Climbing Over The Mountains

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.

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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 does 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.

The Person We Could Be

“Why can’t I drink like a ‘normal’ person?”

This is a question I’m sure many of the people on Soberistas have asked themselves at one time or another; I know I have. “Why can’t I go to that party and enjoy a few drinks like everyone else, and not end up embarrassing myself or collapsing in a corner or arguing loudly and drunkenly with people?”

“Why, oh why?”

This morning I read this article in The Guardian, an incredibly sad and moving piece written by a woman whose mother drank herself to death and who, during her lifetime, was a loving mum (albeit with unresolved issues).

These two states of being are not mutually exclusive. When I drank, I was also, for the vast majority of the time, a good mum. My older daughter (the little one was born after I stopped drinking for good) has always been the apple of my eye. She saved me from a life of complete self-destruction because if anything was to pull me back from the brink, it was her gorgeous little self, born in 1999, a long time before I understood my demons and started to get a handle on them. Without her in my life, I have often supposed I wouldn’t be here at all today.

The Guardian piece made me think that there are many people in the world who just shouldn’t drink. Because we are not able “to drink like normal people”, and when we do, we turn into monsters; we change from the inside out, we are not the people we were meant to me. Donald Trump, as a famous non-drinker, cited his reasoning for abstinence as recognition of the fact that he had the alcoholic tendency in his genes; he knew he would get into trouble with drink. Trump is not a man with whom I find myself agreeing with over much, but in this case I absolutely do.

During the last six years that I’ve spent sober, I have gradually come to accept that I too ‘get into trouble with drink’. It’s a place I don’t ever want to revisit. That woman, who is not me – with the drunken mask that overshadows my real, true self – is one I never want to encounter again.

What a great thing it is to have this realisation and be able to slam the brakes on before we reach the end of the road, before we get to that place where people will describe our demise as one being brought about by alcohol. We have the chance to stop now, and not become the person who drank themselves to death. We have the chance to make new memories and show people that we are not those individuals who are governed and defined and repeatedly ruined by drink.

That chance is today, it is right now. It is the acceptance that some of us do not mix well with alcohol. And there are a lot of us; it’s not a unique condition. I believe that if we can have more conversations about alcohol misuse and the fact that many people are simply unable to drink in moderation then we will begin to get help to the people who want and need it.

Often, all it takes is a simple reflection, the chance to see in someone else one’s own behaviour. From there, a person is able to say, “That’s me. That is my story”. And usually, this marks the very beginning of turning the corner.

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You Are Worth It

It’s my older daughter’s 18th birthday tomorrow. This is proving to be a strange thing to wrap my head around, as I’m forty-one but still feel about thirty and way too young in my mind to be the mother of a proper adult. My daughter also pointed out last night that if she were to have a baby at the same age I had her (twenty-three), I’d be a grandma in five years. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp.

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Apart from the fact that when one’s child reaches adulthood it marks a stark reminder of one’s own advancing years (with the ever-present draw of mortality lingering not so far in the distance) this is an occasion that makes me really happy. I’m so proud of my daughter who has grown up to be a well-rounded, beautiful girl, and who, despite having faced challenges along the way, has not followed in her mother’s footsteps and sought solace in mind-altering substances.

If I were to give her one gift on her birthday that she could carry with her throughout the coming decades, it would be sustained self-esteem, to continue to believe in herself and her worth as a human being. Having reduced or zero self-esteem was, for me, the catalyst for so many of the mistakes I made in my life. Being devoid of self-esteem leads to a domino effect of negativity, often with the obvious self-medication of alcohol or other drugs being employed to numb the associated misery.

Having no self-esteem can result in: not chasing the job you really want because you don’t think you’ve got a cat in hell’s chance of getting it; consistently pressing self-destruct in relationships because you’re scared that your partner can’t really love you and will, therefore, ultimately leave you (best to get in first); fail to form close bonds with people generally due to fear of being disliked and rejected; physical self-harm; abusing alcohol and/or illegal drugs; side-stepping further education because what’s the point when you’re stupid and will only fail anyway in everything you try to achieve; being selective and closed in your outlook, never daring to explore beyond your comfort zone; not looking after your health because you don’t think you’re worth it; sleeping with people who you don’t particularly like but who, for just a few moments, can make you feel loved; aiming low always, because it’s safer than having to face failure.

The scary thing about having low self-esteem is that when in the midst of being that way, you often aren’t really aware of it. You don’t realise that the stupid things you keep doing, the repeated cycles of negativity from which you can’t seem to escape, are occurring because you don’t like yourself and don’t think you have the right to be fulfilled and content.

Fully accepting that you are an equal human being, who truly deserves to be as happy as any of the other seven billion people on the planet, is not an easy concept to grasp for many people. It took me years to work out the fact that I was just human, not inherently bad, not flawed to my core and destined to a life of unhappiness because I wasn’t good enough to have anything better. The bad relationships I accepted, the rubbish jobs I worked, the endless alcohol I necked, the days spent starving myself, the suicidal moments of utter despair…those things formed the backbone of my life for a very long time.

Quitting alcohol will not magically make all of those things disappear, but what it did for me was provide me with breathing space to live a little, gain some clarity, not make any giant whacking mistakes and to learn a bit about the person I really am. And with all those small steps came a slow and steady increase in my self-esteem, which in turn led to me taking on bigger and better things, allowing myself to want and seek out relationships with people who I really loved instead of just anyone who was nice to me.

Finding self-esteem has meant that I am now able to be a positive role model for my two daughters, to show them how women can live and be happy and aim high and like the person they are, instead of constantly berating themselves and endlessly punishing their bodies for not being like Cindy Crawford’s; rather than accepting the bare minimum and a life of self-destruction; to grab all the opportunities that are there around us all, each and every day, there for the taking just so long as we have the courage and self-belief to do so.

It just takes a leap of faith and a bit of courage, together with the knowledge that small steps do eventually lead to big things.

(Happy birthday to Isobel xx)

Hello January :-))

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy January 🙂

Happy You, Happy 2017

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

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

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

I am me. And that’s fine.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, Lucy xx

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Making Christmas Good Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Tides

I’m standing in a dark room with sweat pouring off my face, slightly breathless, endorphins coursing around my body. In the window next to me I catch my reflection; hair falling over my eyes, dumbbells raised, a focused expression that says, “I’m fucking doing this”. I’m in a room with two other people: the trainer, and a young woman who’s taking this High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class along with me. I feel in control, strong, confident, and like I belong. I’ve been doing this class for about a year and I’ve never been fitter or in better shape. I’m running the Sheffield half-marathon in April 2017 and it doesn’t scare me at all. I know I’ll be fit enough to do it.

I am a different person to who I once was. I have changed irrevocably.

I wanted to write this to prove that it’s possible to force your life into reverse, change direction and become completely renewed. I know it’s possible, because I’ve done it.

I wanted to highlight one instance that would stand as a good comparator to the above scene, to show how different things used to be for me. But when I sat and thought about it, there wasn’t one single occasion that sprang to mind but instead a feeling, a sense of shame – and it’s this that equates to the polar opposite of how I felt in the gym this morning.

It is a slow, creeping cloak of fear that envelops me. It originates in the pit of my stomach, and it spreads up into my heart and all through my limbs. I can feel it in my eyes; it renders me incapable of looking directly at anyone. It’s as though I am walking in a quagmire and my legs are leaden, heavy with dread. I don’t want to leave the house. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want there to be another day. My head hangs heavy with shame. I feel unworthy. I think everyone hates me. I hate me. I have a secret – I turn into a monster when I drink alcohol. There’s a person hiding inside me, a bad person who does terrible things, and I can’t stop her escaping when I’m drunk. And I can’t seem to stop getting drunk. Even though I try.

Days will pass and the fear will dissipate slightly but the self-hatred never leaves me. It festers deep inside and it keeps me in my place, somewhere dark where the ceiling is low and the walls are closing in; a place for people who are undeserving, a place where people never grow.

When I was younger, I thought people who were heavily into fitness were a bit vacuous, with brains in their biceps. But nowadays, I am so convinced that being fit and healthy physically means that we are mentally well too. It’s not just the act of pumping iron or running that boosts our emotional wellbeing: it’s engaging with people who don’t get out of their heads every day, who value their bodies; it’s the knowledge that you are strong and capable of conquering challenges; it’s living, day after day, without ever getting drunk; it’s the memories of that person you became when drunk fading into the distant recesses of the mind; it’s replacing fear with hope; it’s learning to like yourself again through the process of development and personal growth; it is the removal of toxins from the body.

Now that I prioritise my mental and physical wellness, I feel alive every day. I like myself. I maintain eye contact with other people when I’m speaking with them. I never think I am undeserving or less than anyone else.

At 41, I like myself. Genuinely, six years ago, I never would have believed I’d ever have been able to utter those words and mean them. But liking yourself is something we all deserve to feel. And it isn’t out of anyone’s reach. roc1

Life’s What You Make It

Most things in life come down to a choice: the choice to focus on the positive or the negative; the choice to go after something you really want or to sit back and let someone else have a go; the choice to try out new experiences or to remain in your comfort zone; the choice to stay in a damaging place or to get out and start afresh.

It’s also possible to choose to see life as a series of choices, not a hand of cards that you are powerless to change. And if you do, there is nothing sitting beyond your reach. This may sound simplistic but I truly believe that it’s the only mind-set to have for living a fulfilling life.

Back in the dark days (when I drank most evenings and hated myself), I had no idea that life could be based on choices. Even down to the most basic of choices – deciding which thoughts I paid attention to and which I let go of – I was under the impression that I was a sitting duck: that whatever terrible episode may land on my doorstep, whichever bit of bad luck might descend upon my world, or however lonely and unloved I felt, I had no control over any of it whatsoever. It felt as though it was all just ‘my lot’.

There are many snippets of wisdom that we pick up during our time on earth but I think that grasping the idea of having choices and living life accordingly can make one of the biggest differences in how happy we are.

I decided that for me to be content and fulfilled, it was necessary for me to not drink alcohol. This was a choice. I could have followed the school of thought that says addiction can’t be beaten, that I am powerless over alcohol, that I had no choice. But I believed in the notion of choice, and I made that choice and stuck to it.

Yesterday I found myself suddenly overcome by negativity. Everything was wrong; I started to flounder in a pit of despair. But then I went for a walk in the nearby woods that are brimming with bright, autumnal colours and I took a few photos of the trees, noticed the beautiful blue sky, and breathed in the cold, fresh air, felt alive, watched my dog trotting amongst the fallen leaves and became aware of how even this mood that had engulfed me moments earlier was, in fact, a choice.

I started to think about all the things in my life that I am grateful for, all the beauty of the earth, the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I stood in front of a tree for a while and observed the way in which the leaves, now littering the ground at the foot of the trunk, appeared as a reflection of the canopy above. It occurred to me that this could all be perceived as the dismal end of summer, a tree moving into a state of hibernation for the winter, or a stunning image of vibrancy, a captivating celebration of change; the beginning of a miraculous new season. I stared at the tree for a long time, and it became a symbol to me of how life is whatever we want to perceive it as.

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Earlier in the week, I had thrown a small Halloween party for my four-year-old and a few of her little friends. The carpet was covered in crisps, toys were strewn all over the lounge, and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. After everyone had left and I’d scrubbed my daughter’s face clean, wiping away every last trace of the ghoulish make-up she’d been wearing, my older daughter shouted down the stairs to me; “Can you help me with that English coursework now please?”

I had a choice in how I perceived all of this; to see the stress, the mess, the chaos, and to focus on my tiredness and how all I wanted to do was go and lie down on my bed. Or I could have chosen to see it as the lovely, hectic, full-on express train journey that is life, with all its demands and busyness.

I took the decision to view it as the latter.

Vulnerable

Sometimes, I feel really vulnerable. Like the world is too much for my emotions to cope with. I often wonder how some people can be so blasé, going about their business mindlessly as we all occupy this sphere spinning relentlessly through a vast expanse of time and space. This was one of the motivators for my alcohol consumption – the desire to quash it all, silence myself, level my feelings off and just stop the urrgghhh that so often blundered around my head.

Then there was the love of euphoria and letting go that made me turn to the bottle. I loved parties, dancing, showing off a bit I suppose. And these are activities that I have found not so easy to engage in as a non-drinker. Which in many ways is a good thing – I am no longer the ‘twat’ that my ex boyfriend decreed me after I’d had too much to drink (“When you drink, it’s as though you’ve swallowed a twat pill”).

I’ve noticed over the sober years that this business of not drinking is a matter of balance, of weighing up the overall good of sobriety versus the occasional letting rip that being pissed affords us. And the thing is, you can’t have both – or at least, I can’t. I can’t have the good without the very bad. There is no middle ground, just chaos and self-destruction.

I occasionally read about people who begin to dabble with having ‘the odd glass’ after years of being sober (Phil Collins being the latest to reveal his abstinence has gradually morphed into ‘controlled’ drinking), and I know that I will never be one of these people – but nor do I want to be.

For me to love being alcohol-free, it is essential that I love not drinking. That I engage with that notion as fully and with as much fervour as I once did alcohol. That I thank my lucky stars every day I scared myself witless one morning after drinking too much and I made a promise to myself that I’d never touch the stuff again; that I get to remember the rest of my life. That I get to make wise decisions and know who I am without the on going fog of too much alcohol confusing my thinking. That, no matter what, I’ll never walk backwards and attempt to revisit the boozing chapter of my life, because for me, this sober reality is the only one that makes sense now.

Last week I got in touch with a woman who lost her best friend to alcohol earlier this year. I studied years-old photos of the two of them in which they are slim, smiling, vibrant, and then I looked at the recent one of the woman’s friend where she is all bloated and puffy, taken just before she died as a direct result of her alcohol consumption.

My past is littered with stories of people who died from their addictions, who lost the most important people in their lives because they couldn’t stop drinking, of broken friendships and damaged souls and sad memories. It’s littered with my own regrets about the things I did because of alcohol, and because of the person I was when I drank.

Sometimes, I do wonder what it would be like to inhabit a drinking world again, one where alcohol is as innocuous as a light, spring breeze. But I know I crossed a line years ago, which means that for me, alcohol will always be my enemy. And I accept that fact with good grace and gratitude because, when all is said and done, it’s not worth it.

I get my kicks elsewhere these days, like this morning when I ran seven miles through the countryside with my dog who is ten years old but still throws herself into our runs with admirable zest. I get a buzz from knowing that I could be dead and for all intents and purposes I probably should be, given the way I used to spend my time, but I am not. I’m fit and healthy and I still feel young. I feel alive when I listen to my favourite music, and when I’m laughing with my close family and friends. I get a rush from the beauty of the world and thinking of all the people I’ve ever known and the amazing things we’ve experienced together, how miraculous it is that any of us get to lead this life with all the opportunities that are presented to each and every one of us. And I’m excited for the present and the future, for what incredible moments are waiting around the corner, none of us can ever know.

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Sometimes I do feel vulnerable and emotionally raw, and I wish so much that I could temporarily escape my head. But what I have – what we all have – is a life, and the years pass by in such a blur that they’re gone before we’ve even registered what happened. Those stupid little things we stress over: our child’s tantrum in the supermarket or feeling down because we can’t afford something we really want, or losing the car keys or just wanting to stay in bed all day because it’s raining and cold outside, and everything seems rubbish and twisted against us; these things are nothing, they matter not one jot.

Connecting with other human beings and loving them, and being loved by them, and loving and valuing yourself for your uniqueness, and witnessing a glorious sunset and hearing the wind roaring in your ears at the top of a mountain; looking into your child’s eyes and knowing that you’re doing your best and they’re doing OK, listening to someone who needs you, knowing that you’re making a difference. Lying on your back daydreaming and listening to your favourite music very loud. Waking up and not needing to patch together last night’s mistakes beneath the weighty dread of a hangover.

I truly believe that you cannot exist as you deserve to, fully and with real love in your heart, when you are drinking too much, too often. I think when you’re addicted to a substance it occupies too much of your soul, it blocks all the important emotions. It prevents you from seeing and connecting.

You need to love yourself before you can live a full life, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who loves themselves when in the throes of alcohol dependency.

It isn’t always easy, being completely free from mind-altering devices, whatever form they may take. There are days when your inner voice is screaming for a brief respite. But there are other coping strategies, there are other means of achieving that escape – and when you quit drinking, you enable yourself to discover them.

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.