“I’ve just had enough,” Michaela Weaver’s husband Jeff said.
“You’re halfway through a bottle of wine – I never see you when you’re fully lucid. You’re unpredictable – I don’t know if you’ll fly away. I just had enough.”
For Michaela, this was a wake-up call. His relationship with alcohol needed to change.
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It was 2015, and Michaela and Jeff had three children. She drank, she said, every night.
After graduating from Imperial College, Michaela had become a management consultant before running an executive coaching firm that worked with businesses in London.
Outwardly she was successful, employed by great leaders and organizations – including the Cabinet Office – and progressing well at work.
Inwardly, however, things were different. “I felt really inauthentic,” says Michaela.
“I would be standing in the conference room on a Monday morning in front of a group of professionals. I would have a very strong cup of coffee and a headache.
“I would have woken up a few hours before, or in the middle of the night, normally, [with] my heart races, telling me, ‘I did it again’.”
At this point, Michaela says she would drink at least a bottle of wine every night. She opened one while she was cooking dinner, sharing it with her partner; open another one.
“There was always a reason why it would just be fun, wasn’t there — you know, Sunday lunchtime, let’s have a bottle of wine. And then in the afternoon, keep going,” she says.
Drinking, says Michaela, was ingrained in British culture – and particularly in the corporate world.
“I was brought up in a society that drank in college, drank after work. There really was a drinking culture – and it’s in this country… [Alcohol] is the only drug you have to justify not taking,” she says.
Drinking culture is especially important in corporate environments, says Michaela, noting that highly motivated people often have a “if I want it, I’ll get it” attitude.
Stress is also a contributing factor, along with sufficient disposable income, which means drinking is often “dressed[ed] like “I buy the best wines” and enjoy everything.”
“There are several reasons why this corporate drinking culture is so entrenched,” says Michaela. “There’s also the outdated mentality of ‘work hard, play hard’… ‘playing hard’ means drinking a lot.”
Although Jeff’s words were strong, it wasn’t the first time that Michaela questioned her relationship with alcohol.
She bought drinks from various convenience stores so as not to arouse suspicion, and she had tried to impose limits on her consumption: she drew lines on the bottles, bought mini-bottles, tried to limit her consumption to certain hours or on certain days of the week.
She had also attempted to quit alcohol altogether, finding that every time she broke her own rules, she ended up feeling a sense of failure.
“You realize you’re in a trap — you realize it the moment you’re trying to get out and you find it’s not working,” she says.
Michaela found that there was little support for people in her position. When she spoke to her GP – and a counselor – their first question was whether she drank in the morning.
When she said no, they judged that she had no problem and simply advised her to reduce her consumption.
“I tried that and it didn’t work because an addiction is very hard to break…it’s an unconscious problem that’s in the unconscious or the subconscious,” she explains.
With counseling, she felt there was a tendency to look for an underlying source of trauma, but, says Michaela, the reality was “just that I had been on an addictive drug over a very long period of time, and I had had a lot – and, oddly enough, there was an addiction there.”
This time, however, was different. Michaela could see that she wasn’t giving her children the attention they deserved, and she jumped into sobriety with renewed enthusiasm.
“I started doing research, reading books – I have hundreds of them over there on my shelf – I read medical journals, the big A.A. book that was written in 1939… I read everything that came to hand,” she says.
She learned that alcohol is the second most addictive drug on the planet and was shocked to learn of its psychoactive effects.
Michaela began to apply some of her own coaching techniques to her drinking, questioning why she drank and how it served her.
“In the midst of all this analysis, research and questioning, it felt like a weight was falling off my shoulders…I knew that something had just changed in my subconscious – everything that had supported these beliefs, this attachment to alcohol, was just cut off,” she says.
The challenge, however, was that the world around her was still the same. As someone who had linked drinking to a feeling of pleasure, she had to reframe her attitudes about socializing.
“It was a big adjustment getting used to socializing, having fun and overcoming those old mentalities. I used to think people who didn’t drink were boring – now when I go out and I see people getting more and more drunk, I think it’s boring, really,” she says.
Although friends have been generally supportive, Michaela notes that her decision not to drink is always questioned, in a way that other things we might turn down — from cigarettes to spinach — aren’t.
“It’s such an ingrained social conditioning,” she says.
Now living in Wales, Michaela has been sober for six years. Although she is hesitant to use the word “forever”, she says she has no plans to drink again. And, she and Jeff are still married, with an improved relationship.
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They communicate better with each other, says Michaela, and their relationship dynamics have changed now that she’s calmer – something her daughter, who was 12 at the time, immediately pointed out.
“There is a confidence that there was not with alcohol,” adds Michaela.
With the money she had saved on booze, Michaela bought herself a 1000cc motorbike, earning an advanced license.
Jeff is also an avid motorcyclist and they have traveled Europe together on their motorcycles.
“I had never ridden a motorcycle before, but I had always wanted to – and I wouldn’t have done it if I had continued to drink,” she says.
But the main benefit of quitting alcohol that Michaela comes back to in our conversation is the feeling of finally being present.
“Everything I say is intentional and deliberate, rather than reactionary and half-conscious. You can be in wonderful places, present and absolutely enjoy them for their beauty,” she says.
“What better way to enjoy London than to have a clear mind, enjoying its vibrancy rather than numbing it.”
In 2019, after her father was diagnosed with lung cancer, Michaela felt she needed to share some of her experience to help others and provide the support she wished she had on her own journey.
She started a business, The Alcohol Coach, which helps high-achieving women quit alcohol. There’s clearly a demand for this: Michaela says she has 15,000 women on her mailing list and has helped over 500 get sober.
“It’s really the comments that are worth it,” says Michaela. “Just to see that transformation in person…it’s a privilege to be able to help.”
This week it was reported that eight million people in England were drinking harmful amounts of alcohol – and alcohol consumption has continued to rise throughout the pandemic.
With 130,000 people registered for Dry January in 2021 and the number growing every year, there is a growing appetite to experience sobriety at this time of year, which Michaela thinks is a positive thing.
For those who might be toying with the idea of going further with Dry January, Michaela says, “If you want to change, it’s extremely possible – it’s absolutely doable for you.”
She adds: “At the end of the day, come in, be present – just enjoy the moment. And enjoy life.”
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