How to Beat the Weekend Cravings!

If you are feeling the strain of weekend pressures to drink, meandering dangerously close to having a wobble and salivating as your mind conjures up images of large glasses of wine, then read on…

This is your guide to MAKING IT THROUGH TO MONDAY – AF!

1. Get busy. Plan to do something early tomorrow morning. Ensure that this activity is one which a) you are really looking forward to and b) something which would be hampered severely by a heavy intake of booze this evening. Suggestions include setting out with a camera to try and snap an early sunrise or nice nature pic, going for a run, hitting the gym before the hordes descend with over-excited children, or hitting the hills with a picnic lunch for a long hike with friends, or alone to enjoy the silence.BiTN Meditation

2. Play the movie to the end. What you may be dreaming of is a convivial glass or two with friends, chatting and laughing gaily for an hour or two before heading home in a slightly tipsy (but most definitely not drunk) haze. Get real! What will really happen is that once you start you won’t stop, and after guzzling far too much vino, will stagger to bed (or collapse on the settee fully clothed) and wake up at 3 am with a furry tongue and a pounding head – oh yes, and a mountain of self-hatred.

3. Concentrate on good health. Healthy food goes out the window when you over-indulge in alcohol. Either you forget to eat altogether and obtain your calories from wine, or you develop monstrous cravings for carbs and sweet things, and gorge on calorific delights ranging from pizza to cakes to gallons of creamy lattes. When you don’t drink, it’s so easy to eat healthily and stick to an exercise plan, thus avoiding feeling like a gluttonous pig on Sunday evening. Stock up on lovely healthy food, make hearty soups and create striking salads.

4. Ask yourself this; if you have had the week from hell, would drinking make any of it better? In the short-term it may feel as though downing a bottle or two is helping, but in actuality it is simply storing up trouble for the future – depression, anxiety, lethargy, inability to think with any clarity and perhaps additional problems to undo which occurred as a result of you being drunk (arguments with your other half, shouting at the children unnecessarily, sending a text message to someone who you really should just leave alone – you know the kind of thing) are all potential repercussions of a heavy booze session.

5. Socialise during the daytime. If it’s early days for you and your sobriety, make plans to socialise during daylight hours as opposed to thrusting yourself amongst people who are out drinking for the night. This is by no means a long-term solution, but cravings can be extremely strong in the first few weeks of your new AF life, and placing yourself at risk of temptation is asking for trouble. Arrange to meet friends for a picnic, a shopping trip, a jog, a game of tennis, to watch a film together, or just for a coffee, but it’s probably best to avoid the pub on a Friday or Saturday night for the time being, certainly until you feel confident that you can happily resist the urge to join in with the boozers.

6. Log on to Soberistas.com! If you haven’t joined our site yet, then you can sign up now for peer support, friendship and advice, all available 24 hours a day. Talking to others who know how you feel (because they’ve been there themselves) is a great way to work through cravings, and to help yourself reach a safe place again mentally where you know you won’t be tempted to drink.

And remember, it does all get easier with time, so hang on in there and remind yourself that you are doing all this for a brighter and happier future! And don’t forget to ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!

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What Makes You Happy?

“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” – Dalai Lama

dalai-lama

Many people, me included, began drinking in the hope of finding a route to happiness. Teenage parties were livened up just as soon as a couple of bottles were introduced into the equation, a Friday night with a friend transformed from merely chatting and watching TV together, to uproarious laughter and silliness after a few glasses of Chardonnay had been sunk.

We all want to be happy. Life without happiness is a humdrum existence – we are simply being, rather than living. Alcohol for many is the secret to elevating themselves from mundane to extraordinary, the key to flitting out of normality for a few hours and into another world.

We all strive to be happy, we want to enjoy our time on Earth.

For me, and I am sure countless others, alcohol provided a reliable, cheap and easy way to find happiness. For a while.

One of the problems with utilising alcohol as a means to happiness is that the effects are short-lived and, when they wear off, often difficult to remember. Alcohol is also a depressant, and excessive drinking frequently leads to bouts of anxiety and mood swings.

When we choose to live alcohol-free, we lose that fast-track path of transportation to a different place – something which can take a long time to grow accustomed to living without. Gone is the chance to drift away into a parallel universe, and when times are tough there is no immediately obvious escape route. Living AF means learning to live with ourselves, under every cloud, each ray of sunshine, and amidst the most torrential downpours of unrelenting misery.

Despite booze enabling me to feel happy on many occasions during the twenty years that I spent downing more of the stuff than was good for me, it was a happiness that did not come free from sacrifice. The pay-off for those happy nights dancing and letting my hair down and laughing about nonsense, was terrible mood swings, frightening anxiety attacks and a gradual erosion of my self-confidence.

If the purpose of our lives is to be happy, then for me, this is best achieved through living without alcohol. I can’t fulfil my potential when I drink, I am without self-esteem and uncertain of whom I really am or what I want out of life. I stop caring so much about other people and instead am caught up in obtaining my next fix of wine. When I drink, the ONLY means of finding happiness is to be found at the bottom of a glass.

Nobody strives to be miserable, and without an alternative common and definitive meaning to life, I will settle on the Dalai Lama’s notion of what the purpose of our lives is. I believe that to be truly happy, one needs to exist in a way which the abuse of alcohol quite clearly acts as an obstacle to – to help others, connect with people, care for ourselves, achieve self-fulfilment, find a purpose and know what it is to have self-esteem.

On behalf of all the ‘Irresponsible Drinkers’ out there…

Occasionally I become engaged in conversation with people who are of the opinion that there are two kinds of drinkers in this world; the ‘responsible drinkers’ , people who imbibe nicely and quietly, and don’t cause any noticeable harm to society or to themselves (note the use of the word ‘noticeable’). Then there are the ‘irresponsible’ ones, the drinkers who don’t know when to put a cork in it and switch to mineral water in order to save the NHS and the police a great deal of bother, and to avoid upsetting the ‘responsible’ people by dredging the issue of alcohol up once again (in particular its low cost, ready availability and the largely unregulated advertising and marketing of it) within the media.

The drunk tanks argument, put forward last week by Chief Constable Adrian Lee, highlighted the perceived division of drinkers in the UK as ‘them’ and ‘us.’ Lock ‘them’ up in a cell for the night and charge them £400 for the privilege the following morning as penance for daring to become inebriated on our streets, but please leave ‘us’ alone to enjoy our multiple bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chablis over a delicious Nigella meal indoors.

The ‘us’ in this scenario may not be a drain on society’s resources yet, but an awful lot of them sure as hell will be in twenty years’ time when the health implications of sustained and higher-than-recommended-levels boozing finally catch up with them.

Should we charge the woman who, in her fifties, develops breast cancer as a direct link to her quaffing a couple of large glasses of vino with her evening meal on a daily basis? What about the retired businessman who suffers heart disease in his sixties as a result of the ‘couple of pints and a scotch or two after work’ habit that has defined his existence since his early twenties? Surely they could not be called irresponsible drinkers?

I hold my hand up and say that I was an irresponsible drinker. I drank far too much, on occasion, when my little girl was in bed – not enough to be staggering around bawling obscenities and smashing the place up, but certainly enough to have prevented me from acting quickly and wisely should she have been struck down with meningitis (for example).

What I have noticed in this bizarre and hypocritical nation of boozers in which I live, is that in owning up to the above I have attracted, from some people, a degree of sympathy and pity – as if I am somehow different to they, who more than likely continue to drink far more than is healthy. It is as though in admitting that you recognise the negative consequences of drinking heavily and in doing so decide to cut out alcohol, you instantly lose your membership card of a club – We don’t want you in our group, because you will spoil our fun and highlight what we are doing to our health.

During a radio interview I was invited to take part in last week, the presenter put the proposition to me that the people who cannot manage their alcohol intake in a ‘responsible’ way should be locked up and charged (i.e. thrown into a drunk tank) for their reckless behaviour, rather than the government introduce other measures in an effort to reduce the alcohol-related harm in our country. He said ‘why should minimum unit pricing and better-regulated advertising and marketing of alcohol be imposed, simply because of a minority who can’t drink responsibly? Why should I pay more for my whiskey just because of a few idiots?’

So, there it was – the commonly held perception of those of us who confess to having a ‘drink problem.’ Or was he merely referring to the rough kids on the city streets who swagger around supping from cheap bottles of cider, getting into fights and hurling abuse at others?

The day after this radio interview, Doctor Hilary appeared on ITV’s Daybreak and suggested that there were two distinct ‘problem drinkers’ – those who just drink in a reckless and irresponsible manner with no thought for the people who are charged with clearing up the mess at 2 am, as they slump passed out in the gutter and covered in puke, and those who do deserve our sympathy, the ones who have developed a real dependency on alcohol, and who cannot help their actions.

Would we employ such logic for heroin addicts, where the ‘responsible’ heroin addicts are smoking their drug in a nice living room somewhere, out of sight and out of mind, and the really awful ones are roaming our streets in the early hours, off their heads and discarding used needles willy-nilly for our innocent children to pick up curiously in the morning? Would we support the first group and sympathise with their addiction and berate the second, leaving them to self-destruct?

What is the defining characteristic of a ‘responsible drinker?’ Is it class, appearance, age? Is it whether they drink indoors or out on the streets? Is it their choice of alcoholic beverage that determines their place in the camp of ‘them’ or ‘us?’ Or is it merely because they are devoid of the elusive ‘off switch?’

For all the people out there who do not understand what drives seemingly intelligent people to drink way too much on a regular basis, it may help to know that for many, their repeated drunkenness is part of a journey in coming to accept and understand that this is how they will always drink, that no matter how much they attempt to moderate and drink in a responsible way, the outcome will usually be negative. Partaking in drinking sessions in a culture so heavily marked by its love of alcohol is their way of trying to blend in, to be normal, and to prove that this time, things won’t all go to shit because they do not recognise when they should stop drinking.

Drinking too much happens because the people all around them, and the adverts and films and TV programmes that promote alcohol in a glamorous and sexy way, scream out that booze is actually ok and normal and a good thing to do. The persuasive powers of peers and family and culture permeate the logical reasoning that people with a ‘drink problem’ might otherwise develop.

Excessive consumption of booze occurs because bottles of wine are set out in a deliberately enticing and pretty way in the supermarkets, adorned with price cut labels and buy-one-get-one-free offers. If you are struggling because you are depressed, lonely, miserable, suffering from abuse, financially screwed, hate your job, hate your appearance, hate your life, and the booze is screaming out at you from the supermarket shelves, can you really be blamed for giving into temptation and drinking all your troubles away (or at least trying to)?

And then, when these ‘irresponsible drinkers’ finally get their act together and decide to put an end to the boozy madness, turn AF and get their shit together, they are snubbed by society in general for being ‘boring’, or worse, pitied because they are a ‘recovering alcoholic.’

The hypocrisy surrounding alcohol and the peculiar way in which we, as a civilisation, have come to the common agreement that this drug is ok despite the millions of lives it ruins worldwide each year, but that other substances which result in so much less damage are the work of the devil, is colossal. The story of alcohol in our society is the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. And the only ones who can see the truth as it actually is are the people who have taken a step back and chosen to live their lives AF. Bizarrely, we are also the ones who are then pitied and rebuffed purely for having made this wise choice in the first instance.

When The Going Gets Tough…

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama

I’ve not had the best of weeks. I’d even say that in the odd, fleeting moment I have come close to feeling depressed, a place I’ve been lucky enough to avoid for the last couple of years. I have doubted myself, felt powerless and without hope. I’ve struggled to find sufficient energy to deal with my problems.

For much of the last few days I have been overwhelmed with a desire to keep to myself, to tick along quietly without being bothered by anything else.

It has felt alien and unpleasant, largely because I had nowhere to run, no place to hide. There was no bottle of wine (or 2, or 3) to numb these feelings with. I have simply had to sit it out.

Tonight, some of the perspective has returned and I wanted to share some thoughts with you on how to deal with sadness when sober. Here’s what I came up with (and which has helped me);

Don’t bottle it up. When you feel down it often makes you want to avoid people, but talking to someone who you trust and who cares will help. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Find some humility. Discovering that you are, in the eyes of others (or maybe just one other), flawed in some way, is not always a bad thing – even if it hurts like hell when you find out. Use it to your advantage and learn from it; it’s a good thing to reassess who you think you are. Understanding that you’re going wrong in certain areas of your life gives you the opportunity to work on yourself, and ultimately to be a better person. Swallow your pride.

Go for a walk. Being outdoors offers a new perspective on a problem. For me, being in the open countryside (especially where it’s wild and rugged) makes me see myself as a tiny part of a vast universe. Nothing shrinks my problems faster than being somewhere that’s been battered by the elements for millions of years, and is completely unaltered by humans.

Be strong and dig deep. If you have been a heavy drinker then it’s likely you have not developed a comprehensive ability to self-analyse. Drowning problems out with alcohol for years can result in you struggling to pinpoint exact feelings, recognise emotions and to subsequently act accordingly. Learning this skill is at times difficult, and frequently painful. It can really hurt to accept certain truths about yourself but doing this means moving on and following the correct path in life. To know yourself inside and out is to be in charge of where you are headed.

Take a back seat. When you feel down and the bottle is no longer an option for obliterating the darkness, concentrate on muddling through the worst of it by really taking care of yourself. Pamper yourself, indulge in whatever makes you feel happy, eat well – consider yourself to be in need of extra care, and ensure that you provide it as best you can. Take the pressure off wherever possible and allow time for plenty of rest. Tiredness makes everything look a million times worse.

Trust in the following maxim; this too shall pass. It will – things will settle down, the storm will drift slowly overhead and clear skies will return. And when they do, you will have reinforced your emotional strength and there will be no regrets or ill-advised decisions that have landed you in further misery or complications.

There will just be you, as you were before, only a little bit tougher.

Booze Britain

“Other explosions, controlled or otherwise, take place every evening in the country’s pubs – those friendly drinking dens for which Britain is famous, and where the emphasis is always social. Intoxicate yourself alone, and you appear pathetic, as though it’s the condition of being you that needs escaping from. Do it in a group, however, and it’s the public condition – having to maintain dignity and self-control and not say the wrong thing – that you are throwing off.”

Leo Benedictus, ‘Is Britain a nation of addicts?’ – The Guardian, Monday 2 September 2013

Leo Benedictus’ article in yesterday’s Guardian is one which I regard as wholly accurate in its depiction of the manner in which Britain has absorbed, across all classes and both sexes, excessive drinking as an entirely normal pastime and one which is rigorously defended by drinkers when faced with the perceived threat of the company of a non-drinker. Simply for their choice to opt for a ‘soft’ drink in a pub when imbibing alongside a crowd of boozers, the teetotaller is regularly singled out. ‘Never trust a man who doesn’t drink’ was a favourite line of an ex-boyfriend’s father, someone who spent inordinate amounts of money on the maintenance of a highly regarded wine cellar.

Turning your back on such a widely venerated substance as alcohol is a lifestyle choice which commonly initiates a variety of unwelcome responses from both family and friends and complete strangers. Whilst some are mildly interested in why your beverage of choice amongst a round of pints and large dry white wines is a sparkling mineral water (“Are you driving/pregnant/on antibiotics?), and some don’t care a jot one way or the other, many can be scathing and downright rude, stunned as they apparently are that anyone should choose not to imbibe alcohol to excess.

If you are one of the many who cannot drink in moderation and who seemingly has no ‘off switch’ (as I am) then it is possible (and preferable for both you and those around you) that sooner or later you will decide that abstinence is the only way forward. As a result it is almost guaranteed that at some point or other your decision will be met with such comments as ‘Oh go on, don’t be dull – surely one won’t hurt’ and that certain members of the drinking population will regard you as weak-willed/boring/a killjoy.

I believe there is something inherent about the British which leads us to excessive behaviour. There is more than likely a degree of truth in the theory that we are somewhat backward in coming forward, a nation of the emotionally stunted and stiff upper-lipped who find it difficult to let rip and just ‘be’ without the aid of such an instant social lubricator as alcohol.

beer-belly

Having not drunk alcohol for two and a half years I have found myself having to relearn how to relax and socialise whilst straight – not an easy task after twenty years of propping up my slightly shy nature with far too much help from the bottle.

I am unbothered by people’s reaction to the fact that I choose to live alcohol-free, whether it be a positive or negative one. I made this choice for my health and the happiness and emotional wellbeing of my family, and it is one which I will forever stand by as the right thing to do.

To those who utter the expression ‘Never trust a man who doesn’t drink’, I would highlight the fact that in the UK, men under the age of 60 are more likely to die as a result of drinking alcohol than from any other cause, that more women in this country are alcohol-dependent than anywhere else in Europe, that deaths from alcohol-related liver disease in the UK have quadrupled since the 1970’s, and that one fifth of British children live with a hazardous drinker.

I believe that living alcohol-free takes balls; it can feel as though you are treading an otherwise deserted path at times, especially when surrounded by people who are all under the influence. If you find it impossible to moderate your alcohol consumption, then standing by your decision to live without booze will go a long way in ensuring that you stay healthier and happier in your day-to-day life, and also in challenging the perception of many that to be a non-drinker is somehow odd. The more people who do it, the less weird it will become.