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’?

sun-through-storm

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.

Advertisements

Are You Having a Sexy Sober Summer?

We are almost halfway through August, and at Soberistas we’ve been receiving lots of photos of people enjoying a sober summer. In case you missed the details, Soberistas together with TV presenter, Carrie Armstrong, launched the Sexy Sober Summer campaign at the beginning of the month. We are simply asking that people contribute their photos and thoughts on having a positively alcohol-free summer, to create an online library of motivational imagery. (See the end of this post for more information).

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I haven’t drunk alcohol for four and a half years, and I no longer miss it at all. I love my booze-free summers because: I don’t want to hibernate so much, I get to play in the park with my toddler past 3pm, I can wear nice summer dresses, my legs don’t look like milk bottles anymore, I feel more motivated to do, well, everything! I can go running early in the morning or later at night and not have to do it in the dark, there are flowers, I’m not cold, I eat a much healthier diet, I can go to the beach and swim in the sea, I can go on evening strolls in the countryside followed by a ginger beer outside a pub with my lovely teenage daughter, I can drive with the windows down and my favourite music on, I can sit in the garden and read a book in the sun…But it wasn’t always like this for me.

Summer was a slog in my first year or two of not drinking. All I could think about was what I was (allegedly) missing out on, and I felt bereft without my white wine spritzers and cold beers. This time of year can be a struggle if you are newly sober, with everyone everywhere (or so it can appear) drinking in sunny beer gardens and drinking on holiday and drinking at barbecues and just drinking, drinking, drinking. But summer doesn’t have to just be about alcohol. It can be a wonderful time to get outdoors and enjoy nature, do some exercise or have fun on the beach. It can be a great opportunity for relaxing and enjoying the benefits of a break from work and normal routine. And the light nights make it easier and more tempting to get out and see friends.

So far, our Sexy Sober Summer campaign has yielded some amazing photos of Soberistas everywhere looking gorgeous and happy and NOT drinking alcohol. We would love to add even more to our collection, and anyone who sends in a picture or written post for the campaign will be entered into a competition to win a fabulous prize of Afternoon Tea and Spa Treatment courtesy of Virgin Experience Days. You can find out more about the campaign and where to send your photos here and the competition closes at midnight (BST) August 31st 2015.

Trust Your Gut Instinct And Know That You Matter

When you don’t value yourself, you are incapable of living a fulfilled life. Nothing devalued me more than constantly drinking alcohol. It made me want to hide from the world; prevented me from seeing myself on a par with other people. Everyone was better than me – prettier, cleverer, cooler, more clued up about life. I felt like a little girl and a big part of me was desperate to be scooped up and looked after. Alcohol became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for me – the more of it that I drank the more I reinforced the idea that I was worthless, and the more worthless I felt, the more I drank. It was an incredibly dark and difficult place from which to escape.

I picked up some really bad habits during the twenty years that I drank heavily. I genuinely believed that I didn’t deserve good things and so I always aimed fairly low in terms of attaining happiness. This was reflected across the whole spectrum of my life, from work, to relationships, to how easy I found it to waste vast chunks of time, drunk.

Since I quit drinking a few years ago, my self-esteem has been steadily restored and things are so much better than they were. Everything has improved – I can’t stress that enough, my life has just done a 360-degree turn and altered completely. But, occasionally I catch myself falling back into those unhealthy behaviours that so defined me as a drinker. I know that I still have a leaning towards not valuing myself highly enough. If someone isn’t treating me how they should, I can dream up a ton of excuses for their actions. I can easily lose my grip on the person I’ve become, and the old Lucy, the one who took all kinds of shit from people, creeps up on me, catching me unawares.

This happened recently. I had to recalibrate, take that leap of faith – again – and let go of something that was damaging to me, even though so much of me wanted to hang on to it. There was only me who could do this (although friends and family have been trying to convince me of the same for a while) and I’m so pleased that I have the self-belief nowadays to do it. I have a strong gut instinct about things now that I don’t drink, and I trust it. It’s a reliable sixth sense – yes, I get blown off course once in a while, but now I have the capacity to reroute, as opposed to sliding perilously all the way to the bottom of the metaphorical slope – as happened in the old days, every time.

Me now - finally capable of making good decisions - with my youngest daughter.

Me now – finally capable of making good decisions – with my youngest daughter.

Instinct is such a vital component of human existence. We know that other animals have it but we so often overlook our own ability to recognise what is good or bad for us. Alcohol really messed with my intuition and that was such a dangerous side effect of drinking. It meant that I was propelled into making wrong choices time and time again, permanently devoid of the clarity to see what I was doing to myself. I perceive instinct now as a brilliant gift – one that drinking robbed me of.

If you are considering the benefits of quitting booze, consider this: too much alcohol disrupts the natural order of who we are as human beings. That has a knock-on effect on all areas of life. The terrible decisions we make as a result damage us further. Alcohol then becomes more appealing to erase the associated pain. And on and on the wheel turns…remove the booze and the rest takes care of itself.

Feelings

Feelings. I didn’t like them once upon a time. I remember the stomach-churning fear, the excitement that bubbled inside of me and which I instinctively wanted to quash, the sadness of heartaches or bereavement that gnawed away at my insides and which I always felt compelled to numb with alcohol, just to restore a sense of calm and order.

sunset in heart hands

I was frightened to feel anything. I operated as an automaton – a woman with two settings: functioning and partying. Emotions that interrupted the status quo had to be dealt with, and there was only one reliable method I knew of by which to do that: drinking.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most difficult thing in becoming a non-drinker has been learning to ‘feel’ emotions, not running from how I feel but accepting, understanding, and responding – appropriately. How bizarre it is to actually sit with emotions in the early weeks and months, to endure anger and bitterness, grief, happiness and excitement. How uncomfortable to have nowhere to turn in order to escape and seek solace from the raging storm inside the mind.

On my favourite running route, there’s a big hill. It winds through fields filled with sheep and cows, and as it climbs higher it offers a beautiful view of the west side of Sheffield where I live. As I reach the top, I often find that I have tears in my eyes. It’s a combination of listening to music (The War on Drugs currently, highly recommend it), immersing myself in the countryside away from anyone or anything apart from grass and trees and animals, the meditative property of running which affords me sufficient space for reflection. It’s probably something to do with the endorphin rush that comes from exercising too. The tears aren’t exactly related to being sad – they’re just tears. It’s an outlet for my emotions, which I need because, for the most part, I spend my life bombing around, spinning plates and keeping everyone happy – or trying to – as so many of us do.

A major part of the human experience lies in having emotions: we are grounded and guided by them. Living through them helps to heal us when we are wounded. We are strengthened by the tough times and find peace when we emerge out of the other side.

These days, I like feelings. I’m not scared of them. Feelings mean I am alive. Feelings mean I’m a human being. Feelings mean I no longer drink. I am aware. I am alive. I am present.

Pep Talk For The Weekend – Reasons To Stay Sober

10394638286_061e6d105d_z

The weekend is upon us. It’s when most of the people we know will be drinking alcohol, and it’s when the temptation to join them can become so strong it’s almost impossible to resist. This blog has been written as a pep talk for anyone teetering on the brink of caving in – print it out and stick it on your kitchen cupboard so that you can see it next time you’re considering stepping back onto the slippery slope that is booze…

  • You have the ability to grab life by the balls and start becoming the person you want to be. You have the power to enact change, but only if you do things differently. Every little action or thought that has always led you to drinking in the past needs to be arrested, reconfigured, altered and amended. If meeting your other half in the pub after work means you won’t be able to say no to alcohol, do something else. Go for a bike ride, a swim or to the cinema. Shake things up a bit – change what you do.
  • You’ll never be as young as you are today. OK, so you might have looked in the mirror recently and been pissed off at the wrinkles and tired-looking face peering back at you, but remind yourself that time is only going in one direction. Don’t focus on how old you are; concentrate on how young you are! On how many good years you could still have in front of you, on all the stuff you could enjoy from now on, free from the self-esteem battering effects of booze. Think about how fantastic it would feel to look back on all those happy years that didn’t feature heavy drinking and regrets and terrible hangovers. You could still have that. It could start today.
  • Alcohol is not really all you may think it is. It might bring about an instant sensation of relaxation and make you imagine that you are suddenly more attractive, witty and interesting, but in reality, booze is a bit crap. It makes you fat, prematurely ages you, ruins your teeth and turns the whites of your eyes yellow. It turns you into a repetitive bore. It costs shed loads of money. It gives you a cracking headache and stops you getting off your arse and hitting the gym. It’s a killer on your liver. It encourages you to take stupid risks. It makes you fall over. It makes your breath smell. It prevents you from being particularly productive or achieving your goals. It causes mood swings. It makes you sick. In brief, alcohol is rubbish.
  • The world is changing. People everywhere are waking up to the fact that heavy drinking is (surprise, surprise) bad for you. 21% of UK adults don’t drink alcohol at all, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Adult Drinking Habits in Great Britain report released back in February 2015. Don’t feel as though you stick out like a sore thumb for being teetotal – wear your non-drinking status like the badge of honour it is. Be a part of the group that’s in the know. Embrace your sobriety, because it’s much cooler to be in control, and looking and feeling confident and strong than stumbling about, wrecking your health and wasting your life. Celebrate the fact that you have escaped the booze trap!

Remember that for most of us who have struggled with an alcohol dependency, one drink will always inevitably lead to a second. And a third. And a fourth. There is no ‘just one’ for me, and probably not for you either if you are reading this. This weekend, make yourself a promise that you will start the rest of your life right now – because (contrary to what the booze industry would have you believe) the real way to treat yourself is by sidestepping alcohol completely.

The Subtle Impact of Drinking Too Much

blackand whiteI was never a bottle-of-vodka-at-7am type of boozer. I loved alcohol and, as I transformed from a child to a teenager, I never imagined I wouldn’t become a drinker. And I got started early, aged just thirteen. But I (almost) always managed to restrict my consumption to within the realms of social drinking, regular UK-style binge drinking – ‘fun’ drinking. Of course, there were always the exceptions, and, particularly during the last five years of my boozing life, I occasionally veered into the dark world of lone, secret drinking, and seeking a certain level of self-medication via the wine I was buying increasingly more of.

But the metaphorical wheels never fell off spectacularly. I didn’t lose my job, or invite the attention of the social services due to alcohol-related child neglect. I didn’t even look especially booze ravaged, other than on the odd mornings after very heavy, late night drinking sessions.

In fact, right up until I ended up in A&E one morning as a result of passing out after consuming three bottles of wine, I mostly managed to convince myself that the odd negative consequence of my wine habit was just part and parcel of life as a drinker. Blackouts? Didn’t everyone suffer alcohol-induced amnesia once in a while? Snogging someone who I didn’t really like (never mind be attracted to)? It was merely evidence of my rock n roll approach to life. Wiping out yet another weekend due to a debilitating hangover? Ditto the rock n roll lifestyle – I was living life in the fast lane and enjoying myself. Wasn’t I?

The truth was that there were many bad consequences of my habit but I was so accustomed to them because of the longevity of my alcohol dependency that I failed to recognise them as being the direct outcome of drinking: my snappy, uneven mood that manifested itself in me being an inpatient and unpredictable mum; the deeply entrenched feelings of self-loathing that arose each and every time I engaged in regrettable behaviour when under the influence, and lingered beyond; the fact that I struggled just to make it through the morning at work without my hangovers being noticed, ultimately meaning I never strived to excel in the workplace; the endless small change that dripped into the tills at Tesco in exchange for the odd bottle of wine and the accompanying packet of fags, amounting to somewhere in the region of £300-£400 per month; the frequent panic attacks that often rendered me struggling to breathe and terrified that I was having a heart attack. I accepted all of these as life just being the way it was, the hand I’d been dealt.

The thing is that as soon as a few months of sobriety had passed, all of the above were relegated to my history, and I quickly acknowledged that life wasn’t like that for a person who doesn’t touch alcohol. But as a drinker, I was so immersed in the world of hangovers and boozing and planning to drink, that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t see the clear downsides of excessive drinking from the alcoholic fog that I was permanently inhabiting.

If the outcomes of alcohol misuse are not catastrophic, this does not mean that life cannot be immeasurably improved upon by becoming a non-drinker. I will be eternally grateful that I tried my hand at not drinking; it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.

The Witching Hour

When I first quit drinking I frequently felt as though I was teetering on the threshold of a massive cliff. The edge represented the abyss of my feelings, the emotional reservoir that I had successfully avoided for my entire adult life, and I was petrified of letting myself go anywhere near it. Daytimes were manageable, filled as they were with childcare or work and characteristically lacking in the impressively stubborn self-destruct button that would worm its way into my head as the days evolved into early evening. But when darkness descended I routinely walked to the brink of feeling, and would always run in the opposite direction.

I know why I was so terrified of feeling my feelings: I’m still very conscious of it now, the enormity of human emotions, the turbulent effect they can have upon me, how they possess the unnerving potential to grow unwieldy and all-consuming. Emotions can be big, exciting, terrifying, out-of-control, barely there, impossible to ignore and pleasant, but crucially, they are merely a part of what it is to be a human being – and that fact took me a while to get my head around when I first stopped drinking.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Initially, feeling emotions felt bizarre and uncomfortable. I was so accustomed to quashing the whole spectrum of my reactions to life that, once free of alcohol, living turned into a medley of colossal ups and downs and my kneejerk response of seeking numbness did not disappear for several months. What I noticed, however, was that as time went by I began only to wish away the bigger feelings. Boredom, slight shyness and mild grievances – those became doable fairly early on. The challenge lay in the real tsunamis of the emotional range; grief, heavy regret, heartache. When they hit, the old tendency to flee from myself would rise up from the ashes and eliminating them would require an inner strength that I never knew I possessed.

It was incredibly difficult to ride the storm and just ‘be’, but now, after three and half years without alcohol, I’m there. I can feel without feeling terrified.

Here are a few things I have learnt about managing my emotions;

  • This too shall pass – emotions don’t last forever. Some of them might feel uncomfortable and unpleasant, but bad feelings come and go like tempests in your soul. When I feel unhappy nowadays I just sit it out but with the comforting knowledge that my internal state has no permanence.
  • The anticipation of experiencing feelings is far worse than the reality. Numbing our emotions with alcohol is not actually the ‘normal’ human experience, despite the way society normalises heavy drinking. Feeling our emotions is OK and entirely natural, and it will feel less bizarre the more you do it.
  • Negative emotions can be a challenge to deal with, but sobriety allows for both good and bad emotional rollercoasters. Yes, you may have to cope with heartache, grief, disappointment or stress without the numbing properties of ethanol flat-lining your emotional state, but try feeling the purity of joy, pride, relief, falling in love or a sense of achievement free from an alcoholic fog. There’s nothing like it.
  • Living in the moment by practising mindfulness truly helps when it comes to managing out-of-control emotional states. Meditation is an excellent place to start with this and there are tons of books and online resources on mindfulness to tap into. I can’t recommend this as a way of life highly enough.
  • Regard every challenging feeling you experience as a major stepping stone in your journey to emotional wellness. With each one you will grow stronger and better equipped to deal with the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones in between. Avoid wishing your feelings away, and accept that they are a valid element of your life experience.

From A Drunken Parallel Universe To A Life Of Contentment

What’s different about my life now that I am sober for every waking moment of it? The most obvious change is the disappearance of the car crash, relentless unpredictability that ruled my whole existence for twenty years. In a strange way, I was as addicted to that as I was the alcohol, and when I eventually decided to quit drinking I was terrified of the thought of a straight edge life that lacked the exciting drama I was so used to.

It’s taken a while to become accustomed to this new way which might be compared to drifting from stormy, turbulent waters into a warm, calm bay, where the seasons change as they should and nothing out of the ordinary jumps out to shake everything up. And while things are definitely different to the way they once were, I don’t miss my old life at all. I’ve become totally used to living in harmony with the world, which may sound slightly hippy-like but that’s how I see it all now.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

When upsetting or annoying things happen these days, they do so because that’s how things have turned out, naturally. There’s a reason for the way events unfold, a reason that hasn’t been forced and manipulated by excessive alcohol. The way I used to drink was not how those do who often feel the need to defend their drinking habits (i.e. a couple of drinks here and there, without ever becoming drunk and out of control). When I drank, I only ever wanted to lose my mind.

It was escapism I was seeking, and escape I did on a regular basis, flitting between my real life and the parallel universe I inhabited when drinking. My thoughts and actions were not my own, I never knew where an evening would take me; where I’d end up and who with. I always had butterflies in my stomach immediately prior to a night out – I know now that this was because I was terrified of exactly what the pissed version of me would be capable of during the forthcoming evening.

But now, if a friendship gradually peters out it happens because we no longer have anything in common. If I argue with my partner it’s because there is a real underlying issue that needs resolving. If I feel guilty about something, it’s because I need to alter my behaviour in some way – MY behaviour, the real me, not the artificial extension of me that wine created. Days have a predictability to them; I’m up at the same time, I follow the same rules, I don’t lurch from one impetuous thought to another, or spend hours of my time scraping up the aftermath of yet another drunken disaster.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

If you are considering an alcohol-free life, you should be prepared for a quieter and calmer life – but one that will be quiet and calm for all the right reasons. And when you feel the need to shake things up a bit, you can, on your terms and in control. That’s not boring; that’s contentment.

Something to do at Easter

Yesterday I went out for dinner not far from where I live, in an area filled with bars, eateries and cafes. Trees line the main road from top to bottom and there is a sense of the cosmopolitan about the place. After we left the restaurant where we had eaten in the early evening, I sat in the car for a few minutes with my daughters as we waited for my other half to purchase a few last minute essentials that I’d forgotten to include in the week’s shopping.

From our clear vantage point, we saw a lot of drunkenness; groups of lads out drinking, pairs of girls dolled up in too much make up and high heels they couldn’t walk in, staggering about with bottles of booze and cigarettes dangling from their fingers; older couples – ‘normal’, middle-aged, non-threatening people, just out getting drunk. Because it’s Easter weekend and that’s what people do in the UK.

This morning on Breakfast I watched some footage of the Easter Bonnet Festival which took place yesterday on the streets of Manhattan. It would appear that for New Yorkers, one of the highlights of the holiday is to put huge amounts of effort into making wildly over-the-top Easter headwear (and something for your little dog to wear too, naturellement), and then to showcase the products of your hard labour whilst walking about down 5th Avenue with thousands of others doing the same.

Bandit+Rubio+2011+Easter+Parade+Easter+Bonnet+ZaZUbEs2XWql

I believe that if we invested some creativity and thought into activities in this country that did not involve alcohol, it may go some way to address the binge-drinking problem we have here. Maybe people are just a bit bored, perhaps they cannot think of anything better to do with their Easter weekend days off work than to go out and get drunk.

I’m all for a grown-up’s Easter bonnet parade here in Sheffield – in fact I may just see about organising such a thing for next year (look out Betty!).

NB. For those of you who don’t know, Betty is my Jack Russell/Staffy cross breed.

End of Dry January – Get the Beers In?

As today is the 1st of February, there will be a fair few people looking forward to a good old piss up following a month of abstinence for Dry January (or something similar).

As you will know if you have been following my blog, I am an ex-drinker of fairly epic proportions. For many years I would never have considered for a minute that I would give up alcohol, never mind start up a website to help others who are in need of some support in that area. But where do I stand now, after 22 months of sobriety? What does alcohol mean to me today? Drinking woman 2

When I gave up the booze, I unwittingly sparked off the beginnings of a virtuous circle. Fairly soon after pouring away my last bottles of Pinot, I also gave up smoking – and without much ado I have to say. Without a glass of wine in the other hand, I soon lost my enthusiasm for sitting outside pubs in all weathers puffing away on £7’s worth of fags, teeth chattering and fingers slowly turning blue. As a non-smoker and non-drinker, I then stepped up my exercise, signing up for a boot camp (losing many inches) and increasing my running.

I stopped being quite such a moody sod too, once the alcohol had rid itself from my now temple-like body, and my anxiety attacks disappeared overnight. I saw the good in everything and felt overwhelmed with an urge to do wholesome things like go fruit-picking at farms and baking cookies. I started to write about my new-found sobriety on this blog. My vision of the future gradually began to unfurl, hitting me with all manner of suggestions as to how I could shape it with all this clarity I was now experiencing.

In short, giving up alcohol made me love life and learn to like myself. I discovered through abstinence that there is so much more to the world we live in than sinking your soul into a bottle of wine each night, and muddling through the daylight hours with a sore head and a bad attitude.

There have been critics of Dry January who purport that those who take part are fooling themselves into believing they are helping their livers recover for a few weeks, before jumping back into old boozy habits as soon as the calendar has been turned to February, but I disagree. I think there are so many positive effects of abstinence, that even if the Dry January-ers go back to drinking after their month is up, I believe many of them will do so with a view to moderating, purely because they have proved to themselves how much better they look and feel as a result of laying off the sauce for a while. Some may even decide to give up for good.

Personally, 22 months of sobriety is nowhere near long enough for me – I’m in it for the long haul!