Happy 3rd Birthday Soberistas!

On November 26th 2012, Soberistas.com launched. Within a year, twenty thousand people had signed up to join this brave and determined community, all seeking a happier and healthier life without alcohol. Today there are almost 34,000 registered members and the site continues to flourish, providing a non-judgmental and safe haven for anyone with alcohol issues to come and offload, to seek support from a group of friendly and inspirational Istas.

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So where did the idea for Soberistas come from? I was a heavy drinker who mostly thought it was normal to drink myself into oblivion several nights a week, to fall into drunken stupors on dates, and to throw up noisily in pub toilets on a regular evening out with friends because I just couldn’t stop boozing once I started. It bothered me intermittently, this lack of control with regards to alcohol, although never sufficiently enough to make me stop drinking altogether. But it really gave me a kick up the backside one morning in April 2011 when I woke up in A&E covered in congealed sick (sorry for the grossness but it was, well, gross), and with a complete blank where my memory should’ve been.

Stopping drinking was easy. Deciding to stop was easy, but staying stopped and feeling happy about it? That was the tough part. Urrgh, become a boring teetotaller? Never get drunk and dance on tables again? No more sitting around in restaurants talking until the cows come home, with bottle after bottle of red on the go? No, that all sounded like my idea of hell on earth.

My discomfort in the idea of becoming a sober woman in my mid-thirties led me to a light bulb moment one day, when the idea came to mind of a social network website that brought together a lot of like-minded women (and a few So-Bros!) from all over the world, who would help one another feel less alone and not so desperate about the fact that alcohol had simply stopped working for them…I saw the website in my mind, as clear as day, and I still have a sketch of it on a scrap of paper, which doesn’t look a million miles away from how Soberistas looks today.

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So that’s how Soberistas came to be in existence, but it could never have become the inspirational and heart-warming place that it is without our members, the individuals who blog and comment every day, helping so many other people recognise and begin to resolve their own drinking issues, as well as working through their own relationships with alcohol – and learning to live without it.

As a thank you, we are holding a 3rd Birthday Competition – and the prize is a rather gorgeous Clarins advent calendar, a lovely pre-Christmas treat full of miniature Clarins beauty products. In order to enter, all you need to do is write a blog on Soberistas.com stating exactly why you love being a Soberista. There’s no maximum or minimum word length, but you will need to tag the blog ‘Soberistasbirthday’ (all one word please) in order for it to be included in the entries. The competition closes at midnight (GMT) November 26th 2015 and we will announce the winner during the following week. This competition is open to all our members worldwide.

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The Perfect Storm

I love the rare occasions in my life when I get to think and filter out all the crap that seems to bombard me from all angles, day in, day out. There are the endless emails attempting to sell me things I don’t want or need, the multitasking that’s required to manage the lives of my daughters and me, and the shopping, cleaning and dog-walking. There are the efforts to keep up with the news, and the organisation of work and a social life. All of these things amount to a very busy schedule with few opportunities for peace and calm.

In the fast-paced existence of the modern world, it can be virtually impossible to find adequate space and time in which to put the brakes on, cogitate, assess and evaluate: to recover a precious few moments for processing the vast quantities of information that are entering our heads on a daily basis.

Writing has always helped me to achieve this goal – as a means of finding clarity and making decisions in my life, it’s unbeatable. When I initially stopped drinking, writing this blog became my soul support mechanism. I looked to my laptop as my friend and confidante, I poured out all of my thoughts and feelings surrounding alcohol and why I had drunk so much, how it had made me feel, and how I was coping with my new sober life. I opened up in my writing in a way I never could have done via speaking; blogging became a kind of semi-anonymous, safe, confessional obsession for me, a way to bare all emotionally and understand myself better. It seemed to fast track the process of acceptance with regards to my alcohol misuse and the switch to a happier, booze-free life.

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George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, Why I Write, of the “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story”. I love the way words fit together, and how we can select from such a sweeping, comprehensive vocabulary. We can form precise meaning by the words we use and the order we put them in. We can express ourselves and record our experiences through writing. And we can share ideas and thoughts openly with countless other people, most of whom we have never met.

This last point is a powerful phenomenon to me – the notion that we can communicate honestly and without barriers with people from all over the world who might be looking for reassurance, confirmation that they are not alone in their particular struggles. How else can we achieve this other than through writing? The idea of Soberistas.com, a social network site for people with problematic drinking patterns, came about primarily because a) I had a booze problem and b) I loved writing. I recognised the restorative and therapeutic nature of blogging, and how it had helped me to work through my own drinking issues.

It doesn’t matter whether a person is a brilliant wordsmith or not. To me, the best blogs are the ones that evoke honesty and that other people can relate to. It’s the bridging of multiple minds brought about by the words of one that is behind my love of writing. When I read through the blogs on Soberistas, I see that other people are similarly seeking to resolve their various problems with alcohol by writing about them. A community of people brought together through a shared struggle and a compulsion to express and pool their thoughts. This formula works, in that writing on a public forum appears, for many, to be an effective method of eliminating the negativity that stems from a long time spent drinking too much.

For me, it’s the perfect storm.

The Sober Revolution – available to buy now!

A few weeks ago I blogged about the book I’d been writing with Sarah Turner being almost finished, and how thrilled I was at having achieved one of my long-standing dreams. At that stage we were planning on self-publishing because our main goal was to get our book out there as fast as possible with the hope that it would a) help people to understand their relationship with alcohol better and b) describe a mind-set which would enable them, should they adopt the same way of thinking, to feel happy about being a non-drinker. We weren’t keen on the idea of passing the manuscript to numerous potential publishers and waiting perhaps months for a decision, when we were so eager to have our book read by those looking for help with an alcohol dependency.

On the off-chance we decided, very abruptly, to contact a publisher (Accent Press) who we had read about in a newspaper a couple of months earlier and who we felt might understand where we were coming from in terms of our book – we decided that this would be our only attempt to get the book published by someone else, and if we were turned down we would go back to our original self-publishing plan.

Within a day of reading the manuscript our single choice publisher contacted us and informed us that she would absolutely love to publish our book, and that it had had a profound effect on the way that she viewed her own relationship with alcohol – as a result of reading it she had decided to become a non-drinker too, and was thrilled to bits about this sudden lifestyle change.

So here we are, just a few weeks later, with a book published and available to buy as an eBook on Amazon right now, and in paperback format in a week or two. In early January 51On+gbK4vL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-70,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_2014 our book, ‘The Sober Revolution’, will be out in the book shops too.

You can buy ‘The Sober Revolution’ from Amazon or by clicking on the link below – we hope you enjoy reading it, and would love to hear what you think!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/

Dare to Dream

Occasionally I experience the feeling that I am on the outside of my life looking in. Today was one of those days.

This morning with the baby sleeping upstairs, I spent a couple of hours working on the introduction to the book I have been writing (in conjunction with Sarah Turner of the Harrogate Sanctuary) and allowed myself, for the first time, to acknowledge the fact that we are now on the home stretch and therefore have pretty much written an entire book – a real life, full-length book that is one hundred per cent our creation. I couldn’t and still can’t quite believe it.

I have been banging on to anyone who would listen for years and years that I ‘am writing a book.’ There has always been one simmering on the backburner, a few chapters in the bag before I predictably stalled mid-way, never approaching completion – a multitude of never-ending projects for which I couldn’t quite muster the energy to make my way to THE END.

Wine glass. Broken.

I have made it this far with the book we have spent the last few months putting together as a result of sobering up; a) There would be no subject matter if I was still boozing, b) I would never have met Sarah, my brilliant writing partner, had I maintained my alcohol dependency, c) my creativity was completely sapped by alcohol back in the drinking days and d) I could never have squeezed a project this big and this important into my life amidst all those alcohol-fuelled nights.

So here we are, the last few weeks of work before the writing is finished, the editing done and the proof-reading complete. It feels like such an achievement, not least because this is something which I have been trying to do for almost twenty years. Finally, one of my all-time goals in life has (very nearly) been accomplished.

It just goes to show what you can do when you put down the bottle.

No Words

I was going to write about being cross with my other half yesterday, for coming home late, rather the worse for wear after his work’s Christmas do, making a chicken sandwich and then leaving the chicken and butter out on the kitchen side all night rendering both useless and causing me to throw the two inedible items into the bin.
Then I was going to tell you about how I drove up to my lovely parents’ house, and how they had a chat with me about giving him some slack, showing him a little understanding, talking a bit of sense into me.
And then I turned the television on and listened to the news on the Sandy Hook killings. And nothing else matters.
So I won’t be writing about the above, or anything else today. My thoughts and love are with all those affected by the inhumane actions of the killer, of which there are no words to describe fully, but especially with the families who have had their beloved, beautiful children taken away from them.

My thoughts on being teetotal, before I saw the light.

I wrote this about a year and a half ago, when I first gave up alcohol. I knew that I couldn’t drink anymore because of the destructive and dangerous effect it was having on me, but I wasn’t happy about it. Reading this, I remember just how much I was dreading spending the rest of my life without booze.

I’m so happy that the feelings I write about here didn’t last all that long. There is a lot of writing here, and a lot of it I still stand by – how society in general has a lot to answer for in terms of making it very hard to even contemplate becoming teetotal, for instance. But the negativity I felt back then about ditching alcohol is long gone; these days I couldn’t be happier that I don’t (and will never again) touch booze.

May 2011

A counsellor whom I visited for a while in the months that followed my acrimonious and emotionally devastating divorce, once said to me that he thought there was no truth in my belief that ordinary life (that being daily, routine tasks that we all undertake such as going to work, supermarket shopping and cleaning the bathroom) was a bit dull. The point that I was trying to make was that my excessive drinking and (by then, long abandoned) hedonistic days of raving had (or still did in the case of alcohol consumption) provided a longed for and indeed psychiatrically beneficial respite from the daily grind, and that life sans such escapist indulgences seemed, well, a bit dull. The point that my therapist was attempting to convey was that if a person’s life is sufficiently fulfilled, the need to derive pleasures from artificial means such as drugs and booze is simply eradicated.

A nice thought and one which, eight years on, I am still striving to prove true in my search for self-fulfilment and happiness. But a thought nonetheless which stirs a niggling doubt in the back of my sober mind – that once a person has exposed herself to such highs and freedom from self-consciousness and inhibitions, it becomes very difficult to ever go back.

Human beings have always sought relaxation from the stresses of life, the source of that relaxation stemming from a wide variety of legal, illegal, morally acceptable and socially frowned upon substances as remedies for a little escapism. The need then, to flee from everyday life is not a new phenomenon, despite the moral panic that has escalated in recent years regarding alcohol abuse and ‘booze Britain.’

During the Gin Crisis of the eighteenth century (as depicted in Hogarth’s painting of the same name) it was thought that on average, Londoners were imbibing roughly a pint of gin every week, an amount that sounds shocking to me – and I have drunk a fair old amount of alcohol in my time. Drugs too, are not a twentieth century invention and it is believed that mind-altering substances have been taken since the days of the Stone Age. Drug paraphernalia was discovered a few years ago on the Caribbean island of Carriacou, which dates back to somewhere between 100 and 400 BC. Drugs consumed such a long time ago most likely were not taken for the recreational purposes that people take them for today – rather they were more likely to have been used to actuate spiritual, trance-like states of mind. But still, the need to temporarily adjourn from the norm has been with humankind for thousands of years.

In the twenty-first century we are subject to contradictory social values, not least in the arena of drug and alcohol abuse. The hypocritical nature of the media and government when dealing with the issue of (in particular) alcohol is noticeable all around us. I became teetotal in April 2011 and living without booze has brought the double standards and contradictions home in a stark way. Chavs are bemoaned for their frequent imbibing of alcopops, whilst middle class dinner party goers are forgiven for their excessive consumption of Merlot, Barolo and Bordeaux. Politicians are quick to berate the youth of England for their delinquent, alcohol-driven behaviour witnessed each weekend on the nation’s city streets, and yet the government’s Responsibility Deal, introduced in the summer of 2010 in an effort to tackle the country’s growing drinking problem, appears to have been reduced to little more than a series of half-baked undertakings.

Supermarkets have been instructed to label 80% of bottles and cans containing alcohol with details of their alcoholic content by 2013, and the advertisement of alcoholic products within 100 metres of schools has been banned. But issues such as inappropriate marketing, curbing licensing hours and introducing a price per unit method costing structure (thought by many in the health sector to have the potential to impose a real impact on alleviating the alcohol problem, and highlighted in a report by the University of Sheffield which was published in the Lancet medical journal) were thrown off the agenda and never even discussed.

The fact that several key members of the drinks industry make up the group is notable, and even more notable is the fact that the Royal College of Physicians, Alcohol Concern, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, the British Medical Association, the British Liver Trust and the British Association for the Study of the Liver all expressed an inability to support the Responsibility Deal due to their belief that the compromised agenda of the group would do nothing to help stem the growing tide of alcohol-related illnesses and premature deaths in the UK.

Alcohol is ubiquitous. With ad buffers on the TV (Come Dine With Me), in-your-face promotional offers for cheap beer and wine in supermarket aisles, TV programmes and films that feature alcohol being knocked back like water, and which often normalise and celebrate getting drunk, it is almost impossible not to think that everyone is out there getting pissed on a regular basis, and that it is completely ok.

Drinking is so revered in our culture that I, as a non-drinker, have become an oddity for not partaking in it. I have been expelled from a club, a club that I took completely for granted when I drank alcohol. If you are square, the school swot all grown up, a quiet sort who does not feel the need to show off at parties, you were never invited to join.

But if a hedonistic streak rules your social persuasions and you are usually found amongst the loud, cigarette-smoking, steadily-becoming-drunker-and-drunker brigade in the back garden of the house party, then yes, you are most definitely in the club. Of course, temporary exclusion is an option; pregnancy, a course of antibiotics, major illness – these are all bone fide reasons for fleetingly bowing out of the club. Giving up alcohol because you are not in control of it, because it has affected an unshakeable grip on you, because you never want to allow a single drop of it near your lips ever again for fear of it killing you – these are reasons that are tantamount to a lifelong exclusion.

Can I say, hand on heart that I am happy to be relegated to membership of the squares’ club, hangin’ with the fuddy duddies? Stuck in the corner with the grey-haired and the ankle biters, sipping a mineral water whilst sneaking frequent peeks at my watch to find out how long I must wait before I can politely leave? No, I can’t. It still doesn’t feel like me, to be cast out from the mouthy drunks who dance wildly, and laugh too loudly at the Best Man’s rubbish speech, and who huddle outside smoking and discussing some gossip that seems far more significant than it ever does the next day.

I spent all of my adult life (and most of the transitional years between childhood and full maturity too) as a fully paid up member of that group, amounting to two thirds of my life. Leaving that significant element of my being behind is taking some major re-acclimatization.

For the most part, I have taken the easy way out since I made the choice to become teetotal, hence my growing fancy with Come Dine with Me and other variations of meaningless televisual distraction – staying at home sober is definitely preferable to going out and staying sober, although I hope it won’t always be that way. I have found it much harder to say goodbye to the old me than I ever imagined, and equally difficult to become acquainted with the personality left behind in her absence.

When engaged in activities that never involved drinking copious amounts of booze (i.e. spending time with my daughter in the park, meeting friends for coffee, going to the cinema – although I have to admit that the last one was usually sandwiched between a couple of pre-film beverages and a skinful afterwards), the issue of losing my membership to the erstwhile beloved drinkers’ club does not rear its ugly head. That’s my safety zone.

I heard a lyric on the radio the other day that has stuck in my mind; Bruce Springsteen’s Better Days, in which he sings ‘But it’s a sad man my friend who’s livin’ in his own skin, and can’t stand the company.’ What came first – hating my own company and drinking to obliterate it, or drinking until I hated the person it turned me in to? The booze that is sold to us through advertising and the media is not a substance I recognise; happy images of laughing friends sharing a bottle of wine over nibbles.

Alcohol has disappointed me and left me with something of a sense of being cheated, mis-sold. It has taken many years to realise it, but alcohol is not for me and it does nothing for me other than turn me against myself. It robs me of my self, and in becoming sober, I have discovered that my self, well, she’s not that bad after all. It has taken a few weeks but I am beginning to see that the years I spent drinking was time spent trying to run away from myself. I hated myself and of course the vicious circle of drinking, self-loathing, drinking, self-loathing, only serves to exacerbate this.

When I first embarked upon this new, sober chapter in my life, I took it for granted that the key to all my problems in life lay with alcohol – after years of abusing the stuff, it made sense to herd all the negativity I had experienced in to one box, label it ‘Booze’ and close the lid on it. I began to do some research on the subject, mainly by searching the internet for alcohol dependency, how to give up drinking, female alcoholism and recovery from addiction. My search criteria screamed out ‘Help!’ to anyone who could guide me out of the mire that I had spent so long floundering in.

In addition to the various websites and books I scoured, I talked honestly and frankly to friends who I knew had their own addiction issues, and gradually I began to piece together a picture of the alcohol-influenced world that we all inhabit. After giving up drinking in April 2011, it soon became apparent to me that I needed to garner a fuller understanding of alcohol, why it has been so attractive to me, why it retains such a hold on me, as though it were a particularly desirable but destructive lover who I just cannot leave behind.

I cannot bear the thought of spending the remainder of my time on earth with booze lurking around my thoughts, a tormenting presence that is constantly propositioning me and which I have to turn away from, yearning and desperately craving its magic but never allowing myself to give in. And so I decided to start writing – to construct a convincing and lasting argument for myself and anyone else out there who has seen their souls ravaged by the demon drink, pertaining to why a life without alcohol can be fulfilling and happy and not at all boring, and why in the end, going teetotal is the best choice to make for those who are unfortunate enough to be saddled with the misguided belief that one drink is never enough.