Honesty, alcohol and acknowledgement

There seems to be much interest in the UK media at present with regards to middle class drinkers, especially women. I spoke to a journalist at the Yorkshire Post about this issue last week, and the article is in today’s paper (see the link below).

It’s so important to talk about why people develop alcohol dependencies with some honesty and candidness. Too often society embraces a collective denial about alcohol abuse, pointing the finger at those who have lost all control and are consequently absolute slaves to the booze (the archetypal man on the park bench, clutching his supersized bottle of cider), whilst brushing under the carpet the people who are drinking epic proportions of wine behind closed doors in an effort to try and alleviate their worries and anxieties.

I really hope that with more media coverage like this Yorkshire Post feature (which will help to further raise awareness of people who are sinking under the weight of nightly binge-drinking), we as a society may be able to turn around our thinking about alcohol abuse, offering a way out of the booze trap rather than simply pointing the finger – or worse, pretending everything is ok and doing nothing.

http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/features/why-some-women-hit-the-self-destruct-button-1-5906108

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The Sober Revolution – available to buy now!

A few weeks ago I blogged about the book I’d been writing with Sarah Turner being almost finished, and how thrilled I was at having achieved one of my long-standing dreams. At that stage we were planning on self-publishing because our main goal was to get our book out there as fast as possible with the hope that it would a) help people to understand their relationship with alcohol better and b) describe a mind-set which would enable them, should they adopt the same way of thinking, to feel happy about being a non-drinker. We weren’t keen on the idea of passing the manuscript to numerous potential publishers and waiting perhaps months for a decision, when we were so eager to have our book read by those looking for help with an alcohol dependency.

On the off-chance we decided, very abruptly, to contact a publisher (Accent Press) who we had read about in a newspaper a couple of months earlier and who we felt might understand where we were coming from in terms of our book – we decided that this would be our only attempt to get the book published by someone else, and if we were turned down we would go back to our original self-publishing plan.

Within a day of reading the manuscript our single choice publisher contacted us and informed us that she would absolutely love to publish our book, and that it had had a profound effect on the way that she viewed her own relationship with alcohol – as a result of reading it she had decided to become a non-drinker too, and was thrilled to bits about this sudden lifestyle change.

So here we are, just a few weeks later, with a book published and available to buy as an eBook on Amazon right now, and in paperback format in a week or two. In early January 51On+gbK4vL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-70,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_2014 our book, ‘The Sober Revolution’, will be out in the book shops too.

You can buy ‘The Sober Revolution’ from Amazon or by clicking on the link below – we hope you enjoy reading it, and would love to hear what you think!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/

Happy to be a Non-Drinker

When I first decided to stop drinking alcohol, the idea that I would spend the rest of my life feeling miserable as a consequence and as though I was missing out on something was never an issue I paid much credence to.

Living by a self-imposed regime of teetotalism when my heart was still firmly attached to the bottle and yet consistently denied its effects was a prospect too miserable to contemplate.  My attitude towards becoming a non-drinker was bloody-minded, and I have remained determined to always continue to seek out the numerous positives to be found in living free from the alcohol trap.

With this mind-set which has now become an inherent part of who I am, I am forever mindful of so many seemingly insignificant events and occurrences that happen each day which I am fully aware would never happen should I choose to drink again.

Yesterday as I pushed the pram up an almighty hill, hot and tired and feeling the strain in my calves, I suddenly remembered the horrific physical state of being hungover – queasy, sweaty, with stinging eyes and clammy skin, dehydrated, and exhausted in a way that never hits me as a non-drinker despite being up and dressed by 6am most days. And no matter how difficult that hill was to climb, I just kept on thinking about how awful I used to feel on an almost daily basis – even when simply sitting in front of the TV, never mind pushing a toddler up a steep hill in the sweltering heat.

thCAWWIG85Last night I poked my head out of our Velux bedroom window shortly before I climbed into bed, and stared for a while at a beautiful yellow moon hanging low in the sky. How many moons I wondered, had I missed as a drinker when night after night I would either fall asleep on the settee not even making it upstairs to bed, or was so drunk that I couldn’t remember what I’d seen the following morning?

Waking each day and acknowledging the marvel of a fully-functioning memory, feeling no regret or anxiety and with nobody to apologise to for my stupid drunken behaviour of the previous evening, is something I don’t think I will ever take for granted. I feel so lucky to be present and to notice all the important things around me, and to be completely in charge of my life and who I am.

For me, maintaining a commitment to sobriety is much less about steely willpower, and more about bathing in the beauty of a life lived untainted by alcohol. I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

Women, alcohol and the 1990’s

The report which was published yesterday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and which highlighted a worrying trend in women (especially those born in the 1970’s) dying at a younger age as a result of alcohol-related illnesses, did not surprise me in the slightest.

As someone who was born in 1975, I came of age around the time of the explosion in both the wine culture in the UK which began with a vengeance in the early 1990’s, and the phenomenon that was women drinking in similar quantities as men and subsequently adopting more male characteristics – the ‘Ladette Culture’ so famously embodied by Zoe Ball and Sara Cox.

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It was absolutely de rigueur as a young woman circa the mid-1990’s to hang out in pubs all weekend, drink pints, play pool and smoke cigarettes, and that lifestyle utterly defined me from about the age of 17 onwards, until I became pregnant at 22. In my early twenties and a new mum, I then fell for the widespread marketing campaign of the wine manufacturers, completely buying into the idea that wine was somehow good for us – just look at all those healthy Mediterraneans guzzling their vino for goodness sake!

I am not attempting to excuse my personal responsibility here for the fact that I went on to develop a major dependency upon alcohol which was to last until my mid-thirties (I will be forever grateful that I managed to put the brakes on then, and my problem did not escalate further), but I do think that the wider cultural influences that were at play during that era of Oasis and Blur, grunge, a mainstreaming of rave culture and Third-wave feminism most popularly exemplified by The Spice Girls and their brand of ‘Girl Power,’ played a part in contributing to the notion that it was ok for women to drink heavily.

My mind-set back in the ‘90’s was characterised by what I recognise now as a false bravado – I presented myself as a hedonist, someone who was always ‘up for it,’ who could drink anyone under the table and beat most blokes on the pool table. It was misguided feminism that propelled me into a lifestyle defined by heavy drinking.

By the time I married and became a mum the habits were deeply engrained, and despite an effort to appear slightly more feminine by swapping the pints of Boddingtons for bottles of Chardonnay, I continued to drink, and always until I was inebriated. Because I was already a heavy drinker by the time I had my first baby, the now widely and effectively marketed wine suited my needs down to the ground – here was a sophisticated grown-up drink that I could consume in large quantities but yet remain firmly anchored in what was considered to be perfectly acceptable social behaviour. Nobody was going to accuse me of having a problem with the booze whilst ever I was drinking expensive bottles of Chablis or Barolo from Waitrose.

I bought into the wine industry’s advertising strategy and felt more than comfortable with being a ‘wine drinker.’

Ultimately, I would not have relied on alcohol in the way that I did if my underlying emotional problems had not existed; my terribly low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness together with the anxiety I experienced in social situations all combined to create the perfect conditions in which a booze dependency might establish itself.

However, if, in the light of the publication of yesterday’s report, people are searching for an explanation as to how this terrible situation has arisen where women are increasingly dying in their thirties and forties from alcohol-related illnesses, I would highlight the cultural background of the 1990’s as a major contributing factor.

Summer Running

I did not feel like running much earlier on today – 28 degree heat, a long day working and a desire to throw myself in front of the TV with a plate of biscuits were just some of the obstacles that stood between me and my fitness, but I forged on and did it anyway.

I remembered this quote from Muhammad Ali, “I hated every minute of training but I said ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now & live the rest of your life as a champion’” which is somewhat reassuring I find; if he hated training and yet achieved what he did, then there exists living proof that mind over matter works. I might not be aiming for world class athleticism but I am still striving to be the best me that I can be.

There is a big and gorgeous park at the bottom of the road on which I live and when the weather is good, hundreds of people decamp onto its vast expanse of grass, set up disposable barbecues, crack open a few beers and act as if they are on holiday. It has a nice vibe and the drinking never spills out of control – at least not whilst people are in the park, perhaps later on when they make their way into town somewhat the worse for wear (as I used to do, once upon a time).

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I was listening to a varied selection on my iPod from The Beatles, to MGMT, to Morrissey, to the Happy Mondays (as you can tell, my music tastes are bang up to date) and dragging the dog along beside me, her tongue scraping the floor as she desperately attempted to enjoy this run, something she’d been looking forward to all day but was now finding a little uncomfortable and way too hot.

I ran into the the park, just as ‘Kids’ by MGMT came on my iPod and the sun was burning down on all these people enjoying life and being with each other, and the dog was doing her very best to keep up with me as she panted away like a steam train, and my speed picked up and I was truly in the moment, arms working hard, total rhythm going on…and I filled up with tears that sprang out of nowhere. They stemmed from happiness, and from the amazing world that we live in, and from how grateful I am that I finally, somehow, worked it out that you don’t get this feeling, ever, when you drink alcohol.

It was joyous, and I felt totally alive.

Whatever Works

For me, a huge part of the difficulty in getting my head around the concept of giving up alcohol for good was an idea I had that being teetotal wasn’t very cool. Call me shallow for worrying about such a thing, but understanding who we are in and amongst a sea of different personalities and working out what makes each of us as individuals tick, is the key (in my opinion) to forever sobriety. It is about discovering whatever works, for YOU.

I always defined myself by my hedonism prior to giving up alcohol. Many of my heroes in music and film as I was growing up were drug addicts and alcoholics, struggling with this addiction or that. The music I listened to (and still do) was/is peppered with references to heroin addiction or booze, withdrawals and lyrics which generally denote vast inner turmoil.

My friends were always heavy drinkers and/or drug users, and a massive part of how I perceived myself was this big hedonistic streak which, for all intents and purposes, pretty much defined me for twenty years of my life, good or bad.

When I decided to give up booze, I was filled with dread that I would become… (Wait for it, the dreaded word!) BORING! How would I be able to maintain the persona I had spent so much of my life creating, minus the several-times-a-week alcohol binges?

Well the answer is, I couldn’t, which is no bad thing because if you were to ask many of the people who’ve known me both as a drinker and since I stopped, they would most likely tell you that I was an almighty pain in the arse with the wine in me, and that since knocking it on the head I am not boring, just normal and a lot nicer. There are also, of course, the people who I used to be acquainted with who don’t know me as a non-drinker, their patience running out years ago as a result of my perpetual car-crash lifestyle, inability to know what or who I wanted which more often than not led me to hurting those who were trying to be my friend, and simply because they grew tired of being with someone so caught up with wine that she forgot to think about anything or anyone else.

Unfortunately you can’t go back, and that damage has been done.

With regards to the ‘cool’ element of boozy living and whether being a non-drinker can ever bring about that trait, here’s what I think about it all now; there is nothing cool about being a selfish drunk who walks all over people and only cares where the next glass is coming from. It is a struggle and a battle and damn hard work giving up booze and staying sober, and reaching that place is a million times cooler than giving into an addiction. And finally, I borrowed a tip from my teenage handbook, and found some ‘cool’ people who don’t drink or do drugs or both, and I use them as my role models. My most favourite of these is Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and if you don’t know their music, try listening to Under the Bridge for a bit of motivation and cool inspiration.

Singer Anthony Kiedis ca. 2002

It works for me every time I feel a sense of ‘I’m just a boring bugger who doesn’t drink,’ coming on, and even if it’s imaginary, I’m going through it all with Anthony Kiedis, which makes it totally cool in my book.

Logic

One thing I’ve got back since I stopped drinking alcohol (apart from a myriad of different elements of the normal human physical and mental condition, of which I was never aware were missing when I drank but now prize so highly) is logical thinking.

In the old days I used to be, on occasion, slightly nuts. I hesitate to spill the beans about this following revelation, as when I recall the night’s events I cannot quite believe that I am one and the same person, and it makes me sound somewhat, well, mad.

One Sunday evening, incredibly hungover from the night before and fuzzily drunk after sinking several glasses of hair-of-the-dog wine during the course of the afternoon and early evening, I found myself alone at home and fancying a cigarette. It was autumn and already dark by about 8pm when I stepped onto the threshold of my kitchen door and lit up. At the time, I lived in a tiny terraced house which had no garden, front or back, but a miniscule yard that backed onto a dark alleyway. This concrete space was encased with high brick walls, one of which featured a solid wooden gate which opened into the passage that run the breadth of the terraced row. The only way into the yard (other than through the gate which was kept locked) was via the kitchen door.

As I stood huddled in pyjamas and woolly cardigan puffing long trails of smoke into the chilly air, my gaze came to rest on a mysterious hump in the corner of the backyard. The low light that span out through the kitchen window blinds did not reveal much, but enough to make me arrive at the conclusion that this strange huddle, barely concealed behind a few straggly fronds of ivy, was a capybara.

Yes, you read correctly – I actually imagined that the world’s largest rodent, native to South America and relative of the chinchilla and guinea pig, was having a little sit down in the corner of my backyard a few miles out of Sheffield city centre.

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Alarmed and (incredibly, I know) frightened, I slowly retreated into the house, closing the door softly so as not to disturb the beast, and called my brave friend in order that he might pop round to sort my little problem out.

When he arrived half an hour later, I hustled him through the house, pushed him urgently through the back door and pointed him in the direction of the capybara. Unsurprisingly, he was laughing quite a lot by this stage, and for want of a better phrase, completely ridiculing me. Torch in hand, he flicked the switch and the shady yard was suddenly flooded with a glaring light.

In the corner, semi-hidden by the ivy, was a large rock which I had apparently never noticed in the few months that I had lived there.

Message for Clara

I was planning on writing a blog today about why we should all learn to be a little kinder to ourselves, a thought that came to mind as I was getting dressed this morning in front of the mirror. Perusing my reflection, my gaze automatically fell on my caesarean scar, my (getting smaller but still there) love handles on my hips, my knobbly knees which I have always hated and my non-six pack stomach.

I acknowledge that I am no Elle Macpherson but then who is (apart from Elle herself of course)? But I’m ok considering I have had two children, the last one being only fourteen months ago, I am thirty seven years old (not ancient but certainly no spring chicken anymore), very busy, exceptionally sleep-deprived and recently recovered from a long-standing dependence on alcohol.

And yet it is so entrenched in my conscience to seek out the negatives in myself and ignore the good bits, that when analyzing my physical appearance I am, it would seem, incapable of giving myself a break. I simply do not notice the good bits – are there any?

When I logged onto Soberistas.com at lunchtime I read a comment from someone who is desperately trying to get out of the vicious cycle of binge-drinking and the associated self-hatred. There it was again – someone who sounds, for all intents and purposes, to be an attractive and pleasant person and yet hates herself inside and frequently attempts to rub out the awfulness with too much wine.

‘I so want what you have got Lucy….how did you do it? I’ve tried AA but not much luck. I know I need to want it myself and make the first steps but I struggle getting through a day :-(….I’m a 38 year old single mum and my mum and dad said yesterday how pretty I am and I’ve got an ok figure but why do I hate myself inside? Want to get out of this black hole and enjoy life again…..any advice PLEASE xx’

This blog post then has become my answer to Clara who left the above comment for me on Soberistas.com this morning.

Liking yourself, and eventually learning to love yourself, takes a lot of work. I think our culture is partly to blame as we, as a society, have a habit of disapproving of those who ‘fancy themselves’ a bit too much, whilst the adverts and media imagery which are blasted at our every sense in almost all walks of life depict only one ideal of perfection. It can feel like an uphill struggle to fend off the attack of ‘what we should be.’

Over the last couple of years I have transformed from a very insecure, emotionally unstable and mentally fragile person into someone who is pretty confident and likes herself, not thoroughly but enough. I still (as referred to above) despise my knees and that caesarean scar is taking some getting used to, but I know deep down that I am ok and I try my best to be the best that I can be – which is all any of us can do.

I am in absolutely no doubt that excessively consuming alcohol destroys a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Drinking a lot and feeling good about the person you are just do not go together, and so the only way to escape the trap of self-destruction and self-hatred is to cut out alcohol altogether. It is the alcohol that is at the root cause of how you feel.

Lucky is a funny word to use for coming close to death as a result of booze, but in some ways I do perceive my rock-bottom moment of waking up in hospital as a stroke of luck – it scared me sufficiently to ensure that I never wanted alcohol to pass my lips again as long as I live. However, for those who drink dangerous amounts but have not experienced a frightening wake-up call as I did, stopping drinking (and staying stopped) requires something akin to adopting blind faith in what people who you probably don’t even know, are telling you to be true, and doing so in a climate in which alcohol is prevalent and widely revered.

For you, the person who wrote the comment above, and for anyone else who is in a similar situation, my advice would be to put all your faith in the notion that life becomes easier in every way when you don’t drink; the rough patches will still crop up but your ability to cope with them will be so much stronger, and most importantly you will begin to piece together your self-belief once again, something which is impossible to do when you are drinking heavily on a regular basis.

Give yourself a break; recognise that the best route out of the black hole you have sunk deep inside of is to not drink alcohol TODAY. Believe it, focus on it, make not drinking your absolute priority. And remember that with each passing sober day, you are repairing yourself from the inside out and learning the essential art of liking yourself. And once you like yourself, you will be armed with all the ammunition you’ll ever need to remain sober and happy long-term.

It may feel like an insurmountable climb that lies ahead but, as Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” Just get today out of the way, and tomorrow will be easier.

Good luck x