Thursday, 7 December 2017

What I've Learned After 1000 Days Alcohol Free



It's been more than one thousand days since I had a glass of wine.

Blimey.

I didn't have a dramatic rock bottom moment one thousand days ago. I didn't wake up in a gutter, or in someone else's bed, or crash the car when drunk. Thank goodness.

It was more like the painfully slow break up of a serious relationship. Like having to face up to the fact that the man I'd turned to whenever I was in trouble, whenever I wanted to have fun, whenever I wanted to just chill, was no good for me any more.

I had to leave him. Throw him out. Pour him down the sink.

By this point, I was drinking a bottle of wine a day, more at weekends. As a result, I was overweight, miserable and stuck in a rut.

Again, it wasn't dramatic drinking. I rarely appeared drunk, or got into trouble. Rather worryingly, a bottle of wine disappeared rather easily....

This was not my first attempt at dealing with my alcohol problem, obviously. I'd spent weeks, months, years even, looking for an alternative, trying endless ways of cutting down, of 'moderating.'

But it was all exhausting. And every attempt (much like trying to crash diet) ended, eventually, in failure. Back to where I started, if not more so.

So, finally I realised that there was no alternative but to pack it in altogether.

That prospect was, frankly, terrifying. But I resigned myself to the fact that my party days were over and that from now on I had to be a good girl. I knew I would feel proud of myself, but - obviously - I wasn't going to have any fun any more. Life, as I'd known it, was over.

But here's what I've discovered one thousand days later:

Life, as I knew it, was over. But the new life I've discovered is WAY BETTER, better in a myriad of different ways.

First off, there was all the physical stuff.

Stopping drinking changed the way I look. Some changes came immediately - like losing the puffy face and the bloodshot eyes, some took longer, like losing all the excess weight.

Within the first year without booze I'd lost two stone (28 pounds), and I've remained consistently at my ideal weight ever since, without any effort.

Also, I may be one thousand days older, but I actually look younger. I have better skin, clearer eyes, bouncier hair and oodles more energy.

Next time you're at a party, check out the most fresh-faced person in the room, not the one with the fake, waxy, botoxed face, but the one with the natural looking glow. I bet they're not drinking booze.

When you drink, you lose your ability to listen to your body. You can't tell when you're genuinely hungry and need to eat, or when you're just craving carbs because you're hungover. When your body is dehydrated and is trying to tell you you're thirsty, you drink alcohol - a diuretic.

Now, I eat when I'm hungry, and rehydrate when I'm thirsty. Simples.

And one of the biggest physical changes is being able to sleep. 

I was a terrible insomniac for years. I blamed stress. I used to fall asleep, no problem, but I'd wake up at about 3am, tossing and turning, and be totally unable to get back to sleep until just before the alarm went off.

Lack of sleep affects everything. It makes it difficult to function at your best short term, and, longer term, has a huge impact on your mental and physical health.

Now, I sleep like a baby. And I'm a morning person! Who knew? I bounce out of bed like the Duracell bunny, all ready to take on the day.

But quitting alcohol hasn't just changed me physically.

When I was drinking, my moods were all over the place. I'd veer from euphoric to depressed, then back again, regularly.

Now I'm zen. Ok, perhaps not completely zen - I can still be a nutter from time to time, but everything is relative.

I used to feel anxious much of the time. I thought that alcohol helped, that it dampened down the anxiety. It was only once I quit that I realised it was the alcohol that was causing the anxiety in the first place. My medicine was actually my poison.

But the biggest change of all, the one that rolls out gradually over the months and years after you quit, is what's happened to my life.

You see, I drank to take the edges off life, to blur all the hard bits. What I hadn't realised is that I was blurring all the good bits too.

When I stopped drinking, I had to learn to deal with everything life threw at me raw. Initially it was a terrible shock. It was hard. 

But, once I got used to it, once I showed myself what I could do and how naturally brave I am, I felt like a SUPERHERO. I realised that I could conquer anything.

Not only did I find my superpower, but I rediscovered all the energy and enthusiasm for life that I had when I was much younger, before all the self-medication numbed it all.

And, without the booze anaethetising my brain constantly, my synapses started firing and I re-discovered creative abilities that I'd thought I'd just grown out of.

My horizons have broadened and my life has just expanded. It feels like a brand new start.

My not drinking has changed my relationships with other people too. I'm a much better mother, a better wife and a better friend.

Admittedly, some of my friends have taken it rather hard, mainly the ones that drink the most themselves. I'm still often asked when I'm going to 'fall off the waggon' and join in again.

But the truth is, I don't need to. Because I've discovered that parties can be just as much fun without the booze - more so, because you can remember them. 

A bad party is still a bad party, drunk or sober, and spending hours at a party which is only about drinking when you don't drink is a little boring. But the result of that is that I've become way more inventive about the ways in which I socialise.

I meet friends for long, rambling walks with dogs. I go to the theatre and concerts. I've bought back party games to dinner and lunch parties, and involve the children as well. I do galleries and exhibitions, trips and outings.

I've discovered that socialising is about shared experiences, varied experiences, not just getting pissed together, and that's deepened and strengthened my relationships as well as making life much richer and more interesting.

Plus, I've got more money to spend on all that stuff, now I'm not spending it all on expensive vino.

So if you're thinking about quitting booze, or you've recently quit and you're still scared that it's going to completely change your life...

....it will. It will change everything. But for the better.

If you'd like to find out more, you can read my book - The Sober Diaries. Click here to go to my Amazon Page.

Plus, there's lots of inspiration and information on the SoberMummy Facebook page.

New on the Facebook page this week, my favourite animated video on addiction, and an article on the five most addictive substances on earth (spoiler alert: alcohol is number five).

Click here to visit, and 'like' to stay updated.

Love to you all,

SM x













Friday, 1 December 2017

Sober is Where the Magic Happens....


I found that the most difficult thing about giving up booze (once you're through the insane rollercoaster of the first hundred days) is dealing with everything life throws at you without a 'mute button.'

I spent years, decades, of my life reaching for a glass of artificial courage whenever things got tough - when I was anxious, stressed, scared, lacking in self-belief, bored or upset.

A glass of wine, I believed, would just take the edge off and make it all that much easier to cope with.

This strategy seemed to work rather well for a while, but then, one day, I realised that it had stopped working, and that my best friend had turned into my worst enemy.

For a start, I'd lost the ability to deal with all those events and emotions in any way other than the booze.

I'd forgotten how to use strategies like exercise, mindfulness and relaxation methods to reduce stress and anxiety. I'd forgotten how to just get through it. I'd forgotten that those emotions and feelings are all a normal, necessary part of living life to the full.

Also, the booze itself had made things worse. Drink - over time - increased my anxiety levels, and heavy drinking made my life way more unmanageable.

When I quit boozing, an amazing thing started to happen...

Gradually, I began to realise that I could cope with all of those things, those feelings, those emotions without a prop.

And, after a while, that made me feel like superwoman (relatively speaking). Invincible. Unstoppable. (With the help of a little cake, and lots of alcohol-free beer).

Regular readers will know that eight months after I quit drinking, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I got through the horror of that diagnosis, telling my children and coping with the treatment, completely sober. And now I feel like I can do anything. More than that, I owe it to myself to make the most of the rest of my life.

Not only did going sober give me courage, it also freed up loads of time. All those hours I spent hungover, tipsy, or just feeling bleurgh and unmotivated, were back.

And I found I was firing on all cylinders. Once I stopped numbing my brain with booze I rediscovered my long-lost creativity and my energy. My little brain synapses were fizzing and zinging and wanting to do stuff.

Here's a confession, though: I sometimes still miss the buzz, the high, of drinking.

Initially, after all those years of hectic havoc, I loved the calm and peace of sobriety, but now I realise that I don't want to live my life completely on an even keel.

I want to experience all the highs (and the corresponding lows) of the rollercoaster.

So, over the last year, I've been living by the maxim outside the comfort zone is where the magic happens.

Because I've realised that that is where you find your highs. Real, prolonged, meaningful highs, not the artificial, fleeting ones at the bottom of a bottle.

When you push yourself to do something new, something scary, when you learn to deal with all the inevitable failures and knockbacks and just keep on going, when you finally get there, it's the greatest high in the world.

That's why, after months of hiding behind a pseudonym, I finally 'came out', and wrote the book, The Sober Diaries.

And that's why, when my old college said they were hosting Cambridge University's first ever TEDx talks, I applied to give one.

I didn't think I'd get chosen. There are, obviously, a lot of very clever people amongst the Cambridge community who have done really amazing things with DNA and suchlike.

I am just an ex-lush housewife who wants to talk about how we can make going sober less shameful, so that, in the future, women like me won't need all those pseudonyms and the cloak of anonymity. 

But, incredibly, they picked me as one of the ten speakers.

And now I am WAY outside my comfort zone, my friends.

But that is an entirely good thing, because I know that once I get off that stage on February 17th, even if I don't perform brilliantly, the high of just having got through the preceding twelve minutes will be amazing.

And I still need those highs....

And so do you. So, why not find something you've always wanted to do, but been too afraid, or too lethargic, and SIGN UP. Do the Tough Mudder, like lovely reader, Ang75. Apply for that promotion. Go on a blind date. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

In other news, up on the SoberMummy Facebook page this week, a fabulous piece from the Huff Post on what 1000 days sober feels like, the genius Robin Williams talking about being 'ethanol challenged' and the inspirational Maya Angelou being...inspirational.

Click here to go the Facebook page, and 'like' to stay updated.

Love to you all,

SM x 





Saturday, 25 November 2017

3 Top Tips for Partying Sober



The party season is upon us, folks, and it's a difficult time of year for the newly sober.

So, here is SoberMummy's guide to partying happily without the booze.

But, before we start, consider this important question: do you really have to go?

Don't shoot me down yet, I know it's crucial that going alcohol-free doesn't mess up our enjoyment of life in any way, that it brings only benefits and doesn't turn us all into norma-no-mates hermits, sitting at home feeling miserable.

Of course we should carry on going to parties, which (it so happens) are even better when you're not blurring all the edges (and then causing havoc) with booze.

However, if you're still in the early days of quitting and you really don't feel strong enough yet to cope with too much drunken revelry then do not feel guilty about taking a short sabbatical.

If you're an overly-enthusiastic drinker, then it's likely that you're a people pleaser and a party person. I'll bet you've been to way more than your share of boozy events in the past. You deserve a tiny bit of time off for good (or should that be bad?) behaviour.

So, if you're still feeling a bit raw and vulnerable, then just fake a bout of festive 'flu and hunker down with a box set and a hot chocolate. You'll be back with a bang before you know it.

But, for those of you who have a good run of sober days under the belt and are feeling upbeat and positive, ready to trip the light fandango and alcohol-free, then here we go:

1. Fake it until you make it

I have a dream that, in the not too distant future, there will come a time when we can announce that we've gone alcohol-free and the crowds will cheer, call us heroes and pat us on the back.

That time, however, is not yet here. As you'll know, currently if you tell people you've quit booze for good the response is a stunned silence, followed by a shocked and strangled "why? Do you have a problem?"

Now it may be that you're happy discussing the myriad reasons why you've decided to ditch the regular drinking of an addictive poison with a bunch of tipsy acquaintances, but, even if you are, repeating this speech over and over again at a party will undoubtedly become a little boring, which is why many of us decide to fake it until we make it.

This strategy involves clinging onto a non-alcoholic drink that looks like booze all evening. Think virgin mojito, alcohol-free beer or (if there's a real dearth of 'soft' drinks available), plain tonic water or soda.

If you're rumbled, then (despite what I tell my children) lying is perfectly acceptable. Tell them you're driving, you're on antibiotics or you have an important work presentation tomorrow.

When you're ready, a few weeks or months down the line, you can out yourself to friends and family in your own way, in your own time. Don't feel bullied into doing it at a party.

2. Play it forward

This is an extremely helpful AA mantra.

There will inevitably be a time (probably many) during the party when you start thinking maybe I should just have the one. One drink can't hurt. It'll help take the edge off a bit and make me relax...

At this point it's important to play the film forward. Because you know how the next few scenes go - you've been there hundreds of times before:

You don't have just one. You have several. You end up doing something you didn't mean to do, or saying something you didn't mean to say. You go home and, possibly, write something you didn't mean to write on social media, or buy something you didn't mean to buy on eBay, then you wake up in the middle of the night hating yourself and spend the next day feeling like death.

Right?

Even if you have iron clad willpower and stick to just that one drink, you'll only make it harder for yourself next time. At the next party you'll think I managed it last time, I can do it again. Before you know it, you'll be back to drinking a bottle of wine a day.

If you were good at moderation, you wouldn't be reading this. You're most likely an all-or-nothing person, and that's a great way to be, so long as (in this case), you stick with 'nothing.'

Here's another great AA mantra: drinking today is just borrowing tomorrow's happiness. Focus on tomorrow. You know that, if you stay sober, tomorrow is going to feel amazing.

3. Be kind to yourself

In the early days, take baby steps. Just turning up to the party for an hour or two is fantastic, you do not have to be the last to leave.

If you're finding it tough, take time out. Go for a walk. Go sit on the loo and check in on your sober Facebook group (join Club Soda, if you haven't already) or your favourite blogs. Find a good friend and have a quiet, life-affirming catch up in the corner.

Once you've had enough, just go. No need for long goodbyes or thank you's - everyone else will be drunk, they won't notice you sneaking out.

No need to wait for a mini-cab - you're SOBER, you can DRIVE.

You won't need to play it this cautiously for long. Before you know it you'll be back to being the life and soul of the party.

And partying sober is way better than partying drunk. You get to have proper discussions with people you haven't seen for ages. Discussions you remember. 

You get to make new connections, to have life-affirming conversations with new and fascinating people that make the other person feel valued and you value yourself.

You'll look much better, behave much better and feel proud of yourself. You'll be able to get out of your head on the atmosphere, the music and the dancing, but wake up the next day feeling brilliant.

You'll start looking at the drunk people in the room, thinking (not in a mean way) why did I ever do that to myself?

One warning though: without the anaesthesia of booze, dancing in high heels really hurts your feet. Take them off!

If you'd like to read about all the ups and downs of my first year sober, you can pre-order my book - the Sober Diaries - which is out in ONE MONTH. Click here to go to my Amazon page.

For regular inspiration and information (plus a few good laughs) go to my SoberMummy Facebook page. Click here to visit and 'like' to stay updated

Happy sober festivities to you all!

SM x