Seeing Things From A Different Perspective

The streets are enveloped in a familiar cold, blue dawn. You’ve been here before: you belong here. Like a fox you’re welded to the periphery of human life, prowling, alone and set apart. You make your way towards home with your head hung low and the certain knowledge that you are bad. You are unworthy. You are different. Flawed. It’s a shameful secret, this drinking; this urge to seek mental obliteration. The faint hum of a milk float grows louder and the vehicle comes into view, a distinct reminder that, once again, you’ve opted out of regular living. What is this life that includes milk being dropped at the front door, and waking up feeling emboldened and a part of society? How come that life never materialised for you?

You opted out. You became this.

Twinges of shame are intertwined with defiance. You tell yourself that you like this way of being; who wants to be humdrum anyway? Who wants to wake up and march confidently into such a predictable existence, where milk bottles wait on the doorstep and strangers smile and chat amiably at the bus stop? That element of you that defies what is expected and challenges convention, that is your soul and it makes you who you are. You chose this way, you made it happen. This rotten, rebellious, outcast you, the one who can’t stop when she starts, the one who stays up all night drinking shot after shot of whatever’s on offer in a constant effort to satisfy the desire to numb: this is you. The one who so frequently disappoints because she refuses to tow the party line: this is you. The one who woke up lying next to a stranger: this is you.

Your chin stands proud, stubbornly guarding the truth, but your eyes reveal it – the self-loathing, the shame, the regret. It’s in your gait too, with your feet that aren’t lifted high enough from the pavement in each of your steps, and your defensive arms crossed over your chest. This walk of yours, it screams to anyone passing by that you are not approachable, you are not one of them. This walk says it all.

You imagine that things will never change, that everyday will be a day on the edge. How could things be different when the real problem lies in the very fabric of your soul? You were made this way. You belong here, in this cold, blue dawn. It’s who you are.

This was me. For many years, this was me. I never thought I’d change, I never imagined I could be happy and fulfilled. I couldn’t envisage finding a place in the world that was just for me, somewhere that felt like home and which didn’t include mind-altering substances. But I did. I found it when I stopped drinking. And that rotten core, that stench of awfulness resting at the centre of all that I was, gradually dissipated. It deserted me. It left behind a person who is not bad, and who doesn’t disappoint, and who is able to smile and chat amiably with strangers at bus stops.

I dropped the defiant posture with the folded arms that warned against approaching. I found a purpose. I began to like myself. I started to get milk delivered to my door.

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Seeing things from a different perspective

Staring Down Memory Lane

I was loading my car boot up with shopping outside Tesco today when I heard someone call my name. When I looked up, I saw the friend of an ex-boyfriend, the ex being in my life at the very height of my heavy drinking escapades. The friend is lovely. In fact, so much so that I had a bit of a ‘thing’ for him when I was with my ex. Nothing ever came of it, but I always had a soft spot for him. In the car park, we kissed (on the cheek) and chatted about our respective children who both go to the same nursery, and about what each of us was up to in our lives, and about how manic things were this week, what with nursery being closed at the moment for an annual holiday.

And then we went off in opposite directions.

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Years ago, when I was going out with the aforementioned ex, I was drinking at ridiculous levels. I was out of control, consumed by addiction and totally in denial. I met my ex in a pub one night, naturally, and I was drunk. Flirting with him, sending him suggestive glances across the bar, determined to make him notice me. Which he did, and we immediately became an item. In between the drinking, we had a few nice times – holidays here and there, walks in the Peak District. But always, like an ever-present storm brewing, there was the alcohol. And when I drank, all hell would break loose.

We went to a party one evening, and apart from the first couple of hours, the entire night is a blind spot in my memory: nothing, blank, a vacuum. I know that I abandoned my ex at the house at some point and disappeared with another man, returning in the early hours to find the party all over and my boyfriend sitting on the steps outside with his head in his hands and a weary expression on his face. Other than that, I have no clue as to what happened. I do know that my ex’s friend was there and I remember chatting to him in the kitchen early on. And because I know I fancied him a bit, I don’t like to dwell too much on what I said or how I acted. I’m sure it was loaded with connotation. At best.

The friend witnessed me on several other occasions during my relationship with that ex-boyfriend, extremely drunk, out of control, crying, flirting, and dangerous, unhappy, wild, reckless. I always thought he must hate me. I hated me. And I thought he was nice so I couldn’t imagine that he would have held me in very high regard. In the years that followed me splitting up with my ex, I broke out in a cold sweat whenever I saw him or any of his friends, knowing only too well that I had made a fool out of myself so frequently in front of them all.

So today, when I was talking to the ex’s friend in Tesco’s car park, I was struck by the normality of the situation. We were just two people catching up, both parents of young children, grabbing a bit of food shopping at the supermarket; in between chores, not hungover, not ashamed, not flirting – just normal human beings, being friendly.

When I left, I thought about that night at the party all those years ago and wondered if I’d acted inappropriately with him. What had I said? How had I looked at him? Did anything bad happen?

And I felt so happy and at peace with myself because I don’t do any of that anymore.

Busy Making Other Plans

John Lennon

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon, you were so right. We human beings have a tendency to spend almost an entire lifetime with one foot in the past and the other in the future, and in doing so, the present moment continually whizzes by so quickly that it’s barely registered. Like a speeded up video of a motorway, where the taillights are streaming: long, meandering streaks of red. We never see the present until it becomes a memory, part of our past to be dissected and reflected upon. Sometimes regretted, other times remembered fondly, a mental image wrapped in the soft glow of rose-tinted nostalgia.

My eldest daughter and I arrived home a short time ago and, in my usual breakneck style, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner from the cellar head and motored it around the kitchen and living room with the dog chasing me, barking and attacking the machine. My daughter screamed and laughed, jumping onto the settee with her legs pulled up out of the way. I laughed, it was funny, this hectic domestic scene that is just how we live. Mad dogs and frantic cleaning carried out in and amongst the mountain of other daily tasks I try my best to plough through.

My daughter will be leaving home in a few short years. At sixteen and a half, I am eminently aware of the fact that she will soon be flying the nest, and these times – the silly times, with the barking dog and the vacuum cleaner that nearly clips her painted toenails as she leaps out of its path – they won’t last forever. It’s these times that are our lives; these are the bits that matter.

In the old days, with a bottle of wine inside me, I would drift off into a fantasy world, not present, no longer in the here and now. The morning after I would be consumed with that bad head and dry mouth and dragging sense of lethargy, and I would barely speak. I was unable to fully notice my life, or my daughter’s. Sinking in the quicksand of alcohol and an insidious dependency on it, it didn’t occur to me that I never, ever spent a moment in my present: perpetually fearful, anxious or regretful, or longing, planning, lusting after that next glass.

The second that just flashed by was the only one that mattered. Now it’s this one, and this one, and this one. They dissipate like a puff of smoke, and you have to train yourself in order to grab them, fleeting and precious, unique. I could never do that when I drank, I didn’t even have any awareness that I should be doing that. But yes, John Lennon, you were so right – life is what happens while we are busy making other plans, or worrying about what we did last night, or when we might be able to open that bottle that is sitting patiently in the fridge. It’s passing us by all the time, like a relentless steam train, and it’s not going to stop for anyone.

Are You Having a Sexy Sober Summer?

We are almost halfway through August, and at Soberistas we’ve been receiving lots of photos of people enjoying a sober summer. In case you missed the details, Soberistas together with TV presenter, Carrie Armstrong, launched the Sexy Sober Summer campaign at the beginning of the month. We are simply asking that people contribute their photos and thoughts on having a positively alcohol-free summer, to create an online library of motivational imagery. (See the end of this post for more information).

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I haven’t drunk alcohol for four and a half years, and I no longer miss it at all. I love my booze-free summers because: I don’t want to hibernate so much, I get to play in the park with my toddler past 3pm, I can wear nice summer dresses, my legs don’t look like milk bottles anymore, I feel more motivated to do, well, everything! I can go running early in the morning or later at night and not have to do it in the dark, there are flowers, I’m not cold, I eat a much healthier diet, I can go to the beach and swim in the sea, I can go on evening strolls in the countryside followed by a ginger beer outside a pub with my lovely teenage daughter, I can drive with the windows down and my favourite music on, I can sit in the garden and read a book in the sun…But it wasn’t always like this for me.

Summer was a slog in my first year or two of not drinking. All I could think about was what I was (allegedly) missing out on, and I felt bereft without my white wine spritzers and cold beers. This time of year can be a struggle if you are newly sober, with everyone everywhere (or so it can appear) drinking in sunny beer gardens and drinking on holiday and drinking at barbecues and just drinking, drinking, drinking. But summer doesn’t have to just be about alcohol. It can be a wonderful time to get outdoors and enjoy nature, do some exercise or have fun on the beach. It can be a great opportunity for relaxing and enjoying the benefits of a break from work and normal routine. And the light nights make it easier and more tempting to get out and see friends.

So far, our Sexy Sober Summer campaign has yielded some amazing photos of Soberistas everywhere looking gorgeous and happy and NOT drinking alcohol. We would love to add even more to our collection, and anyone who sends in a picture or written post for the campaign will be entered into a competition to win a fabulous prize of Afternoon Tea and Spa Treatment courtesy of Virgin Experience Days. You can find out more about the campaign and where to send your photos here and the competition closes at midnight (BST) August 31st 2015.

Trust Your Gut Instinct And Know That You Matter

When you don’t value yourself, you are incapable of living a fulfilled life. Nothing devalued me more than constantly drinking alcohol. It made me want to hide from the world; prevented me from seeing myself on a par with other people. Everyone was better than me – prettier, cleverer, cooler, more clued up about life. I felt like a little girl and a big part of me was desperate to be scooped up and looked after. Alcohol became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for me – the more of it that I drank the more I reinforced the idea that I was worthless, and the more worthless I felt, the more I drank. It was an incredibly dark and difficult place from which to escape.

I picked up some really bad habits during the twenty years that I drank heavily. I genuinely believed that I didn’t deserve good things and so I always aimed fairly low in terms of attaining happiness. This was reflected across the whole spectrum of my life, from work, to relationships, to how easy I found it to waste vast chunks of time, drunk.

Since I quit drinking a few years ago, my self-esteem has been steadily restored and things are so much better than they were. Everything has improved – I can’t stress that enough, my life has just done a 360-degree turn and altered completely. But, occasionally I catch myself falling back into those unhealthy behaviours that so defined me as a drinker. I know that I still have a leaning towards not valuing myself highly enough. If someone isn’t treating me how they should, I can dream up a ton of excuses for their actions. I can easily lose my grip on the person I’ve become, and the old Lucy, the one who took all kinds of shit from people, creeps up on me, catching me unawares.

This happened recently. I had to recalibrate, take that leap of faith – again – and let go of something that was damaging to me, even though so much of me wanted to hang on to it. There was only me who could do this (although friends and family have been trying to convince me of the same for a while) and I’m so pleased that I have the self-belief nowadays to do it. I have a strong gut instinct about things now that I don’t drink, and I trust it. It’s a reliable sixth sense – yes, I get blown off course once in a while, but now I have the capacity to reroute, as opposed to sliding perilously all the way to the bottom of the metaphorical slope – as happened in the old days, every time.

Me now - finally capable of making good decisions - with my youngest daughter.

Me now – finally capable of making good decisions – with my youngest daughter.

Instinct is such a vital component of human existence. We know that other animals have it but we so often overlook our own ability to recognise what is good or bad for us. Alcohol really messed with my intuition and that was such a dangerous side effect of drinking. It meant that I was propelled into making wrong choices time and time again, permanently devoid of the clarity to see what I was doing to myself. I perceive instinct now as a brilliant gift – one that drinking robbed me of.

If you are considering the benefits of quitting booze, consider this: too much alcohol disrupts the natural order of who we are as human beings. That has a knock-on effect on all areas of life. The terrible decisions we make as a result damage us further. Alcohol then becomes more appealing to erase the associated pain. And on and on the wheel turns…remove the booze and the rest takes care of itself.

The luxury of sobriety

Soberistas:

Here are Carrie Armstrong’s thoughts on enjoying luxury in sobriety…As part of the Sexy Sober Summer Campaign that Carrie and I are running throughout August, this post highlights the enjoyment to be found in pampering ourselves once the booze has been removed. When you are no longer hurting yourself through alcohol misuse, you can really reap the benefits of treating yourself. Lucy x

Originally posted on How To Be a Sober Girl:

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I’ll need that money for drinking.

With alcohol abuse comes a shutting down of wider life experiences. Breaking it all down to the smallest piece possible. Just the basics. With a fixation on one thing comes a shoving to the side of all others. When the need and want and obsession take over, there is a switch of focus from living to surviving. Not many people need luxury items to survive.

No frills. Waste not want not.

Stopping drinking and keeping doing it requires making the world around us a bigger place. I’ve said that enough times, it’s just boring to bang on about it anymore. But what doesn’t get discussed very often is the need to stop living on just the basics. On settling for less. If you want long-term sobriety in a way that is meaningful and useful? It’s time to raise the bar a great deal higher than where…

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Self-Esteem: A Restoration Project

It ate away at my insides like a worm, burrowing around my soul, destroying my belief in myself. It made me afraid to leave the house. It prevented me from looking people in the eye when I spoke to them. It stamped on my ability to move my life forward, to better myself, to grow, to change. It caused pain when I looked in the mirror. It propelled me into making bad decisions and put me in situations that made me hate myself more. It made me ache inside and cry and cut myself. It made me starve myself and put my fingers down my throat. It made me poison myself with toxic substances that blotted out my emotions. It made me believe that everyone else was better than me. It held off pride for my achievements, handing over the credit to forces external to me. It made me bitter. It made me cry myself to sleep. It made me want to die.

I had no idea how to restore my broken self-esteem. I was so shattered, so lost that I didn’t even acknowledge my life was the way it was because of low self-esteem. I believed everything was down to free will, that I was choosing my mistakes. I thought that I was in control of my path of self-destruction, actively making it all go wrong.

But somewhere, beneath all the darkness, was the voice of who I once was as a child. That person never wanted to hurt herself. She had courage and self-belief. She had dreams and she was damn well going to get out there and grab them, turning them into reality. When I stopped drinking, that little person was allowed to breathe again, and she came to the fore. Over time, she stopped allowing other people to hurt her. Pride came back, as did dignity. She started looking in the mirror again and liking what was reflected back. She acquired the strength to allow only positive influences into her world. The dead wood was cleared out. A fresh breeze blasted through the cobwebs of her life and she stopped being afraid of all that she was.

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The metamorphosis from a young girl with gumption to a shell of a teenager, who hated herself so much that she often went days without food, is one that happened gradually, like dusk creeping up and casting shadows one by one. Just as joy had been standard as a child, so bleakness and an emotional black hole became the way things were as an adult.

Saying goodbye to alcohol meant turning my back on all that was wrong with my world. The poison that I subjected my body and mind to every day for twenty years held such a grip on me that I had failed to realise how it controlled my every move.

Self-esteem does not get lost forever. You can grab hold of its threads and, if you hang on tightly enough to weave them back together, you will find that everything you thought had disappeared will return, tenfold. Your perspective changes when you start to like yourself. And as it does, so will your life.