Going Back To My Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two People

Common sense told me a few years ago that I could not spend the rest of my life berating myself for the mistakes I made when I was drinking. What would be the point? I damaged much of my life through alcohol when I was pouring the stuff down my neck so I’m pretty determined that now that I no longer drink, I won’t allow it to infiltrate my existence any further. I experienced a huge amount of regret in the first year or so of being alcohol-free: wishing I’d seen the light sooner; disbelieving of some of my more reckless behaviour especially when my daughter was present; the numerous dangerous situations I put myself in, that now, looking back, resemble a latent desire for suicide.

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I can’t quite fathom how I emerged completely unscathed from my drinking years, truth be told. I was that rock bottom boozer – over and over again, and much of the stuff that happened to me during those twenty years sends chills up my spine when I recall it. It truly is a miracle that I managed to emerge in one piece, with only shame and a lot of regret to show for my manic drinking behaviour.

One of the things that worked its way into my consciousness in the build-up to 2011 when I stopped drinking for good, was that I absolutely did not want to become a person whose life was defined by their addiction to alcohol. I was beginning to recognise that too much of my existence was tainted by booze; it was in my face, my eyes, my gait, my shame, my mind, my heart. Alcohol had insidiously wormed its way into all of me, and it wasn’t a massive leap of the imagination to work out that others saw that too: Lucy the wino, Lucy the alcoholic, Lucy the pisshead. What a sad defining quality to possess – to be known simply as a person who loves to get drunk and escape her reality.

The demons that drove me to that escapism have all but been silenced. I am aware that I have a proclivity to addictive behaviour, and a difficulty in relaxing, and many years of self-loathing behind me that takes effort to eradicate. Habits become entrenched and it does take a while to learn new routines, coping strategies and outlooks. But my emotional awareness has developed over the last four and a half years to the point that I can now observe the workings of my mind almost like an outsider thus resolving any recurring problems as they emerge.

So I meditate, and I run, and I practise mindfulness. I read a lot of books about these things too, to educate myself further because I know they work for me – these are the things that keep me here: calm, happy and sober.

And the person I was, back when I drank, she is me but she isn’t me. She’s like a shadow of me, a ‘starter’ me. She was the person I blindly fell into but who was thrown off course by alcohol, drugs, and a lack of awareness. I can see why I became that way. It suited my personality down to the ground, all the excitement and the seeking of mental escape, the risk-taking, the shocking, anti-authority behaviour. But now I can see equally how I have become this person – and this way of life suits me much better. The old me was a reaction to my core traits. This version of me is the revised one, a more mature me, a person who appreciates both her strengths and weaknesses and deals with them with wisdom and experience.

I view my life as a tale of two people, the drinking me, and this one: the real me. I have let go of the regrets, acknowledging them first and learning from them but ultimately allowing them to drift into another place, a place where they won’t impinge on my positive state of mind. Because living successfully after an alcohol dependency takes work, and self-compassion, and an understanding of what led you to self-destruction in the first place. Sinking in self-flagellation is a non-starter for achieving any of these things. And with forgiveness comes peace of mind, and that’s all I was ever searching for.

The World Does Not Revolve Around Me

When I drank, my ego was blown out of all proportion. Yes, I was routinely annihilated by the shame and self-disgust which arose out of countless boozy incidents, but I was simultaneously affected by the indulgence that walks alongside heavy drinking, the way I prioritised alcohol over the rest of my life. In a perverse way, my addiction fuelled an over-exaggerated sense of my own importance, despite the constant chip chipping away at my self-esteem as a result of silly drunken escapades. Having chronically low self-worth and an inflated ego are not mutually exclusive concepts I have come to realise.

Drinking upon our every feeling means we become frozen in our emotional development. Although it often feels like a soothing lotion applied to our inner pain, alcohol is, in reality, a numbing agent that stunts our personal growth. When I stopped drinking I had the emotional maturity of a teenager – impetuous, petulant, self-centred, paranoid and angry. It took a long time to get my head out of my backside and to realise that no, the world does not revolve around me. The old me would throw a tantrum if I didn’t get my own way. I would manipulate where I failed to see a desirable outcome emerging otherwise. But once sober, it dawned on me that if a person disagrees with me it’s not because they hate me. If someone fails to pay me attention, it’s more than likely because they’re caught up in the storyline of their own life, not because they don’t care about me.

One of the greatest lessons I have learnt since becoming sober is one of humility. That, whilst I understand and value my place in the world, I no longer allow myself to think I am more than I am. Nature and immersing one’s self in it is, for me, the best way to reinforce a humble attitude, to cement the notion that none of us is more than a brief hint of an impression on the world. Walking amongst towering mountains that have stretched high above the land for an eternity; breathing in the salty sea air and listening to the rolling waves of the ocean; acknowledging the bright splash of colour in a flower that grows amidst rocks; hearing the sound of nothingness in a place untainted by mass human inhabitancy. Submerging my soul in the natural world is like medicine. It strengthens my emotional core and keeps me fully grounded.

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Not drinking has taught me that, ultimately, we are all the same: nothing and everything, simple and complex, brilliant and ordinary, memorable and forgettable. I used to crave a life in which I stood out head and shoulders above everyone else, in which I was admired and desired in equal measures. And alcohol fuelled this yearning just as much as it kept me thinking I might be achieving my aim. As a non-drinker, I value highly my equality with the rest of the world. Our environment is everything and we, just like the other animals and plants we share it with, must live harmoniously with our surroundings and ourselves. The moment we imagine we are greater than any other person, or that we have more of a right to anything than anyone else, we knock everything out of kilter. Sobriety has made me see this. And I’m a much better – and happier – person for it.

From A Drunken Parallel Universe To A Life Of Contentment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness Meditation

Negative emotions are a fact of life – for many, the easy and obvious response to feeling down is to reach for a drink. However, excessive alcohol exacerbates depression and anxiety, and results in an inability to effectively manage the issues we face in everyday life.

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Mindfulness Meditation is an EXCELLENT method for dealing with stressful situations. It can help by equipping individuals with a significant degree of self-awareness, increasing their sensitivity with regards to surroundings, and allowing them to train their minds to achieve a state of tranquillity, no matter what difficult situations are faced.

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Those who practise Mindfulness Meditation are able to focus on the present, without being dragged down by the past or wasting time worrying about uncertain futures.

When I meditate, I sit cross-legged in an upright position and train my scatter-brained mind on a dot which I visualise in my mind’s eye. Over the course of a few minutes I concentrate on decreasing the size of the dot, until it has vanished completely – then I try and hold that empty state of mind for as long as possible.

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I usually spend about 15 – 20 minutes on Mindfulness Meditation. When I’ve finished, I feel relaxed and calm.

You can meditate alone or in a group, sitting or lying down, in the morning, afternoon or evening. It’s a case of fitting it in to your lifestyle in a way that will allow you to practice regularly. It’s free, and it REALLY works. For me, it has been one of the most useful tools in beating the booze.

Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being

Welcome to the start of Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being. Over the next month, we will be posting loads of informative articles, blog posts and helpful pointers (on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook) on the following four areas of well being;

Week 1 – Mindfulness Meditation

Week 2 – Mood Foods

Week 3 – Positive Pastimes

Week 4 – Me Time Moments

As January has now ended and New Year’s resolutions are nothing but a distant memory for most, we hope to inject a little motivation into your day with some ideas for feeling good.

Quitting drinking is about so much more than simply putting down the bottle. For a start we are left with huge amounts of free time, and boredom is a key reason why people often cave into temptation. Secondly, if we are in a good mood, we are more likely to stay on track, think positive and feel energised enough to try new pastimes. Self-esteem can be seriously depleted through years of heavy drinking, so spending time on bolstering inner confidence and self-image is time well spent; feeling down about yourself and life in general means you’re far more likely to pick the bottle up again.

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There are many things you can do to help speed up the process of recovery from alcohol dependency – think of it as getting your hands on some effective ammo for fighting the wine witch.

Over the next seven days, we’ll give you the low-down on mindfulness meditation – it’s the first of four areas of emotional and physical well being which should leave you feeling happy and healthy, and full of joie de vivre!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/mindfulness-meditation-benefits-health_n_3016045.html

Out with the negative;in with the happy!

As a child I perpetually lived in the moment. I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood, one that was full of Enid Blyton-esque adventures in sunny fields with friends, roller-skating up and down the cul-de-sac that I grew up on, baking cakes and biscuits, reading and writing voraciously and never seemingly worrying about anything, past or present. I just was.

During the years that I spent drinking heavily (aged 15 – 35) my state of being was at a polar opposite of those younger halcyon years. Anxiety levels were astronomical, with worries over relationships, divorce settlements, my daughter’s wellbeing, how much I was drinking, paying the bills, whether I was causing my body untold harm through all those cigarettes and bottles of wine…my mind seemed to be set to a constant whirring mode, churning and cogitating and over-thinking all these troubles that in the end, were what they were; none of the excess pondering made the slightest indent on any of it. The outcomes were the same regardless.

Nowadays I experience ‘normal’ worries. A small amount of worrying does us good and if we existed in a blissful childhood state, skipping about without a care in the world, we would find our little lives running to a standstill fairly quickly. Normal worrying helps us keep a reign on our budget, encourage our children to work a little harder on their homework when they begin to spend too much time on Facebook, put a bit more effort into our relationships if we feel they are not as tight as they perhaps might be.

A huge difference that I have noticed in the last few weeks since I began to practice the art of meditation is that I seem to be able to better control those uncontrollable fits of anxiety, the ones that render you feeling sick and with palpitations; a bit like the way I felt yesterday morning on my way to the ITV studio to appear on Daybreak. I caught myself becoming overwhelmed with fear in the back of the car as we travelled past the London Eye looming out of the early dawn with its blue-lit cars suspended over the Thames, my stomach churning and my mind rattling along at a hundred miles an hour. Then I made a decision to not feel that way.

Hang on a minute! It’s my mind, I call the shots.

I took some deep breaths, focussed my mind and cleared my thoughts. I began to consider that this experience was something to be savoured – it’s not every day that you get to go on live TV and sit next to Dr. Hilary! I recalled how this would have been dealt with by me as a child – I would have seen the whole journey through eyes wild with excitement, from arriving in London late at night, staying in a nice hotel, being picked up by a car with tinted windows and taken to ITV’s studios…I would have loved every minute 30 years ago. Instead, I had been allowing my out-of-control worrying to ruin the whole event.

Practising meditation has allowed me to be much more aware of negative thinking patterns and has also taught me that I don’t have to accept them – I can decide whether I perceive something in a positive way or a negative way. Yesterday I chose to see things positively, and I found myself enjoying the whole experience; by simply altering the way I decide to process external situations, I have also made myself a little bit braver and next time (if there is a next time) I will approach things in a far more relaxed fashion, right from the off.

Only you can determine whether you tackle things positively or negatively – taking the former option makes life a million times easier and more enjoyable!

Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.

I yearn for complete inner calm. I want to be one of those people who drift along with a look of serenity, a palpable sense of sanctum about my being, an enviable ability to cope in even the most stressful of situations. Despite becoming more level-headed since ditching alcohol and with less of a tendency towards depressive or anxious episodes, I know there’s still room for a deeper level of tranquillity.

I felt strangely at home as I entered the Kadampa Buddhist Centre for my very first meditation class last Monday evening, despite never being inside such a place before. After removing my shoes and coat I took my seat in the meditation room alongside about 30 others, and placed my feet on a cushion on the floor. It felt very normal to be sitting there in front of the Buddhist Altar complete with numerous gold Buddhas and, bizarrely, a couple of large packets of tortilla chips (was Buddha a fan of crisps?).

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

We listened to our teacher’s friendly introduction to the session and then jumped straight into a spot of meditating – I was a little taken aback at the speed with which we were getting to the nitty gritty, but went with it regardless. I approached the idea of meditating with an open mind, and I believe that this is what enabled me to go pretty deep into a state of meditation almost immediately upon closing my eyes. This surprised me – past efforts at being hypnotised have failed miserably, largely owing to my somewhat cynical nature I think…meditating was different though and it all felt totally normal and right to be sitting amongst 30 strangers with my eyes closed, slowly drifting off into a state of mind rarely visited; serenity.

After half an hour, we were ‘brought back into the room’ and I was amazed that so long had passed – it felt closer to ten minutes. Our teacher then talked for a while about how, through meditation, it is possible to determine whether external events affect us in a positive or negative way, simply by becoming more in tune with our emotional energy. This is what I wanted to hear; I want that ability to shun the occasional burst of anxiety, the odd blue mood. I am deeply drawn to the idea that I call the shots with regards to my own emotions, and that I can develop an ability to see the positive in (almost) everything simply through practicing this amazing art of meditation, which in itself is a powerful thing.

I can’t remember feeling so relaxed…EVER. I was so chilled out that I was somewhat concerned about driving home, with visions of me swaying behind the wheel with an inane smile on my face as I ploughed straight through some red lights playing in my mind’s eye as I approached my car after the class. I was filled with a sense of positivity and love; I could not wait for the next class so that I could do it all over again.

Meditating, just once, has highlighted to me the extent that my lifestyle has come to represent the typically Western way of being; a life that is crammed full of activities, chores and work, and one in which any spare time that I have is largely filled with checking emails, texts or Twitter. I NEVER sit and JUST BE. No wonder I sometimes find it difficult to relax. Even when I go to bed I usually scroll through my tweets, or take a last look at my emails, when once upon a time I always read books.

Since the class I have made an effort to notice my emotions more, trying to pinpoint the stress points in order to better reverse the negativity. I have also become more aware of how I breathe, and have realised that I have a tendency to hold my breath when I become anxious, which in turn increases the anxiety only further. My aim now is to leave my phone downstairs when I go to bed, thus encouraging me to read and relax before trying to sleep, rather than scrolling endlessly through electronic messages of one type or another. I am also trying to find some time each day to practice meditating, although this is proving difficult with a 9 month old baby, a teenager and a dog to look after – I can see that it is possible but I need to attach a higher priority to it in order to fit it into each day.

And of course, I will be attending my meditation class next Monday.

2013 – Seeking Serenity, Wellbeing & Happiness

I’ve been writing about alcohol for quite a while now; about when I used to drink, why I stopped drinking, how it made me feel, the regrets and the shame, and the newly-discovered happiness and positivity that I have derived from sobriety.

Giving up alcohol has led me to thinking a lot about the meaning of my life, how to achieve and then maintain true happiness and how to feel the very best, and how to be the very best, that I can be. And so I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a year of effort and experiments, a living test to find the secrets of inner serenity, wellbeing and happiness – and I thought I would share my findings with you. A new day

Life isn’t about being dealt the best hand – it’s about doing the best you can do with the hand that you’ve been dealt. This year I want to discover all my cards, and work out how to play them to the best of my ability.

I’m focussing on the spiritual, physical, mental and social aspects of life because I believe that true happiness comes from within, not from without. I think the world we live in often places too high a price on the shallow and the irrelevant, failing to realise that what is just under our noses is often the source of the greatest joy; cooking and eating wholesome meals together as a family, creating something out of nothing, working towards and then reaching a personal goal, spending quality time with family and friends, learning how to be more mindful and appreciative of the small stuff, letting go of anxieties about the things we are helpless to change, being kind and helpful to people we don’t know, and to those we do, having adventures, seeking out new experiences, being community-spirited, and finding space in busy days to have ‘me time.’

From now on, I’ll use this space as a record of everything I do that counts towards reaching my goal of seeing all the cards I’ve been dealt, and how to play them as best I can. This journey of self-discovery that began when I woke up one day in April 2011 with THE worst hangover known to mankind will be twisting and turning for a while yet, I hope. Now that I’ve cracked the alcohol, I’m going to channel my efforts into being the best sober ME that I can be…and I’m starting with MEDITATION.

Read about my very first meditation class in my next blog…

Happiness

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Does it sound evangelical to say that I felt complete joy and happiness last night, as I pushed the baby’s pram up a steep hill in the driving rain, no hood or hat protecting my head from the downfall and howling gales, and the baby unable to see me or anything else owing to her rain cover being totally misted up with condensation? If I’m honest, I did feel a momentary pang of ‘urrghh this is utterly horrible and miserable and I want to be at home in dry clothes, under a blanket in front of the TV.’ But only for a minute, and then I reminded myself that I am living and this is what life is about sometimes; taking the dog for a walk in cold, wet weather in the dark.

Everyone tells you that alcohol is a depressant, and you know it’s true but somehow it’s easy to push that to one side and imagine that your lack of real happiness stems from life just being a bit rubbish.

When you stop drinking alcohol for good, you can experience something akin to an evangelical awakening – moments of happiness that border on delirium, as you realise that you are alive, and lucky for all that you have, and that you’ve survived stuff and emerged out the other side strong and full of vigour.

I feel joy at seeing the sunrise, listening to the baby wake up, gurgling and burbling to herself in her cot, hearing a song that I love, going for a good run and knowing that I am growing in strength and stamina, having a coffee and a chat with a friend, cooking a new recipe and eating the results.

I am happy nearly every day, at least for most of every day. I do get a bit grumpy or tired, occasionally a little stressed if I’m having a particularly busy and fraught day, but that’s just the normal human experience – I would be a robot if I never felt those things. Generally though, I am on an even keel and happiness is the mainstay of my emotions.

I know that’s because I don’t drink alcohol. It’s as simple as that. Drinking turned me against myself and created an internal battle of depression, anxiety and self-pity versus normality. Giving it up has allowed the real me to emerge, and the real me is happy and optimistic, calm and centred, full of creativity and determination and passion.

I am eternally grateful that I gave myself the chance to discover who I really am.