Letting Go of the Fight

I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to put my body first, to prioritise it over my mind. I realised recently that I’ve never done this, not consistently. Everything I have ever desired I’ve generally succumbed to, and over the years I’ve not taken especially good care over my body.

Me graduating, amidst an ocean of booze.

Me on my graduation day in 2010 – the beginning of a massive drinking session.

The light bulb moment happened the other morning when it dawned on me that I’m not (oh God!) 38 years old, but am actually ONLY 38 years old! Wow, I’ve still got a lot of living to do and I’m not about to receive my bus pass any day soon. With this happy moment of clarity came the recognition that it is not yet too late to get fit, really fit; to push myself to see just how far I can go in the realm of physical fitness and optimum health.

In the last few days I’ve been aware of the flicking of a switch – I feel completely in control of my life; of what I eat, of achieving my goals, and of staying positive and focused. Everything seems to have fallen into place after years of trying (and failing) to really tone up, to really get fit and to reach the weight I have really wanted to be (but have nevertheless always remained just a few pounds above).

How did this happen?

First off, I read this article on MindBodyGreen – http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14554/why-trying-to-burn-calories-is-a-waste-of-your-time.html

This made so much sense to me. How many times have I been running with the mind-set that it will get rid of the calories obtained via a bar of chocolate I ate earlier? How long have I held the belief that I can eat whatever I want because I run four times a week? And how many times have I been really cross that, no matter how much I run, I never seem to be able to get rid of those last few pounds? The MBG article really got me thinking – the food I’m going to eat from now on will be fuel; tasty fuel, but fuel nonetheless.

I've always loved my running, even when I equally loved the booze, fags and sugar

I’ve always loved my running, even when I equally loved the booze, fags and sugar

Then came the grasping of a very important concept (which incidentally I managed to get my head around eventually with alcohol but which has taken a little while longer re food); junk food, chocolate, white bread and other products which serve no nutritional purpose at all and contain high amounts of sugar (very addictive), never grant us the outcome we are hoping for when we select them for a meal or snack. They are emotional foods, and we crave them because we are striving to feel a certain way. Except these foods never deliver – that feeling we lust after is a delusion. Chocolate doesn’t make us feel luxurious and satisfied; it makes us want more and more, and then we feel a bit sick and gluttonous, wishing we hadn’t eaten any of it. Alcohol (at least, for all those of us who are devoid of the infamous off-switch) is exactly the same. The sexy, carefree and exciting social occasions I was seeking when I took a sip from the first glass of the night, very rarely materialised. All I usually got was the transformation from me to a wine-crazed idiot, followed by regrettable decisions and an almighty hangover the morning after.

Another massive realisation; all those good foods we are told we should eat, we can’t really fit them in ON TOP of all the crap. It’s not alright to munch through a pizza and garlic bread for dinner simply because we attempt to mitigate the situation by eating a handful of grapes afterwards. The thick-cut white bread cheese sandwich is not made less fattening because we have an avocado mid-afternoon. That just means we are eating MORE! We need to eat the healthy stuff INSTEAD of the rubbish.

Finally, and the most important, ‘OK, I get it’, moment that I have experienced in the last few days; if we perceive our changed behaviour as being positive, then it becomes EASY to maintain. I have spent decades fighting the booze, wrestling the bad foods, attempting to moderate this and that, squeezing in a bit of the good stuff to outweigh the bad, believing that ultimately, I can gain control over these addictive substances; that somehow I will emerge as the winner even though I am STILL smoking, drinking and eating a load of junk.

Here’s how I see it now – I have let go of the fight. I’ve put down my gloves and I’m not entering into the ring with addictive substances anymore. I get it; they are not controllable.

Alongside this understanding has come blessed relief – the same sense of freedom that I gained out of choosing to completely bypass alcohol has arisen out of this new decision to favour my body over my mind in terms of exercise and food. I think I did need some guidance, and I’ve found a degree of it in a brilliant running book (Runner’s World Guide to Road Racing by Katie McDonald Neitz) which includes information on the right foods to eat, and exercises to do with weights and a stability ball. I’ve also begun attending regular classes at the gym (something I have frequently avoided because ‘I haven’t got time’).

Me now, minus the internal struggles

Me now, minus the internal struggles

I know why I used to seek comfort in things that were bad for me, and it’s taken virtually my entire adult life to work it all out, but it feels amazing to know that I have finally gained a sense of control. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, just that now I can stop fretting about how naughty I’ve been for eating a piece of cake. For me this is definitely an all or nothing game – with everything that is addictive. But it’s also about being able to perceive my new lifestyle choices as positive, as opposed to them equating to the denial of treats.

What I have realised (finally) is that eating well, exercising regularly, and not drinking or taking other drugs, is NOT about being some image-obsessed gym nut with an urge to transform herself into the body beautiful – it is about letting go of the fight. Plain and simple. Attempting to control addictive substances, whether alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or sugar is just crazy – it isn’t doable. At best we can impose a strict code of conduct which we then strive to abide by (only drink at the weekends, never more than one bottle at a time, only smoke when we go out, no cakes unless it’s a special occasion), but all this does is take up valuable and irreplaceable time, overthinking and worrying about whether we can live up to our own exacting standards (then beating ourselves up when we fail).

In letting it go, walking away, refusing to take part in this game, we are granted with our own freedom. Why fight against ourselves? Our bodies are designed to work brilliantly if only we steer away from the crap that messes us up. After 38 years on this earth, I do now get it. Everything that makes us feel bad, regretful, unhappy and guilty should be avoided completely. And the stuff that makes us feel the opposite, we should partake in – in abundance.

Positive Mental Attitude

Positive Mental Attitude.

We often hear this expression but do we regularly adopt a positive mental attitude in situations where it would really benefit us?

When I quit drinking I was very aware of the negative labels and stigma frequently associated with those who have fallen foul of alcohol and developed a ‘drinking problem’. I remember a friend’s mother when I was a teenager, who would walk slowly but purposefully to the late night Spar shop each evening to purchase her alcohol supplies. Upon leaving the store, we would watch her with a carrier bag full of clinking bottles and cans of super strength lager, feeling a combination of pity and curiosity towards this real life ‘alcoholic’ who lived in our community.

Twenty years later, when I found myself coming to the realisation that I too had run into trouble with alcohol and had grown to depend on it rather too heavily just to feel OK about myself and life, I spent a lot of time considering the future and how things would be now that I’d made the decision to quit drinking. Within a relatively short space of time, I accepted that I was not capable of drinking alcohol in moderation; I had never been able to touch the stuff without being overwhelmed with a desire to get slaughtered, and recognised that this would most likely always be the case. This wasn’t a terribly progressive disorder in my case; rather I drank to get out of it from the very beginning of my drinking years.

So, as I gazed towards my alcohol-free future I saw that I faced a crossroads; stop drinking but don’t really change inside, essentially becoming a ‘dry drunk’ who must grit her teeth and get through every single day feeling terrified that she might lose control and give in to temptation. Or, that I could completely shift my thinking about booze and regard it as something which is toxic, destructive, and a barrier to all that I want to achieve in life. I opted for the latter.

In the early days I did approach sobriety in a ‘one day at a time’ manner, and with the intense cravings experienced in that initial phase of alcohol-free life this is pretty much the only way for many people. But as time went on and more situations arose in which I refrained from drinking, and the better I felt and looked as a result of my new lifestyle, the less I came to see this teetotal business as a hardship and the more I began to love my new AF existence.

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That’s when my perception of the situation began to alter dramatically. I started to view being alcohol-free as something I am really proud of, and thought increasingly less about the fact that I had this apparent lack of an off-switch and therefore ‘couldn’t’ drink alcohol. The fact of the matter was that I didn’t want to drink alcohol, and life without it was a million times better than the one I endured previously – hangovers, embarrassment, shame, guilt; I couldn’t believe I had ever accepted that as a way of life in exchange for a bottle (or three) of wine.

With this shift in thinking, I felt compelled to adopt a healthier way of life generally. I started eating better, running more, and looking after myself in other ways such as getting a  good night’s sleep, pampering myself a little, and ring-fencing a few hours here and there to spend doing the things I really enjoy. Life became, not about being ‘in recovery’, but about being healthy, valuing myself and living as a Soberista.

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With all of this in mind, I am so excited about the up-and-coming Soberistas Run Series event which is taking place on Southampton Common on February 1st 2015. This day is all about Positive Mental Attitude – it’s NOT about a bunch of people who once drank too much, but a bunch of people who love their new alcohol-free lives and want to celebrate this fact with others who feel the same. What better way is there of sticking two fingers up at booze than to run (or walk if you prefer – the route is buggy-friendly and there are a number of distances to choose between to cater for all fitness levels) a few miles alongside fellow Soberistas who are all enjoying living free from its shackles?

All of Soberistas’ profits from the event will be donated to the British Liver Trust, and there will be collection points on the day if runners wish to donate an extra amount. The Soberistas Run Series, I hope, will prove to be a great success, and a step in the right direction for demonstrating that, simply because a person once had an alcohol dependency, this condition does not have to define them for the remainder of their days.

For more information on the Soberistas Run Series, and to register for the event, click on the link below.

http://soberistas.com/page/soberistas-run-series

 

THE GRAND DÉPART 2014 AND BREAD OFF A DUCK’S HEAD

Over the last few days I have;

A) Chatted with my hairdresser, who told me she doesn’t think she has had an alcoholic drink so far this year, before remembering that she’d had a single glass of champagne back in February on her wedding day – this stunned me, as I can’t imagine EVER not being able to recall whether or not I’d consumed any booze over a length of time. My hairdresser reminded me that life doesn’t always revolve around alcohol for everyone – even if it always did for me (and still does, even though I don’t drink, because of Soberistas.com!).

B) Flicked through an old copy of Coast magazine, an innocent-enough publication which is full of all things related to the coast, funnily enough. The first page that fell open was a feature on the best coastal walks around the UK – an accolade which was only afforded to those routes ending at a great pub where one can neck a pint of ale. Hhhmmm, back to the land of booze-obsessed Brits.

C) Missed watching the Tour De France as it passed through Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where I live. I did catch snippets on the TV and it looked amazing, but as the cyclists were powering through High Bradfield cheered on by half of Sheffield, all of whom looked like they were having a great time in the sunshine, I was chasing my toddler around an empty park and laughing with her as she threw a whole slice of bread at a duck’s head before I could stop her. Hey ho, I missed the biggest sporting event to hit Yorkshire this year, but I had a lovely time with Lily.

Tour de France - Grand Depart 2014 - Yorkshire

D) Visited the House of Commons for the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse) meeting on treatment issues. I was asked to speak at the meeting by the charity, Alcohol Concern, and was thrilled to have been there. I talked about what would have helped me address my drinking issues earlier – namely, gender and age specific treatment options being available to me, and a GP who had drilled down beneath my frequent presentations of anxiety and depression and asked the simple questions, ‘Do you regularly have 6 drinks or more in one sitting?’ (er, yes, doesn’t everyone?), and ‘Have you, during the last year, felt embarrassment or shame as a result of how you acted when under the influence of alcohol? (er, how about 3 times this week alone?). These are the questions which emerged from a recent study by the University of Leicester as optimal for a GP to determine whether or not a patient is in trouble with booze. I thoroughly enjoyed my day, and David Blunkett walked past me with his dog, Cosby, which I found very exciting.

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E) Finally completed my latest book, A Soberista’s Guide to Life, which I have been writing for what seems like for ever. I’m delighted to have finished it, and can’t wait to see it published in a few months’ time. I can now carve out the odd hour here and there for running, something I have seriously neglected in recent weeks due to the aforementioned book.

Now that I’ve finished my book, I’ll also be able to return to writing more frequent blogs here – in the meantime, thank you for sticking with me in my frequent absence!
Lucy x

It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding – How to Face Weddings Sober

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Weddings often make you think of booze, and can cause some people to worry about attending as a healthy non-drinker. This acrostic poem is designed to help in a fear-of-weddings-when-sober type situation. Read on for some positive thinking, to embrace the night before the nuptials.

Eat whatever the hell you like and when everyone else is harping on about the number of calories in the decadent trio of puddings and mammoth cheese board, smile smugly and remind yourself you’ve banked at least a thousand spare calories by not drinking all day.

Dancing when hammered ain’t a good look. Drunken twerking, overly-sexy hip sashaying, arms locked around some slobbering bloke’s (who is on the verge of collapse) neck – the photos or, far worse, the video of any of the above behaviour at the evening’s disco would make you howl with shame.

Don’t forget that by not drinking YOU will remember all the good times – when everyone else is attempting to piece together the night’s events through an agonising hangover, you will be able to fully recall the Best Man’s (ahem, hilarious) speech, relive the bride and groom’s romantic first dance, and remember all the conversations you enjoyed with family and friends.

Instead of thinking you’ll be missing out, give yourself a sharp pinch and get back into reality – if you have always struggled to moderate your alcohol consumption, then going to a wedding and drinking alcohol amounts to social suicide! You’ll get hammered, and you won’t be able to sip daintily (as you may hope) from a glass of Champagne once every couple of hours until you feel the slightest fuzz of inebriation. Be honest, you’ll drink like a fish and be sozzled by dinner. The evening will then disintegrate into your worst nightmare (at least if you are anything like me, this WILL happen).

No, no, no. Weddings are NOT about alcohol; they are about love, commitment and family. Rethink what you have been told since childhood and repeat after me. Weddings are about LOVE.

Go to the wedding looking gorgeous. Spend a bit of cash on a fabulous outfit, a damn fine blow dry and a lovely pair of shoes. Plough your energy into looking your best and you’ll be smiling all day.

Sobriety takes a lot of getting used to. There will be ‘firsts’ to get through for a long while to come – first Christmas, first birthday, first wedding ceremony, first pop concert. But each time you tackle the challenge of a ‘first’ you will be making your next such event that bit easier. By the time you’ve done your third wedding sober it will feel entirely natural. And remember, the anticipation of any type of social occasion because you no longer drink will almost always feel worse than the event itself. There are of course the exceptions when you’ll find yourself at the wedding from hell, but hey, if you were drinking then it would still be the wedding from hell – only you’d have an almighty hangover and a truck load of embarrassing incidents to deal with too.

Wake Up & Live

It was all about the evenings when I was a drinker, muddling through the daylight hours with my mind firmly fixed on that bottle of wine waiting in the fridge for me when I got home. Now it’s the mornings I love the most.

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These are just a few of my favourite morning things;

  • Springing out of bed minus a dry mouth and a tongue that feels like it’s been scraped with a scouring pad
  • Experiencing no panic over illness or disease caused by heavy drinking
  • Drinking my first cup of Yorkshire tea and pondering the day ahead (as opposed to being gripped by the fear of what I did last night and can’t remember, and how the hell I’m going to make it through the day with such a God awful hangover)
  • Kissing my girls as they emerge sleepily from their dreams, knowing full well I’ve no dark secrets or shame to keep from their trusting hearts
  • Heading out early as the world is coming to life, feeling a part of the human race and smiling at people instead of scurrying past, too hungover to speak or to care
  • Knowing the day is mine for the taking, with nothing holding me back or keeping me submerged in a miserable booze-fuelled existence
  • Noticing nature all around me, from the bright blue sky to the vibrant greens of the trees, from the butterflies flitting around my garden to the birds chirping overhead
  • Feeling energetic and full of passion for my life and the people in it
  • The gratitude I feel for understanding how much better the world can be without alcohol fogging it up, and for how I found the strength to break free from drinking
  • How my first thought of the day isn’t ‘Oh no, what happened last night?’ but ‘Good morning world, I can’t wait to get at you!’

My Dog Betty

I’ve had my dog Betty for seven years this week. She is a cross between a Jack Russell and a Staffordshire bull terrier with all the tenacity of the former breed and much of the aggression towards other dogs of the latter. She has been a royal pain in the backside, a beloved and loyal friend, a neurotic and nervous nutter and a quiet, sleepy presence curled up on her favourite blanket that hangs over the back of an armchair.

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When I first chose Betty from amongst the selection of random mongrels and aggressive fighting breeds that filled the council dog pound in Sheffield, she was a cowering creature who shook like jelly in the corner of her kennel. The lady who worked there told me she was ‘a little sweetie’ and that she was mine as of the next day should no one come forward in the interim hours to claim her. Needless to say, she remained abandoned and I returned the next day to bundle her into the boot of my car for the princely sum of £50.

My new dog’s reputation as ‘a little sweetie’ did not last long. On her first walk, a washout in the floods of 2007, she chased a bird across a river – only the bird flew and Betty discovered she could not, landing with a splash in the raging torrents beneath her over-optimistic jump. My mum dragged her out by the scruff of her neck, saving her from drowning, and her dew claw was ripped from her leg in the process. Blood poured dramatically from the wound as she was pulled to safety.

She quickly revealed a penchant for running at other dogs at top speed, yapping and snarling as she continued past, leaving them looking startled and their owners jumping out of their skins. Betty is now kept on a lead unless we are in an environment free from people, animals, or any other living creatures.

We bonded nevertheless. I intuitively understood her motives for the snappy, aggressive behaviour and attacks of neuroses. She had been dumped on the roughest housing estate of Sheffield as a puppy and had been left to fend for herself for an unknown period of time prior to the council scooping her up. She has a morbid fear of fireworks which I suspect is due to being subjected to them in close proximity prior to her living with me. The vet prescribes her diazepam every year in November in the run up to Bonfire Night.

On the last night I drank alcohol I took Betty up the road so that I could have a cigarette and she could have a wee. I was so drunk that I fell over unconscious, letting go of her lead and leaving her to loiter around by my side for a while, confused, before my friend discovered the two of us and returned her safely to my flat. I felt so terrible about that for months afterwards. When I returned from the hospital the following day as the sun was rising, all she could do was jump up and lick my hand, trotting around after me wherever I went. She was delighted to have me back, the owner who had so irresponsibly left her roaming next to a main road on which double decker buses hurtle past twice every hour.

I’ve been a much better owner to Betty since I quit drinking. She drives me mad at least once a day, and come November I know I’ll have to endure the week from hell as she paces about, tongue hanging out, weeing on the carpet and shaking like a leaf as bangers and rockets are fired upwards into the night sky outside our house. But I really love her and I’m so glad that she came into my life seven years ago; she was right for me, and I for her.

I’m so lucky that she survived my drinking; I just wish she understood the concept of ‘sorry’.

Get Set, Ready, Go! 6 Steps to Reaching Your Alcohol Free Goal

It’s easy to declare ‘I will never drink alcohol again’. Not so simple is sticking to this intention through thick and thin, when the Wine Witch whispers (oh so convincingly) that ‘one won’t hurt’, when the sun comes out and it’s barbecue time, when it seems that everyone else is drinking merrily, and when the emotional vacuum that opens up in the early days of sobriety threatens never to close.

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Making the choice to quit drinking doesn’t come from nowhere; rather it was a decision borne out of (more than likely) numerous bad experiences with booze, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and a sense of being unable to control alcohol.

So there are reasons, and good ones at that, for taking a stand and opting out of the booze trap. Now all you need to do is make sure you don’t forget those reasons next time you feel tempted to have a drink…

It’s important to set realistic goals in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed in the initial phases of sobriety, when everything feels strange and the cravings are at their most intense. Do consider this early period to be a little like going into battle; arm yourself with all the ammo you think you’ll require to get through it, and remember, preparation is crucial;

  1. First of all think of the big picture. Imagine your life in its entirety and consider how you want to look back on it – do you see alcohol as a permanent feature? Can you imagine that your relationship with alcohol might someday change, or will it always be a problem substance for you? Think about your relationships, your physical health and your self-fulfilment; can you honestly picture these working out as you’d like them to if you continue to drink?
  2. Break the big picture down into specific goals. If the big picture is that you want to eliminate alcohol from your life, now it’s time to hone in on the exact consequences you’re hoping for as a result of banishing the booze. Do you want to lose weight? Be a more patient parent? Improve your physical health? Write a list of the elements in your life that you would like to see improve as a result of not drinking. Be specific, so detail how much weight you would like to lose, or how you would like to be a better parent (more activities at the weekend, helping with homework, making an effort to pick your battles and let the more trivial stuff pass by, etc.), or what fitness goals you hope to achieve.
  3. Get SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-related). Taking the above stage to the next level, it’s a good idea to create a detailed action plan in relation to your goals. Don’t merely state that you want to be healthier by quitting drinking – set a specific target (i.e. lose weight), make it measurable (i.e. lose 1 stone), make it attainable (i.e. don’t aim to shed half your body weight in a month), make it relevant (if you lose weight, will this help motivate you to stay off the booze? Will it make you happier? Is now a good time to be focusing on this, or are there more pressing matters that you should be focusing on?), and finally, make it time-related (is there a wedding coming up that you want to lose weight for? A holiday? Or could you just pick a random date instead and work towards that?). However you strategize the timing of your goals, just ensure you do so in a manageable way.
  4. Take action. There is never a better time to make your dreams a reality than right now. Join a gym, sign up to an evening class, or pick up a prospectus from your local university or college, and do it TODAY; this will help solidify your dreams and help you perceive them as your reality. Stop putting it off until tomorrow and take action today – having tangible evidence of working towards your dreams will really motivate you to keep moving forwards. Occupying your time with something like a college course or sessions at the gym will also help keep you busy thus preventing you thinking so much about alcohol in the early days (don’t allow yourself to be bored!).
  5. Prioritise your goals and start a journal. Recording your journey in a diary works as a constant reminder of the goals you are aiming for. It helps keep you focused. Use the journal to prioritise your goals, as well as to keep a log of your progress. Perhaps weight loss will be first on the list, then a fitness-related goal. Rather than overwhelm yourself with trying to achieve everything all at once, take things one step at a time. The confidence and restored self-esteem you experience each time you tick a goal off the list will really help spur you on to tackle the next one. By writing everything down you will never forget how good it feels to achieve something positive.
  6. Reward yourself. How much did you spend on booze each month? Honestly? I know I spent easily in the region of £250 – £300 a month on alcohol and all the related purchases (cigarettes, late night pizzas, taxis). Bear this in mind when you are thinking about how to reward yourself for reaching your goals (not that you need to spend the same amount, but don’t get caught up with feelings of guilt for splashing out a bit – you’ll still be saving!).

 

There are numerous free rewards that you’ll hopefully start to see within the first couple of weeks of sobriety (better sleep, clearer skin, brighter eyes, no morning shame), but each time you reach one of your measured goals, spend a bit of cash on something special. It’s so important to reinforce the idea that not drinking is a positive lifestyle choice – only you will know how hard you’ve worked to kick the Wine Witch out of your world, so it stands to reason that you decide how to treat yourself. Just make it something extra special!

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A final tip is to spend a few minutes each day visualising yourself realising one of your goals – imagining yourself looking slimmer, graduating from university, or working in a new career that you’ve always longed for will help you to perceive your goals as real possibilities instead of pipe dreams. Remember, you are a human being exactly the same as everyone else, and there is no reason why you cannot be successful in achieving your goals too.

Don’t be frightened of arming yourself to the teeth with strategies, believe in yourself and go for it!

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