Seven Pounds Lighter & Bags More Energy!

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled Letting Go of the Fight which described how I had woken up to the fact that yes, there was room for improvement in my diet and fitness levels, and no, simply because I’m almost 39 years old there’s no need to give up and accept my increasingly worrying chocolate habit and associated muffin top as the status quo.

I decided to embark on, not a radical overhaul of my life but a few tweaks here and there that were manageable but would nevertheless have an impact and would help me to reach my physical goals. I wanted to lose about half a stone and increase my fitness in order to be able to run further and faster. I also wanted to tone up.

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Since the 23rd July I have lost seven pounds and it’s not been that hard. The mental shift I experienced which means I now put my body first as opposed to my head has enabled me to cut out all the crap from my diet and replace it with good stuff – and to feel happy about it. I’ve switched normal potatoes for sweet ones, embraced courgette spaghetti (julienned courgette fried in coconut oil as a replacement for the regular pasta variety – just don’t attempt making this after you’ve had a manicure!), and Medjool dates have become my new evening treat instead of Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut supersize chocolate bars. Breakfast is porridge with coconut milk, snacks are either almond nuts or an apple, and lunch is usually rye bread with humus or salad and an oily fish variety or chicken. And I drink a lot more water than I used to.

It hasn’t cost the earth, this new way of eating, and I haven’t once felt deprived because I can’t eat a great big slice of chocolate cake. My clothes all fit better, I have lost the bloated feeling I always used to have, and my hair looks and feels in better condition. But, more than any of these benefits, it is the fact that I feel so much more energised that’s the main motivator; that I no longer suffer the mid-afternoon slump where I just want to crawl into bed and sleep through until the following morning. I’ve been far more inclined to exercise and have therefore noticeably toned up. This has mainly been down to the weights programme I’ve been following (a combination of gym classes with handheld weights, and a little regime I do by myself at home, also with dumbbells).

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After about five weeks, this way of life feels entirely normal and I wouldn’t eat a piece of chocolate tiffin if you paid me. I have struggled forever to be my ideal weight and to lose the love handles, and, although dropping a few pounds hasn’t been quite the challenge it was when I was knocking back a bottle of vino a night, it still hasn’t been a walk in the park as a non-drinker – not until I altered my way of thinking and just decided to treat my body as though I living in more primal times.

No processed food, as few toxins as possible, home-cooked, healthy, vegetable-rich meals that don’t contain the wrong type of fats, and which, surprise, surprise, make me feel a million times better and more alive than any of the man-made, overly-salted, processed, nutrient-free junk that I used to eat.

So, if you are a person who has stopped drinking but who has slipped into bad eating habits, be assured that it is totally possible to get on top of things and NOT feel as though all your treats have been taken away. Eating well makes you feel better, physically and mentally, and once you get into the swing of things it becomes simple. Just as is the case with alcohol, with the right mind set, this shouldn’t be about gritted teeth and marking off the days on your wall; it’s about breaking free from addiction and making bad choices, and celebrating a better life.

The Blue Dot We Call Home

When I drank, I did not worry too much about my place in the cosmos, or about how we, as humans, frequently live out our lives with grandiose ideas of our own importance, when in reality all we amount to is a minuscule speck within a vast, black expanse of time and space. But, with far more thinking time on my hands and less mental cloudiness these days, I find myself contemplating such things rather a lot. I’ve realised that I am now caught up in a virtuous circle; without alcohol fogging my thoughts, I have finally acknowledged just how precious life is and this serves only to reinforce why I never wish to drink again. As a drinker, I simply never noticed those things, or was too drunk or hungover to properly consider them – thus wasting my life drunk did not strike me as anything to worry about.

Here are a few thoughts on the specialness of human life, and on the blue dot we call Home.

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Last weekend, I was spending time with my sister who has a far greater knowledge than I regarding physics and astronomy. As we sat beneath the stars late at night, she told me that the Milky Way contains at least 100 billion planets, and between 200 and 400 billion stars; that the observable universe is approximately 46 billion light years in radius. She described how our solar system is moving at about 500 thousand miles per hour as it orbits the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, a speed which results in a cosmic year (the time it takes us to orbit the centre of the galaxy) lasting between 225 and 250 million years.

We are tiny, unbelievably small creatures, living out our lives in an unimaginably vast cosmic arena. The time which has gone before us and which lies ahead serves to limit our individual lifespans to mere flecks of nothingness, grains of sand, gone in the blink of an eye. As a species, we are here today, gone tomorrow.

When I think of these colossal truths and consider my insignificance within the universe, I don’t feel disheartened. What we have in our hands is a wonderful opportunity to experience life in the middle of an expanse of time and space incomprehensibly huge. Somehow, knowing that our planet is just one of billions and billions makes me love it all the more. We are so special, so precious and so rare.

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The life we possess amounts to a fragment of curiosity, a flurry of exploration, a singular chance to better ourselves and grow our collective knowledge. Our lives are so minute, but worth all the more because of it. This isn’t some slapdash, dole-it-out-to-everyone-and-just-keep-on-coming-back-for-more type bash – our experience of life as a species is incredibly short-lived and finite for certain.

In 1990, space probe Voyager 1 took a photograph of Earth from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles. Earth shows as a fraction of a pixel, lost in an immense sea of space. This image makes me feel in awe of humankind and so grateful to have a life which is born out of the laws of physics and chemistry but which is nonetheless so rich, complex and gratifying. It makes me want to grab on to every single day and make it count, to experience as much and to travel as widely as I possibly can, to meet different people and know foreign cultures, to maximise my time in the brief window of opportunity which is life.

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The Voyager 1 photograph serves to draw my attention to the things of substance in the world, that which matters, and to disregard all the superfluous nonsense that we can waste so much energy on. Our dot of a world, which travels at a frightening rate, holds our intricate yet humble existences.

We are not the centre of the universe, not by a long shot. But we should be the centre of our own lives and treasure each and every day we get to spend on Earth. We are, after all, here for the briefest of moments.

Click below for a moving description of Earth as the Blue Dot, from astronomer Carl Sagan;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupToqz1e2g&feature=player_embedded

It Might Just Be Better On The Other Side…

Soberistas is all about hope and optimism. I’m a bloody-minded bugger at the best of times and when I finally accepted that alcohol and me were never going to amount to a marriage made in heaven, I was damned if I was going to let the stuff beat me any more than it already had.

I was probably a little naïve in the early days of not drinking, not fully aware of how difficult the ride can be when navigating one’s way through the emotional storms and social awkwardness of a new, booze-free life. But still, even as the gravity of early sobriety began to dawn on me, I remained stoically fixed on my original goal; to live happily without alcohol swallowing me up once again.

Just now I was reading on the internet about Robin Williams, and became overwhelmed with sadness as to just quite how a person with so much energy and hilarity and humour can be quietly dying on the inside; how complex we, as human beings are when, with rivers of grief and sorrow reaching every last corner of our insides, we still possess the ability to smile and carry on regardless.

I began to think of the accumulative pain that all the people with whom I’ve come into contact since the inception of Soberistas, have suffered at the hands of alcohol. How many of us have plastered on a smile, faced up to the world after yet another shame-filled and agonising encounter with our common enemy, pretended everything is OK? How many times have we all woken up and thought, I can’t carry on with this any more, the fight is too hard? How many have fallen by the wayside, and continue to do so every day because they are too far down the road of alcohol dependency?

As time has gone on, I’ve been lucky enough to have won my fight with booze, and the associated depression and self-hatred that accompanied my drinking for almost a quarter of a century. But I know I am lucky, and I am immensely grateful that I’ve managed to discover a completely new Me with whom I am happy  – a Me whose shoes fit perfectly, as if they were waiting all along for me to wear them.

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When it’s so very tough to admit to having a problem with alcohol in the first place, the road to recovery can be almost impossible for some people to embark on. But if, with a glimmer of hope and a lot of support along the way, a person can hang on to the notion that life might be better on the other side, there is the possibility of finding happiness. It is possible to start again in life, at any age, and put your old mistakes behind you. The false smiles can become a thing of the past, and happiness can be felt, honestly and truly.

As for Robin Williams and the countless millions who have similarly suffered at the hands of booze and their own personal demons, I hope we can all remember them in order to remind ourselves just how dangerously easy it can be to hide behind a façade, and to work together to try to help anyone who is drowning in the quagmire of depression and substance misuse. Hopefully, in that way, there will be much more optimism and far less destruction of the human spirit.

Feeling the Pain

A few years ago, a friend of mine was spending time with a woman he’d met on a dating website. He told me that she didn’t drink alcohol and that, by her own admittance, this was because she had felt out of control with it. At the time I felt sorry for her, and I briefly wondered about the half-existence it must be to live and never drink.

Right now I am going through a challenging time personally. This is why I am sitting in the kitchen in the early hours while everyone else in the house is fast asleep; with my thoughts churning as I lay in the dark in bed, I thought I may as well be up and trying to make sense of what I’m feeling.

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Before I went to bed last night, I pondered, for only a very brief moment, the notion of drinking alcohol; how it would feel to pour a substance down my throat that would, if only temporarily, prevent me from feeling these unpleasant emotions. What would it be like to ingest a liquid that lightened my mood and made me laugh for a while? The idea of it made me think of a clown’s costume – an artificial, forced and exaggerated adaptation of that which is real. Almost as soon as the idea crept into my thoughts, I shushed it away and realised that, even with emotional pain, I like being a non-drinker. I choose to not alter my mind and that’s how I want to spend the rest of my life.

I thought of the woman my friend used to date, and how wrong I was for feeling sympathetic towards her. Maybe, quite probably, she felt the same blessed relief from not drinking that I do; that in not consuming a substance that impacted so severely on her mental state, she was free to live her life in an honest and controlled manner, that she was aware of her every thought and emotion, good or bad, and that she had an intuition upon which she could rely. Maybe, like me, she enjoyed knowing that the mistakes she would make sober would become constructive components in the story of her life; honest and human, rather than shameful and enacted under the influence of a powerful drug, actions that she would regret for ever.

We will all encounter difficult periods in our lives, whether we drink alcohol or not. For me, processing the associated emotional turbulence is far simpler and easier to navigate without the added confusion and reality-bending that arises out of heavy drinking. I’m choosing to feel the rawness of my life, and, for me, that will always be preferable to the alcohol-fuelled alternative.

This is Not A Scientific Experiment

A couple of weeks ago, I changed the passcode on my iPhone. For most of that same day I repeatedly hit the old numbers when attempting to access my phone. By evening, I was getting the code correct about two out of every three attempts. By the second day, I had it nailed and was no longer pressing the old numbers. Randomly, a few days later, my brain shifted back to operate upon its memory of the old passcode – I suddenly remembered I’d changed it and deleted my first, incorrect, effort. Now, I never think of the old numbers and have to really concentrate to remember what they were.

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This little exercise in rewiring the mind made me think about quitting drinking. I had been using the original passcode on my iPhone for just a few months but it still took a while for my brain to adopt the new numbers sufficiently until it was able to act on autopilot. But with regards to drinking, I started that little habit when I was thirteen years old and continued apace until I hit my mid-thirties. That’s twenty-two years of regular and frequent consumption of an addictive substance – and not surprisingly it took a damn sight longer than a few days to put things right.

Over the last three and a half years, I have rewired my thinking patterns completely. How so? I’ve managed this by avoiding alcohol at every turn. In the first year, it was tough. My brain automatically leapt to thoughts of crisp, cold glasses of pinot grigio whenever I felt depressed, stressed, angry or bored. Socialising without alcohol took at least eighteen months to become accustomed to. Reaching the weekend and not experiencing the overwhelming desire to get rip-roaring drunk; that little tradition took a very long time to bypass.

But eventually, and without any fanfare or celebration, I began to recognise how much I’ve changed and how far I’ve come since my last alcoholic drink in April 2011. The immediate reaction of craving booze in numerous situations ceased to occur. Alternative coping strategies opened themselves up to me, and started to become my new norm.

How adaptable our brains are, if we only give them the opportunity to grow used to a new way of living. How reassuring to know that it is possible to be free from the once-tireless chatter of the booze demons, as long as we are able to take a leap of faith and trust that things can, and will, be different.

I am a big believer in total abstinence for those, like me, who cannot moderate their alcohol consumption. By practising abstinence, the brain’s neurological pathways are able to form a whole new set of habits, and over time, these will take root until they are engrained, becoming a part of who we are.

It’s worth reminding yourself that forming new habits will take a little time in order to ensure you don’t throw the towel in when miracles don’t appear instantly – it’s an internal battle worth fighting, though, and one day you’ll wake up and realise things are very, very different.

Need a Reminder? Here are 10 good reasons for going alcohol-free!

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1. Cutting alcohol out of your life helps build your self-esteem; never doing or saying things that you will later regret is a brilliant way of feeling back in control of your life, thus boosting your self-confidence.

2. When you drink every night, you lose vast swathes of time – if you have your first glass at 7 pm and continue to sip away all night until 11 pm, then over a week you’ll have waved goodbye to almost 30 hours of spare time which could have been put to good use.

3. Alcohol is no friend to your looks – within days of quitting drinking you’ll have brighter eyes, healthier looking skin and will notice a reduction in facial puffiness.

4. One bottle of wine contains between 600 and 700 calories; that’s equivalent to three Cornetto ice creams, or an extra evening meal on top of the dinner you’ve already scoffed! Maintaining weight is much easier for those who don’t drink alcohol.

5. I stopped drinking three and a half years ago, and in that time I estimate that I’ve saved approximately £15,000 (the sum total of money I would have wasted on wine, fags, and taxis – the price of a car). Instead, I have been able to buy lots of lovely stuff that I can actually remember and appreciate for days, months or years after making the purchase!

6. Since I was a child I always wanted to be a writer but never managed to get more than a couple of chapters down in my drinking days. Just a couple of years after becoming teetotal I had three books published (The Sober Revolution and Your 6 Week Plan, co-written with Sarah Turner, and Glass Half Full), and my fourth is due out this autumn. I can now demonstrate dedication and commitment – qualities that perennially escaped me as a boozer.

7. Categorically I am a MUCH better parent as a non-drinker – end of story.

8. Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are all a (horrible) distant memory – since eradicating booze from my life I generally feel optimistic and happy, and the mood swings have disappeared for good.

9. Drinking regularly and heavily prevented me from seeing how big the world is, and how much there is to explore within it – as a non-drinker I get to feel the magic of life untainted by booze, and my horizons have stretched massively.

10. Embarking on an alcohol-free life has opened up the door to self-discovery; I have found out more about the person I am in the three and a half years since I quit drinking than I did in any of the previous thirty five years of my life.

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The Elusive Off Switch

Why Don’t I Have an Off Switch?

I used to ask myself this question a lot as a drinker. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that other people could manage to enjoy a few drinks, even becoming quite obviously drunk, but then always and reliably be able to count on themselves to call it a night at the appropriate time.

Not me. At two, three, even four o’clock in the morning and with all manner of challenges facing me the following day from the everyday demands of being a mother, to postgraduate level degree examinations, to job interviews, to packing and setting off on holidays, I would regularly be scouring the cupboards in the hope of discovering a long-forgotten bottle. I once happened upon a beer delivery service when a flier dropped through my letterbox; the answer to my prayers, here was a bloke who drove about during the night dropping off an array of alcoholic beverages and packets of cigarettes to all those (like me) who were after ‘just one more’ in exchange for a slightly inflated charge and a drunken display of gratitude.

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For many years I struggled with the knowledge that, on occasion, I went way too far with regards to my alcohol consumption. Regrettable ‘romantic’ encounters, throwing up and destroying yet another carpet, dramatic tumbles ensuing in large, unsightly bruises oddly located around my body – whenever these things happened, I knew I had no off switch. And yet, because such terrible instances did not arise out of every single drinking episode, I was able to reassure myself that when they did, they were one-offs, oddities, freak incidents that could happen to anyone who enjoyed alcohol.

My booze-related accidents were something I accepted as part and parcel of a drinking lifestyle. And in between times, when I did display something akin to an off switch and managed to get myself to bed prior to anything horrific taking place, I comforted myself with the belief that I was, after all, the same as everyone else; I was able to act responsibly, at least some of the time.

For me, drinking was, essentially, a game of Russian roulette. Whenever I picked up the first drink of the evening, I was entirely unaware of how things would pan out. I did not know whether this would be a night when I’d have a few drinks but would then remember that I needed to down some water and go to sleep, because otherwise tomorrow would be hell on earth. I did not know if I would throw caution to the wind and find myself ringing the beer delivery man at two in the morning, holed up in some stranger’s house, smoking and drinking until dawn broke.

I desperately wanted to know why I didn’t have a reliable off switch, but for twenty years I could not simply accept the fact that I didn’t. On my final night of drinking, my off switch finally gave up the ghost. This facility that many people have and which enables them to ‘drink responsibly’ fizzed and popped and eventually blew up altogether. I was like a dog with no concept of having its appetite satisfied – the more booze I could lay my hands on, the more I poured down my neck. And on and on I went, until finally, with the expiration of that little switch, I fell unconscious and wound up in hospital.

I am glad that my little faulty off switch ultimately died for ever. It made everything so straightforward, so black and white. After I quit drinking, I stopped asking myself why I did not have the ability to stop drinking at the optimum point in the night, and instead, threw myself into being a person who just doesn’t drink alcohol. I no longer have to worry whether my off switch will be functioning when I go out socially, and there are no more awful ripples of disaster to have to cope with because it failed to work properly. It’s existence, broken or not, is simply of no concern to me anymore. And that’s the way I like it.