You Are Worth It

It’s my older daughter’s 18th birthday tomorrow. This is proving to be a strange thing to wrap my head around, as I’m forty-one but still feel about thirty and way too young in my mind to be the mother of a proper adult. My daughter also pointed out last night that if she were to have a baby at the same age I had her (twenty-three), I’d be a grandma in five years. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp.

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Apart from the fact that when one’s child reaches adulthood it marks a stark reminder of one’s own advancing years (with the ever-present draw of mortality lingering not so far in the distance) this is an occasion that makes me really happy. I’m so proud of my daughter who has grown up to be a well-rounded, beautiful girl, and who, despite having faced challenges along the way, has not followed in her mother’s footsteps and sought solace in mind-altering substances.

If I were to give her one gift on her birthday that she could carry with her throughout the coming decades, it would be sustained self-esteem, to continue to believe in herself and her worth as a human being. Having reduced or zero self-esteem was, for me, the catalyst for so many of the mistakes I made in my life. Being devoid of self-esteem leads to a domino effect of negativity, often with the obvious self-medication of alcohol or other drugs being employed to numb the associated misery.

Having no self-esteem can result in: not chasing the job you really want because you don’t think you’ve got a cat in hell’s chance of getting it; consistently pressing self-destruct in relationships because you’re scared that your partner can’t really love you and will, therefore, ultimately leave you (best to get in first); fail to form close bonds with people generally due to fear of being disliked and rejected; physical self-harm; abusing alcohol and/or illegal drugs; side-stepping further education because what’s the point when you’re stupid and will only fail anyway in everything you try to achieve; being selective and closed in your outlook, never daring to explore beyond your comfort zone; not looking after your health because you don’t think you’re worth it; sleeping with people who you don’t particularly like but who, for just a few moments, can make you feel loved; aiming low always, because it’s safer than having to face failure.

The scary thing about having low self-esteem is that when in the midst of being that way, you often aren’t really aware of it. You don’t realise that the stupid things you keep doing, the repeated cycles of negativity from which you can’t seem to escape, are occurring because you don’t like yourself and don’t think you have the right to be fulfilled and content.

Fully accepting that you are an equal human being, who truly deserves to be as happy as any of the other seven billion people on the planet, is not an easy concept to grasp for many people. It took me years to work out the fact that I was just human, not inherently bad, not flawed to my core and destined to a life of unhappiness because I wasn’t good enough to have anything better. The bad relationships I accepted, the rubbish jobs I worked, the endless alcohol I necked, the days spent starving myself, the suicidal moments of utter despair…those things formed the backbone of my life for a very long time.

Quitting alcohol will not magically make all of those things disappear, but what it did for me was provide me with breathing space to live a little, gain some clarity, not make any giant whacking mistakes and to learn a bit about the person I really am. And with all those small steps came a slow and steady increase in my self-esteem, which in turn led to me taking on bigger and better things, allowing myself to want and seek out relationships with people who I really loved instead of just anyone who was nice to me.

Finding self-esteem has meant that I am now able to be a positive role model for my two daughters, to show them how women can live and be happy and aim high and like the person they are, instead of constantly berating themselves and endlessly punishing their bodies for not being like Cindy Crawford’s; rather than accepting the bare minimum and a life of self-destruction; to grab all the opportunities that are there around us all, each and every day, there for the taking just so long as we have the courage and self-belief to do so.

It just takes a leap of faith and a bit of courage, together with the knowledge that small steps do eventually lead to big things.

(Happy birthday to Isobel xx)

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Dangerous Liaisons & The Power Of Equality

When I was a young teenager I’d rather have run around school naked than admit to being a feminist. Feminists were hippies and men haters with way too much bodily hair, in my ignorant opinion. During my later teens, however, I found myself caught up in the evolving ‘ladette’ culture and, through an immersion in heavy drinking and the adoption of a second home in the shape of a somewhat seedy pub, I gravitated towards a kind of egalitarian existence alongside a bunch of similarly hedonistic males. This unified aim of ‘getting off one’s head’ went a long way to smoothing out the differences between the genders, and I would regularly wander into the aforementioned seedy pub alone, purchase a pint (or five) and fritter away several hours playing pool with blokes I didn’t know especially well, a cigarette continually dangling from my lipstick-stained mouth.

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Back then, if I’d been pressed for an answer as to whether I classed myself as a feminist I would probably have said yes, before hurriedly qualifying my answer to ensure I wasn’t thought of as a staunch man-hater (a stubborn definition that took some years to be banished from my internal dictionary).

Fast forward a couple of decades and I would now, very proudly, describe myself as a feminist. When I look back on the young woman I was in the 1990s I see someone who, rather than gaining a respectable parity with the men, allowed herself to slide into a dimly restricted existence that centred around drinking and drastic mental escape. I considered propping up the bar with a packet of fags close to hand to be an admirable way to live; in reality I was drinking so much that I placed myself in increasingly dangerous situations with men who were not of especially high moral standing and who cared little, if at all, about my safety and wellbeing. This was not feminism. It was gravely reckless behaviour and I was very lucky that I wasn’t harmed to a greater degree than I was.

The late Alan Rickman said in June 2015, “I always think feminist just means common sense”. And yes, that is what it is. Heavy drinking and living a life that spins on an axis of havoc amounts to the opposite of common sense, and the opposite of feminism. Living that way means being out of control, putting your safety in the hands of people who could (and regularly do) exploit the situation for their own gains. It leads to walking home late at night, alone and unaware, taking stupid risks and abandoning the gut instincts that we all have and which serve as our early warning systems.

On March 8th it’s International Women’s Day, a celebration of the female gender and all that we bring to the world at large. I am so pleased that today aged forty I am a feminist in the truest sense of the word. I am glad that alcohol no longer unravels all my strengths and potential, turning me into a victim instead of a fighter. I’m grateful that I no longer allow myself to lose control.

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Not drinking has provided me with so much, not least a clear perspective on the sort of person I want to be and what I want my life to amount to. I stopped holding rebellious, self-abusive and reckless behaviour in such high regard many years ago. Instead I started to see strong people, those with integrity and self-respect, as the ones I admired the most. Quitting drinking has enabled me to move closer to becoming the person I want to be, and I’m no longer frightened to be a strong woman. In fact, it’s what I aspire to be – every day.

Why is the drink-driving message not getting through to women?

The recent revelation that while the overall figure for drink-driving casualties and accidents has been steadily falling since 1979 the number of female convictions has not decreased in line with the male rate, came as no great surprise to me. The Police Federation maintains that the drink-driving message is not getting through to women, a statement borne out by a Social Research Associates study published last year which highlighted a 9% increase in drink-driving convictions involving women (up from 1998 when the figure stood at just 8%).

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In both my role as editor of Soberistas.com, an online forum aimed at women with concerns about their alcohol consumption, and as a result of my personal experiences as a busy working mum of two, I have witnessed countless examples of women who are drinking excessively.

So why are women drinking so much? I was a heavy and frequent binge drinker for twenty years before I quit four years ago following a particularly excessive boozy session. I know why I used to drink too much, and I suspect it’s the same for the majority of women out there who are hitting the wine a little too hard in the evenings.

Firstly, I fell hook, line and sinker for the dominant cultural message in our society that suggests wine is nothing more than a treat, an indulgence that’s rightfully ours after a hard day spent looking after the kids, working, cooking and cleaning. What could be better than a sophisticated bottle of red that has the power to eliminate stress and seamlessly demarcate the humdrum domestic daytime hours from fun and sexy evenings?

Secondly, I remained firmly in denial that my one-bottle-a-night wine habit was indicative of an alcohol dependency and constituted a level of consumption that was frighteningly damaging to both my physical and mental health. I repeatedly told myself that everyone drank as I did, and therefore I need not worry.

Thirdly, I came of age in the era of the ‘ladette culture’ of the 1990s, a social phenomenon that ensured women everywhere were provided with carte blanche to drink in the same quantities as men with none of the stigma of days gone by. When I got married a few years later and had my first child, I merely swapped the pints of beer for bottles of wine and merrily got on with the business of heavy drinking – a misguided notion of feminism resulting in a dogged refusal to accept the undeniable truth, that women cannot drink in the same measures as men without causing themselves more physical harm.

A person drinking a 14% bottle of wine or three 250ml glasses (a large pub measure) of wine and finishing drinking at 11pm would need to wait until 10.30am the following day before he or she was safe to drive. This poses an issue for anyone who is drinking on a nightly basis and then doing the school run, driving to work or dropping the kids off at a weekend sports club the next day. When we have responsibilities that we don’t want to shirk, we can easily reassure ourselves that actually, we are fine to drive; that the last glass we drank at midnight will long since have left our bodies because we’ve downed a strong cup of coffee and had a nibble on some toast; that a £10 bottle of Chablis doesn’t really count as evidence of a drink problem because it was imbibed in the privacy of the home and no outward damage occurred as a result. That kind of drinking is fine, we tell ourselves, because it’s not representative of how ‘alcoholics’ drink – and they are the ones with the real drink problem.

Public health campaigns warning against driving when over the legal limit have traditionally featured groups of men sinking a few pints in the pub. We have yet to see a campaign that targets women, and specifically the type of woman who is consuming wine on an almost daily basis, at hazardous amounts, and who is then driving the following morning.

The female body does not process alcohol as efficiently as its male counterpart. In addition, I know of many women (myself included) who have routinely skipped meals in order to accommodate the extra calories they are taking in via wine. Drinking on an empty stomach means alcohol travels straight to the bloodstream and quickly reaches the brain, resulting in a heightened loss of control.

A hectic schedule that invariably involves frequent use of the car, a physical form less able to cope with excessive alcohol consumption, a common denial of an alcohol dependency existing at all, and a desire to be perceived as a perfectly functioning modern woman, can (and often does) easily amount to jumping behind the wheel of a car with fingers crossed and a too-high blood-alcohol level.

The only surprise to me with regards to this story is that anyone is surprised at all.

What’s So Great About Not Drinking?

What’s so great about alcohol-free living? Here’s our top 20, taken from Soberistas…

Waking up feeling refreshed

No more fear

Rising self-esteem

No more blackouts

Not worrying that every twinge is liver failure

Losing weight

Liking yourself more

Guilt-free recycling

Meeting other Soberistas

Remembering going to bed

Remembering what you read before going to bed

No more shame

Clear eyes & skin

Being ‘present’ in your own life

More patience

Waking up to a tidy kitchen

Better role model to your kids

More energy to work out

No more self-loathing

Feeling free

Mindfulness Meditation

Negative emotions are a fact of life – for many, the easy and obvious response to feeling down is to reach for a drink. However, excessive alcohol exacerbates depression and anxiety, and results in an inability to effectively manage the issues we face in everyday life.

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Mindfulness Meditation is an EXCELLENT method for dealing with stressful situations. It can help by equipping individuals with a significant degree of self-awareness, increasing their sensitivity with regards to surroundings, and allowing them to train their minds to achieve a state of tranquillity, no matter what difficult situations are faced.

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Those who practise Mindfulness Meditation are able to focus on the present, without being dragged down by the past or wasting time worrying about uncertain futures.

When I meditate, I sit cross-legged in an upright position and train my scatter-brained mind on a dot which I visualise in my mind’s eye. Over the course of a few minutes I concentrate on decreasing the size of the dot, until it has vanished completely – then I try and hold that empty state of mind for as long as possible.

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I usually spend about 15 – 20 minutes on Mindfulness Meditation. When I’ve finished, I feel relaxed and calm.

You can meditate alone or in a group, sitting or lying down, in the morning, afternoon or evening. It’s a case of fitting it in to your lifestyle in a way that will allow you to practice regularly. It’s free, and it REALLY works. For me, it has been one of the most useful tools in beating the booze.

The Very First Soberistas Meet-Up, London, January 11th 2014

On Saturday I was lucky enough to be able to meet some of the Soberistas community for real, and it was a fantastic day which I was thrilled to be a part of. It was only 13 and a half months ago when Soberistas.com launched but over the last year and a month, what started as just a small group has grown to be a very large community of truly inspirational people.

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I think to all those who attended, Saturday’s meeting felt like a group of  good friends coming together – there was no sense of us all only just having met one another, rather we slipped into hugs and conversations as if we had known each other for years. For me, being united in the flesh reinforced the notion that Soberistas is a community built on the foundations of kindness, love, compassion and solidarity.

What did I take away from me on Saturday when I left that very special group of people and ventured back out into the bright but cold January day? I took with me the knowledge that alcohol is one hell of a sneaky drug which can take a hold on ANYONE, no matter their background, personality or class. I took with me a reinforced belief in how the support of those who have endured the same kind of difficulties is the best kind there is. And I left with a warm feeling in my heart and a strong sense of belonging.

I also left the London Meet Up convinced that we are on the cusp of change. The fact that a group of women (and one man, thank you Dr Andrew Langford, CEO of the British Liver Trust) from all over the UK made the effort to travel far and wide to spend the day with one another, sharing their stories and strengthening the community spirit of Soberistas, gives me hope that many more people will come to realise what we already have; that alcohol dependency is a trap from which one CAN escape, and that life without booze can be a wonderful, eye-opening, fulfilling and exciting adventure which anybody can partake in if they are only willing to alter old habits.

I know there are many more Soberistas meet-ups scheduled over the next few months – I will be speaking at the one in York in March, and I can’t wait to meet even more of the fantastic people who have helped build Soberistas. I hope you can make it too.

Lucy x

Happy 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

Drinking/Not Drinking

Why did you used to drink so much?

Because I thought it was a fast track route to forgetting stuff and relaxing.

Why didn’t you just stop when you’d had enough?

I couldn’t – when I drink, my brain doesn’t compute the fact that I should stop when I’ve had enough; instead, my desire to drink went into overdrive and it became all I cared about.

Are you an alcoholic?

I used to be addicted to a substance that alters my behaviour and mood, and which I craved on certain occasions because I misguidedly believed that it would help me get through a given situation. Since I stopped drinking, I never have those thoughts anymore as I am now fully aware of the fact that my body and mind operate at their optimum when they aren’t subjected to alcohol.

Is it difficult being teetotal?

I am more aware of the fact that we live in an alcohol-mad culture than I was when I drank. As a drinker you slot into the norm, but when you give it up you become part of the minority. That bothered me at first but now I feel very proud of being teetotal and I wouldn’t want to drink alcohol, even if I knew that I could drink it without all the negativity that occurred as a consequence back in my boozy days.

What are the benefits of not drinking?

I could say that the benefits are more energy, better sleep, easy weight management, brighter eyes, clear skin, even moods, no depression and no anxiety – they are all fantastic and valid benefits to be found from giving up the booze. But the really amazing thing is that I have discovered who I am; I didn’t need to go on a 6 month trek round India to find myself; I just had to put down the bottle. I love the world and my life, I care about my surroundings, and I’m passionate about things outside of my immediate goings-on. I have remembered how to engage properly with people and how to love others with my whole heart, instead of just the bit that isn’t thinking about alcohol.

Giving up alcohol has given me back my mind. That’s the best thing about it.

Beware! Virtuous Weekend Ahead

I managed to find a brief window earlier which I utilised for meditation purposes. It wasn’t ideal – the washing machine was whirring in the background and the blinds were open, thus causing me some anxiety that a delivery man/window cleaner/potential burglar might be staring in at me sitting on the kitchen floor crossed legged, eyes closed and looking, if I’m honest, a bit weird. I think I need to find an alternative time and space for this activity…

Things that are niggling me today are; a) my bitten nails and b) my apparent inability to lose the last 5 pounds that will bring me back down to my pre-pregnancy weight. Do these things even matter? Should they matter? Probably not, but I do keep hearing a voice in the far reaches of my head that reminds me of the ‘9 months on, 9 months off’ rule of thumb regarding pregnancy weight gain/loss. My baby was 9 months old 3 days ago.

I bit my nails my whole life until I broke up from my ex-husband; during that awful time, I suddenly grew some nails, lost 2 stone (a bit too much really, but depression and divorce are extremely effective dieting tools), drank like a fish and started eating meat again after 18 years of vegetarianism. That was 10 years ago, and I’m thinking that life moves in cycles because I have now decided to become vegetarian once again (it’s been buzzing in my mind for a while but my recent interest in Buddhism and the horse meat found in burgers and lasagne scandal have pushed me firmly back into the land of Linda McCartney sausages, tofu and Quorn fillets), bitten my nails to the quick and am the heaviest I have ever been when not pregnant.

Despite my belief that true happiness stems from the inside, I know I feel better when I am slimmer; I feel more energetic, my clothes look better and I don’t agonise over trying not to eat cakes, then being consumed with guilt when I ultimately cave in to temptation. Likewise, my nails make me feel happier when they aren’t chomped down to a couple of millimetres in length, the cuticles are tidy rather than being scraggy and torn, and I haven’t got my fingers clamped between my teeth for most of the day like some demented nervous nelly.

So, I have just ordered some stuff from Amazon that is supposed to strengthen weak nails and encourage their growth, and I am embarking on a more structured attempt to lose those last few pounds. If I am miserable as sin then these external factors won’t make a jot of difference to my emotional wellbeing, I know that; but if I am happy as well, then having nice nails and being slimmer can only serve as the icing on the cake, surely…

How to go about the weight loss then? I need to step up my running – the cold weather and snow have knocked my running regime off a little in recent weeks and I seem to have lost my determination and motivation a little. BUT I have a 10K race coming up in a couple of weeks and I really need to increase my mileage. I’ve placed an embargo on cakes, biscuits, white bread and basically anything rubbish and fattening for the foreseeable future, and I am kick-starting my weight loss effort by eating mostly fruit and veg over the coming weekend. I also need to drink a LOT more water (again, this is down to the cold; in the summer I drink gallons of the stuff but in winter I crave tea and coffee. My plan to combat this is to drink hot water with a slice of lemon in it).

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This weekend, then, is suddenly looking very virtuous – no cakes, lots of exercise, and meals consisting mainly of fruit and vegetables. Also, a spot of meditation that doesn’t take place on the kitchen floor with the washing machine providing the background noise, no mobile phone or laptop in the bedroom at night, plenty of reading instead and no nail biting.

Let’s see if any of that makes a difference to how I look and feel…