Finding Out Who You Really Are; Life After Booze

One of the major things I have learnt about myself since stopping drinking in April 2011 is that I am a strong person. This is not something I say lightly, as prior to becoming alcohol-free I was of the mind-set that I was emotionally weak, vulnerable and scared. In a perverse way, I almost enjoyed the knowledge that I was perpetually ‘in need’ of being protected; I actively emphasised it in relationships, and frequently fell back on it as an excuse for everything that was wrong with my life. I suppose I was attempting to retain a child-like state, too frightened to fully spread my wings as an independent adult.

Before I became a dependent drinker, I experienced years of living with an eating disorder. When I regained my sanity in that respect and began to eat healthily again upon the discovery of my first pregnancy aged twenty-two, I mistakenly believed that the underlying unhappiness that had led to anorexia had been eradicated. It hadn’t – it merely shifted its guise and several years later was manifested in my destructive drinking habits.

For all of my adult life up until the age of thirty-five I was convinced that being weak and vulnerable as a woman were attractive qualities; that I was, in some way, quite tragic in a romantic sense.

But then I stopped drinking.

The bravery did not begin the second I put down my last glass of wine. For several months, perhaps a year, I was caught up in a turbulent period of emotions; guilt, self-doubt, wishing I was ‘normal’, regret, boredom, self-hatred, learning about the person I was, managing life without the convenient crutch of booze-induced numbness.

Gradually, however, I noticed that I was becoming emotionally self-sufficient, that certain situations no longer fazed me as they had once done. My desire to be protected from life was slowly diminishing, replaced by a strong sense of wanting to take on the world, of getting out there and making my mark on it. Over time, I stopped perceiving myself as someone who was, in some way, less than others, and recognised that we are all equal, with corresponding ability and potential to achieve whatever we want to, if only we choose to apply ourselves.

Lucy Harter Fell

After several years without alcohol, I have come to regard myself as a ‘normal’ person – normal in the sense that I am no longer frightened by such innocuous situations as speaking to a stranger when stone cold sober, or talking in front of a group of people or being proactive in chasing my dreams without being held back by an innate belief that I am not good enough. I just get on with things, and I know that I can do so without heavy reliance upon other people. We all need someone from time to time for a shoulder to cry on or to provide us with an objective viewpoint, but when you have no self-belief it’s all too easy to grip too tightly onto other people, using them like a lifeboat, convinced you will sink without them holding you above water.

I was wrong to think I was weak, but I would never have known otherwise had I not stopped drinking. For me, the subsequent journey of self-discovery has been monumental, changing the course of my life completely. We never know who we are capable of being until we quit drinking – this is something I genuinely believe to be true, for anyone who drinks compulsively like I once did.

Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being

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

Week 1 – Mindfulness Meditation

Week 2 – Mood Foods

Week 3 – Positive Pastimes

Week 4 – Me Time Moments

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

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

BiTN Meditation

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

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

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

The 4 Emotional Stages of Sobriety

I stopped drinking in April 2011, embarking on a journey that began in the early hours of one spring morning and which has taken me on a convoluted and emotionally turbulent ride, finally allowing me to climb off into a place that resembles contentment and emotional stability. For anyone who has recently ditched alcohol, I have written the following; it outlines my experiences of the different emotional stages I travelled through in the 23 months between my last drink and today, and I hope that it might help those of you who are new to sobriety by giving you a bit of a heads up of what to expect in this new and exciting chapter of your life.

alcoholic

Stage 1 – the joys of the natural high

As an alcohol-dependent person who had felt terribly out of control of her own life for many, many years, the first few weeks and months of living as a non-drinker were a breath of fresh air. The joy of waking up each day and not immediately running through a mental checklist of who I had insulted/let down/hurt the night before was beyond compare. I literally jumped out of bed each day, a massive weight of anxiety removed from around my neck. Gone were the fears of developing breast cancer or dying of liver failure; the dreaded guilt and shame that I suffered as a result of doing something stupid and/or irresponsible when under the influence were gone – I felt free as a bird. Going out socially was a wonderful experience, as previously I had always felt butterflies in my stomach as I feared how the night ahead would unfold, never knowing how drunk I would get and where that state of mind would take me. Instead I knew that I was finally calling the shots – I would decide who to talk to, what I said, whether or not I chatted someone up/allowed myself to be chatted up; this was me, and not that idiot who I became after too much wine. This first period was characterised by a sense of freedom, lightness and joy.

Stage 2 – boredom and why me?

OK, nothing lasts forever. After a couple of months, I became beset by a black mood and the doubts began to creep in. The little devil on my shoulder grew in his boldness and whereas the angel had definitely ruled the roost in the early weeks, the voice of addiction became louder and more assertive in this second phase. The following are examples of the conversations I had with my devil; what if I’m not addicted to alcohol? What if I just need to learn how to moderate? Could it be that my boyfriend would prefer me to be more under control to suit him better, and that’s why he professes concern at how much I was drinking?

Who is he to think he can control you? Doesn’t he see that you are a free spirit – you don’t run with the crowds, you are different, untamed; alcohol is a part of who you are. Everyone else in the world is allowed to drink and get drunk – why the hell can’t I? It’s not fair.

In the midst of this period, I initiated a blazing row with my boyfriend (now my fiancé) and told him in no uncertain terms that I was planning on drinking that night. He tried in vain to convince me that it was the addiction talking, but how could it be? It was so convincing and powerful – that was me talking, the voice was coming right from within me. We stormed up to the pub together and he ordered himself a pint and sat outside. I scuttled up to the bar after he had taken his seat, my heart beating ferociously and my cheeks burning.

I ordered a lime and soda.

Every tiny piece of me wanted to buy alcohol except for the tiniest voice, hidden somewhere deep inside me. It told me that I would never change if I bought a glass of wine now; this moment was definitive – it would determine whether I stayed on the road to self-discovery and a better life, or if I returned hell for leather to that old path of destruction. I couldn’t let myself down, and I stuck to my guns.

Stage 3 – resolute but bitter

I turned a corner that night and all doubt was removed. The devil fell away from my shoulder, but nothing replaced him for a long time. There followed months of falling in a vacuum; I accepted my lot as a non-drinker but I wasn’t happy about it. I missed alcohol terribly – I wanted to sit outside pubs in the summer, laughing gaily over a big glass of icy cold white wine. I wanted to get glammed up and drink cocktails in a fancy bar, enjoying the sense of relaxation, of throwing caution to the wind and forgetting my cares for a night. At times, I hated other people for being ‘allowed’ to drink. This was a very difficult stage.

After several months of this, I read Jason Vale’s book, ‘How to Kick the Drink…Easily!’ and my life changed. I suddenly saw alcohol for what it really is, and I knew that all those voices and cravings I had felt over the last year or so were as a result of slowly weaning myself off a very powerful and prevalent, socially acceptable drug. I gave myself a break – began to let go of the regrets and shame that I was still carrying around with me. The bitterness slowly dissolved into contentment; the sun began to shine once again.

Stage 4 – understanding me, as a non-drinker

The final stage is the best. Over the last couple of years I have worked through many emotions and feelings of regret, sadness, anger, bitterness, sorrow, remorse, jealousy and fear. After a good year and a half, the negativity became noticeably reduced; as my self-esteem grew and my appreciation of the world and everything in it was heightened due to the clarity that comes from not poisoning your body with alcohol on an almost daily basis, it was as though the bad thoughts were mopped up one by one by my new found positivity and optimistic take on life.

I stopped experiencing wine envy when I walked past a pub full to bursting with drunken, loud revellers, but I didn’t huff and puff either – drinking is their choice, just as not drinking is mine. I love my life and I am grateful every day that alcohol no longer plays a part in it. I never have moments on a Friday night like the ones I had in the early days – DVD, nice bottle of wine, oh how wonderful it would feel to just kick back and slowly feel the alcohol ameliorating all my anxieties. It simply isn’t a part of my consciousness any more – I drove it out and replaced my addiction with happiness and good health.

It would have been perhaps easier to jump straight from Stage 1 to Stage 4, but the journey has allowed me to learn so much about who I really am, minus the veneer of alcohol, and I wouldn’t have missed it out even if I could have. I had no idea that when I stopped drinking it would be necessary to undergo such emotional turbulence; to feel as though my old self has been through a seriously intense recalibration before being reinstalled with a new lease of life, eventually leaving a turbocharged version of me back in the driving seat of my future. I didn’t expect any of that, but I am 100% happy that it happened.

There but for the Grace of God

Keep on going!During the last week, I have experienced ‘the darkness’ twice. It’s enlightening, finding out a bit more about who I am (at the ripe old age of 36!), and not suffocating the bad emotions with too much wine; I am reaching a point close to acceptance of self. There is no perfection in humanity – all of our characters are flawed, but only now am I discovering all the facets of my personality in all their forms, giving them a chance to rise to the surface like lily-pads that have been weighted down on the bed of a stagnant pond.

I’ll describe that dark place to you; it doesn’t seem to arise for any particular reason but I know it’s there from the minute I wake up. A dirty, blackened lens colours my view of everything that presents itself before me; the news on the TV is wrong, their take on a story is prejudiced, unfair. The clothes in my wardrobe are badly fitting, unfashionable, cheap looking. My hair is frizzy and has no style. The weather is too hot or too cold. I haven’t got enough money to do what I want to do, to do what would make me happy. Nobody understands me – the world is acting conspiratorially against me. My maternity leave is running out, time is moving too fast and I don’t want my baby to have to spend days away from me in a nursery. It makes me panic. The laundry is never-ending, the floor is perennially dirty. I’m fat; I can’t shift the baby weight. I look like a middle-aged, tired mum in bad clothes. My make-up is fruitless, a waste of time. I can still see the lines and dark circles beneath my eyes. I am going grey. It builds and builds.

Before I stopped drinking, I would quash the panic with cold, white wine. Its effect was instantaneous, washing away the bad thoughts and filling me up with a rosy glow, ameliorating the world in minutes. These days I go for a run.

On one of these self-medicating runs last week, I saw someone who shocked me to my core. This person is an ex-boyfriend from the days when I spent my life in self-destruct mode; a great catch and someone I think of often. In and out of prison for heroin-dealing, violent, a drug-dealer, an alcoholic fresh out of rehab for his smack problem and who had found his Higher Power in Stella Artois and ecstasy pills, his redeeming features made an impressive list. I had heard that he had been seriously ill, that he had been suffering from throat cancer, pneumonia, and that he had been taking heroin again, but I hadn’t seen him for maybe ten years so I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. An old man of 46, shuffling along the pavement with a walking stick and a stooped back, shrivelled and weak and small. He had no charisma; his swagger had been annihilated by years of self-abuse. The man who I used to walk into a pub with and watch as he bought three pints of Stella in one purchase, in order that he could down the first two like a runner drinking water at the end of a marathon before moving on to the third at a more relaxed pace, was no longer there. Never before has the expression ‘a shadow of his former self’ applied to a person so aptly. The man who used his bulk to push me around when I was twenty has almost succeeded in killing himself with drugs and drink, just sixteen years after our relationship ended.

I didn’t speak to him. He didn’t see me. His eyes were staring at the ground as he dragged his feet along, one in front of the other with slow deliberation. I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a while. My black mood vanished without a trace. Oh, there but for the grace of God go I.