It’s the last week of the Soberistas Four Weeks of Wellbeing and over the next seven days we will be focusing on Me Time Moments. Life can be chaotic, stressful and challenging and many of us are put upon on a daily basis leaving barely any time to spend on being kind to ourselves. However, ignoring our own needs long-term is almost guaranteed to leave us feeling even more frazzled.
It’s not particularly important, but my toenails are seriously neglected at present. Every time I am presented with a free five minutes there is always something more pressing to be taken care of than attending to my feet (i.e. baby’s nappy changing, food preparing, clothes ironing, book writing, emails answering, plants watering, tax disc ordering, recycling taking out, dog walking, helping with homework – I think you get the picture). So here I am in desperate need of a pedicure with windswept hair and wearing mud-splattered jeans (dog walk), ignoring all of it so that I can get my work done while the baby is at nursery.
My friend calls herself, not high-maintenance woman, but NO-maintenance woman, and I think I too have fallen into this category. Many moons ago before I launched Soberistas and had another baby, I seemed to have bucket-loads of spare time. I would go to the gym, not only for a run on the treadmill but to have a sauna AND a manicure/facial/bikini wax. These days it’s all I can manage to drag the dog around the dark streets for an early morning half-hour run, both of us half-asleep and me looking like I haven’t slept properly for weeks (oh that’s right, I haven’t!).
Anyway the point of this is not so I can have a good old moan (although I must say it has helped a little!), but to highlight that it is all too easy to forget about looking after ourselves. And when we neglect to include Me Time Moments in our lives, the everyday stresses and strains can mount up and tip us over the edge. An obvious concern for some when this happens is that the bottle of wine they’ve done so well in forgetting all about can suddenly appear attractive once again as a quick fix, mental obliteration tool.
Well, this is my message to all you Istas out there to say let’s jointly decide to look after ourselves a bit more – to have a couple of hours in the gym alone, or to get our hair done, or just to curl up on the settee with a glossy mag and our favourite CD on, just to be KIND to ourselves. The benefits of doing something apparently trivial can be huge.
And on that note, I’m off to paint my toe nails.
It’s really hard to offer off-the-shelf advice to someone who is attempting to go alcohol-free and looking for help in the early days. We all drink for different reasons, triggers vary from person to person, and what works as a distraction for one is not necessarily going to work for another.
BUT! If I had to summarise my advice to anyone starting out on their sober journey, then it would be this;
a) Alcohol will, guaranteed, have masked your emotions for all the years you’ve been drinking. Experiencing sadness, anger, excitement, joy and disappointment (to mention but a few) without booze seeping through your body taking the edge off it, demands some major getting used to. Feeling raw emotions is weird when you first put down the bottle so be prepared for this, but remember – if we do anything for long enough, that too will become the norm.
b) The world loves to drink. It’s a fact that most people drink alcohol, so going AF (alcohol-free) will initially make you feel a bit like the odd one out. To get around this awkwardness you need to OWN YOUR SOBRIETY; be proud of the fact that you know your own mind, you no longer make an idiot of yourself on nights out and you don’t throw up in the toilets. If you are proud of not drinking, your confident stance will shine out.
c) Fill the gap! When you quit drinking, you may feel as though you’re twiddling your thumbs, wondering what the hell to do with all that spare time and mental energy. Channel it into something exciting, pleasurable, rewarding and interesting. Not only will you no longer feel bored but you’ll start rebuilding that battered self-esteem.
d) Pinpoint friends who you know you really like – pissed or sober. It can become apparent that someone you’ve been going out boozing with for years is actually not such a great companion when the alcohol isn’t flowing. Real friends who you genuinely like will always make for a brilliant night out – be selective!
e) Stop doing the things you do that make you want a drink. Sounds simple – and it is! Pasta always made me crave red wine so I stopped eating it for a few months while I got used to not drinking; certain films/TV programmes had me lusting after a cold white wine to sip as I relaxed on the settee, so I watched alternative stuff. Going to the cinema rather than the pub made for a much less trigger-filled evening in the early weeks, so I spent a lot of time doing that. Be pragmatic about how you spend your time.
f) Be kind to yourself – we can all get sucked into the world of regrets but digging your way back to a healthier state of mind is a much better way to spend your time. You ARE worth an alcohol-free life, you ARE capable of change and your life CAN be just as happy as the next person’s – you just need to believe it.
‘What’s your poison?’ could so easily be translated into ‘Which alcoholic beverage do you drink in order to numb your senses and prevent you from doing anything productive?’ At least, it could have been with regards to me and the way I used to knock the stuff back. For the record my poison was mainly white wine, but I also enjoyed a quality red, Guinness on a cold day after a winter’s day walk in the countryside, a pint of real ale in a cosy pub with a log fire, and the odd liqueur post-dinner in a restaurant.
Once, in Budapest, I happened on a beautiful restaurant called Arany Kaviar which was situated down some dark, windy little street. They served Champagne in flutes with no bases, the type that demand the utmost attention in order to avoid you placing the glass somewhere other than the special holder, only to watch it keel over and smash to bits on the floor. Silly, really. After the delicious meal, my companion and I were tempted to road-test a few of their speciality vodkas; black pepper, orange and cranberry being just a few of the ones on offer. That night, between the two of us, we had a couple of pre-meal beers, a bottle of Champagne, two bottles of red wine and six or seven flavoured vodkas. Then we returned to our hotel and had a few whiskey sours – probably in the region of 50 units each in one night.
Anyway, the point of this little blog is to mark the beginning of Soberistas’ third Week of Wellbeing, our new theme being Pastimes. If all one does with one’s spare time is engineer reasons to get hammered, and then drinks to relieve the boredom when there are no reasons to get hammered, it’s pretty important that alternative pastimes are adopted upon switching to an alcohol-free lifestyle.
I now spend my time writing. At least some of it – the rest of my current life is spent with my family, working through the box set of Breaking Bad (amazing), training for the Sheffield half-marathon which takes place on April 6th, Soberistas, meeting friends for a meal or a coffee, visiting the cinema to watch cheesy chick flicks with my eldest daughter, going on chaotic dog walks with my sister which involve three dogs (each with his/her own particular neurosis), a baby who would rather be playing than strapped into her pram, and aborted attempts to drink a relaxing latte due to the above-mentioned dogs and baby making this impossible – still, we have a laugh about it. I also enjoy reading, learning and meditating, cooking, swimming and gardening.
So now if anyone asks me ‘What’s your poison?’, I’ll tell them I don’t drink alcohol any more because it fogged my mind and stopped me doing everything I love. If they have time, I’ll tell them what I do instead.
What causes the most pain?
A) Cartwheeling down the stairs before crashing into a brick wall at the bottom, your metatarsal shattering in protest, or
B) Waking up on Valentine’s Day with your leg in plaster cast (following aforementioned fall down the stairs) to discover your husband of four years on his knees at the foot of the bed, packing his case – and not for a holiday.
In my twenties, my ex-husband was the love of my life; I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. We had an identical outlook on life, shared interests, goals and friends, and dreamed of the same future. It was an easy relationship and one I didn’t think required too much of an investment from me – rather I assumed things would just tick along quite naturally without interference. I was wrong.
If we had started off as similar in 1998, by 2003 my ex-husband and I could not have veered off in two more wildly differing paths if we had tried. As certain a split as that splintered bone in my foot, our marriage ended acrimoniously and the love of my life fell into someone else’s arms.
Following the end of my marriage, the object of my affections for many years was my best friend who I desperately wanted to be in love with, but wasn’t. We laid awake together waiting for the sun to rise while talking complete rubbish, he witnessed me skydive from 10,000 feet and came with me when I got my tattoo. He accompanied me to my degree ceremony and partied hard alongside me when my divorce was finalised. He came to the zoo with my daughter and I, and we skied together in Belle Plagne and Val Thorens in the Alps. He told me to drink less and write more, he introduced me to some of my favourite music, and we laughed a lot until the tears streamed down our faces. And yet, I was not in love with him.
We eventually parted company when it became apparent that a platonic relationship would get in the way of other, more romantic, relationships for both of us. That was five years ago, and I still miss him terribly. I probably always will.
Aged 35 and weary of love and all the complications it can bring, I closed down my account on a dating website (which had brought nothing but disastrous dates with men less than honest about themselves on their profiles), and swore off the opposite sex for good. I came to the conclusion that relationships were best left to other people.
Valentine’s Day 2003 marked the end of my marriage. During the years I was married, I drank a lot (we both did) and lived for our social life, often to the detriment of our relationship. The bad things that always arose from my alcohol consumption did not appear to come about when my husband drank. One night I sat on his knee and cried for hours about the fact that I was an alcoholic. After that I decided to stop drinking but resented my husband for it, feeling I had made the decision for him rather than for me. Soon afterwards I began drinking again.
I drank a lot all through the years of my friendship with the man I loved but was not in love with. I drank in an effort to stir feelings for him that simply weren’t there, no matter how hard I tried to find them. The heavy drinking prevented me from having the clarity to see that I would never be in love with him, and the mistakes I made when drunk ultimately resulted in us parting company forever, the friendship left in tatters.
I was drunk the night I met my partner, my fiancé, in January 2011; completely out of it, flirtatious, loud and obvious. For a couple of months after our first night together I continued to drink, and on several occasions I made a fool of myself causing him to express concerns over my alcohol consumption.
And then, in April 2011, I decided to quit drinking.
I became alcohol-free with his support. I learnt to like myself with him by my side, and I came to appreciate how wonderful life is when you aren’t drowning your emotions with ethanol. I have grown up emotionally alongside him, I understand what love really means because of him, and he’s the only man who has ever known me as the real me. We’ve been through tricky patches and come out stronger on the other side. Together we’ve made a family.
With him I started my life all over again, and this is what true love means to me now;
It’s when the person you are with allows you to be exactly who you are, and supports you in your endeavours to be the best you can be. It’s when walking through the front door means coming home. It’s when you make sacrifices in silence simply because you know it will make your partner happy. True love is what you are capable of when you’re free from addiction and able to focus on life, as opposed to fulfilling a craving.
For me Valentine’s Day 2014 will be about making time for each other amidst hectic schedules, and celebrating what we have today – something I wished I had for years but never found until I met Sean.
There’s plenty of evidence which suggests that what we eat has a significant impact on our mental health, so if you’re seeking ways to improve your state of mind as part of the battle against the booze, you could start by taking a look inside your fridge and kitchen cupboards.
The vast quantity of studies which have already been conducted in this area indicate that food is highly influential in the development, management and prevention of a wide range of mental health issues, from depression to Alzheimer’s disease. The evidence is building all the time, and suggests that by making changes to what we eat we can really help ourselves stay on track mentally.
Over the next week and as part of our Four Weeks of Well Being, we will be posting lots of articles about ‘Mood Food’ on Soberistas (Facebook, Twitter and WordPress) which will provide you with plenty of information about how you can manage your mental health more effectively simply by following a particular dietary path.
For a comprehensive list of ingredients for improving mental health, see the link below. Bon appetit!
It’s perhaps something of a cliché to state that the best things in life are free, but it’s true; they really are. What makes certain everyday things suddenly wonderful is a magical combination of factors, impossible to recreate, elusive to the end.
It’s as though the world and everything in it secretly conspire to conjure up the perfect ingredients, quietly and behind closed doors, purely to afford us one instance of wonder in and amongst a melee of ordinariness.
Yesterday was mostly spent in bed, the wind and rain noisily raging against the windows as I snuggled under the duvet with tissues, Lemsip and a pile of books and magazines. Maybe this one day of hibernation was partly behind how appreciative I felt of life in general today; my cold appears to be on its way out and, despite some torrential rain, there were reasonably lengthy periods of sunshine.
As the baby slept this afternoon I tackled our garden pots, digging out the dead sticks that were once flowers and replacing them with some beautiful blue pansies and miniature narcissus. I haven’t been in the garden for any longer than a minute or two since last summer, usually dashing through with the dog and pram, or clutching the baby’s chubby little hand as I guide her away from puddles and mud. But today as I knelt on the cold ground with my trowel and bag of compost, I felt the cold air on my neck and watched the clouds scudding across a bright sky. For a moment I was utterly at peace, full of joy, and in love with the world.
Later, as I arrived home from an early dinner at a nearby restaurant with my sister, her little boy and my two daughters, I had another perfect moment. We’d had a lovely time, everyone in a good mood and lots of laughter and happiness at just being together. My eldest waited on the pavement as I retrieved the baby from her car seat, and then we saw the bright and shiny moon beaming down on us.
The baby is mad about the moon. We paused outside our house beneath the black starry sky, and watched her face light up with a huge, completely natural, full-of-wonder smile. Her fingers stretched out to point upwards and the three of us stood for a few seconds, ordinariness becoming magical and a memory being painted in all of our minds.
We often go to great lengths to seek out the exciting, the different and the remarkable, and simultaneously miss out on all the subtle but amazing aspects of life that are all around us and free for the taking. Frequently caught up with anxieties over irrelevant and unimportant issues, we too easily forget to notice the present, thus missing out on the little gems of perfection scattered all around us.
Today I got two, and feel very lucky indeed.
Negative emotions are a fact of life – for many, the easy and obvious response to feeling down is to reach for a drink. However, excessive alcohol exacerbates depression and anxiety, and results in an inability to effectively manage the issues we face in everyday life.
Mindfulness Meditation is an EXCELLENT method for dealing with stressful situations. It can help by equipping individuals with a significant degree of self-awareness, increasing their sensitivity with regards to surroundings, and allowing them to train their minds to achieve a state of tranquillity, no matter what difficult situations are faced.
Those who practise Mindfulness Meditation are able to focus on the present, without being dragged down by the past or wasting time worrying about uncertain futures.
When I meditate, I sit cross-legged in an upright position and train my scatter-brained mind on a dot which I visualise in my mind’s eye. Over the course of a few minutes I concentrate on decreasing the size of the dot, until it has vanished completely – then I try and hold that empty state of mind for as long as possible.
I usually spend about 15 – 20 minutes on Mindfulness Meditation. When I’ve finished, I feel relaxed and calm.
You can meditate alone or in a group, sitting or lying down, in the morning, afternoon or evening. It’s a case of fitting it in to your lifestyle in a way that will allow you to practice regularly. It’s free, and it REALLY works. For me, it has been one of the most useful tools in beating the booze.