2015 – The Year of the Soberista

I think we live in a topsy-turvy world, where it is seen as more normal to want to drink yourself into oblivion than it is to lead a healthy, alcohol-free life in which you are in control of your body and mind. On a daily basis, we are surrounded by messages of endorsement for a seriously mind-altering substance – one that is responsible for the deaths of 3.3 million people worldwide every year. We are bombarded by a collective validation for this addictive drug, the consumption of which is a causal factor in more than two hundred disease and injury conditions.

IMG_0271

And bizarrely, we often find that when we choose to opt out of the merry-go-round of alcohol misuse, we are considered to be boring, ill or someone to pity. It is not always the case, of course, but there exists a great deal of stigma and hypocrisy when it comes to the way people in the West approach the issue of drinking and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, sobriety.

Until I ended up in hospital because of the amount of booze I consumed one night in April 2011, I lived a life that I would describe as one of a binge drinker. On many occasions I despised myself because of something I had said or done when under the influence; there were too many times when I lay alone in the dark considering suicide as a result of the depressive effects of alcohol. But I never regarded myself as someone to feel sorry for – I wasn’t a victim. I was simply unaware that my life would be vastly improved if I omitted alcohol from it. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees – there was no clarity, no understanding that I was, in reality, creating all of the problems in my life because I got drunk so frequently.

I firmly believe in an alcohol-free life now. It’s a way of being that has brought me nothing but positives, and one that has simultaneously eradicated much of the crap that dragged me down so relentlessly for years. I remember a boy at my secondary school who used to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, ‘Drinking won’t solve my problems. But it will give me lots of interesting new ones’. Oh the wit! That carefree and innocent perspective of this substance that most people share in their teens was one that I most definitely held – although one that very gradually became replaced with a great deal of wariness and, eventually, fear.

Many people will remain forever in denial that they actually have a problem with alcohol. For every regret-filled morning when with head throbbing, promises will be made to never drink again, there will be an untold number of nights of throwing caution to the wind and an abject refusal to accept that it is not really ok to be drinking to the point of blacking out. And on and on the negative cycle will turn, never to be broken.

But equally, many people are, I believe, now beginning to question this alcohol-fuelled existence as normal. They are pondering whether life without hangovers and booze-induced problems in their relationships and at work might be better, easier. I believe there is a wave building, a revolt against the mass acceptance we have all grown up with, of binge drinking and its place in society as an inherent element of everyday life.

fireworks

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are times of the year when alcohol features even more prominently than usual – it can feel isolating and challenging to be a non-drinker in the midst of such widespread festive applause for booze. But there are far more people than many would imagine who are happily getting on with things minus any alcohol, and who aren’t missing it that much, if at all. I am one of those people. I couldn’t be happier than right now, free from the shackles that held me prisoner for so long and which turned me into someone I wasn’t – a loud, overbearing and self-centred person with a shallow existence and a multitude of regrets keeping me awake at night.

The more people who continue to turn their backs on booze, the more normal the teetotaller will become. I hope that in 2015 we will witness a big increase in the number of non-drinkers proudly emerging, and that as an expanding group in society we can make the case heard even louder for a life that’s lived in control, healthily and happily.

Happy New Year! Lucy x

Advertisements

Revisiting The Past – With Armour

I don’t often feel the same emotions that I used to experience on a regular basis, the ones that would propel me with gusto towards the wine aisle of my local supermarket where I would load up on bottles and return home, ready to sink myself into oblivion. By and large I am happy, settled and content. But then, occasionally, thrown into the jumble of life – the childcare, work, relationships, household chores – is a wild card; that out-of-the-blue disruption to normality that causes everything to wobble, and places immense strain on the mental ‘togetherness’ that is often so easy to take for granted.

Last week my toddler fell ill and I found myself hurtling to the local children’s hospital in the middle of the night in an ambulance, siren screaming and lights flashing, my heart racing and horrific, terrifying thoughts churning through my mind like a horror film on a loop. She has since recovered fully, thank God, but I have been left with a morbid fear that she will fall ill again – a fear that has, naturally, impacted on sleep and stress levels.

dreamstimefree_70159

Today I went for a walk, unusually without my little girl. The sky was grey and the air cold, a threat of snow lingering. I had my iPod on, music loud and providing me with a much-needed escape from recent mental stress. And suddenly I happened upon the exact cognitive processes that, once upon a time, would have led me to buying alcohol, lots of alcohol. I’d forgotten that place existed, so long it has been since I found myself there. Sleep deprivation and worry brought it right back.

In a way, it was comforting, like visiting an old friend who I hadn’t seen for ages. That familiarity and easy association we have with people we’ve known since childhood, even when years pass without talking to them. It was verging on the brink of madness, loneliness, a sense that the rest of the world is getting on with their business and has no idea what misery has been funnelled through your own private existence; a resilience, fiercely independent, a fuck you glare, a teetering on the edge of losing it. A need to escape. It was very real, and I remembered all too well how easy it is at that moment to just go and get wrecked.

I am not that different, not in the way my mind works when under stress, but I have changed dramatically in my levels of self-awareness and inner strength, the tools I can now rely on to pull myself back into a better place. I didn’t try to escape the feeling. I walked with it. I felt it. I even indulged in it a little.

And then I came back home and got my laptop out and wrote this. Like they always did, these feelings will pass. But, because I don’t drink, there will be no hangover to deal with when they do. And I will be a little bit tougher than I was before.

A Precious Life

Most people won’t recall the first day of primary school. A sea of new faces, new rules, new routines and new information, all racing through the immature brain at a hundred miles an hour, little of it sticking with any permanence – at least not for the first few weeks. Most people won’t remember to whom they spoke on the first day at school; whether it was a child who was to grow into a friend or just one of many faceless classmates who would eventually drift off into the far reaches of the school experience. Perhaps there will be, for some, a glimmer of a memory of a tearful, wretched goodbye to a parent at the school gates, the very first real separation marking the beginning of a series of many.

Most children readily absorb school life; they relish the learning opportunities presented. That first day becomes the first week, and then a month, a year. Our infant education whizzes by and suddenly we are moving rapidly into the junior years and beyond. Friendships are cemented, the shared background of metamorphosis from child to teenager makes for deep bonds, the like of which are rarely repeated in later life. The innocence and freshness of youth sparks dreams of what might be waiting for us around the corner as adults, a place none of us know but most, in their teens, would claim to be familiar with. Clutching at a medley of half-formed views and childish interpretations of the world, we are united in youth by a lack of real life knowledge and, simultaneously, a belief that we are more than capable of going it alone.

I do remember the very first person I spoke to at primary school. Her name was Fiona and she was a one-off; a live wire, filled with intelligence and passion, topped off with an unruly mop of brown curls. We became best friends, and remained so throughout much of primary school. Once in secondary education we slowly disconnected, each of us becoming welded to new groups of friends but always retaining the close, unmistakeable childhood bond we had sealed on our very first day at school all those years earlier.

When she was aged seventeen, Fiona was murdered, very brutally. Her death has haunted me almost every day since I became aware of it, when I recognised her face on the front page of the local paper, a patchy look-alike created by a police artist. It was the week before Christmas, December 18th, in 1993.

Today I went for a run, up through the parks and close to the border of the Peak District. It is twenty-one years exactly since Fiona was killed – years that I have been lucky enough to live, and she has not. As I stopped to take in the view at the top of a hill, I took note of my health, my vitality, my age; that I have made it to thirty-nine, am fortunate enough to have two beautiful daughters, and have friends and family who I love. So many things that have shaped me over the last twenty-one years ran through my mind; the music I have listened to, nights out I’ve had, holidays I’ve enjoyed, sunrises I have witnessed, snow I have played in, seas I have swum in, books I have read, people I have met, films I have seen, laughter I have shared, love I have known, goals I have reached, tears I have cried.

And for a few moments, I categorically understood just how precious this one life is with which we are granted. How fast it goes, how easily it can be snatched away and how, once it has gone, it has done so forever. It’s so important that we make every day count, that we don’t wait until tomorrow before we make the changes that will get things moving in the direction we want. Too many people never have the chance to see their dreams realised – those of us who do should try our very best to make sure they happen.

I have always known that Fiona’s chance to shine was just waiting for her, if only she had made it just that bit further in her life. At eighteen I didn’t fully grasp the monstrosity that her death amounted to, the tragedy that losing someone at such a young age is. As I have grown older, I have felt it acutely, year on year. And the only sense I have come to make of it is that her death should serve as a reminder of what a gift life actually is.

Finding Out Who You Really Are; Life After Booze

One of the major things I have learnt about myself since stopping drinking in April 2011 is that I am a strong person. This is not something I say lightly, as prior to becoming alcohol-free I was of the mind-set that I was emotionally weak, vulnerable and scared. In a perverse way, I almost enjoyed the knowledge that I was perpetually ‘in need’ of being protected; I actively emphasised it in relationships, and frequently fell back on it as an excuse for everything that was wrong with my life. I suppose I was attempting to retain a child-like state, too frightened to fully spread my wings as an independent adult.

Before I became a dependent drinker, I experienced years of living with an eating disorder. When I regained my sanity in that respect and began to eat healthily again upon the discovery of my first pregnancy aged twenty-two, I mistakenly believed that the underlying unhappiness that had led to anorexia had been eradicated. It hadn’t – it merely shifted its guise and several years later was manifested in my destructive drinking habits.

For all of my adult life up until the age of thirty-five I was convinced that being weak and vulnerable as a woman were attractive qualities; that I was, in some way, quite tragic in a romantic sense.

But then I stopped drinking.

The bravery did not begin the second I put down my last glass of wine. For several months, perhaps a year, I was caught up in a turbulent period of emotions; guilt, self-doubt, wishing I was ‘normal’, regret, boredom, self-hatred, learning about the person I was, managing life without the convenient crutch of booze-induced numbness.

Gradually, however, I noticed that I was becoming emotionally self-sufficient, that certain situations no longer fazed me as they had once done. My desire to be protected from life was slowly diminishing, replaced by a strong sense of wanting to take on the world, of getting out there and making my mark on it. Over time, I stopped perceiving myself as someone who was, in some way, less than others, and recognised that we are all equal, with corresponding ability and potential to achieve whatever we want to, if only we choose to apply ourselves.

Lucy Harter Fell

After several years without alcohol, I have come to regard myself as a ‘normal’ person – normal in the sense that I am no longer frightened by such innocuous situations as speaking to a stranger when stone cold sober, or talking in front of a group of people or being proactive in chasing my dreams without being held back by an innate belief that I am not good enough. I just get on with things, and I know that I can do so without heavy reliance upon other people. We all need someone from time to time for a shoulder to cry on or to provide us with an objective viewpoint, but when you have no self-belief it’s all too easy to grip too tightly onto other people, using them like a lifeboat, convinced you will sink without them holding you above water.

I was wrong to think I was weak, but I would never have known otherwise had I not stopped drinking. For me, the subsequent journey of self-discovery has been monumental, changing the course of my life completely. We never know who we are capable of being until we quit drinking – this is something I genuinely believe to be true, for anyone who drinks compulsively like I once did.

Alcohol-Free Life; A Better, Brighter Place

I used to be so frightened of not drinking, not nearly so scared of all the associated horrors of downing excessive amounts of wine on a regular basis – the nights when I couldn’t remember getting home, waking up to discover horrific bruises in bizarre places, and the endless, all-consuming feelings of guilt, shame and self-hatred that would linger for days after each terrible binge.

I’m fascinated by this phenomenon now, as with several years of sobriety behind me I can’t believe I was ever scared of becoming alcohol-free. I love my life today, and there isn’t a single thing about booze that I miss or wish still featured in my daily existence. Much has been written (on Soberistas and elsewhere on the internet) about the obvious positives that stem from sober living; weight loss, brighter eyes, more money, heightened self-esteem, increased productivity at work and so on. But what about the real, under the skin benefits of alcohol-free life? What does it do to you as a person, not drinking? How much changes, and what, if anything, remains the same when you turn your back on booze?

For me, the number one benefit of an alcohol-free life is that I now have clarity and emotional intelligence. I know myself inside and out, understand when my ego is getting in the way of the important stuff, recognise my insecurities and weaknesses, have developed strategies that work and help me to cope with life’s challenges, and I realise when I need to take a step back from a given situation and rethink my position on it. I am fully in control of my life, and of my human instincts – I trust myself.

I no longer feel ashamed of who I am. These days, everything has a reason behind it, validity and a purpose. There are no knee-jerk reactions and over-emotional tantrums; no more hours spent crying into a pillow, too filled with shame to leave the house. There are no moments of terror in public places when I see someone and cannot remember if I said anything or acted in a particular way in front of them that should now be causing me embarrassment. When I apologise to people nowadays, it is without the heavy weight of disgrace dragging my heart down to the ground. I can look in the mirror and feel proud of who I am.

I have drive and ambition. My thoughts have the freedom to go beyond wishing I hadn’t drunk so much, or wondering when I can next have a drink. My days aren’t wasted lying around, saturated with self-pity. Things get done. I am organised. My life works.

lucy lily gp

When people ask me if I ever miss alcohol, I consistently, honestly and with a great deal of passion, tell them no. For me, living soberly is the source of a great deal of pride. I love being a Soberista. I love sobriety far more deeply than I ever did alcohol, although I could not have known that as a drinker. As a drinker, I did not possess the emotional intelligence to understand how far from happiness I was, and therefore had no idea about what I was missing out on in life.

Every day spent as a non-drinker is magical; better, brighter. Life has taken on an exciting quality again, as I remember it from my childhood. Everything is there for the taking and there are no barriers anymore preventing me from enjoying it. There really is nothing to fear from embarking on an alcohol-free life, and much to gain. It is so worth taking the leap.