Dry January was hard. Every day was a decision not to drink but it did not come easily. I had always hoped that if I stopped drinking I wouldn’t have to go through the agonies that so many people talked about. I didn’t want to be ‘once and alcoholic always an alcoholic’. I wanted to believe that I could ‘kick the drink….easily’. Nothing leading up to that point had been easy and one of the things that puts people off trying to quit drinking is the thought that every day, from that point forward, will be hard but without the temporary relief offered by alcohol. But when I finally quit, on 29th April 2018, after a 22 year bad relationship with alcohol, it just happened. There was no fanfare, no memorable promise to stop, no announcement to the world, no force of willpower. My husband, a few weeks before, at my request, had removed all alcohol from the house so there had been nothing there immediately to tempt me.
My first Facebook post related to Dry January did not paint a rosy picture. To sum it up, feeling all positive and ready to be the best mother, I headed out for a day out with the boys. We were going to go scooting and go to the cinema to watch the Greatest Showman. We went to a local lake that is very pretty and the boys enjoy scooting around. The Baby, who had been given a scooter for Christmas, refused to scoot. In the end I had to let the big boys go off by themselves around the lake while I pottered about with The Baby. The Baby was being a pain and in trying to help him avoid a very large puddle, he fell right into a bigger one. Cue wet cold screaming child. Having taken all his spare clothes out of his bag after a calpol disaster, I had forgotten to put any back in. Now I had a screaming cold child dressed in the hodge podge of clothes below.
The boys took so long to reappear I thought they had fallen into the lake and was wondering what I was supposed to do at this point, with wet screaming baby and potentially drowning children (they can swim but mother’s anxiety and all that!) They eventually emerged and The Bear’s blood sugars were super high again. He had had a sickness bug for weeks and had lost 6kgs in three weeks. We just couldn’t control his blood sugars. I was extremely tempted at this point to jack it all in and go home to drink wine and rant. But I didn’t. I thought I…AM…GOING…TO…DO…THIS. Instead I persevered and picked up sandwiches to feed the boys in the cinema. I didn’t know this at the time, nor did I after this viewing, but the Greatest Showman was soon to become my best film ever and I would watch it 7 times in the cinema including two sing alongs and an outdoor viewing. This is me was my anthem and A million dreams my life’s story)
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Having made it to the cinema, everyone settled, ate their sandwiches and the baby fell asleep in my arms. I breathed a sigh of relief and start to take in some of the film. As The Baby slept, I started to relax and think how lucky I was. After not very long, The Baby started coughing. Poor thing I thought, cough cough cough – VOMIT!!! Everywhere!!! Over remaining clothes, the floor, me, the badly packed changing back. On my own in the cinema with 3 boys covered in vomit.
So, not a propitious start to my coping mummy sober lifestyle. But a win because I didn’t drink that day. I got home, cried, told My Love how crap it all was, read the next day of the 28 day alcohol free challenge, wrote the post for Facebook and enjoyed the replies. By the evening I saw the funny side. Definitely not what would have happened if I had had a drink. The result then would have been tears, arguing, guilt, shame, feelings of inadequacy.
People talk about how negative social media can be, and I understand the negative side of it, but for me it was a game changer. The biggest thing I learned in Dry January was how huge and supportive the online sober community is and how fast it is growing. Instead of reading ‘how much can I drink and not die of cirrhosis of the liver’ (I’ve seen many, many people at the end of their alcohol careers and it’s pretty nasty stuff), I was immersed in articles about why to quit drinking, how much better life is afterwards, how alcohol is the enemy not the friend and comfort I’d always used it as
When I started drinking again I felt like I’d failed again, even worse this time because I’d stopped for so long and really thought that was it. The sober community helped me see that it was OK; most of them have fallen down multiple times before finally reaching the sober goal. I believe this really helped me to finally stop three month later.
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When I finally quit, it almost happened unnoticed. I realised I hadn’t drunk for a couple of days, but also that I hadn’t missed it. This revelation was startling. It had never ever happened before. I realised quickly that if I touched another drink I’d be back on the same treadmill for years, so I didn’t. I know that sounds insane and unrealistic but my outlook and support had changed so completely that I didn’t need the crutch anymore. I couldn’t believe that after 22 years, and 12 years of struggling, that that was it. But I’ve always believed that the universe gives you what you need if you are open to it. I truly believe that opening myself up to the sober world had finally opened myself up to sobriety as an option and the universe stepped in to help.
Did I never have a craving? Of course not, there were definitely times – when I was annoyed with the children or My Love, when I was scared, stressed or uncomfortable – that I absolutely wanted to drink. Summer evenings were hard, something about a summer evening says ‘sit outside a café, chill, chat, drink.’ I worried massively about December. My Birthday and Christmas in the same month. Usually an excuse for prosecco every night and no-one will notice because EVERYONE IS DOING IT! I kept my birthday lower key. I went to my sister’s with my mother. We had an Indian take away and watched Strictly Come Dancing. To be fair I love Strictly Come Dancing and would have probably watched it anyway but would have done it after day out, dressed up to the nines, drinking too much prosecco and eventually feeling upset, disappointed and resentful that I didn’t have time to dance, dress up and was too overweight and unfit to look gorgeous as the people on Strictly. Alcohol consumption not actually as much fun as it appears? I did feel weird though. I didn’t have the over excited feeling I usually get about my birthday, but I didn’t have the upset or disappointment either. One birthday navigated alcohol free.
After my birthday Christmas didn’t seem quite so worrying. In December I ate a lot! Mince pies, chocolate, biscuits. But I just accepted what I needed to do to get through December alcohol free. I would worry about it in January. I also watched cooking programmes constantly! I don’t really do TV but I have always enjoyed the odd episode of Nigella or Great British Bake off. I am a foody and love cooking delicious food with My Love. It reminds me of meals together and companionship – all very hygge. And Hygge is definitely what I needed! A bit late to the game, I read the Little Book of Hygge .
It filled me with such warm, cosy, hygge, happy feelings that I was determined that my winter would be Hygge and not a SAD affair (seasonal affective disorder most years!). I concentrated my December on being cosy and warm, wearing fluffy socks and fluffy jumpers, reading books by the fire (Fire on TV from YouTube but it works!), candles, hot chocolate, food and tea. Bit different to the glamorous, dressed up, prosecco filled party girl I always tried to be! It was wonderful and was also a step further to changing my outlook. When my sister had given me fluffy socks for my birthday the year before I had almost been offended! But this year I was revelling in the fluffy!
I also properly discovered tea. Although I always drank tea and liked tea, I hadn’t fully immersed myself in the world of tea. Now I have teas for the morning, teas for the afternoon, tea for hot days versus tea for winter days, tea for zen evenings or teas for slouchy evenings. I had always loved the idea of the Japanese tea ceremony. Taking things slowly, being mindful of each moment, savouring the present. However I had always thought I didn’t have time for that. I don’t spend hours every day making tea, but there is something about having different teas for different moods and situations. Something about making a pot to share rather than a cup, watching it infuse and waiting to taste it.
This all made winter evenings much easier to manage. I used to dread evenings and that is why they were prime drinking time. Evening made me completely miserable. With a drink I felt ok but after 8ish I felt completely miserable, ashamed and anxious. Without a drink I felt miserable from 5pm (when I would have had a drink) to 8ish (when I would have stopped) and then it cleared – connection?? This meant that crucial family time just wasn’t there. I did what I felt was my duty – family meals, bathing children, stories – but I didn’t enjoy it, couldn’t understand people when they said they did , and if I’m honest I slightly resented it. I think on some level the boys felt this, because when they were younger, they never stayed in bed, they messed about and it frequently descended into arguments.
Since I stopped drinking evenings have been a revelation. Apart from a bit of a down feeling that goes with winter dark evenings sometimes, I do not have those black feelings. We cook, eat and clean up together. After supper I bath the baby while we listen to music and sing together. Then I read stories with the baby, give him a kiss and he goes to bed. I mean who knew that toddlers can actually go to sleep willingly??? Maybe the baby is just odd, but I do think the concentrated attention he gets at that time leaves him feeling happy and safe and ready to sleep. Once the baby is a sleep it gives me an hour to be with the boys before they go to bed. We’ve found a few Netflix things we enjoy together, or I try to read a chapter of something to them. They’ve always loved stories and I’m still trying to convince them that reading is amazing! Once they’re in bed it gives My Love and I a little time together when we try to do some yoga – usually Yoga with Adriene – before bed.
Reading this it all sounds a bit idyllic. Obviously this doesn’t happen so smoothly every time, they still act up, fight and drive me crazy. It’s sometimes just way too busy to do all the nice stuff. We all still argue and shout. But in another way it is idyllic. It’s how I always wanted evenings to be. Even when it doesn’t go to plan it’s OK, because I really enjoy the times it does. This all developed slowly over the course of the year, not a sudden transition from horrendous evening to idyllic life. But like anything, the more you do it the easier it is to sustain and then it becomes natural.
Speaking of things becoming easier to sustain, in my 1st year sober I did more exercise, more consistently than any other time in my life. It was hard at first, but the more I did, the easier it became. At first it was hard to find the time, but when I got into it I could just slot it in anywhere. I exercised at home or outside, as I knew I would never have the time to disappear to the gym, but that made it easier to sustain. I practised yoga morning and evening, I did T25 (High Intensity Interval Training stuff) for 25 minutes, I cycled to work and with the family and we went for long family walk. There were days when this didn’t happen, but lots of days when it did. The endorphins flowed and I felt amazing!
One of the things people dread when they stop drinking is going on holiday, and I was no different. I have had two holidays since then. The first was a family trip to the seaside for a week in August and the second a week in Italy. My parents came to both. I love holidays and don’t normally get two, but it was firstly a treat to say well done for being sober and secondly as a thank you to my mother for all the childcare help she give us so we can work. I was very anxious, especially as the year before I had become so anxious and hysterical in a caravan by the sea that I had cut a two week holiday in half and come home. We were five in a hotel room for 7 days. Hotel rooms also say to me – wine on arrival. As it was it was OK. If I needed to escape the room I took us out. I kept a supply of diets cokes and San Pellegrino cans in the room. I had a bath if I needed 5 minutes. I also chilled out and stopped trying to control everything – if the boys wanted to watch too much TV rather than go out – so what? It’s their holiday too. I love the sea, so any time I felt anxious, which wasn’t very often, I left the hotel and sat on the beach listening to the waves. In Italy I was also worried but I had been sober for nearly a year by then. But doesn’t Italy mean eating alfresco and long afternoons drinking wine? I did eat alfresco, we did enjoy long afternoons with coffee and ice cream, we did argue (all sharing an apartment), I did get frustrated with the children just wanting to play on I Pads instead of going out – especially as THIS WAS ITALY! But I didn’t drink, and I didn’t want to drink. I did however; discover alot more about myself than I would have done if I had been drinking. More on that in the next post. This year I have my first festival and we are camping for a week in Wales – eeeek!
In my 1st year sober, became a better mother and wife, I became stronger physically and emotionally, I lost 8kgs and for the first time, felt happy in my own skin.