Don’t white knuckle it this weekend!

It’s Friday, the beginning of the weekend and the start of (for many) the really difficult and persistent cravings. Monday to Thursday you’re flying high, with work commitments, appointments and a desire to be productive all adding weight to your alcohol-free intentions. And then somewhere, sometime, perhaps on Thursday evening as you slowly acknowledge the fact that the next day marks the start of the weekend, the idea that one or two alcoholic drinks could be a good thing creeps into your conscience.

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By Friday morning it’s almost a done deal; the cravings kick in with super strength and the will to remain on an even keel, to be ‘good’, begins to wither away like a wilting bloom.

So, is it possible to maintain the desire to remain alcohol-free, right through the weekend? Yes, it most definitely is, and here are a few pointers for getting you safely to Sunday evening where you will feel very proud of yourself for resisting all temptation;

a) Don’t just THINK positive but VISUALISE positive – imagine yourself spending Friday night enjoying whatever you want to do, only without alcohol poisoning your body and your mind. When we picture ourselves doing something it becomes easier to do it in real life. Map out how you want to spend the entire weekend, and cover the most mundane elements too – observe in your mind this imaginary you going about your weekend MINUS any alcohol, and being content and HAPPY.
b) Plan something to do on Saturday and Sunday mornings that would be seriously impaired if you had a hangover. Ideally, make these activities stuff to do with a friend or family member; that way you’ll have an extra incentive to stay alcohol-free so as not to let that person down by calling it off due to the physical effects of excessive drinking.
c) Accept that life will be different as a non-drinker, but think this through carefully. Apply yourself – what are you scared of? Why would spending time without alcohol be so awful? What’s the worst that can happen? If you think logically you’ll recognise that the bad things happen when we get drunk. Take away the booze and life is calmer, more manageable and easier.
d) You know that you want to quit drinking otherwise you would never have joined Soberistas. But now you are fighting with yourself internally because you desire the very thing (i.e. booze) that you, up until now, so desperately wanted out of your life. These inner tantrums are easy to put an end to – tell yourself ‘Yes, I can have a drink. If I choose to, there’s nobody who can make me not drink alcohol tonight’. Because there IS nobody but YOU who can make that decision – take away the notion of ‘can’t’ and accept that you can CHOOSE to drink if you want. But DO you want everything that is ALWAYS AND INEXTRICABLY linked with drinking? That’s the real question – which brings us onto point e)…
e) Make a list of the reasons why you want to quit drinking. Now add all the reasons why you think you want to drink this weekend. Which list is longer? Which sounds more like the real you? Which list do you think makes the most sense?
f) Finally go back to point a). Picture yourself waking up on Saturday morning after a great night’s sleep, no hangover and with complete freedom to do exactly what you want without the inconvenience and debilitating effects of a hangover. Acknowledge how much more time you will have when half the weekend isn’t spent lying in a darkened room hating yourself. Visualise the money you will save by choosing to stay alcohol-free. Picture yourself happy and well on Sunday night, enjoying all the positive consequences of CHOOSING NOT TO DRINK.
And now remind yourself that you are capable of all of this, and much, much more.

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Alcohol-free but still waiting for the benefits?

There’s no doubt it’s easier to stay sober when things are going well. Not only do you feel more hopeful and have a higher degree of faith in yourself to stay committed to an alcohol-free life, but you’re far less likely to hit the self-destruct button when you’re feeling happy.

When things are looking less rosy it can be all too tempting to throw the towel in and get submerged in booze as a way of blotting out the darker aspects of life. For those who have successfully cut out alcohol but are yet to notice any earth-shatteringly positive results, read on…

Life doesn’t become great simply because you stop drinking (at least not for everyone). Many heavy drinkers will have developed their alcohol habit directly because they are attempting to disguise an element of their life which they are fundamentally unhappy with. This may be a bad relationship, a job which is unfulfilling and/or stressful, or a painful bereavement. Alcohol, despite its numerous and severely damaging consequences, does work well in the short-term in numbing emotional suffering thus it’s an obvious choice of self-medication when times are tough.

When you quit drinking, the cushioning and fog disappear leaving the raw truth; this may not always be what you want as your reality.

So what’s the answer; continue drinking and cover the problem areas up (but also have to cope with the untold additional traumas that arise from heavy drinking) or stay alcohol-free and change the factors of life that are less than satisfactory?

There’s no definitive answer – the choice, as always, is down to you the individual. Being told that you should stop drinking by anyone is never going to be effective for your successful sobriety.

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A few years ago when I became alcohol-free there were areas of my life that I didn’t particularly like and that all of a sudden seemed to slam up close, impossible to ignore and demanding attention – any kind of attention. One such problem was that I suddenly realised I desperately wanted a second chance at being a mum and to be a part of a happy family following my acrimonious divorce and the subsequent years of single-parenthood. (The above photograph is of me, four months pregnant with my baby, Lily. To reach this point I had to work through my issues of low self-esteem and depression, both of which took a great deal of effort and time).

As I had spent 20 years blotting things out, covering stuff up and burying my head in a large glass of red I was somewhat unaccustomed to considering difficulties, developing tactics to deal with them and then putting my plans into action. One thing I really noticed as a newly alcohol-free person was that I craved instant gratification – I didn’t want to put any effort into working through issues. I just wanted them to go away, and NOW!

But real life isn’t like that. The big problems that may rear their ugly heads in a newly sober person’s life will not disappear at a click of the fingers. Such matters usually demand a reasonable amount of thought, effort and time (and sometimes a lot of heartache) if they are to be conquered and/or banished for good.

But the benefits to be derived from putting in this extra effort are;

a) reinforced self-confidence

b) increased self-esteem

c) the resolution of whatever the problem was in the first place

d) strengthened commitment to sobriety (because you have proved you can get through the bad times minus the booze).

There is nobody but you who truly knows whether it’s worth staying sober to fight the fight. But there’s nobody but you who will experience first-hand the full rewards of an alcohol-free life either – in the end, it’s a choice only you can make.

How I Discovered Happiness

I’m 38 years old and struggled with depression, anxiety and the odd panic attack for twenty years of my life, prior to April 2011. My nerves frequently got the better of me, and my obvious lack of confidence in work and social situations held me back and prevented me from fulfilling my potential for many years. If you had asked me to describe my personality a few years ago, I would have responded with a jumbled, insecure answer; unsure of who I really was, full of pretence as to the person I wanted to be, knowing that inside I didn’t particularly like myself but not fully realising how to change. All of that stopped when I quit drinking alcohol three years ago.

If you have a sneaky suspicion that alcohol is controlling you a little more than you feel comfortable with then read on – this may be the first step you have subconsciously wanted to take for a long time.

If you binge drink and subsequently get drunk a lot you will, whoever you are, occasionally make an idiot of yourself. You will say stupid things, have unnecessary arguments, fall over, lose your phone or handbag, text someone who you really shouldn’t, make sexual advances towards a person who is, how shall I put this..? Not quite at your usual standard. You may even put your safety at risk, walking home late at night alone, slightly wobbly, looking like an easy target for an attacker, or drink so much that you are sick after you have fallen asleep. Every time that you wake up the morning after a session where one or several of the above have occurred, your self esteem will take a bit of a battering. Multiply those beatings by each weekend/night/day that you binge drink and you will appreciate that your self-respect and self-esteem are severely and negatively affected by alcohol.

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system. Physiologically, that anxiety and nervy disposition that you, as regular binge drinker, have probably noticed is increasing with age, is down to booze. When I drank, I had frequent panic attacks, the last one being so severe that I thought I was dying. I had to walk out of the packed cinema in which I was trying to watch The King’s Speech, because I was fighting to breathe. It was hours later until I regained my normal composure, and days until I fully recovered from the fright and trauma that I suffered as a result of thinking that I was on my way to meeting my maker. The reason behind this anxiety attack was that I had drunk too much beer the night before.

For years I pinballed between unsuitable relationships; one boyfriend would have the physical attributes I was looking for, but not the mental compatibility. I would dump the first one and jump straight in to another union with someone who had the brains and emotional energy I was after, but who, after time, I had no physical connection with whatsoever. I couldn’t be alone. My depression and low self esteem meant that I constantly needed the reassurance of being in a relationship just to feel wanted and loved. I was incapable of loving myself. Alcohol kept me from being in a happy and balanced relationship with a person who loves me as much as I love them.

Drinking put me in a perpetual state of either a) being drunk or b) being hungover. Neither of these conditions is conducive to a productive, fulfilling life. My career, financial wellbeing and physical fitness were all below par (by a long way) when I drank. I am not a lazy person but I never achieved much during the years in which I got drunk. Since giving up drinking, my achievements just keep on growing each week – in turn this boosts my self-esteem and belief in what I am capable of. And so I keep on achieving and aiming higher.

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Without drink in my life, my self-esteem has been restored; my anxiety and narcissistic tendencies have vanished, and guess what? I like myself! And the natural conclusion to that, of course, is that other people like me more too. I have finally found a man who I think is perfect (for me, at least), and we have a wonderful family life which I value above anything else. I am running regularly and am the fittest I have ever been. My relationship with my eldest daughter (at that tricky teenage stage) is great, and we are very close. I have bags of energy (essential for looking after my toddler properly), and squeeze masses into each and every day. I never stay in bed, idling away those precious hours that I could be spending on accomplishing something worthwhile. My skin and general appearance have improved, my eyes are bright and I don’t have to fight to keep a beer belly at bay. I am happy, the happiest I have ever been in my life, and this is down to one simple fact – I gave up booze.

Soberistas York Meet Up, March 15th 2014

Today was the second Soberistas meet-up and it was, again, an amazing experience to spend time with so many fantastic and brave people who really do feel like old friends. Thank you to Linda, Binki and Nicky for their brilliant organizational skills and the lovely goody bags we all received, and to Katey for the beautiful orange bracelets she made for those who attended. Thanks also to Andrew Langford, CEO of the British Liver Trust, for travelling all the way up to York from London to share with us his great expertise, and to Sarah Turner, my brilliant co-author of the Sober Revolution, for her inspirational speech about women empowering themselves in the fight against booze.

Below is a little extract from my own speech for those who couldn’t make it today (and a photo of the goody bag with bracelet!).

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I was thinking about how to summarise what Soberistas means to me and the two words that sprang to mind were HOPE and SOLIDARITY. 

Hope is the state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life, or in the world at large. Hope is what keeps us forging on in life when everything seems black. When we lose hope, we are left with despair.

Hope is what makes it worthwhile fighting the fight, even when it seems we are getting nowhere fast.

Hope is why we put ourselves through hell during the initial weeks and months of sobriety, because we believe things will eventually get easier.

Solidarity means a community of feelings, purposes, of responsibilities and interests. Solidarity is blessed relief, of knowing that you aren’t alone no matter what madness you are experiencing; that someone is on your side during the darkest moments.

Solidarity allows us to win a battle which, if fought alone we would more than likely lose. Solidarity allows us to find laughter amidst the depths of despair, and helps us rediscover hope when we think we might have lost it forever.

Soberistas was to me, right from its inception, about hope and solidarity. My main goal when creating the website was to ensure that whoever joined this community would instantly recognise that the problem we here today have all known, is not only theirs. The fact that there are now almost 25,000 Soberistas (who have joined in the 15 and a half months since we first launched) is evidence of how very common this problem is, and is an incredible example of the power of solidarity.

Life is great without booze, if you are a person who cannot drink safely. The terrible consequences of excessive alcohol consumption should be reason enough to kick it out of our life for good, but somehow it’s not always that easy…

But on Soberistas we can share our concerns about how to cope with a social event minus the wine prop, reassure each other that we are not terrible people for having developed a damaging dependency on a widely-marketed and addictive substance that virtually everyone in Western society consumes regularly and without concern.

We can advise on what alternatives to drink, how to beat cravings, how to spend our free evenings. We can laugh together about the stupid things we have done when drunk, in a way that someone who has never suffered the pain of dependency would ever be able to do.

And because we read about the success stories on Soberistas each day – three months AF, six months AF, and now people who are celebrating their first year AF – largely as a result of the support and wisdom they’ve found on Soberistas, it provides us all with hope that a happy and healthy AF life is possible.

Pause for Breath

We live in an amazing world. Think about it for a moment; in the midst of a massive black space home to many uninhabitable planets, stars and a boiling hot sun, we get to reside on Earth – a beautiful, green and blue sphere filled with amazing animals, interesting insects and us, human beings.

We jump out of bed each day, go through the same rituals and motions, drink coffee, pack the kids off to school, navigate our way through the busy streets to reach our places of work, engage in phatic conversation with colleagues, come home, eat and talk, and then collapse into bed. And how often, in all of that time, do we stop and look around and think ‘OH MY GOD! THIS IS ALL JUST TOTALLY CRAZY AND WONDERFUL’? Probably not very often because if we did, we wouldn’t get much done and everyone would think we’d gone slightly wacko.

But think about it now, for a minute, because it really is.

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We’re so immensely clever, we make things that are beyond incredible – we worked out how to fly out of our atmosphere and into space, and how to send satellites into orbit that take pictures of other planets so we can find out what’s out there. We found bones and old artefacts and put the clues together to work out how people lived thousands of years ago and how we got to be here at all. We’ve developed communication so extensively we can send a message to someone instantly on the other side of the world, engage with millions of people all at once, and watch films on a tiny screen we can hold in our hands.

We’re caring and thoughtful, and have built a society which incorporates all kinds of help and support for those in need. We conquer disease and illness, saving lives every day through unbelievably sophisticated medical techniques. We established how to take blood from one and give it to another to prevent them from dying.

We invented the wheel and bridges, aeroplanes and cars, so we can move about wherever we want to go. We are able to fly to the other side of our planet in less than a day, and travel the length of an entire continent in just a few hours.

We are creative and brilliant and have dreamt up stories and songs capable of completely changing a person’s mood and inspiring them to live differently. We’ve written millions of books, recorded breath-taking music and penned screenplays and scripts that have literally changed mankind. We are leaders and teachers and motivators and doctors and mechanics and builders and engineers and actors and scientists and academics.

We live in a place where the sun rises and sets with a multitude of colours, and where blue-green waters roll in and crash onto white sandy beaches. There are mountains capped with glistening snow that stretch up to the sky. We share our world with the simple wonder of a daffodil and the rarity and beauty of a tiger.

We have each other, our friends and family, the people we can laugh with and who cheer us up, who hold us when we feel alone or sad. Our children show us how to rediscover excitement in the seemingly mundane, and our parents pass on the insight and wisdom that age brings. We form groups who share the same interests, and bond with others over a mutual thought. We fall in love.

And mostly, we let all of this slip by every day while we grumble about our mobile phone being slow to connect to the internet, complain about the traffic jam we are sitting in or because we can’t find a particular ingredient in the supermarket. We fight with people over meaningless nonsense and forget to value ourselves and all that we have. We don’t stop to look around at our planet and history, and at everything we’ve accomplished together as a species.

When you put an end to destructive drinking patterns, life becomes more noticeable. The little things jump out at you, you are awestruck by things you never used to see. But if you don’t pause to take stock occasionally, your time on Earth will fly past you at a hundred miles an hour.

Stop for a minute today and soak up everything that we are. Our world is truly amazing.