Hello January :-))

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy January 🙂

Happy You, Happy 2017

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

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

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

I am me. And that’s fine.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, Lucy xx

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Making Christmas Good Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Extract From ‘The A-Z Of Binning The Booze’ (my new book)

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If you like the sound of this book, you can buy it from Amazon here…

H – Hobbies and Holidays

Urrghh, hobbies. What a boring word. What a boring thing to do. Hobbies are for dullards with nothing better to do with their time.

Wrong!

Very occasionally I am beset with terribly gloomy thoughts relating to the reality of life and death – that we are all going to die; that in millions of years there will be nothing left of any of us except perhaps some space dust. When these morbid ideas pop into my head, I find it unnervingly simple to reduce everything in the world to a state of pointlessness. I mean, when the Earth is no longer a planet and the stars have all burnt out, there will be no significance whatsoever attached to anything we’ve ever achieved or enjoyed in our lifetimes, will there?

Obviously we can’t live our lives with the constant thought that we are, one day, going to pop our clogs because we’d never bother doing anything, caring for anything or anyone, or even getting out of bed in the morning. Albert Einstein once said, ‘There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle’, and this is what I tell myself whenever the aforementioned gloominess sets in. As children we are predisposed to perceiving everything as wondrous, and then adulthood creeps in and it all, sadly, turns a little sour. Or at least, it does if we allow it to.

And for those of us who position alcohol on a pedestal, who prioritise drinking over most other activities, hobbies can seem more than a little bit meaningless – distractions to while away the hours as we await the onset of old age. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol, on the other hand, is a worthwhile exercise and a good use of our time. After all, we are socialising, relaxing and letting our hair down – or so we like to think.

The problem with boozing as a pastime, however, is that it can, for people who are unable to moderate their intake terribly well, lead to a number of seriously negative consequences that impact on multiple areas of their lives. It doesn’t end with a night involving a few drinks; often it creates problems within our relationships, reduces our self- confidence and self-esteem, costs a lot of money from which we see little, if any, return, and acutely damages our health.

Regular drinking also occupies vast amounts of our time. From the planning to the imbibing to the recovery the following day, a heavy consumption of alcohol tends to dominate our lives. It leaves no spare hours whatsoever for pursuing any other activities – and besides, anything that doesn’t involve booze is surely a complete waste of time and something to be avoided like the plague, isn’t it?

Here then are the two most substantial reasons that I had no interest in hobbies for my entire adult life until I stopped drinking: firstly, if it didn’t involve booze then I didn’t want to be doing it, and secondly, hobbies are a stupid waste of time and something that only dull people do.

But then I became a non-drinker, and none of the above applied any longer. Hobbies, I quickly realised, are not just distractions but an excellent means of achieving numerous other goals. For a start, many pastimes (booze-free of course) will necessarily involve interacting with other people. If you sign up to a writing class or join a gym, partake in a regular film or book club or learn how to rock climb, you will be meeting new faces, some of whom may well become friends. These people will probably not hold alcohol in quite as high regard as you have always done, hence their interest in your chosen activity (or maybe they will be exactly like you, looking for alcohol-free ways to spend their time because they too want to be sober on a permanent basis). All of this will aid your booze-free endeavours enormously, as well as providing a welcome distraction from drinking in the early days when the cravings are still hitting in frequent tidal waves.

In addition to making interesting new friends who don’t consider booze to be the be-all and end-all (which in itself will help boost your confidence), taking part in a hobby will help increase your self- belief. This is because you will be trying something different and gradually proving to yourself you’re capable of things that you previously thought you couldn’t manage. There is an immense rush of satisfaction to be found in reaching targets – being able to converse comfortably in a foreign language or running for several miles after being unfit for years, for example, are achievements that will spur you on and help create a feeling of inner strength and invincibility. They will reignite the exciting sense of potential (most likely buried after years of drinking excessively) that we all possess in our youth – the dreams we once regarded as entirely within our grasp, but which, as we mature into adults, somehow wither away to nothing.

Partaking in a hobby works wonders for the soul. Just because the thought of crocheting or collecting stamps might send you into a deep slumber, you shouldn’t assume that all pastimes will be of no interest to you. There is something for everyone; it’s just a matter of discovering what that may be for you.

I am passionate about writing and exercising, spending time with my children and our dog. I love animals and bird watching, and I derive great pleasure from being out in the countryside. I also, once I became alcohol-free, began baking again – something I adored as a child but which, once the booze bus came along, got sidelined along with so many other activities I had once enjoyed. And while admittedly I did engage in most of these interests when I was a drinker, it was with limited enthusiasm and vigour, largely because they simply got in the way of my passion for wine. Even the cinema was as an inconvenience as it equated to a night out without alcohol – or, at the very best, only a couple of drinks squeezed in either side of the film which was, quite frankly, deeply frustrating.

The pastimes I enjoy now as a non-drinker are ones to which I apply myself fully. If I’m out walking in the hills, it is this and only this that demands my attention. I’m not thinking of pints of beer in a country pub, or contemplating how much drinking time I’ll have left when I arrive home as a result of wasting hours marching about unnecessarily in the countryside. When I’m baking with my younger daughter, it isn’t with one eye on the clock, wishing the hours away in order to reach her bedtime and my wine o’clock. And if I am writing, I am doing so with pure concentration as opposed to harbouring feelings of resentment, because really all I want to do is switch off my laptop and get stuck into a bottle

If there’s one thing all heavy drinkers have in common it is that they occupy a miniscule world. Alcohol consumption (when it’s regular and intense) shrinks our existence, creating a daily schedule based on nothing more than getting pissed and subsequently recovering. Meeting new friends is, quite honestly, exhausting – unless they too are only interested in getting sloshed, and then it’s irrelevant whom we are talking to because all parties present are inebriated. Anything that doesn’t involve drinking is abandoned for obvious reasons, and activities that demand concentration and commitment are a total waste of time as who can deliver such attributes when half cut?

But hobbies, when one is alcohol-free, broaden horizons – they help to expand an individual’s world. Doing nothing is tolerable when you are drinking to cushion the tedium of it; take the alcohol away and being bored is quite awful. This tends to force the non-drinker out of his or her comfort zone and into new activities, enjoyed alongside different people and in previously uncharted territory. There is nowhere to hide when you are stone cold sober – it becomes essential to fill empty evenings and weekends with something constructive. And although it might feel as scary as hell, doing it should provoke the desire to keep doing it, to push on further in order to find out exactly what you are capable of.

And so to holidays, which are to the average heavy boozer a perfect excuse for an extended piss- up. Most people who are alcohol-dependent will only usually stall a drinking session due to various unavoidable obstacles and restrictions: work, children and the desire not to be perceived as a hopeless drunk. Remove these standard daily interruptions to one’s alcohol consumption, and what are you left with? That’s correct: a holiday.

People are allowed to drink a lot on holiday – that is to say, boozy behaviour from those jetting off to sunnier climes is considered socially acceptable. How many of us have witnessed fellow travellers downing pints of lager in the airport at some ungodly hour before the sun has even risen? When I drank alcohol, I would routinely consume two or three large glasses of wine during my time spent at the airport and on board the plane. This was, I reassured myself, purely down to my fear of flying and was therefore entirely justified. And once we arrive at our chosen destination, we frequently feel entitled to enjoy a few drinks to help us unwind and really make the holiday go with a bang. We are not required to be up early in the mornings, everyone is generally more relaxed, and thus alcohol seems to suit the mood perfectly.

The issue here (once again) for those of us devoid of the off-switch is that we do not drink like other people do. Beginning with a higher level of acceptable than your average moderate drinker, our holiday drinking can quickly escalate to monumental proportions. If a bottle of wine a night is standard when at home, the vacation equivalent is likely to exceed three bottles. And this is not an ingredient for a happy holiday for anyone present.

What, then, is the newly teetotal person to expect when travelling for the first time minus a steady flow of booze to fill up all the unwanted cracks in their happiness? Because let’s face it, if you have always consumed alcohol as an adult then all your holidays will have been booze-fuelled weeks of mayhem. And if you’re anything like me as a drinker, alcohol was the whole point of a holiday.

I believe there are some hard and fast rules to help the people for whom this book was written (i.e. those who are incapable of moderating their consumption and are learning how to live without booze) enjoy alcohol-free holidays. You probably will not be able to incorporate all of the following into your next holiday, or even the one after that. Like much of life after drinking, adjustments will take time, effort and planning. But if you work towards these aims, you’ll get there eventually and so will be able to look forward to feeling content and rejuvenated during and after your future holidays – which is far preferable to arriving home with the mother of all hangovers and nothing to show for your fortnight away except an extra spare tyre and bags the size of suitcases under your eyes.

 

AF Holiday Rule #1: choose a location that interests you. Frankly, when you drink a lot, you could be holidaying on a landfill site and you wouldn’t notice all that much (at least, not after you’d sunk the first couple of jugs of Sangria). However, things are wildly different when you are completely sober; in fact, the exact opposite is true. You’ll really notice your environment, and it will become, apart from the break from working and the company of whomever you are holidaying with, the most important element of your time away. Since I quit alcohol, I’ve picked locations that are historically, culturally or geographically interesting to me. I also look for places conducive to fitness activities such as cycling, hiking, surfing or skiing as I love all of these things and engaging daily in any of them is my idea of heaven. My worst nightmare would be a noisy, bar-filled resort, rammed with people all seeking a mental escape. But whatever rocks your boat! Just make sure that wherever you go, you’re going to enjoy it for what it has to offer other than booze.

AF Holiday Rule #2: go on holiday with people you like. This may prove difficult for some as alcohol conceals all sorts of dissatisfactions – not least an unhappy relationship. When we are drinking heavily, it detracts from the true dynamic of a partnership; take the booze away and giant holes could be revealed, especially on holiday where the everyday busyness of life comes to a standstill. Aside from our partner, there are also friends to consider. As discussed earlier in the book, we usually choose similarly heavy drinkers in our social circles when we ourselves drink – precisely the type of people we wouldn’t want to spend a week with sober. If you are planning on being a non-drinker on a permanent basis, it may be necessary to cut loose some friends and even your partner, should the incompatibilities become unmanageable without the veil of alcohol disguising them. Holidays should be fun and relaxing, and they will be if you are with the right person or people. A week away in close quarters with someone you can barely stand to be in the same room with will amount to a hellish experience.

 

AF Holiday Rule #3: avoid places with memories of drinking copious amounts. As a teenager I visited Faliraki and Kavos, both in Greece and both with the infamous 18–30 Holiday company. Booze cruises, bar crawling, scooting about on the back of boys’ mopeds while wearing a tiny bikini and being fairly hammered–I partook in all of the average English person’s Mediterranean holiday clichés. As the years progressed I visited many cities, mountains, beaches and picturesque villages, and in most of them I carved out some reasonably distressing alcohol-related memories. I would advise avoiding like the plague any holiday location that will remind you of drinking until you have at least a couple of AF years under your belt. Triggers will be firing off at an alarming rate if you descend on a place where, in days gone by, you would have been getting quietly sloshed in a little bar somewhere, or necking pina coladas on the beach beneath a particularly pleasing palm tree. The sun, the omission of restrictions (work being the main one), together with the strong impulse to let your hair down because you are on holiday could all prove too much to withstand. Go easy on yourself and pick a new destination with no drinking memories – good or bad.

AF Holiday Rule #4: find time to meditate. You’ll have more free hours on holiday than you do at home so there’s no excuse for not doing this. Devote a few minutes every morning to meditating, repeating a mantra pertaining to using your holiday to relax and recharge your batteries, and you’ll really help yourself stay focused on this goal. Meditation aids mindfulness and encourages a sense of calm – remind yourself each day that relaxation is the reason why you are on holiday and you’ll be prioritising it clearly in your mind, which, in turn, will assist you throughout the day to achieve this aim.

AF Holiday Rule #5: be a bit selfish. You work your bum off all year, traipsing round after other people, picking things up and washing their clothes, restocking the fridge and cleaning the loo. Then you go on holiday and, if you aren’t careful, you end up doing exactly the same thing there. This endless domestic slog results (unsurprisingly) in major feelings of resentment and bitterness. And both of these emotions are especially helpful in pushing you towards the wine section of the local supermarket. My advice would be to pre-empt this and outline expectations pre-holiday with your nearest and dearest. Explain that this is your holiday too and you deserve and need a rest, just like your travel companions. Work out how best to achieve a holiday from which everyone benefits and, if necessary, pencil in a few hours here and there just for you where you do the things you love doing, free from the responsibilities of the kids or whoever else you’re going away with.

 

Hobbies and holidays are equally brilliant for injecting passion and excitement back into your life once the alcohol has been shelved. Work at embracing them. If you run from them, too frightened to try your hand at anything new, you’ll be missing out on vast amounts of enjoyment and satisfaction. Both hobbies and holidays will boost your personal growth, helping to build confidence and self-esteem, and could lead you to new adventures that you never imagined in your wildest dreams. The key to having a good time without booze is to live in the moment, and we will look at this in more detail in the chapter on mindfulness later in the book.

Summer, Soberistas and An Update

In my last post, many months ago, I bowed out of writing my regular entries to this blog other than to update you on the progress of the new Soberistas website. Well, here goes; an update!

We said July, and then it was August. Now it’s September. But finally, it seems as though we are nearly there, on the brink of launching the new Soberistas site. There’s now a designated Forum discussion page on Soberistas.com for anyone with questions about the new site – just click here to take a look. And, on the issue of the long-awaited new site, thank you so much for your patience!

A few months ago, after many a night sitting with my laptop at the dining table, I completed my latest book, The A-Z Of Binning The Booze, a comprehensive guide for helping people to achieve alcohol-free living. After what seems like an eternity (again!), the book will soon be available in eBook format, published on September 10th 2016, and then as a paperback in January 2017 in the bookshops. Alastair Campbell very kindly took a look at my book, and had this to say about it: “This book will help anyone trying to choose sobriety over a life of alcohol dependency. Personal, passionate, convincing.” Thank you Alastair.

Summer is nearly over, and with its imminent departure comes the promise of a return to a more structured existence. The free and easy months between June and August can be a challenge to those of us who don’t drink, not least because of the ubiquitous Prosecco references in virtually every bar, restaurant and shop I’ve walked into recently. I used to find hot weather unbearable when I first quit drinking five and a half years ago; it was so tied up with beer gardens and barbecues and holidays that I always felt as though I was missing out on all the fun.

But as the sober years have passed by, so the desire to drink when the sun appears has diminished, although I’m still aware of how ‘in-your-face’ alcohol is during the summer.

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Last week, I took a short trip to Naples and was struck by how very different the Italian people’s relationship with alcohol is to that of people in the UK.

Every night, we sat and watched a procession of families – young, old, multi-generational – take to the promenade and stroll along, engaged in conversation, looking happy and relaxed, and not a beer bottle or glass of fizz in sight. In the warm, evening air, teenagers joked with their friends and flirted mildly with the opposite sex, couples kissed and gazed into one another’s eyes as they leant against the ancient, stone wall that separates the promenade from the Bay of Naples, and young parents proudly pushed their babies along in pushchairs. Where is the equivalent of this in Britain? A place where people can relax and enjoy the company of their loved ones’ without feeling the need to numb their minds with alcohol? Being there restored my faith in humanity, and I came home with an even greater conviction that we do not need alcohol to have fun, or relax, or for anything else.

As human beings, in our natural states, we are lovely. We are able to communicate properly with one another, to experience emotions fully, to be dignified and proud, and to look serene and healthy. Something went badly wrong with the British culture in terms of the relationship people have with alcohol, but in Naples, I saw a different kind of socialising, a very real and beautiful display of all that we can be as human beings.

I hope you have had a good, restful and alcohol-free summer. Vive la sober revolution!

Lucy xx

Girl on the River Tyne

A photograph emerged over the bank holiday weekend of a young woman, presumably drunk, perched on the edge of the River Tyne in Newcastle’s Quayside as she relieved herself in full view of all those in the near vicinity. Unfortunately for the ‘reveller’, as she was referred to in at least one newspaper, her actions were also caught on camera and have since been widely shared on various social media channels.

This image has been on my mind for most of today as I was called this morning and asked to comment on it for BBC Radio Newcastle. My immediate reaction was more to do with the response from the media and the people viewing the photo via the Internet rather than with the girl herself and what she was up to in the picture.

Firstly, there is a gender issue. Would people have reacted in the same hostile manner, branding this person ‘scruffy’ and ‘disgusting’, if it had been a man in the photo? Society does not regard women – and especially women who are obviously under the influence of alcohol – equally to men. Women are not supposed to act with such outlandish disregard for themselves and the thoughts and feelings of others, and being drunk is no excuse; females should remain ladylike at all times otherwise they are labelled shameful and unfeminine. Men, on the other hand, are allowed to get drunk and display tomfoolery because it is simply illustrative of ‘boys being boys’.

Secondly, there appeared to be a response to this image from some quarters that could be described as light-hearted, a trivialising of the event. A hand in front of the mouth hiding a smirk as people observed the cheeky lass from Newcastle exposing herself in broad daylight; giggling because it’s all a bit of a laugh.

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I’m not banging the temperance drum here but I don’t think it’s funny at all. This picture reminded me of myself back in the day, legless and stupid, having a ‘bloody good time’ as I drank myself into a stupor day after day and consequently found myself injured, in dangerous situations, being abused and falling way short of my potential because I was always either pissed or recovering from being pissed. Fast forward a few decades and I can see this girl in her middle years, dying of shame and self-loathing because women of ‘a certain age’ cannot joke so easily about their drunken behaviour like teenagers can. Furthermore, when I was a teenager and doing stupid, mortifying things when I was drunk, I didn’t have the humiliation of social media to cope with on top of my own deeply felt self-hatred.

Thirdly, there is major concern, I think, for the fact that this girl may well have slipped through the railings and into the River Tyne where she could have drowned (as many do in the UK each year). Not so funny if that happened.

Agreed, this girl shouldn’t have become so inebriated that she dropped her trousers and took a slash in public, and yes, she should have more dignity, and OK, whatever happened to personal responsibility? But none of us start drinking with the intention of acting shamefully and idiotically, dangerously and with no self-respect whatsoever – most people are under the illusion that alcohol will just make a social event go with a bang, inject a bit of excitement and glamour, and help loosen them up a bit. These type of outcomes are never planned or desired; rather they are the fall out from being immersed in a binge-drinking culture which, hypocritically, condones alcohol consumption on the one hand while chastising those who take things too far on the other.

Under The Pressure

Yesterday morning I was driving my three-year-old to nursery, taking a road that winds up through farmers’ fields. For a mile or two we were flanked by sheep-filled greenery, our presence being the only visible sign of human life. The wind rocked the trees violently, birds hung strewn in the air, caught on the stiff breezes that elevated them far above us. My eyes kept returning to the sheep. One knelt forwards on its front legs, positioning itself strategically in order to be able to eat more comfortably. A magpie perched on its back. Dotted about, absorbed in their single pursuit of consuming the grass, the sheep were completely oblivious to us, unaware of a world beyond their immediate one.

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And so I began to think about the vast gulf between the sheep’s existence and our own, one that is infinitely more confusing, busy and chaotic. Much of the pressure we feel encumbered by is self-created, and I’ve been on a small mission over the last couple of years to disencumber myself as much as possible. Someone said to me recently that if you strip away all the bullshit, basically what we are about is waking up each day and feeding ourselves (and any dependents) three times, before going back to bed. A very simplistic description of the human experience but really, one that is true. All the additional layers that we weave in are not essential to our survival, but rather are there because we have achieved the basics and so have free time and energy to devote to complicating things (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

Some of these complications, the additional extras, are nice. Holidays, for example, or meeting up with friends, indulging in a hobby or wandering around an art gallery. But lots of the tasks and activities that we set ourselves each day just cause us huge amounts of unnecessary stress, resulting in us bombing around like headless chickens in a desperate attempt to tick off everything we set out to do when we woke up.

The reason I’m writing this in a blog about my sober life is because when you add in all the needless, supplementary elements to modern life, you inevitably put yourself under stress. And when you do that, you tend to seek out relief. For many people, that relief comes in the shape of a bottle. A major part of my success in staying sober for (almost) five years is that I work hard at maintaining as stress-free a life as I possibly can. Sometimes life should just be about waking up, feeding yourself three times and then going back to bed.

It feels good to strip back the layers of complication and make things easy on yourself. Whether that’s making a change to your job, slowing down in your efforts to achieve perfection in everything, or not saying yes to every social invitation that comes your way, there are amendments we can all make to simplify our existence. Maybe not quite to the baseline of sheep, but a step back from the mayhem of the typical twenty-first century human experience can only be a good thing.

Does The Body Rule The Mind, Or Does The Mind Rule The Body?

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a while. I wanted to explore the issue of how the mind and body are connected, or rather, as for many people, how they are disconnected. If the mind is the sum total of our emotions, memories, ideas, thoughts, values, beliefs and opinions, the component parts that make up our personalities, then for most people this is what makes us ‘Us’. It is our mind that defines the person we are, and when we die, even though the body remains, we consider the person to have departed.

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We often take our bodies for granted, expecting them to cope with the neglect and strains we put them through: too much food, not enough exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, the ingestion of numerous other drugs, insufficient water, too much stress…the list goes on.

Personally, I embarked upon a punishing relationship with my own body during my mid-teens. Partly down to me being a bit of a perfectionist, partly as a result of the external pressures from the media on women to look a particular way (i.e. thin) in order to be attractive, I set myself very strict boundaries in terms of what I could and could not eat. Simultaneously, I started drinking rather a lot of alcohol. So, it’s fair to say that I didn’t exactly treat my body kindly. In fact, I hurled abuse at it with a fairly consistent intensity until I reached my mid-thirties.

A couple of years ago I noticed a hip flask on sale in the shop, Urban Outfitters, emblazoned with the slogan ‘Fuck My Liver’. And sentiments not dissimilar to this are routinely posted on Facebook and Twitter each weekend as vast numbers of drinkers publicly declare their intentions to get smashed.

But I wonder where this separation of the mind and the body originates, why so many people wind up regarding their physical and mental selves in such a dislocated manner? I know that I often considered my body almost with contempt; ‘You will take this!’ it seemed as though I was saying. Keep on abusing, keep on punishing, keep on expecting to get away with it…

But ever since I stopped drinking, my relationship with my body has totally changed. Now, I really value it. I would even go as far as saying that I love my body, in that it serves me and enables me to do all the things I love in life. It allows me to run, fast and for a long time, up into the hills where the skies are big and the air is clear and fresh. It carries me wherever I want to go with my children, to enjoy playing with the little one in the park, or going for a coffee with my eldest. And the more I value it, the better I want to treat it.

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And, what I have realised, is that when we treat our bodies right, we feel positive and content in our minds. There is a state of balance that we achieve when we act how nature wants us to act. When we don’t poison our bodies with alcohol, and when we get sufficient sleep, and when we eat nutritional food and drink enough water, we feel good. We function correctly. Our whole selves, mental and physical.

It goes without saying that the opposite is true when we abuse our bodies by not eating properly or drinking too much. We feel jittery and depressed, lethargic and filled with self-loathing.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the journey of living without alcohol, I started to love my body and respect it. Like we all should. And I have never felt happier and more balanced mentally as a result.

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.