Feelings

Feelings. I didn’t like them once upon a time. I remember the stomach-churning fear, the excitement that bubbled inside of me and which I instinctively wanted to quash, the sadness of heartaches or bereavement that gnawed away at my insides and which I always felt compelled to numb with alcohol, just to restore a sense of calm and order.

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I was frightened to feel anything. I operated as an automaton – a woman with two settings: functioning and partying. Emotions that interrupted the status quo had to be dealt with, and there was only one reliable method I knew of by which to do that: drinking.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most difficult thing in becoming a non-drinker has been learning to ‘feel’ emotions, not running from how I feel but accepting, understanding, and responding – appropriately. How bizarre it is to actually sit with emotions in the early weeks and months, to endure anger and bitterness, grief, happiness and excitement. How uncomfortable to have nowhere to turn in order to escape and seek solace from the raging storm inside the mind.

On my favourite running route, there’s a big hill. It winds through fields filled with sheep and cows, and as it climbs higher it offers a beautiful view of the west side of Sheffield where I live. As I reach the top, I often find that I have tears in my eyes. It’s a combination of listening to music (The War on Drugs currently, highly recommend it), immersing myself in the countryside away from anyone or anything apart from grass and trees and animals, the meditative property of running which affords me sufficient space for reflection. It’s probably something to do with the endorphin rush that comes from exercising too. The tears aren’t exactly related to being sad – they’re just tears. It’s an outlet for my emotions, which I need because, for the most part, I spend my life bombing around, spinning plates and keeping everyone happy – or trying to – as so many of us do.

A major part of the human experience lies in having emotions: we are grounded and guided by them. Living through them helps to heal us when we are wounded. We are strengthened by the tough times and find peace when we emerge out of the other side.

These days, I like feelings. I’m not scared of them. Feelings mean I am alive. Feelings mean I’m a human being. Feelings mean I no longer drink. I am aware. I am alive. I am present.

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Drinking, Shame And Not Beating Yourself Up

I generally write about how good life is as a non-drinker, how much happier and brighter the world appears now that I’m not looking at it through a fogged up lens. I’m incredibly passionate about living a clean existence – more so because I can still recall (with great clarity) the polar opposite: the hangovers, the awful sense of shame on particular mornings, and the secrecy, the double life I seemed to be leading sometimes. I especially remember the kernel of dread that I’d wake up with, a knot of fear in my stomach that I desperately wanted rid of but which routinely took days or even weeks to leave me.

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I often read on Soberistas (frequently on Monday mornings) blogs that describe feelings of shame. The people who write them have typically picked up a drink over the weekend, truly believing that they will be able to stop after just a couple (haven’t we all done that?), but who have then gone on to have a major blowout. This, in turn, leads to a variety of catastrophic consequences – an angry argument, a regrettable sexual encounter, passing out in front of the kids – many of which aren’t unfamiliar to me.

I often think when I read these confessional posts, at what stage should we start to blame ourselves? Is it correct to feel shame over something we’ve done when absolutely out of it? With what or whom does the blame lie, when we have acted inappropriately or embarrassingly because of the amount of alcohol in our bodies?

Here’s the truth: if a person who cannot moderate comes to recognise the fact that if he or she has A drink it will inevitably lead to LOTS of drinks, then things become a whole lot easier. When that time arises, happy days – it becomes less of a struggle to stay away from booze, knowing that the stuff is likely to bring about the eruption of a sequence of disastrous events (as Robert Downey Junior once said, “I don’t drink these days. I am allergic to alcohol and narcotics. I break out in handcuffs”). The problem comes about before this epiphany occurs, when a little voice is perpetually whispering, ‘one won’t hurt’ and ‘everyone has a few too many at some point or another’.

A desire to drink in moderation is simply not enough for some people to actually be able to drink in moderation. And for those people, once the first drink goes down, all self-control is lost. At that stage, a person is stripped of the ability to exercise caution or good sense in whatever it is they are doing. It becomes a lottery situation, a Russian roulette of life – how bad things end up is just a matter of potluck. This is how it always was with me, never knowing where the drink would take me, almost crossing my fingers at the beginning of a night out as I prayed things wouldn’t descend too low.

Until you genuinely recognise that you don’t have an off-switch (and you’re not alone if you don’t – see this recent article in The Independent, which reveals one in ten people in the UK are unable to stop drinking alcohol once they have started) and subsequently make the decision to become teetotal, then try to exercise some self-compassion the morning after. We should not be speaking of feeling ‘shame’ when we have attempted to impose restrictions regarding our alcohol intake, restrictions that failed to work. We should be talking about alcohol dependency, and understanding that when you’re in the thick of a problematic relationship with booze, it isn’t as black and white as just saying, ‘OK, that’s me done. No more drinking’. Sometimes (usually) it takes a long time to establish a concrete acceptance of an inability to control intake.

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A good starting point for reaching this point of acceptance is to talk to others who have also experienced difficulties when drinking. Whether this is at a real-life meeting or with an online group such as Soberistas.com, airing your thoughts and feelings about your drinking habits is a really helpful thing to do for contextualising, understanding and, finally, for beginning to resolve an alcohol dependency.

Why I Won’t Be Drinking A Pint To Celebrate National Beer Day

Today in the UK it is National Beer Day. This is not an age-old, traditional celebration as you may well have been imagining, but a brand-new invention of which 2015 signifies the inaugural year. I first became aware of National Beer Day as a result of an ironic turn of events involving the lovely people of IOGT International, an email, and a pub in London’s King’s Cross known as The Parcel Yard. Here’s what happened.

Last Thursday I visited London to meet Maik and Kristina (see below – I’m the short one in the middle) of IOGT International (Swedish based temperance movement). I booked us a table in the Parcel Yard and we ate a very nice lunch, drank sparkling water, discussed alcohol policy and how good life is without alcohol, and generally had a productive and enjoyable couple of hours together.

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As a result of this lunch reservation (which I made online) I received an email this morning from the Parcel Yard, which informed me that today is the very first National Beer Day, and to help me celebrate I am entitled to a free pint of Oliver’s Island (never heard of it!) at the pub. Here’s what the email said:

“Hi Lucy

Ale is important. Really important. So important in fact, the British pint was defined for the first time in the Magna Carta on this day 800 years ago! To celebrate this, we’re supporting #BeerDayBritain and want you to join us for a tasty pint of Oliver’s Island. Pay us a visit before the end of the week, show us the code below to get your free pint, and if you’re on Twitter, tweet a photo of you and your friends with your pint and the hashtag #CheersBDB.”

The Magna Carta, the landmark charter of liberties, celebrates its 800th anniversary today. The beer industry has clearly chosen to capitalize on this as a way of boosting sales. Community Pubs minister Marcus Jones got involved in the proceedings which aim to raise the profile of the British beer and pubs industry, and promised to take part in a nationwide toast at 12.15pm today, joining thousands of community pub patrons and beer lovers across the country. This is something campaigners wanted people to capture on social media – using the #CheersBDB hashtag – by posting photographs of themselves with a pint of British beer.

In linking beer with the Magna Carta, the beer industry has been rather clever. Intent on planting an association in the national psyche of beer and what it means to be British, they are hoping for a deep surge of national pride inextricably linked with that wonderful traditional pastime of ours, boozing. And no doubt they will be successful to a degree.

On the National Beer Day website, it states that, “Today beer and pubs are still central to the social health of the nation and in economic terms they contribute £22 billion annually to Britain’s GDP.” There is no mention of the cost of alcohol to UK society, which currently stands at approximately £21 billion per year. It doesn’t take a maths whizz to see that these two figures almost cancel each other out.

I recognise that not everyone who drinks alcohol has a problem with it. I know that for some, drinking can be a pleasurable social activity that does not bring about any real negative consequences. But I also know that as a country, the UK hardly needs any encouragement to drink more; that the number of people under the age of thirty who develop alcohol-related liver disease has doubled in the past twenty years; that liver disease is the only major disease against which we are not making meaningful progress; that the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions each year is 1.2 million; that alcohol costs £11 billion each year in criminal justice costs.

Alcohol is big business. The government continually refuses to either acknowledge or attempt to improve the situation by reassessing its alcohol policies (namely, introducing minimum unit pricing, placing tougher restrictions on alcohol advertising, and raising awareness of the strong links between excessive alcohol consumption and a vast array of diseases and conditions, of which liver disease is only one). David Cameron has made it eminently clear that profits come before public health.

National Beer Day (and other money-motivated alcohol-related events like it) is nothing more than a mercenary, calculated effort to flog even more of a product that causes vast amounts of harm.

Finding Happy

I would describe myself as a busy person: driven, proactive and slightly obsessive (especially in terms of tidiness). I don’t find it especially easy to relax (hence my erstwhile tendency to down a bottle or two of wine most evenings) and I’m not a great one for indulging in lie-ins, although this is largely due to the fact that I have a three-year-old who leaps out of bed with gusto at approximately 6am most days.

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However, this morning I found myself lying in bed enjoying the rare phenomenon that is a ‘lie-in’, minus the aforementioned toddler leaping on me and thrusting various soft toys in my direction whilst barking instructions like, ‘Put Boris’s dress on!’ and ‘Clopper needs this hairclip on his ear!’ and ‘Put Molly Dolly’s nappy back on!’ – instructions which I dutifully obey as I attempt to awake fully from a deep slumber. A lie-in is a lovely thing, particularly when it is also an infrequent thing. And lying there in my bed, drinking tea and listening to the world gradually coming to life outside, I began to think how important it is to listen to our bodies and minds and to act accordingly, to behave in a way that’s in tune with our physical and mental needs.

As people with busy lives and a ton of responsibility, how many of us successfully manage to demarcate ‘me time’ in order to create a small window of opportunity for recharging our batteries? I am guilty, even when I actually do have free time, of not using that space to relax but instead going for a run or squeezing in a bit of work, or catching up on texts and emails. But this morning as I returned to bed with a cup of tea, I could feel how exhausted I was, how tired my legs were, and I wholeheartedly relinquished any notions of doing anything, choosing instead to do nothing.

I am forty in October of this year and it’s taken me reaching this age to accept when I need to rest, and to get on with doing it, free from any guilt or worry over all the things I should be accomplishing instead. Looking after myself is a by-product of stopping drinking. It’s something I never achieved when I was poisoning myself with alcohol. Lie-ins were for recovering from hangovers and free time was for getting drunk. As a drinker, there was no such thing as relaxation time – just mental obliteration followed by periods of self-induced illness.

Happiness is a holistic concept. It is achieved when we take care of all the aspects of our lives, ensuring we maintain balance wherever possible. In a nutshell, my own happiness stems from an active lifestyle, but one that is countered with adequate rest and good sleep; eating nutritious food; employing gratitude for all the things I have in my life whilst simultaneously not dwelling on what I don’t have; interacting with good friends and family in positive and reciprocal relationships; regarding my alcohol-free stance as one of upmost importance and never wavering from it; doing a job that I love and which gives me huge amounts of satisfaction; learning, finally, to like myself.

I guess what this post is about is emphasising the need for balance – and through not drinking alcohol I find balance easier than ever to achieve. For me, this is the key to staying happy, well and sober.