ESTHER ANNE GUCKIAN describes the events that led to her taking a vow of abstinence from alcohol, and how this eventually inspired her to become a full member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.
Back in the early 80’s, it almost seemed like a ‘rite of passage’ to be introduced at the time to the friendly brown Bottle of Stag or Satzenbraugh. Like many people of my own age, I succumbed to the relentless pressure – then I became part of the in-crowd and as I parted with my 60p, I bought myself confidence, fun, humour and the door into the ‘all grown up adult status’. There were no ‘shots’ then and we still associated the ‘game of kings’ with a harmless game of playing cards, from the family of poker, rather than the modern game of ‘Kings’ where the card is selected and the person downs a selected shot chosen and paid for the person maybe even unknown to you on either side of you.
Roll on the years and every celebration was moderately marked with some quality of drink, and as time moved on, champagne became the drink of choice to mark an auspicious occasion. While I always associated myself with being a social drinker, I realised that I had connected the idea of having a drink with enjoying myself more and having more fun.
On a summer’s days in 2010, playing a game of golf with my golf partner, she announced to me that she had become a Pioneer. ‘A Pioneer,’ I said, ‘I don’t believe it. Why would you do that? She explained that she did it as an ‘intention’ for her cousin who had a poor relationship with alcohol and described to me the impact that drinking had on her cousin, her marriage and her children. Well I was stunned. I always associated Pioneers with being serious, sombre people and none of these titles matched my partner’s personality. I so enjoyed being her golf partner for the fun, mischief and humour she brought to the game. I got it wrong again!
Well, in the design of things, I met a friend of mine who shared with me that her husband was a closet drinker and her worry was that he would kill someone when he was out in the car. She had discussed this with him and he agreed to give it one more attempt at giving it up. This was enough for me, the universe had aligned and I told her that I would abstain from alcohol as an intention for him and that this model had worked in the past.
So I enjoyed my last Bombay Gin and Tonic with my good friend Sarah on 24/08/2010. That day I decided to draw line under it and that I would give it a shot until Christmas. What happened in between times was most interesting. On our usual social gatherings, friends would ask: 'Are you sick? Are you on antibiotics? Go on, have one now and it will do you no harm'. I got presented with the peer pressure that teenagers experience when out at night. I was finding it tough, and I had nothing to prove; I can only imagine what this is like for teenagers.
Time rolled on and days fell into weeks and weeks fell into months. My friend’s husband John was doing extremely well. John’s wife called me on Christmas night of 2010. She said she never experienced a Christmas Day like it since John started drinking. As a family, they had a wonderful day, full of harmony, love, ease and freedom, and she thanked me for my intention for them. Great news! Then I thought, ‘job done. Now I can back to having an Irish coffee to celebrate the season.'
Well this never happened. On a return trip from London via Belfast airport on a dreary January day, as I approached the Ballygawley roundabout, I noticed all the traffic management signs. This of course was to manage the funeral cortège of Michaela McAreavey RIP. Another nudge, I thought. As a family we always had great admiration for Mickey Harte and our son was inspired by how Mickey shared football goals with his daughter in his book, Kicking down Heavens Door. Then I thought, she had everything; great personality, huge circle of friends, was a clear thinker, good education matched with good looks, and, she was a Pioneer. That was it for me. I decided to become a Pioneer in memory of Michaela.
My first action was to sign up to become a probationer for a year. I wrote to Mickey and explained that I had chosen to become a Pioneer in her memory and that way her memory would live on. In January 2012 I was accepted as a full Pioneer and I have never looked back since. I am proud to say that I have made some very good choices and taken some big risks in my life, and this counts up there as one of the best choices I have ever made. Yes, I am the designated driver. I now wear my pin with pride, as a stand for temperance. I do not judge drinkers and alcohol is a gift, and every gift comes from God, and it can bring us joy like anything can when used and not abused. I also know three people personally whom I have inspired and they have followed in my footsteps.
Do I miss it? At the beginning, yes, for the sake of habit only. I enjoy the most interesting conversations with people about their drinking habits. Socially, I enjoy myself more. Friends say I am great fun to be with on a night out and that I am an inspiration to them.