Enjoying a Better Way

After posting last week about the Eureka moment I recently experienced regarding getting fit, toning up and losing a bit of weight, I have thrown myself into my new lifestyle with gusto. Body Pump classes, running in the sun (sadly, yesterday marked the last occasion when my ageing Jack Russell terrier will accompany me on one of my runs as she can’t keep up anymore), drinking loads more water, snacking on Medjool dates as opposed to chocolate (surprising how readily these have satisfied the old sugar cravings) and cutting right back on the lattes, have all helped me to achieve a three-pound weight loss and feel a million times more alive.

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The overhaul of my life began about ten days ago. The initial period posed a few difficulties in terms of becoming accustomed to the various changes – most notably the reduction in caffeinated drinks and complete ban on junk food – but everything has settled down now and the cravings, headaches and general feeling of being slightly out of sorts have all but vanished.

I’ve been enjoying challenging myself physically and the aching muscles are evidence that my body is being really pushed for the first time in ages. The improvements to my physicality have positively impacted on my mental health, and consequently I feel less agitated, have slept better, and have especially relished in the complete lack of any guilt, once experienced on a regular basis whenever I had an attack of the junk food munchies and gorged on pizza, biscuits or chocolate.

I’m not sure why I persistently refrained from adopting this comprehensively healthy life for so long. I guess I felt frightened of letting go of my little crutches – lattes, Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut, Domino’s Pizzas – as if they were actually bringing me discernable benefits. Even though I knew I hated myself for indulging in these unhealthy foods, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of living without them. What would happen on a Friday night if I was watching a good film, snuggled up in my PJ’s, and there was no supersize bar of chocolate to devour in ten minutes flat? How would I bear it if I was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to consume a deep-pan pepperoni pizza with a stuffed crust, and had to settle instead for a plate of lettuce leaves and an apple?

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Well, you know what? Nothing bad has happened. Without the junk food, the world hasn’t collapsed around my ears, I haven’t sprouted a second head, and I haven’t gone stark raving bonkers either. I feel better, healthier, and more in control. I feel more motivated to exercise, and have noticed an increase in my energy levels. Other than that, life has remained unchanged.

The further I distance myself from my drinking days, the more I’m convinced that the closer we live to how nature intended – i.e. regular exercise, eating well and minus the junk/toxic substances – the happier we feel inside. My new code to live by is one that seems so blindingly clear, but is something I just couldn’t accept fully for years; avoid the stuff that brings about negative emotions, and indulge only in that which results in happiness and satisfaction. With this maxim in my mind, making the right choices has never been easier.

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Why You Shouldn’t Fear Taking the Alcohol-free Leap

An alcoholic drink represents all manner of things to those who succumb to its perceived charms – it’s the social lubricant, especially attractive to the shy drinker. It’s the sexual provocateur, enticing and tempting to anyone looking for a little Dutch courage in the bedroom. It’s the emotional anaesthetic, perfect for blotting out the less desirable aspects of our lives.

But when alcohol begins to lose its magical properties and undergoes a gradual metamorphosis into a foul, domineering, mind-twisting liquid, one which causes the drinker to regard it with equal measures of love and hatred, then it’s time to consider a life free from its influence. However, this is not straightforward, largely because as we stand on the brink of the unknown, we often become paralysed with fear. Human beings don’t like change; we frequently become accustomed to our personal habits and ways, and a step into virgin territory constitutes a massive no-no for many people, in a myriad of different situations and for a variety of reasons.

Letting go of a reliance on alcohol evokes terror in the most apparently outgoing and self-confident types. The concept of existing as a free entity, minus the liquid crutch which supports the drinker at every turn from teenage escapades to wedding days to each and every Christmas, is nothing short of bizarre to the intrepid explorer about to embark upon the road to sobriety.

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But the reality of facing life’s challenges without regularly reaching for a can of cold beer or twisting the cork from an expensive bottle of red, can be a pleasant surprise. The difficulties that inevitably crop up as we negotiate the twists and turns of our individual worlds appear to be nowhere near the insurmountable obstacles they did when hangovers and alcohol-induced depression and anxiety were thrown into the mix. Funnily enough, the drink, which many consider is helping them to cope, usually turns out to be the very substance that’s capping their ability to deal with things rationally in the first place.

The false confidence we believe to be intrinsically ours when out socialising often serves as an unflattering mask, and when it falls away in the morning we are left with nothing more than a series of half-memories and a niggling worry that, in the boozy heat of the moment, we acted or spoke in a way which now fills us with remorse and shame.

Whether we choose to drink alcohol or to abstain, life will remain the same; convoluted, at times tricky to navigate, and an emotional roller-coaster. We will be subjected to the same occasions of sadness, exuberance, anger, reluctance and disappointment, no matter if we turn to the bottle or turn the other cheek.

What are revolutionary are the concepts of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a rational mind. These qualities will be allowed to slowly emerge once the alcohol has been laid to rest, thus the stresses and challenges that seemed so frightening to a person at the very start of their sober journey are eminently more manageable than he or she could ever have imagined when regularly drinking.

Accepting this fact demands a huge leap of faith, but it’s one which is absolutely worth taking.

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!’