The Time Is Now

It’s funny how slowly, gradually, gently, we can slip and slide into a happier life, almost without noticing it happening. When things are not going well and everything seems like an uphill struggle, just existing occupies so much of your mental and physical energy; striving to cope, keeping your head above water, wondering why all this stuff always happens to you, and asking yourself, over and over again, when will I get a break?

It has been my experience that things have increasingly fallen into place the longer I live without alcohol. It’s not that nothing bad happens anymore; of course it does, but I am more resilient, wiser, less impetuous and calmer now that I don’t drink, and therefore I have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with challenges as they spring up from time to time.

The dangerous precipices, the cliff edges on which I used to totter and stumble and frequently fall right over, taking months to recover myself from, those don’t crop up anymore. There are the rocky, scree-covered slopes that are difficult to traverse; I lose my footing occasionally and my feet go from beneath me momentarily, but I can reclaim stability these days – I never fall too far.

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More noticeable is that my entire landscape has altered. It’s no longer a case of intermittent splashes of beauty and fullness scattered sparingly against a barren background of an arid, harsh wilderness. The good is now rich and far-reaching, and it colours my life with a regularity and predictability that I could never have imagined anyone witnessed.

When you feel happy and content, you tend to attract positivity into your world. Happiness breeds happiness. Positive people attract positive people. Life becomes a happy, virtuous circle.

I don’t write this blog wishing to sound smug, because I’m not. I am very grateful and acutely aware of how good life is. You will know from reading my previous posts that my life wasn’t always this way, and I know how easy it is to slip and slide in the opposite direction, away from the good and back towards those cliff edges once more. But I engage in certain things that I know increase my chances of staying over here, where things are coloured in goodness and cast in a clear, bright light: I don’t drink. I exercise a lot. I eat well. I surround myself with lovely people who love me for who I am and who I love for being them. I spend time doing the things that lift my spirits and help me cope with stresses and the odd anxiety. I look after myself. I don’t do things that make me feel bad. I stay away from people who make me feel bad. I listen to music that soothes me and elevates me, and that transports me off to a different place for a while. I lose myself in good books and immerse myself in art and culture to broaden my horizons and challenge my perspective on the world. I focus on what I have, as opposed to what I don’t.

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Earlier on today, I found myself driving home from the supermarket, car boot full of chocolate goodies and Easter eggs, looking forward to the next few days during which I will be with my family and relaxing, building happy memories and valuing one another without the terribly wasteful and pointless addition of alcohol tainting our time together. And I felt very content, and suddenly conscious of how things have seemingly all come together and fallen into place. At long last, I can say that I have a life I am really happy to be living.

And that gift is within everyone’s reach – but sometimes you need to navigate your way across the rocky patches before you get there.

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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)

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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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.

Flat Days, Evil Gym Classes & Proper Happiness

We are schooled in the West to expect each day to bring us happiness and perfection, and when these ideals fail to materialise we often feel disheartened and annoyed with ourselves, as if we are a failure. There’s an easy assumption to jump to when you decide to quit drinking, which is this: the booze was behind all my mistakes, it was the drinking that brought on the depression and the anxiety, it was all down to alcohol. And now that the drink is gone, everything will fall nicely into place.

Except things rarely pan out like this, at least not all the time and on every single day. Yesterday, for instance, turned out to be something of a flat day for me. I awoke with the kind of paranoid fear that only parents will ever experience owing to the fact that my three-year-old had had a fall off the top of a slide at an adventure playground on Sunday afternoon. She was fine when I put her to bed (we’d given her the once over and everything was ok apart from a couple of big bruises) and yet I was convinced, when I woke up at about 6am, that she wasn’t fine at all and that some delayed reaction to the fall may have occurred during the night. I raced into her room and found her lying in her pink bed; eyes fluttering open, cute smile on her face and voicing an invitation for me to climb in beside her and Boris the Bear.

As the morning went on I felt tired and weary, owing to the fact that I’d had a restless night worrying about my daughter. By lunchtime, my eyes were stinging from the need to sleep and I couldn’t concentrate on much. This dragged my mood down into the doldrums and I subsequently cancelled my boot camp class at the gym, booked for 6.30pm.

Daughter Number One then arrived home from school to find me moaning on about being so tired that I couldn’t take her to the gym after all, and that I was going to have an early night instead and do absolutely nothing. She swiftly changed my mind (she was coming too, poor girl – pumping iron with a beefcake instructor barking loudly in your ear to move faster, lift heavier and stretch further is not many people’s idea of a fun evening) with a few short, sharp words, and I rebooked the arduous session.

My eldest daughter and I don’t get masses of time together these days as she has social engagements and work commitments that don’t involve her mum, and I have her energetic sister to keep entertained plus a heavy workload to manage. So it was very nice to spend some quality time together in this place of agonising physical hardship, sweating like pigs and groaning over the ridiculously heavy weights we were supposed to be lifting. We arrived home, exhausted but happy, and slumped in front of the television for a while before bed.

It wasn’t a day filled with hugely exciting things. It wasn’t a day during which momentous events took place, or even a day that presented anything new. It was a day in which I mostly felt very tired, slightly dissatisfied at times and even fed up at others.

But by the end of it, I felt blissfully happy, and I pondered why this was as I lay in the dark in my bed, aching like a bas***d from the boot camp session.

This is what I came up with: the love and deep satisfaction we derive from long term, committed relationships such as those we have with our children, partners and other family members (if we are lucky), bring us vast oceans of happiness and contentment. These relationships require effort but the pay-off is massive. Love is ultimately what we, as humans, are set up to prioritise over all other elements of our existence. It’s what leads us to procreate and continue the species. It’s what enables us to provide a secure and nurturing environment in which we can raise happy and healthy children. Love, demonstrated to those around us and to ourselves, is the prerequisite for our self-actualisation and to be truly fulfilled in life.

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There’s no magic recipe, a secret formula that will deliver a constant supply of laughs and smiles. It’s just that when we live a real existence, one that isn’t interrupted regularly by the shit that alcohol reliably brings with it, we can focus on exercising love. And when we do, we are rewarded by good, functional relationships with the people around us. Which makes us happy.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just love.

Ebvory and Cocktail

When I was a little girl I had two imaginary pets, Cocktail the parrot and Ebvory the cocker spaniel (the name of the dog being derived from its monochrome colouring, ebony and ivory, and one of which I was terribly proud of inventing). Every morning when I left the house for school I would remind my grandma who lived with us to feed the animals and she dutifully did this I’m sure – when I came home in the afternoon there would always be a bowl of water on the kitchen floor for Ebvory, and a smaller one on the side for Cocktail (oh the irony of that name choice!). For quite some time I would take the dog out for walks, requesting that it sit at the edge of the road to wait for passing vehicles, and generally ensuring he behaved himself at all times. The parrot would sit on my shoulder, serene in its demeanour.

It absolutely did not occur to me that this was in any way strange behaviour. I don’t think I spent a single moment pondering the reasoning behind my make-believe pets nor did I consider that other people might regard me as something as a curiosity as I wandered about with an outstretched arm (holding the dog’s lead) and chattering away to myself (or so it would have looked to observers).

My imaginary pets gradually disappeared into the ether when I was about nine years old and I don’t recall any significant departure or goodbye ceremony. I probably didn’t need them anymore and so happily allowed them to drift back off to wherever they came from.

But several years later (twenty-six to be exact) I stopped drinking, and although Ebvory and Cocktail didn’t witness a magical resurrection, I did conjure up another imaginary being, this time in the shape of me – specifically, a (happily) non-drinking version of me.

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I had no reference point to draw upon when it came to learning to be someone who didn’t touch alcohol. I was, after all, a serial drinker, or just a drinker. However you thought of me, I was a drinker through and through. And so I found myself visualising the sober me as a way of providing myself with a goal, a target to reach – a person I wanted to grow into.

There is science to back up the notion of visualising the things we want to happen in our lives, so if you are trying to lose weight then it can be helpful to repeatedly picture yourself ordering a salad in a restaurant and refusing a pudding. If you’re trying to quit smoking then you could visualise yourself doing something else other than lighting up at a routine cigarette break. And similarly, if you’re aiming to cut out alcohol then it can really help if you imagine yourself asking for (for instance) a soft drink at the bar, or how you will inform your friends that you are no longer drinking.

I did this, but I took it to the extreme. I started to see myself as someone who focused on health in all areas of life, a person who was confident and satisfied with a life that didn’t feature booze anywhere in it. I looked to people I admired who I knew didn’t drink (or who didn’t drink much) and borrowed bits of them that I liked. I basically dreamt up a new me, and I gradually allowed myself to blend into her. I saw her in various situations, how she would handle socialising and everyday life, sober.

When we don’t like who we are as a drinker, it’s really helpful to have an alternative version of ourselves to aspire towards. This was a key piece of ammo in my fight to move on from an alcohol-fuelled existence so I thought I’d share it with you – I hope it helps.

Making It Through Christmas…Alive, Kicking & Sober!

I hated Christmas when I drank, largely because I shared custody of my eldest daughter with her dad, and so I would either wake up on Christmas Day without her, or she would have to leave for her dad’s at 3pm. I missed her terribly when she wasn’t there, and her absence had the additional negative effect of enabling me to drink – the sadness I felt as a result of our broken family justified (in my mind) my excessive alcohol consumption.

Then, when I quit drinking, I hated Christmas because I could see everyone around me getting drunk, and drinking, drinking, drinking, and I’d feel lonely and odd and full of longing to join in. But I knew I couldn’t.

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 now almost seventeen so the pain of sharing custody has passed.  She’ll spend a bit of time with her dad on Christmas Day but it’s much easier to bear these days, and most of the day she will spend with me and the rest of her maternal family, so it doesn’t sting anywhere near as much as it once did. Plus now we have her little sister who is three 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 garnered a few thoughts about staying happy at this time of year, and they have 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 page has a code for 10% off products from brand new 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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I hope this helps, and have a happy, booze-free Christmas! Love from Lucy x

FOUR Years of Life as a Soberista

Me at the start of a very boozy night - which ended badly as ever.

In April 2011 I awoke one morning in a hospital bed, my clothes plastered in my own cold, congealed vomit. It was an earth-shatteringly terrible moment in my life but one that led me finally to understand that the game was up – I could no longer fight the fight with my long-standing love, alcohol. I have never touched booze since that night, and I’ve come a very long way in almost all aspects of my life as a result.

Fortunate, and I never forget it. I am a lucky bugger. I woke up to the fact that alcohol was at the root of pretty much all the shit in my life. And when I was only thirty-five. I thank my lucky stars almost every day that I saw the writing on the wall and that I read it, understood it with such profound clarity that I was able to indisputably quit drinking for good. Things could have stayed as they were and I may not have ever come to recognise alcohol for what it actually is – a potentially lethal substance that draws you in repeatedly with promises that this time will be different, this time you will be able to moderate how much of the stuff you drink. I was very fortunate to see all of this. I’m very fortunate to still be here.

Over it. It took a while, and many, many books about stopping drinking (thanks Jason Vale, again), and days and weeks of soul-searching, and hundreds of miles of running, and hours and hours of meditation, and untold glorious moments of appreciation for the small stuff, and the love of friends and family, and the interaction with the fabulous people of Soberistas – but eventually, I got over it. I got over booze. I stopped fretting that my life would be dull without it. I stopped missing it when I went out. I stopped not cooking pasta because I couldn’t eat it without craving a large glass of red. I stopped staying in the house at night because I couldn’t face socialising without being off my head on drink. I got over my dependency. My life moved on.

Unrecognisable. In some respects I am unrecognisable from the person I was when I drank. In a lot of ways I am totally changed; I’m fitter, I’m calmer, I don’t live a calamitous life that throws me uncaringly from bad situation to worse situation, I look younger, my priorities are in the correct order, I am in control of my world. In other regards I am the same – stubborn, a bit silly, prone to the odd moment of impetuous behaviour just to get a thrill. But essentially the negative components of my existence have all but disappeared and I am fairly content with how things now look on the landscape of my life. Things have changed a lot, for the better.

Right. Stopping drinking was the right thing for me to do. I never needed it. I didn’t need to quieten my mind, or boost my confidence in social situations, or wipe out emotional pain that would have healed faster if only I had allowed myself to feel it as it occurred. There was no need for me to cover up my personality with that of a loudmouth party girl. I was fine as I was. I didn’t need to force myself to fit into situations that I didn’t feel comfortable in, or to blend in with people with whom I had nothing in common. I would never have been able to moderate my alcohol consumption therefore becoming a Soberista was my only choice if I was to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life, and to do my best to provide the same for my gorgeous girls. I was right to forge ahead with my belief that living completely alcohol-free was a good choice for me. It was the best decision I have ever made.

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A Precious Life

Most people won’t recall the first day of primary school. A sea of new faces, new rules, new routines and new information, all racing through the immature brain at a hundred miles an hour, little of it sticking with any permanence – at least not for the first few weeks. Most people won’t remember to whom they spoke on the first day at school; whether it was a child who was to grow into a friend or just one of many faceless classmates who would eventually drift off into the far reaches of the school experience. Perhaps there will be, for some, a glimmer of a memory of a tearful, wretched goodbye to a parent at the school gates, the very first real separation marking the beginning of a series of many.

Most children readily absorb school life; they relish the learning opportunities presented. That first day becomes the first week, and then a month, a year. Our infant education whizzes by and suddenly we are moving rapidly into the junior years and beyond. Friendships are cemented, the shared background of metamorphosis from child to teenager makes for deep bonds, the like of which are rarely repeated in later life. The innocence and freshness of youth sparks dreams of what might be waiting for us around the corner as adults, a place none of us know but most, in their teens, would claim to be familiar with. Clutching at a medley of half-formed views and childish interpretations of the world, we are united in youth by a lack of real life knowledge and, simultaneously, a belief that we are more than capable of going it alone.

I do remember the very first person I spoke to at primary school. Her name was Fiona and she was a one-off; a live wire, filled with intelligence and passion, topped off with an unruly mop of brown curls. We became best friends, and remained so throughout much of primary school. Once in secondary education we slowly disconnected, each of us becoming welded to new groups of friends but always retaining the close, unmistakeable childhood bond we had sealed on our very first day at school all those years earlier.

When she was aged seventeen, Fiona was murdered, very brutally. Her death has haunted me almost every day since I became aware of it, when I recognised her face on the front page of the local paper, a patchy look-alike created by a police artist. It was the week before Christmas, December 18th, in 1993.

Today I went for a run, up through the parks and close to the border of the Peak District. It is twenty-one years exactly since Fiona was killed – years that I have been lucky enough to live, and she has not. As I stopped to take in the view at the top of a hill, I took note of my health, my vitality, my age; that I have made it to thirty-nine, am fortunate enough to have two beautiful daughters, and have friends and family who I love. So many things that have shaped me over the last twenty-one years ran through my mind; the music I have listened to, nights out I’ve had, holidays I’ve enjoyed, sunrises I have witnessed, snow I have played in, seas I have swum in, books I have read, people I have met, films I have seen, laughter I have shared, love I have known, goals I have reached, tears I have cried.

And for a few moments, I categorically understood just how precious this one life is with which we are granted. How fast it goes, how easily it can be snatched away and how, once it has gone, it has done so forever. It’s so important that we make every day count, that we don’t wait until tomorrow before we make the changes that will get things moving in the direction we want. Too many people never have the chance to see their dreams realised – those of us who do should try our very best to make sure they happen.

I have always known that Fiona’s chance to shine was just waiting for her, if only she had made it just that bit further in her life. At eighteen I didn’t fully grasp the monstrosity that her death amounted to, the tragedy that losing someone at such a young age is. As I have grown older, I have felt it acutely, year on year. And the only sense I have come to make of it is that her death should serve as a reminder of what a gift life actually is.

What’s So Great About Not Drinking?

What’s so great about alcohol-free living? Here’s our top 20, taken from Soberistas…

Waking up feeling refreshed

No more fear

Rising self-esteem

No more blackouts

Not worrying that every twinge is liver failure

Losing weight

Liking yourself more

Guilt-free recycling

Meeting other Soberistas

Remembering going to bed

Remembering what you read before going to bed

No more shame

Clear eyes & skin

Being ‘present’ in your own life

More patience

Waking up to a tidy kitchen

Better role model to your kids

More energy to work out

No more self-loathing

Feeling free