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

New Year’s Eve – When You’re Alcohol-Free

It’s New Year’s Eve, a night which celebrates the beginning of a virgin twelve months in which we hope to achieve our goals and live out a few of the dreams which fell by the wayside some time during the present year. It is also a night which, for a significant majority of the adult population of the western world, is all about ALCOHOL. So what do you do if you don’t drink? Can New Year’s Eve be an enjoyable occasion when you are stone cold sober and surrounded by drunken revellers?

79_Edp

Here are a few pointers for enjoying the last ‘event’ night of the festive season, alcohol-free;

  1. Think VERY hard about who you wish to spend this evening with. When you aren’t numbed by the anaesthetizing qualities of booze, you will notice the less appealing aspects of those whose company you are keeping a whole lot more than if you were out of your tree. It would also be a good idea to avoid those friends whose idea of a good night is to drink until they pass out. Choose the invitations you accept wisely.
  2. Make an effort with your appearance. When alcohol ceases to be the main focus of a night out, it’s helpful to zone in on other ‘features’ of your evening to ensure you don’t miss out on the excitement of a big night. Going all out on a fantastic outfit, new hairdo and luxurious pre-party facial will all contribute to your inner feeling of wonderfulness – helped along by your glowing, alcohol-free complexion of course!
  3. Take a few moments before you leave for your party destination to remind yourself why you are CHOOSING not to drink tonight. What happened last time you drank? Did you embarrass yourself, have a drunken row or act in a way which filled you with regret and self-loathing the next morning? Chances are if you decide to drink tonight, you won’t be able to moderate – just as you have never been able to in the past. You chose an AF life because it works for you, so hang on to that thought and feel GOOD about being a Soberista.
  4. Plan an activity that brings you happiness and contentment for the morning of January 1st 2014. While you don’t want to be wishing your New Year’s Eve party night away, it’s good to have a treat planned for the next day, and one that you know will be all the more enjoyable hangover-free. There’s a certain amount of smugness to be had from running in the countryside on the first day of a new year (or doing whatever it is that you enjoy), secure in the knowledge that most people will be lying in bed feeling like shit.
  5. Be mindful of what New Year’s Eve is all about, and don’t get caught up with the notion that alcohol is at the core of all the celebrations. Contemplate the year you have just lived and congratulate yourself on all you have achieved – then look ahead and consider how the next twelve months could be even better. Be grateful for everything you have and spend time with the people you really love, enjoying good food and quality time together.
  6. If all of the above fails to help you see in the New Year with a bang, then go home, put your favourite pyjamas on and log on to Soberistas.com for some support – there’s nothing like a good moan to people who understand to make you feel a whole lot better!

Lattes, migraines and alcohol

Yesterday my drink was spiked. OK, so it’s not as dramatic as it sounds; I visited a cafe in the afternoon with the other half and baby, and owing to the tortuous migraines I have been suffering over the last few weeks (something I self-diagnosed as too many strong coffees) which led to me subsequently waving goodbye forever to caffeinated coffee a few days ago, I ordered a decaf.

I was served a caffeinated latte.

latte-grande

I only knew this to be the case when a couple of hours after drinking the evil stuff, my head developed a familiar throbbing which I have now come to recognise as being a particularly evil side effect of consuming coffee. My eyes narrowed in a desperate bid to block out the suddenly agonising sunlight, my stomach churned and I prepared myself for the miserable few hours ahead before the agony passed.

In the same way that I’m aware of this reaction I have to drinking coffee, I also regard myself as being allergic to alcohol. I have always had, since I began my drinking career all those years ago, an inability to know when I have had ‘enough’ and a desire, once the boozing has begun, to carry on imbibing until I pass out. This was not something that developed over time in any kind of progressive fashion, this was the way I drank right from the off when I was thirteen years old.

I have been a little quicker on the uptake with regards to coffee in terms of recognising the fact that I am not suited to that particular beverage (it’s actually a very positive allergy to have, as I spend way too much money in cafes and eat more cakes than I should as a guaranteed ‘something on the side’ to accompany my lattes – without coffee, my waistline and outgoings should both shrink quite nicely), it taking a matter of months from the first migraine to my recent self-imposed embargo on caffeinated coffee. With booze it took a little while longer – around twenty two years.

There are two set-in-stone facts with regards to me, and drinking coffee and alcohol; the first will give me blinding headaches and the second will make me very ill, act like an idiot and piss a lot of people off, including myself. It may be simplifying things a bit but considering myself to be allergic serves to remind me that when it comes to these two beverages, I am far better off steering well clear of the pair of them.

Now where’s the chamomile tea?

Sick as a Dog

Last night I woke up at 2am with crippling stomach cramps and proceeded to spend the following two and a half hours ensconced in the en-suite bathroom, grateful for the small mercy that my other half was sleeping elsewhere (when he goes out knowing he will be drinking and coming in after I’ll have fallen asleep, he very compliantly settles for alternative sleeping quarters). After collapsing back in bed about 4am, covered in sweat but freezing cold and toying with the idea that I must have picked up malaria somehow, I drifted into unconsciousness for an hour before being woken by the baby at 5am.

sick

Other Half very kindly took over baby duties which enabled me to stagger back to the boudoir, groaning quietly and clutching my stomach. I haven’t been able to go back to sleep, hence my writing this now, but I have been lying in bed for a while contemplating the sad truth that I used to make myself feel this way wittingly each and every weekend, and quite often mid-week too.

Whilst a bug of this nature is never pleasant, I am at least comforted by the knowledge that my sickness is purely a horrible piece of bad luck, rather than a dire physical state that I have inflicted on myself in exchange for a few hours of drinking, subsequently acting like an idiot and waking up only to remember the odd flash of the evening’s events anyway, thus rendering the by-product of being hungover as a total waste of my life.

Yes I look horrific, yes I feel as though I have been hit by a combine harvester, and yes I am suffering from a modicum of self-pity, but at least all I have to contend with today is the illness – the old associated guilt, shame and battering of my self-esteem are, happily, nowhere to be seen.

I have so much to do today and as any parent knows all too well, you simply don’t get to be poorly when there’s a baby to be cared for! So I’ll be kind to myself, nibble on a bit of dry toast (is that an old wives’ tale or does it work?) and try and keep a little water down, and then I’ll get on with my life, albeit in something of a restricted manner.

Once again I am reminded of why life is best embraced minus a drip-feed of alcohol.

Oh, I Don’t Drink!

I had a funny moment today when a sudden, out-of-the-blue thought sprang up and disrupted my quiet, plodding along morning brain. I don’t know what prompted it but landing squarely and suddenly at the forefront of my mind were these words; ‘I don’t drink, I am a non-drinker, I have become somebody who does not ever touch alcohol…as if I have certain religious beliefs that forbid me from drinking alcohol I just never, ever drink.’

Magic water, magic nature, beautiful blue effect

This internal confirmation of my teetotal commitment tumbled rudely into my chain of thoughts and made me catch my breath. If you had known me before I stopped drinking you would know why. I never, ever imagined that I would be a person who did not drink booze. I used to be, very simply, a drinker – it’s what I was known for.

I recall going for dinner at a boyfriend’s parents’ house in my late teens, his father being a wine connoisseur who enjoyed indulging in his love of fine wines in the company of guests. Upon settling into the sumptuous settee before we ate I was handed a glass of something red and fantastically expensive. As he passed me the elegant wine glass, the father bore his eyes into mine and said sternly ‘This is a VERY good wine – please do not guzzle it.’ He totally had my number.

When I look back over photographs stretching back twenty years I see alcohol featuring in almost all of them; holiday snaps, Christmases, birthdays, nights out, nights in – life was one very long and raucous party and I was usually to be found slap bang in the middle of it, shining in the spotlight, always drinking.

I have worked very hard on being sober and happy over the last couple of years; it didn’t come easy and I have expended a lot of time and energy in my acceptance of this radical departure from old destructive habits. I think I’ve been so busy with ensuring I am ok about not drinking that the end result has almost arrived unnoticed – that is to say the transition from colossal pisshead to totally straight person has happened amidst such a sea of change that this morning’s sudden and stark thought surprised me.

Me? Teetotal? Now there’s something I thought I would never say. I am now so definitively a non-drinker whereas once I was defined by my enormous affection for wine and enthusiasm for losing myself in the maddening, mind-altering, crazed mayhem that it initiated in me. Five years ago I would have bet large amounts of money on me drinking my way through life until the alcoholic sun eventually sank on my world and plunged everything in it into complete blackness.

Today I am better – very different, but very much better. Which is kind of surprising.

Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; life without alcohol means living a life  that’s anchored in reality, rather than chasing the promise of the carefree and extraordinary pleasures that alcohol dangles but never delivers.

The reason I am reminded of this tonight is because it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. In days gone by, I would have been eagerly anticipating this occasion because somewhere amidst the cup of tea in bed, the handmade card, the thoughtful gift and the sudden and out of character display of help around the house, would have been the beckoning finger of several large glasses of wine.

th (2)

It might have been a meal booked in a restaurant, or friends or family invited round to the house for a Sunday roast, but however the celebration manifested itself, wine would have been on the cards.

The first glass would have been the appetiser, a taste of things to come. After half a bottle had gone, the nervousness would have begun – how long can I make that last for? Would it be terrible to crack a second bottle before we’ve reached 3 pm? Feeling slightly drunk and the meal is going to pot…would it be ok to just kick back and get drunk for the rest of the day?

The present and the handmade card would drift into a distant memory; the day would lose its meaning and become a lazy, hazy afternoon marred by the effects of the crisp, cold liquid poured into the glasses like a tinkling fountain constantly flowing until bedtime.

Thank God those days have entered into the history books. Thank God the person who did that has woken up to reality and seen the damage that those apparently innocuous and fun Sundays did to those around her. Thank God the person who drank alcohol in such a reckless fashion will be having a very different day on Mother’s Day, 2013.

This mum will be getting up with the baby at 6 am, because she can’t think of anything she would rather do than see that happy little face smiling from the cot at first light. This mum will be going to the gym with her eldest daughter later in the morning for a swim and a coffee, and then spending the afternoon with her wonderful family, eating, laughing and chatting. The day will be real. There will be no recriminations, arguments, or regrets. There will be no addiction looming in the mind of this mum, nothing to steal a single thought away from real life.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and it’s about mothers, and nothing else.

The Brink, Liverpool.

Whilst idling away half an hour on the internet this morning, I came across The Brink’s website, an alcohol-free venue in Liverpool which offers all of the benefits of a really cool bar, minus the booze. What an amazing idea and how encouraging to think that somebody out there had faith enough in there being sufficient custom to sustain such an establishment aimed at those who don’t want to get sloshed every time they go out socially, to open this café bar in the first instance.

Capitalising on the fact that if you aren’t drinking you might actually want to enjoy something interesting and creative (rather than rabbling on in your mate’s ear in slurred, drunken tones about some boring rubbish that you’ll both have forgotten about in the morning), The Brink works closely with poets, artists and musicians in order to put on a variety of entertainment that you wouldn’t find in your run-of-the-mill pub.

And the best is yet to come – all the profits are ploughed back into the community to help those who have suffered as a result of alcoholism and addiction. I’m sold. I just wish that somebody would open an equivalent in Sheffield.

We live in a society which is deeply coloured by its love of booze. As soon as you quit drinking, it becomes all too apparent that bars, restaurants and clubs (on the whole) are geared up towards those who drink, for that is where the profit lies. That’s fine – we live in a capitalist society after all and nobody does anything for free, but it can leave us teetotallers feeling a little lost when it comes to our evening entertainment. There’s nothing stopping a non-drinker from sitting or standing in a crowded bar on a Saturday night surrounded by drunken fools, and many do. I am not one of them however.

Theatre, cinema, restaurants, yes; even a party with the right people, but city centre bars are pretty much my idea of hell now that I don’t drink. And so when I happened upon The Brink’s website I felt the glimmer of hope – if only someone in Sheffield gets wind of this and opens a similar thing here, I would happily become their most frequent customer. The presence of such places in our towns and cities would go a long way to promote the notion that having fun socially does not necessarily mean getting hammered. The fact that the profits go to helping those with addiction-related problems promotes compassion and community-spiritedness, instead of commercialism and financial gain. At closing time, the patrons leave to go home sober, probably in their own cars, rather than staggering around the city’s streets looking for a fight and throwing up in doorways.

I can feel a trip to Liverpool coming on…Take a look at The Brink’s website for further information.

http://thebrinkliverpool.com/whats-on/

Happy New Year!

I am not the party animal that I was in my youth. Long gone are the days when I would buy a ticket in October for an all-nighter New Year’s bash, costing around £50, only to get completely out of it by about 11pm, thus never being able to recall whether or not I had actually enjoyed the night or not. I remember a few New Year’s house parties which started out as brilliant occasions, full of friends, fun and lots of alcohol, but all ended in some disaster or other (one springs to mind immediately, when me and a friend shaved off a male guest’s fairly long hair at about 3 am (with his consent, I add), only to show his new look off to his wife who proceeded to have a fit of the histrionics, accusing us of making her husband look as though he were in receipt of chemotherapy. The whole party then joined in the slanging match for a good couple of hours, before everyone staggered home in the early morning light to sleep it off. The husband wore a hat constantly for the next couple of months). wine

The first New Year’s Eve do that I went to as a drinker, aged somewhere in my mid-teens, I became the ‘girl who cries at parties.’ I have absolutely no idea as to what I was crying about, but do remember heaving over the toilet bowl for a while before finding some kind bloke who put his arm round me and attempted to force strong, black coffee down my throat. I remember nothing else. After sleeping it off, I awoke in the morning to find that I had inadvertently become the talk of the party, a strange girl (I had been invited by the two sisters who hosted the bash, but knew no one else there) who had spent hours on end gasping and dripping snot all over the shoulder of their mate who had kind of missed the party because of me. Apparently prior to that, I had also thrown a beer over some other bloke’s head who tried to snog me under the mistletoe, but whose advances were not, it would seem, particularly sought after.

It will probably come as no surprise to you then, when I tell you that I haven’t bought a hot ticket for a posh do somewhere in town tomorrow night, but am instead staying at home with my girls. This is not because I no longer wish to socialise now that I no longer drink alcohol, but because from experience I know that most people (read, people who drink) view NY Eve as an occasion which warrants getting lashed, and I do hate being around people who are hammered.

So, in continuation of our little routine that we followed last year, my eldest daughter (almost 14 and therefore this could potentially be the last New Year’s Eve that she wishes to spend with her old Mum) and me will be baking Nigella Lawson’s chocolate orange cake, which is heaven on a plate, and intended to serve about ten but easily polished off by two greedy girls enjoying their own private NY party. As that culinary delight bakes in the oven, we will get stuck into a load of beauty treatments; manicures, pedicures, facials and cucumber slices on our eyes and laugh at some really awful celeb magazines. And then, cake semi-cooled but warm enough to still feature its pièce de résistance, the molten, gooey, utterly delectable chocolate orange centre, we will stick Jools Holland’s Hootenanny on the TV and stuff our faces – marvelous.

This little party of ours also has the advantage of allowing for a meaningful New Year’s Day, rather than one spent, as I have done frequently in the past, with the mother of all hangovers, periodically throwing up and lying in a darkened room wishing that the train would stop running over my brain. I love the sentiment of the first day of a new year, a whole fresh 365 days, plain and untainted, free to do with whatever you choose, and so I value being with it sufficiently to enjoy it.

Whatever you do, I hope you have a great night, and a fantastic 2013.

If tomorrow is the end…

If the world ends tomorrow, then I don’t think I would be wracked with guilt and regret over mistakes and wrongdoings in my life. I have made mistakes, and too many to mention, but I feel that since giving up alcohol I have strived hard to iron out my creases (metaphorically speaking – the physical ones are all too apparent, a sorry sign of my diminishing youth), and for the most part have succeeded.

As a drinker, I would have told a very different story. There wasn’t one aspect of myself that I felt fully happy about, not one characteristic that I genuinely felt proud of. I knew nothing of living life to the full, consistently fell short of my maximum potential and had the self- esteem of someone who persistently lives out her life in the shoes of a drunken, moody, instant-gratification-seeking narcissist. Not that I wish to be too hard on myself but that was me.

Addiction generally makes one self-serving and it is a hard habit to break, much more difficult than resisting the demon drink. For months after I gave up, I would often be about to totally disregard someone’s perspective or needs because they differed from mine, only to force myself to try a new method; self-sacrifice and a teeny bit of empathy. Over time I have rewired my brain and now I do think about consequences to a greater degree than merely how they will impact on me.

Learning not to be selfish breeds an altogether new phenomenon in the brain of the ex-addict; liking yourself, thinking you are ok, maybe even a nice person. And beginning to like yourself sets off a chemical reaction of its own; slowly, methodically, the building bricks of self-respect undergo a metamorphosis from a scattered pile on the ground, to a solid, well-constructed wall, sturdy enough to weather a few storms. Once you have built your wall, you’re all set – ready to face the world and all that it throws at you.

As someone who drank almost every night, mostly to excess, I had no walls, no defences to fight the fight with. Whenever something troublesome cropped up in my life, I drew on the old tried and tested (and routinely failed) methods of manipulation, crying, neediness and ultimately, giving up. I had no balls, no faith (I don’t mean that in a religious way, but faith in a better life, faith in the sun coming out again, faith in finding the way out) and no gumption. I have all those things now (again, with the balls, I speak metaphorically).

So if tomorrow is the end for us all, I feel like I have done the best I could have done with the cards I got dealt. And you can’t really do better than that.

Time for a Change

It can appear harsh, especially at Christmas when everyone around you is planning Christmas parties, buying in wine and spirits by the trolley load and generally getting into the festive spirit, if you are sober but stuck in the mindset that alcohol is something worth having in your life.New Year, Christmas, drunk clerk

First of all, if you really thought alcohol was wonderful, you would never have wanted to stop drinking it in the first place – the thought wouldn’t have entered your head. You came to the conclusion that you should dry out, either permanently or for a little while, because you knew it was the booze that was getting you down.

Alcohol hasn’t become your friend in the time between quitting and now – your relationship with it would be exactly the same today as it was then. My own experiences with alcohol were such that once I took that first sip I couldn’t stop; I drank until I passed out (or the booze ran out); I was overwhelmed with self-hatred and shame every day after the night before. And if I started to drink again tonight, the outcome would be identical.

So my advice to anybody who is teetering on the brink of temptation at this festive time is DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY in order to avoid landing yourself in a trigger spot. Don’t try going to the pub stone cold sober on New Years Eve when all around you are absolutely hammered – go out for a meal instead, or maybe invite a few good friends round to your place, people who you trust won’t be making drunkenness the only goal of the night. On Christmas Day, make sure you have activities (board games, a nice walk in the countryside) planned around the present opening and meal; that way you won’t be considering sneaking a bottle of wine open out of boredom. Try out some alternative drinks that are fun to make and taste great. If you are stuck for ideas then have a look at Soberistas.com on Sunday, when our top three favourite mocktail recipes will be featured in the Diet & Nutrition section.

It’s all about changing from the inside out – acting like the old you minus the booze is like attempting to get a makeover by changing your coat. Go for the whole package, its much more exciting! Learn how to be different, and eliminate old cravings; open your mind to an alternative lifestyle. Christmas can be a great time to start on the new you!