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

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.

geese-flying-freedom

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.

Making Connections – Sober

One of the reasons why alcohol can appeal to us is because it’s a social lubricant. It has the power to transform a shy, awkward wallflower into a wild, life-and-soul-of-the-party type – although for lots of people it unfortunately then has a habit of pushing things too far in that direction, drawing them into doing things they later regret. I used alcohol for social confidence, and over the years it became that I required more and more of it to get the same, initial hit. And when I consumed increasing amounts, I acted in an increasingly out-of-character manner of which I was deeply embarrassed and often ashamed the next morning.

But, a sense of connection is what so many of us are craving when we reach for a glass of something alcoholic at a social event, and it’s this crutch that can be so difficult to let go of when we decide we really would like to become alcohol-free. Is it possible then to achieve this connection when we are teetotal?

My answer to this question would be yes. Yes, you can obtain a sense of belonging, a feeling of unity with others, when you are stone cold sober – and the trick to doing so lies in self-confidence, patience and a solid belief in the knowledge that if you can’t control your alcohol consumption, people will far prefer you as you are naturally to when you are completely out of your mind.

shutterstock_316810985

It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that alcohol makes us wittier, sexier, more attractive and interesting, but in reality this is a fallacy created in our own drunken minds. To the sober onlooker, people who are inebriated are quite boring, and they look a bit of a mess. These days, I enjoy far more the company of those who don’t drink to excess, and if I am forced to spend time with people who are heavily under the influence then I’m desperate to escape their company as soon as possible! The truth is that people who are not drunk are way more interesting, sensitive and funnier – although you do need to ensure that you’re spending time with people who you actually like (it’s fairly common when you quit the booze to realise that many of those you’ve always socialised with as a drinker are, in reality people whom you don’t care for all that much at all when sober).

With time, patience and no more drinking, a person’s self-confidence can be restored remarkably quickly following sustained and heavy alcohol misuse. And with that confidence, and a more positive reaction from friends and family, it is soon the case that one enters into a virtuous circle: a good response to the non-drinking version of you reinforces your suspicion that you’re better off not drinking, and the longer you continue to be alcohol-free, the more of a positive response you receive from the people in your life.

What it boils down to is this: connectedness is all very well and good, but if YOU are the sort of person who becomes drunk each and every time you consume alcohol, you are not connecting with anyone; rather you are distancing yourself more and more from the people you love and who love you. If you are someone without a reliable off-switch (like me) then it is absolutely true that you will be loved far more and by many more people as an alcohol-free person. Try it and see for yourself.

Soberistas – A Summary

Here’s a summary of what Soberistas is, where the idea came from, and what it can do to help you if you are struggling with your relationship with alcohol. Our logo is the Bird of Paradise flower, which means this: freedom, magnificence, good perspective and that something strange and wonderful is about to occur. Going alcohol-free can be a positive lifestyle change, representative of all these things.

Bird of Paradise flowers

Soberistas emerged out of my desperation to get alcohol out of my life once and for all. By the time I quit drinking, alcohol was scaring me to death but so was the idea of living without it. I craved an existence that was booze-free but also one in which I was happy and not tormented by the ongoing desire to get drunk – a desire that had caused me so much trouble throughout my entire life since being a teenager. Was I an alcoholic? Who knows, I still don’t know. What I did know was that life had to be better than the miserable cycle I’d found myself trapped in, of drinking, hangovers and self-hatred.

Soberistas.com is fundamentally a website where you can write and offload, anonymously. It’s an online place where you can meet other people who know exactly how you feel and who will support you in your journey to becoming alcohol-free. It’s a space that you can drop into and ask people to convince you right there and then to NOT go and buy a bottle but to stick to your sobriety instead because you’ll feel so much happier in the morning if you do.

There’s a chat room, a forum and a place to post blogs. There’s an Ask the Doctor service (send the Soberistas alcohol specialist GP, Dr. Julia, your questions and they will be answered and published on the site anonymously), a Book Club (a good distraction for the evenings now that you’ve stopped drinking!), a Member of the Month scheme (vote for the member who you think has made real sober progress or who has offered you amazing support and we’ll send the winner a personally engraved silver bracelet from jewellers, Merci Maman), and monthly expert interactive webinars. There’s also the Soberistas Discount Club where you’ll find a great selection of companies offering exclusive discounts to our subscribers, including DryDrinker, JoggBox and Daniel Sandler make-up. Plus we post motivational and informative features every fortnight that will help you in your goal to stay alcohol-free and healthy.

I set Soberistas up as a way out of the booze trap, an easy-to-access resource that provides a blueprint for how to live happily without alcohol. It was intended to reflect my own experiences of being AF – positive, life changing and the best decision I have ever made, for both my family and me.

If you have any questions about Soberistas please email me on lucy@soberistas.com.

 

Lucy xx

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.

shutterstock_280225364

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.

My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic

There’s a documentary on Channel 5 tonight at 10pm called ‘My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic’. And I’m in it. Along with seven other people who all fell foul of the demon drink but managed to successfully pull their lives back from disaster.

This programme has had a strange effect on me. I’ve already seen the rough cut of it, and it’s profound, sad, moving. It had me in tears. It dragged me right back to a very dark place I inhabited a few years ago where I drank far too much and my perspective on the world was incredibly small, restricted to bottles of wine and trying to lose my mind. A place where I showed myself up on a regular basis, where I wasn’t a fantastic mum, somewhere where I strived to be a person I’m not.

It has been almost five years since I last drank alcohol, and I can barely equate who I am today with that depressed woman who spent half her life in a fog of booze.

shutterstock_296166824

I forgave myself my alcohol-related wrongs a long time ago, because what’s the point in wasting the present wrapped up in feelings of regret over the past? But my involvement in ‘My Name Is…’ has brought me closer to my history than anything else has since I became a non-drinker.

In the making of this film, we were all interviewed in a room in London, and Mikey, the director, asked the questions: a very straightforward set-up, a set-up that brought out some honest and heart-wrenching stories. Talking to Mikey, I forgot that I was being recorded for much of it and I suspect the same is true of the other seven people in the film, as their accounts are brutally frank.

I’m glad I took part in this documentary. I think it’s vital to get our version of things out there, those of us who have struggled with addiction, and especially those of us who have managed to get sober – to offer hope and insight to other people who are fighting the fight, desperate to believe that life can get better but not quite seeing how it ever will.

There’s always been prejudice against people who are alcohol dependent. Those who can manage their intake and exercise ‘responsible drinking’ are at a loss when it comes to understanding anyone who can drink and drink and drink, with terrible repercussions, and who goes back to the bottle for more the next day. And the next. And the next. Knowing that their health is suffering and they are risking everything but still not being able to stop.

Alcohol addiction is a secret and sad state of affairs. When you are floundering in the thick of it, you become wonderful at disguising it. And afterwards, as you recover, you may well prefer to keep your struggles private, and who could blame you, when one considers the stigma that is rife in our society with regards to ‘problem drinkers’?

So, I am pleased I took part in this programme, even though it has upset my internal apple cart a little. I am full of admiration for the other seven who feature in it; they’re a brave bunch of fighters who have my utter and total respect.

When you quit drinking you find CLARITY…

shutterstock_240140632

Clearheaded. Day after day, without interruption, free from fog and confusion: this is my experience of living without alcohol. I think straight because mind-altering substances of any kind no longer hamper my thoughts. I just think. Clearly. When I drank, I spent so much of my time simply treading water, waiting, drifting, as I looked forward to feeling well again, or to drinking some more. I wished my life away, dragged down by the physical and mental weight of hangovers. So yes, this is what it is to be alcohol-free – clearheaded. You are able to exist as you are, unencumbered by any negativity brought about by poisoning your mind and body with ethanol. It’s freedom.

Love. If you’re addicted to something, it prevents you from loving anything else or anyone fully. How can you give your heart completely to another human being when a proportion of it already belongs to a substance? Answer: you can’t. I cherry-picked my relationships as a drinker, based on whether a potential boyfriend demonstrated a tolerance for my proclivity for heavy alcohol consumption. Specifically, he had to be a heavy drinker too, which, of course, nicely disguised my own shortcomings in this area. But since I became alcohol-free, I’ve got my head around what love really is. And I know that I never had it when I drank; I had nothing that resembled love at all.

 Appreciation. When you’re running from yourself, either drunk or with an almighty hangover, and you hate every part of what you are, inside and out, there’s no room to notice the world around you. I internalised everything when I drank, I turned in on myself and expended all my energy thinking about me, and the terrible things I did, and the current mess I’d landed myself in, and the bad hand that life had seemingly dealt me. I rarely took in a beautiful sunset, or the sound of a bird chirruping on a branch, or the friendly smile of a passing stranger. I was locked inside my own dark world, and I had neither the inclination nor the headspace to absorb my surroundings. Without alcohol, I appreciate, and I see, and I care.

 Remould. You’re never fixed. As a human, you possess an immense ability to rework yourself. All you need to do is to start putting into practise new habits and small changes to how you lead your day-to-day life. When you stare into the mirror and hate what is looking back, just remember that it doesn’t need to end there. It’s never end game. There is always tomorrow. For years, I suffered from depression, anxiety and panic attacks –nowadays, I’m fine. I removed the alcohol and the rest took care of itself. It is always possible to remould.

 Instinctive. One of the best things about being a non-drinker for me is that I now completely trust my instincts. I rely on my gut feelings to help me navigate my way through life, and I’ve not yet been let down by this as a strategy. When I drank, I often had my head in the clouds – life was part reality, part fantasy, and I found it difficult to separate the two. It’s a different story now. My feet are planted firmly on the ground, I don’t take any shit off anyone, and I know when I’ve taken a wrong turn and redirect myself back to where I want to be. Life seems easy now, but in the old days it was a constant challenge and I regularly felt out of my depth.

 True to yourself. It sounds like a cliché, but I found myself when I stopped drinking. I was lost as a drinker, had no idea of who I was or what I wanted out of my life. Or of what I was capable of. Or of the sort of people I wanted to spend time with. I flipped from this idea to that, sporadically focusing on various projects that never got finished. And then, with spectacular ease, my vision of the person I was and what life was about, and how I should spend my time on earth, all magically became apparent. It didn’t happen overnight but within a few months of becoming a non-drinker, there it was – clarification of me, and of my life.

 You. You matter. I matter. We all matter. Our happiness counts. We deserve to live a life that is true to who we are, and one in which we fulfil our potential. Self-compassion can be impossible to exercise when we are frequently filled with self-hatred, when we turn away from our own reflection and can’t sleep at night because we can’t stand what we have become… and yet, self-esteem can and does return when you stop doing things when you’re pissed that you later bitterly regret. And when you have a bit of self-esteem, you don’t want to damage yourself quite so much. Your dignity begins to emerge again from wherever it’s been hiding, swallowed up by oceans of wine. You come back to the fore. You start to matter again.

shutterstock_281163182

Finding Happy

I would describe myself as a busy person: driven, proactive and slightly obsessive (especially in terms of tidiness). I don’t find it especially easy to relax (hence my erstwhile tendency to down a bottle or two of wine most evenings) and I’m not a great one for indulging in lie-ins, although this is largely due to the fact that I have a three-year-old who leaps out of bed with gusto at approximately 6am most days.

IMG_0961

However, this morning I found myself lying in bed enjoying the rare phenomenon that is a ‘lie-in’, minus the aforementioned toddler leaping on me and thrusting various soft toys in my direction whilst barking instructions like, ‘Put Boris’s dress on!’ and ‘Clopper needs this hairclip on his ear!’ and ‘Put Molly Dolly’s nappy back on!’ – instructions which I dutifully obey as I attempt to awake fully from a deep slumber. A lie-in is a lovely thing, particularly when it is also an infrequent thing. And lying there in my bed, drinking tea and listening to the world gradually coming to life outside, I began to think how important it is to listen to our bodies and minds and to act accordingly, to behave in a way that’s in tune with our physical and mental needs.

As people with busy lives and a ton of responsibility, how many of us successfully manage to demarcate ‘me time’ in order to create a small window of opportunity for recharging our batteries? I am guilty, even when I actually do have free time, of not using that space to relax but instead going for a run or squeezing in a bit of work, or catching up on texts and emails. But this morning as I returned to bed with a cup of tea, I could feel how exhausted I was, how tired my legs were, and I wholeheartedly relinquished any notions of doing anything, choosing instead to do nothing.

I am forty in October of this year and it’s taken me reaching this age to accept when I need to rest, and to get on with doing it, free from any guilt or worry over all the things I should be accomplishing instead. Looking after myself is a by-product of stopping drinking. It’s something I never achieved when I was poisoning myself with alcohol. Lie-ins were for recovering from hangovers and free time was for getting drunk. As a drinker, there was no such thing as relaxation time – just mental obliteration followed by periods of self-induced illness.

Happiness is a holistic concept. It is achieved when we take care of all the aspects of our lives, ensuring we maintain balance wherever possible. In a nutshell, my own happiness stems from an active lifestyle, but one that is countered with adequate rest and good sleep; eating nutritious food; employing gratitude for all the things I have in my life whilst simultaneously not dwelling on what I don’t have; interacting with good friends and family in positive and reciprocal relationships; regarding my alcohol-free stance as one of upmost importance and never wavering from it; doing a job that I love and which gives me huge amounts of satisfaction; learning, finally, to like myself.

I guess what this post is about is emphasising the need for balance – and through not drinking alcohol I find balance easier than ever to achieve. For me, this is the key to staying happy, well and sober.

Pep Talk For The Weekend – Reasons To Stay Sober

10394638286_061e6d105d_z

The weekend is upon us. It’s when most of the people we know will be drinking alcohol, and it’s when the temptation to join them can become so strong it’s almost impossible to resist. This blog has been written as a pep talk for anyone teetering on the brink of caving in – print it out and stick it on your kitchen cupboard so that you can see it next time you’re considering stepping back onto the slippery slope that is booze…

  • You have the ability to grab life by the balls and start becoming the person you want to be. You have the power to enact change, but only if you do things differently. Every little action or thought that has always led you to drinking in the past needs to be arrested, reconfigured, altered and amended. If meeting your other half in the pub after work means you won’t be able to say no to alcohol, do something else. Go for a bike ride, a swim or to the cinema. Shake things up a bit – change what you do.
  • You’ll never be as young as you are today. OK, so you might have looked in the mirror recently and been pissed off at the wrinkles and tired-looking face peering back at you, but remind yourself that time is only going in one direction. Don’t focus on how old you are; concentrate on how young you are! On how many good years you could still have in front of you, on all the stuff you could enjoy from now on, free from the self-esteem battering effects of booze. Think about how fantastic it would feel to look back on all those happy years that didn’t feature heavy drinking and regrets and terrible hangovers. You could still have that. It could start today.
  • Alcohol is not really all you may think it is. It might bring about an instant sensation of relaxation and make you imagine that you are suddenly more attractive, witty and interesting, but in reality, booze is a bit crap. It makes you fat, prematurely ages you, ruins your teeth and turns the whites of your eyes yellow. It turns you into a repetitive bore. It costs shed loads of money. It gives you a cracking headache and stops you getting off your arse and hitting the gym. It’s a killer on your liver. It encourages you to take stupid risks. It makes you fall over. It makes your breath smell. It prevents you from being particularly productive or achieving your goals. It causes mood swings. It makes you sick. In brief, alcohol is rubbish.
  • The world is changing. People everywhere are waking up to the fact that heavy drinking is (surprise, surprise) bad for you. 21% of UK adults don’t drink alcohol at all, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Adult Drinking Habits in Great Britain report released back in February 2015. Don’t feel as though you stick out like a sore thumb for being teetotal – wear your non-drinking status like the badge of honour it is. Be a part of the group that’s in the know. Embrace your sobriety, because it’s much cooler to be in control, and looking and feeling confident and strong than stumbling about, wrecking your health and wasting your life. Celebrate the fact that you have escaped the booze trap!

Remember that for most of us who have struggled with an alcohol dependency, one drink will always inevitably lead to a second. And a third. And a fourth. There is no ‘just one’ for me, and probably not for you either if you are reading this. This weekend, make yourself a promise that you will start the rest of your life right now – because (contrary to what the booze industry would have you believe) the real way to treat yourself is by sidestepping alcohol completely.

Why is the drink-driving message not getting through to women?

The recent revelation that while the overall figure for drink-driving casualties and accidents has been steadily falling since 1979 the number of female convictions has not decreased in line with the male rate, came as no great surprise to me. The Police Federation maintains that the drink-driving message is not getting through to women, a statement borne out by a Social Research Associates study published last year which highlighted a 9% increase in drink-driving convictions involving women (up from 1998 when the figure stood at just 8%).

dreamstime_m_17441735

In both my role as editor of Soberistas.com, an online forum aimed at women with concerns about their alcohol consumption, and as a result of my personal experiences as a busy working mum of two, I have witnessed countless examples of women who are drinking excessively.

So why are women drinking so much? I was a heavy and frequent binge drinker for twenty years before I quit four years ago following a particularly excessive boozy session. I know why I used to drink too much, and I suspect it’s the same for the majority of women out there who are hitting the wine a little too hard in the evenings.

Firstly, I fell hook, line and sinker for the dominant cultural message in our society that suggests wine is nothing more than a treat, an indulgence that’s rightfully ours after a hard day spent looking after the kids, working, cooking and cleaning. What could be better than a sophisticated bottle of red that has the power to eliminate stress and seamlessly demarcate the humdrum domestic daytime hours from fun and sexy evenings?

Secondly, I remained firmly in denial that my one-bottle-a-night wine habit was indicative of an alcohol dependency and constituted a level of consumption that was frighteningly damaging to both my physical and mental health. I repeatedly told myself that everyone drank as I did, and therefore I need not worry.

Thirdly, I came of age in the era of the ‘ladette culture’ of the 1990s, a social phenomenon that ensured women everywhere were provided with carte blanche to drink in the same quantities as men with none of the stigma of days gone by. When I got married a few years later and had my first child, I merely swapped the pints of beer for bottles of wine and merrily got on with the business of heavy drinking – a misguided notion of feminism resulting in a dogged refusal to accept the undeniable truth, that women cannot drink in the same measures as men without causing themselves more physical harm.

A person drinking a 14% bottle of wine or three 250ml glasses (a large pub measure) of wine and finishing drinking at 11pm would need to wait until 10.30am the following day before he or she was safe to drive. This poses an issue for anyone who is drinking on a nightly basis and then doing the school run, driving to work or dropping the kids off at a weekend sports club the next day. When we have responsibilities that we don’t want to shirk, we can easily reassure ourselves that actually, we are fine to drive; that the last glass we drank at midnight will long since have left our bodies because we’ve downed a strong cup of coffee and had a nibble on some toast; that a £10 bottle of Chablis doesn’t really count as evidence of a drink problem because it was imbibed in the privacy of the home and no outward damage occurred as a result. That kind of drinking is fine, we tell ourselves, because it’s not representative of how ‘alcoholics’ drink – and they are the ones with the real drink problem.

Public health campaigns warning against driving when over the legal limit have traditionally featured groups of men sinking a few pints in the pub. We have yet to see a campaign that targets women, and specifically the type of woman who is consuming wine on an almost daily basis, at hazardous amounts, and who is then driving the following morning.

The female body does not process alcohol as efficiently as its male counterpart. In addition, I know of many women (myself included) who have routinely skipped meals in order to accommodate the extra calories they are taking in via wine. Drinking on an empty stomach means alcohol travels straight to the bloodstream and quickly reaches the brain, resulting in a heightened loss of control.

A hectic schedule that invariably involves frequent use of the car, a physical form less able to cope with excessive alcohol consumption, a common denial of an alcohol dependency existing at all, and a desire to be perceived as a perfectly functioning modern woman, can (and often does) easily amount to jumping behind the wheel of a car with fingers crossed and a too-high blood-alcohol level.

The only surprise to me with regards to this story is that anyone is surprised at all.