Desperately Seeking A Natural High

When I drank alcohol I did so because I perceived booze to be an effective way to lift me out of my current situation. That may sound simplistic but essentially it’s the only reason why anyone would drink alcohol – it’s a mind-altering substance, ergo, people drink it in order to alter their minds. (If that wasn’t true then people would only drink alcohol-free drinks thus avoiding the potential negative health consequences of alcoholic beverages.)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to escape reality. We do it all the time via a variety of alternative means; watching films, reading books, engaging in sports, and through consuming alcohol and ingesting other drugs. Much of the human experience revolves around plodding through somewhat mundane obligations while looking forward to enjoying whatever light relief we choose to engage in during our spare time.

My problem (and that of countless others) with choosing alcohol as a method of escape arose out of the fact that drinking brought about a miserable parallel reality, as opposed to the brighter, happier, more fun life that I imagined it would give me. Ever the hedonist, I perpetually opted for instant gratification over long-term happiness. Alcohol artificially made me happy for a short period of time, but then took vast amounts from me and my well-being as payment. The ratio of happiness to misery was woefully imbalanced.

As a drinker I failed to see that almost my entire existence was spent under the cloud of booze, one way or another; either I was drunk, hungover, or excited about drinking again. The sum of all this alcohol-related thinking amounted to an inability to perceive the world clearly. Crucially I failed to grasp that my whole personality would be different without alcohol thus the crutch that I so heartily believed in would no longer be required as a way of making it through life.

Without alcohol in my world I, and all those other people who have kicked the stuff out of their lives, am without an instant escape route from life. However, with all the ponderings and emotions and hopes and fears that we all experience on a daily basis, it’s natural to crave a break from ‘the norm’ from time to time. If you choose to quit drinking alcohol then I believe you have to find something which serves that same purpose (i.e. escapism), only without the negative consequences that crop up when (like me) you are bereft of a functioning off-switch.

I consider this to be a simple case of arming yourself with the right ammo to win the sober fight long term. You just need to work out what it is that lifts you out of your reality for those occasions when you feel the need to take a break. Even if the act itself only takes a couple of minutes, if the effect is powerful enough then it can be sufficient to alter your state of mind for a few days, if not weeks.

The best films in my opinion are the ones that make you feel differently about yourself and the world. You know the ones that make you feel like impersonating the life of the protagonist for a while (that is, until you remember that that was Hollywood and this is your regular existence and when you act in that way all your friends think you’re just plain weird so you resume the old you, pronto)? Those kinds of films are excellent for temporarily altering your state of mind. Carlito’s Way has this effect on me, as does Thelma and Louise.

thelma

 

Some novels can do the same – they fire you up and create an inner determination to be different to the way you’ve always been.

But for me, the best, most effective methods of elevating myself from everyday life come in the guise of fast and exhilarating sports; skiing, skydiving, zip-wires, running in the rain. These are the things that help the most. Their impact on my state of mind lasts far longer than the time it takes to scrub the mud off my legs in the shower afterwards.

skydiving

I don’t always find the time to do these things, especially after having my second baby. It was so much easier to pick up a bottle of wine and throw it into the supermarket trolley, but that attempt to achieve a quick respite from life pretty much always resulted in tears.

After any of the above activities, I have never ended up with anything other than a big, fat buzz and a smile on my face.

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Soberistas’ Four Weeks of Wellbeing – Me Time Moments

It’s the last week of the Soberistas Four Weeks of Wellbeing and over the next seven days we will be focusing on Me Time Moments. Life can be chaotic, stressful and challenging and many of us are put upon on a daily basis leaving barely any time to spend on being kind to ourselves. However, ignoring our own needs long-term is almost guaranteed to leave us feeling even more frazzled.

It’s not particularly important, but my toenails are seriously neglected at present. Every time I am presented with a free five minutes there is always something more pressing to be taken care of than attending to my feet (i.e. baby’s nappy changing, food preparing, clothes ironing, book writing, emails answering, plants watering, tax disc ordering, recycling taking out, dog walking, helping with homework – I think you get the picture). So here I am in desperate need of a pedicure with windswept hair and wearing mud-splattered jeans (dog walk), ignoring all of it so that I can get my work done while the baby is at nursery.

My friend calls herself, not high-maintenance woman, but NO-maintenance woman, and I think I too have fallen into this category. Many moons ago before I launched Soberistas and had another baby, I seemed to have bucket-loads of spare time. I would go to the gym, not only for a run on the treadmill but to have a sauna AND a manicure/facial/bikini wax. These days it’s all I can manage to drag the dog around the dark streets for an early morning half-hour run, both of us half-asleep and me looking like I haven’t slept properly for weeks (oh that’s right, I haven’t!).

My-Little-Buffalo-Be-Kind-To-Yourself2

Anyway the point of this is not so I can have a good old moan (although I must say it has helped a little!), but to highlight that it is all too easy to forget about looking after ourselves. And when we neglect to include Me Time Moments in our lives, the everyday stresses and strains can mount up and tip us over the edge. An obvious concern for some when this happens is that the bottle of wine they’ve done so well in forgetting all about can suddenly appear attractive once again as a quick fix, mental obliteration tool.

Well, this is my message to all you Istas out there to say let’s jointly decide to look after ourselves a bit more – to have a couple of hours in the gym alone, or to get our hair done, or just to curl up on the settee with a glossy mag and our favourite CD on, just to be KIND to ourselves. The benefits of doing something apparently trivial can be huge.

And on that note, I’m off to paint my toe nails.

Eat And Be Merry!

There’s plenty of evidence which suggests that what we eat has a significant impact on our mental health, so if you’re seeking ways to improve your state of mind as part of the battle against the booze, you could start by taking a look inside your fridge and kitchen cupboards.

The vast quantity of studies which have already been conducted in this area indicate that food is highly influential in the development, management and prevention of a wide range of mental health issues, from depression to Alzheimer’s disease. The evidence is building all the time, and suggests that by making changes to what we eat we can really help ourselves stay on track mentally.

juicing-wheatgrass

Over the next week and as part of our Four Weeks of Well Being, we will be posting lots of articles about ‘Mood Food’ on Soberistas (Facebook, Twitter and WordPress) which will provide you with plenty of information about how you can manage your mental health more effectively simply by following a particular dietary path.

For a comprehensive list of ingredients for improving mental health, see the link below. Bon appetit!

 

http://themindsanctuary.com/good-mood-food-%E2%80%93-ingredients-to-improve-your-mental-health/

Working 9 to 5

Today I wanted to share with you a great example of how the mind works better without the fog of alcohol sullying its functionality. Tomorrow I return to work after 12 months maternity leave has allowed me to enjoy every waking moment with my gorgeous baby girl, watching her grow and develop into a little personality from those early days of her being a tiny, red-faced, milk-guzzling machine.

baby bottles

My thoughts on returning to work have not all been positive if I’m honest. For many months, the notion of having a paid job simply disappeared off my radar, and my daily routine gradually evolved into a series of walks in the park, household chores, meeting friends for coffee, playing with the baby, oh yes, and setting up Soberistas! A couple of months ago, I experienced the vaguest of recollections of what it is to actually go into an office, carry out a job, interact with colleagues and attend meetings, but swiftly pushed it to the back of my mind, telling myself that it was still a long way off in the future.

This week, the startling reality of having to say goodbye to my little baby at 8 am and to not see her little cherubic face until 5 pm, hit me in the face like a large sack of bricks. I spent a day in tears. The childlike element of my persona which lay behind the manipulative behaviour and occasional tantrum of years gone by, often brought to the fore when I drank heavily and was faced with a difficult situation, returned for a brief period. I wanted someone to resolve this issue, to somehow enable me to stay at home with my baby and never have to leave her in someone else’s care.

Here is the difference between the mind of someone who drinks regularly, and that of a sober person; I worked through the feelings; I rationed it out in my head; I had a conversation with myself and with those closest to me and I weighed up the pros and cons. After a couple of days of that, I came to the following conclusions – most people have to work in order to cover their overheads – why should I be exempt?; the money will pay for extras like holidays and horse riding lessons for my eldest daughter; my baby will learn to interact with other people than her immediate family, thus allowing her to develop her social skills; I will interact with people outside of my current existence which mainly comprises of other mums and their babies; I will value the time even more that I spend with my family when I get home from work; and finally, on the days that I work, the dog will be getting an hour long walk with a pack of dogs and her new dog walker, which will add excitement and pleasure to her little life.

So, a couple of days to mull things over and I have come up with a myriad of reasons why my return to work is a GOOD THING (and it warranted some new clothes, which is an extra bonus!). Compare that with the old me, who would have dealt with the same situation by necking a few bottles of wine, fuelling my burgeoning depression and preventing me from thinking clearly, and ultimately causing me to perceive my return to work as nothing but a big bunch of awfulness – which it would have then become, in a self-fulfilling prophecy type manifestation.

Positivity is most definitely the easiest and best path to choose in life.

2013 – Seeking Serenity, Wellbeing & Happiness

I’ve been writing about alcohol for quite a while now; about when I used to drink, why I stopped drinking, how it made me feel, the regrets and the shame, and the newly-discovered happiness and positivity that I have derived from sobriety.

Giving up alcohol has led me to thinking a lot about the meaning of my life, how to achieve and then maintain true happiness and how to feel the very best, and how to be the very best, that I can be. And so I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a year of effort and experiments, a living test to find the secrets of inner serenity, wellbeing and happiness – and I thought I would share my findings with you. A new day

Life isn’t about being dealt the best hand – it’s about doing the best you can do with the hand that you’ve been dealt. This year I want to discover all my cards, and work out how to play them to the best of my ability.

I’m focussing on the spiritual, physical, mental and social aspects of life because I believe that true happiness comes from within, not from without. I think the world we live in often places too high a price on the shallow and the irrelevant, failing to realise that what is just under our noses is often the source of the greatest joy; cooking and eating wholesome meals together as a family, creating something out of nothing, working towards and then reaching a personal goal, spending quality time with family and friends, learning how to be more mindful and appreciative of the small stuff, letting go of anxieties about the things we are helpless to change, being kind and helpful to people we don’t know, and to those we do, having adventures, seeking out new experiences, being community-spirited, and finding space in busy days to have ‘me time.’

From now on, I’ll use this space as a record of everything I do that counts towards reaching my goal of seeing all the cards I’ve been dealt, and how to play them as best I can. This journey of self-discovery that began when I woke up one day in April 2011 with THE worst hangover known to mankind will be twisting and turning for a while yet, I hope. Now that I’ve cracked the alcohol, I’m going to channel my efforts into being the best sober ME that I can be…and I’m starting with MEDITATION.

Read about my very first meditation class in my next blog…

End of Dry January – Get the Beers In?

As today is the 1st of February, there will be a fair few people looking forward to a good old piss up following a month of abstinence for Dry January (or something similar).

As you will know if you have been following my blog, I am an ex-drinker of fairly epic proportions. For many years I would never have considered for a minute that I would give up alcohol, never mind start up a website to help others who are in need of some support in that area. But where do I stand now, after 22 months of sobriety? What does alcohol mean to me today? Drinking woman 2

When I gave up the booze, I unwittingly sparked off the beginnings of a virtuous circle. Fairly soon after pouring away my last bottles of Pinot, I also gave up smoking – and without much ado I have to say. Without a glass of wine in the other hand, I soon lost my enthusiasm for sitting outside pubs in all weathers puffing away on £7’s worth of fags, teeth chattering and fingers slowly turning blue. As a non-smoker and non-drinker, I then stepped up my exercise, signing up for a boot camp (losing many inches) and increasing my running.

I stopped being quite such a moody sod too, once the alcohol had rid itself from my now temple-like body, and my anxiety attacks disappeared overnight. I saw the good in everything and felt overwhelmed with an urge to do wholesome things like go fruit-picking at farms and baking cookies. I started to write about my new-found sobriety on this blog. My vision of the future gradually began to unfurl, hitting me with all manner of suggestions as to how I could shape it with all this clarity I was now experiencing.

In short, giving up alcohol made me love life and learn to like myself. I discovered through abstinence that there is so much more to the world we live in than sinking your soul into a bottle of wine each night, and muddling through the daylight hours with a sore head and a bad attitude.

There have been critics of Dry January who purport that those who take part are fooling themselves into believing they are helping their livers recover for a few weeks, before jumping back into old boozy habits as soon as the calendar has been turned to February, but I disagree. I think there are so many positive effects of abstinence, that even if the Dry January-ers go back to drinking after their month is up, I believe many of them will do so with a view to moderating, purely because they have proved to themselves how much better they look and feel as a result of laying off the sauce for a while. Some may even decide to give up for good.

Personally, 22 months of sobriety is nowhere near long enough for me – I’m in it for the long haul!

Hitting the Bottle

As my baby is almost six months old, I have made the decision to stop breastfeeding. Yesterday I reduced the breast feeds down to just one at bed time and plan to gradually decrease these over the coming week. A catalyst for this is because tomorrow, I turn 37, and my other half, my eldest daughter and me are off to ‘Go Ape,’ where we will spend a few hours swinging around tree tops and whizzing down zip wires; my alternative plan to the usual ‘let’s get plastered in a pub somewhere’ notion of how to have fun on your birthday (zip wiring was suggested by Sue on WordPress – thank you Sue). Mum and Dad are babysitting, hence it seems as good a time as any to begin the switch to bottle-feeding.

Giving up breastfeeding is an emotional rollercoaster, for me at least. I will most likely not have another baby, and so it follows that I will never breastfeed again, once I finish for good in a few days. There is something so uniquely wonderful about nursing your child, having the knowledge that you are providing their only sustenance and sharing a bond that no other person on the planet could have with your baby. Those middle-of-the-night rendezvous, the two of you cuddled together in private harmony, innately understanding just what it is you are meant to be doing to keep the other happy, the gulf of age bridged by the simple act of supplying food – there is nothing like it in the world. And I know that I will miss it.

I am happy that I chose to feed my baby in this way for the first half-year of her life, and I am even happier that the reason I am now switching to bottles is not because I want to drink alcohol again. I breastfed my eldest child for 16 weeks, and at the age of 23 that felt like an eternity. Keen to get out socialising again (for socialising, read ‘boozing’) I knocked the nursing on the head in favour of being able to get drunk with my friends again. I realise that age brings wisdom, but it still fills me with sadness that I could not recognise what a wonderful privilege breastfeeding is, and how making the ‘sacrifice’ of being teetotal for a further six months post-pregnancy is no sacrifice at all when you are providing your baby with such a good start in life. (I know that some mothers are unable to breastfeed, and their children are perfectly healthy – I don’t mean to point the finger here. It worked for me, and so I am naturally in its favour).

My life is becoming busier, I am working a lot on our upcoming website, Soberistas.com and am therefore becoming more reliant on other people babysitting, and I have fulfilled what I set out to do – exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months (just shy by a week or two). And yet deciding to switch to bottles marks a new chapter for my baby; that magical, primal connection that the two of us have enjoyed since the day I discovered I was pregnant, is reaching its conclusion. It feels like she is embarking upon the first tiny step she will take towards independence.

When I finished breastfeeding my eldest daughter, I remember being overwhelmed with guilt and confusion, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I knew that the real reason behind me switching her to bottles was because I hankered after getting some of my old life back, I felt as though I had done ‘my bit’ to a degree and I just wanted to get on with living. There are none of those feelings this time around, just an acceptance that now seems like the right time, for me and the baby, and the knowledge that I will miss it (although the thought of getting a proper night’s sleep is wonderful!) once it has gone.

When I feed her for the last time, it will be an emotional experience. But again I am reminded of how much I have grown up and become less selfish as a result of giving up drinking – I have made a measured decision, weighing up the pros and cons for both of us (mainly the baby) and doing what is right for her, primarily. I will continue to be teetotal, to eat nutritious food (and now to begin cooking/pureeing it for the baby too) and to treat my body with respect, just as I had to do during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I will do it as I finally have some self-respect, it makes me happy and because I am setting an example to my two girls.

“Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read.” – John Wooden, born October 14th 1910

Aged 17 – October 14, 1992

Living in the moment, never looking further than the next weekend, drifting further in to the nightclub scene. You are a raver, dressed in your cat suit and trainers; hair sleek, in a bob, lips red, aware of your femininity. Music is everything, the underground scene is hypnotic; its naughtiness and illegality is like a drug, club fliers adorn your bedroom wall replacing your posters of The Smiths and Depeche Mode. First year of ‘A’ levels, but you’ve outgrown it now, it’s a burden on your time. Life flows eternally before you, there are no worries and no cares other than a strange persuasion you have developed to almost enjoy the dark side, to wallow in your suffering and to emulate your heroine, Laura Palmer – a strange one to pick given her untimely death, preceded by a life afflicted by drug addiction and abuse.

Aged 22 – October 14, 1997

Oh, you emulated Laura alright, other than her murder – and that isn’t such an unlikely possibility these days. A recreational enjoyment of clubs and their associated pleasures has strayed in to the murky waters of grim addiction; the only friends you have are in the same boat. Thrown out of a nightclub on this, your birthday, for being so out of it; you aren’t demonstrating an ounce of care for your safety, and you don’t eat much at all. Your hair is short, your body is thin; you virtually live in a pub exclusively frequented by abusers of alcohol and drugs. You’re going down, down, down…

Aged 27 – October 14, 2002

Dragged out of the sinking sand by the arrival of your gorgeous baby girl, she is now three years old and the apple of your eye. Her Dad, your husband, is busy working all the hours God sends – mostly you spend time with your friends. When your baby is in bed, you drink; it’s not so much, a few bottles of beer or a bottle of wine with a meal, and at the weekend it’s more. There are parties and nights out with girlfriends, where drinking is the thing to do, drinking enough to occasionally act in a way you regret. But the regrets are few and far between, life is for the living, mortality is a concept that, so far, you don’t acknowledge. One year left of your degree – studying is time well spent, an effort to establish a foundation on which to some day build a career. That day might come sooner than you think; your marriage is almost done.

Aged 32 – October 14, 2007

Ooh, happy birthday you! Four years since the breakdown of your marriage, things are no longer so pretty. Wine is a staple of your existence – it tends to your every emotion; happy, sad, bored, depressed, lonely…drinking in company is getting harder – the necessary control over the amount you consume is a struggle. Your self esteem has taken a battering, over and over again there’s an action that you regret or words you wished had been left unsaid. Your office job bores you to tears, there should be more to life than this – drinking is an aid to forgetting. Relationships are hard to sustain, difficult to work out. Being a mother keeps your head out of the water, but the current is strong and it’s dragging you down.

Aged 37 – October 14, 2012

Just under four weeks from now, I will turn 37. On numerous occasions during my life, I have wondered whether I would live as long as this. Many times my thoughts turned to suicide; I never fully grasped the notion as a plan of action, but the tendency to ponder whether life should ever be this arduous, this painful, was ever present for a long time. My little girl consistently provided the reason why life is always worth it, no matter how tough things become, and for that, as well as for a myriad of other reasons, I am eternally grateful that I have her in my world. She saved me.

As every five year interval in my life passed, things did not seem to change direction much. I was sitting in a boat, adrift in an ocean of depression and misunderstanding of what life is about, carried along on a current of self-destruction and pity, never looking far enough in to the distance to seek out another way. Until a couple of years ago.

This last five year interval represents a series of events that have gently prodded and pulled me, this way and that, tugging me in to a place that is warm and happy and safe. It’s a place  I never thought I would find myself in – where the walls of depression and self-hatred have crumbled away to leave an open space, full of endless possibilities. It’s the place where I have found my soul mate, had my second daughter, and truly arrived at the realisation of what my life should be. I never want to leave this place behind.

Things are on the up – my eldest daughter and me in Newquay last summer, showing off my recently bought engagement ring.