Climbing Over The Mountains

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.

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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 does 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.

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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Good Decisions. Consistently.

Stopping drinking does not make life all better. The same old shit will still bug you, and your personality will remain pretty much intact (albeit you’ll probably become less down on yourself and more optimistic about things in general). The curveballs will continue to get thrown your way, and the opportunities that seem so close and within reach will still, on occasion, slip away from your grasp leaving you feeling cheated. Some people will still annoy you; things will still, sometimes, not go the way you want them to.

All of this is true. And yet, I found myself thinking a few days ago, ‘everything goes how I want it to nowadays; my life has become so simple to navigate’. So I started to ponder this a bit, why I had arrived at the conclusion that life is easy now that I’m a non-drinker. And here’s what I came up with.

When I drank, I made a lot of ill thought out decisions. These often did not end with the one initial bad decision but seemed to flow, catastrophically, into a maelstrom of dark consequences. Which, in turn, affected a whole host of other areas of my life, with similarly terrible results. It was the lack of consistency and complete inability to sit back and ruminate on anything that got me into so much bother. (And being drunk a lot.)

Think it? Do it. Feel it? Act on it. Say it. Do it. Think it? Go on and DO IT.

But now, I am calm. I am consistently calm. I’m a thinker. I contemplate. I empathise. I sit quietly with my thoughts before I act upon them.

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This brings positive outcomes because my life is no longer a kamikaze frenzy of drunken behaviour. It’s well thought out. And a word that I keep returning to – it’s consistent. I often say that the thing I love the most about being a non-drinker is the clarity it brings, but I’m also extremely happy about another great benefit of this lifestyle, and that’s the level, steady consistency; the predictability, the lack of surprises. The reliability.

This is a good way to live. You get to plan and live a life that is less Russian Roulette and more Chess. You can think about your next move, and make it when you’ve weighed everything up. Partners are chosen because they’re who you really need and want; friends are made because you have solid things in common instead of merely a love of getting pissed; you can concentrate and apply yourself at work, meaning you give your best and excel. You just make better choices – all the time. Good decisions, consistently.

It’s good, this non-drinking life.

Believing In Yourself As A Person Who Doesn’t Drink

As the sober months have turned into sober years, I’ve become noticeably more comfortable with not drinking. In the early days I did feel self-conscious; I worried that people would feel sorry for me, or simply not want to hang out with me anymore because I was boring. One or two acquaintances attempted to express their heartfelt best wishes and asked (with head cocked to one side in a concerned fashion) ‘How are you feeling now?’ with their hand sympathetically touching my arm.

I must say that more than anything this attitude confused me. We live in a society in which drunkenness is rampant, one in which people (and definitely the ones who asked me how I was feeling), who are clearly alcohol dependent, will drink far more than is good for them on a nightly basis, and yet STILL find it necessary to feel sorry for those who quit drinking the stuff. My response, incidentally, to those professing their sympathies towards me over the fact that I’d quit drinking, was to look befuddled and say ‘I’m absolutely fine thanks – why?’

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What sobriety has taught me is that letting go of old ways does not mean having to alter completely the person you are. One of the most terrifying things I have ever done in life is teeter on the brink of becoming a non-drinker, as I contemplated a world I believed would never be fun again, a place in which I could never let my hair down and an existence which, quite simply, looked bleak right up to the horizon.

But my alcohol-free life has turned out to be nothing like this, not boring at all. It’s just that all the things I failed to notice when I drank (because I was either too hungover or preoccupied with planning my next drink, or simply because I was drunk) now leap out at me. The world switched to Technicolor when I put down the bottle, meaning that all the things I imagined to be mundane when I drank have since become beautiful, vivid, notable and fascinating.

People still often ask me, ‘But don’t you miss drinking?’ And my answer is always this: ‘Alcohol to me isn’t like it is to you. You can enjoy a couple of drinks and happily stop, go home and get to bed. I can’t do that. For me, a couple of drinks always meant a session, lots of drinks, so much booze that I would be sick, or suffer a blackout or fall unconscious. Alcohol made me hate myself, and it made me want to hide away in my bedroom, unnoticed by the world.

But without alcohol I can relax, and feel happy, well balanced and valid. Without alcohol, I can be myself. And so no, I don’t miss drinking at all.’

Making It Through Christmas…Alive, Kicking & Sober!

I hated Christmas when I drank, largely because I shared custody of my eldest daughter with her dad, and so I would either wake up on Christmas Day without her, or she would have to leave for her dad’s at 3pm. I missed her terribly when she wasn’t there, and her absence had the additional negative effect of enabling me to drink – the sadness I felt as a result of our broken family justified (in my mind) my excessive alcohol consumption.

Then, when I quit drinking, I hated Christmas because I could see everyone around me getting drunk, and drinking, drinking, drinking, and I’d feel lonely and odd and full of longing to join in. But I knew I couldn’t.

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 now almost seventeen so the pain of sharing custody has passed.  She’ll spend a bit of time with her dad on Christmas Day but it’s much easier to bear these days, and most of the day she will spend with me and the rest of her maternal family, so it doesn’t sting anywhere near as much as it once did. Plus now we have her little sister who is three 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 garnered a few thoughts about staying happy at this time of year, and they have 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 page has a code for 10% off products from brand new 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.

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I hope this helps, and have a happy, booze-free Christmas! Love from Lucy x

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.

Escaping the Darkness

Quitting drinking lifted me out of Crapsville. When I drank, I would often ponder why other people’s lives seemed to be so much more productive and together than my own messy, unsatisfying and occasionally frightening existence. I am writing about this today because I noted earlier just how content I am these days, and how long it’s been since I experienced anything or anyone who scared me, threatened me, dragged me down or showed me the darker side of life.

Alcohol brought out so much negativity in both the people I knocked about with, and me. Morals slipped, thoughtlessness abounded, and self-respect vanished all too readily with the same ease it took to withdraw a cork from a bottle.

I found myself caught up in pub brawls, illicit affairs and, on the lesser end of the scale, frequently demonstrating disappointing behaviour that manifested itself in cancelling on people at the last minute, or becoming so out of it that friends would find themselves forced to get me home, sabotaging their own night out in the process.

There was bad karma. I let people down, I hung out with people who had serious drug and alcohol problems and who consequently also let friends down. I prioritised booze above friends. I wasn’t a very nice person to know. And thus, I found myself caught up in the darkness, unable to even recognise that life could be better for me; that it didn’t need to be that way. My expectations dropped so dramatically that I became drawn to violent and dangerous people like a moth to a flame. Niceties bored me rigid. I wanted the dark side. And I got it.

As time has gone on, and with the removal of all mind-altering substances from my life, those unhappy years have receded further and further until I’ve reached a point where, when I cast my mind back to all that madness, it seems to have happened to someone else. I’ve changed, and time has healed much of the pain of the past. Who was that girl who got thrown roughly out of a club on her twenty-first birthday for being so drunk? Who was the person who spent the night crying outside a police station inside which her boyfriend was locked up for drunken fighting? Who was the woman who passed out on the settee night after night with way too much wine in her system?

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Today the sun is shining, and I have people in my life who I love and who love me back. I have two gorgeous children who I adore spending time with. I’m healthy and fit. I have my mental faculties. I’m not ill. I’ve been up since 6.30 am, busy and productive, without an ounce of shame or regret eating away at my soul. Without alcohol, I have allowed the real me to surface. And this me attracts positivity, and happiness and only the good stuff.

Elastic Bands and Drinking Yourself Away.

You start off thinking, “I’m going to stop drinking”. And a big part of you doesn’t really believe that you will succeed. You imagine the nights out, socialising with a glass of something non-alcoholic in your hand, one eye on the clock and deep, deep boredom setting in. You consider the endless evenings of sanity, clarity and awareness, with nowhere to run in order to escape the churnings of your mind. And you wonder, seriously, can I do this? Will this ever become my ‘normal’?

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You imagine yourself stagnating, standing still, this life now so predictable. This is the point where things grind to a halt and you bid the old you a fond farewell. Into the abyss you go, stepping into a life that isn’t really yours. And you dread becoming a lesser version of you, a shadow of your former self.

In reality this is not how it is. What happens during the trajectory of a bad relationship with alcohol is something akin to an elastic band stretching one way, and then snapping back again. I see myself as being genuine and true up until my mid-teens when the drinking and drugs crept in. Then, very slowly, I changed and became something I wasn’t – lots of things I wasn’t, in actual fact: loud, flirty, irresponsible, thoughtless, selfish, prone to kneejerk reactions, insecure, lacking in self-confidence, attention seeking, depressed, pessimistic, occasionally suicidal. The elastic band kept on stretching out, pulling me further and further away from who I really was. It reached its maximum length, and that was it…that was the stage at which I could go no further.

The band started to retreat, gradually erasing all the changes that had occurred to me as a person. As it approached its original shape, I recognised more and more about myself that I remembered as a child. The things I used to do, the stuff I liked that brought me pleasure – wildlife, music, cooking and writing – all took their place in my life again. The ‘me’ who I had become at full capacity of the elastic band began to diminish, growing ever more distant and insignificant, a person who I no longer regarded as the true me whatsoever.

Alcohol takes such a central role in the lives of those people who depend on it to escape their realities that when it’s gone, the vacuum it leaves behind can be immense. But we shouldn’t consider letting alcohol go as marking the beginning of turning into somebody new, lesser, an altered state. It’s just the start of the journey home, back to whom we once were before we entered a warped world of negativity and discontent.

Addiction Geographical

I’ve been aware of the concept of an Addiction Geographical for several years, the act of moving location in an attempt to try and erase a history of substance abuse. When I first became a single parent and embarked unknowingly into the ‘dark days’ of 2003-2011, I began to dream of moving to Cornwall, France, Spain, Italy, New York City.

I hated where I lived, an old industrial part of Sheffield comprising of rows and rows of terraced houses, back-to-back with shared gardens, no privacy, no open spaces and no big skies. Living there, I found it easy to remain glued to my drinking habit. That place seemed to bring about in me a self-fulfilling prophecy of gloom, reflected in the dark brickwork and blackened alleyways that ran in-between the houses like rat runs. I often imagined myself with a house by the sea, gazing out onto the rolling ocean each morning and being imbued with the abundant salty air and sense of freedom that belongs to the coast.

I never did move away from Sheffield, largely because of my daughter whose dad lived here as well as all her friends. But I wished with my whole heart that I could have left, and I bemoaned my home city to anyone who would listen, unable to find any positives to it.

Winding forward several years and here I am, four and a half years alcohol-free, and fully recovered from my addiction issues of the past. Yesterday I looked out of my bedroom window and noted the vast green swathes of woodland (Sheffield is the only UK city with a National Park within its boundaries and it’s rumoured that there are four mature trees to every person living here), the peacefulness of where I now live and the easy access to the Peak District, and I thought what a beautiful city this is to live in. The desire to escape where I’ve lived all my life (minus a year in London aged twenty-one) has left me completely.

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This made me think: I wasn’t motivated by Sheffield being such an awful place when I was filled with that deep longing to relocate – I was motivated instead by wanting to vacate myself, my own skin, to become a new person, one whose past was not marred by all those mistakes and regrets and shameful episodes arising from alcohol misuse. I deluded myself into believing that I could achieve an instant recovery from my demons if only I moved to a new place where nobody knew me, where I could start again. It’s been hard at times, toughing it out here, being reminded of my drinking past on so many occasions (There’s the pub where I puked my guts up in the toilets, There’s the pavement where I collapsed drunk out of my mind, There’s the house where I pondered suicide and cried rivers). But I’m glad I stayed. It’s been character building. It’s made me stronger. It’s taught me to face up to my mistakes rather than running away. And it’s made me recognise that there is always good to be found in everything – you just need to feel good about yourself in order to discover it.

What Lies Beyond?

What lies beyond that obstacle, the one that prevents us from making real and lasting changes? The obstacle that takes residence in our hearts and in the pit of our stomachs, the one that governs our actions and holds us back in a place that, while familiar, is not necessarily where we want to be. The fear that stops us growing and moving forward in our lives can be almost tangible; I am aware of it festering in my whole being at times, and it can be an almighty challenge to ignore it, refuse to bow down to its demands and ultimately, to overcome it.

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I’ve been frightened of so many things throughout my life but my biggest fears have arisen when I’ve been contemplating quitting bad habits – alcohol and certain boyfriends, primarily. I have often been virtually paralysed by the dread of what lies beyond that which I know, the thing that may have been causing me so much pain, but the thing that I am familiar with. Better the devil you know. The comfort of not changing can be so enticing that we are frequently rendered incapable of taking a leap into the unknown and embarking upon a new way.

This is how I look at things now, largely aided by my successful mission in stopping drinking (I always say to myself, if you could do that, you can do anything!). I ask myself first, what will happen if you do not see this person/eat that bar of chocolate/any other behaviour that I am trying to not engage in? Will the world end? Will I crumble? Will anything around me change in any way at all? Will I be in danger? Will my children be badly affected? Will there be any catastrophic consequences as a result of me not doing this thing? The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, No. Nothing will happen. I will sit with an uncomfortable feeling for a few minutes, yes, but that’s it. The sky will not cave in. I will not spontaneously combust.

These emotions, the slightly edgy, raw feelings that come from just sitting with a craving, will reoccur, several times, maybe for a few months, intermittently springing up out of nowhere and making us feel unpleasant for a matter of minutes. But that’s it. That’s all that will happen.

In the midst of those unpleasant feelings, I now try to find the space to sit down in a quiet room, breathe deeply, focus on whatever the behaviour is that I am trying to stop, and to bring back a sense of calm and order to my headspace. Or I go for a run in the woods and listen to music. I have learnt not to allow the spiral of discontent and negativity to erupt within me and send me into a whirlwind of bad thinking. It never helps. It never did.

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Eventually, with a little bit of patience and time, bad habits and unhealthy behaviours can be relinquished to the past. Without hardly realising it, you can find yourself in the place that you were so frightened of initially, the place where the unhealthy relationship, the drinking, the overeating, no longer lives. And when you get there, you’ll wonder why on earth you were so terrified of making the shift.