The Person We Could Be

“Why can’t I drink like a ‘normal’ person?”

This is a question I’m sure many of the people on Soberistas have asked themselves at one time or another; I know I have. “Why can’t I go to that party and enjoy a few drinks like everyone else, and not end up embarrassing myself or collapsing in a corner or arguing loudly and drunkenly with people?”

“Why, oh why?”

This morning I read this article in The Guardian, an incredibly sad and moving piece written by a woman whose mother drank herself to death and who, during her lifetime, was a loving mum (albeit with unresolved issues).

These two states of being are not mutually exclusive. When I drank, I was also, for the vast majority of the time, a good mum. My older daughter (the little one was born after I stopped drinking for good) has always been the apple of my eye. She saved me from a life of complete self-destruction because if anything was to pull me back from the brink, it was her gorgeous little self, born in 1999, a long time before I understood my demons and started to get a handle on them. Without her in my life, I have often supposed I wouldn’t be here at all today.

The Guardian piece made me think that there are many people in the world who just shouldn’t drink. Because we are not able “to drink like normal people”, and when we do, we turn into monsters; we change from the inside out, we are not the people we were meant to me. Donald Trump, as a famous non-drinker, cited his reasoning for abstinence as recognition of the fact that he had the alcoholic tendency in his genes; he knew he would get into trouble with drink. Trump is not a man with whom I find myself agreeing with over much, but in this case I absolutely do.

During the last six years that I’ve spent sober, I have gradually come to accept that I too ‘get into trouble with drink’. It’s a place I don’t ever want to revisit. That woman, who is not me – with the drunken mask that overshadows my real, true self – is one I never want to encounter again.

What a great thing it is to have this realisation and be able to slam the brakes on before we reach the end of the road, before we get to that place where people will describe our demise as one being brought about by alcohol. We have the chance to stop now, and not become the person who drank themselves to death. We have the chance to make new memories and show people that we are not those individuals who are governed and defined and repeatedly ruined by drink.

That chance is today, it is right now. It is the acceptance that some of us do not mix well with alcohol. And there are a lot of us; it’s not a unique condition. I believe that if we can have more conversations about alcohol misuse and the fact that many people are simply unable to drink in moderation then we will begin to get help to the people who want and need it.

Often, all it takes is a simple reflection, the chance to see in someone else one’s own behaviour. From there, a person is able to say, “That’s me. That is my story”. And usually, this marks the very beginning of turning the corner.

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Soberistas Futures – The New Charity

Soberistas has just launched its charity sister organisation, Soberistas Futures. The charity will be a busy little bee, with its main aims sitting in the realm of research and education in relation to alcohol misuse as well as the provision of other practical sources of support to help people struggling with alcohol dependency problems.

Although I’ve been running Soberistas for the last four years, I am a complete novice in the world of charities so this marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for me.

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Our first project will be in research and we are hoping to fund some important studies over the years that will lead to a greater understanding of why some people end up with alcohol problems and what will help them move on and become alcohol-free. These research studies will be carried out in partnership with certain UK universities. We will also be working on the provision of workshops and educational programmes, which we hope will raise awareness of alcohol-related harms and the benefits of alcohol-free living amongst different groups in society.

Soberistas Futures will, eventually, also be aiming to provide funding for individuals who need help financially to access the Soberistas website and/or other one-to-one sources of help for their alcohol dependency.

I want Soberistas Futures to reflect the ethos of Soberistas.com – that developing issues with booze is nothing to be ashamed of, it can happen to anyone, and if we all got our heads out of the sand and stopped attaching such stigma to the problem, we’d be able to make the world a better place much more quickly.

It’s a challenge, to build up a charity and make it a concept that people believe in enough to want to help fund, but I’m ready to take it on.

As time goes on, Soberistas Ltd. will be contributing increasing amounts to Soberistas Futures, although right now, as we emerge from the starting blocks and try and get ourselves established, we are looking for donations – small or not so small – from people who want to see a difference in the society we’re all a part of.

I’ll be running the Sheffield half-marathon next April and will be raising money for the Soberistas Futures charity in doing so, but if you would like to help me get the ball rolling before then by becoming one of our very first donors, please email me on lucy@soberistas.com and I will let you know the details for making a contribution.

You can follow the charity on @SoberFuturesCIO.

 

Thank you! Lucy x

Soberistas – A Summary

Here’s a summary of what Soberistas is, where the idea came from, and what it can do to help you if you are struggling with your relationship with alcohol. Our logo is the Bird of Paradise flower, which means this: freedom, magnificence, good perspective and that something strange and wonderful is about to occur. Going alcohol-free can be a positive lifestyle change, representative of all these things.

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Soberistas emerged out of my desperation to get alcohol out of my life once and for all. By the time I quit drinking, alcohol was scaring me to death but so was the idea of living without it. I craved an existence that was booze-free but also one in which I was happy and not tormented by the ongoing desire to get drunk – a desire that had caused me so much trouble throughout my entire life since being a teenager. Was I an alcoholic? Who knows, I still don’t know. What I did know was that life had to be better than the miserable cycle I’d found myself trapped in, of drinking, hangovers and self-hatred.

Soberistas.com is fundamentally a website where you can write and offload, anonymously. It’s an online place where you can meet other people who know exactly how you feel and who will support you in your journey to becoming alcohol-free. It’s a space that you can drop into and ask people to convince you right there and then to NOT go and buy a bottle but to stick to your sobriety instead because you’ll feel so much happier in the morning if you do.

There’s a chat room, a forum and a place to post blogs. There’s an Ask the Doctor service (send the Soberistas alcohol specialist GP, Dr. Julia, your questions and they will be answered and published on the site anonymously), a Book Club (a good distraction for the evenings now that you’ve stopped drinking!), a Member of the Month scheme (vote for the member who you think has made real sober progress or who has offered you amazing support and we’ll send the winner a personally engraved silver bracelet from jewellers, Merci Maman), and monthly expert interactive webinars. There’s also the Soberistas Discount Club where you’ll find a great selection of companies offering exclusive discounts to our subscribers, including DryDrinker, JoggBox and Daniel Sandler make-up. Plus we post motivational and informative features every fortnight that will help you in your goal to stay alcohol-free and healthy.

I set Soberistas up as a way out of the booze trap, an easy-to-access resource that provides a blueprint for how to live happily without alcohol. It was intended to reflect my own experiences of being AF – positive, life changing and the best decision I have ever made, for both my family and me.

If you have any questions about Soberistas please email me on lucy@soberistas.com.

 

Lucy xx

My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic

There’s a documentary on Channel 5 tonight at 10pm called ‘My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic’. And I’m in it. Along with seven other people who all fell foul of the demon drink but managed to successfully pull their lives back from disaster.

This programme has had a strange effect on me. I’ve already seen the rough cut of it, and it’s profound, sad, moving. It had me in tears. It dragged me right back to a very dark place I inhabited a few years ago where I drank far too much and my perspective on the world was incredibly small, restricted to bottles of wine and trying to lose my mind. A place where I showed myself up on a regular basis, where I wasn’t a fantastic mum, somewhere where I strived to be a person I’m not.

It has been almost five years since I last drank alcohol, and I can barely equate who I am today with that depressed woman who spent half her life in a fog of booze.

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I forgave myself my alcohol-related wrongs a long time ago, because what’s the point in wasting the present wrapped up in feelings of regret over the past? But my involvement in ‘My Name Is…’ has brought me closer to my history than anything else has since I became a non-drinker.

In the making of this film, we were all interviewed in a room in London, and Mikey, the director, asked the questions: a very straightforward set-up, a set-up that brought out some honest and heart-wrenching stories. Talking to Mikey, I forgot that I was being recorded for much of it and I suspect the same is true of the other seven people in the film, as their accounts are brutally frank.

I’m glad I took part in this documentary. I think it’s vital to get our version of things out there, those of us who have struggled with addiction, and especially those of us who have managed to get sober – to offer hope and insight to other people who are fighting the fight, desperate to believe that life can get better but not quite seeing how it ever will.

There’s always been prejudice against people who are alcohol dependent. Those who can manage their intake and exercise ‘responsible drinking’ are at a loss when it comes to understanding anyone who can drink and drink and drink, with terrible repercussions, and who goes back to the bottle for more the next day. And the next. And the next. Knowing that their health is suffering and they are risking everything but still not being able to stop.

Alcohol addiction is a secret and sad state of affairs. When you are floundering in the thick of it, you become wonderful at disguising it. And afterwards, as you recover, you may well prefer to keep your struggles private, and who could blame you, when one considers the stigma that is rife in our society with regards to ‘problem drinkers’?

So, I am pleased I took part in this programme, even though it has upset my internal apple cart a little. I am full of admiration for the other seven who feature in it; they’re a brave bunch of fighters who have my utter and total respect.

Reframing and Reclaiming Christmas

“A compassionate attitude helps you communicate easily with fellow human beings. As a result, you make more genuine friends; the atmosphere is more positive, which gives you inner strength. This inner strength helps you voluntarily concern yourself with others, instead of just thinking about your own self. If one always thinks of oneself, one’s thinking becomes very narrow; even a small problem appears very significant and unbearable. When we think of others, our minds widen, and within that large space, even big personal problems may appear insignificant.” – The Dalai Lama

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This morning, as I enjoyed a rare lie-in, I was having a flick through a magazine with a cup of tea. The features were almost exclusively related to Christmas, the pages filled with pretty sparkling lights, images of beautiful people looking happy and full of love, gift ideas that suggested cavernous sources of wealth, and models showing off expensive clothes, hanging from their tiny, waif-like frames.

Christmas has become, for many people, a bleak time of the year when their shortcomings are highlighted and they’re made to feel inadequate by all the representations of ‘normality’ that we’re bombarded with from the end of November onwards. We are all expected to be attending a glittering array of parties, dressed fabulously of course, looking slim and attractive; our presents demand to be wrapped stylishly and ahead of time; the menu planning obviously needs to be completed by October at the latest, with the intervening months being utilised for making the Christmas pudding, cake, and all manner of tasty accompaniments which can be stored in the freezer until the Big Day.

During the darkest years of my life, Christmas was my least favourite time of the year. It caused me to internalise everything I hated about my life. I ripped myself to shreds for not being good enough, for being divorced and failing to find the next ‘Love of my Life’, for not having ‘made something’ of myself, for drinking too much, for not being able to stop drinking when I started, for not being perfect, for not ‘having it all’.

And because I concentrated so much on my own (as I perceived them at the time) failings, I gave little outwardly to anyone else.

Yet if I had been able to find the motivation to invest my energy into others, it would have helped draw the attention away from my own problems. Compassion, as the Dalai Lama points out in the quote above, helps us to make bonds, and bonds make us feel worthwhile and more human. Community enriches the soul. And it doesn’t take much effort – you don’t need to race off down to the local homeless shelter and spend your entire Christmas there (although if you did you’d probably feel fulfilled). Simply smiling at people and saying hello as you pass on the street, or taking a Christmas card round to an elderly neighbour who might need the company and a reminder that someone is thinking of them, can have a hugely positive effect on your own mental state.

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When we turn in on ourselves and forget to reach out to other people, we exacerbate the tendency to focus on the negative. Which, of course, makes it more tempting to drink. And when we drink, we internalize even more and find it virtually impossible to reach out to connect with other people. The endless push of ‘the perfect Christmas’ by those pursuing maximum sales is akin to a tidal wave – its force is relentless and it can easily (and, more often than not, does) overshadow the original meaning of the festive season.

So if you’re feeling the strain of this heavy weight of idealism, and if Christmas only serves to emphasise how bad you feel about yourself, and if the holidays always lead to excessive drinking to escape it all – take some time out. Look around you. See whom you could help. Try to focus your attention away from yourself and on to others. Compassion isn’t only about making other people happy; it serves to positively impact upon your own emotional wellbeing too.

Soberistas31 Challenge 2015

Any sober person residing in a country that celebrates Christmas will be all too aware that from the beginning of December until January 1st, many, many people go slightly bonkers in the name of the festive season. From November onwards, the shops are packed with decorations and trees, glitter and lights, all attempting to draw in the crowds and fill up the tills; television adverts are mainly focused on gifts and products tenuously connected to Christmas for weeks prior to the ‘Big Day’; and of course, wherever there is mass celebration, there is sure to be mass drinking following closely behind.

Nothing highlights how consumerist Christmas has become better than the drinks industry, which has successfully hijacked the occasion and ensured everyone (or nearly everyone) falls into the trap of thinking they must have a drink in order to have fun. From the work’s festive night out to the kids’ Christmas play at school, people seem to be pushing booze in your direction and it can be difficult, to say the least, getting through December while sticking to your alcohol-free endeavours.

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And so, for the third year running, we are pleased to announce the Soberistas31 Challenge, which we hope will help both those trying to stay sober and the families who benefit from Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity’s much-needed services. The aim is simple; don’t drink for the whole of December and donate the money you would have spent on alcohol (or a proportion thereof) to RTCC.

Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity supports around 2,000 families in England who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. It’s the leading charity in England providing emotional and practical help direct to families who find themselves in this unthinkable situation. Their Family Support Workers care for the whole family, from their child’s diagnosis, during treatment and, if needed, through bereavement. The money raised through the Soberistas31 Challenge will enable the charity to provide additional support workers, thus helping even more families in need.

The Soberistas31 Challenge steps up the support you can already find on Soberistas. There is a special Forum category http://soberistas.com/forum/categories/soberistas31/listForCategory just for the members of the site who take part in this fund-raising month, plus regular motivational reminders about the vital work carried out by Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity to keep you focused on why you are committing to a month off alcohol at this, the booziest time of the year.

If you would like to take part, please email me on lucy@soberistas.com with your name and address, and you will be sent a welcome pack from Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity and Soberistas. The details of how to donate at the end of the month will be posted on Soberistas.com, and for any further questions, you can contact me on the above email address.

I hope we can smash through our previous totals by exceeding £1000. And as well as knowing you are helping this charity out and all the families that depend on their work, you will be able to greet 2016 with an alcohol-free month already in the bag, raring to go for a sober New Year.

Many thanks, and here’s to a happy and healthy December!

Happy 3rd Birthday Soberistas!

On November 26th 2012, Soberistas.com launched. Within a year, twenty thousand people had signed up to join this brave and determined community, all seeking a happier and healthier life without alcohol. Today there are almost 34,000 registered members and the site continues to flourish, providing a non-judgmental and safe haven for anyone with alcohol issues to come and offload, to seek support from a group of friendly and inspirational Istas.

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So where did the idea for Soberistas come from? I was a heavy drinker who mostly thought it was normal to drink myself into oblivion several nights a week, to fall into drunken stupors on dates, and to throw up noisily in pub toilets on a regular evening out with friends because I just couldn’t stop boozing once I started. It bothered me intermittently, this lack of control with regards to alcohol, although never sufficiently enough to make me stop drinking altogether. But it really gave me a kick up the backside one morning in April 2011 when I woke up in A&E covered in congealed sick (sorry for the grossness but it was, well, gross), and with a complete blank where my memory should’ve been.

Stopping drinking was easy. Deciding to stop was easy, but staying stopped and feeling happy about it? That was the tough part. Urrgh, become a boring teetotaller? Never get drunk and dance on tables again? No more sitting around in restaurants talking until the cows come home, with bottle after bottle of red on the go? No, that all sounded like my idea of hell on earth.

My discomfort in the idea of becoming a sober woman in my mid-thirties led me to a light bulb moment one day, when the idea came to mind of a social network website that brought together a lot of like-minded women (and a few So-Bros!) from all over the world, who would help one another feel less alone and not so desperate about the fact that alcohol had simply stopped working for them…I saw the website in my mind, as clear as day, and I still have a sketch of it on a scrap of paper, which doesn’t look a million miles away from how Soberistas looks today.

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So that’s how Soberistas came to be in existence, but it could never have become the inspirational and heart-warming place that it is without our members, the individuals who blog and comment every day, helping so many other people recognise and begin to resolve their own drinking issues, as well as working through their own relationships with alcohol – and learning to live without it.

As a thank you, we are holding a 3rd Birthday Competition – and the prize is a rather gorgeous Clarins advent calendar, a lovely pre-Christmas treat full of miniature Clarins beauty products. In order to enter, all you need to do is write a blog on Soberistas.com stating exactly why you love being a Soberista. There’s no maximum or minimum word length, but you will need to tag the blog ‘Soberistasbirthday’ (all one word please) in order for it to be included in the entries. The competition closes at midnight (GMT) November 26th 2015 and we will announce the winner during the following week. This competition is open to all our members worldwide.

Going Back To My Roots

I was thinking recently about the shift in thinking that occurs when we stop wanting to drink, when we become completely satisfied with the idea of being alcohol-free on a permanent basis. When I quit drinking, I didn’t expect to turn into a happy Soberista. I imagined a life of teeth-gritting boredom, tedium as I observed the world around me downing alcoholic drinks with gusto, and the endless pursuit of attempting to fill the hole that booze had left behind.

I hid away from the world for a very long time when I put down the bottle. On the odd occasion when I did venture out socially, I felt like a freak, convinced everyone knew about my ‘little problem’. I didn’t conceive of this feeling ever disappearing, but instead resigned myself to growing accustomed to it and tolerating an existence defined by my teetotal stance.

As it turns out, my life has become somewhat characterised by my decision to not drink. But not for the reasons I thought it would: cravings, stigma, embarrassment and shame arising out of my ‘issue’ with alcohol. No, my life has become defined by sobriety because stopping drinking has been the most monumental decision I have ever taken – and the person I’ve become as a result of not drinking is the one that I should always have been. I feel like I’ve returned to my roots since quitting the booze.

What began as a painfully awkward, steep learning curve of living free from the shackles of alcohol dependency has blossomed into a profound love of life that is a million times better, because drinking no longer features in it. From April 2011 onwards, every ‘first’ was a giant hurdle that needed clambering over – sober. Christmas, birthdays, stressful days, boring days, lonely days, busy days, disappointments, nights out; each one loomed like a dark and treacherous mountain, but conquering those events brought satisfaction and confidence and contentment. And a healthy dose of self-belief too, which only furthered my ability to manage the next challenge that lay ahead.

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As time has gone on, I have forgotten what it felt like to want to escape my reality. I have lost the sensation of ‘needing’ a drink. I look at other people drinking and have absolutely no desire to join them in altering their minds. I am very happy to not drink.

If you are just starting out as a Soberista and currently every day without a drink, every minute of intense cravings for alcohol, feels like a mountain to be climbed, don’t despair. It passes. Honestly, it does. The only things that you need to embrace for the transformation to occur are a commitment to not having that first drink, and patience.

Freedom

“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Martin Luther King’s words changed the world, his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech being one of the most moving and inspirational orations of the twentieth century. Freedom was the end game of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s in America – freedom simultaneously being one of the most taken for granted rights, and one of the most precious, depending on whether you are lucky enough to enjoy it or not.

Freedom can arise in many guises; freedom from imprisonment, torture, pain and suffering, from acts of cruelty that are inflicted upon us by others. But it can also mean a release from our own actions, the gift of being able to live free from the restrictions of addictive and destructive behaviours. Wayne Dyer, self-help author and motivational speaker, once said, “Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery”.

And isn’t that precisely what addiction is? A form of slavery that holds us back and restricts us, maintains its control over our every thought and action and response? We are not ourselves when we are operating under the cloud of addiction. We are not making free choices when those choices are governed by patterns of thought that rule our body and mind.

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When we spend our money on alcohol, we are not free. When we show ourselves up and act in a manner not true to the real us inside, we are not free. When we cannot look in the mirror because we despise the person we have become, we are not free. When we are unable to be the friend or parent or partner that we are capable of being, we are not free. When we destroy our liver and brain and heart through excessive alcohol consumption, we are not free. When we put ourselves in dangerous situations, walking home alone late at night, drunk and out of control, we are not free.

Conquering addiction means granting ourselves freedom. It means we are able to choose how we behave. It means we know exactly what or who will make us happy. It means we fulfill our potential as a friend, parent or partner. It means we possess peace of mind. It means we know ourselves inside and out. It means we no longer spend money on the things that damage us. It means we take care of our bodies and minds and give ourselves the best chance at a long and happy life. It means we have dignity and self-respect. It means nothing or nobody exercises control over the person we are, apart from ourselves. It means remembering the finer details of every day and every night. It means being free to like the person we are.

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Freedom is a precious gift, and being free from addiction is incredible. This state of existence, being released from the walls that once held you back and kept you lying facedown in the dirt, can feel like a rebirth. A fresh start. A chance to see life for what it is; amazing, in all of its complexities and its banalities.

Spiralling Out Of Control

This week has mostly been a foggy jumble of sinus-related illness, tissues too many to recall, and a fortieth birthday which somehow slid by barely noticed due to the aforementioned illness. BUT! Throughout it all I have stuck stoically to my commitment to staying sugar-free, and as a nice side effect I have lost two pounds.

Over the last seven days I have been increasingly more mindful of what I’ve been eating. It’s so easy to slip into overeating (especially junk food) and I confess to being the queen of chocolate frenzies; I have regularly scoffed entire giant bars of the stuff within a matter of minutes, barely registering what is going on until the empty wrapper lies before me and I’m filled with disgust at such a potent lack of self-control.

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However, during the past week I’ve noticed a gradual but obvious reduction of cravings for sugar, a very significant lack of interest in sugary foods, and a small sense of pride in starting to overcome my addiction. It’s nice to know that I’m not a complete slave to the white stuff.

Another positive is that I have finally reached a point in my life where I feel safely able to ‘watch my diet’ without launching into obsessive and dangerous eating patterns, as was the case in my younger years. I’m not denying myself crucial calories in a bid to lose vast amounts of weight; I’m addressing an addiction to sugar which, when consumed in excess, causes us problems both physically and mentally. I read on Soberistas.com all the time about an inability to control food intake and especially so in the early stages of becoming alcohol-free. This is a common problem, and one which many people beat themselves up about.

I was incapable, once-upon-a-time, of eating ‘sensibly’ without spiralling into a dangerous game of excessive control which resulted in losing way too much weight and becoming obsessed with food and how best to avoid it. I hated my body and used my restrictive calorie controlling as a means of exercising discipline in the rest of my life – where I clearly felt as though there was none.

This whole business of ‘getting better’ following a dependency upon alcohol is a very complex one. Personally speaking, my ‘issues’ manifested themselves in drug use, an eating disorder and heavy drinking, and I merely swapped between these three things (or engaged in all three simultaneously) for several years in an effort to channel my discontentment away from actually facing up to them. Anything but resolve my deep dislike of myself.

The thing that really began the ball rolling towards happiness and acceptance of who I am was stopping drinking. That act alone was enough to initiate a steady process of beginning to like myself. It provided the foundations for being able to deal with all of the negativity, and injected me with the inner strength to get to grips with everything that I was scared of facing for all those years.

Cutting out sugar may sound like a fairly insignificant lifestyle change. But for those of us who’ve found our demons emerging in so many guises including a warped relationship with food, being able to eat nutritionally well and to enjoy healthy eating in a normal manner without fearing food, is a massive achievement.