Ebvory and Cocktail

When I was a little girl I had two imaginary pets, Cocktail the parrot and Ebvory the cocker spaniel (the name of the dog being derived from its monochrome colouring, ebony and ivory, and one of which I was terribly proud of inventing). Every morning when I left the house for school I would remind my grandma who lived with us to feed the animals and she dutifully did this I’m sure – when I came home in the afternoon there would always be a bowl of water on the kitchen floor for Ebvory, and a smaller one on the side for Cocktail (oh the irony of that name choice!). For quite some time I would take the dog out for walks, requesting that it sit at the edge of the road to wait for passing vehicles, and generally ensuring he behaved himself at all times. The parrot would sit on my shoulder, serene in its demeanour.

It absolutely did not occur to me that this was in any way strange behaviour. I don’t think I spent a single moment pondering the reasoning behind my make-believe pets nor did I consider that other people might regard me as something as a curiosity as I wandered about with an outstretched arm (holding the dog’s lead) and chattering away to myself (or so it would have looked to observers).

My imaginary pets gradually disappeared into the ether when I was about nine years old and I don’t recall any significant departure or goodbye ceremony. I probably didn’t need them anymore and so happily allowed them to drift back off to wherever they came from.

But several years later (twenty-six to be exact) I stopped drinking, and although Ebvory and Cocktail didn’t witness a magical resurrection, I did conjure up another imaginary being, this time in the shape of me – specifically, a (happily) non-drinking version of me.

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I had no reference point to draw upon when it came to learning to be someone who didn’t touch alcohol. I was, after all, a serial drinker, or just a drinker. However you thought of me, I was a drinker through and through. And so I found myself visualising the sober me as a way of providing myself with a goal, a target to reach – a person I wanted to grow into.

There is science to back up the notion of visualising the things we want to happen in our lives, so if you are trying to lose weight then it can be helpful to repeatedly picture yourself ordering a salad in a restaurant and refusing a pudding. If you’re trying to quit smoking then you could visualise yourself doing something else other than lighting up at a routine cigarette break. And similarly, if you’re aiming to cut out alcohol then it can really help if you imagine yourself asking for (for instance) a soft drink at the bar, or how you will inform your friends that you are no longer drinking.

I did this, but I took it to the extreme. I started to see myself as someone who focused on health in all areas of life, a person who was confident and satisfied with a life that didn’t feature booze anywhere in it. I looked to people I admired who I knew didn’t drink (or who didn’t drink much) and borrowed bits of them that I liked. I basically dreamt up a new me, and I gradually allowed myself to blend into her. I saw her in various situations, how she would handle socialising and everyday life, sober.

When we don’t like who we are as a drinker, it’s really helpful to have an alternative version of ourselves to aspire towards. This was a key piece of ammo in my fight to move on from an alcohol-fuelled existence so I thought I’d share it with you – I hope it helps.

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What Does ‘Soberista’ Mean?

This post is about what being a Soberista means. The definition of this word has changed for me since I first came across it four years ago. Back then, my outlook on being a non-drinker was a little more simplistic than it is now; this is to be expected, as in 2012 I’d only been sober for about a year, now it is almost five. Time affects how you perceive things, and time changes you on the inside – you grow in strength and wisdom as a result of dealing with challenges. You learn.

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In 2012 I was very excited to first read the word ‘Soberista’. I thought it summed up beautifully all that it is to love not drinking. Its positivity shone out, and when I saw those letters together they conveyed something to me about being proud.

In the last four years, ‘Soberista’ has developed for me in its depth of meaning. Yes, it is still an optimistic take on being alcohol-free; yes, it still has nothing to do with gritted teeth and willpower; yes, it’s a way of life, and a really good way of life at that.

But then it’s all of these things too. Being a Soberista is not simply about quitting drinking. It’s not someone who is dull and doesn’t know how to live; it’s someone who recognises what life is really about. A Soberista is a brave person who’s been able to identify alcohol as being problematic for them, and set about conquering the fucking stuff. It takes guts to take a stance and stop drinking when everyone around you is downing gallons of booze. A Soberista means being willing to walk through miles of emotional crap because there’s a tiny glimmer of light at the other end that you believe is surely better than where you are now. Being a Soberista is being brutally honest with yourself, cutting through delusions and denial and drinking lies, recognising when enough is enough. And being a Soberista means sticking up for yourself and following your heart, even when you’re faced with unsupportive and unhelpful comments.

To me, ‘Soberista’ now also denotes community. I never imagined the thousands of wonderful people all coming together like a warm cloud of friendship and love who make up the Soberistas worldwide community, when I first saw that word. Truth be known, I was a bit down on humankind back in 2012.

But not anymore. Today, ‘Soberista’ means kindness, courage, love, friendship, and, as was the case right back at the beginning, it’s all about loving a life without alcohol.

Under The Pressure

Yesterday morning I was driving my three-year-old to nursery, taking a road that winds up through farmers’ fields. For a mile or two we were flanked by sheep-filled greenery, our presence being the only visible sign of human life. The wind rocked the trees violently, birds hung strewn in the air, caught on the stiff breezes that elevated them far above us. My eyes kept returning to the sheep. One knelt forwards on its front legs, positioning itself strategically in order to be able to eat more comfortably. A magpie perched on its back. Dotted about, absorbed in their single pursuit of consuming the grass, the sheep were completely oblivious to us, unaware of a world beyond their immediate one.

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And so I began to think about the vast gulf between the sheep’s existence and our own, one that is infinitely more confusing, busy and chaotic. Much of the pressure we feel encumbered by is self-created, and I’ve been on a small mission over the last couple of years to disencumber myself as much as possible. Someone said to me recently that if you strip away all the bullshit, basically what we are about is waking up each day and feeding ourselves (and any dependents) three times, before going back to bed. A very simplistic description of the human experience but really, one that is true. All the additional layers that we weave in are not essential to our survival, but rather are there because we have achieved the basics and so have free time and energy to devote to complicating things (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

Some of these complications, the additional extras, are nice. Holidays, for example, or meeting up with friends, indulging in a hobby or wandering around an art gallery. But lots of the tasks and activities that we set ourselves each day just cause us huge amounts of unnecessary stress, resulting in us bombing around like headless chickens in a desperate attempt to tick off everything we set out to do when we woke up.

The reason I’m writing this in a blog about my sober life is because when you add in all the needless, supplementary elements to modern life, you inevitably put yourself under stress. And when you do that, you tend to seek out relief. For many people, that relief comes in the shape of a bottle. A major part of my success in staying sober for (almost) five years is that I work hard at maintaining as stress-free a life as I possibly can. Sometimes life should just be about waking up, feeding yourself three times and then going back to bed.

It feels good to strip back the layers of complication and make things easy on yourself. Whether that’s making a change to your job, slowing down in your efforts to achieve perfection in everything, or not saying yes to every social invitation that comes your way, there are amendments we can all make to simplify our existence. Maybe not quite to the baseline of sheep, but a step back from the mayhem of the typical twenty-first century human experience can only be a good thing.