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.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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!

wine

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.

bird wings

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.

bed

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.

Soberistas Survey Results, Webinars and Meet-Ups!

We had hundreds of responses to the recent survey we carried out on Soberistas, so a big thanks to all those who took a few minutes to complete our questionnaire. There were several key areas that we wanted to discover your views on, including webinars and physical meet ups. Taking into consideration everything you told us (and we were thrilled to find out that, according to many of those who answered the survey questions, we do appear to be getting most things right!), we are now in the early planning stages of the official Soberistas meet-ups. Watch this space for more information (we are looking at the end of November for our first one) about these.

Full new logo

Tonight, all our paying members (who took out a subscription prior to the evening of Monday 28th July) will be able to access the first of our webinar series – hosted by Dr Julia Sinclair, Soberistas’ resident addictions specialist doctor. Those who have taken out a membership since that time will be able to access the next of our webinars, which will be taking place on August 31 (and subsequent ones thereafter).

In the recent Soberistas survey you told us that you were equally interested in the subjects of health, fitness, alcohol-related medical issues, personal experiences of alcohol dependency and life coaching, with regards to future webinar content. Bearing this in mind we have lined up some fantastic experts over the coming months who will all be delivering a presentation followed by a short Q&A session. And if you can’t make the allotted time slot for the live presentations, you’ll be able to watch at your own convenience any time after the events have taken place.

10394638286_061e6d105d_z

So, a bit of information about our next webinar; Fitness, health & lifestyle coach, presenter, writer & motivator and a regular presenter on BBC Radio Oxford, George Anderson will be delivering a webinar about ‘clean eating’ and how the elimination of toxins from our diet (including, obviously, alcohol!) can result in weight loss, a more even mood, and increased energy. George has signed up to run ten marathons in ten days in September, so he definitely knows how to get a body in shape! We’ve timed this webinar to fit in with the post-summer assessments we often make of our lifestyles following the indulgences of the summer break.  

Tonight’s webinar will kick off at 8 pm, introduced by me (Lucy) and then moving straight on to Dr Julia’s key discussion points, including;

What is alcohol dependence?
Can I just stop?
How can I cut down safely?
How do I work out how much I am actually drinking?
What is a detox?
What is rehab?
Isn’t it all just about will power?
Why am I so tired despite stopping drinking?
What about my mood?
Will my panic attacks go away?

We hope you can join us tonight, and that you’ll really enjoy the Soberistas webinar series. Don’t forget that if you become a paying member before 6 pm on Monday August 25th 2014, you’ll be able to access our future webinars, including the next one by George Anderson.

Booze the Liar

You don’t need booze in your life.

It’s time for a reality check. Booze does not provide you with any of the following; sophistication, glamour, sexiness, relaxation or happiness. It does not make you more interesting, and it doesn’t inject any pizazz into your personality. In fact, alcohol takes away your chance to shine – it stops the real YOU from shining through.

beer-belly

I am speaking with three and a half years of personal and sober experience when I say that alcohol is a big fat liar. Oh, how I once fell for its charms and the myth that I NEEDED to drink it. Oh, how I used to wholeheartedly believe that everything would be rubbish without those green bottles lined up in the kitchen, just waiting to be opened.

A long time ago, an ex-boyfriend told me that when I drank it was as though I had swallowed a ‘twat pill’. He loved me really. He could see what I never could – that my fantasy version of alcohol was a million miles off the reality, at least when it was me who was downing it. Other people drank and the booze seemed to take only a marginal effect upon their personalities; they became slightly more confident or a little more relaxed, less strung out. When I drank, I turned into a horrible person.

Here’s what booze ACTUALLY provided me with; arrogance, self-centredness, laziness, lack of productivity, very bad hangovers, terrible life choices, low self-esteem, shame and bucket loads of guilt. It kept me from knowing more about the person I am, it made true self-awareness impossible, and it caused me to look haggard and old. Drinking too much led me to walk to the recycling bin with carrier bags filled with clanking empties, dreading with every step that someone would leap out of nowhere for a chat and spot my little secret. Alcohol nurtured my depressive tendencies and it encouraged me to spend money that I didn’t have. Alcohol turned me into a master of disguises and a narcissistic, egotistical fool. It made me into a selfish mother and prevented my body from reaching optimum health. It lured me towards smoking, fatty foods and not enough exercise. Drinking too much resulted in me becoming a nervous, anti-social loner, and also a loud-mouthed, boorish drunk.

I lost my rose-tinted glasses about a year and a half after I consumed my last alcoholic drink. At that point I began to recognise just how wrong I’d got it with regards to those green bottles that I once loved to buy; for me, drinking was like chasing a ghost. Whenever I poured the liquid out into the oversize glass that made me feel so terribly sophisticated, I never found myself on the road to fulfilment. I was only left wanting more.

Jogging Along to Health and Happiness

A few years ago I was weighed down with the heavy and uncomfortable burden of debt. As a single mum with a rubbish job and an increasingly tenacious dependency on the old vino, my monthly income was rarely adequate for my perceived needs. My penchant for selecting the more expensive varieties of wine from the supermarket shelves (denial is all the easier to maintain when one only drinks Barolo or Chablis) only aggravated the situation further. Oh yes, and the fact that, when pissed, I would often log onto my laptop and embark on wild spending sprees which resulted in random mini-breaks in foreign countries and a wardrobe filled with ill-fitting clothes that looked horrible on me.

The majority of my available expenditure pre-2011 was reserved for evening activities; alcohol (obviously), fags, taxis, the pool table, pizzas, more alcohol and the aforementioned drunken internet purchases. Rarely did I consider parting with any money for things that did not, in some way, harm me. I estimate that all this splashing of the cash totalled in the region of between £300 and £800 per month (dependent on whether there was a mini-break or not).

Fast forward to today and I’m still revelling in my recent conversion to a properly healthful lifestyle. The fridge is bursting with coconut water, cherries, dates, salad, fish and a variety of lovely vegetables, the Body Attack class at the gym is booked for tomorrow morning, and my legs are satisfyingly aching as a result of my hour-long run in glorious sunshine yesterday. A lack of drunkenness means I no longer indulge in any major retail therapy that I can ill afford, and there’s been a natural shift towards most of my daily outgoings focusing on daytime activities – visiting places with my family, and my gym membership, for example.

This morning, I received the first of a new treat I have recently decided to indulge in – my JoggBox selection of goodies. This is not something I would ever have considered buying into in days gone by, when the sum total of £15 a month would have bought me two reasonable bottles of wine, or a bottle of wine and twenty Marlboro Lights. However, as things have turned out, I now like to think that spending my money on things that will help me rather than harm me is a positive step forwards.

joggbox

JoggBox is a fun-filled box containing a surprise selection of new running products and accessories. Once you sign up, you receive a box each month filled with the best nutrition running products on the market. Also included are new running accessories. The value of the goods inside the box is always bigger than the price you are paying for it (£15). In my green shoebox this month, I found electrolyte enhanced drink tabs, cooling facial towels, cream to soothe aching feet, energy bars, a variety of energy gels, a hair and nails beauty bar, an organic energy drink, and a handy clip for carting a pair of trainers about whilst on the move.

As I unpacked my box, I thought about how much emphasis I once placed on commodities that damaged me, and of how much better it is to spend money on the good stuff instead. This little box of running treats has boosted my motivation and made me even more determined to push myself to run longer and faster. It’s made me feel excited about improving my fitness – and unwrapping everything inside the box reminded me a bit of Christmas. And it’s not making me feel guilty for treating myself!

woman-running

My life is better in every way, now that I don’t throw my money away on booze and fags; it’s as simple as that. 

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.

latte-grande

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?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????