On being Freshly Pressed, and a massive thank you!

Last week I was lucky enough to have my WordPress post, Thirty-Something, selected to be Freshly Pressed. Since then, the post has received 304 likes and my blog has attracted almost 300 new followers – which is amazing!

I’m writing this post to say thank you to everyone who took the time to read ‘Thirty-Something’, for all your lovely, kind comments and for choosing to follow the Soberistas blog.

Here’s a little bit of background about what Soberistas is, and what it is that we hope to achieve through our online community. I used to be (as you will know if you have read any previous posts) a bit of a piss artist. I employed every trick in the book to maintain my ‘head in the sand’ approach to drinking, and it was only when I woke up in hospital in the early hours of one morning in April, 2011, that I found the strength and determination to quit booze for good. About a year and a half later I launched Soberistas.com; a social network site aimed at women who knew they had issues with alcohol and who wanted to explore their options with regards to sobering up.

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The site is essentially a non-judgemental and supportive online space, and the peer support it offers has now helped countless people turn a corner and become alcohol-free. We have members from across the globe, all of whom make up an amazingly inspirational community. As time has gone on we have added new features to Soberistas including our Ask the Doctor page, monthly expert webinars and a book club. In February 2015 we are holding the first Soberistas Run, which will be a fabulous opportunity for our members to meet up in person, celebrate their new alcohol-free life, and also to raise money for the British Liver Trust.

One of my main goals when I set up Soberistas was to help break down the stigma associated with alcohol dependency – I never wanted anyone to feel the shame that I felt when I awoke in hospital with no memory of how I had arrived, and the subsequent self-loathing I experienced upon getting out of there. So many people have dependency issues with alcohol, from all walks of life and with a myriad of different drinking tales to tell. There is no shame in falling foul of such a highly addictive, freely available and excessively marketed drug – the only shame is in that there is so much hypocrisy and prejudice aimed towards those who struggle with managing their alcohol consumption.

So, that’s a little bit on what Soberistas is about, and if you are one of our new followers then a massive thanks to you for your support. I hope you enjoy my posts.

Lucy x

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The Witching Hour

When I first quit drinking I frequently felt as though I was teetering on the threshold of a massive cliff. The edge represented the abyss of my feelings, the emotional reservoir that I had successfully avoided for my entire adult life, and I was petrified of letting myself go anywhere near it. Daytimes were manageable, filled as they were with childcare or work and characteristically lacking in the impressively stubborn self-destruct button that would worm its way into my head as the days evolved into early evening. But when darkness descended I routinely walked to the brink of feeling, and would always run in the opposite direction.

I know why I was so terrified of feeling my feelings: I’m still very conscious of it now, the enormity of human emotions, the turbulent effect they can have upon me, how they possess the unnerving potential to grow unwieldy and all-consuming. Emotions can be big, exciting, terrifying, out-of-control, barely there, impossible to ignore and pleasant, but crucially, they are merely a part of what it is to be a human being – and that fact took me a while to get my head around when I first stopped drinking.

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Initially, feeling emotions felt bizarre and uncomfortable. I was so accustomed to quashing the whole spectrum of my reactions to life that, once free of alcohol, living turned into a medley of colossal ups and downs and my kneejerk response of seeking numbness did not disappear for several months. What I noticed, however, was that as time went by I began only to wish away the bigger feelings. Boredom, slight shyness and mild grievances – those became doable fairly early on. The challenge lay in the real tsunamis of the emotional range; grief, heavy regret, heartache. When they hit, the old tendency to flee from myself would rise up from the ashes and eliminating them would require an inner strength that I never knew I possessed.

It was incredibly difficult to ride the storm and just ‘be’, but now, after three and half years without alcohol, I’m there. I can feel without feeling terrified.

Here are a few things I have learnt about managing my emotions;

  • This too shall pass – emotions don’t last forever. Some of them might feel uncomfortable and unpleasant, but bad feelings come and go like tempests in your soul. When I feel unhappy nowadays I just sit it out but with the comforting knowledge that my internal state has no permanence.
  • The anticipation of experiencing feelings is far worse than the reality. Numbing our emotions with alcohol is not actually the ‘normal’ human experience, despite the way society normalises heavy drinking. Feeling our emotions is OK and entirely natural, and it will feel less bizarre the more you do it.
  • Negative emotions can be a challenge to deal with, but sobriety allows for both good and bad emotional rollercoasters. Yes, you may have to cope with heartache, grief, disappointment or stress without the numbing properties of ethanol flat-lining your emotional state, but try feeling the purity of joy, pride, relief, falling in love or a sense of achievement free from an alcoholic fog. There’s nothing like it.
  • Living in the moment by practising mindfulness truly helps when it comes to managing out-of-control emotional states. Meditation is an excellent place to start with this and there are tons of books and online resources on mindfulness to tap into. I can’t recommend this as a way of life highly enough.
  • Regard every challenging feeling you experience as a major stepping stone in your journey to emotional wellness. With each one you will grow stronger and better equipped to deal with the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones in between. Avoid wishing your feelings away, and accept that they are a valid element of your life experience.

Thirty-something

It was my birthday a couple of days ago; thirty-nine, the final one of my thirties. The decade began with a party at my old house; a little terraced two up, two down, that I bought upon the end of my short-lived marriage. My thirtieth birthday bash was a fancy dress do, the theme being ‘1970s debauchery’. At the start of the evening there was a power cut and my then six-year-old daughter shone a torch on my face in a blackened bedroom as I applied my make-up and set in place a sleek, bright pink wig. An hour later, fairy lights twinkled in celebration of the electricity supply returning, the music grew louder and the booze began to flow. By midnight I was lying in my bed, a bucket strategically positioned adjacent to my head to capture a seemingly never-ending stream of vomit as my guests continued to party hard downstairs without me.

Birthdays that followed have disappeared amongst the broken memory bank of my drinking days. When I look back on the first half of my thirties, I see a fractured person struggling to keep afloat in a world she didn’t understand, seeking comfort in things that could only ever bring about further damage. I see a woman who had no sense of direction beyond the shortest route to the local pub. I see someone who dragged around a heavy burden of secrecy and shame, who thought she was the only one to fall in between the two polar opposites of ‘responsible drinker’ and ‘alcoholic’.

I see a person emotionally frozen in her teens, whose self-awareness was non-existent, and who could not enter into a social situation without an unbending desire to drink and get drunk entering into her consciousness.

Of all the hopes and dreams I played around with in my early thirties, the one thing I never considered was that I might become a non-drinker. My goals were set far beyond what I was ever going to realistically achieve; I spent too much time existing in a fantasy world with my head buried deep in the sand, wildly in denial about the fact that I was, in fact, addicted to alcohol. The decade that began with an extravagant excuse for a monumental piss up, slipped and slurred its way along in a fog of drunkenness and hangovers, and all the while I was enveloped in a very real belief that I was enjoying myself.

Underneath the façade, however, I knew that all was not well. There were countless moments of blackness, when I was drowning in suicidal thoughts and feelings of wanting to depart from the person I had grown into. I hated residing in my own skin, couldn’t bear the knowledge that I really and truly wanted to be someone else.

Midway through my thirties was the pivotal point in my life when I accepted that I could not, and most likely would never be able to, moderate my alcohol consumption. Realisation of this fact has altered the course of my life forever, turning me into a completely different person to the one I was.

It’s meant that I can have a beautiful relationship with both of my daughters, and has allowed me to explore who I am and where I want to end up in life. Recognising how damaging my dependency upon alcohol was has meant that I have finally worked through issues that had been bottled up for years, bringing emotions to the surface that had never previously been felt.

Understanding and fully taking on board that I cannot drink alcohol and be safe has, ultimately, saved my life.

My thirty-ninth birthday then was a very different affair to my thirtieth. With none of the wild raucous partying of my younger years (not that this is no longer an option because I don’t drink, but it simply wasn’t what I wanted this time around), I found happiness and quiet celebration in the notion that I am now in control of my world. I am a regular person nowadays, with normal emotions and the ability to perceive life accurately and respond to events appropriately. The people in my life are there of my choosing, and I hope they all know how deeply I love them and how indebted I am to them for standing by me during my booze-filled days. They must have seen a glimmer of what lay beneath the mess and destruction left in the wake of all the wine I was drinking, and hung around in the hope that I might one day see it too.

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So now I am at the very start of the final year of my thirties, a time I will never be able to revisit. I intend to fill it full of very happy memories, ones that I can hang on to and smile when I recall them. And always to remember how, despite the first half of the decade representing nothing more than wasted money and an over-worked liver, the second, alcohol-free half has brought me nothing but happiness.

Life is a series of lessons, big and small

We can’t always be perfect but we can always try to do our best – not just in what we do but in how we do it. Striving to reach goals and aiming high for outward signs of success is all well and good, but I have become far more interested in just striving to be the best version of me that I can. I’ve noticed that there’s a small fraction of a difference between less than ideal, and terrible, between average and fantastic. It’s the details that count.

It’s those few words which are spoken or that decision to be there for someone when you really need to be elsewhere. It’s the seemingly slight changes we make to our diet which either contribute to a feeling of self-confidence or self-loathing – emotions which then often lead to us making further good or bad choices and entering into corresponding cycles of positivity or negativity.

Sometimes it’s the colossal events and momentous decisions that we take throughout the course of our lives that trickle downwards and affect all that is to follow – the partner we choose to marry, the children we plan to have (and which may or may not then materialise), the relocation we decide to accept. Such roads might lead us to a happier place, or not, an easier state of mind, or not, a fulfilling lifestyle, or not. We never know where those big choices will throw us out along life’s path, but we do know that we can try to be the best we can no matter where we end up.

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The lessons we learn as we mature can, and should, be utilised to help us achieve a goal of bettering ourselves. We can, if we examine our histories, recognise patterns of behaviour that have not worked in our favour. We might identify upon close retrospection what triggers certain, less-than-perfect actions. The time we spend alive can be perceived as a series of tutorials, a lifelong system of education, where each year is filled with mistakes that we can employ for creating a brighter future.

We probably won’t get everything in life that we set out to get. There’s bound to be disappointments and pain and suffering around the various corners we turn. What we dream of as children is likely never to come to fruition – at least, not all of it – but we can appreciate the bad stuff for teaching us where we went wrong.

If we begin our journeys through life as though we are a malleable ball of putty, then every knock and let-down, every exciting and happy occasion, each moment of pride and self-satisfaction that we travel through, shapes us further, until, in our old age we represent a lifetime of moulding, of experiences; a sum total of the human experience. Of our own personal human experience.