News and Booze – Our Alcohol-Soaked Culture, And Six Years This Month Of Not Drinking…

My local post office closed down a few weeks ago and the service moved to the newsagents next door. The newsagents has a large sign in the window reading News & Booze and inside, the split of the two is approximately 90% Booze and 10% News.

When I was little, I loved going to the newsagents close to where I lived to spend my pocket money. I’d buy magazines and My Little Ponies, chocolate and stationery items. The shop was about a ten-minute walk from my house, and when my friends and I made the (what seemed like) long trek up there to purchase our weekend goodies, we all felt very grown up.

The News and Booze shop is very different to my childhood newsagents. As I stood in there the other day waiting to post a parcel, I gazed around at the three out of four walls filled with bottle after bottle of alcohol; vodka, wine and whiskey take precedence – I estimated there were at least fifteen different types of vodka on display. As I stood there, a man shuffled in with an empty carrier bag in his hand, embarrassment and shame inherent in his downward gaze. He asked the shopkeeper for a half-bottle of whiskey, and slid it quickly into his bag before paying and swiftly turning on his heel to head out of the door. It was about 11am. I guessed he had been waiting until a ‘reasonable’ time to go out and pick up his morning fix.

Today when I was in the same shop, a woman came in with her two young children. The smaller one, a little girl aged about two, repeatedly wandered to the bottles on the shelf, drawn by the colours on the labels and the shiny glass. She kept reaching out to touch them, entranced by the display that must have stretched up to the sky in her baby eyes. The mother repeatedly drew her back to her side as she tried to work through everything she had come into the shop to do. From behind the counter, the staff member joked to the toddler, “Don’t look at those! You’re not old enough for all that yet”.

And I observed both of these things like an outsider. Alcohol is a strange beast to those of us who used to drink too much of it but now don’t allow it anywhere close. When I drank, I never saw the harm in booze, despite the fact that my life was an alcohol-induced car crash mess – my crap job, my crap relationships, my zero self-esteem, my crap outlook, my crap depression, my crap life. It was all down to drinking too much, too regularly.

But alcohol to me back then was my highly defended best friend – I never blamed it for anything.

Nowadays, when I see alcohol encroach on people’s lives in such negative ways; now, when I see the blanket denial that exists across the board in relation to alcohol and how it never does any harm when we all know it does; now, when I see an alcohol-addicted man shuffle into a post office at 11am on a Monday morning to buy a half-bottle of whiskey; now, when I see toddlers being drawn into jokes about a damaging addictive drug, as if it were no more harmful than lemonade; now, when I see all these things, I feel like an alien. I wonder how those blinkers can be drawn so tightly that people see nothing wrong with alcohol. And yet when I look, I see a poison that nearly killed me and destroyed all my chances at being me, for over twenty years.

We live in a society so awash with booze that it is entirely normal to nip into your local post office to send a parcel, only to be greeted with three-quarters of the wall space filled with vodka and wine. Alcohol is ingrained into the fabric of western society, so entrenched that it can be virtually impossible to imagine living in a world without its omnipresence. And this is, of course, one of the reasons why it can be so difficult to imagine not drinking alcohol – at all, ever again.

More than anything else, the thing that has helped me adjust to being a non-drinker in a world apparently in love with alcohol, is belonging to Soberistas; knowing there are others who share my view of the world makes me feel like I’m not the only one – I’m not fighting this fight alone. Knowing this helps me to see our alcohol-obsessed culture for what it is; the sad outcome of profits over public health, the emergence of alcohol over the last few decades as an incredibly lucrative industry set firmly against the backdrop of capitalist society and a modern world in which lots of people want to escape the daily grind – and are encouraged relentlessly to do so through excessive drinking by alcohol manufacturers.

I am, however, comforted by the knowledge that I’m not the only person to recognise this truth. And I am so very grateful, every day, that I saw the light and waved goodbye to alcohol forever six years ago this month.

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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 🙂

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.

Soberistas – New Website Coming Very Soon!

In a couple of weeks’ time, Soberistas.com will be re-launching with a completely new website. I can’t begin to explain to you how happy I am about this, as it’s what we’ve been working towards for a very long time and it’s finally about to happen! The Soberistas website as it stands was set up on a shoestring budget, and any of you who use it regularly will know what I’m referring to when I mention the word ‘glitches’! Despite this, we are thrilled that the community has grown to over 35,000 in the three and a half years of its life, and are bursting with excitement at the prospect of showing all our wonderful members the Big Reveal in the summer.

I began writing this blog in August 2012, just a couple of months before Soberistas was initially launched in the November of that year. With only a handful of followers back then, the number has grown to well over 6000 and I can honestly say that I’ve loved writing it and have so enjoyed communicating with all the amazing, inspiring people located all over the world who have regularly taken the time to comment on my posts.

Next month, the content of this WordPress blog will migrate across to the new Soberistas website where it will remain for anyone to view. This Soberistas WordPress site will no longer exist. I’ll still be adding new blog posts on Soberistas.com although these won’t be under the banner of my own journey in becoming alcohol-free and happy. I’ve reached the end of that epic expedition and think I’ve now told you everything there is to tell about it!

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little quieter than usual of late in terms of my WordPress ramblings. This is because I’ve been writing my new book, The A-Z of Binning the Booze, due to be published on September 10th 2016. This book is a manual, as the title would suggest, to successfully acquiring and then leading an alcohol-free life. I’ve been working on it for many months and I can’t wait to hear what you think of it when it comes out in the autumn. The book will be available on pre-sale on Amazon very soon.

In the meantime and before it finishes for good around mid-September, I will be using this WordPress blog to keep you up-to-date with news of the impending website, so if you are a member of Soberistas, I hope you’ll find this information helpful in the lead up to the launch. As usual, if you have any questions about the new website or about my latest book, please email me on lucy@soberistas.com and I’ll get back to you within a day or two. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below.

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So finally, a massive thank you to all you wonderful people who have supported and followed me, who have offered such lovely words of encouragement and understanding, and who have been instrumental in creating the amazing Soberistas community right from the off. A great big hats off to you all – vive la sober revolution!

Lucy Rocca xx

What did I think I’d get from being sober?

When I drank:

During the years when booze was a constant in my life, I very rarely considered not consuming it. Yes, it was always at the root of all the disasters that kept on springing up, hitting me repeatedly, trying to drive the message home – “Coming back for more…? OK, here’s another drunken, messed up relationship with someone who does nothing for you; here’s an entire weekend spent lying in bed crying, not daring to face the world; take this massive blast of shame, can you believe you REALLY did that??” And yes, I was fully aware of all the health harms I was subjecting myself to, but really, I didn’t care all that much. I wasn’t in a place where I held myself in especially high esteem and so it was easy to keep on knocking back the wine. Plus, in the name of denial, I think I had a fairly strong hold on the notion that I was somehow not like everyone else, that my liver would be able to withstand the regular battering, and maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to outrun the immense self-abuse and live well into my eighties.

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When I first quit:

I stopped drinking because I was scared to death that if I picked up one more glass of the stuff, it could kill me. I wasn’t being melodramatic – as soon as I had managed to gain some clarity on the situation I found it utterly remarkable that I hadn’t lost my life in and amongst all of my boozing adventures. The nights I had walked home in the early hours – staggered would be more apt – in ill-boding areas of town and as vulnerable as they come, like a baby bird fallen from the nest; the many, many dramatic falls down staircases and steep driveways, on the ice and in the middle of roads; countless nights in seedy pubs with seedy people who were capable of dangerous things.

So when I first quit, it was with the hope that in doing so I would save my life. I didn’t expect a lot else, other than gritting my teeth, gazing lustfully towards drinkers who appeared so happy and carefree with their alcoholic beverages to hand, and I suppose a feeling of ‘doing the right thing’ – like I was being a good girl now that I was all grown-up and dealing with my little problem.

Beneath all of that, however, I was dreading this new life I’d committed myself to. It stretched out before me like an endless parched landscape of drabness. I expected at that point to be left wanting for the rest of my days.

Now, five years on:

I’m really quite shocked at all of the goodness that’s emerged from the single act of stopping drinking. I never imagined any of it, couldn’t have seen it coming. I frequently sit back to take stock and ask myself, “Really? Is this my life? When did it change so massively?” It’s as though aliens whipped me away one night, did a major overhaul with what I was and then dumped me back down, all new and fixed.

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The things that have happened are direct consequences of me no longer drinking – mostly they’ve arisen because I got my confidence and self-esteem back, which led me to making better choices. I found the nerve to say no sometimes, without being terrified that the person I was saying it to would hate me for it. I challenged myself with new experiences, things that resulted in me meeting new people and making friends, because instead of only ever wanting to drink, and drink and drink, I needed – and chose – to seek out more from life. I found the courage required to take risks, but calculated ones that didn’t wind up in disaster as they always had in the past. I began to believe that people might actually like me, and so I stopped being so defensive and paranoid, and I opened up to the world in return. I got to know who I am deep down and what I need in order to be happy, and then I had the self-belief to go out and get it.

I never foresaw any of this when I decided to stop drinking, because all I thought I was doing in making that choice was reducing the risk of dying before my time. It was a knee-jerk reaction, born entirely out of fear and one that I felt was going to be a hardship and something that would drag me down and make me miserable forever.

How wrong I was, how unbelievably naïve – and how grateful I am that I did it anyway.

Making Connections – Sober

One of the reasons why alcohol can appeal to us is because it’s a social lubricant. It has the power to transform a shy, awkward wallflower into a wild, life-and-soul-of-the-party type – although for lots of people it unfortunately then has a habit of pushing things too far in that direction, drawing them into doing things they later regret. I used alcohol for social confidence, and over the years it became that I required more and more of it to get the same, initial hit. And when I consumed increasing amounts, I acted in an increasingly out-of-character manner of which I was deeply embarrassed and often ashamed the next morning.

But, a sense of connection is what so many of us are craving when we reach for a glass of something alcoholic at a social event, and it’s this crutch that can be so difficult to let go of when we decide we really would like to become alcohol-free. Is it possible then to achieve this connection when we are teetotal?

My answer to this question would be yes. Yes, you can obtain a sense of belonging, a feeling of unity with others, when you are stone cold sober – and the trick to doing so lies in self-confidence, patience and a solid belief in the knowledge that if you can’t control your alcohol consumption, people will far prefer you as you are naturally to when you are completely out of your mind.

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It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that alcohol makes us wittier, sexier, more attractive and interesting, but in reality this is a fallacy created in our own drunken minds. To the sober onlooker, people who are inebriated are quite boring, and they look a bit of a mess. These days, I enjoy far more the company of those who don’t drink to excess, and if I am forced to spend time with people who are heavily under the influence then I’m desperate to escape their company as soon as possible! The truth is that people who are not drunk are way more interesting, sensitive and funnier – although you do need to ensure that you’re spending time with people who you actually like (it’s fairly common when you quit the booze to realise that many of those you’ve always socialised with as a drinker are, in reality people whom you don’t care for all that much at all when sober).

With time, patience and no more drinking, a person’s self-confidence can be restored remarkably quickly following sustained and heavy alcohol misuse. And with that confidence, and a more positive reaction from friends and family, it is soon the case that one enters into a virtuous circle: a good response to the non-drinking version of you reinforces your suspicion that you’re better off not drinking, and the longer you continue to be alcohol-free, the more of a positive response you receive from the people in your life.

What it boils down to is this: connectedness is all very well and good, but if YOU are the sort of person who becomes drunk each and every time you consume alcohol, you are not connecting with anyone; rather you are distancing yourself more and more from the people you love and who love you. If you are someone without a reliable off-switch (like me) then it is absolutely true that you will be loved far more and by many more people as an alcohol-free person. Try it and see for yourself.

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.

Soberistas – A Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lucy xx

Dangerous Liaisons & The Power Of Equality

When I was a young teenager I’d rather have run around school naked than admit to being a feminist. Feminists were hippies and men haters with way too much bodily hair, in my ignorant opinion. During my later teens, however, I found myself caught up in the evolving ‘ladette’ culture and, through an immersion in heavy drinking and the adoption of a second home in the shape of a somewhat seedy pub, I gravitated towards a kind of egalitarian existence alongside a bunch of similarly hedonistic males. This unified aim of ‘getting off one’s head’ went a long way to smoothing out the differences between the genders, and I would regularly wander into the aforementioned seedy pub alone, purchase a pint (or five) and fritter away several hours playing pool with blokes I didn’t know especially well, a cigarette continually dangling from my lipstick-stained mouth.

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Back then, if I’d been pressed for an answer as to whether I classed myself as a feminist I would probably have said yes, before hurriedly qualifying my answer to ensure I wasn’t thought of as a staunch man-hater (a stubborn definition that took some years to be banished from my internal dictionary).

Fast forward a couple of decades and I would now, very proudly, describe myself as a feminist. When I look back on the young woman I was in the 1990s I see someone who, rather than gaining a respectable parity with the men, allowed herself to slide into a dimly restricted existence that centred around drinking and drastic mental escape. I considered propping up the bar with a packet of fags close to hand to be an admirable way to live; in reality I was drinking so much that I placed myself in increasingly dangerous situations with men who were not of especially high moral standing and who cared little, if at all, about my safety and wellbeing. This was not feminism. It was gravely reckless behaviour and I was very lucky that I wasn’t harmed to a greater degree than I was.

The late Alan Rickman said in June 2015, “I always think feminist just means common sense”. And yes, that is what it is. Heavy drinking and living a life that spins on an axis of havoc amounts to the opposite of common sense, and the opposite of feminism. Living that way means being out of control, putting your safety in the hands of people who could (and regularly do) exploit the situation for their own gains. It leads to walking home late at night, alone and unaware, taking stupid risks and abandoning the gut instincts that we all have and which serve as our early warning systems.

On March 8th it’s International Women’s Day, a celebration of the female gender and all that we bring to the world at large. I am so pleased that today aged forty I am a feminist in the truest sense of the word. I am glad that alcohol no longer unravels all my strengths and potential, turning me into a victim instead of a fighter. I’m grateful that I no longer allow myself to lose control.

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Not drinking has provided me with so much, not least a clear perspective on the sort of person I want to be and what I want my life to amount to. I stopped holding rebellious, self-abusive and reckless behaviour in such high regard many years ago. Instead I started to see strong people, those with integrity and self-respect, as the ones I admired the most. Quitting drinking has enabled me to move closer to becoming the person I want to be, and I’m no longer frightened to be a strong woman. In fact, it’s what I aspire to be – every day.