End of January – Is It Time to Get Back on the Booze Bus?

There is a degree of bravado and openness demonstrated by many of those taking part in Alcohol Concern’s Dry January and Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon, the latter promoting their particular take on a sober start to 2014 with a cast of desperate mock athletes straining to reach a pint of the forbidden fruit (lager) on their Facebook page (in a jokey way, of course).

I suspect, however, that there are many people who feel terribly (and secretly) worried about their relationship with alcohol, and who sign up to these charity dry months because they provide a way of addressing a stigmatised problem without drawing unwanted attention to it. At any other time of the year, should you be so bold as to admit to the world that you have quit drinking alcohol, the reaction would probably be less than congratulatory.

Bottle with cork

“Why? Are you pregnant?” or “What – forever? Are you an alcoholic then?” being common reactions, although not as common as the response which is mere silence followed by an awkward change of subject.

In the UK and much of the Western world, we do not hold in high regard the notion of teetotalism. And yet with alcohol being the direct cause of 12,500 cancers in the UK each year (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/healthyliving/alcohol/), 290 people being killed in drink-driving incidents in 2012, 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions in England in 2011-12 and estimates indicating that alcohol-related harm overall costs the NHS in England £3.5bn a year (http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/alcohol2012-13.pdf), a non-drinking lifestyle may not be such a bad idea.

Of course, drinking moderately by sticking within government guidelines is how many people approach the business of drinking. For those people there is no real issue with booze, and certainly charity fundraising events such as Dry January would pose no major challenge.

However, there is a (substantial and largely hidden) proportion of the UK population who are unable to drink moderately but who struggle to come to terms with the notion of living alcohol-free. I was, for twenty years, one of those people. Deeply in love with Chablis, Pinot Grigio and a good, oaky Chardonnay, I was caught in an endless cycle where I believed I was treating myself each evening when I popped yet another cork, but in reality I was only deepening my ongoing depression, anxiety issues, lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, and the feelings of shame and guilt associated with the amount I drank.

Yet the thought of living alcohol-free as a lifestyle choice never entered my consciousness, from the age when I very first became aware of alcohol (probably about five or six), to when I began to experience the more detrimental effects of alcohol consumption in my early thirties. And then I toyed with the idea; a six-week dry period here, a health-giving detox there, but never fully wrapped my head around the concept of sobriety.

There were many reasons behind this, the two most obvious being that a) I was frightened of living without the crutch I had relied on for all of my teenage years and adult life, and b) I thought people who didn’t drink were boring.

When I eventually arrived (aged 35) at the conclusion that my lack of ability to recognise when I’d had enough was such that I would most likely die prematurely should I choose to continue to drink, I actually discovered that life without booze is rather fantastic. I love waking up full of energy and with a glowing complexion every morning. I love the fact that I never have to scroll through my phone to establish just who I contacted in the early hours and exactly what embarrassing sentiment I texted or emailed to them. I love the fact that I am now a patient and tolerant person, who always sees the bright side of life and rarely feels down. And I love the fact that I am no longer hiding behind a façade, but am the real me without pretence. I love the freedom that being a non-drinker brings.

I also enjoy how my creativity and productivity have exploded during the last three years I have spent sober, and during that time I have achieved more that I am proud of than I did in all my drinking years put together.

But I notice within our society that teetotallers are frequently regarded with suspicion, and their motives for wishing to exist minus the falsity of alcohol are questioned. I am the founder of a website which offers peer support to those with alcohol dependency problems (Soberistas.com) and therefore I spend an awful lot of time reading about the experiences of those who struggle with the same issues that I did for many years. With 22,000 members, it is clear there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with living in the booze trap but who have not easily been able to extricate themselves from it – partly because we live in such a booze-obsessed world.

As Dry January and the Dryathlon draw to a close and those who have so candidly taken part return to join the rest of the drinking population, I can’t help thinking about how many people there are who have enjoyed a society-approved respite from an endless cycle of heavy drinking followed by depression and regrets the morning after, but who now feel obliged to climb back on board the booze bus in order to not feel left out; for many, it’s a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’.

If we, as a society, ceased to perceive those who opt out of the madness of heavy drinking as oddities, and instead viewed their decision as a sensible choice for anyone who is not in control of their alcohol consumption, perhaps more people would feel motivated to live alcohol-free. For people who have managed to beat their smoking addiction, we give a collective pat on the back. Why not afford the same respect to those for whom alcohol causes only misery, and who therefore choose to live without it?

Maybe we should think in reverse when it comes to the old saying, “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” I, for one, am a hundred per cent more trustworthy (and more fun, pleasant to be around, a better parent, and less selfish) as a non-drinker than I ever was as a boozer.

Advertisements

Glass Half Full Available to Buy Today

I began writing this blog as a way of working through my feelings in relation to alcohol, specifically how and why I stopped drinking it. For a long period of my life I prioritised, and loved, booze above most other things (not that I was aware of this fact when I drank regularly), and the emotional chasm that opened up as a result of becoming alcohol-free was overwhelming.

At first, when I imagined never drinking wine again, I almost stopped breathing. It felt as though my soul mate had been ripped from my arms. In those early sober days and weeks everything fell away from me; lost and blank, the only possible course of action was to start my life all over again.

Over the course of the last year and a half, I have come to realise that my peculiar love affair with the bottle was not so peculiar after all, and that there are many people in the world who do not have the elusive ‘off-switch’ and who cannot therefore ‘drink responsibly’. Engaging with like-minded people through this blog and on Soberistas.com has accelerated my journey from bereft ex-drinker to happy, content and full of love for a life that doesn’t involve alcohol.

glass-half-full-300w

If you have enjoyed reading my blog, you may be interested to know that it has been made into a book entitled Glass Half Full (published by Accent Press) which is available to buy in paperback or eBook now. I hope the book will provide people with the knowledge that it IS possible to live happily ever after without a glass to hand, as well as giving an insight into how I managed to wipe clear my booze-addicted brain, learning how to be happy by just being me.

Thank you for following my blog, Lucy x

 

Self-Love – the art of loving oneself. By Claire Blank

Self-Love – the art of loving oneself. A simple enough concept, but one often overlooked by many women, I suspect. Psychologist & social philosopher, Erich Fromm defined self-love as caring for oneself, respecting oneself, taking responsibility for oneself and knowing oneself. In his 1956 book, “The Art of Loving”, he proposed that in order to truly love another person, one must first love oneself in this way.

I consider myself to be a reasonably well-rounded, intelligent, articulate woman, yet as I approach my forty-first birthday I am only just beginning to grasp the importance of the concept of self-love. Prioritising our mental and emotional well-being is something which I, and I suspect many women my age, simply do not do. We may go to work, care for our families and if time permits, squeeze a quick hour in down at the gym, but we don’t necessarily make our emotional and spiritual well-being a priority. And if we are not firing on all cylinders, then how can we properly care for and invest quality time in those around us? Well I have resolved to make 2014 the year that I make changes in the self-love department. Here’s why…

sun-through-storm

The birth of my son four and a half years ago was pretty traumatic. At forty-two weeks pregnant and two weeks past my due date, I reluctantly decided to take the advice of my midwife and be induced. It was a far cry from the natural birth I had hoped for, but having weighed up the risks, I decided to go ahead. Things did not go well.

Several hours into my labour, my son suffered a shoulder dystocia – his head had delivered, but his body had become wedged tight behind my pelvis – a medical emergency. Forceps, ventouse, episiotomy, the ‘McRoberts manoeuvre’ (not pleasant) and finally a grey limp baby. Not moving, not screaming, just floppy and apparently lifeless. I watched as he was flung onto a table where two paediatricians administered oxygen. ‘He’s pinking-up’ someone shouted and the young student midwife who was there to observe, saw my desperation and gave me a nervous thumbs up. And then I heard my baby cry. A collective sigh of relief in the delivery room. Time started again.

But my baby was not out of the woods. He had suffered Erb’s palsy (paralysis down one side resulting from birth trauma), torticollis (muscular spasm of the neck muscles which manifested in his head being severely twisted to the side), plagiocephaly (a flattened skull) and two broken ribs. My husband and I were devastated. We left hospital and the months of physiotherapy began.

While my friends pushed their new-borns though the park and met for coffee, my husband and I spent that Summer in hospital waiting rooms or at home, where several times each day we would administer the most brutal physiotherapy exercises on our screaming son. As the months passed, my baby’s condition improved and my mental health worsened. I was prescribed anti-depressants. Eventually we tried to have another child but instead we had miscarriages – three, one after another. Oh the unfairness of it all.

Gradually my depression lifted, my son recovered and life moved on. But the trauma and sadness of his birth remain, just bubbling away below the surface, always ready to catch me unawares; a news story about a lost child, an advert for nappies on the television, a friend falling pregnant – it doesn’t take much and the tears begin to flow. It’s not over – not by a long chalk.

I suspect that many of us have similar stories – miscarriage, a painful divorce, fertility problems, illness. We tell ourselves to ‘chin-up’, ‘toughen-up’. We distract ourselves with work or the gym. We tell ourselves there are others with bigger problems. We hit the wine to take the edge off it all. But it doesn’t go away, it’s bigger than that.

Well we deserve more. We’re worth it, as they say! And that’s why 2014 is going to be the year that I hold my hands up and say ‘enough!’ This week I have made an appointment to see a counsellor. I’m going to dredge up all the sadness and heartache, rake it over and put it to bed once and for all. I’m going to grant myself the luxury of taking care of my emotional well-being. I’m going to spend my money, not on booze to numb it all, but on me and my head!

It’s a start, and it feels good.

Booze, football and a woman named Beverley. By Claire Blank

In the course of my work as Director of Social Media for Soberistas, I spend large portions of my time trawling the internet for information on alcohol; news articles, clinical journals, recovery and addiction services, healthy living websites and alcohol industry publications – I read them all. Sometimes I find it an uplifting, hopeful task and I’m buoyed with optimism and inspired by some of the people I speak to. At other times, I find it downright depressing. January 14th 2014 was most definitely in the latter category.

That day, a search of the news articles on the web threw up a story from my local newspaper about a Sheffield woman who is dying of end-stage alcoholic liver disease. The article was quickly picked up by a couple of national tabloids, who ran it with rather more salacious details and some accompanying photographs. They tell the story of Beverley Pickorer who is currently being treated for liver cirrhosis in a palliative care unit. She has four children (aged six to fifteen) who have been taken into care and who will soon be orphaned. Beverley’s partner Anthony describes how her drinking spiralled out of control after a series of troubled relationships in her twenties. He wants to get her discharged from the unit so she can “die in my arms at home.”

Beverley is thirty-five years old.

Photographs accompanying the article show her lying in a hospital bed, her broken skinny body bruised and yellowed. Her eyes are dark and heavy, her face etched with pain.

My next search takes me to the website of OffLicenceNews.co.uk – a website for retailers of alcoholic drinks. There I learn that drinks giant, Campari Group, has just signed a deal with Manchester United FC, which will see it advertising its ‘Aperol’ liqueur across digital boards at the club’s home matches until 2016/17.

Aperol

Campari Group’s Chief Executive, Bob Kunze-Concewitz, sounds understandably delighted, “With the club widely recognised as the most supported in the world, this is a partnership that will deliver brand exposure on a massive scale, helping to provide Aperol, and its signature drink Aperol Spritz, with excellent levels of year-round brand exposure, consumer engagement and promotional opportunities in developed and new global markets.

Manchester United is the most successful club in England and one of the most successful in the world, winning with style and panache, bringing millions of fans together in celebration. Similarly, Aperol is a brand that also embodies success, celebration and sociability. The natural fit between the two brands makes the partnership one that will bring continued success to both parties.”

After reading about Beverley’s impending death, Bob’s clinical sounding marketing-speak grates on me – ‘Natural fit between the brands?’ Forgive me, Bob, but I can think of better brand ‘fits’, like sportswear perhaps, or vitamin tablets, or sports nutrition products. But I’m sure you’re right about the partnership bringing ‘continued success to both parties’. A euphemism, if ever there was one!

As I read Bob’s gushing quote, I consider the young sports fans across the globe who love to watch football and who, by simply tuning in, are subconsciously being bombarded with the message that alcohol equals “success, celebration and sociability.” I can’t help but wonder about the kind of people at Manchester United who sign a deal with an alcohol retailer just eight years after George Best, arguably the most talented player ever signed by the club, died from complications arising from prolonged alcohol abuse. I wonder too about our Government which, by allowing alcohol advertising in sport to continue unimpeded, is tacitly telling young sports fans that sport and alcohol go together and it’s all OK.

And I can’t shake Beverley out of my head, dying in a hospice at the age of thirty-five. I wonder when alcohol stopped embodying “success, celebration and sociability” for her.

Our society pushes alcohol and condones its use like no other drug. We are told from an early age that drinking it is fun, necessary, sociable, and yet when the wheels fall off, as in Beverley’s case, we are at best pitied, at worst maligned and insulted.

Since Soberistas launched just over a year ago, we have seen our community grow to over twenty-thousand members, with approximately half of these based in the UK. That’s ten-thousand UK residents whose drinking has reached such levels that they have signed up to an online support group – ten-thousand potential Beverleys. Surely now is the time for our Government to step into the 21st century and take action to reduce alcohol related harm?

The Very First Soberistas Meet-Up, London, January 11th 2014

On Saturday I was lucky enough to be able to meet some of the Soberistas community for real, and it was a fantastic day which I was thrilled to be a part of. It was only 13 and a half months ago when Soberistas.com launched but over the last year and a month, what started as just a small group has grown to be a very large community of truly inspirational people.

th (4)

I think to all those who attended, Saturday’s meeting felt like a group of  good friends coming together – there was no sense of us all only just having met one another, rather we slipped into hugs and conversations as if we had known each other for years. For me, being united in the flesh reinforced the notion that Soberistas is a community built on the foundations of kindness, love, compassion and solidarity.

What did I take away from me on Saturday when I left that very special group of people and ventured back out into the bright but cold January day? I took with me the knowledge that alcohol is one hell of a sneaky drug which can take a hold on ANYONE, no matter their background, personality or class. I took with me a reinforced belief in how the support of those who have endured the same kind of difficulties is the best kind there is. And I left with a warm feeling in my heart and a strong sense of belonging.

I also left the London Meet Up convinced that we are on the cusp of change. The fact that a group of women (and one man, thank you Dr Andrew Langford, CEO of the British Liver Trust) from all over the UK made the effort to travel far and wide to spend the day with one another, sharing their stories and strengthening the community spirit of Soberistas, gives me hope that many more people will come to realise what we already have; that alcohol dependency is a trap from which one CAN escape, and that life without booze can be a wonderful, eye-opening, fulfilling and exciting adventure which anybody can partake in if they are only willing to alter old habits.

I know there are many more Soberistas meet-ups scheduled over the next few months – I will be speaking at the one in York in March, and I can’t wait to meet even more of the fantastic people who have helped build Soberistas. I hope you can make it too.

Lucy x

Time for Reflection

This week I’ve spent a lot of time doing radio interviews, as The Sober Revolution and Your 6 Week Plan have both hit the book shops. This little publicity trail has led to me repeating my story over and over again, about how I ran into trouble with the bottle, why I finally made the decision to quit, and why I felt as though this has had to be a choice for life. People are interested in, and keen to understand, why there are some of us who experience a difficult relationship with alcohol while they seem to be able to take it or leave it.

There are a number of different opinions out there with regards to this, ranging from the ‘alcoholism as a disease’ model, to Jason Vale’s interpretation which suggests that anyone who regularly drinks alcohol (even in fairly small amounts) is an alcohol addict (and not an alcoholic), albeit one who is in denial.

My perception of my personal struggles with alcohol has altered quite significantly over the last few years too. For a long time I would just as likely have claimed to be an alcoholic as I would have to be an alien. Then I hit some major problems as a result of alcohol; blackouts became increasingly common, I repeatedly made some stupid life choices (mainly to do with the opposite sex, always when I was drunk) which contributed towards my unhappiness, and I couldn’t seem to escape my small world in which I never seemed to get a break. I didn’t apportion any of these things to my drinking habit for a long time, however, and it wasn’t until I woke up in hospital after a binge that I had the clarity to see what a destructive element of my existence alcohol had become.

At that moment I found it necessary to label myself ‘an alcoholic.’ It was probably linked to the fact that my self-esteem was lower than it had ever been and I needed to punish myself for my last night of boozing. I suppose that labelling myself in that way also helped me to not drink in the early days – raising the seriousness of my ‘condition’ from ‘frequent and heavy drinker’ to ‘alcoholic’ made me all the more sure that I must never touch a drop again.

But then, over time, I felt my brain come back to life and my self-confidence began to grow. As I noticed all the good things that were happening to me, now that I’d put down the bottle, I began to wonder about the label ‘alcoholic’ because I realised that I actually had no desire to drink anymore. How I felt had become so far removed from the language of ‘relapse’, ‘disease’ and ‘one day at a time’ that I felt quite irritated by the idea of pigeon-holing myself as I had done a few months earlier.

What happened was that as my self-esteem grew, so did the notion of personal responsibility and wanting a happy and healthy life for myself. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to destroy all that I had in my life as a non-drinker by pouring that first glass of wine (which for me will always lead to the rest of the bottle and beyond). I equated wine with illness, misery and addiction, and none of those things featured in my life anymore.

Gradually, being alcohol-free morphed into being my choice, and so the idea that I was somehow diseased and would be threatened by temptation for the rest of my days was/is totally bizarre. I don’t wish to make it sound an easy thing to resolve an alcohol dependency – it wasn’t and it took a hell of a lot of soul-searching and emotional pain. But now that the hard bit is over, I feel as though I am reaping the rewards of making the choice to stop drinking – which, in my opinion, is a far healthier way of looking at things than sticking the label of ‘alcoholic’ on my head and worrying about booze for the rest of my days.