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.

lucy Is Wedding (2)

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

Advertisements

Staring Down Memory Lane

I was loading my car boot up with shopping outside Tesco today when I heard someone call my name. When I looked up, I saw the friend of an ex-boyfriend, the ex being in my life at the very height of my heavy drinking escapades. The friend is lovely. In fact, so much so that I had a bit of a ‘thing’ for him when I was with my ex. Nothing ever came of it, but I always had a soft spot for him. In the car park, we kissed (on the cheek) and chatted about our respective children who both go to the same nursery, and about what each of us was up to in our lives, and about how manic things were this week, what with nursery being closed at the moment for an annual holiday.

And then we went off in opposite directions.

5027426-puff-of-smoke-abstract-on-the-black-background

Years ago, when I was going out with the aforementioned ex, I was drinking at ridiculous levels. I was out of control, consumed by addiction and totally in denial. I met my ex in a pub one night, naturally, and I was drunk. Flirting with him, sending him suggestive glances across the bar, determined to make him notice me. Which he did, and we immediately became an item. In between the drinking, we had a few nice times – holidays here and there, walks in the Peak District. But always, like an ever-present storm brewing, there was the alcohol. And when I drank, all hell would break loose.

We went to a party one evening, and apart from the first couple of hours, the entire night is a blind spot in my memory: nothing, blank, a vacuum. I know that I abandoned my ex at the house at some point and disappeared with another man, returning in the early hours to find the party all over and my boyfriend sitting on the steps outside with his head in his hands and a weary expression on his face. Other than that, I have no clue as to what happened. I do know that my ex’s friend was there and I remember chatting to him in the kitchen early on. And because I know I fancied him a bit, I don’t like to dwell too much on what I said or how I acted. I’m sure it was loaded with connotation. At best.

The friend witnessed me on several other occasions during my relationship with that ex-boyfriend, extremely drunk, out of control, crying, flirting, and dangerous, unhappy, wild, reckless. I always thought he must hate me. I hated me. And I thought he was nice so I couldn’t imagine that he would have held me in very high regard. In the years that followed me splitting up with my ex, I broke out in a cold sweat whenever I saw him or any of his friends, knowing only too well that I had made a fool out of myself so frequently in front of them all.

So today, when I was talking to the ex’s friend in Tesco’s car park, I was struck by the normality of the situation. We were just two people catching up, both parents of young children, grabbing a bit of food shopping at the supermarket; in between chores, not hungover, not ashamed, not flirting – just normal human beings, being friendly.

When I left, I thought about that night at the party all those years ago and wondered if I’d acted inappropriately with him. What had I said? How had I looked at him? Did anything bad happen?

And I felt so happy and at peace with myself because I don’t do any of that anymore.

Alcohol-free but still waiting for the benefits?

There’s no doubt it’s easier to stay sober when things are going well. Not only do you feel more hopeful and have a higher degree of faith in yourself to stay committed to an alcohol-free life, but you’re far less likely to hit the self-destruct button when you’re feeling happy.

When things are looking less rosy it can be all too tempting to throw the towel in and get submerged in booze as a way of blotting out the darker aspects of life. For those who have successfully cut out alcohol but are yet to notice any earth-shatteringly positive results, read on…

Life doesn’t become great simply because you stop drinking (at least not for everyone). Many heavy drinkers will have developed their alcohol habit directly because they are attempting to disguise an element of their life which they are fundamentally unhappy with. This may be a bad relationship, a job which is unfulfilling and/or stressful, or a painful bereavement. Alcohol, despite its numerous and severely damaging consequences, does work well in the short-term in numbing emotional suffering thus it’s an obvious choice of self-medication when times are tough.

When you quit drinking, the cushioning and fog disappear leaving the raw truth; this may not always be what you want as your reality.

So what’s the answer; continue drinking and cover the problem areas up (but also have to cope with the untold additional traumas that arise from heavy drinking) or stay alcohol-free and change the factors of life that are less than satisfactory?

There’s no definitive answer – the choice, as always, is down to you the individual. Being told that you should stop drinking by anyone is never going to be effective for your successful sobriety.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A few years ago when I became alcohol-free there were areas of my life that I didn’t particularly like and that all of a sudden seemed to slam up close, impossible to ignore and demanding attention – any kind of attention. One such problem was that I suddenly realised I desperately wanted a second chance at being a mum and to be a part of a happy family following my acrimonious divorce and the subsequent years of single-parenthood. (The above photograph is of me, four months pregnant with my baby, Lily. To reach this point I had to work through my issues of low self-esteem and depression, both of which took a great deal of effort and time).

As I had spent 20 years blotting things out, covering stuff up and burying my head in a large glass of red I was somewhat unaccustomed to considering difficulties, developing tactics to deal with them and then putting my plans into action. One thing I really noticed as a newly alcohol-free person was that I craved instant gratification – I didn’t want to put any effort into working through issues. I just wanted them to go away, and NOW!

But real life isn’t like that. The big problems that may rear their ugly heads in a newly sober person’s life will not disappear at a click of the fingers. Such matters usually demand a reasonable amount of thought, effort and time (and sometimes a lot of heartache) if they are to be conquered and/or banished for good.

But the benefits to be derived from putting in this extra effort are;

a) reinforced self-confidence

b) increased self-esteem

c) the resolution of whatever the problem was in the first place

d) strengthened commitment to sobriety (because you have proved you can get through the bad times minus the booze).

There is nobody but you who truly knows whether it’s worth staying sober to fight the fight. But there’s nobody but you who will experience first-hand the full rewards of an alcohol-free life either – in the end, it’s a choice only you can make.

Sliding Doors

Do you ever wonder where your life may have taken you, had you made different decisions? For me, a large element of learning to let go of my past mistakes has been the understanding and acceptance of who I am today, and how all the choices I have made on my journey to this point have amalgamated to create who I have become.

I have had relationships which would, I’m sure, have taken me to very different places had I remained in them; the boyfriend who I moved to London to live with in my early twenties was an ardent socialite, a lover of debauchery, and not someone who I could imagine I would ever have become sober whilst involved with. My ex-husband, the workaholic, who I erroneously believed to be the love of my life prior to him walking out and leaving me with a broken leg, crutches, our four-year-old daughter and a mad puppy on Valentine’s Day 2003, would only have stunted my emotional and personal development had we remained married, and I am eternally grateful that he left me as he did.

The years that followed his leaving were admittedly awful, the wine drunk far too vast in quantity, but the ensuing depression and dark days were, I believe, all vital ingredients in building my emotional strength and character. If he had stayed, I am certain that I would never have grown as a person, would never have fought and beaten my demons, and ultimately, never have drunk so much that I then considered it absolutely essential that I conquer my alcohol dependency.

sun-through-storm

In the years that followed my divorce, I had relationships with a few men, all of whom were lovely in their own way but none of whom would have helped me find the road to sobriety, self-discovery and finally, learning to like myself. They were all heavy drinkers, and despite their collective disapproval of the multifarious displays of my terrible drunken behaviour, none were brave enough to take on the dragon that was Lucy’s beloved bottle of wine. Had I stayed with any one of those partners, I probably would have drunk myself into an early grave.

In the midst of all that pin-balling from one bad relationship to another, the mornings of self-hatred that evolved into afternoons in the pub and evenings of comatose drunkenness, arguments and hour upon hour of wasted life, the smallest desire to escape my situation began to gain momentum. So insignificant that I didn’t even know it was there for a long time, the seed that grew into a very real knowledge that I must stop drinking took years to establish itself. The boyfriends who were a mistake, the under-achieving at work due to constant hangovers, the inability to move forward in my life and the associated frustrations that arose as a result, gradually amassed to provide the food and water required to nurture my growing awareness.

And one day, there it was – it turns out that all those bad choices were not so bad after all, because in the small hours of a Thursday morning almost two years ago, I woke up and realised that the seed had become a tree. All of a sudden, I recognised how I should be spending my life, and I began to live it. If none of my bad times had happened, if the years of pain and grimness had been erased and left me with nothing but an easy ride, I wouldn’t be here, doing this. No contentment, no new baby, no self-esteem, no Soberistas, no gratitude for my life.

There will always be sunshine after the rain.

A night to remember

Last week was the 2nd anniversary of when I met my lovely fiancé, a night which I wrote about in an earlier blog, https://soberistas.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/jane-eyre-aka-lucy-soberistas/.

I had actually met him several months previous to the night we finally got together, in the same pub. On both occasions I was rather the worse for wear but he, for some reason, was able to see right through my drunken demeanour to pinpoint the tiny promise of something unusual and precious – a soul mate. Don’t ask me how, because my lasting memory of the first meeting we had was of me marching up to him in the street in order to state, in a very loud and slurred voice, that “I REALLY LIKE YOUR SMITHS T-SHIRT.” The second time we met, I subtly revealed my attraction to him by fondling his thigh under the table as I sank large glasses of wine and smoked numerous Marlboro Lights, blowing the smoke up into the dark air between us.th

Not long after we met, I gave up drinking. This was down to a number of factors but largely because I had met the man who I wanted to have a happy time with, someone who I never wanted to hurt, and my soul mate, who I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with – minus the fog, recriminations, arguments and regrets that come with drinking too much, too often.

Because of our ages and our mutual desire to have a baby, we got on with things pretty damn quick. I happened upon some old emails of ours last week, and read a thread that detailed our desire to get married approximately 2 weeks into our relationship. He proposed a couple of months later and we discovered the happy news that our daughter was on the way just a couple of months after that.

So, 2 years down the line and here we are; engaged, living in our house that we bought together, and our nine month old baby is sleeping upstairs in her cot. We didn’t make much of a celebration of our anniversary last week due to heavy snow and a bad case of teething and associated nappy rash forcing us to cancel our planned night out, but you know what? It didn’t seem like such a big deal and here’s why…

Amongst the many errors of judgment that I made back in my drinking days, spotting my future fiancé in the middle of a pub car park and stumbling over to him to comment favourably on his T-shirt was not one of them; rather, it was one of my best moments. I think the T-shirt had a lot to do with it – in the same way that internet dating allows you to select potential partners by discovering their likes and dislikes prior to meeting in the flesh, so his wearing of a T-shirt emblazoned with one of my long-standing favourite bands of all time had the effect of revealing to me something of his character, i.e. that he has excellent taste in music, something which is of great importance to me.

So my impulsive, drunken behaviour, for once, did me a lot of good on the night of January 21st 2011. I found myself the most perfect man (for me) who has consistently made me happy, who is a fantastic dad to our baby and stepdad to my eldest daughter, who believes in everything that I do (without being a kiss ass; and the former without the latter is an all-important trait), who looks after us all with kindness, patience and understanding, and who is my best friend. I learnt how to be me and more importantly, how to like me, by being with him, and I learnt what it is to feel true contentment, because I never have to pretend to be something I’m not when he is around.

We missed a big night out for our anniversary but as my fiancé pointed out, it doesn’t matter so much when you remember how many we have in front of us. If you are reading this Sean, happy anniversary for last week– and thank you.

Vice no more…

I have come to realise that I have an addictive personality. It was pointed out to me last night by my other (read, better) half, that I stare at my phone way too much. Upon hearing this, I had a bit of a strop, flounced off upstairs to take a bath (great bath bomb thing, as an aside, shaped like a little Christmas pudding) and after sulking for ten minutes, came to the realisation that my beloved actually had a point.

I didn’t like to admit this to myself (it has been said that I take criticism badly). It still rankles when I remember my parents telling me to apologise to someone after a fall out when I was little…ow, the pain and humiliation of saying sorry!! I am a lot better these days, however, and I scuttled downstairs (after leaving my darling phone in the bedroom) to make amends.

I have to say, once the deed had been done and the iPhone dispatched to my bedside table, I experienced a freeing sensation. I didn’t feel the need to constantly flick my eyes to the side to take a quick peek at the screen. I concentrated fully on the conversation I had with my eldest daughter (she is also a phone addict and is currently facing a proposed household post-dinner phone amnesty with fear and trepidation), we caught up with American X-Factor, and discussed it with zest and enthusiasm (we don’t get out much), rather than interspersing our viewing with frantic button pushing and finger scrolling. It was a relaxing time.

So, yet again, I must admit that my other half was right.

It’s getting to be pretty vice-free, my life these days. The booze has gone, as have the fags, no phone after dinner (until bedtime of course – got to catch up with my tweets at some time!!), very little chocolate, and Jason Vale’s vegetable juices for breakfast.

I hardly recognise myself. I am extremely happy.

When was the last time you felt really, truly lonely?

I lay alone in the dark, sensing that the bed was all mine. The clock said 8 pm but that made little sense to me – it had been morning not five minutes ago. Voices, barely audible, filtered in from the living room, and I remained still, my heart beating violently.

I was about thirty years old, stuck in between two relationships with two equally unsuitable men. One, an old friend, was someone I loved dearly but with whom I shared zero sexual chemistry; the other was his polar opposite – not very intellectual, a manual labourer, physically extremely attractive and a heavy drinker. Of course. Both were heavy drinkers.

For several months I had been pinballing to and fro between the two of them; the manual labourer doing nothing to stimulate me mentally, and so weekends spent with him would be followed by a desperate need to indulge in some food for the mind with the old friend, the one who was terribly intelligent and articulate, funny and kind, but for whom I felt nothing in a physical sense.

This particular weekend I remember feeling exceptionally confused and reckless, frustrated by the absence of a single man in my life who met all my needs, rather than these two semi-perfect partners.

On the Friday night I had gone to the pub with Mr. Physical, played a bit of pool, drank large quantities of strong, continental lager and smoked too many fags. We’d returned to his flat late to discover his flatmate and a bunch of his friends pre-loading with shots in preparation for a party.

I remember walking in to the party later on with all those men, grabbing a beer and swaying a little whilst chatting to someone, anyone. That was about midnight, and then my memory goes black. So far, so familiar. On such occasions, I never intended to go out and get absolutely out of my skull on booze, it just kind of happened. One minute I felt ok, the next I would be waking up hours later as if I had been abducted and then unceremoniously dumped by a bunch of memory-zapping aliens. I could never remember a thing.

When I awoke at such an odd time, 8 pm, in one of my unsuitable boyfriends’ beds, I knew something really bad had happened, something that went beyond the norm. It didn’t make sense that he wasn’t there; it was extremely out of character for me to be waking at 8 pm – where the hell had the day gone?

I just lay in that big, otherwise empty bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to his flatmate talking to someone in the living room. That feeling came again, the one that made me desperately want to crawl out of my skin and in to someone else’s, somebody good. I couldn’t call anyone, I was too ashamed. How can you make it sound normal, that you have woken up a couple of hours before you should be going to bed, unable to remember anything? I had no idea what had happened, and I couldn’t talk to anyone.

Whenever I wonder if I over-dramatised my alcohol dependency, whether I was just a social drinker who once in a while went a bit too far, I remember that night. I stayed on my own in his bed, wide awake, until the early hours of the following morning when he returned home, slightly drunk. My heart weighed a thousand tonnes, my eyes dead with the resignation that I had done something that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to know about. The self-hatred gnawed at my insides like a rat. I never asked him what had happened; I couldn’t bear to hear his answer.

 That was the loneliest time of my entire life.

Dragon’s Den’s Rachel Elnaugh Guest Blog – ‘Goodbye Poison’

Rachel Elnaugh, ex-Dragon’s Den dragon, recently gave up drinking when she discovered the wonderful Jason Vale’s book, ‘How to Kick the Drink…Easily!’ which I blogged about in the summer. Rachel’s account of her problematic relationship with booze and how she finally kicked it, will, I’m sure, strike a chord with many. It certainly did for Anita and I, which is why we were so eager to get Rachel’s post on our site as a guest blog. Thank you Rachel for allowing us to publish your post on the Soberistas blog, and good work for seeing the light and ditching the booze!

Rachel Elnaugh, from BBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’

This is a post dedicated to all those people who are getting uncomfortable with the amount of alcohol that they are currently consuming.

After all, what harm can a glass or two of wine do?

Well, maybe getting on for a whole bottle after a particularly stressful day…

Or even the occasional skinful getting carried away at a party, or over a boozy dinner with boozy friends?

I’ve been a drinker for as long as I can remember.

My parents always enjoyed a bottle of Blue Nun with Sunday lunch and I used to see them sit hand in hand sipping ice cold lager when it first came into fashion in the 1970′s.  Was it any surprise that I saw drinking as perfectly normal, very grown up and somehow rather romantic?

I’ve always been a hedonist who tends to do things to excess.  This was fantastic as a career girl working in the City during the ’80′s – a champagne fuelled era of decadence where you’d often go to lunch and end up still in the wine bar in the evening.  So long as your charge out rate was at 100+% (mine was frequently 110%+) the bosses turned a blind eye.  We worked hard, we played hard, we all made lots of money.

This hedonistic streak was also a big reason for the success of my first business Red Letter Days (all about escapism essentially) – but it also lead me to go over the top where drinking was concerned.

Things changed when I was 30 and had my first baby.

Looking back it was clear I had post-natal depression, and as a single mum I really didn’t know how to cope stuck at home with a baby that needed constant attention.  I didn’t know what to do when he cried.  Apart from transporting him to the childminder each morning on my way into work and collecting him on my way home I rarely left the house with him, because I didn’t know how I would cope if something went wrong.

So at that point drinking became something of a ‘private party for one’.  Pure escapism from the terror of not knowing how to be a mother.

When life is wonderful and full of friends and parties, alcohol just fuels the celebration.  But once you are addicted it’s very easy to turn to booze as a coping mechanism to get you through life’s problems.

Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2002 – by which point I’d been using alcohol as a coping tool for over a decade.  My business was booming, I had a hard working high stress life, and I also had the money to pay for a variety of childminders and helpers and private schools for the children.  A good friend had committed suicide as a result of alcohol on Valentine’s Day 2001 – leaving me a suicide note saying he was about to go on the ‘Ultimate Experience’ – a trip across the River Styx accompanied by Charon the Ferryman. I had been drinking to excess throughout the Christmas/New Year period and, thanks to a good friend whose father had also died from being an alcoholic, and who also took me to various Christian events, I finally went along to my very first AA meeting.

I was surprised at just how many ‘normal’ people there were there!

I managed to stay off the booze until that May, when I got the call that I had been shortlisted for the 2001 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award.  They wanted me to attend a photoshoot with the other finalists – Barbara Cassani of GO! Airlines, Jo Malone, Chey Garland and Sly Bailey, then CEO of Trinity Mirror Group.  Of course the event was awash with free champagne, and in the elation of the moment I made the dreaded mistake of thinking ‘One glass won’t hurt!’.  BAMMM!!!!

And, of course, the problem now was that this glass of sparkly-chilled-designer-poison was now inextricably linked with success and fame.

Much of 2002 was spent on one champagne high or another, during which time I met my current husband, who also likes to drink, but in a very different way to me.  Things turned once again, though, in 2003 when it became clear that things were going badly wrong with Red Letter Days.  I’d stepped back from the company in a non-exec role and now had to step back in to unravel the mess.  Once again, alcohol was the coping mechanism, this time to the stress of massive cashflow issues, re-financing after re-financing and generally being on output 24/7 to save my business.  It didn’t help that a close adviser who accompanied me to many of these meetings loved wine as much as I did!

I was under massive stress, mentally, emotionally and physically – and although I thought I was relieving much of this by using alcohol as a crutch to get me through, I now realise I was simply adding more stress to the situation by feeding my body with poison.

Things came to a head one night at my brother’s house where we had all been drinking quite heavily and his wife made some sly comments which I overheard and reacted badly to.  Realising I was under massive stress and things were getting out of control, I asked my husband to drive me to a private clinic I had read about in ‘You’ Magazine a few weeks earlier.  They put me in a room with a methodone addict, and next day I was in such an emotional state they gave me (as well as most of the other people there) Valium to calm us down.  So there we all sat around the room like a group of sedated zombies.  It was a massive wake-up call (I don’t do ‘drugs’) and that afternoon (when the Valium had worn off) I asked my husband to come and get me the hell out of there!

I never did manage to save the Red Letter Days business, but in the meantime had now managed to become a TV star via my appearance as a Dragon in the first two series of Dragons’ Den.  Another champagne fuelled existence, going off in Peter Jones’ chauffeur-driven Bentley after filming for drinks in Duncan’s private club followed by dinner at The Ivy.

Booze was now tied up with power, sex, money, fame, and all the rest that goes with it.

I was managing to keep it under control now, but alcohol was still a big factor in my ability to enjoy life.

People have often asked me ‘How do you cope with five children?’  The real answer (as almost every mother will know) up until now has been: ‘With the help of a large glass of white wine.’

The next meltdown occurred in July 2011.  I was due to do the Landmark Advanced Forum and (as part of my resistance to going I now realise) decided to go on a bender the night before.  In no fit state to do the course, and nursing the hangover from hell, I opted out of the course at lunchtime and went back to the hotel to sleep it off.

I remember lying in bed praying to God to send me help.

I woke up at 5.40pm with an urge to get myself to an AA meeting.  I Googled it and found out there was one starting at 6pm just 100 yards away !!!  ’No!’ my ego-self declared ‘I look a mess and what if someone there recognises me off the telly?!?’

‘Get yourself up and go there’ replied my Inner Self, calmly.

The room was packed, and to my surprise half of the people there were young women.  Lots of men in suits who’d just come from work and just a few properly  ’alcoholic’ looking people.  Sitting next to me was an old man with a walking stick.  At the end of the session, ego-self was preparing to slip out of the room unnoticed when this man turned to me and with piercing blue eyes said ‘What can I do to help you?’.  I promptly burst into tears and two women came towards me and took me to get a cup of tea and a biscuit. (These two women became my AA ‘sponsors’ to help keep me off drink.)  I turned round and the man had disappeared.  Strange that, earlier, when they were passing round the collection jar for donations during the session, that no one had passed the jar to the old man…  I often wonder if he was the angel God had sent in response to my prayer?

That period of abstention lasted until September when I read ‘Pure’ by Barefoot Doctor which essentially said spirituality had nothing to do with how much drugs you consume.  BAMMM!!!  A real ‘Fuck It’ moment giving me permission to drink again…

In many ways I was lucky.  I have quite a weak constitution which means that I’ve never been able to drink spirits, plus low blood pressure – which always ensured I fell asleep on booze before I could drink way too much of it.  Not so my best friend Debbie, who was my champagne drinking partner during the ’80′s.  She descended into vodka addiction and died of liver failure a couple of years back.

Nonetheless, even though I was only drinking wine – and I had developed some really effective ‘coping strategies’ to manage my drinking – I was increasingly realising that it was becoming an expensive habit that I really needed to do something about.  I think it is really important to point out that at this stage, far from ‘battling addiction’ I felt that 99% of the time I was supremely ‘in control’.  I only drank wine and by now was something of a ‘connoisseur’ – no Chilean Columbard shite for me!  I only drank well made Sancerre, Languedoc and Gavi with perhaps the occasional glass of Fleurie or Chateauneuf du Pape with beef or lamb.  A bottle of anything disgusting got poured away.  On a typical day I didn’t have my first glass until early evening; even later if I had a professional speaking engagement.  And I had developed the supreme art of alcoholic self-control:  After-Dinner Speaking – not drinking for 5 hours straight through a champagne reception, five course meal with unlimited wine until going on stage, sometimes as late as 11pm.  Yes, I was supremely in control!  One thing though:  by now I could not imagine having fun without also having a drink.

Then, last weekend – during a booze fuelled dinner party at which at no point did I want to switch to a coffee or cup of tea, or even drink a glass of water – my friend Marie Claire Carlyle suggested I read ‘Kick the Drink… Easily’ by Jason Vale.  Although known for his ‘super juicing’ recipes, this was actually the first book Jason ever wrote, about his own alcohol addiction and how he stopped.

Amazon kindly delivered the book on Tuesday.

Jason instructs you not to attempt stopping drinking until you have finished reading it – and last night I finished, with a decision to also finish with alcohol.  The book has altered my thinking about drinking forever.

Jason Vale asserts that there is no such thing as an ‘alcoholic’ (a term designed to shame most of us either into denial or supreme control around their drinking habit).  There are just alcohol addicts – and everyone who drinks alcohol is in effect an addict to some degree or other.  The very fact you have to control your drinking means that, in reality, alcohol has control over you.

He also explains in very clear and inequivocable terms that alcohol is nothing more and nothing less than a cleverly marketed, highly addictive poison.

The problem is, given that 80% of the adult population drinks, in our society alcohol is the only drug that people think it is odd for you not to take.

He also points out that even though our Government is constantly clamping down on drug dealers, heroin, crack cocaine etc. it is in itself the country’s biggest drug dealer – making £8.7billion a year from alcohol.  Alcohol claims 9,000 lives a year in this country which is 9 times more deaths than from all the other hard drugs combined.

This is one powerfully written book, destroying every single myth and excuse around alcohol one by one, and in three days reversing the lifetime of brainwashing I had had around alcohol.  In three days I realised that, like everyone else, I had fallen for a con – and that it had taken me 47 years to realise it.  Drinking alcohol is drinking poison.

As a result of reading the book, last night I took the decision that I would never again allow myself to drink alcohol.  There is no recovery period, no lifetime of going to AA meetings, no willpower, no determination needed.  Just a crystal clear decision not to take poison, in any shape or form.

Given the extent of alcohol related problems in this country, the Government really should bring Jason Vale in to remedy the situation.

An ALCOHOL IS POISON label on every bottle and can of booze would be a good start.

As Jason points out, there is no such thing as a ‘safe number of units’ – in the same way that there is no such thing as a ‘safe amount of heroin’.  

Alcohol is addictive – which means the only ‘safe’ number of units is no units.

Oh how I wish I had read this book several decades ago…  As well as given a copy to my dead friends Brian and Deborah before it was too late for them.

You can get a copy at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kick-Drink-Easily-Jason-Vale/dp/1845903900/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350656091&sr=8-1  (this is a pure link, not an affiliate one that will earn me money).  I’m giving it to you to pass on the key out of the self-made prison that is alcohol addiction.

Meantime, I am looking forward to my first weekend of freedom from the poison that is alcohol.

No it is not ‘too early’ for me to be making this declaration.  There is no drying out period, no 21 days to change a habit required.  Just a simple flick of a switch which has destroyed the illusion that it is somehow ‘safe’ or ‘normal’ or ‘enjoyable’ to drink a highly addictive poison.

I hope this post helps you.

Rachel 

POST SCRIPT  It is now Monday morning and the decision to stop drinking was taken last Thursday.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday used to be the most tempting days of the week, but this time I filled them with healthy eating and drinking plus getting busy clearing the house and garden.  This morning I feel more energised, awake and alive than I have done for years.  Far from feeling ‘in withdrawal’ or denying myself pleasure I’m celebrating finally being out of prison.  The great thing has been the reaction to this post both via the comments below and via Twitter throughout the weekend.  It seems so many people are in exactly the same position that I was – a nagging sense that something was very wrong.  I’m really glad that by ‘coming out’ and sharing my story I have helped be the catalyst for others to wake up and break free from the spell that we as a society are under around alcohol, believing that this highly addictive poison is normal, acceptable and a key element in our ability to have fun.

Anita’s Diary (pre-sobriety)

I found my old diary, hidden at the back of my wardrobe and away from prying eyes. I wanted to post a few entries because I’m sure that people will be able to relate to the anxiety and frustration that comes with drinking too much.

Goodbye wine, hello happiness!

6 August 2011

Okay, Im not beating myself up any more, the last year has been truly awful so its no surprise that I’ve been a mess. I have tried to moderate my drinking but often it doesn’t happen. I have put loads of weight back on and this alone makes me feel crap. So, I have made a decision, I am going to stop drinking FOREVER, I don’t know when yet, it will be after my sister has been over from Oz. I am reading books about it and thinking about it generally. At this point in my life I feel that stopping alcohol could really help me with lots of things. I would have a better chance at being the organised mum that I really want to be and I would lose weight too and get really fit. I went out for my last boozy girls night out last night, it was fun but I feel awful this morning, really awful.

7 August 2011

Just to say, I had another boozy day yesterday. We went to my eldest daughter’s friends birthday party, it was nice but it was just a bunch of adults getting pissed basically (me included), even at the time I felt slightly uncomfortable and irresponsible. I don’t want to do this anymore, this morning I feel so guilty about it. I also have that post booze anxiety feeling which is horrible and I can’t sleep. I fell asleep on the sofa, which I hate and was woken up by my son screaming at 2am. I think it is good to be aware how drinking makes me feel and write it down, especially in the run up to stopping altogether.

9 August 2011

Well, I drank a bottle of prosecco last night for absolutely no reason. That’s what I do, I have one big night out and then I just can’t stop for a few days afterwards so I feel really shit today. I’ve had loads of stuff to do with my son’s statement for school and it’s been impossible to focus. The main reason I’m writing tonight though is I’ve just totally lost it with my middle child, I slapped her hand really hard and screamed at her, now I feel so terrible about it. She has been really difficult lately but I should NEVER react like that. I know it’s because of drinking, I really have to stop and soon.. I haven’t had a drink today and thats where the irritability comes from too.

It is hard reading all this again, I feel transported back to that time, the negativity of it all still hits me, but what is amazing is that I feel I have been released from the horrible trap I was in. Thank god I saw the light, I don’t have to do it to myself anymore and neither do you. I am happier and fitter than I have been in years. I chose my 40th year to make a positive change in my life and its the best thing I ever did. If I can do it anyone can.

Under the Bridge

My beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers

This morning as I drove my eldest daughter to school, we had our usual spat over which radio station to put on (she likes Capital (urrghh) and I favour Radio 2). We’ve been having the same semi-serious argument on the school run for approximately a year now, ever since she grew old enough to stop listening solely to the music that I, so devotedly, brought her up on. I think back fondly to the halcyon days when she had the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Blondie on her iPod, whereas now she is all over Ne-Yo, Rita Ora and Nicki Minaj and has developed an irritating habit of dissing my music choices (should I ever be lucky enough to get something of my choice played).

As we drove along, her singing merrily to some R&B drivel, me gritting my teeth and telling myself that in just another few minutes I would be able to switch over to Chris Evans and the interminable noise I was being subjected to would stop, I caught a hold of myself and had a quick reconfiguration of my thoughts. Isn’t it the law that all parents hate their teenage children’s music? And that when those teenage children are parents, they still think that the music they listened to as a kid is brilliant?

Example; Haddaway, What is Love? I love that song; when I hear it I am instantly transported to a nightclub in Greece, me aged 19, dancing on top of a podium (hhm, yes, really) wearing a very small top, tight hipster shorts and boots. Even at 8:30 am returning home from the school run, if that song comes on the radio, the volume gets cranked up and I am a happy bunny. It changes my mindset for the better and makes me feel younger.

In my darkest drinking days, I was ridiculously obsessed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I still love them, but back then I was annoyingly infatuated with them; I have lost track of the number of times I watched ‘Live at Slane Castle,’ bottle of Pinot to hand (or three), losing myself in Anthony Kiedis and his wonderful, bizarre dancing. I fell in love exceptionally hard with RHCP owing to their lyrics about addiction (albeit their demon was heroin, mine was a nice Chablis or Pinot Grigio from Waitrose). Under the Bridge was, for me, not so much about shooting up in downtown LA with a bunch of Mexican rude boys, as lying on the settee with a cut crystal glass full to the brim with wine, Sex and the City on the TV and a copy of OK! on the coffee table. Otherside meant finding a way to get over the self-hatred I used to feel the morning after excessive amounts of booze the night before, the sense of desperation in the song being utterly relevant to where I found myself mentally, most weekends.

I have always loved many different types of music, but pretty much all of it is from when I was growing up. There is the odd current song that I hear on the radio that becomes a new favourite, but it’s rare. I am emotionally attached to the music of my youth, and from later on in my life, from the days I spent struggling with depression and the abuse of alcohol.

I gave myself a silent smack on the wrist this morning and bit my lip when I felt the urge to shout “What’s this rubbish? Who the hell is Nicki Minaj anyway??” Instead, I drove along in silence, focussing on the thoughts I have written about above. It is my darling daughter’s God-given right to love music that I hate. It’s what she should be doing. And when she is in her 30’s and 40’s, her kids will be telling her that Rita Ora is rubbish, and that she should get with it and start listening to whatever claptrap they are fixated on. At least, I hope they will.