Making Christmas Good Again

Christmas when I drank always seemed like a very dark time. I would embrace the excuse to party hard, unsurprisingly, and drink a lot more than usual. But the sentiment of the festive season, the family-ness of it all, consistently dragged me down and reminded me of everything I hated about my life.

Shared custody of my daughter meant she didn’t spend the whole of the holidays with me, and while she visited her dad I would turn to booze to numb the loneliness. Each Christmas passed by in a fog of excessive alcohol consumption, hangovers, sadness and regret. January 1st could never arrive soon enough.

The initial Christmas I spent as a non-drinker wasn’t much better. Mired in longing for alcohol, the wish to just be able to drink like ‘everyone else’, bitterness over the fact that I had apparently become a ‘problem drinker’; all of these things amounted to me feeling desperate for the whole holiday business to just hurry up and get out of the way.

But that was just my first sober Christmas, and since then everything has become, not only easier, but good, enjoyable. Finally, I like Christmas. My daughter is almost eighteen so the pain of sharing custody has passed. Plus now we have her little sister who is four and a half, her presence injecting that essential childhood excitement factor at Christmas.

Over the years, I became accustomed to despising Christmas. Everything about it made me feel uncomfortable and desperate to run away from it all: the cold, the grey skies, the aforementioned absences of my daughter, the highlighting of my divorced status when everyone else seemed to be playing happy families, and of course, the regrets and self-loathing over what would almost always transcend into a period of very heavy drinking and all the associated stupid, drunken behaviour.

As the years have passed by, though, and certainly since I became alcohol-free, I have learnt a few things about staying happy at this time of year, and they’ve really helped me transform a very negative perception of Christmas to a positive one. I wanted to share them with you, in case you, like I once used to be, are filled with dread at what lies just around the corner…

woman-relaxing-by-fire

  • Focus on family and love. You might find it difficult to get on with certain members of the family who are descending upon you for the duration of the holidays, but try and concentrate on the ones who make you feel happy – the kids, your partner. Absorb their excitement and pleasure, and reconnect with your own inner child. If you don’t have children and are single, consider spending a few hours of Christmas Day volunteering at a homeless shelter. Giving yourself up to help others is a sure fire way to boost your mental state, and you won’t be bored, lonely and tempted to drink all day if you’re busy devoting yourself to a good cause.
  • Most of us will get at least a couple of days off work, so if all else fails, try and blot out the Christmas factor and just utilise the time to recharge your batteries and slob about in your pyjamas having a good old rest. With much of the outside world going into shutdown mode, this is an easy time of the year to do very little, and let’s face it; most of us don’t get that opportunity very often. Reframe Christmas as nothing more than a free holiday, and enjoy a well-deserved break.
  • Meditate on the positives in your life. I used to spiral into a major depression during the weeks leading up to Christmas, and would be drawn to all the bad stuff that was going on, which made it impossible to look outward and feel happy about anything. But if we scratch the surface, everyone can find at least one or two good things that are worth exercising gratitude for – the fact that you’re healthy, or that you have a roof over your head, or that you have lovely friends or family, or that you will be enjoying a nice meal or two over Christmas. Meditate every day for a few minutes and focus on whatever positive elements you can think of in your life. Remind yourself that actually, there is always something to feel grateful for.
  • Get in touch with fellow Soberistas. Use the Soberistas website to connect with others who might also be finding booze an issue at this time of year. A problem shared is a problem halved, and nobody will understand how you feel better than those in the same boat.
  • Consider letting a few close people in your life know that you have quit drinking and that you might be having a couple of wobbles over the Christmas period. If you think you could be tempted to drink then knowing that those around you are aware of how you’re feeling will act as a good preventative method in stopping you from doing so. You’re much less likely to give into temptation if you feel accountable to the people you’re spending the holidays with. And remember – those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.
  • Go for a run or a brisk walk on Christmas Day morning. Exercise makes you feel better – it’s that simple. The endorphins, getting away from all the mayhem, the fresh air and daylight will all have a positive impact on your emotional state, so make the most of the fact that you aren’t lying around with a raging hangover, put your trainers on and get outside for some exercise.
  • Find a nice alcohol-free drink that you really enjoy that feels like a bit of a treat, and stock up before Christmas. You will probably feel left out if everyone else is necking the wine and you’re nursing a glass of orange juice or water. So either experiment beforehand with mocktail recipes or order in some alcohol-free drinks just for you – the Soberistas Discount Club has a code for 5% off products from alcohol-free drinks stockists, DryDrinker, so check out their range if you’re in need of inspiration.
  • Watch films, read books, listen to music. Ignite your soul with lots of cosy evenings in, catching up on some culture. It’ll keep you busy and give you a focus when the sun goes down, a time when you might otherwise start itching for a drink. Reading books is a no-go when you’re drinking, and any films you watch will be instantly forgotten if you’ve got a glass to hand throughout. I love watching films during Christmas in my pyjamas, alone or with the kids, just losing myself in another world for a couple of hours. And if you want some ideas for reading material, check out the Soberistas Book Club.

Changing Tides

I’m standing in a dark room with sweat pouring off my face, slightly breathless, endorphins coursing around my body. In the window next to me I catch my reflection; hair falling over my eyes, dumbbells raised, a focused expression that says, “I’m fucking doing this”. I’m in a room with two other people: the trainer, and a young woman who’s taking this High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class along with me. I feel in control, strong, confident, and like I belong. I’ve been doing this class for about a year and I’ve never been fitter or in better shape. I’m running the Sheffield half-marathon in April 2017 and it doesn’t scare me at all. I know I’ll be fit enough to do it.

I am a different person to who I once was. I have changed irrevocably.

I wanted to write this to prove that it’s possible to force your life into reverse, change direction and become completely renewed. I know it’s possible, because I’ve done it.

I wanted to highlight one instance that would stand as a good comparator to the above scene, to show how different things used to be for me. But when I sat and thought about it, there wasn’t one single occasion that sprang to mind but instead a feeling, a sense of shame – and it’s this that equates to the polar opposite of how I felt in the gym this morning.

It is a slow, creeping cloak of fear that envelops me. It originates in the pit of my stomach, and it spreads up into my heart and all through my limbs. I can feel it in my eyes; it renders me incapable of looking directly at anyone. It’s as though I am walking in a quagmire and my legs are leaden, heavy with dread. I don’t want to leave the house. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want there to be another day. My head hangs heavy with shame. I feel unworthy. I think everyone hates me. I hate me. I have a secret – I turn into a monster when I drink alcohol. There’s a person hiding inside me, a bad person who does terrible things, and I can’t stop her escaping when I’m drunk. And I can’t seem to stop getting drunk. Even though I try.

Days will pass and the fear will dissipate slightly but the self-hatred never leaves me. It festers deep inside and it keeps me in my place, somewhere dark where the ceiling is low and the walls are closing in; a place for people who are undeserving, a place where people never grow.

When I was younger, I thought people who were heavily into fitness were a bit vacuous, with brains in their biceps. But nowadays, I am so convinced that being fit and healthy physically means that we are mentally well too. It’s not just the act of pumping iron or running that boosts our emotional wellbeing: it’s engaging with people who don’t get out of their heads every day, who value their bodies; it’s the knowledge that you are strong and capable of conquering challenges; it’s living, day after day, without ever getting drunk; it’s the memories of that person you became when drunk fading into the distant recesses of the mind; it’s replacing fear with hope; it’s learning to like yourself again through the process of development and personal growth; it is the removal of toxins from the body.

Now that I prioritise my mental and physical wellness, I feel alive every day. I like myself. I maintain eye contact with other people when I’m speaking with them. I never think I am undeserving or less than anyone else.

At 41, I like myself. Genuinely, six years ago, I never would have believed I’d ever have been able to utter those words and mean them. But liking yourself is something we all deserve to feel. And it isn’t out of anyone’s reach. roc1

Life’s What You Make It

Most things in life come down to a choice: the choice to focus on the positive or the negative; the choice to go after something you really want or to sit back and let someone else have a go; the choice to try out new experiences or to remain in your comfort zone; the choice to stay in a damaging place or to get out and start afresh.

It’s also possible to choose to see life as a series of choices, not a hand of cards that you are powerless to change. And if you do, there is nothing sitting beyond your reach. This may sound simplistic but I truly believe that it’s the only mind-set to have for living a fulfilling life.

Back in the dark days (when I drank most evenings and hated myself), I had no idea that life could be based on choices. Even down to the most basic of choices – deciding which thoughts I paid attention to and which I let go of – I was under the impression that I was a sitting duck: that whatever terrible episode may land on my doorstep, whichever bit of bad luck might descend upon my world, or however lonely and unloved I felt, I had no control over any of it whatsoever. It felt as though it was all just ‘my lot’.

There are many snippets of wisdom that we pick up during our time on earth but I think that grasping the idea of having choices and living life accordingly can make one of the biggest differences in how happy we are.

I decided that for me to be content and fulfilled, it was necessary for me to not drink alcohol. This was a choice. I could have followed the school of thought that says addiction can’t be beaten, that I am powerless over alcohol, that I had no choice. But I believed in the notion of choice, and I made that choice and stuck to it.

Yesterday I found myself suddenly overcome by negativity. Everything was wrong; I started to flounder in a pit of despair. But then I went for a walk in the nearby woods that are brimming with bright, autumnal colours and I took a few photos of the trees, noticed the beautiful blue sky, and breathed in the cold, fresh air, felt alive, watched my dog trotting amongst the fallen leaves and became aware of how even this mood that had engulfed me moments earlier was, in fact, a choice.

I started to think about all the things in my life that I am grateful for, all the beauty of the earth, the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I stood in front of a tree for a while and observed the way in which the leaves, now littering the ground at the foot of the trunk, appeared as a reflection of the canopy above. It occurred to me that this could all be perceived as the dismal end of summer, a tree moving into a state of hibernation for the winter, or a stunning image of vibrancy, a captivating celebration of change; the beginning of a miraculous new season. I stared at the tree for a long time, and it became a symbol to me of how life is whatever we want to perceive it as.

img_1013

Earlier in the week, I had thrown a small Halloween party for my four-year-old and a few of her little friends. The carpet was covered in crisps, toys were strewn all over the lounge, and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. After everyone had left and I’d scrubbed my daughter’s face clean, wiping away every last trace of the ghoulish make-up she’d been wearing, my older daughter shouted down the stairs to me; “Can you help me with that English coursework now please?”

I had a choice in how I perceived all of this; to see the stress, the mess, the chaos, and to focus on my tiredness and how all I wanted to do was go and lie down on my bed. Or I could have chosen to see it as the lovely, hectic, full-on express train journey that is life, with all its demands and busyness.

I took the decision to view it as the latter.

Vulnerable

Sometimes, I feel really vulnerable. Like the world is too much for my emotions to cope with. I often wonder how some people can be so blasé, going about their business mindlessly as we all occupy this sphere spinning relentlessly through a vast expanse of time and space. This was one of the motivators for my alcohol consumption – the desire to quash it all, silence myself, level my feelings off and just stop the urrgghhh that so often blundered around my head.

Then there was the love of euphoria and letting go that made me turn to the bottle. I loved parties, dancing, showing off a bit I suppose. And these are activities that I have found not so easy to engage in as a non-drinker. Which in many ways is a good thing – I am no longer the ‘twat’ that my ex boyfriend decreed me after I’d had too much to drink (“When you drink, it’s as though you’ve swallowed a twat pill”).

I’ve noticed over the sober years that this business of not drinking is a matter of balance, of weighing up the overall good of sobriety versus the occasional letting rip that being pissed affords us. And the thing is, you can’t have both – or at least, I can’t. I can’t have the good without the very bad. There is no middle ground, just chaos and self-destruction.

I occasionally read about people who begin to dabble with having ‘the odd glass’ after years of being sober (Phil Collins being the latest to reveal his abstinence has gradually morphed into ‘controlled’ drinking), and I know that I will never be one of these people – but nor do I want to be.

For me to love being alcohol-free, it is essential that I love not drinking. That I engage with that notion as fully and with as much fervour as I once did alcohol. That I thank my lucky stars every day I scared myself witless one morning after drinking too much and I made a promise to myself that I’d never touch the stuff again; that I get to remember the rest of my life. That I get to make wise decisions and know who I am without the on going fog of too much alcohol confusing my thinking. That, no matter what, I’ll never walk backwards and attempt to revisit the boozing chapter of my life, because for me, this sober reality is the only one that makes sense now.

Last week I got in touch with a woman who lost her best friend to alcohol earlier this year. I studied years-old photos of the two of them in which they are slim, smiling, vibrant, and then I looked at the recent one of the woman’s friend where she is all bloated and puffy, taken just before she died as a direct result of her alcohol consumption.

My past is littered with stories of people who died from their addictions, who lost the most important people in their lives because they couldn’t stop drinking, of broken friendships and damaged souls and sad memories. It’s littered with my own regrets about the things I did because of alcohol, and because of the person I was when I drank.

Sometimes, I do wonder what it would be like to inhabit a drinking world again, one where alcohol is as innocuous as a light, spring breeze. But I know I crossed a line years ago, which means that for me, alcohol will always be my enemy. And I accept that fact with good grace and gratitude because, when all is said and done, it’s not worth it.

I get my kicks elsewhere these days, like this morning when I ran seven miles through the countryside with my dog who is ten years old but still throws herself into our runs with admirable zest. I get a buzz from knowing that I could be dead and for all intents and purposes I probably should be, given the way I used to spend my time, but I am not. I’m fit and healthy and I still feel young. I feel alive when I listen to my favourite music, and when I’m laughing with my close family and friends. I get a rush from the beauty of the world and thinking of all the people I’ve ever known and the amazing things we’ve experienced together, how miraculous it is that any of us get to lead this life with all the opportunities that are presented to each and every one of us. And I’m excited for the present and the future, for what incredible moments are waiting around the corner, none of us can ever know.

geese-flying-freedom

Sometimes I do feel vulnerable and emotionally raw, and I wish so much that I could temporarily escape my head. But what I have – what we all have – is a life, and the years pass by in such a blur that they’re gone before we’ve even registered what happened. Those stupid little things we stress over: our child’s tantrum in the supermarket or feeling down because we can’t afford something we really want, or losing the car keys or just wanting to stay in bed all day because it’s raining and cold outside, and everything seems rubbish and twisted against us; these things are nothing, they matter not one jot.

Connecting with other human beings and loving them, and being loved by them, and loving and valuing yourself for your uniqueness, and witnessing a glorious sunset and hearing the wind roaring in your ears at the top of a mountain; looking into your child’s eyes and knowing that you’re doing your best and they’re doing OK, listening to someone who needs you, knowing that you’re making a difference. Lying on your back daydreaming and listening to your favourite music very loud. Waking up and not needing to patch together last night’s mistakes beneath the weighty dread of a hangover.

I truly believe that you cannot exist as you deserve to, fully and with real love in your heart, when you are drinking too much, too often. I think when you’re addicted to a substance it occupies too much of your soul, it blocks all the important emotions. It prevents you from seeing and connecting.

You need to love yourself before you can live a full life, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who loves themselves when in the throes of alcohol dependency.

It isn’t always easy, being completely free from mind-altering devices, whatever form they may take. There are days when your inner voice is screaming for a brief respite. But there are other coping strategies, there are other means of achieving that escape – and when you quit drinking, you enable yourself to discover them.

Soberistas Futures – The New Charity

Soberistas has just launched its charity sister organisation, Soberistas Futures. The charity will be a busy little bee, with its main aims sitting in the realm of research and education in relation to alcohol misuse as well as the provision of other practical sources of support to help people struggling with alcohol dependency problems.

Although I’ve been running Soberistas for the last four years, I am a complete novice in the world of charities so this marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for me.

butterfly-silhouette

Our first project will be in research and we are hoping to fund some important studies over the years that will lead to a greater understanding of why some people end up with alcohol problems and what will help them move on and become alcohol-free. These research studies will be carried out in partnership with certain UK universities. We will also be working on the provision of workshops and educational programmes, which we hope will raise awareness of alcohol-related harms and the benefits of alcohol-free living amongst different groups in society.

Soberistas Futures will, eventually, also be aiming to provide funding for individuals who need help financially to access the Soberistas website and/or other one-to-one sources of help for their alcohol dependency.

I want Soberistas Futures to reflect the ethos of Soberistas.com – that developing issues with booze is nothing to be ashamed of, it can happen to anyone, and if we all got our heads out of the sand and stopped attaching such stigma to the problem, we’d be able to make the world a better place much more quickly.

It’s a challenge, to build up a charity and make it a concept that people believe in enough to want to help fund, but I’m ready to take it on.

As time goes on, Soberistas Ltd. will be contributing increasing amounts to Soberistas Futures, although right now, as we emerge from the starting blocks and try and get ourselves established, we are looking for donations – small or not so small – from people who want to see a difference in the society we’re all a part of.

I’ll be running the Sheffield half-marathon next April and will be raising money for the Soberistas Futures charity in doing so, but if you would like to help me get the ball rolling before then by becoming one of our very first donors, please email me on lucy@soberistas.com and I will let you know the details for making a contribution.

You can follow the charity on @SoberFuturesCIO.

 

Thank you! Lucy x

An Extract From ‘The A-Z Of Binning The Booze’ (my new book)

woman-at-beach-thinking

 

If you like the sound of this book, you can buy it from Amazon here…

H – Hobbies and Holidays

Urrghh, hobbies. What a boring word. What a boring thing to do. Hobbies are for dullards with nothing better to do with their time.

Wrong!

Very occasionally I am beset with terribly gloomy thoughts relating to the reality of life and death – that we are all going to die; that in millions of years there will be nothing left of any of us except perhaps some space dust. When these morbid ideas pop into my head, I find it unnervingly simple to reduce everything in the world to a state of pointlessness. I mean, when the Earth is no longer a planet and the stars have all burnt out, there will be no significance whatsoever attached to anything we’ve ever achieved or enjoyed in our lifetimes, will there?

Obviously we can’t live our lives with the constant thought that we are, one day, going to pop our clogs because we’d never bother doing anything, caring for anything or anyone, or even getting out of bed in the morning. Albert Einstein once said, ‘There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle’, and this is what I tell myself whenever the aforementioned gloominess sets in. As children we are predisposed to perceiving everything as wondrous, and then adulthood creeps in and it all, sadly, turns a little sour. Or at least, it does if we allow it to.

And for those of us who position alcohol on a pedestal, who prioritise drinking over most other activities, hobbies can seem more than a little bit meaningless – distractions to while away the hours as we await the onset of old age. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol, on the other hand, is a worthwhile exercise and a good use of our time. After all, we are socialising, relaxing and letting our hair down – or so we like to think.

The problem with boozing as a pastime, however, is that it can, for people who are unable to moderate their intake terribly well, lead to a number of seriously negative consequences that impact on multiple areas of their lives. It doesn’t end with a night involving a few drinks; often it creates problems within our relationships, reduces our self- confidence and self-esteem, costs a lot of money from which we see little, if any, return, and acutely damages our health.

Regular drinking also occupies vast amounts of our time. From the planning to the imbibing to the recovery the following day, a heavy consumption of alcohol tends to dominate our lives. It leaves no spare hours whatsoever for pursuing any other activities – and besides, anything that doesn’t involve booze is surely a complete waste of time and something to be avoided like the plague, isn’t it?

Here then are the two most substantial reasons that I had no interest in hobbies for my entire adult life until I stopped drinking: firstly, if it didn’t involve booze then I didn’t want to be doing it, and secondly, hobbies are a stupid waste of time and something that only dull people do.

But then I became a non-drinker, and none of the above applied any longer. Hobbies, I quickly realised, are not just distractions but an excellent means of achieving numerous other goals. For a start, many pastimes (booze-free of course) will necessarily involve interacting with other people. If you sign up to a writing class or join a gym, partake in a regular film or book club or learn how to rock climb, you will be meeting new faces, some of whom may well become friends. These people will probably not hold alcohol in quite as high regard as you have always done, hence their interest in your chosen activity (or maybe they will be exactly like you, looking for alcohol-free ways to spend their time because they too want to be sober on a permanent basis). All of this will aid your booze-free endeavours enormously, as well as providing a welcome distraction from drinking in the early days when the cravings are still hitting in frequent tidal waves.

In addition to making interesting new friends who don’t consider booze to be the be-all and end-all (which in itself will help boost your confidence), taking part in a hobby will help increase your self- belief. This is because you will be trying something different and gradually proving to yourself you’re capable of things that you previously thought you couldn’t manage. There is an immense rush of satisfaction to be found in reaching targets – being able to converse comfortably in a foreign language or running for several miles after being unfit for years, for example, are achievements that will spur you on and help create a feeling of inner strength and invincibility. They will reignite the exciting sense of potential (most likely buried after years of drinking excessively) that we all possess in our youth – the dreams we once regarded as entirely within our grasp, but which, as we mature into adults, somehow wither away to nothing.

Partaking in a hobby works wonders for the soul. Just because the thought of crocheting or collecting stamps might send you into a deep slumber, you shouldn’t assume that all pastimes will be of no interest to you. There is something for everyone; it’s just a matter of discovering what that may be for you.

I am passionate about writing and exercising, spending time with my children and our dog. I love animals and bird watching, and I derive great pleasure from being out in the countryside. I also, once I became alcohol-free, began baking again – something I adored as a child but which, once the booze bus came along, got sidelined along with so many other activities I had once enjoyed. And while admittedly I did engage in most of these interests when I was a drinker, it was with limited enthusiasm and vigour, largely because they simply got in the way of my passion for wine. Even the cinema was as an inconvenience as it equated to a night out without alcohol – or, at the very best, only a couple of drinks squeezed in either side of the film which was, quite frankly, deeply frustrating.

The pastimes I enjoy now as a non-drinker are ones to which I apply myself fully. If I’m out walking in the hills, it is this and only this that demands my attention. I’m not thinking of pints of beer in a country pub, or contemplating how much drinking time I’ll have left when I arrive home as a result of wasting hours marching about unnecessarily in the countryside. When I’m baking with my younger daughter, it isn’t with one eye on the clock, wishing the hours away in order to reach her bedtime and my wine o’clock. And if I am writing, I am doing so with pure concentration as opposed to harbouring feelings of resentment, because really all I want to do is switch off my laptop and get stuck into a bottle

If there’s one thing all heavy drinkers have in common it is that they occupy a miniscule world. Alcohol consumption (when it’s regular and intense) shrinks our existence, creating a daily schedule based on nothing more than getting pissed and subsequently recovering. Meeting new friends is, quite honestly, exhausting – unless they too are only interested in getting sloshed, and then it’s irrelevant whom we are talking to because all parties present are inebriated. Anything that doesn’t involve drinking is abandoned for obvious reasons, and activities that demand concentration and commitment are a total waste of time as who can deliver such attributes when half cut?

But hobbies, when one is alcohol-free, broaden horizons – they help to expand an individual’s world. Doing nothing is tolerable when you are drinking to cushion the tedium of it; take the alcohol away and being bored is quite awful. This tends to force the non-drinker out of his or her comfort zone and into new activities, enjoyed alongside different people and in previously uncharted territory. There is nowhere to hide when you are stone cold sober – it becomes essential to fill empty evenings and weekends with something constructive. And although it might feel as scary as hell, doing it should provoke the desire to keep doing it, to push on further in order to find out exactly what you are capable of.

And so to holidays, which are to the average heavy boozer a perfect excuse for an extended piss- up. Most people who are alcohol-dependent will only usually stall a drinking session due to various unavoidable obstacles and restrictions: work, children and the desire not to be perceived as a hopeless drunk. Remove these standard daily interruptions to one’s alcohol consumption, and what are you left with? That’s correct: a holiday.

People are allowed to drink a lot on holiday – that is to say, boozy behaviour from those jetting off to sunnier climes is considered socially acceptable. How many of us have witnessed fellow travellers downing pints of lager in the airport at some ungodly hour before the sun has even risen? When I drank alcohol, I would routinely consume two or three large glasses of wine during my time spent at the airport and on board the plane. This was, I reassured myself, purely down to my fear of flying and was therefore entirely justified. And once we arrive at our chosen destination, we frequently feel entitled to enjoy a few drinks to help us unwind and really make the holiday go with a bang. We are not required to be up early in the mornings, everyone is generally more relaxed, and thus alcohol seems to suit the mood perfectly.

The issue here (once again) for those of us devoid of the off-switch is that we do not drink like other people do. Beginning with a higher level of acceptable than your average moderate drinker, our holiday drinking can quickly escalate to monumental proportions. If a bottle of wine a night is standard when at home, the vacation equivalent is likely to exceed three bottles. And this is not an ingredient for a happy holiday for anyone present.

What, then, is the newly teetotal person to expect when travelling for the first time minus a steady flow of booze to fill up all the unwanted cracks in their happiness? Because let’s face it, if you have always consumed alcohol as an adult then all your holidays will have been booze-fuelled weeks of mayhem. And if you’re anything like me as a drinker, alcohol was the whole point of a holiday.

I believe there are some hard and fast rules to help the people for whom this book was written (i.e. those who are incapable of moderating their consumption and are learning how to live without booze) enjoy alcohol-free holidays. You probably will not be able to incorporate all of the following into your next holiday, or even the one after that. Like much of life after drinking, adjustments will take time, effort and planning. But if you work towards these aims, you’ll get there eventually and so will be able to look forward to feeling content and rejuvenated during and after your future holidays – which is far preferable to arriving home with the mother of all hangovers and nothing to show for your fortnight away except an extra spare tyre and bags the size of suitcases under your eyes.

 

AF Holiday Rule #1: choose a location that interests you. Frankly, when you drink a lot, you could be holidaying on a landfill site and you wouldn’t notice all that much (at least, not after you’d sunk the first couple of jugs of Sangria). However, things are wildly different when you are completely sober; in fact, the exact opposite is true. You’ll really notice your environment, and it will become, apart from the break from working and the company of whomever you are holidaying with, the most important element of your time away. Since I quit alcohol, I’ve picked locations that are historically, culturally or geographically interesting to me. I also look for places conducive to fitness activities such as cycling, hiking, surfing or skiing as I love all of these things and engaging daily in any of them is my idea of heaven. My worst nightmare would be a noisy, bar-filled resort, rammed with people all seeking a mental escape. But whatever rocks your boat! Just make sure that wherever you go, you’re going to enjoy it for what it has to offer other than booze.

AF Holiday Rule #2: go on holiday with people you like. This may prove difficult for some as alcohol conceals all sorts of dissatisfactions – not least an unhappy relationship. When we are drinking heavily, it detracts from the true dynamic of a partnership; take the booze away and giant holes could be revealed, especially on holiday where the everyday busyness of life comes to a standstill. Aside from our partner, there are also friends to consider. As discussed earlier in the book, we usually choose similarly heavy drinkers in our social circles when we ourselves drink – precisely the type of people we wouldn’t want to spend a week with sober. If you are planning on being a non-drinker on a permanent basis, it may be necessary to cut loose some friends and even your partner, should the incompatibilities become unmanageable without the veil of alcohol disguising them. Holidays should be fun and relaxing, and they will be if you are with the right person or people. A week away in close quarters with someone you can barely stand to be in the same room with will amount to a hellish experience.

 

AF Holiday Rule #3: avoid places with memories of drinking copious amounts. As a teenager I visited Faliraki and Kavos, both in Greece and both with the infamous 18–30 Holiday company. Booze cruises, bar crawling, scooting about on the back of boys’ mopeds while wearing a tiny bikini and being fairly hammered–I partook in all of the average English person’s Mediterranean holiday clichés. As the years progressed I visited many cities, mountains, beaches and picturesque villages, and in most of them I carved out some reasonably distressing alcohol-related memories. I would advise avoiding like the plague any holiday location that will remind you of drinking until you have at least a couple of AF years under your belt. Triggers will be firing off at an alarming rate if you descend on a place where, in days gone by, you would have been getting quietly sloshed in a little bar somewhere, or necking pina coladas on the beach beneath a particularly pleasing palm tree. The sun, the omission of restrictions (work being the main one), together with the strong impulse to let your hair down because you are on holiday could all prove too much to withstand. Go easy on yourself and pick a new destination with no drinking memories – good or bad.

AF Holiday Rule #4: find time to meditate. You’ll have more free hours on holiday than you do at home so there’s no excuse for not doing this. Devote a few minutes every morning to meditating, repeating a mantra pertaining to using your holiday to relax and recharge your batteries, and you’ll really help yourself stay focused on this goal. Meditation aids mindfulness and encourages a sense of calm – remind yourself each day that relaxation is the reason why you are on holiday and you’ll be prioritising it clearly in your mind, which, in turn, will assist you throughout the day to achieve this aim.

AF Holiday Rule #5: be a bit selfish. You work your bum off all year, traipsing round after other people, picking things up and washing their clothes, restocking the fridge and cleaning the loo. Then you go on holiday and, if you aren’t careful, you end up doing exactly the same thing there. This endless domestic slog results (unsurprisingly) in major feelings of resentment and bitterness. And both of these emotions are especially helpful in pushing you towards the wine section of the local supermarket. My advice would be to pre-empt this and outline expectations pre-holiday with your nearest and dearest. Explain that this is your holiday too and you deserve and need a rest, just like your travel companions. Work out how best to achieve a holiday from which everyone benefits and, if necessary, pencil in a few hours here and there just for you where you do the things you love doing, free from the responsibilities of the kids or whoever else you’re going away with.

 

Hobbies and holidays are equally brilliant for injecting passion and excitement back into your life once the alcohol has been shelved. Work at embracing them. If you run from them, too frightened to try your hand at anything new, you’ll be missing out on vast amounts of enjoyment and satisfaction. Both hobbies and holidays will boost your personal growth, helping to build confidence and self-esteem, and could lead you to new adventures that you never imagined in your wildest dreams. The key to having a good time without booze is to live in the moment, and we will look at this in more detail in the chapter on mindfulness later in the book.

Summer, Soberistas and An Update

In my last post, many months ago, I bowed out of writing my regular entries to this blog other than to update you on the progress of the new Soberistas website. Well, here goes; an update!

We said July, and then it was August. Now it’s September. But finally, it seems as though we are nearly there, on the brink of launching the new Soberistas site. There’s now a designated Forum discussion page on Soberistas.com for anyone with questions about the new site – just click here to take a look. And, on the issue of the long-awaited new site, thank you so much for your patience!

A few months ago, after many a night sitting with my laptop at the dining table, I completed my latest book, The A-Z Of Binning The Booze, a comprehensive guide for helping people to achieve alcohol-free living. After what seems like an eternity (again!), the book will soon be available in eBook format, published on September 10th 2016, and then as a paperback in January 2017 in the bookshops. Alastair Campbell very kindly took a look at my book, and had this to say about it: “This book will help anyone trying to choose sobriety over a life of alcohol dependency. Personal, passionate, convincing.” Thank you Alastair.

Summer is nearly over, and with its imminent departure comes the promise of a return to a more structured existence. The free and easy months between June and August can be a challenge to those of us who don’t drink, not least because of the ubiquitous Prosecco references in virtually every bar, restaurant and shop I’ve walked into recently. I used to find hot weather unbearable when I first quit drinking five and a half years ago; it was so tied up with beer gardens and barbecues and holidays that I always felt as though I was missing out on all the fun.

But as the sober years have passed by, so the desire to drink when the sun appears has diminished, although I’m still aware of how ‘in-your-face’ alcohol is during the summer.

IMG_1825

Last week, I took a short trip to Naples and was struck by how very different the Italian people’s relationship with alcohol is to that of people in the UK.

Every night, we sat and watched a procession of families – young, old, multi-generational – take to the promenade and stroll along, engaged in conversation, looking happy and relaxed, and not a beer bottle or glass of fizz in sight. In the warm, evening air, teenagers joked with their friends and flirted mildly with the opposite sex, couples kissed and gazed into one another’s eyes as they leant against the ancient, stone wall that separates the promenade from the Bay of Naples, and young parents proudly pushed their babies along in pushchairs. Where is the equivalent of this in Britain? A place where people can relax and enjoy the company of their loved ones’ without feeling the need to numb their minds with alcohol? Being there restored my faith in humanity, and I came home with an even greater conviction that we do not need alcohol to have fun, or relax, or for anything else.

As human beings, in our natural states, we are lovely. We are able to communicate properly with one another, to experience emotions fully, to be dignified and proud, and to look serene and healthy. Something went badly wrong with the British culture in terms of the relationship people have with alcohol, but in Naples, I saw a different kind of socialising, a very real and beautiful display of all that we can be as human beings.

I hope you have had a good, restful and alcohol-free summer. Vive la sober revolution!

Lucy xx

Soberistas – New Website Coming Very Soon!

In a couple of weeks’ time, Soberistas.com will be re-launching with a completely new website. I can’t begin to explain to you how happy I am about this, as it’s what we’ve been working towards for a very long time and it’s finally about to happen! The Soberistas website as it stands was set up on a shoestring budget, and any of you who use it regularly will know what I’m referring to when I mention the word ‘glitches’! Despite this, we are thrilled that the community has grown to over 35,000 in the three and a half years of its life, and are bursting with excitement at the prospect of showing all our wonderful members the Big Reveal in the summer.

I began writing this blog in August 2012, just a couple of months before Soberistas was initially launched in the November of that year. With only a handful of followers back then, the number has grown to well over 6000 and I can honestly say that I’ve loved writing it and have so enjoyed communicating with all the amazing, inspiring people located all over the world who have regularly taken the time to comment on my posts.

Next month, the content of this WordPress blog will migrate across to the new Soberistas website where it will remain for anyone to view. This Soberistas WordPress site will no longer exist. I’ll still be adding new blog posts on Soberistas.com although these won’t be under the banner of my own journey in becoming alcohol-free and happy. I’ve reached the end of that epic expedition and think I’ve now told you everything there is to tell about it!

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little quieter than usual of late in terms of my WordPress ramblings. This is because I’ve been writing my new book, The A-Z of Binning the Booze, due to be published on September 10th 2016. This book is a manual, as the title would suggest, to successfully acquiring and then leading an alcohol-free life. I’ve been working on it for many months and I can’t wait to hear what you think of it when it comes out in the autumn. The book will be available on pre-sale on Amazon very soon.

In the meantime and before it finishes for good around mid-September, I will be using this WordPress blog to keep you up-to-date with news of the impending website, so if you are a member of Soberistas, I hope you’ll find this information helpful in the lead up to the launch. As usual, if you have any questions about the new website or about my latest book, please email me on lucy@soberistas.com and I’ll get back to you within a day or two. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below.

IMG_5965

So finally, a massive thank you to all you wonderful people who have supported and followed me, who have offered such lovely words of encouragement and understanding, and who have been instrumental in creating the amazing Soberistas community right from the off. A great big hats off to you all – vive la sober revolution!

Lucy Rocca xx

What did I think I’d get from being sober?

When I drank:

During the years when booze was a constant in my life, I very rarely considered not consuming it. Yes, it was always at the root of all the disasters that kept on springing up, hitting me repeatedly, trying to drive the message home – “Coming back for more…? OK, here’s another drunken, messed up relationship with someone who does nothing for you; here’s an entire weekend spent lying in bed crying, not daring to face the world; take this massive blast of shame, can you believe you REALLY did that??” And yes, I was fully aware of all the health harms I was subjecting myself to, but really, I didn’t care all that much. I wasn’t in a place where I held myself in especially high esteem and so it was easy to keep on knocking back the wine. Plus, in the name of denial, I think I had a fairly strong hold on the notion that I was somehow not like everyone else, that my liver would be able to withstand the regular battering, and maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to outrun the immense self-abuse and live well into my eighties.

lucy Is Wedding (2)

When I first quit:

I stopped drinking because I was scared to death that if I picked up one more glass of the stuff, it could kill me. I wasn’t being melodramatic – as soon as I had managed to gain some clarity on the situation I found it utterly remarkable that I hadn’t lost my life in and amongst all of my boozing adventures. The nights I had walked home in the early hours – staggered would be more apt – in ill-boding areas of town and as vulnerable as they come, like a baby bird fallen from the nest; the many, many dramatic falls down staircases and steep driveways, on the ice and in the middle of roads; countless nights in seedy pubs with seedy people who were capable of dangerous things.

So when I first quit, it was with the hope that in doing so I would save my life. I didn’t expect a lot else, other than gritting my teeth, gazing lustfully towards drinkers who appeared so happy and carefree with their alcoholic beverages to hand, and I suppose a feeling of ‘doing the right thing’ – like I was being a good girl now that I was all grown-up and dealing with my little problem.

Beneath all of that, however, I was dreading this new life I’d committed myself to. It stretched out before me like an endless parched landscape of drabness. I expected at that point to be left wanting for the rest of my days.

Now, five years on:

I’m really quite shocked at all of the goodness that’s emerged from the single act of stopping drinking. I never imagined any of it, couldn’t have seen it coming. I frequently sit back to take stock and ask myself, “Really? Is this my life? When did it change so massively?” It’s as though aliens whipped me away one night, did a major overhaul with what I was and then dumped me back down, all new and fixed.

FullSizeRender

The things that have happened are direct consequences of me no longer drinking – mostly they’ve arisen because I got my confidence and self-esteem back, which led me to making better choices. I found the nerve to say no sometimes, without being terrified that the person I was saying it to would hate me for it. I challenged myself with new experiences, things that resulted in me meeting new people and making friends, because instead of only ever wanting to drink, and drink and drink, I needed – and chose – to seek out more from life. I found the courage required to take risks, but calculated ones that didn’t wind up in disaster as they always had in the past. I began to believe that people might actually like me, and so I stopped being so defensive and paranoid, and I opened up to the world in return. I got to know who I am deep down and what I need in order to be happy, and then I had the self-belief to go out and get it.

I never foresaw any of this when I decided to stop drinking, because all I thought I was doing in making that choice was reducing the risk of dying before my time. It was a knee-jerk reaction, born entirely out of fear and one that I felt was going to be a hardship and something that would drag me down and make me miserable forever.

How wrong I was, how unbelievably naïve – and how grateful I am that I did it anyway.

Making Connections – Sober

One of the reasons why alcohol can appeal to us is because it’s a social lubricant. It has the power to transform a shy, awkward wallflower into a wild, life-and-soul-of-the-party type – although for lots of people it unfortunately then has a habit of pushing things too far in that direction, drawing them into doing things they later regret. I used alcohol for social confidence, and over the years it became that I required more and more of it to get the same, initial hit. And when I consumed increasing amounts, I acted in an increasingly out-of-character manner of which I was deeply embarrassed and often ashamed the next morning.

But, a sense of connection is what so many of us are craving when we reach for a glass of something alcoholic at a social event, and it’s this crutch that can be so difficult to let go of when we decide we really would like to become alcohol-free. Is it possible then to achieve this connection when we are teetotal?

My answer to this question would be yes. Yes, you can obtain a sense of belonging, a feeling of unity with others, when you are stone cold sober – and the trick to doing so lies in self-confidence, patience and a solid belief in the knowledge that if you can’t control your alcohol consumption, people will far prefer you as you are naturally to when you are completely out of your mind.

shutterstock_316810985

It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that alcohol makes us wittier, sexier, more attractive and interesting, but in reality this is a fallacy created in our own drunken minds. To the sober onlooker, people who are inebriated are quite boring, and they look a bit of a mess. These days, I enjoy far more the company of those who don’t drink to excess, and if I am forced to spend time with people who are heavily under the influence then I’m desperate to escape their company as soon as possible! The truth is that people who are not drunk are way more interesting, sensitive and funnier – although you do need to ensure that you’re spending time with people who you actually like (it’s fairly common when you quit the booze to realise that many of those you’ve always socialised with as a drinker are, in reality people whom you don’t care for all that much at all when sober).

With time, patience and no more drinking, a person’s self-confidence can be restored remarkably quickly following sustained and heavy alcohol misuse. And with that confidence, and a more positive reaction from friends and family, it is soon the case that one enters into a virtuous circle: a good response to the non-drinking version of you reinforces your suspicion that you’re better off not drinking, and the longer you continue to be alcohol-free, the more of a positive response you receive from the people in your life.

What it boils down to is this: connectedness is all very well and good, but if YOU are the sort of person who becomes drunk each and every time you consume alcohol, you are not connecting with anyone; rather you are distancing yourself more and more from the people you love and who love you. If you are someone without a reliable off-switch (like me) then it is absolutely true that you will be loved far more and by many more people as an alcohol-free person. Try it and see for yourself.