Take control and find yourself

Written by Annabel Stewart

Palm trees and blue skies. Azure seas and white sand. The dictionary defines bucket list as: a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. Five years ago, our family’s bucket list dreams were no different to many others, except we
wanted to travel by boat. A family gap year! Rent out the house, buy a yacht and sail the Queensland coast.

We were in such a great position to do it too. My husband and I were both sailor-y people, he’s a commercial mariner and I grew up in a sailing family.

We’d even met working on big posh boats owned by rich people and had travelled the world before we’d settled down in Queensland and started our family.

We looked into renting out our house, discussed with our primary-school age daughters what it would be like to live on a boat, compared monohull versus catamaran and read endless kid-boat family blogs. We were very, very keen.

There was only one fly in the ointment though. I had a dirty little secret that no-one knew about, not even my husband.

I had a drinking problem. I didn’t know what sort, because I couldn’t work out what label fitted me. I wasn’t carrying around a water bottle filled with vodka, or waking up in hospital after three-day benders. If I couldn’t drink because we were going out for dinner and I was designated driver, I could
spend the evening sober (cranky, but sober).

So I was pretty sure I wasn’t an alcoholic. But I also really looked forward to a glass of white wine at 5pm. Much more than most, I suspected. And I found it hard – no, impossible – to stop at one glass. Sometimes a whole bottle would disappear. Sometimes (whispers) even more. I spent a lot of time and energy avoiding looking at the exact quantities.

I knew in my heart that my drinking wasn’t compatible with living on a boat.

I knew the risks were too great, that on a boat you needed your wits about you. You couldn’t go to bed drunk because the wind could pick up and you’d need to re-anchor or you could literally fall overboard and never be seen again.

I had to learn how to manage my drinking, or it was going to be bye-bye dream. Bucket list begone! And our little family really wanted to go sailing and find those desert islands.

So you know what? I did it. I researched, and tried, and failed, and researched more. I tried again, and failed again. I studied addiction and habits and neurobiology. I read everything by anyone who has ever stopped drinking and found freedom. And I kept trying, and kept trying, and finally I learned how to take back control.

And I’m happy to say that we got to tick “family gap year” off our bucket list. We rented out our house, bought a 50-foot ketch, pulled the kids out of school and sailed the Queensland coast for nearly a year. The kids loved it, we loved it, we found the palm trees and azure seas and made some
fantastic memories. It was quite an achievement and we feel very lucky.

Bucket lists can be jumping out of planes, trekking the Kokoda trail or finding desert islands. Sometimes though, the biggest achievement can be finding your way back to yourself.