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.

Spiralling Out Of Control

This week has mostly been a foggy jumble of sinus-related illness, tissues too many to recall, and a fortieth birthday which somehow slid by barely noticed due to the aforementioned illness. BUT! Throughout it all I have stuck stoically to my commitment to staying sugar-free, and as a nice side effect I have lost two pounds.

Over the last seven days I have been increasingly more mindful of what I’ve been eating. It’s so easy to slip into overeating (especially junk food) and I confess to being the queen of chocolate frenzies; I have regularly scoffed entire giant bars of the stuff within a matter of minutes, barely registering what is going on until the empty wrapper lies before me and I’m filled with disgust at such a potent lack of self-control.

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However, during the past week I’ve noticed a gradual but obvious reduction of cravings for sugar, a very significant lack of interest in sugary foods, and a small sense of pride in starting to overcome my addiction. It’s nice to know that I’m not a complete slave to the white stuff.

Another positive is that I have finally reached a point in my life where I feel safely able to ‘watch my diet’ without launching into obsessive and dangerous eating patterns, as was the case in my younger years. I’m not denying myself crucial calories in a bid to lose vast amounts of weight; I’m addressing an addiction to sugar which, when consumed in excess, causes us problems both physically and mentally. I read on Soberistas.com all the time about an inability to control food intake and especially so in the early stages of becoming alcohol-free. This is a common problem, and one which many people beat themselves up about.

I was incapable, once-upon-a-time, of eating ‘sensibly’ without spiralling into a dangerous game of excessive control which resulted in losing way too much weight and becoming obsessed with food and how best to avoid it. I hated my body and used my restrictive calorie controlling as a means of exercising discipline in the rest of my life – where I clearly felt as though there was none.

This whole business of ‘getting better’ following a dependency upon alcohol is a very complex one. Personally speaking, my ‘issues’ manifested themselves in drug use, an eating disorder and heavy drinking, and I merely swapped between these three things (or engaged in all three simultaneously) for several years in an effort to channel my discontentment away from actually facing up to them. Anything but resolve my deep dislike of myself.

The thing that really began the ball rolling towards happiness and acceptance of who I am was stopping drinking. That act alone was enough to initiate a steady process of beginning to like myself. It provided the foundations for being able to deal with all of the negativity, and injected me with the inner strength to get to grips with everything that I was scared of facing for all those years.

Cutting out sugar may sound like a fairly insignificant lifestyle change. But for those of us who’ve found our demons emerging in so many guises including a warped relationship with food, being able to eat nutritionally well and to enjoy healthy eating in a normal manner without fearing food, is a massive achievement.

Are You Having a Sexy Sober Summer?

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

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

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

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

The Perfect Storm

I love the rare occasions in my life when I get to think and filter out all the crap that seems to bombard me from all angles, day in, day out. There are the endless emails attempting to sell me things I don’t want or need, the multitasking that’s required to manage the lives of my daughters and me, and the shopping, cleaning and dog-walking. There are the efforts to keep up with the news, and the organisation of work and a social life. All of these things amount to a very busy schedule with few opportunities for peace and calm.

In the fast-paced existence of the modern world, it can be virtually impossible to find adequate space and time in which to put the brakes on, cogitate, assess and evaluate: to recover a precious few moments for processing the vast quantities of information that are entering our heads on a daily basis.

Writing has always helped me to achieve this goal – as a means of finding clarity and making decisions in my life, it’s unbeatable. When I initially stopped drinking, writing this blog became my soul support mechanism. I looked to my laptop as my friend and confidante, I poured out all of my thoughts and feelings surrounding alcohol and why I had drunk so much, how it had made me feel, and how I was coping with my new sober life. I opened up in my writing in a way I never could have done via speaking; blogging became a kind of semi-anonymous, safe, confessional obsession for me, a way to bare all emotionally and understand myself better. It seemed to fast track the process of acceptance with regards to my alcohol misuse and the switch to a happier, booze-free life.

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George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, Why I Write, of the “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story”. I love the way words fit together, and how we can select from such a sweeping, comprehensive vocabulary. We can form precise meaning by the words we use and the order we put them in. We can express ourselves and record our experiences through writing. And we can share ideas and thoughts openly with countless other people, most of whom we have never met.

This last point is a powerful phenomenon to me – the notion that we can communicate honestly and without barriers with people from all over the world who might be looking for reassurance, confirmation that they are not alone in their particular struggles. How else can we achieve this other than through writing? The idea of Soberistas.com, a social network site for people with problematic drinking patterns, came about primarily because a) I had a booze problem and b) I loved writing. I recognised the restorative and therapeutic nature of blogging, and how it had helped me to work through my own drinking issues.

It doesn’t matter whether a person is a brilliant wordsmith or not. To me, the best blogs are the ones that evoke honesty and that other people can relate to. It’s the bridging of multiple minds brought about by the words of one that is behind my love of writing. When I read through the blogs on Soberistas, I see that other people are similarly seeking to resolve their various problems with alcohol by writing about them. A community of people brought together through a shared struggle and a compulsion to express and pool their thoughts. This formula works, in that writing on a public forum appears, for many, to be an effective method of eliminating the negativity that stems from a long time spent drinking too much.

For me, it’s the perfect storm.

Emotional Intelligence & The Importance of Self-Love

We have layers of emotions, and the deeper they run the more challenging they are to catch hold of. This isn’t scientific – it’s just my experience. I thwarted my emotional growth by drinking alcohol too frequently and in too large a quantity thus by the time I reached my early thirties I wasn’t so different mentally to how I was at age fifteen. Not that I was aware of the extent to which my emotional maturity was stunted when I quit drinking aged thirty-five. However, I’ve learnt a few things in the last three years; I have grown and developed my self-awareness, and I now consider myself to be reasonably emotionally intelligent, or at the very least, my emotional maturity is now in line with my age.

I believe we have the immediate response, an instant reaction to an event or situation, and the one that we can draw on should we possess the ability to stand back and think things through a little. The deeper we dig into our emotional reserves, the happier and more content the person we will become. At least, this is how it works for me. The less obvious feelings are sometimes fleeting and I have to really focus on pinning them down, analysing and then utilising them. The surface response might be anger or jealousy and my subsequent actions would be influenced by these immature and ill-thought out emotions, should I choose to tune into them. But if I can step back and search within myself for the more complex, compassionate and difficult-to-reach understanding of the situation, it will almost always result in a happier outcome for everyone involved.

I was utterly unaware of this when I drank alcohol. I didn’t know I had those inner reserves, the ‘better’ person inside who was able to rebuff more negative reactions and replace them with kindness, self-sacrifice and understanding. I didn’t know anyone had that, and assumed we were all the sum total of our instantaneous, knee-jerk reactions.

It takes effort to find more humanitarian solutions to problems. But like the Dalai Lama said, ”I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.” Often these more commendable qualities do not present themselves immediately. Conversely, it takes effort to draw upon them and, in turn, to demonstrate a more compassionate, less selfish attitude towards the people around us.

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Having the ability to do that means possessing emotional intelligence – not reacting like children do, stamping feet and throwing tantrums, but thinking things through. Not acting in the way that we might initially feel inclined to, but searching within ourselves for the kinder, more mature and more compassionate response.

All of this, of course, applies equally to the way we treat ourselves. We can only change our outward behaviour if we alter the way that we handle internally the situations life throws at us – dealing with things in the same way as we always have will simply provide us with identical results. But drawing on our inner emotional strength, believing that we have the power to change, and to think and act differently to how we have routinely thought and acted in the past, takes huge amounts of courage. It also requires a monumental leap of faith.

It’s worth remembering that compassion begins with each one of us, personally. When we are able to master self-love, we will then naturally begin to exercise a more compassionate response to the people around us. Often, if we have misused mind-altering substances like alcohol for any length of time, the process of learning to love ourselves begins with recognising that we too deserve to feel like real human beings. Saying no to a craving and realising that by doing so we are demonstrating compassion towards ourselves, is the very first step in getting there.

Don’t white knuckle it this weekend!

It’s Friday, the beginning of the weekend and the start of (for many) the really difficult and persistent cravings. Monday to Thursday you’re flying high, with work commitments, appointments and a desire to be productive all adding weight to your alcohol-free intentions. And then somewhere, sometime, perhaps on Thursday evening as you slowly acknowledge the fact that the next day marks the start of the weekend, the idea that one or two alcoholic drinks could be a good thing creeps into your conscience.

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By Friday morning it’s almost a done deal; the cravings kick in with super strength and the will to remain on an even keel, to be ‘good’, begins to wither away like a wilting bloom.

So, is it possible to maintain the desire to remain alcohol-free, right through the weekend? Yes, it most definitely is, and here are a few pointers for getting you safely to Sunday evening where you will feel very proud of yourself for resisting all temptation;

a) Don’t just THINK positive but VISUALISE positive – imagine yourself spending Friday night enjoying whatever you want to do, only without alcohol poisoning your body and your mind. When we picture ourselves doing something it becomes easier to do it in real life. Map out how you want to spend the entire weekend, and cover the most mundane elements too – observe in your mind this imaginary you going about your weekend MINUS any alcohol, and being content and HAPPY.
b) Plan something to do on Saturday and Sunday mornings that would be seriously impaired if you had a hangover. Ideally, make these activities stuff to do with a friend or family member; that way you’ll have an extra incentive to stay alcohol-free so as not to let that person down by calling it off due to the physical effects of excessive drinking.
c) Accept that life will be different as a non-drinker, but think this through carefully. Apply yourself – what are you scared of? Why would spending time without alcohol be so awful? What’s the worst that can happen? If you think logically you’ll recognise that the bad things happen when we get drunk. Take away the booze and life is calmer, more manageable and easier.
d) You know that you want to quit drinking otherwise you would never have joined Soberistas. But now you are fighting with yourself internally because you desire the very thing (i.e. booze) that you, up until now, so desperately wanted out of your life. These inner tantrums are easy to put an end to – tell yourself ‘Yes, I can have a drink. If I choose to, there’s nobody who can make me not drink alcohol tonight’. Because there IS nobody but YOU who can make that decision – take away the notion of ‘can’t’ and accept that you can CHOOSE to drink if you want. But DO you want everything that is ALWAYS AND INEXTRICABLY linked with drinking? That’s the real question – which brings us onto point e)…
e) Make a list of the reasons why you want to quit drinking. Now add all the reasons why you think you want to drink this weekend. Which list is longer? Which sounds more like the real you? Which list do you think makes the most sense?
f) Finally go back to point a). Picture yourself waking up on Saturday morning after a great night’s sleep, no hangover and with complete freedom to do exactly what you want without the inconvenience and debilitating effects of a hangover. Acknowledge how much more time you will have when half the weekend isn’t spent lying in a darkened room hating yourself. Visualise the money you will save by choosing to stay alcohol-free. Picture yourself happy and well on Sunday night, enjoying all the positive consequences of CHOOSING NOT TO DRINK.
And now remind yourself that you are capable of all of this, and much, much more.

Tips for beating those pesky cravings!

It’s easy to know what is good for you, not so easy to act on that knowledge. When it’s YOUR head telling you to do something (‘Pour that wine, go on, you deserve it’ or ‘Just have a slice of cake – one tiny piece won’t hurt’), then ignoring it isn’t always what you WANT to do. Sometimes, at that moment in time, all you WANT to do is give into that voice, act on it, pour the wine or eat the cake. When a craving strikes, it feels like a bona fide part of YOU, shouting at you to do as you are told.

Learning how to recognise a craving as simply that, rather than a real need or want that is stemming from you (as opposed to your addiction), is the first step in powering through and sticking to your resolve. Here are a few tips to help you do exactly that;

  • A craving lasts 10 minutes – set a timer, grit your teeth and repeatedly tell yourself that this is a very short-lived ‘want’ and after a few minutes everything will return to normal. This isn’t going to last forever.
  • Each time you ignore a craving and refuse to give into it, your resolve strengthens. This means that next time it will be a little bit easier to rebuff that devil on your shoulder.
  • The initial week will be the hardest because the benefits are yet to be tangible – stay with it until you see the rewards of weight loss, brighter skin, more even mood or better quality sleep; witnessing the positive outcomes of sticking to your intentions will spur you on no end, and you’ll begin to see them after just a few days.
  • Learn to separate YOU from the voice of the craving – picture the owner of that persuasive voice as an evil witch, a little demon or a horrible monster who is intent on ruining your life. Imagine yourself sticking your fingers in your ears; block out the voice from your thoughts. Giving into it means letting that monster/witch/demon win, so toughen up and stick up for yourself by saying NO!
  • Keep a supply of healthy snacks close-by to make sure you don’t get hungry; whether you are aiming to banish the buns or beat the booze, this will help you. When you feel hungry you are much more likely to cave into temptation and reach for the chocolate or wine. Some good suggestions are dried fruit and nuts, toast with hummus or malt loaf.
  • DISTRACT yourself. Get busy with a task or activity, and you will keep your mind engaged in something other than thinking of whatever it is you are craving. Whether it is cleaning the bathroom, sorting out your tip of a wardrobe or rustling up some healthy soup, getting stuck into a distraction will make those ten minutes pass by all the quicker, and with much less agony.

Good luck, and stay happy and healthy this weekend! Lucy xx

How to Beat the Weekend Cravings!

If you are feeling the strain of weekend pressures to drink, meandering dangerously close to having a wobble and salivating as your mind conjures up images of large glasses of wine, then read on…

This is your guide to MAKING IT THROUGH TO MONDAY – AF!

1. Get busy. Plan to do something early tomorrow morning. Ensure that this activity is one which a) you are really looking forward to and b) something which would be hampered severely by a heavy intake of booze this evening. Suggestions include setting out with a camera to try and snap an early sunrise or nice nature pic, going for a run, hitting the gym before the hordes descend with over-excited children, or hitting the hills with a picnic lunch for a long hike with friends, or alone to enjoy the silence.BiTN Meditation

2. Play the movie to the end. What you may be dreaming of is a convivial glass or two with friends, chatting and laughing gaily for an hour or two before heading home in a slightly tipsy (but most definitely not drunk) haze. Get real! What will really happen is that once you start you won’t stop, and after guzzling far too much vino, will stagger to bed (or collapse on the settee fully clothed) and wake up at 3 am with a furry tongue and a pounding head – oh yes, and a mountain of self-hatred.

3. Concentrate on good health. Healthy food goes out the window when you over-indulge in alcohol. Either you forget to eat altogether and obtain your calories from wine, or you develop monstrous cravings for carbs and sweet things, and gorge on calorific delights ranging from pizza to cakes to gallons of creamy lattes. When you don’t drink, it’s so easy to eat healthily and stick to an exercise plan, thus avoiding feeling like a gluttonous pig on Sunday evening. Stock up on lovely healthy food, make hearty soups and create striking salads.

4. Ask yourself this; if you have had the week from hell, would drinking make any of it better? In the short-term it may feel as though downing a bottle or two is helping, but in actuality it is simply storing up trouble for the future – depression, anxiety, lethargy, inability to think with any clarity and perhaps additional problems to undo which occurred as a result of you being drunk (arguments with your other half, shouting at the children unnecessarily, sending a text message to someone who you really should just leave alone – you know the kind of thing) are all potential repercussions of a heavy booze session.

5. Socialise during the daytime. If it’s early days for you and your sobriety, make plans to socialise during daylight hours as opposed to thrusting yourself amongst people who are out drinking for the night. This is by no means a long-term solution, but cravings can be extremely strong in the first few weeks of your new AF life, and placing yourself at risk of temptation is asking for trouble. Arrange to meet friends for a picnic, a shopping trip, a jog, a game of tennis, to watch a film together, or just for a coffee, but it’s probably best to avoid the pub on a Friday or Saturday night for the time being, certainly until you feel confident that you can happily resist the urge to join in with the boozers.

6. Log on to Soberistas.com! If you haven’t joined our site yet, then you can sign up now for peer support, friendship and advice, all available 24 hours a day. Talking to others who know how you feel (because they’ve been there themselves) is a great way to work through cravings, and to help yourself reach a safe place again mentally where you know you won’t be tempted to drink.

And remember, it does all get easier with time, so hang on in there and remind yourself that you are doing all this for a brighter and happier future! And don’t forget to ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!