Believing In Yourself As A Person Who Doesn’t Drink

As the sober months have turned into sober years, I’ve become noticeably more comfortable with not drinking. In the early days I did feel self-conscious; I worried that people would feel sorry for me, or simply not want to hang out with me anymore because I was boring. One or two acquaintances attempted to express their heartfelt best wishes and asked (with head cocked to one side in a concerned fashion) ‘How are you feeling now?’ with their hand sympathetically touching my arm.

I must say that more than anything this attitude confused me. We live in a society in which drunkenness is rampant, one in which people (and definitely the ones who asked me how I was feeling), who are clearly alcohol dependent, will drink far more than is good for them on a nightly basis, and yet STILL find it necessary to feel sorry for those who quit drinking the stuff. My response, incidentally, to those professing their sympathies towards me over the fact that I’d quit drinking, was to look befuddled and say ‘I’m absolutely fine thanks – why?’

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What sobriety has taught me is that letting go of old ways does not mean having to alter completely the person you are. One of the most terrifying things I have ever done in life is teeter on the brink of becoming a non-drinker, as I contemplated a world I believed would never be fun again, a place in which I could never let my hair down and an existence which, quite simply, looked bleak right up to the horizon.

But my alcohol-free life has turned out to be nothing like this, not boring at all. It’s just that all the things I failed to notice when I drank (because I was either too hungover or preoccupied with planning my next drink, or simply because I was drunk) now leap out at me. The world switched to Technicolor when I put down the bottle, meaning that all the things I imagined to be mundane when I drank have since become beautiful, vivid, notable and fascinating.

People still often ask me, ‘But don’t you miss drinking?’ And my answer is always this: ‘Alcohol to me isn’t like it is to you. You can enjoy a couple of drinks and happily stop, go home and get to bed. I can’t do that. For me, a couple of drinks always meant a session, lots of drinks, so much booze that I would be sick, or suffer a blackout or fall unconscious. Alcohol made me hate myself, and it made me want to hide away in my bedroom, unnoticed by the world.

But without alcohol I can relax, and feel happy, well balanced and valid. Without alcohol, I can be myself. And so no, I don’t miss drinking at all.’

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Happy Birthday Soberistas x

Soberistas.com is three years old. Today, thousands of people belong to this online community, which started out on November 26th 2012 as just a couple of hundred members posting blogs and comments and nervously wondering what would happen next…

Soberistas has been a major part of my own story of recovering from an alcohol dependency that eventually put me in hospital. When I set the site up, I genuinely had no idea that so many people felt exactly how I did – people from all walks of life; men and women, from England, America, Canada, Australia and so many other countries in between.

Gradually, this community has increased in size and strength, and over the last three years we have come to represent a viable resource for those drinkers who want to become alcohol-free but who need a bit of friendly support in getting there.

The things that helped me personally become happy, and therefore to stay happily off the booze, are detailed below, because I wanted to share them again for the benefit of anyone who is in that desperately dark place that I once was, back in the spring of 2011. But before I go on to explain what has helped me get and remain sober, I think it’s important to state why it’s worth putting yourself through the challenge of stopping drinking. What are the benefits of becoming alcohol-free?

Well, here’s what I’ve gained in the last four and a half years:

  • My self-esteem
  • A love of life
  • An appreciation for EVERYTHING I have, and for all the people I am lucky enough to have in my life
  • Confidence
  • A job that I love
  • Lifelong friends
  • New experiences, travelling and taking up different and challenging opportunities
  • Clarity
  • Thousands of mornings, clear-headed and hangover-free
  • Quality time with my children, free from the guilt-ridden anxieties over my drinking that plagued me so much in the past
  • Becoming a published author
  • A life free from a daily dread of developing liver cirrhosis or cancer caused by my alcohol consumption and smoking habit
  • Finally knowing my own mind and what makes me happy – and what makes me tick

The stuff I did to help me become firmly established as a Soberista all stem from the first, extremely important (and perhaps obvious) starting point: I didn’t touch alcohol at all once I decided to quit. No cheeky little glasses of wine because it was my birthday, no sneaky halves of lager when nobody was looking. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

This was vital to my long-term sobriety because it enabled me to develop a completely clear head, free from all the negativity and confusion that arose from the excessive alcohol I once consumed.

I got fit and found other things to do with my time. This prevented me from getting bored, it gave me the mental lift and escapism (especially running) that I had previously attempted to obtain through alcohol, and it boosted my self-esteem, which in turn helped me to realise that I did actually deserve a life that wasn’t coloured by the terrible consequences of my drinking.

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I discovered gratitude. I started to think positively about my life, and focused on the good bits instead of the crap parts. I recognised that actually, I was very lucky, and had a lot that was worth living for.

I spent time in the countryside and indulged myself in nature. This helped me to put my problems in perspective and reminded me that we are so small in the grand scheme of things, our lives are so fleeting, and that ultimately, we should be grabbing onto life with both hands and living it to the absolute max – rather than wasting it in a drunken haze, routinely floored by self-hatred and shame.

I reached out to people and opened up. I admitted to people that I had a drink problem. Again, sounds simple, but I stopped pretending that it was normal to pass out and blackout and embarrass myself terribly.

I repeatedly told myself that This Too Shall Pass. When the going got tough, I stuck it out. I persevered. I never gave in. I believed in better. And eventually, things got better. Much better.

I meditated and practised mindfulness. I made a concerted effort to live in the here and now. To focus on today, instead of worrying ceaselessly about shit that hadn’t happened yet, or shit that had happened and of which I could do nothing to change.

And so, here I am. Sober, happy; a happy Soberista. Thank you to all those inspiring people out there who helped me find this life free from alcohol. And to anyone who wants to be a Soberista but who hasn’t got there yet – if I can do it then so can you. This sober life is a vast improvement on a drinking life, for anyone who can’t moderate his or her alcohol intake. Good luck. xx

Not Drinking Is A (Great) Way Of Life

Alcohol is a strange old business. Ostensibly it’s just another beverage, but we all know it’s so much more than that. Drinking can often become a person’s defining characteristic. It’s the stuff they are made from: the rebel, the sex goddess, the sympathetic friend, the party animal, the sophisticated hostess. It turns the ordinary into the extraordinary – or so we like to imagine. Wrapped up in booze is a massive array of interwoven emotions and hardwired associations – a glass of chilled white wine on a summer day, a pint of real ale in a country pub at the end of a bracing walk, a cold beer on a Friday evening after work. The connections we make between alcoholic drinks and life are tenacious. It takes a lot of work to undo them.

I think I constructed my old persona as one that was intrinsically linked to alcohol because it was a means of avoiding how ashamed I was of the amount I was consuming – I wore my binge-drinking like a badge of honour, at least on the outside, and this helped me to push the negativity to the back of my mind. Waking up in bed next to someone who I could barely remember speaking to the night before? This was something to be laughed off with bravado, a funny thing to do after yet another night of hard partying – except I wasn’t laughing on the inside. I was filled with self-loathing (not that anyone would have ever known).

In the years since I stopped drinking, I’ve fully embraced life as a Soberista. Of fundamental importance in staying alcohol-free is learning to love sobriety, not resenting the fact that alcohol is no more a part of life but loving that it isn’t. I never thought I’d be able to do that. In the initial sober months I hated how I couldn’t drink alcohol without becoming falling-over drunk. I hated how other people seemed to have an off-switch and I didn’t. I hated beer gardens on hot summer evenings, filled with people laughing and drinking. I hated everything about being sober.

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I had to find a way of turning not drinking into something that worked for me. A new element of me that fitted with my personality, rather than this alien lifestyle choice that I had been forced to adopt (or, at least, that’s how it felt). Gradually, being a non-drinker became something that I was proud of. I stopped feeling so apologetic for it. I started to feel like I was a part of a new wave of people, a mini-revolution that had sprung up out of a widespread disaffection for wasted weekends, poor health and too many heartfelt regrets.

The things that mattered to me as a drinker still matter to me. The stuff that I was ashamed of, the less-than-perfect parts of my life have been resolved, dealt with, closed. The good bits have grown better. The crap has disappeared. I genuinely believe that kicking booze out your life is a very cool thing to do. Living free from the fog of alcohol, experiencing true clarity, knowing yourself inside and out, feeling intuition and being able to trust yourself to act upon it, loving and caring for yourself, feeling passionate about stuff other than drinking, knowing that you are doing your best in life – this is what being sober means to me. And I’m very happy to be feeling it all, right now, today – it’s a very good place to be.

FOUR Years of Life as a Soberista

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Be A Part of Something Big

In recent years there has been a notable rise of the Soberista, and I’m not just talking about Soberistas.com. Numerous celebrities have opened up about their decision to become non-drinkers and various media worldwide have picked up on the early indications of a wider sea change in people’s attitudes towards alcohol and whether or not they wish to consume it in the same destructive way, something that has become the norm in many parts of the world.

We are used to reading about celebrities who pop into an exclusive rehab for a few weeks after one too many shots of them being completely out of it have appeared in the tabloids, their car crash lifestyle spilled out for all to see and the subsequent visit to some remote clinic or other becoming common knowledge. But in the last few years there have also been stories in the press about people such as Zoe Ball, Norman Cook and Daniel Radcliffe who have chosen the teetotal lifestyle but who arrived at that decision with much less of a public display of alcoholic debauchery.

The younger generations (in the UK at least) are drinking less, and the idea of being seen to be openly drunk has lost its appeal for many. Are we beginning to see a shift in attitudes towards alcohol abuse, in a similar way to that which has occurred with regards to smoking?

I believe that for this shift to gather real momentum people need to concentrate on all the benefits of being alcohol-free; this lifestyle choice should never be perceived as ‘giving up alcohol,’ for in using that phrase we imply the denial to ourselves of something pleasant and the focus is fully on what we have lost rather than what we have to gain.

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There is only one way to successfully conquer your booze demons, and that is to gear your thinking towards the huge amount of benefits to be reaped by living an AF life, and to not give a further second’s thought to the notion that alcohol adds anything to your life. If more people take the bold decision to turn their backs on booze thus becoming ambassadors of AF living, then the commonly held perception of binge drinking being entirely normal and teetotalism being regarded as something only undertaken by oddballs or religious zealots will be increasingly challenged.

If society did not celebrate and normalise alcohol in the way it does currently, I wholeheartedly believe that I personally would have questioned by wine-guzzling habit many years previously to when I actually got round to thinking that perhaps all was not well in my body or mind as a direct result of all the alcohol I was imbibing on a regular basis.

Being proud of your AF status is an effective way to contribute to a change which I think has already begun (here’s hoping; now raise your glass of elderflower cordial in a collective toast to being a Soberista!).

Letter to me, 20 years from now

A while ago, I wrote a post entitled ‘Letter to my 14 Year Old Self,’ so I really felt inspired to write this letter to me in twenty years, when I saw it as a Daily Prompt on the Daily Post.

I’m an atheist so I struggled with the concept of a Higher Power when I first gave up drinking. An alternative source of motivation to help me stay away from the booze came from an image I kept in my head of me in the future; a version of me that I would be proud to grow in to, rather than the grumpy, stressed pisshead who I had turned in to, in the last few years that I spent drinking. I knew that I had to become that woman in my head, otherwise I would be letting myself down big time, and I couldn’t stand living with that sense of failure. Below is a letter written to that imagined future me – the one who helped me get booze out of my life once and for all.

Not me, but a random woman writing a letter.

 

Twenty two years ago you stopped drinking alcohol. Do you remember that chapter in your life, the drinking days? Does it stand out in your history as a definitive period, or has it now been consigned to the ‘insignificant pile’ of your memory?

 

Funny how, when you were in the middle of it all, you couldn’t imagine another way, an alternative way of living. For years you thought you would always be a boozer, forever wasting your weekends in a haze of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, constantly picking up the pieces after foolish nights out where you made an idiot of yourself, again and again.

 

So, was ditching alcohol the right thing to do? Do you regard the making of that decision as a defining moment in your life? I suspect you do. If you hadn’t made that choice, you more than likely wouldn’t even be around to read this letter twenty years from now – and if you were, your liver would be shot to bits and you’d look like shit. I bet if you had continued to drink, you wouldn’t be in a relationship either, certainly not with your beloved soul mate, the one you became engaged to in a tent in Cornwall, June 2011. And if you hadn’t embarked on the path of sobriety, you wouldn’t have the wonderful joy of close relationships with your two girls, both of whom will be adults now and maybe with children of their own, making you a grandma.

 

Do you have that kind of relationship with them? Did you turn out to be the kind of mum that you always wanted to be?

 

When you stopped drinking it seemed like the only choice to make. Do you remember that moment of clarity when you woke up the morning after your last drunken episode, so full of self hatred and remorse and fear, so fed up with failing to live up to your potential, and hell bent on climbing off that ride? Does it still haunt you – that feeling of being alone, terrified, sliding down in to oblivion and without any certainty that you might discover a slip road, a route off the madness?

 

My guess is that life became a whole lot better, fuller and happier in the times that followed 2011, the year you had your last drink. I imagine there will be a few regrets, but they won’t be the sort that turn in your stomach like a rusty knife, gouging away at your inner soul and inflicting self hatred over and over, like a relentless torturer. God, those mornings when you used to lie in bed, crying and cursing yourself, wishing for anything that you could turn back the clock and wipe away the events of the previous night. Do you still think of those times? I hope that if you do, you think of them thankfully – that you regard them as the foundations of a new you, a better you, the right you. Because if those times hadn’t have happened, you never would have stopped drinking – it had to get that bad for you to put an end to it, once and for all.

 

In your mid thirties, things were just coming together. You found optimism around that time, something that had been lacking previously. The future suddenly began to look attainable, bright and full of possibilities. I hope you managed to fulfil all the dreams that you formulated in that period, when you first gave up alcohol.

 

Can you recall how much more energy and passion you discovered post booze, for everything, or has that just become a happy norm rendering you unable to remember ever being any different? It’s funny to think that in twenty years from now, those couple of decades you pissed up the wall boozing will be a distant memory to you. It probably won’t even seem like you anymore; the you that is together and fit and healthy, mostly happy and steady, dependable and predictable, I bet she won’t recognise the old version – depressed, wallowing in negativity, drowning in wine and shame, and unable to find her place in the world. It’s odd to imagine that the boozy you was something of a blip, you but with errors, a Lucy possessed by demons – demons that I hope you saw the back of.

 

Did you finally put all your ghosts to bed? Did you forgive yourself all those misdemeanours, the messed up relationships and bad moods, the wrong turns you made here and there, as you tried to navigate your way out of the labyrinth that alcohol abuse led you in to?

 

My wish now, in November 2012, is that in twenty years you will look back over your life and see that boozed up woman, the younger you in her teens through to mid-thirties, drinking, smoking, in denial, frightened, ashamed, loud-mouthed, terrified, nervous, anxiety-ridden, panic-stricken, alcohol addict, and you will dismiss that chapter as a bit of a cock up, a bump in an otherwise smooth road. My wish for you is that life without alcohol became the absolute norm.

 

At the time of writing, in November 2012, I think I am already profoundly different to who I was just two years ago, so who knows what the next twenty years will bring? I am no longer frightened to catch up with you, future Lucy. I trust you and when we eventually meet, I know you won’t have let me down.

Nb. here’s the link to the previous letter I wrote, to the 14 year old me – https://soberistas.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/letter-to-me-aged-14/

 

 

 

Aside

The Rise of the Soberista

ImageAfter reading an article today, ‘The Rise of the Teetotal Generation,’ (The Independent Online, 6th July 2011) I was reminded once again of why being teetotal is not, and should not be, something to be slightly embarrassed about. Despite being utterly committed to life as a Soberista, I still find myself tongue-tied in social situations whenever anyone (who I don’t know very well) asks me what I want to drink, and I know that I am soon to be faced with a barrage of questions about why I don’t want something alcoholic.

“Oh, are you driving?”

“No.”

“Well why don’t you want a drink then?”

“Err, I just don’t. I’ve got a lot on tomorrow.”

“Well, just have one then. Come on – what will it be; G & T, a white wine?”

“No really. I don’t want a drink because I am an alcoholic and the last time I had a drink, I ended up collapsing on the pavement, being taken to hospital and waking up at three am with absolutely no knowledge of what had happened to me, only that I was covered in vomit, and that I must never touch alcohol again. So, thanks for the offer, but I’ll just have a water.”

That’s what I want, but find myself unable, to say. However, when I read about the likes of Daniel Radcliffe being on the wagon (see The Independent article, as referenced above), or meet someone who admits to having a drink problem and who has subsequently given it up, the last thing I think is that they are in some way at fault, that they have been weak or have failed at life. Conversely, I regard such people as being brave for fighting a battle that I consider to be one of the hardest there is – to fight against yourself is truly an uphill struggle that never really ends. People who have fought an addiction are, in my mind, heroes.

And yet when it comes to me being honest and giving someone a simple explanation as to why I don’t drink alcohol, I have faltered every time. The first time I was asked why I wasn’t drinking was at a party. A rugby-playing, beer-swilling bloke cornered me and wouldn’t leave the issue alone (clearly, my mineral water offended his rugby-coloured view of the world), resulting in me being a bit stroppy with him. It wasn’t a satisfactory response, and it left me wondering how I should answer the next time such a situation occurred.

Well, the same situation did not occur for a while after that – about ten months actually, as being pregnant gives you a pretty bone fide excuse for knocking booze on the head. As I am breastfeeding, I had expected to be able to avoid the issue for a further few months after giving birth, although I have found that generally it is considered acceptable to have a few drinks whilst nursing (probably not whilst nursing, as in not holding the baby to breast with one hand and clutching a pint of Stella in the other, but during the nursing period. Most women I have spoken to about this admit to having the odd glass of wine).

And so, there it was again, the dreaded question, just six weeks after Lily was born. I met a fellow new mother who I work with for coffee, and she asked me pointedly, “Have you had a glass of wine yet? Are you drinking whilst breastfeeding?” Now, this woman is a colleague, so the answer that I had semi-rehearsed in my head after Rugby Boy had questioned my beverage choice was not so appropriate; “No, I don’t drink because I am an alcoholic who has decided to live without alcohol ruining my life. I used to drink and whenever I had one, it would lead to ten, or however many it took until I passed out. I was ruining my daughter’s and my lives, and I came to the conclusion that you only live once and I wasn’t going to stuff my life (and my daughter’s) up by getting shit-faced every night.” Because you just can’t be that honest with someone you work with.

Or can you? I’m sure that Daniel Radcliffe and his honest confessions about having an alcohol dependency have not gone unnoticed by all the film producers out there. Would they not hire him because of his drinking history, next time he springs to their minds as being perfect for a particular role? Of course not, but then again, your choice of actor would be drastically reduced if you discriminated against all those with addictions, past or present. Is it different in the real world? Am I unusual for admiring people who have fought an addiction?

I have come to the conclusion that in social situations I will give an honest answer if queried about why I don’t drink – maybe not completely honest (I’ll leave out the bit about waking up in a hospital bed covered in puke), but I will explain that I could not stop drinking once I started and that I had a problem with it. I will say that my life is better without alcohol, for me and for those around me and that I am far happier without it.
I think that if anyone feels uncomfortable with that as a response, then they are probably not a person who I would get along with anyway.