Life’s What You Make It

Most things in life come down to a choice: the choice to focus on the positive or the negative; the choice to go after something you really want or to sit back and let someone else have a go; the choice to try out new experiences or to remain in your comfort zone; the choice to stay in a damaging place or to get out and start afresh.

It’s also possible to choose to see life as a series of choices, not a hand of cards that you are powerless to change. And if you do, there is nothing sitting beyond your reach. This may sound simplistic but I truly believe that it’s the only mind-set to have for living a fulfilling life.

Back in the dark days (when I drank most evenings and hated myself), I had no idea that life could be based on choices. Even down to the most basic of choices – deciding which thoughts I paid attention to and which I let go of – I was under the impression that I was a sitting duck: that whatever terrible episode may land on my doorstep, whichever bit of bad luck might descend upon my world, or however lonely and unloved I felt, I had no control over any of it whatsoever. It felt as though it was all just ‘my lot’.

There are many snippets of wisdom that we pick up during our time on earth but I think that grasping the idea of having choices and living life accordingly can make one of the biggest differences in how happy we are.

I decided that for me to be content and fulfilled, it was necessary for me to not drink alcohol. This was a choice. I could have followed the school of thought that says addiction can’t be beaten, that I am powerless over alcohol, that I had no choice. But I believed in the notion of choice, and I made that choice and stuck to it.

Yesterday I found myself suddenly overcome by negativity. Everything was wrong; I started to flounder in a pit of despair. But then I went for a walk in the nearby woods that are brimming with bright, autumnal colours and I took a few photos of the trees, noticed the beautiful blue sky, and breathed in the cold, fresh air, felt alive, watched my dog trotting amongst the fallen leaves and became aware of how even this mood that had engulfed me moments earlier was, in fact, a choice.

I started to think about all the things in my life that I am grateful for, all the beauty of the earth, the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I stood in front of a tree for a while and observed the way in which the leaves, now littering the ground at the foot of the trunk, appeared as a reflection of the canopy above. It occurred to me that this could all be perceived as the dismal end of summer, a tree moving into a state of hibernation for the winter, or a stunning image of vibrancy, a captivating celebration of change; the beginning of a miraculous new season. I stared at the tree for a long time, and it became a symbol to me of how life is whatever we want to perceive it as.

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Earlier in the week, I had thrown a small Halloween party for my four-year-old and a few of her little friends. The carpet was covered in crisps, toys were strewn all over the lounge, and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. After everyone had left and I’d scrubbed my daughter’s face clean, wiping away every last trace of the ghoulish make-up she’d been wearing, my older daughter shouted down the stairs to me; “Can you help me with that English coursework now please?”

I had a choice in how I perceived all of this; to see the stress, the mess, the chaos, and to focus on my tiredness and how all I wanted to do was go and lie down on my bed. Or I could have chosen to see it as the lovely, hectic, full-on express train journey that is life, with all its demands and busyness.

I took the decision to view it as the latter.

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What did I think I’d get from being sober?

When I drank:

During the years when booze was a constant in my life, I very rarely considered not consuming it. Yes, it was always at the root of all the disasters that kept on springing up, hitting me repeatedly, trying to drive the message home – “Coming back for more…? OK, here’s another drunken, messed up relationship with someone who does nothing for you; here’s an entire weekend spent lying in bed crying, not daring to face the world; take this massive blast of shame, can you believe you REALLY did that??” And yes, I was fully aware of all the health harms I was subjecting myself to, but really, I didn’t care all that much. I wasn’t in a place where I held myself in especially high esteem and so it was easy to keep on knocking back the wine. Plus, in the name of denial, I think I had a fairly strong hold on the notion that I was somehow not like everyone else, that my liver would be able to withstand the regular battering, and maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to outrun the immense self-abuse and live well into my eighties.

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When I first quit:

I stopped drinking because I was scared to death that if I picked up one more glass of the stuff, it could kill me. I wasn’t being melodramatic – as soon as I had managed to gain some clarity on the situation I found it utterly remarkable that I hadn’t lost my life in and amongst all of my boozing adventures. The nights I had walked home in the early hours – staggered would be more apt – in ill-boding areas of town and as vulnerable as they come, like a baby bird fallen from the nest; the many, many dramatic falls down staircases and steep driveways, on the ice and in the middle of roads; countless nights in seedy pubs with seedy people who were capable of dangerous things.

So when I first quit, it was with the hope that in doing so I would save my life. I didn’t expect a lot else, other than gritting my teeth, gazing lustfully towards drinkers who appeared so happy and carefree with their alcoholic beverages to hand, and I suppose a feeling of ‘doing the right thing’ – like I was being a good girl now that I was all grown-up and dealing with my little problem.

Beneath all of that, however, I was dreading this new life I’d committed myself to. It stretched out before me like an endless parched landscape of drabness. I expected at that point to be left wanting for the rest of my days.

Now, five years on:

I’m really quite shocked at all of the goodness that’s emerged from the single act of stopping drinking. I never imagined any of it, couldn’t have seen it coming. I frequently sit back to take stock and ask myself, “Really? Is this my life? When did it change so massively?” It’s as though aliens whipped me away one night, did a major overhaul with what I was and then dumped me back down, all new and fixed.

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The things that have happened are direct consequences of me no longer drinking – mostly they’ve arisen because I got my confidence and self-esteem back, which led me to making better choices. I found the nerve to say no sometimes, without being terrified that the person I was saying it to would hate me for it. I challenged myself with new experiences, things that resulted in me meeting new people and making friends, because instead of only ever wanting to drink, and drink and drink, I needed – and chose – to seek out more from life. I found the courage required to take risks, but calculated ones that didn’t wind up in disaster as they always had in the past. I began to believe that people might actually like me, and so I stopped being so defensive and paranoid, and I opened up to the world in return. I got to know who I am deep down and what I need in order to be happy, and then I had the self-belief to go out and get it.

I never foresaw any of this when I decided to stop drinking, because all I thought I was doing in making that choice was reducing the risk of dying before my time. It was a knee-jerk reaction, born entirely out of fear and one that I felt was going to be a hardship and something that would drag me down and make me miserable forever.

How wrong I was, how unbelievably naïve – and how grateful I am that I did it anyway.

Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being

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

Week 1 – Mindfulness Meditation

Week 2 – Mood Foods

Week 3 – Positive Pastimes

Week 4 – Me Time Moments

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

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

BiTN Meditation

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

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

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

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.

Out with the negative;in with the happy!

As a child I perpetually lived in the moment. I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood, one that was full of Enid Blyton-esque adventures in sunny fields with friends, roller-skating up and down the cul-de-sac that I grew up on, baking cakes and biscuits, reading and writing voraciously and never seemingly worrying about anything, past or present. I just was.

During the years that I spent drinking heavily (aged 15 – 35) my state of being was at a polar opposite of those younger halcyon years. Anxiety levels were astronomical, with worries over relationships, divorce settlements, my daughter’s wellbeing, how much I was drinking, paying the bills, whether I was causing my body untold harm through all those cigarettes and bottles of wine…my mind seemed to be set to a constant whirring mode, churning and cogitating and over-thinking all these troubles that in the end, were what they were; none of the excess pondering made the slightest indent on any of it. The outcomes were the same regardless.

Nowadays I experience ‘normal’ worries. A small amount of worrying does us good and if we existed in a blissful childhood state, skipping about without a care in the world, we would find our little lives running to a standstill fairly quickly. Normal worrying helps us keep a reign on our budget, encourage our children to work a little harder on their homework when they begin to spend too much time on Facebook, put a bit more effort into our relationships if we feel they are not as tight as they perhaps might be.

A huge difference that I have noticed in the last few weeks since I began to practice the art of meditation is that I seem to be able to better control those uncontrollable fits of anxiety, the ones that render you feeling sick and with palpitations; a bit like the way I felt yesterday morning on my way to the ITV studio to appear on Daybreak. I caught myself becoming overwhelmed with fear in the back of the car as we travelled past the London Eye looming out of the early dawn with its blue-lit cars suspended over the Thames, my stomach churning and my mind rattling along at a hundred miles an hour. Then I made a decision to not feel that way.

Hang on a minute! It’s my mind, I call the shots.

I took some deep breaths, focussed my mind and cleared my thoughts. I began to consider that this experience was something to be savoured – it’s not every day that you get to go on live TV and sit next to Dr. Hilary! I recalled how this would have been dealt with by me as a child – I would have seen the whole journey through eyes wild with excitement, from arriving in London late at night, staying in a nice hotel, being picked up by a car with tinted windows and taken to ITV’s studios…I would have loved every minute 30 years ago. Instead, I had been allowing my out-of-control worrying to ruin the whole event.

Practising meditation has allowed me to be much more aware of negative thinking patterns and has also taught me that I don’t have to accept them – I can decide whether I perceive something in a positive way or a negative way. Yesterday I chose to see things positively, and I found myself enjoying the whole experience; by simply altering the way I decide to process external situations, I have also made myself a little bit braver and next time (if there is a next time) I will approach things in a far more relaxed fashion, right from the off.

Only you can determine whether you tackle things positively or negatively – taking the former option makes life a million times easier and more enjoyable!