Depression…

Late last night, I read that Chester Bennington had killed himself, aged 41. I feel utterly saddened by this. I’m not a fan of mass outpourings of grief for famous people we never even knew, but Bennington’s death has got to me. I’m a fan of Linkin Park. In fact, only yesterday I was driving home from a meeting listening to Sharp Edges and singing at the top of my lungs, totally understanding the lyrics, feeling them, having them become a part of me in that special way only music can.

Musicians, who write from the heart, the ones who have felt extreme emotional anguish and can translate that for the benefit of the rest of us, have always been my heroes, my only heroes really. I genuinely possess such love for these people, who can stir in me feelings of desire and fighting spirit and joy and deep sorrow, just through their voices and the messages contained in their songs.

Bennington was a big drinker and substance misuser, a depression sufferer. Scroll through Twitter and you’ll see a river of love and appreciation for this man who, during his lifetime, has helped so many to feel validated and less alone, to know they too count as human beings.

As I write this, I’m trying to compute how someone with such vitality is, today, suddenly no more. How depression can blacken the mind so dramatically that all sense of hope is extinguished and it seems as though there are no more open roads to choose. Thoughts, black and desperate, can be sufficient all by themselves to snuff out a life.

I am still given to the odd depressive episode. They creep up out of nowhere and softly drop a dark veil over my world. Temporarily, I feel unable to ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’ and ‘appreciate all the good stuff’. I go under. Lots of people don’t truly get it and it can feel lonely and isolating. But the thing that always gets me through is reminding myself that these periods eventually do come to an end. Life picks up again and I do feel happiness again. This too shall pass.

Self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs is a route lots of us opt for when struggling to cope with depression. I’m better without alcohol as my go-to medicine: I’m not completely depression-free, but without the booze it’s only the periodic dark thoughts and moods I have to manage, and not the merry-go-round of drunken consequences on top of that; the alcohol-induced chemical imbalance in my head, or the overall unsatisfactory lifestyle that came about as a direct result of me always thinking about drinking, and drinking, and recovering from drinking.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I do suffer with depression. I’ve started to see it as an illness, just like any other condition, and while it’s not with me constantly I know it’s only somewhere round the corner and I’ll more than likely have to deal with it rearing its head again at some point in the future. This acceptance has helped me enormously, instead of burying my head in the sand and always wondering what the hell was the matter with me whenever I felt that way. I’ve talked about it, and shared how it feels with the people who love me. They know a bit better now what happens when the gloom descends.

So, in memory of Chester Bennington, an amazingly talented man who I sincerely hope has found eternal peace, share how you feel. Open up. Don’t be ashamed of feeling this way. You’re not alone. And it will pass, given time.

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Quitting Drinking Isn’t Just About No More Hangovers.

You might think quitting drinking is all about just letting go of the drink: swapping wine for water, enjoying fresh mornings instead of horrible hangovers hiding under the bedclothes, and honing a svelte physique to replace the muffin top you’ve been nurturing as a result of all those booze calories. Quitting drinking is all of those things. But it’s a lot more besides…

  • Drinking put me in really dangerous situations with very dangerous people. It masked my innate fear radar, making me bold and reckless, taking silly risks that only by a series of miracles didn’t result in major catastrophe – at least, not very often.
  • Drinking made me run away from my emotions instead of working through them and growing as a human being.
  • Drinking kept me locked inside a teenager’s immature state of mind – all melodrama and narcissism and misplaced priorities.
  • Drinking kept me from my responsibilities to the people I loved. It came before them and prevented me from seeing what really matters, from doing the right thing by all those who loved me.
  • Drinking made me stare into the mirror and hate the person who looked back out. It made me want to crawl out of my skin and escape the very fibre of who I was.
  • Drinking stopped me from aspiring to reach goals and fulfil my potential. It ensured that I always aimed low and persistently knocked me back every time I ever dared to want more for myself.

And what happened to me when I quit alcohol? All of this…

Peace of mind, inner contentment and a sense of emotional balance.

I started putting other people before myself for the first time in my whole adult life.

I began to work hard and believe in myself, knowing that I could achieve anything I wanted.

My ability to be a consistent and reliable parent increased massively.

I could look at my reflection and not hate the person I saw there.

I got really fit and began to enjoy properly hard physical challenges.

I opened up a big desire to learn more, explore more and know as much as possible about the world before I die.

I noticed a million tiny things all around me that I’d never previously paid attention to – a passer-by smiling, a flower, clouds in the sky, a lofty tree, a beautiful sunset…

I didn’t panic at the onset of feeling my emotions.

I learnt to love other human beings fully and with all my heart.

I recognised the power of creativity and fell in love with the buzz of making something that didn’t exist before.

I started to understand my place in the universe and to obtain a deep sense of calm from acknowledging both our significance and insignificance as human beings.

Planning for the future became manageable as opposed to something guaranteed to send me into a tailspin.

I got to know who I really am.

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#BetterWithoutBooze

One of the most irritating things I read about booze is that a small amount is good for you – actually, better for you than abstaining completely. Whoever comes out with this twaddle clearly never set eyes on this woman when she’d hit the wine. Drinking any amount of booze is always going to be bad for me because something happens inside my head when I get going with the stuff that makes me unable to stop. Subsequently, not drinking anything at all, ever, is a very good option for me.

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Soberistas believes that not drinking anything at all is a very good idea for anyone lacking the internal off switch. Life is better when you don’t have to manage the hangovers, self-loathing, weight gain, tired eyes, bad moods, financial strain and everything else that goes along with a booze habit. Going alcohol-free is not something we should be gritting our teeth about and dreading – it’s a good way to live, make no mistake. And the good news is that the longer we stick with it, the better and easier it becomes.

With all of the above in mind, we have today kicked off our #BetterWithoutBooze social media campaign. We want to remind people that if they do struggle with alcohol then ditching it should not be something to fear but a lifestyle choice that will bring them nothing but benefits. A few lovely people, including Alastair Campbell, have already agreed to take part, as have organisations such as British Liver Trust, Sheffield Alcohol Support Service, Drink Wise Age Well and Abbeycare, and we are in the process of engaging with lots of others who we hope will support getting the message out there too.

If you would like to support the Soberistas Better Without Booze campaign then please see all the details below…and thank you for helping us try and beat the stigma surrounding alcohol dependency and becoming a non-drinker. Lucy xx

 

#BetterWithoutBooze Campaign – Soberistas.com

Soberistas.com is a social network website aimed at people who want to stop drinking alcohol. It’s an online alternative to ‘real life’ sources of support for those struggling to quit drinking, available 24/7 to people all over the world who are looking for a non-judgmental, safe place to share their thoughts and feelings on alcohol and getting sober.

A core belief of Soberistas is that people who develop issues with alcohol should not suddenly become dehumanised and subjected to pigeonholing.  We think this exacerbates the problem and prevents people from growing and changing in a positive way, moving forward beyond their addiction and onto a new, happier and healthier life.

Instead, we consider our members to be Soberistas, people who are excelling at being sober; who are embracing the massive emotional and physical changes that are taking place in their lives as a result of becoming alcohol-free and sharing this with thousands of others all over the world to help them do the same.

We are currently seeking out fellow believers in the positivity of sobriety – people who wholeheartedly advocate an alcohol-free life for those who can’t moderate their alcohol intake; for whom alcohol has caused too many problems and too much distress in their lives.  We want to create a buzz on social media, get a conversation going, and allow people to see how positive it is to take charge of your life and kick the booze once and for all.

We would be so grateful if you would join our campaign and tweet one of the following suggestions, using the hashtags #BetterWithoutBooze and #Soberistas – thanks so much.

Suggested Tweets;

You’re not unusual if you’ve developed an alcohol dependency. And you don’t have to stay that way forever. #BetterWithoutBooze #Soberistas

The positive ripples stemming from conquering an alcohol dependency are massive. #BetterWithoutBooze #Soberistas

Anyone can get into trouble with booze. Alcohol problems don’t discriminate – so don’t judge. #BetterWithoutBooze #Soberistas

It’s not a sign of weakness to fall foul of alcohol. And it’s a sign of strength to ask for help. #BetterWithoutBooze #Soberistas

Intention Not Habit

Human beings are conditioned, moulded to our own particular design keeping us trapped in repetitive behaviours. It’s easier to live by habit than intention, but when you do, you are ensuring that your life remains the same – fine if it’s all positive, but not so good if you’re unhappy.

I read this quote on Twitter a couple of days ago: “Live less out of habit and more out of focused intention” – Herman Siu. And it struck me that this is really so important, it amounts to an acutely mindful approach to living and when adhered to, this mantra allows us to continually grow and develop.

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Drinking too much and suffering all of the associated self-loathing and regrets was only one element of my life that was an outcome of habit as opposed to intention. My intentions were always, don’t drink too much; drink water in between alcoholic drinks; leave whatever social event you are at early; don’t text old boyfriends late at night when you are feeling maudlin and pissed…and so on. But I operated out of habit and so perpetually broke all of my own rules.

I occasionally catch myself now leaning towards old habits. Not booze-related but behaviours that I don’t like and no longer wish to demonstrate. They’re like kneejerk reactions to situations; I slide into them before I even know where I’m headed. Sometimes I don’t think things through fully before I act, I have this impetuous nature that I consistently need to reign in. I have a tendency to the negative, which I hate. I have to really talk to myself quite sternly and switch things around so I expect good things to happen instead of the worst-case scenario (I think this is a hangover from my drinking days when bad things did happen all the time because I was always doing stupid things drunk). I can be slightly anti-social and talk myself into spending too much time alone, which never has a good effect on me but somehow I convince myself it’s OK.

To do the opposite of all of these things requires Herculean strength on some days – massive mind-over-matter brain games, strict talking-tos inside my head, unnatural actions that are completely opposed to my automated responses. It all feels very weird and difficult. But, when you act out of intention rather than habit, you can chip away at ingrained behaviours and start to carve out new ones. And that’s how your life changes – wholesale.

Be Proud Of Being A Non-Drinker

Sobriety was once a dirty word to me. Boring do-gooders avoided alcohol. Cool people drank, and drank a lot.

This was probably the biggest challenge for me in terms of deciding to stop drinking. I could not conceive of losing my ‘edge’ and metamorphosing into a quiet dullard who couldn’t let her hair down. I know I’m not alone in thinking these thoughts, and I often read about other people’s experiences with friends and family who are sceptical at best, or scathing and down right rude at worst with regards to that person’s new non-boozy status.

What is it about alcohol that prompts people to share their opinion on whether or not we should be taking part in this national pastime? If I sat down at a dinner with people I wasn’t overly familiar with and announced that I was a vegetarian, I would more than likely receive a lesser inquisition than if I declared my AF lifestyle and opted for a mineral water amongst the truckload of wine at the table. But why do other people care so much about our drinking habits? Could it be that they don’t wish to draw attention to their own alcohol consumption? Generally, I’ve found that the people who have the least to say about me being a non-drinker are the ones who barely drink themselves, the ones who most definitely have not got any issues with alcohol.

Anyway, the point of the above observations is that society frequently has a tendency to be more accepting of heavy drinkers than those of us who opt for an AF life, and this can be a major obstacle in quitting. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in can contribute massively to ‘wobbles’ and, ultimately, to caving in and having a drink. In order to stay true to the path of sobriety, therefore, it is vital that we believe in the alcohol-free way. And I mean, really believe in it – to find it an aspirational way of life, fall in love with it, want it more than anything, and be proud to tell anyone who listens, “No thanks, I do not drink”.

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I did not feel this way about not drinking until at least eighteen months into my sobriety. I was ashamed of my problem, angry because I ‘wasn’t allowed to drink’, lonely and full of regret. But eventually, something clicked inside me and all the monumental benefits of being a non-drinker dawned on me. What the hell was I being so negative about? Where is the need to feel demeaned by a choice that will provide me (and my family and friends too) with a far happier and healthier life? Why be secretive about declining to consume an addictive substance that has consistently made you fat and act foolishly, which has caused you to hurt both yourself and those you love, which has damaged your mental and physical health and routinely put the brakes on all your hopes and dreams for future happiness?

When you think about it, becoming AF is a lifestyle choice that we should be shouting from the rooftops! These days I am supremely proud of being a non-drinker.

The Time Is Now

It’s funny how slowly, gradually, gently, we can slip and slide into a happier life, almost without noticing it happening. When things are not going well and everything seems like an uphill struggle, just existing occupies so much of your mental and physical energy; striving to cope, keeping your head above water, wondering why all this stuff always happens to you, and asking yourself, over and over again, when will I get a break?

It has been my experience that things have increasingly fallen into place the longer I live without alcohol. It’s not that nothing bad happens anymore; of course it does, but I am more resilient, wiser, less impetuous and calmer now that I don’t drink, and therefore I have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with challenges as they spring up from time to time.

The dangerous precipices, the cliff edges on which I used to totter and stumble and frequently fall right over, taking months to recover myself from, those don’t crop up anymore. There are the rocky, scree-covered slopes that are difficult to traverse; I lose my footing occasionally and my feet go from beneath me momentarily, but I can reclaim stability these days – I never fall too far.

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More noticeable is that my entire landscape has altered. It’s no longer a case of intermittent splashes of beauty and fullness scattered sparingly against a barren background of an arid, harsh wilderness. The good is now rich and far-reaching, and it colours my life with a regularity and predictability that I could never have imagined anyone witnessed.

When you feel happy and content, you tend to attract positivity into your world. Happiness breeds happiness. Positive people attract positive people. Life becomes a happy, virtuous circle.

I don’t write this blog wishing to sound smug, because I’m not. I am very grateful and acutely aware of how good life is. You will know from reading my previous posts that my life wasn’t always this way, and I know how easy it is to slip and slide in the opposite direction, away from the good and back towards those cliff edges once more. But I engage in certain things that I know increase my chances of staying over here, where things are coloured in goodness and cast in a clear, bright light: I don’t drink. I exercise a lot. I eat well. I surround myself with lovely people who love me for who I am and who I love for being them. I spend time doing the things that lift my spirits and help me cope with stresses and the odd anxiety. I look after myself. I don’t do things that make me feel bad. I stay away from people who make me feel bad. I listen to music that soothes me and elevates me, and that transports me off to a different place for a while. I lose myself in good books and immerse myself in art and culture to broaden my horizons and challenge my perspective on the world. I focus on what I have, as opposed to what I don’t.

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Earlier on today, I found myself driving home from the supermarket, car boot full of chocolate goodies and Easter eggs, looking forward to the next few days during which I will be with my family and relaxing, building happy memories and valuing one another without the terribly wasteful and pointless addition of alcohol tainting our time together. And I felt very content, and suddenly conscious of how things have seemingly all come together and fallen into place. At long last, I can say that I have a life I am really happy to be living.

And that gift is within everyone’s reach – but sometimes you need to navigate your way across the rocky patches before you get there.

I’m Running The Sheffield Half-Marathon Tomorrow!

Sixteen years ago I ran the Sheffield half-marathon. I was twenty-five years old, fairly new to running and still a bit of a boozer. I ran the race in two hours and twelve minutes, which I was pretty pleased with considering that only a year before I couldn’t even run a mile.

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Tomorrow, I am running the same race for a second time. I’m now forty-one years old but haven’t touched alcohol for six years and feel the fittest I’ve ever felt. Despite this, I was a bit worried that I might not stick at the training so I set up a Just Giving page to raise money for the Pink Ribbon Foundation, and I am so pleased that I did. Loads of people have sponsored me and their support has really pushed me when I’ve felt like giving up.

There are similarities in training for a race and quitting drinking, the most obvious to me is that by making yourself accountable you improve your chances massively at success. There’s also the fact that you’ve set yourself a challenge and, if you are anything like me, it’s way too disappointing to sack it off midway and just give up. Wasting all that effort, going through the initial pain for nothing, feeling such disappointment in yourself for not making it to the finishing line…all of those things act as motivating forces when times are tough and you’re tempted to throw the towel in.

Setting yourself a challenge like becoming alcohol-free or running a long way is also an effective means of proving to yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Who says you’ll never manage to get sober? Who says you’re not fit enough to run thirteen miles? You can do whatever you want to if you put your mind to it, and achieving those goals is all the reinforcement of this message you’ll ever need.

Today I’m relaxing and eating lots of carbs, drinking loads of water, and getting myself ready for a pretty tough run tomorrow. In the morning, I’ll be thinking of all you amazing Soberistas who have supported me by donating money to the Pink Ribbon Foundation and using those happy thoughts to help power my legs up those Sheffield hills! Big thanks to all of you, Lucy xx

PS. A supporter of mine and of Soberistas has also been doing his bit for another charity by writing some brilliant books with his 9-year-old son – all proceeds of which go to the National Autistic Society. You can buy the books here.

Sometimes It’s The Little Things…

After an extraordinarily stressful couple of days, I just went for a run. I passed a bench, erected by someone in remembrance of a loved one. The wording on the bench said the person’s name, and the years of their life (just 54 years) and then, “Stop. Feel the sun”.

I stopped, I felt what it is to be alive. I stared at the inscription. I breathed. I ran.

About a mile further on in the woods, I took a break from running to wait for my dog who had paused to sniff around in the bushes. After a while, she looked up and noticed how far ahead I was, and set off at a fair old pace to catch me up. The air was cold, my breath hung in it briefly when I exhaled. I bent over, putting my hands on my knees and waiting for my dog to catch me up, her tail wagging, tongue hanging out of her mouth.

And it was the most alive I’ve felt in a long time.

Sometimes it’s the little things…

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You Are Worth It

It’s my older daughter’s 18th birthday tomorrow. This is proving to be a strange thing to wrap my head around, as I’m forty-one but still feel about thirty and way too young in my mind to be the mother of a proper adult. My daughter also pointed out last night that if she were to have a baby at the same age I had her (twenty-three), I’d be a grandma in five years. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp.

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Apart from the fact that when one’s child reaches adulthood it marks a stark reminder of one’s own advancing years (with the ever-present draw of mortality lingering not so far in the distance) this is an occasion that makes me really happy. I’m so proud of my daughter who has grown up to be a well-rounded, beautiful girl, and who, despite having faced challenges along the way, has not followed in her mother’s footsteps and sought solace in mind-altering substances.

If I were to give her one gift on her birthday that she could carry with her throughout the coming decades, it would be sustained self-esteem, to continue to believe in herself and her worth as a human being. Having reduced or zero self-esteem was, for me, the catalyst for so many of the mistakes I made in my life. Being devoid of self-esteem leads to a domino effect of negativity, often with the obvious self-medication of alcohol or other drugs being employed to numb the associated misery.

Having no self-esteem can result in: not chasing the job you really want because you don’t think you’ve got a cat in hell’s chance of getting it; consistently pressing self-destruct in relationships because you’re scared that your partner can’t really love you and will, therefore, ultimately leave you (best to get in first); fail to form close bonds with people generally due to fear of being disliked and rejected; physical self-harm; abusing alcohol and/or illegal drugs; side-stepping further education because what’s the point when you’re stupid and will only fail anyway in everything you try to achieve; being selective and closed in your outlook, never daring to explore beyond your comfort zone; not looking after your health because you don’t think you’re worth it; sleeping with people who you don’t particularly like but who, for just a few moments, can make you feel loved; aiming low always, because it’s safer than having to face failure.

The scary thing about having low self-esteem is that when in the midst of being that way, you often aren’t really aware of it. You don’t realise that the stupid things you keep doing, the repeated cycles of negativity from which you can’t seem to escape, are occurring because you don’t like yourself and don’t think you have the right to be fulfilled and content.

Fully accepting that you are an equal human being, who truly deserves to be as happy as any of the other seven billion people on the planet, is not an easy concept to grasp for many people. It took me years to work out the fact that I was just human, not inherently bad, not flawed to my core and destined to a life of unhappiness because I wasn’t good enough to have anything better. The bad relationships I accepted, the rubbish jobs I worked, the endless alcohol I necked, the days spent starving myself, the suicidal moments of utter despair…those things formed the backbone of my life for a very long time.

Quitting alcohol will not magically make all of those things disappear, but what it did for me was provide me with breathing space to live a little, gain some clarity, not make any giant whacking mistakes and to learn a bit about the person I really am. And with all those small steps came a slow and steady increase in my self-esteem, which in turn led to me taking on bigger and better things, allowing myself to want and seek out relationships with people who I really loved instead of just anyone who was nice to me.

Finding self-esteem has meant that I am now able to be a positive role model for my two daughters, to show them how women can live and be happy and aim high and like the person they are, instead of constantly berating themselves and endlessly punishing their bodies for not being like Cindy Crawford’s; rather than accepting the bare minimum and a life of self-destruction; to grab all the opportunities that are there around us all, each and every day, there for the taking just so long as we have the courage and self-belief to do so.

It just takes a leap of faith and a bit of courage, together with the knowledge that small steps do eventually lead to big things.

(Happy birthday to Isobel xx)

Hello January :-))

At risk of sounding like a right old misery guts, I’m writing today to say that I am very happy to be properly back at work and saying farewell to Christmas for another year. As I launched a half-eaten box of mince pies into the bin this morning, it did cross my mind that maybe nobody likes Christmas all that much after all…

To put this into some context, I should point out that the main event of exchanging gifts, which for me entails watching my lovely girls rip open their presents with glee, is very nice, and something that I am more than happy to do. I also love the enforced downtime that the festive season brings with it, as I generally don’t get much time to relax and it definitely does me good to do so.

But what I hate is the fact that so many people feel extreme emotional pain at this time of year, for a number of reasons ranging from bereavement to broken relationships to things just not being where they hoped they would be. And neither do I like the pressure to be all Nigella-like in the kitchen (which in reality means you miss out on all the fun as you slog it out over a hot stove and a sink full of dirty pots). As a non-drinker, neither do I like the intense commercial push stemming from the alcohol industry, which results in millions downing more booze than anyone should ever do for their mental and physical health.

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When all around us we see signs advertising Prosecco and craft gins, money off multiple bottles of wine at the supermarkets, great big cases of beer at knockdown prices…when magazines are filled with images of glamorous people daintily holding glasses of fizz at elegant Christmas parties, and ideas for disguising hangovers with luxury beauty treatments…when mainstream newspapers are publishing light-hearted articles about the best foods to eat on New Year’s Day when you are nursing a crippling hangover…when we consider all of these things, on top of the various reasons why December can be a cruel and painful month for so many people, is it any wonder that Christmas brings vast numbers to their knees, desperate for it all to be over and for January to get underway with its routine and normality? The temptation to join in and drink excessively can be overwhelming, especially for anyone living with an alcohol dependency.

Personally, I used to hate Christmas, as a drinker and then as a new non-drinker, but as the sober years have passed by it has become a time that I can enjoy for a few small benefits (as mentioned above). But it still strikes me every year that for many, many people, it is unwelcome, difficult and downright awful, and virtually impossible to escape for those who may secretly wish to do so. It isn’t OK to ditch Christmas – in the eyes of many it’s akin to turning down a wedding invitation. You just have to partake – stick a smile on your face and get on with it. And make sure you have fun…or else!

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Midway through cooking Christmas dinner (I’m not a bad cook but it didn’t turn out all that great and I would have preferred to just eat a salad!), I began to daydream about lying on a hot beach somewhere, with a couple of Christmas presents to open followed by a nice swim and a read of a good book in the sunshine. Following on from the theme of my last blog about being true to yourself, I’m starting to think that next December, I may very well pursue this daydream…

Happy January 🙂