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“For a major part of my life I had been living with suicidal thoughts, ideas and tendencies. Since my early teens, alcohol was the mask I used to quieten down the noise.”


 

Living an alcohol-free life for the past 13 years not only has had a positive physical, mental and emotional effect on me individually, it has also helped me to transform my life and break a generational cycle within my family.
                I am lucky enough to be proud of many things in my life: Apart from being a Dad to five beautiful children, 13+ years of sobriety ranks at the top of my personal achievements.
                This is my story.

After years of seeing alcohol consumption as the norm – growing up with family and teenage parties, after sports games, and of course general weekend activities – it was a little over 13 years ago that I made a positive decision to take control of my life; have ownership of where I was headed and get back on track to a positive path.
                It was the weekend of January 26th, 2005.
                I was on my way down the Hume Highway for a weekend of touch football, but if I was being honest it was for a weekend of partying and copious amounts of alcohol.
                I had been making this trip since about age 13. Obviously, at such a young age it wasn’t about drinking, but the drinking and partying culture of the Yass Touch Football Knockout (YTA), to me, was everything I had loved and everything I had wanted to be part of since my very first YTA experience.
                Jan 26th, 2005: This trip to Yass would be like no other. This trip was to put me on a path to recognising and understanding that alcohol had been problematic for me, and it would plant the seed of my recovery.

On the journey down, I was joined in the backseat by a close friend whom I loved and respected like a brother. Chris ‘Fergo’ Ferguson. Fergo and I had been on the party scene for a couple of years since I’d turned 18, and in Chris’ words to me, echoing others’ in the past; I was like a younger version of him.
                We got to talking, and after an hour or of small talk I asked Fergo why I hadn’t seen him around for a while. As mentioned above, Fergo and I, through the tough football scene, were regulars on the Sydney Kings Cross and inner-Sydney City party scene.
                “I don’t drink anymore, I haven’t for two years,” he said.
                I half-scoffed at the comment and immediately asked “What do you mean you don’t drink anymore, you partied with the best of them.”
                That conversation with Fergo was the very first time I had ever heard that someone ‘doesn’t drink anymore’. It was that very conversation that planted the seed for me, that maybe I too ‘could get off the drink’.
                Fergo and I being good mates and both being the life of the party, decided to room together for the weekend. Call it coincidence, fate or whatever you will, it was that very weekend that changed the course of my life.

I remember vividly the conversation we were having about his sobriety.
                I was so intrigued, mainly because it was everything I wanted.
                My life had become very problematic, to the point that it was unmanageable, and I had identified that almost every single negative situation that was happening in my life, whether it be poor form on the footy field, arguments at home, separations from relationships, fights and trouble in general, there was one very common theme: every single negative situation in my life that was happening – the common denominator – was that alcohol was involved.
                The thing is, I wasn’t a violent drunk, some would agree that I was a bit annoying and a pest, but for the most part, I was always happy, laughing, singing, doing my best to what I thought was entertain people; but when I started, I didn’t like to stop. In fact, I couldn’t stop. No matter how many times I ‘promised’ those close to me that I will only have a few drinks, once I had that first one, I felt like I just couldn’t stop.
                As I mentioned, I remember the conversation with Fergo like it was yesterday: “That’s it. After this weekend, I’m going to stop also brother.”
                His response stumped me: “Why wait until you get home; why don’t you stop now?”

The truth was, I didn’t think I could.
                So many aspects of my life, socially, involved alcohol – the thought of not drinking anymore was entertaining, but I honestly didn’t think I could stop.
                I remember that instant thought that rushed over me whenever I contemplated stopping: How on earth would I be able to function in a setting where a few drinks was so accepted? And the one thing that people didn’t realise – and to a point that I didn’t realise at the time also – I was drinking for so long to block what was going on inside my head.
                For a major part of my life I had been living with suicidal thoughts, ideas and tendencies. Since my early teens, alcohol was the mask I used to quieten down the noise. So, for many years, not only was alcohol a way to socialise and be the life of the party, it was also a way silence my inner-most demons.
                I went out and partied pretty hard that weekend in Yass, as I had done for many years prior.
                It was during the car trip home that Fergo went to work on my mind once again. He could see the demons ringing loud and clear with the hangover. He could see that I was ‘sick and tired’ of being ‘sick and tired’.
                The limited conversation, on the way home, managed to plant the seed that changed my life. Fergo arranged to pick me up the following evening to take me to AA – Alcoholics Anonymous.

My journey in AA has been one of many great lessons, but the main lesson has been the examples of people living without alcohol in their lives; and if they could, maybe I could also. I have been given tools learned throughout my journey that I must carry with me every day, mainly because of the society we live in: Alcohol is such a common additive to many, many people’s lives, and is present within many areas of our lives.

When I first started my journey of sobriety it was tough. I can’t for one second sit here and pretend that it has been easy. There have been countless occasions when the cravings have jumped up on me and tried to convince me to ‘just have a couple’ or ‘it wasn’t that bad of an issue for you, this time just control it’. Again, I wasn’t the aggressive or problematic drunk, so it would have been very easy to convince myself it wasn’t a great issue.

One of the most important lessons I have learnt is that alcoholism is something that I will carry with me for life; because ‘Alcoholism’ is a genetic disease that I carry.
                People can often get the term ‘alcoholic’ wrong. The common misconception is that an alcoholic is someone who drinks every day; who depends on, and needs it, to survive; who sneaks drinks with no one watching.
                All of that is true, but an alcoholic can also be a top-class executive, professional sportsperson, even a judge in a court of law. An alcoholic is an individual who suffers with the genetic illness alcoholism. The term “illness” could even be questioned, with alcoholism now widely talked about as being genetic, because sometimes it is within an individual since birth; that means these illness’ can be classed as chronic disease – meaning you have it for life.

The day I realised I have this illness/disease for the rest of my life was the day I began to learn that I don’t need to beat it, I just have to manage it day in day out. The same goes for my mental illness. I have good days and bad days, but I have a mental illness that I won’t beat. It stays with me for life, so I just have to manage it.

Recovery for me has been up and down.
                I have been in AA over 14 years, but I haven’t remained sober the entire time.
                My first stint I went 11-months without a drink, and then found myself listening to the quiet devil-on-the-shoulder convincing me ‘it won’t be that bad’.
                I had hit rock bottom again. Without beating myself up, I dusted myself off and sought the help and support I needed – and got back in the rooms of AA.
                Thankfully for me, I have been sober now for over 13-years, but the journey is always changing. There are good days, and there are days when the cravings are coming in hard and I think those are the days I must stay close to the things, tips and tools that have kept me on the Path of Sobriety.
                Moving forward, there are many reasons I need to stay on this Path. There are my kids, for instance – my main motivator in everything I do. One of the strongest and proudest I’ve ever been was when I heard a statement come out of my son’s mouth, was when he was about three. He said to his mates at preschool, when talking about their dads, “My Dad doesn’t drink beer, he drinks water.”
                That statement shows me that there is impact in my behaviours.

Another main reason for me never wanting to touch alcohol again isn’t just the physical, mental and emotional effects it had on me, it also is the historical implications alcohol has had on my people.
                As a first-nation Wiradjuri man, I have promised myself to never touch alcohol again. It is a known fact that alcohol was used as a tool for payment for Aboriginal slavery. During these times, amongst many horrors, it is also documented that Aboriginal women were used as sex objects. I owe it to those old people, both men and women; particularly our women, who were used as sex objects while our men were given so much alcohol that they would black out, rendered unable to protect them.
                I owe it to those very ancestors, to not touch that poison again.

My journey of sobriety is ongoing.
                Will I stay sober forever? I hope so. I want to lead by example, proving to those who think they can’t go sober that a life without alcohol is The Journey to finding yourself.
                Quitting alcohol is possible, and a life without alcohol can be lived with ‘fun’, happiness and success.

So how do I do it?
                I stay sober today, in this present moment, right now; one day at a time.
                I can’t control tomorrow, but I can control myself, now, today!
                Who knows if I’ll drink tomorrow… I can only control now, and I know I won’t drink in this present moment, today. That is all I can control: ‘Now’.

 

Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri, 1st Nations Aboriginal man born in Cowra, and was raised in Wagga, NSW.

Having lived a 15-year span as a professional sports person, Joe played in the National Rugby League for South Sydney Rabbitohs, Penrith Panthers and Canterbury Bulldogs before switching to professional Boxing in 2009.

As a boxer, Joe was a 2x WBF World Jnr Welterweight champion and also won the WBC Asia Continental Title.

Although forging a successful professional sporting career, Joe has battled the majority of his life with suicidal ideation and Bi Polar Disorder. After a suicide attempt in 2012, Joe felt his purpose was to help people who struggle with mental illness.

Joe is also an author, having contributed to the book ‘Transformation; Turning Tragedy Into Triumph’ and his very own autobiography titled ‘Defying The Enemy Within’, (Jan, 2018).

In 2017, Joe was named as finalist in the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards for his work with suicide prevention and fighting for equality for Australia’s First Nations people, and in 2018 was the recipient of Suicide Prevention Australia's highest honour: a LiFE Award for his ongoing work within communities.

Joe considers becoming a father is his greatest achievement.  

Joe’s website can be found ‘here’.

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