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…

woman-relaxing-by-fire

  • 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.
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Life Is A Journey – Make It Your Own

Life is a journey.

This is a maxim that we often hear, and maybe we like to imagine we spend our time on earth just enjoying being in the moment, soaking up all manner of different experiences, and learning more about other people and about ourselves. But deep down, how many of us are fixated on goals, on the life stages we are desperate to reach in order to tick them off on a mental check-list of all that we must achieve before we die? How many of us waste vast amounts of our time worrying about reaching a place, a position, a status?

There is a lot to be said for aiming for things – it keeps us motivated, and helps boost our self-esteem when we are successful in achieving what we set out to. But there are some goals that are not so important, and it’s these that prevent us from living in the moment.

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When I got divorced ten years ago I threw myself headlong into finding a replacement husband. I wanted the company, I needed the constant reassurance that I was attractive/nice/funny/desirable, but more than that, I simply wanted to feel normal. I hated how I felt consigned to the ‘no good’ rubbish heap of the unwanted, that I must be somehow flawed in ways that my friends were not – after all, they were still married and I was not. During that period of my life I did not consider myself to be partway along a journey; the aim of remarrying stood loud and bright like a beacon, impossible to ignore, a fixed end to my struggles, a place that I must reach before I could live again. The days, weeks, months and years before I was to settle down again were ones in which I was not living in the present. All I could focus on was the future, reaching that destination and reclaiming what I felt was rightfully mine.

Looking back, I was far too concerned with society’s expectations of how we should live our lives, and not mindful enough of the things that would make me happy and fulfilled. Sometimes it’s difficult to remain true to yourself, in and amongst the bombardment of ideals and aspirational lifestyles that we are surrounded by every day. It takes true strength of character to turn inwards and tune into exactly what will make you content, what will give your life meaning and how you wish to live it.

A big part of quitting drinking and the problems encountered in doing so, is that the world we inhabit expects us to consume alcohol. There is an assumption that you just do, and when you don’t, a sense of being strange, an oddity and of sticking out like a sore thumb can conspire to lure you back to the bottle. Listening to the real you – the one who resides quietly inside, beneath the various outward layers of character that are presented to others – takes real effort. Acting upon that genuine, undiluted element of who you are, takes courage and strength.

And when we can live according to the true person we are, life becomes a journey again. We stop striving to conform and no longer contort ourselves into all sorts of predicaments purely to fit in, to be accepted, to reach wherever it is we are told we should be heading. If we can perceive the challenges we face, the idiosyncrasies that make us unique and the alternative ways in which we opt to live our lives as vital components of who we are as individuals, then we can focus on just being us. Different. Interesting. Exciting. Special.

That’s how we can make life into a journey – and one we can enjoy.

My latest book, ‘How to Lead a Happier, Healthier and Alcohol-Free Life’, published by Accent Press, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

How to Lead a Happier 1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/lead-happier-healthier-alcohol-free-life-ebook/dp/B00NSIN986/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

A Valentines Story

What causes the most pain?

A)     Cartwheeling down the stairs before crashing into a brick wall at the bottom, your metatarsal shattering in protest, or

B)      Waking up on Valentine’s Day with your leg in plaster cast (following aforementioned fall down the stairs) to discover your husband of four years on his knees at the foot of the bed, packing his case – and not for a holiday.

Valentines-Day

In my twenties, my ex-husband was the love of my life; I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. We had an identical outlook on life, shared interests, goals and friends, and dreamed of the same future. It was an easy relationship and one I didn’t think required too much of an investment from me – rather I assumed things would just tick along quite naturally without interference. I was wrong.

If we had started off as similar in 1998, by 2003 my ex-husband and I could not have veered off in two more wildly differing paths if we had tried. As certain a split as that splintered bone in my foot, our marriage ended acrimoniously and the love of my life fell into someone else’s arms.

Following the end of my marriage, the object of my affections for many years was my best friend who I desperately wanted to be in love with, but wasn’t. We laid awake together waiting for the sun to rise while talking complete rubbish, he witnessed me skydive from 10,000 feet and came with me when I got my tattoo. He accompanied me to my degree ceremony and partied hard alongside me when my divorce was finalised. He came to the zoo with my daughter and I, and we skied together in Belle Plagne and Val Thorens in the Alps. He told me to drink less and write more, he introduced me to some of my favourite music, and we laughed a lot until the tears streamed down our faces. And yet, I was not in love with him.

We eventually parted company when it became apparent that a platonic relationship would get in the way of other, more romantic, relationships for both of us. That was five years ago, and I still miss him terribly. I probably always will.

Aged 35 and weary of love and all the complications it can bring, I closed down my account on a dating website (which had brought nothing but disastrous dates with men less than honest about themselves on their profiles), and swore off the opposite sex for good. I came to the conclusion that relationships were best left to other people.

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Valentine’s Day 2003 marked the end of my marriage. During the years I was married, I drank a lot (we both did) and lived for our social life, often to the detriment of our relationship. The bad things that always arose from my alcohol consumption did not appear to come about when my husband drank. One night I sat on his knee and cried for hours about the fact that I was an alcoholic. After that I decided to stop drinking but resented my husband for it, feeling I had made the decision for him rather than for me. Soon afterwards I began drinking again.

I drank a lot all through the years of my friendship with the man I loved but was not in love with. I drank in an effort to stir feelings for him that simply weren’t there, no matter how hard I tried to find them. The heavy drinking prevented me from having the clarity to see that I would never be in love with him, and the mistakes I made when drunk ultimately resulted in us parting company forever, the friendship left in tatters.

I was drunk the night I met my partner, my fiancé, in January 2011; completely out of it, flirtatious, loud and obvious. For a couple of months after our first night together I continued to drink, and on several occasions I made a fool of myself causing him to express concerns over my alcohol consumption.

And then, in April 2011, I decided to quit drinking.

I became alcohol-free with his support. I learnt to like myself with him by my side, and I came to appreciate how wonderful life is when you aren’t drowning your emotions with ethanol. I have grown up emotionally alongside him, I understand what love really means because of him, and he’s the only man who has ever known me as the real me. We’ve been through tricky patches and come out stronger on the other side. Together we’ve made a family.

With him I started my life all over again, and this is what true love means to me now;

It’s when the person you are with allows you to be exactly who you are, and supports you in your endeavours to be the best you can be. It’s when walking through the front door means coming home. It’s when you make sacrifices in silence simply because you know it will make your partner happy. True love is what you are capable of when you’re free from addiction and able to focus on life, as opposed to fulfilling a craving.

For me Valentine’s Day 2014 will be about making time for each other amidst hectic schedules, and celebrating what we have today – something I wished I had for years but never found until I met Sean.

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Sliding Doors

Do you ever wonder where your life may have taken you, had you made different decisions? For me, a large element of learning to let go of my past mistakes has been the understanding and acceptance of who I am today, and how all the choices I have made on my journey to this point have amalgamated to create who I have become.

I have had relationships which would, I’m sure, have taken me to very different places had I remained in them; the boyfriend who I moved to London to live with in my early twenties was an ardent socialite, a lover of debauchery, and not someone who I could imagine I would ever have become sober whilst involved with. My ex-husband, the workaholic, who I erroneously believed to be the love of my life prior to him walking out and leaving me with a broken leg, crutches, our four-year-old daughter and a mad puppy on Valentine’s Day 2003, would only have stunted my emotional and personal development had we remained married, and I am eternally grateful that he left me as he did.

The years that followed his leaving were admittedly awful, the wine drunk far too vast in quantity, but the ensuing depression and dark days were, I believe, all vital ingredients in building my emotional strength and character. If he had stayed, I am certain that I would never have grown as a person, would never have fought and beaten my demons, and ultimately, never have drunk so much that I then considered it absolutely essential that I conquer my alcohol dependency.

sun-through-storm

In the years that followed my divorce, I had relationships with a few men, all of whom were lovely in their own way but none of whom would have helped me find the road to sobriety, self-discovery and finally, learning to like myself. They were all heavy drinkers, and despite their collective disapproval of the multifarious displays of my terrible drunken behaviour, none were brave enough to take on the dragon that was Lucy’s beloved bottle of wine. Had I stayed with any one of those partners, I probably would have drunk myself into an early grave.

In the midst of all that pin-balling from one bad relationship to another, the mornings of self-hatred that evolved into afternoons in the pub and evenings of comatose drunkenness, arguments and hour upon hour of wasted life, the smallest desire to escape my situation began to gain momentum. So insignificant that I didn’t even know it was there for a long time, the seed that grew into a very real knowledge that I must stop drinking took years to establish itself. The boyfriends who were a mistake, the under-achieving at work due to constant hangovers, the inability to move forward in my life and the associated frustrations that arose as a result, gradually amassed to provide the food and water required to nurture my growing awareness.

And one day, there it was – it turns out that all those bad choices were not so bad after all, because in the small hours of a Thursday morning almost two years ago, I woke up and realised that the seed had become a tree. All of a sudden, I recognised how I should be spending my life, and I began to live it. If none of my bad times had happened, if the years of pain and grimness had been erased and left me with nothing but an easy ride, I wouldn’t be here, doing this. No contentment, no new baby, no self-esteem, no Soberistas, no gratitude for my life.

There will always be sunshine after the rain.

Learning From the Past

It is coming up to the 10th anniversary of my marriage ending. He walked out on me on Valentine’s Day 2003, the day after I fell down the stairs and broke my foot. In the days leading up to his departure, I had absolutely no idea that my life was about to turn itself inside out, throwing me and all of my hopes and dreams for the future into utter disarray before dumping me in some awful no man’s land where I would live out the next few years.

The actual act of him leaving plays out in my mind now, ten years on, as though it were a scene in a sub average 1970’s sitcom; me lying in the bed, plaster cast encasing my right leg up to the knee, him on his knees on the excessively deep-pile carpet, cramming his clothes into a suitcase before forcing the zip roughly in order to seal it shut; bewilderment on my face, dogged determination on his.

The following weeks and months meandered through bad to terrible to agonising pain, depression and alcohol featuring prominently on the bleak landscape of my mental state. He stopped paying me money; I threatened to sell the family car. He moved in with a girlfriend and then criticised me for inviting a date back to the marital home, in which he no longer lived. We fell into a childcare arrangement that would stick for the following decade, one which meant that he never came into the house to collect or drop off our daughter, but instead hung around at the bottom of the drive, engine running and an impatient look upon his face.

I felt as though I were carrying a neon sign around my person, one that flashed brightly the news to all who passed me that I was newly divorced, I couldn’t keep my man, I was unwanted, a failure at life. The school playground was suddenly filled with laughing and joking married types, little nuclear families who embodied success and normality, and so I hung further and further back, desperately trying to fade into invisibility as I waited for my little girl to run out of the doors, some bright paper creation clasped in her hand that she had made that day.

When I look back now with ten years additional life experience, the writing was emblazoned upon the wall that alcohol was about to become my best friend. With a complete disregard for my health and mental wellbeing, I hit the wine with a vicious desire to self-harm. Living through the emotional pain without anaesthetising it with alcohol was simply not an option. Wine crept in quietly through a back door that had been left slightly ajar, and proceeded to fill my whole existence with its far-reaching effects, becoming the unwanted visitor who outstayed its welcome and thrived on my continual downfall.

Ten years have brought with them immeasurable amounts of wisdom and self-awareness. If I could change anything, it would not be that my marriage had continued but that I had understood back then that drinking alcohol was only putting off the inevitable. As the wine flowed freely, the pain was not being washed away; rather it was redirected into a reservoir where it became concentrated and tainted, resting patiently for me to open the flood gates and let it free.

When I stopped drinking, the biggest mountain that I faced was tackling the previously ignored emotions that I had bottled up in the years following my divorce. I knew they were there, lurking in the depths of my consciousness and I dreaded the day when they would begin to trickle forth, forcing me to wet my toes in the painful aftermath of the hurt, betrayal, self-doubt and anger that were borne out of my marriage breakdown.

It’s true that time heals, and when I regard my twenty-seven-year-old self floundering amidst a sea of alcohol and a refusal to acknowledge her feelings, I wish that I could whisper with complete assurance into her ear; ‘it will all work out ok in the end.’ I shouldn’t have drunk as much as I did, but in all honesty, I had no other way of coping at that time, and ultimately I came to the right conclusions. It did all work out ok in the end, and the frayed edges got tidied up, the creases ironed out.

I learnt an awful lot from my divorce, and not a day passes by when I am not truly grateful for my partner and my two daughters. When you lose the future that was yours, all mapped out in your head, organised and within your grasp, and you are faced with the task of building another one from scratch, it becomes impossible to live without gratitude for even the smallest thing.

The flurry of our lives spin along and carry us as though we were caught up in a whirlwind. When everything that you know disappears in an instant, you develop the ability to appreciate it fully, in the finest of detail, when it finally comes back to you.

How to do a 10k race (and how not to)

Today I ran my first 10K race in ten years. The race, known as the Percy Pud, takes place in the Loxley Valley, Sheffield, bypassing the beautiful Damflask reservoir. One thousand runners enter, with many turning up in Christmas themed outfits, and each runner receives a Christmas pudding upon completion.

I last ran the Percy Pud when I was twenty seven years old, or thereabouts. I was in the throes of divorcing my eldest daughter’s Dad, caught in the turbulent winds of an incredibly acrimonious split. My alcohol consumption had begun to creep up around that time, and I was regularly drinking enough to feel tipsy most nights, enough to get completely out of it two or three nights a week.

Somehow (maybe because I had youth on my side) I managed to turn up on time to run the Percy Pud and actually achieved a new personal best. The night before, I had drunk four pints of Guinness and went to bed about 2 am. I ran the race in 48 minutes, fighting the desire to throw up all the way around.

To celebrate, a few of us went to a pub and got drunk.

Today was a different affair. Last night I put thought into what I ate (carbs – macaroni cheese), drank loads of water and got an early night. I did a little run yesterday, just to work my muscles gently, but otherwise I rested (as much as you can with a seven month old and a teenager who requires an on tap taxi service) in an effort to conserve my energy.

Me in the white top, at the halfway point in the Percy Pud this morning

Me in the white top, at the halfway point in the Percy Pud this morning

I ran the Percy Pud today in 55 minutes, a time which I am pretty pleased with. I didn’t run for several months whilst pregnant and then subsequently recovering from the caesarean, and began to jog regularly about four months ago. I’m justifying my race time to you here, because a tiny bit of me really wanted to prove that by living a much healthier lifestyle, I would be able to easily smash my PB.

But, the important thing is this – all the way round the race today, I was soaking up the beautiful scenery, enjoying the camaraderie of all the other runners, focussing my mind on breathing, my technique, running through the pain barrier. I ran it and I was there, in the moment – I lived that race. The last time I ran it, I was trying not to be sick and pushing myself to get to the finishing line so that I could get my Christmas pudding and get the hell out of there and off to the pub.

Thus, I am proud of what I did today, and have decided to buy a training book to help me improve my time and technique in 10K’s. There’s another race at the end of February 2013, and I’m aiming to get my PB down to less than 45 minutes for that one.

Tonight I feel physically tired, the kind of tired you get when you have really pushed yourself, conquering the inner you that wants to slow down and instead forcing your legs to keep moving, as fast as you can make them go. The calmness and ability to relax that physical exertion brings, is noticed and appreciated far more when sober. I am, once again, extremely happy that I no longer drink alcohol.

Plant, pet, then person

Years ago I had a friend who was in therapy. She told me that her therapist had given her the following advice; first, get a plant. When you can keep it alive and thriving for more than six months, get yourself a pet. If you can maintain its health and happiness and nobody reports you to the RSPCA for abandonment or worse, then think about having a relationship with a human being.

I wish I had taken notice of this when my marriage broke up. My husband and I had kept a few pot plants in the house, and one by one they withered and died as I nursed my shattered soul over too much wine, immersing myself in a pool of misery which was akin to swimming through mud for the first few months. There wasn’t much room for being green fingered. At the same time, I was attempting to look after our dog, Mowgli, and here is a story in itself.

Me, my eldest daughter, then aged three, and our beloved Mowgli

My ex husband walked out on me and my little girl when she was just four, on Valentine’s Day and the day after I had fallen down the stairs (not drunk for once in my life!) and broken my foot, causing an impressive metatarsal shatter that was similar to one David Beckham had around the time, or so I was excitedly told by the football fanatic doctor who x-rayed me.

We had acquired a puppy just six months previously, a wonderful ball of energy who was so extraordinarily full of love and joy, whilst simultaneously being utterly devoid of sense, the ability to be trained and even the merest hint of a brain. Given the timing of the marriage split (February), the roads were covered in sheet ice, snow lay around in piles of exhaust-fume blackened sludge, and temperatures were not particularly kind.

The dog had boundless energy and could have easily handled a couple of ten mile walks in the morning, followed by a quick swim across the English Channel and back again in time for his kibble. My daughter was small and had short four-year-old’s legs and not the slightest inclination to walk further than to the corner shop and back for sweets. I had a pot on my leg and was on crutches. You might say we were in something of a pickle.

We muddled by though, gratefully accepting the help of wonderful friends and family, taking the dog out wherever possible and throwing balls for him in the field at the bottom of the road in order to tire him out, trying to remain sanguine when he ate our coats and shoes, biting my lip and fighting back the tears when I would hobble home on my crutches to find yet another piece of expensive furniture that he had ripped apart in a fit of pique at being left on his own for longer than half an hour. One time, he managed to open the kitchen cupboard under the sink and pull out its entire contents; scores of plastic bags were shredded and strewn around the floor, intermingled with two supersize sack’s worth of dog kibble which he had opened with his teeth, bottles of detergents and washing up liquid had been chewed and spilt all over the wooden floor, mixing with the other debris to create a sloppy, slippy, horrendous mess that took me hours to clean up.

After six months, I gave the dog to a re-homing place nearby. He was only one year old, and I knew that if a dog lover with more time and energy on their hands than I had at the time, took him on, they would be able to build him up to become a fine adult dog. He just needed patience and time and lots of long walks – three things that I was not able to provide him with at the time. After parting with my beloved puppy, I should have taken the hint; relationships with humans were never going to work for me whilst I was in that place. I had such a longing, however, to rebuild my family, to find a replacement Dad for the one who had buggered off with somebody else that I wasn’t as discerning as I might have been in my choice of boyfriends.

I remember at the time simply craving a family unit, and it coloured my vision. With hindsight I should have just waited until Mr. Right (who is currently asleep upstairs) came along and swept me off in a cloud of happiness. Could have, would have, should have. And I hope, Mowgli, that wherever you found yourself, you had a happy life and understood that we loved you so much. I really, truly, wish that I had kept you and rebuffed humans (in the boyfriend sense) for a while. I wish I could have made you in to the dog that you should have been. I’m sorry.