Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The closet full of non-drinkers

Recently I was out with a group of people, some who I knew and some who I didn't, when one of my friends mentioned my blog.  Naturally I was asked what I blog about so I explained that I currently blog about being alcohol-free.  This sparked a lively discussion about our different relationships with booze.  The next day I received a message from one of the women in the group to say that she too is a non-drinker and has been for two years but is very secretive about it.  Whereas I have made the choice to go completely public about quitting drinking, I completely understand why a large proportion of non-drinkers choose to fly under the radar or remain hidden.
A mockcock


Drinking is the cultural norm

In 'Kick the Drink.... Easily' by Jason Vale, he states that alcohol 'is the only drug in the world where, when you stop taking it, you are seen as having a problem'.  In addition he highlights how alcohol  'remains the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking'.  In this NewStatesman article by Hannah Smith about her experience of quitting drinking, she highlights how 'our society venerates an addictive substance, and then pillories you if there’s even a hint you may have become addicted to it.'  She summarises that when she gave up drinking she was made to feel ashamed of her sobriety.

In this paper printed in The Lancet, twenty drugs were scored on criteria related to overall harm and alcohol scored as the most harmful drug, with an overall harm score of 72. Heroin came in second with a harm score of 55, and crack cocaine scored third with a score of 54. Despite the fact that there is endless research into the dangers of alcohol, there is still the risk that you will be judged and treated as the one with the issue when you decide not to partake.  For many of us that can feel desperately awkward and unjust, so it is often simpler to invent a plethora of excuses as to why we're not drinking (e.g. I'm driving / I'm on antibiotics / I've got a big day at work tomorrow etc.) rather than revealing the truth.

But why don't you drink?

Since I have quit drinking, I have been quite surprised to be on the receiving end of countless interrogations to understand exactly why I have chosen to stop drinking.  I often feel as though the prober is licking their lips in anticipation of tales of waking up in a pile of my own vomit in a police cell with no recollection of how I got there or necking a bottle of vodka for breakfast to be able to face the day ahead.  I'm sorry to disappoint!

In 'This Naked Mind' by Annie Grace she discusses how she's been shocked by the invasive questions she's received, stating 'You wouldn’t ask someone who turned down a glass of milk, “Are you pregnant?” “Are you lactose intolerant?” or “Did you struggle with milk?”'.  In Hannah Smith's NewStatesman article she elaborates that 'drinking alcohol is basically expected in certain situations and if you aren't partaking, people are going to ask you why. saying, "I'm good tonight" isn't enough. People will demand reasons in a surprisingly pushy way.'

In short, having to explain why you are a non-drinker can feel really intrusive and alienating.  Maybe the non-drinker has a medical condition they don't want to discuss with you, maybe they have lost control of their drinking and are doing their best to take back their life, maybe they're pregnant but don't want the world to know yet, maybe they just don't like drinking.  Whatever the reason, it can be really embarrassing (and somewhat ironic) to be put on the spot and forced to elaborate on why we aren't partaking in one of the most addictive and harmful drugs.

Move away from the sober one

Alcohol is a social lubricant.  Annie Grace discusses how 'we’ve been conditioned to drink our entire lives. We’re told alcohol calms and relaxes us, gives us courage, gets us through parties and work events, and makes us happy'.  It is true that alcohol can bring down people's barriers. loosening them up and giving them some common ground to stand on, so when you are the only one abstaining, people can make you feel excluded.  I've noticed that a couple of my friends are absolutely fine with me being alcohol-free up until a certain point in the night where they clearly find my sobriety uncomfortable and they actively avoid me, leaving me feeling like the unpopular kid at school observing them from the periphery.  I do find that hurtful as I'm still the same person, I'm just not f**ked up on booze.

Annie Grace states how 'It is much harder to go against the grain, skipping the drink...than it is to be swept along in our drinking culture. That is courage. Drinking because everyone else is doing it or because you are worried about being left out is not.'   However, it feels awkward and at times lonely standing out from the herd and being the social outcast.

It would help both drinkers and non-drinkers alike if there was more empathy, tact and acceptance around those who choose not to drink. By avoiding making assumptions and asking difficult and intrusive questions you will make it a lot easier for the non-drinker who is probably very awkward about standing out from the crowd with their choice.  Welcome them into the group and don't feel afraid of their sobriety.  The likelihood is that they have done some pretty embarrassing things themselves fuelled by alcohol so they are in no position to judge you and how you behave under the influence.  Finally, if more non-drinkers felt comfortable enough to come out of the closet, it would make it easier for others to go against the grain and embark on an alcohol free life.

If you're interested in finding out more about this then watch Clare Pooley's fabulous Ted Talk on 'Making Sober Less Shameful'.  

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

When one half quits drinking

One of the topics that rears its head quite frequently in the soberverse is how you cope with being alcohol-free when your partner is still a drinker and how you sustain your relationship when one of you has made a significant life choice that the other hasn't.  It was certainly one of my major concerns when I decided I was ready to quit indefinitely.  One of the things that drew my husband David and I together was our love of partying, getting drunk, being the last to leave a party and hanging out on boats (with drinks in our hands). Our entire 13 year relationship up until 2018 had pretty much centred around events and gatherings laced with booze.  Since I've stopped drinking, I have been very conscious of the fact that David didn't make this choice (in fact he wasn't even consulted - sorry David) and it would be unreasonable to expect him to adopt the same approach as me. To be honest, his drinking rarely bothers me and it is only on the odd occasion when he stumbles home hammered in the early hours on a school night that I throw my toys out of the pram.

Sober partying
A couple of weekends ago David was on a stag do and when he got back he told me how my non-drinking had been one of the topics of conversation over the dinner table.  The boys had been curious as to how he was managing with having a sober wife as they felt that it could put a strain on our marriage. I presume because this wasn't what David had signed up to, as he's unwittingly traded in the party girl he married with someone who is ecstatic to be in bed with a book and a hot chocolate by 9.30pm.  I suppose there was also a concern that with me no longer partying like before, I'd put the handbrake on his partying.

I decided to do a bit of research into whether marriages were placed under strain when one half quits drinking... big, big mistake!  Several research papers including this one have found that couples with different drinking patterns are more likely to divorce than couples with similar drinking patterns. Nooooo!  So I followed this up by asking David about how he's finding life married to a non-drinker.

I'm really glad I did ask him as it did raise a couple of things that we hadn't discussed and I hadn't really given much thought to.  David explained how it doesn't bother him that I don't drink and he likes the fact that I am a much happier, less angry person.  However, he does feel that I no longer want to go out with him and do the things that he likes doing, like going to pubs and late night bars. He explained how he would love it if we could still go out together like we used to and I realise that he is right and we should.  We're in a partnership and there does need to be a bit of compromise on both sides to make sure this new dynamic works.

At over four months alcohol-free, I am experiencing an internal shift.  Whereas the early days were about staying calm and retreating slightly to stop myself slipping down the boozing path again, I now feel such a strong internal resolve that I am starting to entertain the idea of hanging out in bars and clubs more.  In fact I was at a hen party a couple of weeks ago where I was in a bar very happily sipping mocktails with the girls until late.  So, I know that there is nothing to stop me doing the same with David.

A happy marriage needs to be an equal partnership where both parties support each other in whatever way they can.  Just as David needs to respect and support my alcohol-free lifestyle, I need to respect that he is still going to want to go out drinking and partying with our mates like before and I shouldn't try to alter that - and I wouldn't.  The key to ensuring this is a success for both of us is to keep communicating, keep being sensitive to each other's needs and remaining flexible as we navigate this new way of life together.
Sober rugby



Sunday, 29 April 2018

Have a little patience

Patience is a virtue, a virtue that I've lacked for most of my life.  I am ridiculously impatient.  When I leave a voicemail or send an email or Whatsapp, I expect an immediate response.  When I see something I like, I have to buy it straight away.  When I'm on a diet, I want instant results.  When I'm standing in a queue, I'll start getting anxious if another queue moves faster than mine.  Basically, I'm terrible at waiting and my appetite for instant gratification is insatiable.

When I've stopped drinking in the past, I've tended to make it through dry January or sober October by counting the days until I can finally be reunited with the bottle again.  I will have noticed an uplift in my mood but the positives never kicked in quickly enough to compensate for the sacrifice of 'fun' and 'inclusion' and I would pick up a glass or six again.  On the few occasions I've quit the booze for a couple of months, in addition to the uplift in my mood, I will have noticed my skin start to glow and my weight dip, but nothing ever happened fast enough to stop my drinking in it's tracks.  This year though, I have flicked the switch in my head to 'non-drinker' mode and by default I have acquired some patience.  The changes I have experienced have been both surprising and astounding and they continue to creep up on me all the time.

Happy head
The first major change was to my mental health.  Within a couple of weeks I felt less anxious and calmer.  I went through an irrationally angry stage for a while, but thankfully, that passed.  By around day 100, I realised the vicious negative chatter in my head had been quelled and that has had the biggest impact on me to date.  I feel as though I am radiating happiness and positivity.  Without my gloomy internal running commentary I am far more accepting of me, realising I am enough, I am worthy and I am fine just as I am. 

The physical changes have taken longer to manifest but week by week I am seeing the differences in me without alcohol.
Changing for the better...


Puff and it's gone
After around six weeks I started to see that my face was noticeably slimmer.  Four months down the line and I can see that my thighs and stomach are much less chubby and puffy. While the scales have actually gone up slightly recently, I am without doubt slimmer - people comment on it all the time now.  Alcohol is proven to cause bloating as it is an inflammatory substance which can result in the body swelling.  In addition alcohol dehydrates and the body's reaction to dehydration is to retain water.  Without booze, I've simply deflated!

Vanishing cellulite 
I am one of the many unfortunate women who is afflicted by cellulite and the cellulite on my bum and legs has been the bane of my life for as long as I can remember.  Now, I wish I could say that after four months of sobriety all my cellulite has vanished into thin air, but I can't.  However, in the past couple of weeks it has notably reduced.  While alcohol doesn't cause cellulite, it does make it worse by constricting the blood vessels in the skin.  I certainly feel more confident around the pool and in communal changing rooms with my slightly less dimpled thighs and bum!

Glowing skin
Drinking deprives the skin of vital vitamins and nutrients and after about a month of being alcohol-free I started to look at my reflection and see a younger, glowing face looking back at me.  From around the six week mark, friends started to comment on how well I was looking and this has continued.  People who haven't seen me for a few months are quite taken aback with how different and healthy I look.  Without stripping my skin of the things it needs, it is flourishing.

Hair today
My hair has never been happy in Hong Kong.  In the humidity, it has always become hideously frizzy and two years ago, it became horribly brittle, snapping off and becoming worryingly thin.  In fact, the reason why I cut my hair short was because it looked so straggly and unhealthy long.  In the last three weeks, I have realised that despite the humidity it is no longer frizzing like it used to.  In fact, it's looking shinier, thicker and healthier than it's looked in years.  Alcohol is a diuretic and a lack of body fluid causes dry and brittle hair making it prone to breakage.  In addition alcohol can deplete the body of zinc and iron, which are two key minerals for healthy hair.  I could have saved myself an absolute fortune by simply giving up drinking sooner, rather than spending money on hair treatments and blow drys!

Tan-tastic
One of the most surprising physical changes has been my skin's ability to tan.  I went on holiday to the Philippines over Easter and despite spending very little time working on a tan, I came home looking really brown (for me).  Since returning to Hong Kong, I have managed to maintain the tan well.  During my time living in Asia I have found it quite hard to tan, typically turning an unattractive reddish brown.  This year, I'm a really nice golden brown.  I looked this up to see if this had anything to do with being sober and remarkably, research has shown that the body metabolises alcohol into a compound called acetaldehyde which can cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun's UV rays.  Who knew that boozing was partly responsible for my pale English skin?

Giving up drinking has unquestionably been the best thing I've ever done for me.  In retrospect, I wish I had had the patience to push on through past a month or two in the past to experience all these benefits.  Chatting to sober people on the Facebook Club Soda groups, who are far further into their alcohol-free lives than me, they attest to the fact that the positive changes just keep on coming if you have the patience to stick to your resolve.  So as far as no drinking goes, I will remain patient so I can carry on this illuminating journey.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A spiritual awakening

A couple of years ago I joined my husband for a business lunch with a potential client of his.  When we offered him a drink he declined all offers of alcohol, explaining that he was giving up drinking for a year.  I asked him why he had chosen to stop drinking, primarily because I found it quite bizarre to meet someone who was willingly abstaining from alcohol without being pregnant or a raging alcoholic.  He replied that he had heard that if you gave up drinking for a significant amount of time you were meant to experience a 'spiritual awakening' and he wanted to see if this phenomena was true.  I remember taking a slug of my wine and thinking he was a bit of a weird hippy.  However, I'm now over 100 days into my alcohol-free life and I'm beginning to see that there may be a hint of truth in this.

To date, my three favourite things about being sober are:

1. Time

Now that I am free from hangovers and the apathy that accompanies them, I have so much more time on my hands.  I get up early every day with ease and I have reinvested a lot of my spare time into looking after myself properly.  This includes doing yoga, swimming or hiking on a daily basis, and reconnecting with things I used to love doing that had fallen by the wayside, like reading and writing.
Evening hike up The Peak

2. Clarity

Over the past three months I have noticed a gradual defogging of my mind.  Slowly, without alcohol, I have been freed from my struggle with anxiety, anger, guilt, shame and sadness.  No longer is my brain racing and swirling with negativity and regrets.  The outcome has been two-fold.  Firstly, I have been able to focus on the areas of my life that matter and most recently, this has given me the chance to start revisiting goals and dreams that I now feel equipped to fulfil.  Secondly, I have started to be much kinder to and accepting of myself.

3. Calmness

There is significant research to highlight the correlation between drinking and anxiety.  I used to medicate with alcohol when I was feeling stressed and anxious, but now I can see that alcohol only exacerbated my anxiety.  Over the past 103 alcohol-free days my mind has slowly calmed, my thought processes have become far more rational and there is less negative, distracting chitter-chatter in my head.  This has made it far easier to deal with every day annoyances and to let go of irritations instead of dwelling on them.

The amalgamation of these three elements has lead to a small epiphany or 'spiritual awakening'.  I am starting to rediscover and reconnect with a part of me that I had lost and I am starting to like myself  rather than relying on validation from others.  I recognise traits and passions from the girl I was before I started numbing life and hiding behind my alcohol security blanket. Rediscovering the me that had been forgotten, ignored and hidden for so many years and finding that she's a kinder, gentler, calmer, more compassionate, more introverted, more forgiving, more creative, more introspective and less impulsive woman, has been both uplifting and enlightening.  This poem perfectly expresses how I am feeling right now as a result of my 'spiritual awakening'!

Love after Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the others' welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

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Monday, 9 April 2018

Braving it abroad booze-free

This is a blog I wrote a week ago when I was on holiday...

I’m writing this blog from my first alcohol-free holiday with friends. It’s 6.30am and I’m up with my first cup of coffee looking out across the ocean watching the monkeys play on the beach, willing them not to come any closer to me (but more about that later), while everyone else sleeps. I am truly loving my first sober holiday but there are some big differences between this holiday and every other holiday I've been on since I was around 17.
My blog writing spot

Embracing the daytime

As I’ve morphed into a booze-free person it has started to dawn on me (you’ll get this metaphor in a second!) that I am an early bird, not a night owl. I would much rather be in bed before ten and be up before seven. This seems to have spilt over into my holiday routine. It’s quickly become apparent that I’m working on a different time scale on this holiday to all of my friends. When I’m leaping out of bed enthusiastically at 6am, my mates are still snoring away. On the flip side, when my friends are revved up to take the party to the next level, I am stifling yawns and sneaking off to bed.

The downside to this has been that when I decided to take on the monkeys who were smashing bottles outside our room at 6am yesterday, there was no one around to save me as I became surrounded by the little f**kers, snarling and flashing their teeth. It appears monkeys don’t like being told what to do and when you piss off one monkey, the whole tribe will come to their aid. Unfortunately, my tribe weren’t available to help me so I had to defend myself!

The bottle-smashing monkeys

Expelling the fear

Now that I don’t drink, the breakfast buffet has become a far more pleasurable experience. This is because I can enjoy it without a splitting headache and cringe-worthy memories from the night before flashing back to me. Now I no longer have the fear, I can look everyone in the eye with absolute certainty that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of anyone the night before. Hopefully I come across as a far warmer person now as I am able to greet people with a smile and a cheery ‘good morning’. 
 

Committing to anything

Over the past three alcohol-free months, I have gradually realised just how many things I wouldn’t have committed to in the past, knowing that I would be too hungover the next day to cope. I feel a little sad thinking about all the things I have passed up on doing and the opportunities I’ve missed thanks to debilitating hangovers. However, this holiday it has been exhilarating to find that I am able to commit to being up early and, for example, going diving in the morning, safe in the knowledge that I will be clear-headed and raring to go.

Sitting out on the fringes

While during the day on the holiday I have felt very much part of the crowd, once the alcohol starts flowing, there is a noticeable change. I move from being part of the group to looking in from the periphery. When you have played out your entire adult life as one of the chief instigators of drunken debauchery, it feels unfamiliar and abnormal to no longer belong to that group. To be honest, I feel like I’ve lost part of my identity and I’m not entirely comfortable yet with this new sensible, calm, less extrovert character that is emerging. 

Becoming an observer

Without alcohol I have become an observer rather than a participator. I have witnessed the standard loss of volume control, the incoherent and repetitive conversations, the meandering stumbles home, the loss of use of limbs, the collapsing and being incapable of getting back up, the sound of alcohol-induced vomiting and the screaming rows. I’m really not commenting on this judgmentally as I have pretty much ticked all of these boxes on various booze-fuelled holidays in the past. However, it is a great relief that I am now watching the mayhem unravel rather than being one of the centrepieces of the carnage. 

Saving money

Finally, I have spent very little so far on my holiday as I’m predominantly drinking water, with the odd calamansi juice or fruit shake when I’m really pushing the boat out! Knowing I have saved a lot of money by being sober has made it easier for me to justify taking my PADI Enriched Air Diver qualification so that I can dive for longer on nitrox. So, I will come away from this holiday with something of value, rather than a pair of sore kidneys - win/win!

Overall, would I want to change my first alcohol-free holiday? Abso-bloody-lutely NOT! OK, so there has been the odd moment where I haven’t felt as though I have slotted into the group as comfortably as I would have done, had I been drinking too. Nevertheless, the benefits far outweigh this minor negative, which is far more about me getting used to my new normal than anything else. I just need to stay patient as I know that sooner or later I will acclimatise to being this more reserved, less chaotic version of me.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Strutting my booze-free beach body

I've almost made it through to Easter alcohol-free...that's 85 glorious hangover free days, or two months and three weeks of mental clarity and positive thought patterns. For now the anger appears to have passed and I'm feeling a lot calmer and remarkably content.  There is one small issue though... my chocolate consumption!

When I decided to give up drinking, I had visions of the weight falling off me and by Easter, a sober, slim and toned butterfly emerging from her chrysalis, replacing the pudgy booze-swilling caterpillar.  Unfortunately, the pudgy booze-swilling caterpillar has been superseded by a chocolate-troughing one.  There is absolutely no sign of a butterfly yet!

In two days time, I leave for a diving holiday in the Philippines where I had envisaged doing the great reveal of the new slim-line me.  Sadly, it is not to be.  However, despite not having the bikini body of a Victoria's Secret model to parade around the beach, my new sober lifestyle has liberated me from a great deal of self-hatred.  In the past I would have berated myself for not having slimmed down and felt ashamed of my inability to be self-disciplined enough to attain an 'acceptable' bikini body.  I would have spent the holiday comparing myself to my friends with their skinny legs and thigh gaps. I would have tried hiding my wobbly, cellulite-y thighs under a sarong as much as possible.  Now though, with my new head on, I can accept that I am an overweight Labrador who loves her food - especially chocolate. I know I have to stop comparing myself to my Whippet, Chihuahua and Afghan Hound friends because we are simply not built the same.  I'm sure I could get slim if I stopped eating but I'd still have disproportionately big thighs and this Labrador's life would be utterly miserable deprived of food.  So, on this trip to the Philippines I intend to embrace my fat, my stretch marks and my cellulite and wear my bikinis with pride - no covering up of the wobbliest, most stretched and dimpled bits. Besides, I do have some really gorgeous bikinis that need showcasing!  I have spent so much of my life hating and feeling ashamed of my body, which is actually pretty strong and surprisingly fit, that it's about time I started to accept it for what it is and show it some love... and reward it with chocolate! 

Now the beer's gone, it's time to cast aside the sarong!

One of the most unexpected outcomes of being alcohol-free is how much healthier and rational my thoughts are. Rather than consistently honing in on the negatives, I am now better equipped to pinpoint a more positive perspective.   The impact has been a shift from a damaging internal dialogue filled with shame and hatred, to one that is kinder, more accepting and more forgiving, resulting in me liking myself a lot more - chocolate addiction, flaws and all.    I found this poem today, which nicely sums up how it feels to have muted my toxic internal monologue at last.

Monsters


The monsters were never
under my bed.
Because the monsters
were inside my head.

I fear no monsters,
for no monsters I see.
Because all this time
the monster has been me.

Nikita Gill 

Follow Nikita Gill on Instagram @nikita_gill - her poems are AMAZING.

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Thursday, 8 March 2018

My inner incredible hulk

Today I have finally come to realise that since stopping drinking I have developed a worryingly short fuse - and very quickly, a testing situation can escalate with me morphing into The Incredible Hulk.  Embarrassingly, I had a Hulk moment this morning in the Apple Store and I'm still shaking with rage.

Don't make me angry, you won't like me when I'm angry!

Since the end of last year I noticed that my iPhone battery was running down extremely quickly so today I finally headed to the Apple Store to get the problem fixed.  I deliberately set out to arrive there before the store opened so that I could be one of the first people there before the crowds arrived. It was immediately apparent that a lot of us were suffering with the same issue and a neat line had already formed outside the closed doors, thanks to the friendly guidance of a very helpful member of the Apple Store team.  However, as the security guards raised the doors to open the shop, one 'gentleman' (for gentleman read 'impatient tw*t'), broke free from his position at the back of the line, and sprinted into the shop to gain pole position.  There were a few grunts from the other people in the queue, but his behaviour really enraged me and I completely laid into him for trying to queue barge.  The other people in the queue bowed their heads to avoid the confrontation but I know the guys in front of me were secretly quite pleased that 'impatient tw*t' was pushed off pole position and back to his rightful place at the back of the queue.  While I was waiting to be served all I could hear was him muttering obscenities about me under his breath!  At the same time, I was struggling to suppress my anger.  I'm still feeling angry now, five hours after the incident but really - was it worth getting so worked up about?

This highlighted to me that there have been a few times recently where I have felt irrationally angry and have been unable to control my temper.  When my parents were in Hong Kong we flagged down a taxi to go to the airport.  The taxi had stopped in the street and as we were loading up the boot with all our suitcases, one of the cars behind us started aggressively honking its horn.  Rather than ignoring it, I exploded into a tirade of swear words and one fingered gestures, while my shocked father stood beside me and berated me for my foul language.  To make matters worse, one of the husband's clients was in a convertible car, with its roof down, in between the honking car and our taxi and witnessed the entire sweary episode! 

I've even felt uncontrollably angry in my yoga classes, which are meant to calm me!  Dragon pose definitely brings out the dragon in me.  Last week, while I was attempting to breathe through the pain of stretching in the pose, the instructor repositioned himself so he was crouching in front of me and said 'It's OK to cry!'.  At the time, I didn't want to cry, I wanted to lash out and scream at him for making me hold that shitty, painful position!

Getting home from the Apple Store today, I decided to look up to see whether anger issues were part of the process of going alcohol-free.  I discovered that there are two stages of alcohol withdrawal: the acute withdrawal phase and the post-acute withdrawal (PAWS) phase.  The PAWS phase peaks at around four to eight weeks of being alcohol free and its symptoms include, amongst other things, irritability, attacks of anxiety and sudden mood swings.  It can last for up to two years - so God, help me and all around me!

Writing on the Club Soda website, Laura Willoughby states that: 'The brain has a tremendous capacity to heal but this is not a quick process. When alcohol is consumed it affects the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, adjusting the way it functions and causing it to become tolerant to and primed for alcohol. If you stop drinking, the brain has to readjust and find a new balance and it is this lag time which contributes towards post acute withdrawal symptoms.'

So, despite the horrifying prospect of possibly two more years of unleashing my inner hulk, it is reassuring to know that there is a reason for this, it will pass and it's just part of the healing process.   In the meantime, for those of you who know me well - you have been warned!  It doesn't take much for the Hulk to make an appearance these days!

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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

There goes the fear

I've noticed a change in me over the past two months of alcohol-free living - FOMO* has left the building.  There have been a few times recently, where the husband has turned to me and asked "Do you mind if I stay out?", to which my response has generally been a swift "No!", as I've hastily grabbed my handbag, flagged a cab and rushed home to the luxury of a good book and starfishing in the bed!  Now, the fact that I'm in my mid-forties and am firmly settled into 'middle-age' may provide part of the reason for this change, but I also know that as a sober person I have been able to make more rational decisions with my crystal clear head.

Up until this year, I frequently didn't want the party to end - following the crowd from bar to bar or refusing to leave the party, while feeding my unquenchable thirst for alcohol, until the night inevitably fizzled out or I had to be medevacked into a taxi by the husband.  This was fuelled by a fear of missing out and the desire to keep drinking because, quite frankly, what else do you do late at night when you're a booze hound?

Now that FOMO has exited my life, I understand that this fear is destructive, stressful and it feeds anxiety.  I am without doubt, benefiting from its absence in a number of ways.

I'm no longer there just for the sake of it


Now, when I'm at a party or out with friends, I am there because I have a genuine desire to be there and to spend time with those people.  I don't just accept every invitation on the off-chance that I may miss out if I don't make an appearance.  To be frank, I’ve had to edit FOMO from my life to avoid situations that may trigger a strong desire to drink and divert me off my path to sobriety. Without the fear of missing out I am able to make more reasoned decisions about what I do and steer a course that better aligns with my well-being.


I focus on a smaller group of friends

FOMO can lead you to spreading yourself really thin and not enjoying quality time with anyone.  Nowadays, rather than being out and sniffing around for the 'What next? /Where now?', I am far more content with spending quality time with my network of close friends, enjoying their company and then calling it a day at the right time, rather than fretting about whether I should be elsewhere, potentially having even more fun.  As a result I am far more present, without a head buzzing with FOMO.


I've eradicated self-destructive behaviour

Without that constant desire to stay out, chasing the illusion of greater amusement elsewhere, I've managed to erase the damage instilled through FOMO.  Research carried out by Texas A&M University shows that a 'wanting more' attitude can be detrimental to us both physically and mentally. It goes on to state that "The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outward instead of inward. When you're so tuned in to the 'other,' or the 'better' (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world."

In part FOMO had to be expelled from my life through a necessity to ensure I stay alcohol-free, but also its departure is a natural by-product of my new lifestyle.  The result is definitely beneficial as I feel more in control, calmer and less exhausted without FOMO driving the pursuit to be part of all the potential fun and amusement that is going on.  I'm truly enjoying my less hectic, more peaceful life and I'm far more fulfilled and a happier person as a result.

Me and my mocktail

* FOMO: the fear of missing out. The fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great.

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Passing the 50 day mark

This week I passed the 50 day alcohol-free mark.  I'm not really counting days because I prefer the idea of looking ahead rather than getting fixated on numbers, but I do have a sobriety app that I check from time to time - and I was ever so slightly smug to see that more than 50 days had gone by.  In my 'Goodbye letter to alcohol' I outlined some of the things that scared me about giving up alcohol so I thought I would revisit them 50 days in....

I’m scared my husband won’t want to be with a teetotal wife having married a lush

My husband's initial reaction to me stopping drinking was not 100% positive - probably not helped by the fact that I didn't tell him in person, he read about it on my blog - oops!  He expressed concern that we would lead separate lives and I wouldn't want to go out any more.  His worry hit a nerve, as my fear was that I wouldn't want to spend as much time in bars and that he wouldn't like the sober version of me, and we ran the risk of drifting apart.  So far though, I think my lifestyle change has benefited us both and brought us closer together as a result.  My husband has definitely been drinking less and been leading a healthier, more active life - maybe partly because I am subliminally guilting him into doing so, and partly because I'm not there to support the 'just one more' reasoning any more.

I think our relationship has improved too as a result of me not being consumed by self-hate and shame post-drinking, which I would inevitably take out on him. Don't get me wrong, I'm still pretty moody - I had hoped that would disappear, but sadly not - but I'm not overwhelmed by negative feelings that erupt out of me like an enraged rottweiler.

I’m scared friends will find me boring

I have discovered since going alcohol-free that I am actually rather sensible, calm, restrained and in control.  None of these adjectives could have been applied to me after a bottle of wine and some cocktails.  I am still nervous that friends will get bored of this new sensible me. 

Having said that, I also have to remind myself about the drunk version of me who would often pass the fun, carefree, relaxed stage and morph into a slurring, shambolic, sometimes angry, discombobulated mess.  If my friends could tolerate that version of me, I'm hopeful that they can accept sensible me.  Perhaps over time, I will grow more comfortable with my alcohol-free self and find it easier to let my hair down and make a dick of myself again!

I’m scared I’ll never have the confidence to dance on a table or belt out karaoke again

OK, so I still haven't had the confidence to dance on a table, however I was forced to sing karaoke to a room full of people at a Chinese New Year party.  I honestly never ever thought I would be able to do that sober, but it appears I can - albeit, fairly tunelessly.  Here's the proof... prepare your ear plugs before turning up the volume!


Watch the video here... you know you want to!

I’m scared no one will choose to hang out with me

Over the past 50 days I have been lucky enough to have been invited to lots of events and parties, from dinners and (alcohol-free) drinks with friends, to gala dinners,  Chinese New Year parties, to hen parties, birthday parties and weddings.  So I guess I haven't become a social outcast quite yet.  

I have discovered that I am very comfortable going to dinners or events where I am sitting down around a table and where food is involved.  However, the anxiety levels definitely rise when I know the event will involve just standing around, chatting and drinking.  I'm already feeling very apprehensive about a hen party in a couple of month's time - not because I'm scared I'll be tempted to drink - but because an event like that typically hinges on drinking and games and activities that require you to 'let go'.  As the sober me is sensible and restrained, I know I am going to struggle to blend in.

To date, I am relieved that most of my fears have been unfounded and I am really proud with how far I have come in just 50 alcohol-free days, although I know I still have quite some way to go.  I look forward to a time where I can truly cut loose and relax without being propped up by booze. I am sure it will be possible, I'm just not there yet.

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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Today is my favourite day

The last couple of weeks have been really challenging – jolting me out of my metaphorical comfy armchair and reminding me that life is fleeting and capricious. Two weeks ago David and I received an email from a very close friend telling us she had secondary breast cancer, for which there is no cure. The email was heartbreaking, yet brave and uplifting as she told us how much she loves us and asked that we celebrate her great life and many achievements, and surround her with joy not sadness. It has been overwhelmingly painful to process news of this magnitude and I have been lurching between profound sorrow for the future, waves of nostalgia for what has been and an intense rage which I’ve been struggling to suppress. To add to the emotional burden I’ve been really sick over the last week which has reduced my capacity to cope and has opened the door to a black cloud of depression, which fortunately seems to be dissipating today. In short, it’s been a bit shit.

In our society we seem to fear death and brush any thought of it under the carpet as though it doesn’t actually exist. However, when it unexpectedly looms, it does remind us, with a hefty boot up the arse, that we only have one life and we need to live it with purpose. The Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” None of us are going to be around forever so we need to really live our best possible life now. Today.

My naughty, brave, spirited and courageous friend is 'life is not a dress rehearsal' personified. Her achievements are numerous. To name but a few: she is a very successful partner in a law firm; she has climbed Mont Blanc; she took part in the 2017 Arctic Marathon; she has competed in the 100km Gurkha Challenge trek across the South Downs; she was selected to sing and tour with the World Youth Choir; she has competed in numerous sailing races including Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s Round the Island Race on Wonderwall; and there aren’t many corners of the world that she hasn’t explored. She has crammed more excitement, adventures and achievements into her 39 years than many people manage in 80. She has shown what can be accomplished by living for the now.

Today is the day for me to stop wallowing and to start celebrating my friend's achievements and surrounding her in the joy she wants.

Steve Taylor, Ph.D. , wrote on the Psychology Today blog: “Becoming aware of our own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience, which can – paradoxically, it might seem – encourage us to live authentically and fully for the first time.” So today is also the day to follow my friend's example by no longer procrastinating and starting to live life in the present with genuine purpose.


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Sunday, 28 January 2018

Thinking about extending dry January... READ ON!

WARNING:  THIS BLOG IS FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING EXTENDING DRY JANUARY.  DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU AREN'T INTERESTED IN HEARING ABOUT SOME OF THE NEGATIVES OF DRINKING.

This morning I received an email from an old friend of mine with the subject 'Inspiration Required', stating: "I think a number of us, especially that are close to completing the usual dry January, could do with a pep talk blog to consider our path. I am not yet minded to abstain for the long term... but through to Easter is a possibility."

My intention is not to make my blog all preachy and self-righteous, I really don't mind if people choose to drink or not and I have no issue being around people who are drinking.  For example, last night I was at the Volvo Ocean Race Prize-Giving Gala Dinner. With well over 500 attendees, I was one of only a handful of non-drinkers but I still had a great night sipping my orange juice and mocktails.
© Erwan Her

However, if you are coming to the end of dry January and thinking maybe, just maybe, you could extend going alcohol-free for a while longer - here is some food for thought.

Change your perception about alcohol
In 'This Naked Mind' by Annie Grace, she discusses how 'almost everything in our society tells you, both consciously and unconsciously, that alcohol is the 'elixir of life', and without it in your life you would be missing a key ingredient'. However, throughout her book she dissects all our justifications for drinking, backed up by the latest scientific research.  She clearly outlines that 'when you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking.  When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink.'  

In Jason Vale's 'Kick the Drink... Easily' he states that 'the only thing that keeps people hooked is the illusion created by the drug itself and the years of conditioning and brainwashing'

I highly recommend reading Annie Grace's 'This Naked Mind' and/or Jason Vale's 'Kick the Drink... Easily'.  They have completely changed the way I think about drinking and have made it so much easier to stop.  As I've mentioned before I have joined some online sober support communities and countless members of these groups agree that having read these books their perception of drinking has changed, making it simpler to quit.

Focus on the benefits
Jason Vale highlights how ''When you stop drinking you are giving up absolutely … NOTHING! Oh sorry, apart from the headaches, the hangovers, the lethargy, the bad breath, the beer gut, the arguments, the violence, being overemotional, regretting things you have done but can’t remember doing, getting things out of proportion, putting things off all the time, the stress, the overdraft, the taxis, the guilt, the lies, the deceit, the brewer’s droop, the mood swings, the breakdown of the immune system, the lack of resistance to all kinds of diseases, the destruction of brain cells, not to mention the excess weight..."

For me, the benefits to date of going alcohol-free have been:  deep deep sleep; weight loss; increased energy levels; a more positive mindset; no more anxiety; no feelings of shame or embarrassment; generally feeling more able to cope with the crap that life can sometimes throw at us.  I also know that I am only just beginning to scratch the surface.  Things will only carry on getting better going forward.

If you have managed to get through dry January, you really have done the most difficult bit.  From my previous experiences of giving up alcohol for longer than a month, you really do start to reap the rewards from around six weeks onwards.  Why not give it a little longer, you really do have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Take back control
Maybe like I did, you had a nagging fear that alcohol was stealing your ability to manage your emotions and was causing unhappiness, irritability, fear, anxiety and/or a range of other negative emotions.  Maybe you've noticed that you feel more in control of things and more positive after a month of no drinking.

Annie Grace states that 'Alcohol erases a bit of you every time you drink it.  It can erase entire nights when you are on a binge.  Alcohol does not relieve stress; it erases your senses and your ability to think.  Alcohol ultimately erases your self.'  She goes on to state that - 'for many, alcohol ensnares them at such a slow pace that it's imperceptible.  The changes are subtle.  You come to depend on alcohol, feeling it gives you the courage to face the day, when in reality it steals confidence from you.'

Deep down we all know that alcohol is damaging and controlling us.  This is why we expend so much energy justifying why we are doing it.  Since I have taken back control and stopped drinking, I feel I have regained confidence and I am holding my head higher.  I finally feel a sense of peace and calm which I know I can never achieve when alcohol is controlling my life.

If you want to take back control longer term and feel you need some extra support then join a sober online community like Club Soda or Soberistas.  You will discover many different people from every walk of life facing exactly the same struggles as you.  Realising you are not alone and thousands of others are also wanting to beat booze out of their lives really helps to keep you on track.

So, if you are wondering what to do now that your dry January has come to an end.  Why not challenge yourself and extend it further?  You'll probably find it is far easier than you think.

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Monday, 22 January 2018

Perfection: A path to addiction

Since I've been posting about my relationship with alcohol and my rationale for breaking up with booze, I have been bowled over by the astoundingly supportive messages I have received from friends and strangers alike.  On Tuesday, a heartfelt message popped up in my email inbox from an old colleague in response to my 'Hope is the only thing stronger than fear' post.  One of her comments really made me think.  She wrote:  "You've always come across as such a confident, self-assured lady - reading your latest blog (and then going back and reading earlier posts) has made me see a very different side to you."   Many of us wear a mask to disguise our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and present a version of ourselves that we want people to see, rather than our true self.  I know that I, in particular, have concealed the real me, especially in a work environment.

Throughout the years when I worked in advertising and marketing, I suffered from imposter syndrome, believing that I was inadequate and a fraud, despite evidence to indicate that I was actually very skilled and successful.  I was a perfectionist, setting excessively high standards for myself and beating myself up when I failed to reach a goal.  I was riddled with self-doubt and worry. I was also a control freak.  This made me terrible at delegating, as I always wanted everything to be done perfectly and my way.  I expected my work to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time.  To my colleagues I must have looked extremely self-assured, confident and on top of everything, but I felt like the elegant gliding swan paddling frantically below the surface.

As I was writing this, I thought to myself, 'Thank God, I'm no longer like that!'  But then I thought back to studying last year and the blog I wrote in November where I talk about striving so hard to achieve a distinction for my DipTESOL that I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.  How quickly we forget! To the other people on the course I probably appeared to be over-achieving with consistently high marks, but inside I was wracked with self-doubt and fear that at some point I'd be outed as not being good enough.


This lead me to read up about perfectionism and its impact on our lives.  According to Gnilka, Ashby & Noble (2013) there are two forms of perfectionism: adaptive perfectionism where individuals 'strive towards personal high standards without a crippling self-critical voice when these elevated standards are not met'; and maladaptive perfectionism which 'is associated with extreme self-criticalness and a persistent sense of failure to live up to personal high standards of performance'.  Maladaptive perfectionism has been linked to various psychological outcomes, such as depression, self-esteem and self-confidence.  Rice, Van Arsdale & Amy (2006) go on to highlight how maladaptive perfectionists have significantly higher levels of stress and a tendency to drink to cope. In Rettig's Huffington Post blog about 'Perfectionism And Addiction', she states how perfectionism supports addiction through causing 'persistent feelings of frustration, despair, shame and guilt that an addict might turn to alcohol or some other addictive substance or behavior to soothe'.  I can now see that I have definitely fallen into the maladaptive perfectionist category throughout various chapters of my life and one of my most prevalent uses of alcohol was as a 'soother' and 'stress reliever'.

I know that I focus on presenting the photoshopped version of me to the world and I feel ashamed and embarrassed by my failures.  Maybe some of you can recognise these traits in yourself.  If we all became more comfortable with removing the veneer of perfection,  and embracing (and sharing) our failures as part of a natural learning process on the pathway to success, we could start to make in-roads into leading happier more honest lives with less need to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.  One of my favourite Nelson Mandela quotes is: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  It's time to start applying this to my life and accepting that I will never be perfect.  I need to be less harsh on myself, embrace the real flawed me and keep getting up, dusting myself down and carrying on without beating myself up.


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Thursday, 18 January 2018

Same same but different - part two

Following on from yesterday's blog 'Same same but different - part one' where I looked at the aspects of going alcohol free that I have found similar to my previous attempts at sobriety, today I am looking at the differences.
Bye bye booze!

So, what is different this time around?


Putting my story out there - Brené Brown states that 'owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.'  So, I have taken the decision to share my story - warts and all - and out myself as a fledgling member of the sober revolution.  Through revealing my vulnerabilities I am connecting with a staggering number of people who can relate to where I have been and where I want to end up.  I also hope to recruit a few others to join the revolution so they can share the same positive changes as me.

My support network - This comment was posted on Facebook about my blog this week - 'Stopping is one thing. Staying stopped is another. It is the hardest, yet most rewarding journey ever. I hope she finds the right people to support her'.  I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment as I am pretty good at stopping but pretty poor at remaining stopped and I know the importance of finding a supportive tribe to fight my corner with me.  This time around I have taken a different approach and I am shouting from the roof tops that I am no longer drinking, to rally the backing of friends. I am also using sober support networks to keep me on track.  For anyone interested in adopting a similar approach, Club Soda seems to be home to the most like-minded ex-drinkers for me.  What I love about these alcohol free groups is that they are ridiculously supportive and non-judgmental because we've all been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

Overcoming the stigma of being a non-drinker - Clare Pooley, author of The Sober Diaries writes on her blog'When I first quit drinking, I told no-one... I imagined that if I told my friends that I'd quit that they would judge me and assume that I'd been a terrible lush (partly true) and a terrible mother (not true, at least not most of the time). I thought they'd label me boring and stop inviting me to parties. I thought they'd worry that I'd become all preachy and judgmental (as if I'm in a position to judge anyone!)..'  Most of these thoughts have been running through my mind and it's apparent that there's something wrong with our society for us to feel marginalised for giving up an addictive substance! The more I have read, written and published, the more I realise that these prejudices and stigmas stem from systematic brainwashing and fear.  I am starting to see that there does seem to be a growing army of us who are calling bullshit on the 'boring'/'judgmental'/'raging alcoholic' labels attached to non-drinkers and I want to be on the front line of that army obliterating those stigmas and making it easier for others to make the same choice as me and to be able to talk about it with pride.

My resolve - I have stopped drinking a gazillion times before, but mostly as a temporary thing with a fixed end date so from day one I was always counting down to when I could drink again.  I know now that I don't want to leave the door ajar to the possibility of drinking and my resolve is set very firmly on this final break-up with alcohol.  Jason Vale states that 'once you make a firm decision [to stop drinking alcohol], you cut off any other possibility and doubt; so whatever happens in your future life, drinking alcohol is not just not an option but something that you have no interest in doing.  You have moved on and are free.'


And that really sums up how I feel about drinking right now.  It's over, once and for all, and I've already taken the first steps into my new life without booze and I feel free.

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