Enjoying a Better Way

After posting last week about the Eureka moment I recently experienced regarding getting fit, toning up and losing a bit of weight, I have thrown myself into my new lifestyle with gusto. Body Pump classes, running in the sun (sadly, yesterday marked the last occasion when my ageing Jack Russell terrier will accompany me on one of my runs as she can’t keep up anymore), drinking loads more water, snacking on Medjool dates as opposed to chocolate (surprising how readily these have satisfied the old sugar cravings) and cutting right back on the lattes, have all helped me to achieve a three-pound weight loss and feel a million times more alive.

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The overhaul of my life began about ten days ago. The initial period posed a few difficulties in terms of becoming accustomed to the various changes – most notably the reduction in caffeinated drinks and complete ban on junk food – but everything has settled down now and the cravings, headaches and general feeling of being slightly out of sorts have all but vanished.

I’ve been enjoying challenging myself physically and the aching muscles are evidence that my body is being really pushed for the first time in ages. The improvements to my physicality have positively impacted on my mental health, and consequently I feel less agitated, have slept better, and have especially relished in the complete lack of any guilt, once experienced on a regular basis whenever I had an attack of the junk food munchies and gorged on pizza, biscuits or chocolate.

I’m not sure why I persistently refrained from adopting this comprehensively healthy life for so long. I guess I felt frightened of letting go of my little crutches – lattes, Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut, Domino’s Pizzas – as if they were actually bringing me discernable benefits. Even though I knew I hated myself for indulging in these unhealthy foods, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of living without them. What would happen on a Friday night if I was watching a good film, snuggled up in my PJ’s, and there was no supersize bar of chocolate to devour in ten minutes flat? How would I bear it if I was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to consume a deep-pan pepperoni pizza with a stuffed crust, and had to settle instead for a plate of lettuce leaves and an apple?

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Well, you know what? Nothing bad has happened. Without the junk food, the world hasn’t collapsed around my ears, I haven’t sprouted a second head, and I haven’t gone stark raving bonkers either. I feel better, healthier, and more in control. I feel more motivated to exercise, and have noticed an increase in my energy levels. Other than that, life has remained unchanged.

The further I distance myself from my drinking days, the more I’m convinced that the closer we live to how nature intended – i.e. regular exercise, eating well and minus the junk/toxic substances – the happier we feel inside. My new code to live by is one that seems so blindingly clear, but is something I just couldn’t accept fully for years; avoid the stuff that brings about negative emotions, and indulge only in that which results in happiness and satisfaction. With this maxim in my mind, making the right choices has never been easier.

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Get Set, Ready, Go! 6 Steps to Reaching Your Alcohol Free Goal

It’s easy to declare ‘I will never drink alcohol again’. Not so simple is sticking to this intention through thick and thin, when the Wine Witch whispers (oh so convincingly) that ‘one won’t hurt’, when the sun comes out and it’s barbecue time, when it seems that everyone else is drinking merrily, and when the emotional vacuum that opens up in the early days of sobriety threatens never to close.

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Making the choice to quit drinking doesn’t come from nowhere; rather it was a decision borne out of (more than likely) numerous bad experiences with booze, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and a sense of being unable to control alcohol.

So there are reasons, and good ones at that, for taking a stand and opting out of the booze trap. Now all you need to do is make sure you don’t forget those reasons next time you feel tempted to have a drink…

It’s important to set realistic goals in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed in the initial phases of sobriety, when everything feels strange and the cravings are at their most intense. Do consider this early period to be a little like going into battle; arm yourself with all the ammo you think you’ll require to get through it, and remember, preparation is crucial;

  1. First of all think of the big picture. Imagine your life in its entirety and consider how you want to look back on it – do you see alcohol as a permanent feature? Can you imagine that your relationship with alcohol might someday change, or will it always be a problem substance for you? Think about your relationships, your physical health and your self-fulfilment; can you honestly picture these working out as you’d like them to if you continue to drink?
  2. Break the big picture down into specific goals. If the big picture is that you want to eliminate alcohol from your life, now it’s time to hone in on the exact consequences you’re hoping for as a result of banishing the booze. Do you want to lose weight? Be a more patient parent? Improve your physical health? Write a list of the elements in your life that you would like to see improve as a result of not drinking. Be specific, so detail how much weight you would like to lose, or how you would like to be a better parent (more activities at the weekend, helping with homework, making an effort to pick your battles and let the more trivial stuff pass by, etc.), or what fitness goals you hope to achieve.
  3. Get SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-related). Taking the above stage to the next level, it’s a good idea to create a detailed action plan in relation to your goals. Don’t merely state that you want to be healthier by quitting drinking – set a specific target (i.e. lose weight), make it measurable (i.e. lose 1 stone), make it attainable (i.e. don’t aim to shed half your body weight in a month), make it relevant (if you lose weight, will this help motivate you to stay off the booze? Will it make you happier? Is now a good time to be focusing on this, or are there more pressing matters that you should be focusing on?), and finally, make it time-related (is there a wedding coming up that you want to lose weight for? A holiday? Or could you just pick a random date instead and work towards that?). However you strategize the timing of your goals, just ensure you do so in a manageable way.
  4. Take action. There is never a better time to make your dreams a reality than right now. Join a gym, sign up to an evening class, or pick up a prospectus from your local university or college, and do it TODAY; this will help solidify your dreams and help you perceive them as your reality. Stop putting it off until tomorrow and take action today – having tangible evidence of working towards your dreams will really motivate you to keep moving forwards. Occupying your time with something like a college course or sessions at the gym will also help keep you busy thus preventing you thinking so much about alcohol in the early days (don’t allow yourself to be bored!).
  5. Prioritise your goals and start a journal. Recording your journey in a diary works as a constant reminder of the goals you are aiming for. It helps keep you focused. Use the journal to prioritise your goals, as well as to keep a log of your progress. Perhaps weight loss will be first on the list, then a fitness-related goal. Rather than overwhelm yourself with trying to achieve everything all at once, take things one step at a time. The confidence and restored self-esteem you experience each time you tick a goal off the list will really help spur you on to tackle the next one. By writing everything down you will never forget how good it feels to achieve something positive.
  6. Reward yourself. How much did you spend on booze each month? Honestly? I know I spent easily in the region of £250 – £300 a month on alcohol and all the related purchases (cigarettes, late night pizzas, taxis). Bear this in mind when you are thinking about how to reward yourself for reaching your goals (not that you need to spend the same amount, but don’t get caught up with feelings of guilt for splashing out a bit – you’ll still be saving!).

 

There are numerous free rewards that you’ll hopefully start to see within the first couple of weeks of sobriety (better sleep, clearer skin, brighter eyes, no morning shame), but each time you reach one of your measured goals, spend a bit of cash on something special. It’s so important to reinforce the idea that not drinking is a positive lifestyle choice – only you will know how hard you’ve worked to kick the Wine Witch out of your world, so it stands to reason that you decide how to treat yourself. Just make it something extra special!

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A final tip is to spend a few minutes each day visualising yourself realising one of your goals – imagining yourself looking slimmer, graduating from university, or working in a new career that you’ve always longed for will help you to perceive your goals as real possibilities instead of pipe dreams. Remember, you are a human being exactly the same as everyone else, and there is no reason why you cannot be successful in achieving your goals too.

Don’t be frightened of arming yourself to the teeth with strategies, believe in yourself and go for it!

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In Her Shoes

It has been an enormous relief to discover how I truly want to live my life. When I drank regularly and heavily I experienced such a strong sense of being unanchored, as if my true personality had become adrift and was floating fruitlessly, aimlessly, amidst a life that wasn’t really mine.

I always imagined that I was a party girl and when out with friends socialising I filled the shoes of the token loudmouth, the hedonist, the one throwing pints or large glasses of Pinot Grigio back whilst smoking heavily and chatting confidently to strangers. I pursued the rock n roll lifestyle and took pride in my wayward streak.

And yet always in the back of my mind was an idea that I hadn’t found ‘it’ yet, I still hadn’t worked life out.

Now that I look back I can see that much of the depression that was once so inherent, together with my longstanding inability to like myself, came about because I was living like a chameleon with no sense of the person who I actually was. Even worse, I didn’t even realise that I was lacking this essential quality, now so glaringly obvious with a sober perspective.

When I look back on it all, it sometimes feels as though I have walked the paths of two people during my lifetime – one who was a cuckoo, albeit a thoroughly unknowing one, and the other the true me who only bobbed up to the surface following my decision to live alcohol-free. Maybe it is similar for those who have shed stones of body weight following years of being morbidly obese; the stretch marks and the memories of being perpetually under pressure to act the part of the ‘bubbly’ one the only things remaining of a discarded life once the fatness has disappeared.

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I’m not shy but I am fairly quiet, especially in front of those who I don’t know very well. I much prefer the company of my family and small group of close friends to being out and about with people who are unfamiliar to me. I hate smoking and I love keeping fit. I enjoy cooking healthy food. I am something of a workaholic, and I’m definitely a perfectionist. I rarely feel stressed. I love listening to loud music especially when running or driving, I can’t get enough of reading or writing, and I enjoy being outdoors in the countryside or in a park. I don’t mind my appearance but I’m not precious about it at all. My happiest moments are those spent with my children and my partner.

None of the above sounds like the old me, although whilst I would never want to be that person I once was again, I am not full of bitterness or animosity towards the memory of her; I simply have an understanding that who I was as a drinker only ever existed because of alcohol. If I had never drunk as I used to, the imaginary woman I used to see in the mirror would never have lived.

Most importantly, I’m convinced I wouldn’t feel the gratitude for life that I feel every single day, had I never walked in somebody else’s shoes. It was a long time coming but I got here in the end.

Happy to be a Non-Drinker

When I first decided to stop drinking alcohol, the idea that I would spend the rest of my life feeling miserable as a consequence and as though I was missing out on something was never an issue I paid much credence to.

Living by a self-imposed regime of teetotalism when my heart was still firmly attached to the bottle and yet consistently denied its effects was a prospect too miserable to contemplate.  My attitude towards becoming a non-drinker was bloody-minded, and I have remained determined to always continue to seek out the numerous positives to be found in living free from the alcohol trap.

With this mind-set which has now become an inherent part of who I am, I am forever mindful of so many seemingly insignificant events and occurrences that happen each day which I am fully aware would never happen should I choose to drink again.

Yesterday as I pushed the pram up an almighty hill, hot and tired and feeling the strain in my calves, I suddenly remembered the horrific physical state of being hungover – queasy, sweaty, with stinging eyes and clammy skin, dehydrated, and exhausted in a way that never hits me as a non-drinker despite being up and dressed by 6am most days. And no matter how difficult that hill was to climb, I just kept on thinking about how awful I used to feel on an almost daily basis – even when simply sitting in front of the TV, never mind pushing a toddler up a steep hill in the sweltering heat.

thCAWWIG85Last night I poked my head out of our Velux bedroom window shortly before I climbed into bed, and stared for a while at a beautiful yellow moon hanging low in the sky. How many moons I wondered, had I missed as a drinker when night after night I would either fall asleep on the settee not even making it upstairs to bed, or was so drunk that I couldn’t remember what I’d seen the following morning?

Waking each day and acknowledging the marvel of a fully-functioning memory, feeling no regret or anxiety and with nobody to apologise to for my stupid drunken behaviour of the previous evening, is something I don’t think I will ever take for granted. I feel so lucky to be present and to notice all the important things around me, and to be completely in charge of my life and who I am.

For me, maintaining a commitment to sobriety is much less about steely willpower, and more about bathing in the beauty of a life lived untainted by alcohol. I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

Flicking the Switch

What does it take to flick the switch of alcohol dependency, to really grasp the idea of sobriety by beginning to live a life in which reliance on a mind-altering substance is no longer an integral part?

For twenty years I did not want to stop drinking. For approximately fifteen years of those two decades I was utterly in denial with regards to whether I had ‘a drink problem’ or not, and happily quaffed bottle upon bottle of white wine, red wine, beer and spirits (when everything else in the house ran dry), the notion that I was nurturing my addiction each time I popped a cork light years from my mind.

Goodbye wine, hello happiness!

 

Drinking was never about such a dirty word as ‘addiction’ – it was sociable, convivial, glamorous, relaxing, a treat, an emotional painkiller, my friend, a closely-guarded secret and a reward for every individual event and activity that I decided warranted further consumption of it.

In the years leading up to my last dance with that old friend and adversary, Pinot Grigio, I toyed with the idea that maybe things were not all well as far as my relationship with alcohol was concerned. In the middle of the night lying in bed unable to sleep, a morbid fear took hold that inside my body were cancerous tumours, silently budding. Tick tock, tick tock, my time on Earth was slowly running out.

Over time, wine ceased to be my friend – gone were the evenings filled with carefree laughter and tipsiness; silly and relaxed gradually came to be replaced by crazy and comatose. The good times stopped rolling, and when mornings perpetually consist of panicked attempts to piece together the night before coupled with apologising with fake breeziness to those who you have pissed off/hurt/embarrassed yet again whilst inside you are wincing with the shame of it all, you know that something has got to give.

The switch got flicked. Alcohol was no longer an option – the fanciful nature of it, bottles glistening with beads of condensation in the fridge door, popping corks, big old red wine glasses in which the blood-coloured liquid is swilled round and round releasing its perfume to the nostrils, the reassuring snap of the beer bottle top being cracked off with the stylish opener, the empties lined up by the back door, the sign of a good night; it all came to an abrupt halt. I knew, finally, that I would never touch the stuff again.

As anyone who has known me for longer than the two years in which I have been alcohol free would confirm, this shift is nothing short of miraculous. I just didn’t want to stop drinking prior to April 2011 – I had my moments of doubt, of wishing things would be different, that I could make something of myself, get on track, push things forward so that my life became full of movement rather than the static black hole I had fallen into, treading water, sinking in quicksand. But I had no real comprehension that the secret to initiating these longed-for changes in my world was to be found in eliminating alcohol. For many years I maintained the position of the switch.

And then, bam! Enough is enough, can’t take any more, cannot stand one more awful morning feeling like this, absolutely finished with the awful existence of an addict, done with it, goodbye booze.

And that was it; I just knew I would never drink alcohol again.

Read This And Then Forget The Word ‘Failure’

Forget the word failure. Calling yourself a failure is akin to puncturing your lifeboat as you escape a sinking ship – alcohol has damaged your self-esteem. In order to break free from the booze trap, you need as much self-esteem as you can get your hands on; labelling yourself anything negative at this juncture serves absolutely no purpose. And anyway, you never set out to get into this mess, alcohol is an addictive and widely/cleverly marketed substance and you are only human. Give yourself a break and drop the ‘failure’ tag.

Allow yourself some time to recover from your dependency on alcohol. This won’t happen overnight and can be a long and painful process. Don’t give into temptation simply because you don’t feel amazing after three weeks – you should be in this for the long haul. Remember that the reason you are stopping drinking is because you want to feel happy and healthy again; that is worth waiting for.

Independent and strong is how you will feel if you can stay true to your intentions and remain alcohol-free. It is a wonderful and freeing sensation knowing that you are master of your own destiny, rather than being ruled by a bottle of plonk.

Life is precious – you only get one chance at it. The day will come when you’ll look back at all you have achieved (or not) and you won’t be able to turn round and do things differently – it’s a one-way road. Grab the opportunity to change your destiny with both hands. Make yourself proud of whom you become, and start the process today.

Underneath all the anxiety and depression that alcohol causes there is a happy, free spirit who enjoys even the simplest things, finding pleasure in everyday life. If you stop drinking, that person will emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon and you’ll be amazed that she existed inside without you even realising she was there.

Reap the rewards that an alcohol-free life brings; more energy, levelled out moods, weight loss, better skin, increased creativity and productivity, more interest in other people, a heightened desire to set and reach goals, restored self-esteem and the eradication of excessive anxiety and stress can all be yours if you adopt an alcohol-free life.

Enjoy the feeling of being back in control – forget the word failure. Failure is simply a barrier to your happiness, and whoever decided that you did not have the right to be happy? Put ‘failure’ where it belongs – in the bin along with the booze. YOU deserve better.

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Oh, I Don’t Drink!

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

Magic water, magic nature, beautiful blue effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 100

This is my 100th post and therefore I decided to use it to celebrate all that is great about living without alcohol.

I wrote my first post in August 2012 and since then the Soberistas blog has had 39,254 hits. Wow.

On the Soberistas website last week, I posted a discussion entitled ‘Best things about being a non-drinker?’ which prompted a multitude of replies – here are just some of the amazing benefits of living without alcohol messing with your body and mind, as reported by the Soberistas community;

Tea and cake, rediscovering activities at the weekend (instead of wasting it sitting in a pub and/or hungover), happy children, better sleep, more money, no guilt, enjoying the true taste of food again, reading in bed, beginning a whole array of new hobbies including crochet, increased productivity, no anxiety, being able to handle anything that life throws at you, relaxing instead of vegetating, mocktails and juices, feeling hydrated, no more checking of your mobile for embarrassing drunken texts sent at 3 am and confined to the blackout memory bin, playing with grandchildren whilst free from obsessing about wine, normal human interaction, first coffee of the day with husband (minus the recriminations over last night’s arguments), no more depression, sweating or cringing when one’s behaviour from last night is discussed (behaviour that you hadn’t recalled) in the morning,  always knowing you are in control and getting to know yourself, finally, after years of hiding behind wine. BiTN Meditation

There are many more – you can find them here; http://soberistas.com/forum/topics/best-things-about-being-a-non-drinker?id=6534268%3ATopic%3A32659&page=2#comments

My life has changed immeasurably since giving up alcohol, and for the better in so many little ways. I was up for several hours last night cuddling the baby (poorly again!) and then up at 6:45 to get everyone ready for school/work. Am I feeling tired? No. Am I grumpy or stressed? No. I just get on with it these days, and when I look back at whom I was just a couple of years ago, I may as well be staring at a stranger (and not one who I would want to know!).

Giving up alcohol works – it makes life a million times easier. I will always be eternally grateful that I found the motivation to give it up once and for all, in April 2011.

Ps. Thank you all for following my blog and for the lovely comments that so many of you have written! Lucy x

I Choose

When I stopped drinking alcohol I acknowledge that I spent a few weeks, if not months, in recovery. By this I mean that I invested a fair bit of energy in dealing with a newly discovered concept – emotions. Previously, I had poured vast amounts of Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay down my throat whenever I split up with a boyfriend, was not successful in a job interview/promotion, got rained on, received a large and unexpected bill, graduated, had a birthday, received some surprising and happy news, and so on…basically, I was not accustomed to listening to my feelings and subsequently I was not familiar with acting upon them in a positive and helpful way.

It wasn’t particularly pleasant at times, all that ‘getting to know myself’ stuff, and there were many occasions when I felt like throwing the towel in, marching up the road to my local and getting stuck into a nice bottle of their finest dry white and a packet of 20 Marlboro Lights. But I didn’t.

A little voice inside, quiet but impossible to ignore, told me that if I gave in now I would be undoing all of my good work and propelling myself back to square one, where I would have to begin the whole sorry business of ‘recovery’ once again. And so I persevered.

After several months I stopped experiencing any negative thoughts about living alcohol-free and instead, adopted a thoroughly different mind-set; one which made me see that I am, in fact, a chooser – and being someone who has the freedom to choose a lifestyle that is so positive and good for the soul is an empowering and wonderful thing. At that point, I ceased to regard myself as being ‘in recovery’ and realised that I was RECOVERED and could now get on with the business of living.

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I will always be a person who cannot simply have ‘one for the road’ or ‘a sneaky tea-time pint’ – for me alcohol was, and forever will be, an all-or-nothing substance. But I most certainly do not consider that this makes me an alcoholic forever, or in recovery forever – not at all. I made a choice to stop drinking, and I continue to practice that choice every day because I am A CHOOSER. This is what I choose;

I choose to wake up energised and with no regrets every morning.

I choose to be the best parent I can be without ever jeopardising my children’s safety or emotional security.

I choose to invest all my time and energy into worthwhile people, projects and activities.

I choose to maintain a good level of health and physical fitness, thus optimising my chances of not dying prematurely of cancer, liver failure or heart disease.

I choose to spend my money on things that I need and which add value to my life or to that of my family’s.

I choose to not poison my body with toxins that depress my central nervous system, making me anxious and prone to dark moods.

I choose to not spend hours of each week agonising over whether or not I can have a drink of alcohol or not.

I choose to get to know myself, free of any external and false influences – I give myself the chance to be me.

I choose not to ingest mind-altering substances that make me say or do things that I will regret and which will fill me with shame and self-hatred.

I choose to give myself the best possible chance at happiness.

Illusion of friendship

You approached me with a smile; held my hand and took me away.
We visited places far removed from where I should be,
We waltzed hand in hand, faking bonhomie.

You feigned normalcy; you slotted right into my ordinary world.
Your influence stretched to my true inner core,
With you in me, I was me no more.

We parted and I feared I might lose my way; fall to oblivion.
Without you by my side, convinced I’d stumble,
That version of me gently crumbled.

Absent, you left stealthily as you came; my paradigm shifted.
Since your departure, I emerged out of hiding,
Grasped all I am, curbed the endless sliding.

My consciousness knows no other voice; I am in control of my Self.
There is no light brighter than each untainted day,
Forever strong, my resolve will not sway.