An Extract From ‘The A-Z Of Binning The Booze’ (my new book)

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If you like the sound of this book, you can buy it from Amazon here…

H – Hobbies and Holidays

Urrghh, hobbies. What a boring word. What a boring thing to do. Hobbies are for dullards with nothing better to do with their time.

Wrong!

Very occasionally I am beset with terribly gloomy thoughts relating to the reality of life and death – that we are all going to die; that in millions of years there will be nothing left of any of us except perhaps some space dust. When these morbid ideas pop into my head, I find it unnervingly simple to reduce everything in the world to a state of pointlessness. I mean, when the Earth is no longer a planet and the stars have all burnt out, there will be no significance whatsoever attached to anything we’ve ever achieved or enjoyed in our lifetimes, will there?

Obviously we can’t live our lives with the constant thought that we are, one day, going to pop our clogs because we’d never bother doing anything, caring for anything or anyone, or even getting out of bed in the morning. Albert Einstein once said, ‘There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle’, and this is what I tell myself whenever the aforementioned gloominess sets in. As children we are predisposed to perceiving everything as wondrous, and then adulthood creeps in and it all, sadly, turns a little sour. Or at least, it does if we allow it to.

And for those of us who position alcohol on a pedestal, who prioritise drinking over most other activities, hobbies can seem more than a little bit meaningless – distractions to while away the hours as we await the onset of old age. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol, on the other hand, is a worthwhile exercise and a good use of our time. After all, we are socialising, relaxing and letting our hair down – or so we like to think.

The problem with boozing as a pastime, however, is that it can, for people who are unable to moderate their intake terribly well, lead to a number of seriously negative consequences that impact on multiple areas of their lives. It doesn’t end with a night involving a few drinks; often it creates problems within our relationships, reduces our self- confidence and self-esteem, costs a lot of money from which we see little, if any, return, and acutely damages our health.

Regular drinking also occupies vast amounts of our time. From the planning to the imbibing to the recovery the following day, a heavy consumption of alcohol tends to dominate our lives. It leaves no spare hours whatsoever for pursuing any other activities – and besides, anything that doesn’t involve booze is surely a complete waste of time and something to be avoided like the plague, isn’t it?

Here then are the two most substantial reasons that I had no interest in hobbies for my entire adult life until I stopped drinking: firstly, if it didn’t involve booze then I didn’t want to be doing it, and secondly, hobbies are a stupid waste of time and something that only dull people do.

But then I became a non-drinker, and none of the above applied any longer. Hobbies, I quickly realised, are not just distractions but an excellent means of achieving numerous other goals. For a start, many pastimes (booze-free of course) will necessarily involve interacting with other people. If you sign up to a writing class or join a gym, partake in a regular film or book club or learn how to rock climb, you will be meeting new faces, some of whom may well become friends. These people will probably not hold alcohol in quite as high regard as you have always done, hence their interest in your chosen activity (or maybe they will be exactly like you, looking for alcohol-free ways to spend their time because they too want to be sober on a permanent basis). All of this will aid your booze-free endeavours enormously, as well as providing a welcome distraction from drinking in the early days when the cravings are still hitting in frequent tidal waves.

In addition to making interesting new friends who don’t consider booze to be the be-all and end-all (which in itself will help boost your confidence), taking part in a hobby will help increase your self- belief. This is because you will be trying something different and gradually proving to yourself you’re capable of things that you previously thought you couldn’t manage. There is an immense rush of satisfaction to be found in reaching targets – being able to converse comfortably in a foreign language or running for several miles after being unfit for years, for example, are achievements that will spur you on and help create a feeling of inner strength and invincibility. They will reignite the exciting sense of potential (most likely buried after years of drinking excessively) that we all possess in our youth – the dreams we once regarded as entirely within our grasp, but which, as we mature into adults, somehow wither away to nothing.

Partaking in a hobby works wonders for the soul. Just because the thought of crocheting or collecting stamps might send you into a deep slumber, you shouldn’t assume that all pastimes will be of no interest to you. There is something for everyone; it’s just a matter of discovering what that may be for you.

I am passionate about writing and exercising, spending time with my children and our dog. I love animals and bird watching, and I derive great pleasure from being out in the countryside. I also, once I became alcohol-free, began baking again – something I adored as a child but which, once the booze bus came along, got sidelined along with so many other activities I had once enjoyed. And while admittedly I did engage in most of these interests when I was a drinker, it was with limited enthusiasm and vigour, largely because they simply got in the way of my passion for wine. Even the cinema was as an inconvenience as it equated to a night out without alcohol – or, at the very best, only a couple of drinks squeezed in either side of the film which was, quite frankly, deeply frustrating.

The pastimes I enjoy now as a non-drinker are ones to which I apply myself fully. If I’m out walking in the hills, it is this and only this that demands my attention. I’m not thinking of pints of beer in a country pub, or contemplating how much drinking time I’ll have left when I arrive home as a result of wasting hours marching about unnecessarily in the countryside. When I’m baking with my younger daughter, it isn’t with one eye on the clock, wishing the hours away in order to reach her bedtime and my wine o’clock. And if I am writing, I am doing so with pure concentration as opposed to harbouring feelings of resentment, because really all I want to do is switch off my laptop and get stuck into a bottle

If there’s one thing all heavy drinkers have in common it is that they occupy a miniscule world. Alcohol consumption (when it’s regular and intense) shrinks our existence, creating a daily schedule based on nothing more than getting pissed and subsequently recovering. Meeting new friends is, quite honestly, exhausting – unless they too are only interested in getting sloshed, and then it’s irrelevant whom we are talking to because all parties present are inebriated. Anything that doesn’t involve drinking is abandoned for obvious reasons, and activities that demand concentration and commitment are a total waste of time as who can deliver such attributes when half cut?

But hobbies, when one is alcohol-free, broaden horizons – they help to expand an individual’s world. Doing nothing is tolerable when you are drinking to cushion the tedium of it; take the alcohol away and being bored is quite awful. This tends to force the non-drinker out of his or her comfort zone and into new activities, enjoyed alongside different people and in previously uncharted territory. There is nowhere to hide when you are stone cold sober – it becomes essential to fill empty evenings and weekends with something constructive. And although it might feel as scary as hell, doing it should provoke the desire to keep doing it, to push on further in order to find out exactly what you are capable of.

And so to holidays, which are to the average heavy boozer a perfect excuse for an extended piss- up. Most people who are alcohol-dependent will only usually stall a drinking session due to various unavoidable obstacles and restrictions: work, children and the desire not to be perceived as a hopeless drunk. Remove these standard daily interruptions to one’s alcohol consumption, and what are you left with? That’s correct: a holiday.

People are allowed to drink a lot on holiday – that is to say, boozy behaviour from those jetting off to sunnier climes is considered socially acceptable. How many of us have witnessed fellow travellers downing pints of lager in the airport at some ungodly hour before the sun has even risen? When I drank alcohol, I would routinely consume two or three large glasses of wine during my time spent at the airport and on board the plane. This was, I reassured myself, purely down to my fear of flying and was therefore entirely justified. And once we arrive at our chosen destination, we frequently feel entitled to enjoy a few drinks to help us unwind and really make the holiday go with a bang. We are not required to be up early in the mornings, everyone is generally more relaxed, and thus alcohol seems to suit the mood perfectly.

The issue here (once again) for those of us devoid of the off-switch is that we do not drink like other people do. Beginning with a higher level of acceptable than your average moderate drinker, our holiday drinking can quickly escalate to monumental proportions. If a bottle of wine a night is standard when at home, the vacation equivalent is likely to exceed three bottles. And this is not an ingredient for a happy holiday for anyone present.

What, then, is the newly teetotal person to expect when travelling for the first time minus a steady flow of booze to fill up all the unwanted cracks in their happiness? Because let’s face it, if you have always consumed alcohol as an adult then all your holidays will have been booze-fuelled weeks of mayhem. And if you’re anything like me as a drinker, alcohol was the whole point of a holiday.

I believe there are some hard and fast rules to help the people for whom this book was written (i.e. those who are incapable of moderating their consumption and are learning how to live without booze) enjoy alcohol-free holidays. You probably will not be able to incorporate all of the following into your next holiday, or even the one after that. Like much of life after drinking, adjustments will take time, effort and planning. But if you work towards these aims, you’ll get there eventually and so will be able to look forward to feeling content and rejuvenated during and after your future holidays – which is far preferable to arriving home with the mother of all hangovers and nothing to show for your fortnight away except an extra spare tyre and bags the size of suitcases under your eyes.

 

AF Holiday Rule #1: choose a location that interests you. Frankly, when you drink a lot, you could be holidaying on a landfill site and you wouldn’t notice all that much (at least, not after you’d sunk the first couple of jugs of Sangria). However, things are wildly different when you are completely sober; in fact, the exact opposite is true. You’ll really notice your environment, and it will become, apart from the break from working and the company of whomever you are holidaying with, the most important element of your time away. Since I quit alcohol, I’ve picked locations that are historically, culturally or geographically interesting to me. I also look for places conducive to fitness activities such as cycling, hiking, surfing or skiing as I love all of these things and engaging daily in any of them is my idea of heaven. My worst nightmare would be a noisy, bar-filled resort, rammed with people all seeking a mental escape. But whatever rocks your boat! Just make sure that wherever you go, you’re going to enjoy it for what it has to offer other than booze.

AF Holiday Rule #2: go on holiday with people you like. This may prove difficult for some as alcohol conceals all sorts of dissatisfactions – not least an unhappy relationship. When we are drinking heavily, it detracts from the true dynamic of a partnership; take the booze away and giant holes could be revealed, especially on holiday where the everyday busyness of life comes to a standstill. Aside from our partner, there are also friends to consider. As discussed earlier in the book, we usually choose similarly heavy drinkers in our social circles when we ourselves drink – precisely the type of people we wouldn’t want to spend a week with sober. If you are planning on being a non-drinker on a permanent basis, it may be necessary to cut loose some friends and even your partner, should the incompatibilities become unmanageable without the veil of alcohol disguising them. Holidays should be fun and relaxing, and they will be if you are with the right person or people. A week away in close quarters with someone you can barely stand to be in the same room with will amount to a hellish experience.

 

AF Holiday Rule #3: avoid places with memories of drinking copious amounts. As a teenager I visited Faliraki and Kavos, both in Greece and both with the infamous 18–30 Holiday company. Booze cruises, bar crawling, scooting about on the back of boys’ mopeds while wearing a tiny bikini and being fairly hammered–I partook in all of the average English person’s Mediterranean holiday clichés. As the years progressed I visited many cities, mountains, beaches and picturesque villages, and in most of them I carved out some reasonably distressing alcohol-related memories. I would advise avoiding like the plague any holiday location that will remind you of drinking until you have at least a couple of AF years under your belt. Triggers will be firing off at an alarming rate if you descend on a place where, in days gone by, you would have been getting quietly sloshed in a little bar somewhere, or necking pina coladas on the beach beneath a particularly pleasing palm tree. The sun, the omission of restrictions (work being the main one), together with the strong impulse to let your hair down because you are on holiday could all prove too much to withstand. Go easy on yourself and pick a new destination with no drinking memories – good or bad.

AF Holiday Rule #4: find time to meditate. You’ll have more free hours on holiday than you do at home so there’s no excuse for not doing this. Devote a few minutes every morning to meditating, repeating a mantra pertaining to using your holiday to relax and recharge your batteries, and you’ll really help yourself stay focused on this goal. Meditation aids mindfulness and encourages a sense of calm – remind yourself each day that relaxation is the reason why you are on holiday and you’ll be prioritising it clearly in your mind, which, in turn, will assist you throughout the day to achieve this aim.

AF Holiday Rule #5: be a bit selfish. You work your bum off all year, traipsing round after other people, picking things up and washing their clothes, restocking the fridge and cleaning the loo. Then you go on holiday and, if you aren’t careful, you end up doing exactly the same thing there. This endless domestic slog results (unsurprisingly) in major feelings of resentment and bitterness. And both of these emotions are especially helpful in pushing you towards the wine section of the local supermarket. My advice would be to pre-empt this and outline expectations pre-holiday with your nearest and dearest. Explain that this is your holiday too and you deserve and need a rest, just like your travel companions. Work out how best to achieve a holiday from which everyone benefits and, if necessary, pencil in a few hours here and there just for you where you do the things you love doing, free from the responsibilities of the kids or whoever else you’re going away with.

 

Hobbies and holidays are equally brilliant for injecting passion and excitement back into your life once the alcohol has been shelved. Work at embracing them. If you run from them, too frightened to try your hand at anything new, you’ll be missing out on vast amounts of enjoyment and satisfaction. Both hobbies and holidays will boost your personal growth, helping to build confidence and self-esteem, and could lead you to new adventures that you never imagined in your wildest dreams. The key to having a good time without booze is to live in the moment, and we will look at this in more detail in the chapter on mindfulness later in the book.

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Soberistas – A Summary

Here’s a summary of what Soberistas is, where the idea came from, and what it can do to help you if you are struggling with your relationship with alcohol. Our logo is the Bird of Paradise flower, which means this: freedom, magnificence, good perspective and that something strange and wonderful is about to occur. Going alcohol-free can be a positive lifestyle change, representative of all these things.

Bird of Paradise flowers

Soberistas emerged out of my desperation to get alcohol out of my life once and for all. By the time I quit drinking, alcohol was scaring me to death but so was the idea of living without it. I craved an existence that was booze-free but also one in which I was happy and not tormented by the ongoing desire to get drunk – a desire that had caused me so much trouble throughout my entire life since being a teenager. Was I an alcoholic? Who knows, I still don’t know. What I did know was that life had to be better than the miserable cycle I’d found myself trapped in, of drinking, hangovers and self-hatred.

Soberistas.com is fundamentally a website where you can write and offload, anonymously. It’s an online place where you can meet other people who know exactly how you feel and who will support you in your journey to becoming alcohol-free. It’s a space that you can drop into and ask people to convince you right there and then to NOT go and buy a bottle but to stick to your sobriety instead because you’ll feel so much happier in the morning if you do.

There’s a chat room, a forum and a place to post blogs. There’s an Ask the Doctor service (send the Soberistas alcohol specialist GP, Dr. Julia, your questions and they will be answered and published on the site anonymously), a Book Club (a good distraction for the evenings now that you’ve stopped drinking!), a Member of the Month scheme (vote for the member who you think has made real sober progress or who has offered you amazing support and we’ll send the winner a personally engraved silver bracelet from jewellers, Merci Maman), and monthly expert interactive webinars. There’s also the Soberistas Discount Club where you’ll find a great selection of companies offering exclusive discounts to our subscribers, including DryDrinker, JoggBox and Daniel Sandler make-up. Plus we post motivational and informative features every fortnight that will help you in your goal to stay alcohol-free and healthy.

I set Soberistas up as a way out of the booze trap, an easy-to-access resource that provides a blueprint for how to live happily without alcohol. It was intended to reflect my own experiences of being AF – positive, life changing and the best decision I have ever made, for both my family and me.

If you have any questions about Soberistas please email me on lucy@soberistas.com.

 

Lucy xx

Ebvory and Cocktail

When I was a little girl I had two imaginary pets, Cocktail the parrot and Ebvory the cocker spaniel (the name of the dog being derived from its monochrome colouring, ebony and ivory, and one of which I was terribly proud of inventing). Every morning when I left the house for school I would remind my grandma who lived with us to feed the animals and she dutifully did this I’m sure – when I came home in the afternoon there would always be a bowl of water on the kitchen floor for Ebvory, and a smaller one on the side for Cocktail (oh the irony of that name choice!). For quite some time I would take the dog out for walks, requesting that it sit at the edge of the road to wait for passing vehicles, and generally ensuring he behaved himself at all times. The parrot would sit on my shoulder, serene in its demeanour.

It absolutely did not occur to me that this was in any way strange behaviour. I don’t think I spent a single moment pondering the reasoning behind my make-believe pets nor did I consider that other people might regard me as something as a curiosity as I wandered about with an outstretched arm (holding the dog’s lead) and chattering away to myself (or so it would have looked to observers).

My imaginary pets gradually disappeared into the ether when I was about nine years old and I don’t recall any significant departure or goodbye ceremony. I probably didn’t need them anymore and so happily allowed them to drift back off to wherever they came from.

But several years later (twenty-six to be exact) I stopped drinking, and although Ebvory and Cocktail didn’t witness a magical resurrection, I did conjure up another imaginary being, this time in the shape of me – specifically, a (happily) non-drinking version of me.

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I had no reference point to draw upon when it came to learning to be someone who didn’t touch alcohol. I was, after all, a serial drinker, or just a drinker. However you thought of me, I was a drinker through and through. And so I found myself visualising the sober me as a way of providing myself with a goal, a target to reach – a person I wanted to grow into.

There is science to back up the notion of visualising the things we want to happen in our lives, so if you are trying to lose weight then it can be helpful to repeatedly picture yourself ordering a salad in a restaurant and refusing a pudding. If you’re trying to quit smoking then you could visualise yourself doing something else other than lighting up at a routine cigarette break. And similarly, if you’re aiming to cut out alcohol then it can really help if you imagine yourself asking for (for instance) a soft drink at the bar, or how you will inform your friends that you are no longer drinking.

I did this, but I took it to the extreme. I started to see myself as someone who focused on health in all areas of life, a person who was confident and satisfied with a life that didn’t feature booze anywhere in it. I looked to people I admired who I knew didn’t drink (or who didn’t drink much) and borrowed bits of them that I liked. I basically dreamt up a new me, and I gradually allowed myself to blend into her. I saw her in various situations, how she would handle socialising and everyday life, sober.

When we don’t like who we are as a drinker, it’s really helpful to have an alternative version of ourselves to aspire towards. This was a key piece of ammo in my fight to move on from an alcohol-fuelled existence so I thought I’d share it with you – I hope it helps.

What Does ‘Soberista’ Mean?

This post is about what being a Soberista means. The definition of this word has changed for me since I first came across it four years ago. Back then, my outlook on being a non-drinker was a little more simplistic than it is now; this is to be expected, as in 2012 I’d only been sober for about a year, now it is almost five. Time affects how you perceive things, and time changes you on the inside – you grow in strength and wisdom as a result of dealing with challenges. You learn.

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In 2012 I was very excited to first read the word ‘Soberista’. I thought it summed up beautifully all that it is to love not drinking. Its positivity shone out, and when I saw those letters together they conveyed something to me about being proud.

In the last four years, ‘Soberista’ has developed for me in its depth of meaning. Yes, it is still an optimistic take on being alcohol-free; yes, it still has nothing to do with gritted teeth and willpower; yes, it’s a way of life, and a really good way of life at that.

But then it’s all of these things too. Being a Soberista is not simply about quitting drinking. It’s not someone who is dull and doesn’t know how to live; it’s someone who recognises what life is really about. A Soberista is a brave person who’s been able to identify alcohol as being problematic for them, and set about conquering the fucking stuff. It takes guts to take a stance and stop drinking when everyone around you is downing gallons of booze. A Soberista means being willing to walk through miles of emotional crap because there’s a tiny glimmer of light at the other end that you believe is surely better than where you are now. Being a Soberista is being brutally honest with yourself, cutting through delusions and denial and drinking lies, recognising when enough is enough. And being a Soberista means sticking up for yourself and following your heart, even when you’re faced with unsupportive and unhelpful comments.

To me, ‘Soberista’ now also denotes community. I never imagined the thousands of wonderful people all coming together like a warm cloud of friendship and love who make up the Soberistas worldwide community, when I first saw that word. Truth be known, I was a bit down on humankind back in 2012.

But not anymore. Today, ‘Soberista’ means kindness, courage, love, friendship, and, as was the case right back at the beginning, it’s all about loving a life without alcohol.

Good Decisions. Consistently.

Stopping drinking does not make life all better. The same old shit will still bug you, and your personality will remain pretty much intact (albeit you’ll probably become less down on yourself and more optimistic about things in general). The curveballs will continue to get thrown your way, and the opportunities that seem so close and within reach will still, on occasion, slip away from your grasp leaving you feeling cheated. Some people will still annoy you; things will still, sometimes, not go the way you want them to.

All of this is true. And yet, I found myself thinking a few days ago, ‘everything goes how I want it to nowadays; my life has become so simple to navigate’. So I started to ponder this a bit, why I had arrived at the conclusion that life is easy now that I’m a non-drinker. And here’s what I came up with.

When I drank, I made a lot of ill thought out decisions. These often did not end with the one initial bad decision but seemed to flow, catastrophically, into a maelstrom of dark consequences. Which, in turn, affected a whole host of other areas of my life, with similarly terrible results. It was the lack of consistency and complete inability to sit back and ruminate on anything that got me into so much bother. (And being drunk a lot.)

Think it? Do it. Feel it? Act on it. Say it. Do it. Think it? Go on and DO IT.

But now, I am calm. I am consistently calm. I’m a thinker. I contemplate. I empathise. I sit quietly with my thoughts before I act upon them.

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This brings positive outcomes because my life is no longer a kamikaze frenzy of drunken behaviour. It’s well thought out. And a word that I keep returning to – it’s consistent. I often say that the thing I love the most about being a non-drinker is the clarity it brings, but I’m also extremely happy about another great benefit of this lifestyle, and that’s the level, steady consistency; the predictability, the lack of surprises. The reliability.

This is a good way to live. You get to plan and live a life that is less Russian Roulette and more Chess. You can think about your next move, and make it when you’ve weighed everything up. Partners are chosen because they’re who you really need and want; friends are made because you have solid things in common instead of merely a love of getting pissed; you can concentrate and apply yourself at work, meaning you give your best and excel. You just make better choices – all the time. Good decisions, consistently.

It’s good, this non-drinking life.

My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic

There’s a documentary on Channel 5 tonight at 10pm called ‘My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic’. And I’m in it. Along with seven other people who all fell foul of the demon drink but managed to successfully pull their lives back from disaster.

This programme has had a strange effect on me. I’ve already seen the rough cut of it, and it’s profound, sad, moving. It had me in tears. It dragged me right back to a very dark place I inhabited a few years ago where I drank far too much and my perspective on the world was incredibly small, restricted to bottles of wine and trying to lose my mind. A place where I showed myself up on a regular basis, where I wasn’t a fantastic mum, somewhere where I strived to be a person I’m not.

It has been almost five years since I last drank alcohol, and I can barely equate who I am today with that depressed woman who spent half her life in a fog of booze.

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I forgave myself my alcohol-related wrongs a long time ago, because what’s the point in wasting the present wrapped up in feelings of regret over the past? But my involvement in ‘My Name Is…’ has brought me closer to my history than anything else has since I became a non-drinker.

In the making of this film, we were all interviewed in a room in London, and Mikey, the director, asked the questions: a very straightforward set-up, a set-up that brought out some honest and heart-wrenching stories. Talking to Mikey, I forgot that I was being recorded for much of it and I suspect the same is true of the other seven people in the film, as their accounts are brutally frank.

I’m glad I took part in this documentary. I think it’s vital to get our version of things out there, those of us who have struggled with addiction, and especially those of us who have managed to get sober – to offer hope and insight to other people who are fighting the fight, desperate to believe that life can get better but not quite seeing how it ever will.

There’s always been prejudice against people who are alcohol dependent. Those who can manage their intake and exercise ‘responsible drinking’ are at a loss when it comes to understanding anyone who can drink and drink and drink, with terrible repercussions, and who goes back to the bottle for more the next day. And the next. And the next. Knowing that their health is suffering and they are risking everything but still not being able to stop.

Alcohol addiction is a secret and sad state of affairs. When you are floundering in the thick of it, you become wonderful at disguising it. And afterwards, as you recover, you may well prefer to keep your struggles private, and who could blame you, when one considers the stigma that is rife in our society with regards to ‘problem drinkers’?

So, I am pleased I took part in this programme, even though it has upset my internal apple cart a little. I am full of admiration for the other seven who feature in it; they’re a brave bunch of fighters who have my utter and total respect.

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor…

Flicking through a magazine the other day, I came across a feature entitled, ‘10 Ways to Disguise a Hangover’. The subtitle read as follows; ‘One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor…from hiccup to beauty queen get-up the morning after the night before’. The content consisted of a number of beauty products, ranging from Christian Dior Capture Totale Le Serum Yeux (£77 if you’re interested), Kerastase Chronologiste Perfume Oil (£39), Foreo IRIS Illuminating Eye Massager (£99) and Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Compact (at a rather more affordable £20) – a grand total of £235 for a bunch of lotions and potions that will allegedly diminish the physical side effects of over drinking.

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Hmm. A few things struck me about this article (irresponsible, lazy journalism, predictable to name a few), but the overriding thought I had after glancing through it was this; we are routinely fed one great big fu**er of a lie when it comes to drinking, and specifically, when it comes to excessive drinking.

Alcohol is a toxin. And if you are downing so much of the stuff that you’re hitting the deck (as per the subtitle of the aforementioned article) then you’re really damaging yourself. And yet, we (as a society) seem to have this attitude towards booze that is so hypocritical, ethereal and hard to pin down. It’s not OK to be a drunk – you know that, right? Drunks are bad. But! It’s really fine to drink lots of tequila at a New Year’s Eve gig, fall over, and suffer an almighty hangover the following day…just so long as you disguise the fact with a load of high end products. Confusing, no? Just where is the line drawn?

If I saw a grown adult at a party (NYE or not) drink so much that she fell to the ground, I would find that pretty upsetting. It would remind me of myself a few years ago, when I would drink to excess because I didn’t like myself much and had no confidence in social situations. I would conclude that this person was either a) out of control when it came to drinking and had a dependency upon booze, or b) really depressed about something and was deliberately getting hammered because she wanted to block it all out. Either way, I wouldn’t be laughing.

Then again, if everyone stuck to the recommended guidelines and consumed just one or two drinks at any one sitting, there would be no cause for an article such as this to be written, one that’s basically flogging a load of expensive beauty products and fills a couple of pages of a magazine.

The images on the pages depict sexy, slim and glamorous women, sipping Prosecco in their beautiful designer clothes. They don’t portray a person that represents me as a drinker, staggering about in a pub, scanning the room for half-finished drinks that people have left, slightly overweight due to all those booze calories, flushed skin and eyes that reveal a haunted, unhappy soul hiding beneath the veneer of false, alcohol-induced confidence. No, the women in the magazine are in control, and confident, and stylish. So where, then, are the ones who are collapsing after too much tequila, who might be in need of all those lovely magic potions the next day?

These sorts of articles are, to employ the use of a technical word, crap. They sell a lifestyle that doesn’t exist. They make us think we can be something that is a fantasy – the heavy drinker who cares not; who does not invite the criticism or judgment from those around her; who doesn’t let loved ones down repeatedly because of her alcohol dependency; who doesn’t look like shit because she drinks too much and her poor liver is crying out for a rest.

Approach these features with caution – and, as we venture forwards into a new year, remember that most of the cultural messages regarding alcohol that we’re subjected to are motivated by money, one way or another.

Making It Through Christmas…Alive, Kicking & Sober!

I hated Christmas when I drank, largely because I shared custody of my eldest daughter with her dad, and so I would either wake up on Christmas Day without her, or she would have to leave for her dad’s at 3pm. I missed her terribly when she wasn’t there, and her absence had the additional negative effect of enabling me to drink – the sadness I felt as a result of our broken family justified (in my mind) my excessive alcohol consumption.

Then, when I quit drinking, I hated Christmas because I could see everyone around me getting drunk, and drinking, drinking, drinking, and I’d feel lonely and odd and full of longing to join in. But I knew I couldn’t.

But that was just my first sober Christmas, and since then everything has become, not only easier, but good, enjoyable. Finally, I like Christmas. My daughter is now almost seventeen so the pain of sharing custody has passed.  She’ll spend a bit of time with her dad on Christmas Day but it’s much easier to bear these days, and most of the day she will spend with me and the rest of her maternal family, so it doesn’t sting anywhere near as much as it once did. Plus now we have her little sister who is three and a half, her presence injecting that essential childhood excitement factor at Christmas.

Over the years, I became accustomed to despising Christmas. Everything about it made me feel uncomfortable and desperate to run away from it all: the cold, the grey skies, the aforementioned absences of my daughter, the highlighting of my divorced status when everyone else seemed to be playing happy families, and of course, the regrets and self-loathing over what would almost always transcend into a period of very heavy drinking and all the associated stupid, drunken behaviour.

As the years have passed by, though, and certainly since I became alcohol-free, I have garnered a few thoughts about staying happy at this time of year, and they have really helped me transform a very negative perception of Christmas to a positive one. I wanted to share them with you, in case you, like I once used to be, are filled with dread at what lies just around the corner…

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  • Focus on family and love. You might find it difficult to get on with certain members of the family who are descending upon you for the duration of the holidays, but try and concentrate on the ones who make you feel happy – the kids, your partner. Absorb their excitement and pleasure, and reconnect with your own inner child. If you don’t have children and are single, consider spending a few hours of Christmas Day volunteering at a homeless shelter. Giving yourself up to help others is a sure fire way to boost your mental state, and you won’t be bored, lonely and tempted to drink all day if you’re busy devoting yourself to a good cause.
  • Most of us will get at least a couple of days off work, so if all else fails, try and blot out the Christmas factor and just utilise the time to recharge your batteries and slob about in your pyjamas having a good old rest. With much of the outside world going into shutdown mode, this is an easy time of the year to do very little, and let’s face it; most of us don’t get that opportunity very often. Reframe Christmas as nothing more than a free holiday, and enjoy a well-deserved break.
  • Meditate on the positives in your life. I used to spiral into a major depression during the weeks leading up to Christmas, and would be drawn to all the bad stuff that was going on, which made it impossible to look outward and feel happy about anything. But if we scratch the surface, everyone can find at least one or two good things that are worth exercising gratitude for – the fact that you’re healthy, or that you have a roof over your head, or that you have lovely friends or family, or that you will be enjoying a nice meal or two over Christmas. Meditate every day for a few minutes and focus on whatever positive elements you can think of in your life. Remind yourself that actually, there is always something to feel grateful for.
  • Get in touch with fellow Soberistas. Use the Soberistas website to connect with others who might also be finding booze an issue at this time of year. A problem shared is a problem halved, and nobody will understand how you feel better than those in the same boat.
  • Consider letting a few close people in your life know that you have quit drinking and that you might be having a couple of wobbles over the Christmas period. If you think you could be tempted to drink then knowing that those around you are aware of how you’re feeling will act as a good preventative method in stopping you from doing so. You’re much less likely to give into temptation if you feel accountable to the people you’re spending the holidays with. And remember – those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.
  • Go for a run or a brisk walk on Christmas Day morning. Exercise makes you feel better – it’s that simple. The endorphins, getting away from all the mayhem, the fresh air and daylight will all have a positive impact on your emotional state, so make the most of the fact that you aren’t lying around with a raging hangover, put your trainers on and get outside for some exercise.
  • Find a nice alcohol-free drink that you really enjoy that feels like a bit of a treat, and stock up before Christmas. You will probably feel left out if everyone else is necking the wine and you’re nursing a glass of orange juice or water. So either experiment beforehand with mocktail recipes or order in some alcohol-free drinks just for you – the Soberistas Discount Club page has a code for 10% off products from brand new alcohol-free drinks stockists, DryDrinker, so check out their range if you’re in need of inspiration.
  • Watch films, read books, listen to music. Ignite your soul with lots of cosy evenings in, catching up on some culture. It’ll keep you busy and give you a focus when the sun goes down, a time when you might otherwise start itching for a drink. Reading books is a no-go when you’re drinking, and any films you watch will be instantly forgotten if you’ve got a glass to hand throughout. I love watching films during Christmas in my pyjamas, alone or with the kids, just losing myself in another world for a couple of hours. And if you want some ideas for reading material, check out the Soberistas Book Club.

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I hope this helps, and have a happy, booze-free Christmas! Love from Lucy x

When you quit drinking you find CLARITY…

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Clearheaded. Day after day, without interruption, free from fog and confusion: this is my experience of living without alcohol. I think straight because mind-altering substances of any kind no longer hamper my thoughts. I just think. Clearly. When I drank, I spent so much of my time simply treading water, waiting, drifting, as I looked forward to feeling well again, or to drinking some more. I wished my life away, dragged down by the physical and mental weight of hangovers. So yes, this is what it is to be alcohol-free – clearheaded. You are able to exist as you are, unencumbered by any negativity brought about by poisoning your mind and body with ethanol. It’s freedom.

Love. If you’re addicted to something, it prevents you from loving anything else or anyone fully. How can you give your heart completely to another human being when a proportion of it already belongs to a substance? Answer: you can’t. I cherry-picked my relationships as a drinker, based on whether a potential boyfriend demonstrated a tolerance for my proclivity for heavy alcohol consumption. Specifically, he had to be a heavy drinker too, which, of course, nicely disguised my own shortcomings in this area. But since I became alcohol-free, I’ve got my head around what love really is. And I know that I never had it when I drank; I had nothing that resembled love at all.

 Appreciation. When you’re running from yourself, either drunk or with an almighty hangover, and you hate every part of what you are, inside and out, there’s no room to notice the world around you. I internalised everything when I drank, I turned in on myself and expended all my energy thinking about me, and the terrible things I did, and the current mess I’d landed myself in, and the bad hand that life had seemingly dealt me. I rarely took in a beautiful sunset, or the sound of a bird chirruping on a branch, or the friendly smile of a passing stranger. I was locked inside my own dark world, and I had neither the inclination nor the headspace to absorb my surroundings. Without alcohol, I appreciate, and I see, and I care.

 Remould. You’re never fixed. As a human, you possess an immense ability to rework yourself. All you need to do is to start putting into practise new habits and small changes to how you lead your day-to-day life. When you stare into the mirror and hate what is looking back, just remember that it doesn’t need to end there. It’s never end game. There is always tomorrow. For years, I suffered from depression, anxiety and panic attacks –nowadays, I’m fine. I removed the alcohol and the rest took care of itself. It is always possible to remould.

 Instinctive. One of the best things about being a non-drinker for me is that I now completely trust my instincts. I rely on my gut feelings to help me navigate my way through life, and I’ve not yet been let down by this as a strategy. When I drank, I often had my head in the clouds – life was part reality, part fantasy, and I found it difficult to separate the two. It’s a different story now. My feet are planted firmly on the ground, I don’t take any shit off anyone, and I know when I’ve taken a wrong turn and redirect myself back to where I want to be. Life seems easy now, but in the old days it was a constant challenge and I regularly felt out of my depth.

 True to yourself. It sounds like a cliché, but I found myself when I stopped drinking. I was lost as a drinker, had no idea of who I was or what I wanted out of my life. Or of what I was capable of. Or of the sort of people I wanted to spend time with. I flipped from this idea to that, sporadically focusing on various projects that never got finished. And then, with spectacular ease, my vision of the person I was and what life was about, and how I should spend my time on earth, all magically became apparent. It didn’t happen overnight but within a few months of becoming a non-drinker, there it was – clarification of me, and of my life.

 You. You matter. I matter. We all matter. Our happiness counts. We deserve to live a life that is true to who we are, and one in which we fulfil our potential. Self-compassion can be impossible to exercise when we are frequently filled with self-hatred, when we turn away from our own reflection and can’t sleep at night because we can’t stand what we have become… and yet, self-esteem can and does return when you stop doing things when you’re pissed that you later bitterly regret. And when you have a bit of self-esteem, you don’t want to damage yourself quite so much. Your dignity begins to emerge again from wherever it’s been hiding, swallowed up by oceans of wine. You come back to the fore. You start to matter again.

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Soberistas31 Challenge 2015

Any sober person residing in a country that celebrates Christmas will be all too aware that from the beginning of December until January 1st, many, many people go slightly bonkers in the name of the festive season. From November onwards, the shops are packed with decorations and trees, glitter and lights, all attempting to draw in the crowds and fill up the tills; television adverts are mainly focused on gifts and products tenuously connected to Christmas for weeks prior to the ‘Big Day’; and of course, wherever there is mass celebration, there is sure to be mass drinking following closely behind.

Nothing highlights how consumerist Christmas has become better than the drinks industry, which has successfully hijacked the occasion and ensured everyone (or nearly everyone) falls into the trap of thinking they must have a drink in order to have fun. From the work’s festive night out to the kids’ Christmas play at school, people seem to be pushing booze in your direction and it can be difficult, to say the least, getting through December while sticking to your alcohol-free endeavours.

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And so, for the third year running, we are pleased to announce the Soberistas31 Challenge, which we hope will help both those trying to stay sober and the families who benefit from Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity’s much-needed services. The aim is simple; don’t drink for the whole of December and donate the money you would have spent on alcohol (or a proportion thereof) to RTCC.

Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity supports around 2,000 families in England who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. It’s the leading charity in England providing emotional and practical help direct to families who find themselves in this unthinkable situation. Their Family Support Workers care for the whole family, from their child’s diagnosis, during treatment and, if needed, through bereavement. The money raised through the Soberistas31 Challenge will enable the charity to provide additional support workers, thus helping even more families in need.

The Soberistas31 Challenge steps up the support you can already find on Soberistas. There is a special Forum category http://soberistas.com/forum/categories/soberistas31/listForCategory just for the members of the site who take part in this fund-raising month, plus regular motivational reminders about the vital work carried out by Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity to keep you focused on why you are committing to a month off alcohol at this, the booziest time of the year.

If you would like to take part, please email me on lucy@soberistas.com with your name and address, and you will be sent a welcome pack from Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity and Soberistas. The details of how to donate at the end of the month will be posted on Soberistas.com, and for any further questions, you can contact me on the above email address.

I hope we can smash through our previous totals by exceeding £1000. And as well as knowing you are helping this charity out and all the families that depend on their work, you will be able to greet 2016 with an alcohol-free month already in the bag, raring to go for a sober New Year.

Many thanks, and here’s to a happy and healthy December!