Holiday Diary

May 28 2013

We’ve been on holiday for three days making home out of a static caravan nestled in the low lying hills of Holywell Bay near Newquay, Cornwall. We are positioned in a spot which is devoid of any possibility to communicate with the outside world, our mobiles displaying absolutely no telephone reception or 3G connection signs. That’s ok – I’m taking it as a good thing, an opportunity to lessen my dependence on incoming and outgoing digital messaging of all kinds and to concentrate on real life for a few days.

Strangely enough I haven’t missed Twitter or Facebook or even text messaging in any way. The absolute removal of its availability has resulted in my resignation of living how we did last time I came to this caravan park eleven years ago when mobiles hadn’t yet taken over our lives, my eldest daughter was just three, I was married to her Dad, I was a heavy drinker and life was, in almost every way, completely different.

The caravan park is set at the foot of a long winding road away from passing traffic. Holywell Bay itself is a short walk across sand dunes and is a calm haven of old-fashioned seaside postcard imagery;  boogie boarders and surfers, toddlers and windshields, coffee and ice cream huts, Atlantic rollers and small pools, enormous hulks of rock jutting from the waves and miles and miles of deep blue-green ocean stretching back to the sky.

On our first day at the beach the sun is out and the wind cuts a fresh breeze casting a healthy-looking tan on our faces. The baby is in her element, on hands and knees and overwhelmed with the vast expanse of trillions of ‘bits’ as far as her eyes can see. She grabs handfuls of sand and small shrapnel of seashells and attempts to wolf them down, only to be intercepted by our hands pulling her fist away from her open mouth over and over again. We sit and watch the world go by and take photographs of the baby in her sunhat and flowery playsuit.

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There is simplicity in living in a caravan with no internet connection. I find myself contemplating situations and mulling over the factors of my life back home – my relationships and friendships, my weaknesses and strengths. I am spending hours doing nothing in particular; a drive to Fistral Beach, sitting next to the baby in her pram, watching as she gazes curiously at the seagulls whirling in the sky above us, flicking through magazines, perusing the bikinis and hairstyles worn by models and film stars with my teenage daughter, assessing the selection of leaflets left out on the coffee table in order to plan our activities for the next few days, nipping out for an ice cream, taking the baby for a play on the swings and slides in the caravan park.

It reminds me of being young – you fill your time with pleasant pastimes and in between the trips out there is a sense of relaxation, contentment and none of the hectic pin-balling from chore to chore, appointment to appointment, work piling up around your ears and demands placed on you relentlessly, all of which define your existence at home.

It is as though the channels that deliver all the busyness into my life have been barricaded, preventing any of the usual grating stress factors from reaching me and creating a quiet blue space of calm. And I’m just floating here in a different existence where all that matters is the present. Days have become long once again; time has stopped pouring so rapidly through the egg timer, falling through the slim glass neck with increasing speed, slipping out of my grasp.

This afternoon we are visiting the Eden Project. Last time I was there it was newly opened, full to bursting with hoards of interested visitors and I had the hangover from hell which ruined the experience completely. Today’s visit to the alien white biomes at St. Austell will, I hope, be somewhat more enjoyable.

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Read This And Then Forget The Word ‘Failure’

Forget the word failure. Calling yourself a failure is akin to puncturing your lifeboat as you escape a sinking ship – alcohol has damaged your self-esteem. In order to break free from the booze trap, you need as much self-esteem as you can get your hands on; labelling yourself anything negative at this juncture serves absolutely no purpose. And anyway, you never set out to get into this mess, alcohol is an addictive and widely/cleverly marketed substance and you are only human. Give yourself a break and drop the ‘failure’ tag.

Allow yourself some time to recover from your dependency on alcohol. This won’t happen overnight and can be a long and painful process. Don’t give into temptation simply because you don’t feel amazing after three weeks – you should be in this for the long haul. Remember that the reason you are stopping drinking is because you want to feel happy and healthy again; that is worth waiting for.

Independent and strong is how you will feel if you can stay true to your intentions and remain alcohol-free. It is a wonderful and freeing sensation knowing that you are master of your own destiny, rather than being ruled by a bottle of plonk.

Life is precious – you only get one chance at it. The day will come when you’ll look back at all you have achieved (or not) and you won’t be able to turn round and do things differently – it’s a one-way road. Grab the opportunity to change your destiny with both hands. Make yourself proud of whom you become, and start the process today.

Underneath all the anxiety and depression that alcohol causes there is a happy, free spirit who enjoys even the simplest things, finding pleasure in everyday life. If you stop drinking, that person will emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon and you’ll be amazed that she existed inside without you even realising she was there.

Reap the rewards that an alcohol-free life brings; more energy, levelled out moods, weight loss, better skin, increased creativity and productivity, more interest in other people, a heightened desire to set and reach goals, restored self-esteem and the eradication of excessive anxiety and stress can all be yours if you adopt an alcohol-free life.

Enjoy the feeling of being back in control – forget the word failure. Failure is simply a barrier to your happiness, and whoever decided that you did not have the right to be happy? Put ‘failure’ where it belongs – in the bin along with the booze. YOU deserve better.

joyful child

Goodnight x

I’ve noticed over the last few months how much I love my bedtime. I do have an extremely busy life and am usually exhausted by the time I make my way upstairs to bed and this could be a contributing factor, but since living alcohol-free I have developed a real fondness for hitting the hay.

Night time used to mean drinking; whether at home or out with friends, when the sun went down the wine came out and bedtime was consequently a drunken affair that I barely remembered in the morning (or I would collapse on the settee where I remained comatose and fully clothed until dawn).

At the risk of sounding a little like an old lady, I now find myself enjoying the entire routine of taking my make up off, putting comfortable pyjamas on and snuggling under the duvet with the low level spotlights creating just enough light for me to read by. When the lights go out I think of all the things I will be doing the next day and feel a sense of happy anticipation for tomorrow, even when there is nothing in particular to be looking forward to. I mentally run over the day I have just had and think of the especially good moments or reflect on the things which perhaps didn’t go as I had hoped.

The dawn of a new you?

This is most likely a totally normal experience for many people but I’m still enjoying the novelty of it – not waking up with a horrible dry mouth at 5 am, no awful arguments or regrettable incidents to agonise over in the dark, early hours when the only company you have is the deeply painful self-hatred that fills every fibre of your being.

I love my cleansers and night moisturisers, my new pyjamas from M&S, the pile of books by my bedside, the feeling of health and freedom of mind and the knowledge that there will be nothing to be sorry for in the morning. I love feeling sleepy, and that the physical and mental tiredness is because I have worked hard all day and pushed myself to be the best I can be. I love knowing that I won’t look like hell in the morning, even if I’m up during the night with the baby. I love thinking of all the lovely people I have in my life.

I love living and sleeping alcohol-free.

Freedom to Fly

For me, regularly drinking alcohol generated terrible feelings of being worthless and inferior to everyone else I ever came into contact with. In addition, this destructive assault on my self-belief always came to the fore simultaneously with a hefty dose of what can only be described as Negative Mental Attitude.

It was the world’s fault that I did not achieve what I wanted in life, that my marriage had ended in its infancy, that I hated my job, that I was struggling financially – there was always someone else to blame and never me.

One of the greatest gifts of sobriety is the joyful return to living in the Real World. Occasionally there are difficult patches which must be navigated through and not drinking certainly does not make life a guaranteed bed of roses; what living alcohol-free does provide, however, is a reality check and a realisation that whilst things may not always be quite how you would choose you are equipped with all the tools required to make the best of your hand.

Instead of enduring a crippling dose of internal criticism whenever I meet a person who I deem to be superior in some respect to me, I now recognise their plus points as nice qualities which I admire rather than an emotional hand grenade to hurl at my fragile sense of self; so if someone is very pretty I consider them as, well, being pretty; as in ‘She’s pretty – wow, what gorgeous hair/eyes/cheekbones.’ This is infinitely healthier than the old alternative of ‘Oh my God, she is so beautiful. Look at me in comparison; I am fat, ugly, with horrible hair, awful clothes and generally hideous. I must run home at once and hide away until I forget that I ever had the misfortune to stand near this stunning creature.’

Nowadays I recognise that whilst I have my plus points and am neither hideously ugly nor out-of-this-world beautiful, I am just fine the way I am. If I meet people who are prettier/cleverer/wittier/more interesting than I am then it’s a pleasure being in their company and enjoying their special qualities. I have come to understand that there will always be someone who is doing something or looking better than I will ever be able to, and people who have amazing physiques that I will probably never attain, and people who are fortunate enough to have long, flowing, glossy tresses which I know I will never be able to grow.

Butterfly-033But that’s ok, because they will never have what I have either.

Not drinking stops the endless cycle of self-loathing and negativity caused by depression and alcohol-induced shame. Living alcohol-free allows you to come forth like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon and to subsequently realise all your qualities that have previously been smothered by alcohol for so long.

Give yourself a chance; stop drinking and spread your wings.

Finding Your Way Out Of The Darkness

During my alcohol-fuelled past life I was so ashamed of my little boozy secret, particularly the lonely drinking and the inability to stop once I’d begun, that I covered up the negativity with a hefty dose of bravado and a tenacious refusal to let my hangovers get in the way of life.

Behind the runs I would force myself to go on the morning after a binge, beneath the smiles at work and the heavy make-up to conceal the facial signs of my hangovers, I was completely beset with  agonising emotional pain and heartache caused by what I perceived as my failure to ‘drink like normal people do.’

I couldn’t admit to myself that I had a problem so I was never going to offload my awful secret to anyone else. And so I continued to drink to help forget about the inner turmoil, and I refused to fully acknowledge what I now recognise as a serious dependency upon alcohol.

At my lowest ebb I could barely look another human being in the eye. I stopped caring about the level of harm I was inflicting on my physical self, and conversely I harboured thoughts pertaining to hurting myself and the pointlessness of my life.

For a long time since becoming free of alcohol I haven’t experienced any real depression or sadness as my life has tended to go from strength to strength ever since I put down the bottle. But I clearly remember the weighty burden of depression and how it made making even the simplest of decisions a frightening and exhausting task of epic proportions.

This is why it can be so incredibly hard to make the choice to stop drinking – the short term relief from the feelings of sadness and depression that can be found in alcohol is so tempting in its false ameliorative quality that to find the strength to rebuff it in your darkest of hours is challenging to say the least. And even if you are aware of the negative repercussions of alcohol, when depressed and consumed by self-loathing it is often the intention to inflict further misery on yourself, as opposed to seeking a way out of your depression and into happiness once again.

The thing with all of the above is that if you can find the motivation to stop drinking whilst feeling so low, fairly soon you will notice a lift in your mood and will gradually witness the rejuvenation of your self-esteem. And when this happens, you will no longer have the intense desire to hurt yourself, rather the opposite will be true; you will want to look after yourself and live a happy existence. In not much time at all, the negative blinkers will fall by the wayside and the world will open up to you as a place filled with possibilities and potential, the restrictive, bleak future that you had mapped out for yourself fading into nothingness.375054853_e59b8191cb_z

It is a hugely difficult and brave thing to take the first step into a new life of which you cannot see or even imagine, but it is only the first few footsteps which you will have to navigate in the darkness; once you have made it so far, the sun will come out and shine up a path right before your eyes – a path which you will truly want to follow.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Oh, I Don’t Drink!

I had a funny moment today when a sudden, out-of-the-blue thought sprang up and disrupted my quiet, plodding along morning brain. I don’t know what prompted it but landing squarely and suddenly at the forefront of my mind were these words; ‘I don’t drink, I am a non-drinker, I have become somebody who does not ever touch alcohol…as if I have certain religious beliefs that forbid me from drinking alcohol I just never, ever drink.’

Magic water, magic nature, beautiful blue effect

This internal confirmation of my teetotal commitment tumbled rudely into my chain of thoughts and made me catch my breath. If you had known me before I stopped drinking you would know why. I never, ever imagined that I would be a person who did not drink booze. I used to be, very simply, a drinker – it’s what I was known for.

I recall going for dinner at a boyfriend’s parents’ house in my late teens, his father being a wine connoisseur who enjoyed indulging in his love of fine wines in the company of guests. Upon settling into the sumptuous settee before we ate I was handed a glass of something red and fantastically expensive. As he passed me the elegant wine glass, the father bore his eyes into mine and said sternly ‘This is a VERY good wine – please do not guzzle it.’ He totally had my number.

When I look back over photographs stretching back twenty years I see alcohol featuring in almost all of them; holiday snaps, Christmases, birthdays, nights out, nights in – life was one very long and raucous party and I was usually to be found slap bang in the middle of it, shining in the spotlight, always drinking.

I have worked very hard on being sober and happy over the last couple of years; it didn’t come easy and I have expended a lot of time and energy in my acceptance of this radical departure from old destructive habits. I think I’ve been so busy with ensuring I am ok about not drinking that the end result has almost arrived unnoticed – that is to say the transition from colossal pisshead to totally straight person has happened amidst such a sea of change that this morning’s sudden and stark thought surprised me.

Me? Teetotal? Now there’s something I thought I would never say. I am now so definitively a non-drinker whereas once I was defined by my enormous affection for wine and enthusiasm for losing myself in the maddening, mind-altering, crazed mayhem that it initiated in me. Five years ago I would have bet large amounts of money on me drinking my way through life until the alcoholic sun eventually sank on my world and plunged everything in it into complete blackness.

Today I am better – very different, but very much better. Which is kind of surprising.

Proud

I only have three pieces of jewellery that I have sentimental attachment to; my engagement ring, a silver bracelet that my eldest daughter bought me last Christmas, and the orange disc bracelet that I ordered to commemorate my commitment to life as a Soberista and which arrived this morning.

P1000438I had the date of the Soberistas website launch engraved on it, 26.11.12 and the word ‘Soberistas’ and I am wearing it with pride! When I look at the bracelet it makes me remember all the fantastic things in my life that have happened as a result of me stopping drinking, of all the amazing people who help each other every day on Soberistas, how my life really began properly when I decided to live it alcohol-free and how I will never let myself get as low as I was just two years ago, ever again.

I can’t take the credit for the idea of wearing a Soberistas bracelet – Katey and Josephinerina are the ones to thank for that! But I am so grateful to them for thinking up such a positive and proud way to celebrate their new lives as Soberistas. I absolutely love wearing my little orange tribute to my sobriety!

Sticks and Stones

Labelling human beings is not good. Once you have been pigeon holed by society it is extraordinarily difficult to rid yourself of that tag and carve out a new definition of who you are.

In the early weeks of my new teetotal life I came to the conclusion that I was ‘an alcoholic.’ I remember clear as day admitting this terrible truth to myself, something I had been shying away from for years, and finally, crushingly, wearily nodding in quiet acceptance of the fact that I was diseased and would forever be a troubled soul who needed to rebuff all temptation of alcohol in order to avoid the dreaded relapse.

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My self-esteem was at an all-time low back then. Labelling myself ‘an alcoholic’ only added fuel to the fire as the word evoked feelings of failure and weakness. I was consumed with a sense of powerlessness but plodded on regardless with my desire to live in sobriety, hoping that eventually I would feel something more than abject misery.

As the weeks turned into months I changed my perspective and I now look back on my drinking years as a couple of decades in which I drank way too much and was most definitely dependant (emotionally and mentally) upon, and probably rather in love with, alcohol. When I stopped drinking I experienced no physical withdrawal symptoms, merely a tough internal battle to rid myself of the mental cravings and urges that I had relented to for so many years and were therefore pretty difficult to overcome. For a fairly long period, maybe a year, I also had to discover who I really was beneath the booze, learn to deal with my emotions like a grown-up instead of pouring anaesthetic liquid down my neck at the slightest sign of trouble, overcome a multitude of regrets and develop interests in activities other than boozing in order to fill my time.

In weaving my way through the jungle of emotional baggage I’d acquired as someone who drinks too much, I slowly became a non-addicted human being, free of dependencies on any mind-altering substances, just a regular person who sees life through the untainted lens of sober vision. I dropped the notion that I was and always would be ‘an alcoholic,’ as the idea that you are suffering from an addiction when you haven’t touched the substance in question for two years and have absolutely no desire to ever do so again just seems plain weird.

I am in no doubt that if I had a drink then I would be back where I started from pretty quickly, but in the same way that someone with a nut allergy would avoid nuts like the plague but never label themselves a ‘nut addict’ for doing so, I cannot conceive of being an ‘alcoholic’ purely on the basis that I know now that alcohol and I do not mix, and will never do so.

If you have recently begun living (or are considering doing so) a healthy alcohol-free life then I would avoid labelling yourself ‘an alcoholic.’ It is a damaging term that is rife with negative connotations and which often sparks off prejudices that are difficult to fight, particularly when you are already at a low ebb. Referring to yourself in that way can also help consolidate the idea that you are powerless to a disease, when in reality you are master or mistress of your own destiny – YOU can decide to stop drinking, and in doing so you will learn to overcome the mental or emotional dependency that you have on alcohol.

In the end, ‘alcoholic’ is just a word so ask yourself the question of what’s more important; an arbitrary collection of letters or having the best possible chance at living happily and free of a dependency on anything, but you?

One-Way Ticket to Happiness

A few years ago amidst a period of very heavy drinking, I went on holiday with my then partner and our three children (2 of his, 1 of mine).

Right up until the day we left I had been downing at least a bottle of wine a night, every night, for weeks on end and as a result had experienced a number of distressing events, arguments, traumas and other assorted booze-related catastrophes.

I made the decision to have an alcohol-free holiday because we were taking our three children with us and I couldn’t trust myself to not do or say something terrible that would ruin everyone’s memories of that week forever more.

It was a simple decision to make and a relatively easy one to stick to. We drove down to Cornwall and stayed in a beautiful big house set in rolling green hills and farmland. The sun shone all week and we spent seven days surfing, swimming, eating ice creams, and in the evenings played trivial pursuits and watched films. We caught some amazing waves and I remember one in particular that my ex-partner’s daughter, my daughter and me rode together, the three of us careering towards the beach screaming and laughing at the breath-taking way we had been possessed by the sea.

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I spent the week relaxed, happy and content, relieved not to be waking up each morning with that familiar sense of dread and having to apologise to those around me for my lack of control and inability to realise that I had reached my wine limit but still continued to drink, yet again. How do you apologise to children for being drunk and stupid? You can’t really – they don’t, and neither should we expect them to, understand.

However, as was my way back then, I reached the end of the holiday feeling refreshed and full of vigour, tanned, happy and free and then hit the bottle again upon reaching home. It would take me a further five years to stop for good.

As we approach this year’s holiday to Cornwall in a few weeks’ time I am not in a position where I need to consider whether to cut out alcohol or not for the seven days I spend with my fiancé and two daughters in a caravan near the sea. I am lucky enough to have reached a stage in my life where I know I will never put myself through the torment of substance abuse ever again. My holiday at the end of May will be the same as every other holiday I will take during the rest of my life – a relaxing break which doesn’t involve booze, regrets and hangovers.

Drinking on holiday for me was like going sailing in a boat with a hole in the bottom –it starts out being fun but soon enough it’s going to sink and take everyone down with it.