we can do it without the Great Pretender.

The life of a military spouse

I was a military spouse for more than 20 years. The love of my life served in the Army for 33 years before retiring. It’s not easy being a military spouse. You move away from loved ones and then continue to move every few years. Your partner is away often and for long periods of time. You have to make new friends every few years. You have to find new schools for kids, new hairdresser, new doctor, new dentist, new job. But we do it. And we try to do it well. We stay strong, get on with things, with the minimum of fuss.

Your partner gets deployed; some are deployed on a regular basis. Depending on what is going on in the world, if you get my drift. Brad has been deployed twice. First time was after 18 months of being married and he was away for a whole year. He was deployed to Cambodia; it was 1992 and the country had just been through 20 years of hell with the Khmer Rouge Regime, followed by Vietnamese occupation. The country was war-torn and ravaged. Brad was deployed with the UN and they were sent there to assist with the country’s first free and fair elections.

It was a tough year for both of us. We had not long been married and were living in Townsville. He came home from work one day and said that he been deployed. Where to, I asked. Cambodia, he said. How long, I asked. 12 months, he said. Then he was gone. No email or internet or mobile phones back then. Snail mail only. He was in a remote part of the country, so no phone calls either.

How was I going to get through 12 months on my own? I had no idea. It was fucking tough; I won’t sugar-coat it. But we did our best. We tried to make the most of a shitty situation.

Six weeks into the deployment and I still hadn’t heard from him. The mail was taking a while to get sorted out. One day an Army Jeep pulled up out the front of our house. Two soldiers in ceremonial uniform got out of the Jeep with a letter in their hands. I knew what it was. I’d seen the movies. He was injured or dead. I was sure of it. I had convinced myself of it and by the time they reached my front door I was a mess. I finally opened the front door and they handed me the letter. It was an invitation from the Army Padre to attend a morning tea. Are you fucking kidding me? The Padre had no idea the impact this had on us spouses. It was horrible.

The second deployment was in 1999 to East Timor. Brad wasn’t scheduled to go, but because of a last minute change of plans within the Regiment he was sent. How much notice did we have for that deployment? 2 days. And then he was gone. Thankfully this one was only 3 months, but just as stressful. He was the first Unit to arrive in Dili, and was met with a hostile reception. Enough said about that.

Being a military spouse teaches you so much about yourself. You learn to be independent and you find a strength within yourself you didn’t know existed. Your military family becomes your own family. You find support from fellow spouses and that support becomes your lifeline. You know you can pick up a phone or drop into someone’s house and pour your heart out. No one else really understands, apart from these people. Your ‘civvie’ friends certainly don’t understand. ‘I know how you feel’, they would say. Or ‘hasn’t the time gone quick’. Or ‘oh but the money’s good’. Well intentioned, but completely the wrong things to say.

So my 20 plus years of being a military spouse was hard, but I loved every minute of it. It had many ups and downs, and has made me the person I am today.

A little black dress

It all began in December 1989.

I was in Wollongong visiting friends for New Year’s Eve. Brad was in Wollongong for Christmas, on leave from the Army. Wollongong is his home town. I had friends there who I had been visiting for a few years, and had often heard about this Army bloke named Brad, but had not met him.

I drove from Melbourne to Wollongong on my own, and by the time I arrived I was exhausted. Too tired to go out, but my girlfriend Tina convinced me that we should go out. So off to Dapto Leagues Club we headed. A group of friends had gathered there, and I was introduced to a tall, dark and handsome bloke named Brad. We hit it off straight away. We spent the whole night talking, and he asked me where I was going for New Year’s Eve. Tina and I were heading up to Darling Harbour in Sydney for the night. I’ll meet you there, he said.

The next day Tina and I boarded a bus to head for Sydney. I looked beautiful! I was wearing a gorgeous black halter-neck dress, black stockings, black patent leather court shoes, and black handbag (did I mention that I am a Greek chick from Melbourne?). We arrived in Sydney and decided that drinks were required, so off to the nearest bottle shop we headed. We didn’t have much money, so thought it made much better sense to buy a box of chateau collapsible; nothing but the best for these party gals.

We walked around Darling Harbour administering shots of wine to each other. No glasses required. We were getting a nice buzz on when a bloke came up to me with a tub of Tiger Balm ointment and proceeded to wipe the burning ointment all over my face and arms. He then casually walked off. My arms looked like I had been struck with a stick. Nothing a few more mouthfuls of wine won’t fix though. Tina and I continued on our merry way. Further into the afternoon the Tiger Balm welts were still there, and then I got hit with the contents of a cyloom stick. One of those glow in the dark sticks had been emptied all over me. Now I was burning and glowing at the same time.

I had to pee. I told Tina that I was going to wait in the conga line for the ladies toilet, shuffling closer and closer to the porcelain. A very tall woman with a deep voice was in the conga line behind me, and informed me that I had a hole in my stockings. She/he then stuck her finger in the hole and ripped the entire stocking leg off my body. I walked back to Tina; glowing, burning and one black stocking leg missing. In my drunkenness, I didn’t think to remove the other black stocking leg. One black leg. One pale Melbourne white leg.

The night dragged on. My patent leather court shoes were hurting my feet. The shoes came off and were being carried with the handbag and the bladder of the cask. The box had long ago got wet and finally came adrift. No shoes girl then stepped in glass and blood was pouring from my feet. I needed First Aid. I told Tina I would go looking for help, and asked her to stay put. And ‘glow in the dark-Tiger Balm burning-one stocking leg-bloody feet-girl’ got lost. It was 10 minutes to midnight. I was lost in a crowd of 70,000 people.

I did the only thing a girl would do. I cried. I looked up only to see Brad standing there. My knight in shining armour was there! He took in the whole situation without commenting on my appearance and found Tina within minutes! I was reunited with my friend and I was seeing the New Year in with Brad.

The countdown began. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….and he kissed me! And just as we were kissing I felt something happening to the back of my dress. A bloke had grabbed the bottom of my gorgeous halter-neck black dress and had ripped my dress straight up the back seam. My dress was hanging off me like a hospital gown. The back was completely open, exposing my control-top single-legged black pantyhose. Brad and Tina, being the good people they are, found a big black garbage bag and tied it around my waist. I was glad it was black, because the rest of my outfit was black.

Glow in the dark, Tiger Balm burns, one stocking leg, bleeding feet, bladder of chateau collapsible, dress ripped open, garbage bag tied around my waist.

And he still married me….

We’re not perfect

We love our life together, me and Brad, but we are not perfect. Perfection seems to be something we all aspire to. Well, most people do anyway. Most want the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect family. But how many people actually have that? Do you really want perfection? I know I don’t. Never had it, and never want it. How boring would life be, if it was perfect?

Brad and I have never worked on perfection; however we have always worked on happiness. Mutual understanding, mutual love, and mutual friendship. They are our priorities. Not perfection. We like each other. We don’t just love each other, we actually like each other. We like spending time together. Important, considering we live in a caravan and spend all our time together! We laugh. We listen. We love. We like. We enjoy. We are happy. We don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have kids. We don’t have a home. But we are happy. We are living life on our terms. And we love it.

How do we do it? How do we stay happy? We work at it. We respect each other. We talk openly. We don’t hide things from each other. We have no secrets. We don’t argue. We don’t yell. We don’t give each other the silent treatment. We don’t go to sleep angry. We have finance meetings. We decide everything as a couple. We’re a team. We’re on our side.

We’re not perfect. But by fuck we’re happy!

The H-Word

I hate my life.

I hate green vegetables.

I hate waiting in line.

I hate everything.

I hate you.

How often do hear these words? How often do people use the H-word? I hear a list of hates every time I speak with people; in fact I mentally add them up in my head during a conversation.

I hate hate. I really do.

So I made a decision to remove this word from my vocabulary. Sometimes I dislike the way people drive. Sometimes I disagree with other people’s opinions. I do not like my sister-in-law (actually I can’t stand her, but that’s another story).

But I do not hate. I refuse to hate. My life is so much nicer without the H-word.

Caravan Parks – The Art of Reversing

(The love of my life and I are permanent travellers and this is my observation of caravan parks.)

Caravan Parks are terrific for watching people try to reverse their rigs.

Reversing a caravan is tricky business. The Caravanning Corps knows this. There is tremendous pressure on getting it right on the first attempt. Many can’t cope, and some don’t even bother. It’s a drive-through site or nothing, for the non-reversers.

4pm is the worst time of day to arrive. Happy Hour is well underway in caravan parks and campgrounds around the globe. Often entertainment is required, to go with the copious amounts of alcohol being consumed. An arrival of a newcomer is just the ticket.

Every right-minded caravanner is sitting on cheap fold-up chairs outside their vans, and are getting stuck into the cask wine and home-brand crackers. A caravan rolls in.

The meerkat heads go up. All eyes are on the newcomers. They find their allocated spot. Both get out of the vehicle to do a cursory check of the site. A discussion between the husband and wife occurs over the best way to reverse into the spot. A bit of friendly banter from other caravanners takes place. “Don’t stuff it up” they say. No pressure.

The husband walks back to the vehicle like a condemned man on death row. The wife waits on the caravan site, sweat pouring down her brow. Please don’t fuck this up, she thinks to herself. He starts backing. She is guiding him, yelling instructions. He hits the curb. Damn. Goes forward. Lines it up a bit better this time. Reverses into the spot like a pro. The wife is thanking the good lord above; he got the van in.

Out he gets, chest puffed out like he’s just won an Olympic medal. Struts his stuff and heads over to the nearest group of blokes to wax lyrical about reversing. He’s been forgiven for hitting the curb. You are allowed 2 hits of the curb before you lose your Caravanning Corps Ticket. He’s safe.

The meerkats go back to drinking. Until another van rolls in…..

 

Resignation from Alcohol

Dear Alcohol

I have been your loyal servant for more years than I care to remember. We had a good relationship at the beginning, but it soured along the way for some reason. I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not you, it’s me.

As you know I have taken some Long Service Leave this year and have been absent for 6 months. During that time I have had a lot of time to think about my life and our relationship, and I now know that it was an unhealthy relationship.

It is for this reason that I tender my resignation, effective immediately.

I have taken up a position with Sobriety and have signed a lifetime contract. Sobriety has offered me so much more than you ever did. I only wish I had’ve found her years ago.

Please don’t come looking for me Alcohol, as you won’t be able to find me. And if you do find me, I won’t answer the door.

Yours in Sobriety

Maria

(Written 12 months ago, halfway through my HSM. It has now been more than 18 months since I had a drink.)

Five little words

Maria it’s a brain tumour.

Those 5 little words were said to me 5 ½ years ago and changed the course of my life.

Gut wrenching, is probably the best way I can describe the feeling I had when those 5 little words were said to me. If I survive this brain tumour (which we affectionately dubbed ‘the peanut’) I promise to be a better person. I promise to donate more to charity. I promise to stop watching reality tv. I promise to quit drinking. You make all sorts of mad promises when you’re lying in hospital with tubes and machines attached to you. I mean, how could I give up watching The Biggest Loser or MasterChef? Seriously, what was I thinking?

If I did survive this, the decision had been made to take some long service leave and travel around Australia. A few months later we did just that. We travelled 25,000 kilometres in 7 months and it was the best medicine for my recovery. I had to check in with the ‘ologists’ regularly while I was travelling and had to get different things checked to make sure I was doing ok.

The peanut and consequently the trip did some wonderful things for me and for the love of my life. It made us focus on what is important in life. It made us appreciate the little things. It forced us to make a decision on what we wanted to do when we grew up – we decided that we wanted to travel permanently. We got home from the trip, went back to work, and started the process of selling up and giving away all our worldly possessions. It took us 2 years to get ourselves organised and 2 ½ years ago we became permanent travellers.

Those 5 little words changed everything for us. We viewed it as a blessing in disguise, because if I hadn’t have been diagnosed with the peanut, we wouldn’t be living this wonderful life. I have become a better person to family and friends, I have done more community and charity work, I have given up alcohol, but I still haven’t given up watching reality tv!

I continue to improve and I constantly surprise the ologists. You can’t keep a good woman down, I always say! I just wish it didn’t take a brain tumour to make me realise that life is yours for the taking. You just have to grab on and go for it.

(posted on my HSM page 12 months ago)

821 bottles sitting on a wall….

Tomorrow is a big day for me.

It marks my 18-months of sobriety, and I am so fucking proud of myself, I feel like shouting to the world, I DID IT!

Being the stats nut that I am, here are my vital statistics, based on my daily average consumption of 1.5 bottles of white wine per day (pre HSM, of course), and based on $10 per bottle:

18 months = 547 days
547 days x 1.5 bottles of wine = 821 bottles not consumed
821 bottles x 630 calories = 517,230 calories not consumed
821 bottles x $10 per bottle = $8210 saved

Breathtaking, isn’t it. 1 and a half bottles of wine doesn’t sound like much, but if you lined them up end to end, it would probably reach the fucking moon! It has been a journey that has seen many changes in me and my health. The biggest, most notable change is my weight loss. I have now lost 20 kgs, and I am fitter, stronger and healthier than I have ever been. Oh, and happier! The absolute joy that I feel is palpable!

To quote Jill Stark “Sobriety has never been so intoxicating”.