Happy You, Happy 2017

The thing that really used to drag me down at Christmas was the picture perfect, stereotypical image of what this time of year was all about. It was the beautiful house sitting in a snow-filled garden, sparkling with fairy lights, so inviting. It was the magical relationship, the big, warm family, the presents, the parties, the not feeling different and on the edge of what everyone else apparently had and took for granted. It was acceptance, and being loved – feeling loved and immersed in a busy, fulfilled life.

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And because for many Christmases I didn’t feel any of the above, I would drink myself stupid. From mid-December to January 1st all bets would be off as I anaesthetised myself from the tornado of emotional hurt that I could never stand to feel.

When I consider what has changed now, what it is in my life, or about me, that prevents me from seeking mental obliteration in order to just make it through the festive season, I think it’s this; I am simply OK with my lot. I don’t mind that I don’t fit that ideal we are sold by the tidal wave of consumerism all year round but especially during the run up to Christmas. I don’t mind that I might not have a family that slots neatly into the 2.4 children, husband and wife model. I don’t mind that a few years ago I drank rather a lot and had my share of problems. I don’t mind that my house is not a series of showrooms complete with matching dinner sets and stylish soft furnishings.

I am me. And that’s fine.

Letting go of the desire to be what other people might expect or want me to be has been a major part of allowing myself to finally be happy. That desire is what used to send me half mad and heading to the bottle for a reliable escape from the inevitable pressures. I remember on countless New Year’s Eves feeling inadequate because I wasn’t living the high life, attending incredible parties, looking perfect and able to control my alcohol consumption. And because I couldn’t achieve those self-imposed, ridiculous standards, I would drink. And drink. And drink. And then hate myself some more.

As New Year’s Eve looms large, I’m sure there are people everywhere crucifying themselves for not ‘having it all’. And to those people, I would say this; you do have it all. You have your life, and a whole new year ahead of you with no mistakes yet in it; a blank slate ripe for the taking, a fresh sheet of paper on which to create the life you want, one that fits you and not the rest of the world.

If you want to stay at home on December 31st because you don’t really like parties and socialising in large groups, that’s fine – stay in, watch a film, have a bath, have an early night. If you are feeling sad for whatever reason and can’t face plastering a smile on your face, just be sad. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling. If you’ve only recently stopped drinking and can’t bear the thought of watching everyone, everywhere, getting hammered on alcohol then avoid it all. Do something different, choose to indulge yourself in whatever it is that makes you happy. Buck the trend.

Because in the end, the thing that will make you like yourself the most, is giving yourself permission to be you; to stop chipping away at the essence of whom you are, striving to meet the expectations of others instead of just being; to accept that you have your quirks and perfect imperfections but to love these and know you’re special, exactly how you are.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve can be unforgiving times, but reclaiming yourself, accepting who you are, can amount to the best present you’ll ever receive – living life in a way that’s absolutely true to the person you are inside. Focus on that, and see if 2017 turns out to be YOUR year. I bet it does.

Happy New Year, Lucy xx

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Footprints In The Snow

I was walking my dog in the woods yesterday when I experienced something of a déjà vu moment. Except it wasn’t. Not fully.

Momentarily I was transported back in time to when I was aged about fourteen years old and trudging along a muddy path with my old dog, George, a bumbling Black Labrador who felt like a brother to me. Twenty-seven years ago, there I was, making my way between autumnal trees, ruminating on whatever perceived troubles had been plaguing my teenage mind; probably smoking a roll up and wearing head-to-toe black with Doc Martins on my feet.

But it wasn’t a true déjà vu moment because I was acutely aware of the layer-upon-layers of life that have settled like sediment within me since I was just fourteen years old. Back then, I was so untainted and, for want of a better word, blank. I was a blank canvas setting out in the world with nothing holding me back, no ink stains on my copybook.

When I was at school, we had an assembly in which the headmaster told us that as we made our way through life, we should be aware of the steps we take being like footprints in the snow; that the actions we took and the way we treated people would remain forever as a part of our histories, they would be critical in how others perceived us. Footprints in the snow, a phrase I have often recalled over the years.

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I felt a sadness envelop me yesterday as I realised that although I was ostensibly experiencing an identical moment in life – walking my dog in the woods – it would not and could not ever be the same as that which I lived through aged fourteen. I have grown so much as a human being since then, seen so many things – good and bad – and have loved, laughed, cried and agonised; an eternity of life’s ups and downs that have accumulated and ultimately reworked the very essence of what I once was. I now have responsibilities, worries, fears, regrets and knowledge of how dark life can get. Back then I was as free as a bird with nothing weighing me down, no deep footprints in the snow.

That is life; it is the journey of ageing, as inevitable as the sun rising and setting each day. We can’t hang on to the innocence of childhood, the lightness of how we once viewed the world.

But as the fresh, clean slate is slowly filled in with the countless experiences life throws our way, so our wisdom grows, and so too our ability to empathise and understand the world around us. That is something to be celebrated and, crucially, not to be wasted. We are, as we grow older, capable of achieving so much, if we utilise the lessons we learn along the way and put them to good use.

As 2017 approaches, it occurred to me that this might be a helpful way to put past mistakes to good use; you could consider the process to be turning faeces into fertiliser. Rather than merely suffering the injustices of all the negativity that has arisen over the decades, maybe we should channel it into doing better, empathising more, being more sensitive to the needs of others, and trying to make our individual little worlds a happier, brighter place.

We can’t remain truly young at heart during our lifetimes. But we can perceive life as a series of important lessons and from those, become more compassionate people – both towards ourselves and to those around us.

Making Christmas Good Again

Christmas when I drank always seemed like a very dark time. I would embrace the excuse to party hard, unsurprisingly, and drink a lot more than usual. But the sentiment of the festive season, the family-ness of it all, consistently dragged me down and reminded me of everything I hated about my life.

Shared custody of my daughter meant she didn’t spend the whole of the holidays with me, and while she visited her dad I would turn to booze to numb the loneliness. Each Christmas passed by in a fog of excessive alcohol consumption, hangovers, sadness and regret. January 1st could never arrive soon enough.

The initial Christmas I spent as a non-drinker wasn’t much better. Mired in longing for alcohol, the wish to just be able to drink like ‘everyone else’, bitterness over the fact that I had apparently become a ‘problem drinker’; all of these things amounted to me feeling desperate for the whole holiday business to just hurry up and get out of the way.

But that was just my first sober Christmas, and since then everything has become, not only easier, but good, enjoyable. Finally, I like Christmas. My daughter is almost eighteen so the pain of sharing custody has passed. Plus now we have her little sister who is four and a half, her presence injecting that essential childhood excitement factor at Christmas.

Over the years, I became accustomed to despising Christmas. Everything about it made me feel uncomfortable and desperate to run away from it all: the cold, the grey skies, the aforementioned absences of my daughter, the highlighting of my divorced status when everyone else seemed to be playing happy families, and of course, the regrets and self-loathing over what would almost always transcend into a period of very heavy drinking and all the associated stupid, drunken behaviour.

As the years have passed by, though, and certainly since I became alcohol-free, I have learnt a few things about staying happy at this time of year, and they’ve really helped me transform a very negative perception of Christmas to a positive one. I wanted to share them with you, in case you, like I once used to be, are filled with dread at what lies just around the corner…

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  • Focus on family and love. You might find it difficult to get on with certain members of the family who are descending upon you for the duration of the holidays, but try and concentrate on the ones who make you feel happy – the kids, your partner. Absorb their excitement and pleasure, and reconnect with your own inner child. If you don’t have children and are single, consider spending a few hours of Christmas Day volunteering at a homeless shelter. Giving yourself up to help others is a sure fire way to boost your mental state, and you won’t be bored, lonely and tempted to drink all day if you’re busy devoting yourself to a good cause.
  • Most of us will get at least a couple of days off work, so if all else fails, try and blot out the Christmas factor and just utilise the time to recharge your batteries and slob about in your pyjamas having a good old rest. With much of the outside world going into shutdown mode, this is an easy time of the year to do very little, and let’s face it; most of us don’t get that opportunity very often. Reframe Christmas as nothing more than a free holiday, and enjoy a well-deserved break.
  • Meditate on the positives in your life. I used to spiral into a major depression during the weeks leading up to Christmas, and would be drawn to all the bad stuff that was going on, which made it impossible to look outward and feel happy about anything. But if we scratch the surface, everyone can find at least one or two good things that are worth exercising gratitude for – the fact that you’re healthy, or that you have a roof over your head, or that you have lovely friends or family, or that you will be enjoying a nice meal or two over Christmas. Meditate every day for a few minutes and focus on whatever positive elements you can think of in your life. Remind yourself that actually, there is always something to feel grateful for.
  • Get in touch with fellow Soberistas. Use the Soberistas website to connect with others who might also be finding booze an issue at this time of year. A problem shared is a problem halved, and nobody will understand how you feel better than those in the same boat.
  • Consider letting a few close people in your life know that you have quit drinking and that you might be having a couple of wobbles over the Christmas period. If you think you could be tempted to drink then knowing that those around you are aware of how you’re feeling will act as a good preventative method in stopping you from doing so. You’re much less likely to give into temptation if you feel accountable to the people you’re spending the holidays with. And remember – those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.
  • Go for a run or a brisk walk on Christmas Day morning. Exercise makes you feel better – it’s that simple. The endorphins, getting away from all the mayhem, the fresh air and daylight will all have a positive impact on your emotional state, so make the most of the fact that you aren’t lying around with a raging hangover, put your trainers on and get outside for some exercise.
  • Find a nice alcohol-free drink that you really enjoy that feels like a bit of a treat, and stock up before Christmas. You will probably feel left out if everyone else is necking the wine and you’re nursing a glass of orange juice or water. So either experiment beforehand with mocktail recipes or order in some alcohol-free drinks just for you – the Soberistas Discount Club has a code for 5% off products from alcohol-free drinks stockists, DryDrinker, so check out their range if you’re in need of inspiration.
  • Watch films, read books, listen to music. Ignite your soul with lots of cosy evenings in, catching up on some culture. It’ll keep you busy and give you a focus when the sun goes down, a time when you might otherwise start itching for a drink. Reading books is a no-go when you’re drinking, and any films you watch will be instantly forgotten if you’ve got a glass to hand throughout. I love watching films during Christmas in my pyjamas, alone or with the kids, just losing myself in another world for a couple of hours. And if you want some ideas for reading material, check out the Soberistas Book Club.