I Choose

When I stopped drinking alcohol I acknowledge that I spent a few weeks, if not months, in recovery. By this I mean that I invested a fair bit of energy in dealing with a newly discovered concept – emotions. Previously, I had poured vast amounts of Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay down my throat whenever I split up with a boyfriend, was not successful in a job interview/promotion, got rained on, received a large and unexpected bill, graduated, had a birthday, received some surprising and happy news, and so on…basically, I was not accustomed to listening to my feelings and subsequently I was not familiar with acting upon them in a positive and helpful way.

It wasn’t particularly pleasant at times, all that ‘getting to know myself’ stuff, and there were many occasions when I felt like throwing the towel in, marching up the road to my local and getting stuck into a nice bottle of their finest dry white and a packet of 20 Marlboro Lights. But I didn’t.

A little voice inside, quiet but impossible to ignore, told me that if I gave in now I would be undoing all of my good work and propelling myself back to square one, where I would have to begin the whole sorry business of ‘recovery’ once again. And so I persevered.

After several months I stopped experiencing any negative thoughts about living alcohol-free and instead, adopted a thoroughly different mind-set; one which made me see that I am, in fact, a chooser – and being someone who has the freedom to choose a lifestyle that is so positive and good for the soul is an empowering and wonderful thing. At that point, I ceased to regard myself as being ‘in recovery’ and realised that I was RECOVERED and could now get on with the business of living.

wine

I will always be a person who cannot simply have ‘one for the road’ or ‘a sneaky tea-time pint’ – for me alcohol was, and forever will be, an all-or-nothing substance. But I most certainly do not consider that this makes me an alcoholic forever, or in recovery forever – not at all. I made a choice to stop drinking, and I continue to practice that choice every day because I am A CHOOSER. This is what I choose;

I choose to wake up energised and with no regrets every morning.

I choose to be the best parent I can be without ever jeopardising my children’s safety or emotional security.

I choose to invest all my time and energy into worthwhile people, projects and activities.

I choose to maintain a good level of health and physical fitness, thus optimising my chances of not dying prematurely of cancer, liver failure or heart disease.

I choose to spend my money on things that I need and which add value to my life or to that of my family’s.

I choose to not poison my body with toxins that depress my central nervous system, making me anxious and prone to dark moods.

I choose to not spend hours of each week agonising over whether or not I can have a drink of alcohol or not.

I choose to get to know myself, free of any external and false influences – I give myself the chance to be me.

I choose not to ingest mind-altering substances that make me say or do things that I will regret and which will fill me with shame and self-hatred.

I choose to give myself the best possible chance at happiness.

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Drinking/Not Drinking

Why did you used to drink so much?

Because I thought it was a fast track route to forgetting stuff and relaxing.

Why didn’t you just stop when you’d had enough?

I couldn’t – when I drink, my brain doesn’t compute the fact that I should stop when I’ve had enough; instead, my desire to drink went into overdrive and it became all I cared about.

Are you an alcoholic?

I used to be addicted to a substance that alters my behaviour and mood, and which I craved on certain occasions because I misguidedly believed that it would help me get through a given situation. Since I stopped drinking, I never have those thoughts anymore as I am now fully aware of the fact that my body and mind operate at their optimum when they aren’t subjected to alcohol.

Is it difficult being teetotal?

I am more aware of the fact that we live in an alcohol-mad culture than I was when I drank. As a drinker you slot into the norm, but when you give it up you become part of the minority. That bothered me at first but now I feel very proud of being teetotal and I wouldn’t want to drink alcohol, even if I knew that I could drink it without all the negativity that occurred as a consequence back in my boozy days.

What are the benefits of not drinking?

I could say that the benefits are more energy, better sleep, easy weight management, brighter eyes, clear skin, even moods, no depression and no anxiety – they are all fantastic and valid benefits to be found from giving up the booze. But the really amazing thing is that I have discovered who I am; I didn’t need to go on a 6 month trek round India to find myself; I just had to put down the bottle. I love the world and my life, I care about my surroundings, and I’m passionate about things outside of my immediate goings-on. I have remembered how to engage properly with people and how to love others with my whole heart, instead of just the bit that isn’t thinking about alcohol.

Giving up alcohol has given me back my mind. That’s the best thing about it.

Out with the negative;in with the happy!

As a child I perpetually lived in the moment. I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood, one that was full of Enid Blyton-esque adventures in sunny fields with friends, roller-skating up and down the cul-de-sac that I grew up on, baking cakes and biscuits, reading and writing voraciously and never seemingly worrying about anything, past or present. I just was.

During the years that I spent drinking heavily (aged 15 – 35) my state of being was at a polar opposite of those younger halcyon years. Anxiety levels were astronomical, with worries over relationships, divorce settlements, my daughter’s wellbeing, how much I was drinking, paying the bills, whether I was causing my body untold harm through all those cigarettes and bottles of wine…my mind seemed to be set to a constant whirring mode, churning and cogitating and over-thinking all these troubles that in the end, were what they were; none of the excess pondering made the slightest indent on any of it. The outcomes were the same regardless.

Nowadays I experience ‘normal’ worries. A small amount of worrying does us good and if we existed in a blissful childhood state, skipping about without a care in the world, we would find our little lives running to a standstill fairly quickly. Normal worrying helps us keep a reign on our budget, encourage our children to work a little harder on their homework when they begin to spend too much time on Facebook, put a bit more effort into our relationships if we feel they are not as tight as they perhaps might be.

A huge difference that I have noticed in the last few weeks since I began to practice the art of meditation is that I seem to be able to better control those uncontrollable fits of anxiety, the ones that render you feeling sick and with palpitations; a bit like the way I felt yesterday morning on my way to the ITV studio to appear on Daybreak. I caught myself becoming overwhelmed with fear in the back of the car as we travelled past the London Eye looming out of the early dawn with its blue-lit cars suspended over the Thames, my stomach churning and my mind rattling along at a hundred miles an hour. Then I made a decision to not feel that way.

Hang on a minute! It’s my mind, I call the shots.

I took some deep breaths, focussed my mind and cleared my thoughts. I began to consider that this experience was something to be savoured – it’s not every day that you get to go on live TV and sit next to Dr. Hilary! I recalled how this would have been dealt with by me as a child – I would have seen the whole journey through eyes wild with excitement, from arriving in London late at night, staying in a nice hotel, being picked up by a car with tinted windows and taken to ITV’s studios…I would have loved every minute 30 years ago. Instead, I had been allowing my out-of-control worrying to ruin the whole event.

Practising meditation has allowed me to be much more aware of negative thinking patterns and has also taught me that I don’t have to accept them – I can decide whether I perceive something in a positive way or a negative way. Yesterday I chose to see things positively, and I found myself enjoying the whole experience; by simply altering the way I decide to process external situations, I have also made myself a little bit braver and next time (if there is a next time) I will approach things in a far more relaxed fashion, right from the off.

Only you can determine whether you tackle things positively or negatively – taking the former option makes life a million times easier and more enjoyable!

Focus On The Important Stuff Instead

Never underestimate the human ability to adjust to new situations – what you may imagine is impossible will one day become easy, if you open your mind.

 Find time every day to get your rock n roll kicks from listening to loud music; lose yourself in it.

My beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Do exercise a few times a week – it makes your weight easier to manage, kills stress and releases an endorphin rush so you’ll feel happier too.

Refuse to be influenced by your past failures or your imagined future limitations – the person you are today is the only one who can affect change in your life.

Learn from mistakes and then leave them where they belong – in your history. Getting it wrong enough should always lead to getting it right, so don’t beat yourself up for the things you did when you were younger and not so wise; use your experiences to foster growth instead.

 The people you love should be the recipients of your kindest, most generous self. When they’re gone, you will find it hard to shed deep regrets; try not to have any.

Drink plenty of water; it helps your body and mind work effectively. Avoid fizzy drinks – they are of no value.

Only you know when a habit has become destructive – that little voice in your head is there for a reason; listen to it before you have reason to regret not doing so. It’s there to protect you from yourself.

Eat when you are hungry; forget about food when you’re not. Over-thinking anything will only lead to negating good intentions.

Trivialities aren’t the makers or breakers of your happiness – whether you buy those new shoes or not won’t fundamentally alter your life. Focus on the important stuff instead.

Having a change of scene and breaking your routine does you a world of good.

Never hold your looks in too high regard – one day they will fade and you need to make sure you’ve got back up. You’ll be much better off if you put the effort into developing your character.

birthday-cake

Ironing, cooking, gardening and knitting are so much more than practical chores. Losing yourself in one of these tasks acts a little like meditation; it demands enough concentration to stop you sweating over the small stuff, but not so much that it feels like effort. Try immersing yourself in baking a cake next time your anxieties are getting the better of you.

joyful child

Be nice to someone you’ve never met before – you’ll feel better and their faith in humankind will get a major boost.

Make an effort to look nice, but avoid obsessing over your outward appearance. Vanity makes even the most beautiful person appear ugly.

Adopt a cat or dog from your local shelter – having a pet reduces stress, and you’ll be giving an animal who has felt the cold hand of hurt and abandonment the chance to feel at peace. Don’t buy one from a breeder when you could help so much more by taking a stray.

Find an art form that helps you escape from reality for a while; whether it’s a film, book, seeing a live band or visiting an art gallery, get your hits from someone else’s creativity; avoid searching for highs in mind-altering substances. The former will help you grow; the latter will stop you dead in your tracks.

Make the effort to empathise. You never know what life will fling at you next – good or bad, you will always want to share things with people who understand.

Remember how fleeting your time on Earth is; use your sense of mortality to put life’s minutiae into perspective, as well as to focus your mind on doing your best where it counts.

Always keep your ego in check – when things are on the up, remind yourself that you are just human; when you’re down, tell yourself you are unique and amazing.

Let go of hatred; it prevents you from being a free spirit.

Letting Go

The years I spent in between the end of my marriage and the start of my relationship with Mr Right (upstairs in bed) mostly took place in one district of Sheffield. In that area I lived in four different houses; two of them I owned, one I rented and the other was an ex-partners who I lived with briefly before we split up and went our separate ways.

This area is stuck on the outskirts of Sheffield which means that I never have cause to pass through it and only go there if a specific reason arises (i.e. picking my eldest daughter up from a friend’s house, which I did last Thursday).Bottle with cork

Anyway, I think I am reasonably happy at the moment; I’m in a good relationship – the best I’ve ever had – with someone I love very much, I have happily got on top of my booze dependency and I’ve got two gorgeous daughters who I love to bits. But as soon as I get close to this area of Sheffield where I lived through so much misery and heartache, I feel physically sick and can’t wait to get out of there.

The houses were thrown up quickly around the time of the Industrial Revolution and are small and grey, built in a grid structure for speed and best use of space. The end result is a rabbit warren-like web of houses, their small, dark forms creating an air of claustrophobia and gloom.

Driving along the other night I was overwhelmed with a feeling of oppression and sadness, with each turning I made bringing home a whole bunch of bad memories and regrets. It made me realise that I kind of ran away from that place, making the physical break but never really dealing with the mental fallout of who I was when I lived there. I recognised that somewhere deep in my conscience there lurks a truckload of baggage which I need to deal with if I am to reach my goal of being truly at peace with myself, and I can only do that if I practice forgiveness of self.

The AA’s 12 Step Programme includes the following steps;

  • Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I’m an atheist and not massively drawn to the AA as a strategy for conquering a dependency upon alcohol (not to say that I disagree with the AA, but I don’t feel that it’s a good fit for me), and therefore these God-related points are not something that I can really attempt to adhere to. BUT I can see the benefit of trying to come to terms with how we’ve behaved when under the influence – of moving forward with a sense of having resolved past grievances and healing old sorrows.

I find it very difficult to distance myself from the past when I am in that area of Sheffield, my home during the my darkest years, or for the days that follow when the memories are still lingering like the pungent and unpleasant smells left by rotting vegetables hiding undetected at the back of the fridge. I don’t need God or anyone else to humbly remove my shortcomings or to remove the defective aspects of my character – I’ve done that bit by myself, thank you very much (well, it’s a work in progress but I’m getting there). It’s the past that I cannot let go of but until I do, I know I will always be able to taste that unpleasant tang of restlessness – unease with a few concentrated drops of shame in the mix.

Here then lies a new challenge in my search for serenity and happiness in 2013 – to finally let go of those miserable years and to accept that everyone makes mistakes – the important thing is to learn from them and not repeat them (too often!). Learning to let go of past mistakes is an important part of self-growth – rather than it being an exercise in letting yourself off the hook, forgiveness of self is actually a positive way to learn to forgive others, and to create a more peaceful existence for your future self. Acknowledge your past errors, apologise to yourself and make a promise that you won’t walk that path again. And remember;

Forgiveness of self is impossible until you stop longing for a better past.

The kindest and most compassionate thing you can do for yourself and for others is to forgive yourself.

You are still mortal and therefore you are going to make mistakes.

My final and favourite quote on this topic;

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility of our future.”

George Bernard Shaw

Beware! Virtuous Weekend Ahead

I managed to find a brief window earlier which I utilised for meditation purposes. It wasn’t ideal – the washing machine was whirring in the background and the blinds were open, thus causing me some anxiety that a delivery man/window cleaner/potential burglar might be staring in at me sitting on the kitchen floor crossed legged, eyes closed and looking, if I’m honest, a bit weird. I think I need to find an alternative time and space for this activity…

Things that are niggling me today are; a) my bitten nails and b) my apparent inability to lose the last 5 pounds that will bring me back down to my pre-pregnancy weight. Do these things even matter? Should they matter? Probably not, but I do keep hearing a voice in the far reaches of my head that reminds me of the ‘9 months on, 9 months off’ rule of thumb regarding pregnancy weight gain/loss. My baby was 9 months old 3 days ago.

I bit my nails my whole life until I broke up from my ex-husband; during that awful time, I suddenly grew some nails, lost 2 stone (a bit too much really, but depression and divorce are extremely effective dieting tools), drank like a fish and started eating meat again after 18 years of vegetarianism. That was 10 years ago, and I’m thinking that life moves in cycles because I have now decided to become vegetarian once again (it’s been buzzing in my mind for a while but my recent interest in Buddhism and the horse meat found in burgers and lasagne scandal have pushed me firmly back into the land of Linda McCartney sausages, tofu and Quorn fillets), bitten my nails to the quick and am the heaviest I have ever been when not pregnant.

Despite my belief that true happiness stems from the inside, I know I feel better when I am slimmer; I feel more energetic, my clothes look better and I don’t agonise over trying not to eat cakes, then being consumed with guilt when I ultimately cave in to temptation. Likewise, my nails make me feel happier when they aren’t chomped down to a couple of millimetres in length, the cuticles are tidy rather than being scraggy and torn, and I haven’t got my fingers clamped between my teeth for most of the day like some demented nervous nelly.

So, I have just ordered some stuff from Amazon that is supposed to strengthen weak nails and encourage their growth, and I am embarking on a more structured attempt to lose those last few pounds. If I am miserable as sin then these external factors won’t make a jot of difference to my emotional wellbeing, I know that; but if I am happy as well, then having nice nails and being slimmer can only serve as the icing on the cake, surely…

How to go about the weight loss then? I need to step up my running – the cold weather and snow have knocked my running regime off a little in recent weeks and I seem to have lost my determination and motivation a little. BUT I have a 10K race coming up in a couple of weeks and I really need to increase my mileage. I’ve placed an embargo on cakes, biscuits, white bread and basically anything rubbish and fattening for the foreseeable future, and I am kick-starting my weight loss effort by eating mostly fruit and veg over the coming weekend. I also need to drink a LOT more water (again, this is down to the cold; in the summer I drink gallons of the stuff but in winter I crave tea and coffee. My plan to combat this is to drink hot water with a slice of lemon in it).

glass of water

This weekend, then, is suddenly looking very virtuous – no cakes, lots of exercise, and meals consisting mainly of fruit and vegetables. Also, a spot of meditation that doesn’t take place on the kitchen floor with the washing machine providing the background noise, no mobile phone or laptop in the bedroom at night, plenty of reading instead and no nail biting.

Let’s see if any of that makes a difference to how I look and feel…

Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.

I yearn for complete inner calm. I want to be one of those people who drift along with a look of serenity, a palpable sense of sanctum about my being, an enviable ability to cope in even the most stressful of situations. Despite becoming more level-headed since ditching alcohol and with less of a tendency towards depressive or anxious episodes, I know there’s still room for a deeper level of tranquillity.

I felt strangely at home as I entered the Kadampa Buddhist Centre for my very first meditation class last Monday evening, despite never being inside such a place before. After removing my shoes and coat I took my seat in the meditation room alongside about 30 others, and placed my feet on a cushion on the floor. It felt very normal to be sitting there in front of the Buddhist Altar complete with numerous gold Buddhas and, bizarrely, a couple of large packets of tortilla chips (was Buddha a fan of crisps?).

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

We listened to our teacher’s friendly introduction to the session and then jumped straight into a spot of meditating – I was a little taken aback at the speed with which we were getting to the nitty gritty, but went with it regardless. I approached the idea of meditating with an open mind, and I believe that this is what enabled me to go pretty deep into a state of meditation almost immediately upon closing my eyes. This surprised me – past efforts at being hypnotised have failed miserably, largely owing to my somewhat cynical nature I think…meditating was different though and it all felt totally normal and right to be sitting amongst 30 strangers with my eyes closed, slowly drifting off into a state of mind rarely visited; serenity.

After half an hour, we were ‘brought back into the room’ and I was amazed that so long had passed – it felt closer to ten minutes. Our teacher then talked for a while about how, through meditation, it is possible to determine whether external events affect us in a positive or negative way, simply by becoming more in tune with our emotional energy. This is what I wanted to hear; I want that ability to shun the occasional burst of anxiety, the odd blue mood. I am deeply drawn to the idea that I call the shots with regards to my own emotions, and that I can develop an ability to see the positive in (almost) everything simply through practicing this amazing art of meditation, which in itself is a powerful thing.

I can’t remember feeling so relaxed…EVER. I was so chilled out that I was somewhat concerned about driving home, with visions of me swaying behind the wheel with an inane smile on my face as I ploughed straight through some red lights playing in my mind’s eye as I approached my car after the class. I was filled with a sense of positivity and love; I could not wait for the next class so that I could do it all over again.

Meditating, just once, has highlighted to me the extent that my lifestyle has come to represent the typically Western way of being; a life that is crammed full of activities, chores and work, and one in which any spare time that I have is largely filled with checking emails, texts or Twitter. I NEVER sit and JUST BE. No wonder I sometimes find it difficult to relax. Even when I go to bed I usually scroll through my tweets, or take a last look at my emails, when once upon a time I always read books.

Since the class I have made an effort to notice my emotions more, trying to pinpoint the stress points in order to better reverse the negativity. I have also become more aware of how I breathe, and have realised that I have a tendency to hold my breath when I become anxious, which in turn increases the anxiety only further. My aim now is to leave my phone downstairs when I go to bed, thus encouraging me to read and relax before trying to sleep, rather than scrolling endlessly through electronic messages of one type or another. I am also trying to find some time each day to practice meditating, although this is proving difficult with a 9 month old baby, a teenager and a dog to look after – I can see that it is possible but I need to attach a higher priority to it in order to fit it into each day.

And of course, I will be attending my meditation class next Monday.

2013 – Seeking Serenity, Wellbeing & Happiness

I’ve been writing about alcohol for quite a while now; about when I used to drink, why I stopped drinking, how it made me feel, the regrets and the shame, and the newly-discovered happiness and positivity that I have derived from sobriety.

Giving up alcohol has led me to thinking a lot about the meaning of my life, how to achieve and then maintain true happiness and how to feel the very best, and how to be the very best, that I can be. And so I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a year of effort and experiments, a living test to find the secrets of inner serenity, wellbeing and happiness – and I thought I would share my findings with you. A new day

Life isn’t about being dealt the best hand – it’s about doing the best you can do with the hand that you’ve been dealt. This year I want to discover all my cards, and work out how to play them to the best of my ability.

I’m focussing on the spiritual, physical, mental and social aspects of life because I believe that true happiness comes from within, not from without. I think the world we live in often places too high a price on the shallow and the irrelevant, failing to realise that what is just under our noses is often the source of the greatest joy; cooking and eating wholesome meals together as a family, creating something out of nothing, working towards and then reaching a personal goal, spending quality time with family and friends, learning how to be more mindful and appreciative of the small stuff, letting go of anxieties about the things we are helpless to change, being kind and helpful to people we don’t know, and to those we do, having adventures, seeking out new experiences, being community-spirited, and finding space in busy days to have ‘me time.’

From now on, I’ll use this space as a record of everything I do that counts towards reaching my goal of seeing all the cards I’ve been dealt, and how to play them as best I can. This journey of self-discovery that began when I woke up one day in April 2011 with THE worst hangover known to mankind will be twisting and turning for a while yet, I hope. Now that I’ve cracked the alcohol, I’m going to channel my efforts into being the best sober ME that I can be…and I’m starting with MEDITATION.

Read about my very first meditation class in my next blog…

A night to remember

Last week was the 2nd anniversary of when I met my lovely fiancé, a night which I wrote about in an earlier blog, https://soberistas.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/jane-eyre-aka-lucy-soberistas/.

I had actually met him several months previous to the night we finally got together, in the same pub. On both occasions I was rather the worse for wear but he, for some reason, was able to see right through my drunken demeanour to pinpoint the tiny promise of something unusual and precious – a soul mate. Don’t ask me how, because my lasting memory of the first meeting we had was of me marching up to him in the street in order to state, in a very loud and slurred voice, that “I REALLY LIKE YOUR SMITHS T-SHIRT.” The second time we met, I subtly revealed my attraction to him by fondling his thigh under the table as I sank large glasses of wine and smoked numerous Marlboro Lights, blowing the smoke up into the dark air between us.th

Not long after we met, I gave up drinking. This was down to a number of factors but largely because I had met the man who I wanted to have a happy time with, someone who I never wanted to hurt, and my soul mate, who I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with – minus the fog, recriminations, arguments and regrets that come with drinking too much, too often.

Because of our ages and our mutual desire to have a baby, we got on with things pretty damn quick. I happened upon some old emails of ours last week, and read a thread that detailed our desire to get married approximately 2 weeks into our relationship. He proposed a couple of months later and we discovered the happy news that our daughter was on the way just a couple of months after that.

So, 2 years down the line and here we are; engaged, living in our house that we bought together, and our nine month old baby is sleeping upstairs in her cot. We didn’t make much of a celebration of our anniversary last week due to heavy snow and a bad case of teething and associated nappy rash forcing us to cancel our planned night out, but you know what? It didn’t seem like such a big deal and here’s why…

Amongst the many errors of judgment that I made back in my drinking days, spotting my future fiancé in the middle of a pub car park and stumbling over to him to comment favourably on his T-shirt was not one of them; rather, it was one of my best moments. I think the T-shirt had a lot to do with it – in the same way that internet dating allows you to select potential partners by discovering their likes and dislikes prior to meeting in the flesh, so his wearing of a T-shirt emblazoned with one of my long-standing favourite bands of all time had the effect of revealing to me something of his character, i.e. that he has excellent taste in music, something which is of great importance to me.

So my impulsive, drunken behaviour, for once, did me a lot of good on the night of January 21st 2011. I found myself the most perfect man (for me) who has consistently made me happy, who is a fantastic dad to our baby and stepdad to my eldest daughter, who believes in everything that I do (without being a kiss ass; and the former without the latter is an all-important trait), who looks after us all with kindness, patience and understanding, and who is my best friend. I learnt how to be me and more importantly, how to like me, by being with him, and I learnt what it is to feel true contentment, because I never have to pretend to be something I’m not when he is around.

We missed a big night out for our anniversary but as my fiancé pointed out, it doesn’t matter so much when you remember how many we have in front of us. If you are reading this Sean, happy anniversary for last week– and thank you.

End of Dry January – Get the Beers In?

As today is the 1st of February, there will be a fair few people looking forward to a good old piss up following a month of abstinence for Dry January (or something similar).

As you will know if you have been following my blog, I am an ex-drinker of fairly epic proportions. For many years I would never have considered for a minute that I would give up alcohol, never mind start up a website to help others who are in need of some support in that area. But where do I stand now, after 22 months of sobriety? What does alcohol mean to me today? Drinking woman 2

When I gave up the booze, I unwittingly sparked off the beginnings of a virtuous circle. Fairly soon after pouring away my last bottles of Pinot, I also gave up smoking – and without much ado I have to say. Without a glass of wine in the other hand, I soon lost my enthusiasm for sitting outside pubs in all weathers puffing away on £7’s worth of fags, teeth chattering and fingers slowly turning blue. As a non-smoker and non-drinker, I then stepped up my exercise, signing up for a boot camp (losing many inches) and increasing my running.

I stopped being quite such a moody sod too, once the alcohol had rid itself from my now temple-like body, and my anxiety attacks disappeared overnight. I saw the good in everything and felt overwhelmed with an urge to do wholesome things like go fruit-picking at farms and baking cookies. I started to write about my new-found sobriety on this blog. My vision of the future gradually began to unfurl, hitting me with all manner of suggestions as to how I could shape it with all this clarity I was now experiencing.

In short, giving up alcohol made me love life and learn to like myself. I discovered through abstinence that there is so much more to the world we live in than sinking your soul into a bottle of wine each night, and muddling through the daylight hours with a sore head and a bad attitude.

There have been critics of Dry January who purport that those who take part are fooling themselves into believing they are helping their livers recover for a few weeks, before jumping back into old boozy habits as soon as the calendar has been turned to February, but I disagree. I think there are so many positive effects of abstinence, that even if the Dry January-ers go back to drinking after their month is up, I believe many of them will do so with a view to moderating, purely because they have proved to themselves how much better they look and feel as a result of laying off the sauce for a while. Some may even decide to give up for good.

Personally, 22 months of sobriety is nowhere near long enough for me – I’m in it for the long haul!