Sober Birthday Reflections

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear mee-ee, Happy Birthday to me!

I can’t tell you the number of times I had the conversation with myself where I said 2012 will be the year, 2013 will be the year, 2014 and onwards ad nauseam. Every year I’d say that was it, next birthday and Christmas I would be sober and happy. My goodness, the number of times I was disappointed.

But incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully, here I am! I am 38 years old today, and this is my second sober birthday. Second birthday that I will not have a drink since 16? 17?

And am I happy? Hell yes! Stressed, exhausted and dealing with a lot, but a damn sight happier than I ever was drinking.

My first sober birthday

So, on my first sober birthday, I enjoyed it, but it also felt weird. I’d never had a sober birthday as an adult, so I didn’t really know what to do! To me, birthdays were about glitz and glamour – and therefore, to my alcohol mind – prosecco. My mind told me that I couldn’t dress up and be all bling without going out, but going out partying without alcohol also didn’t seem fun (I’m so glad I am now past this idea now, see my first sober rave for more on the joys or partying sober). My Love and I met dancing, but we hadn’t really danced since the birth of The Baby, so I didn’t have that dressing up excuse either.

What had got me through the winter to that point was being Hygge. Briefly, Hygge is the Danish concept of cosiness and togetherness.  So, I didn’t dress up and I went with Hygge. I had an Indian take away at my sister’s house with all those I love, and watched Strictly Come Dancing, which I also love.

Although it was lovely, deep down I was also disappointed, and worried that my sober self and my glamorous self couldn’t co-exist. Although that birthday I wasn’t feeling miserable because my fat, alcohol soaked and Chinese take away stuffed self was so far part from the beautiful, athletic, glamourous people dancing on strictly, I was still feeling a little resentful that my life was worlds apart from it.

I want now to have a look at what has change in the last year and what I need to learn from it.

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Less anxious

Most importantly I have continued to be less anxious. This was the biggest thing for me. One of the reasons I used to think I needed a drink was to deal with my anxiety. By the time I was 6 months sober I realised how completely mad that idea was! Alcohol was the thing that was creating most of my anxiety, and by 6 months I was basically anxiety free – how good does that sound?! I have been slightly more anxious recently but with very good reasons (more on that later) and it’s nowhere near as debilitating and alcohol anxiety.

Emotions

These, however, have not disappeared! But they are much less roller coaster and, usually, they are manageable.

We have had a really bad year with multiple bereavements to cancer and it has had a massive impact on our family and ability to cope with day to day living. This definitely made me question many things in my life, but it also reduced my ability to accept the now. This is bizarre, as surely if anything would make you appreciate the now, it’s loss; but it threw me straight back to into frustration. Carpe Diem raised its head and when I couldn’t do the things I want to do – read books, sing, dance, travel, art etc due to work and family commitments, I was just massively frustrated! This is something I’m going to work on in the New Year – 2020 will be all about gratitude (see How to practice gratitude) and living in the now (see How to build a life you do not want to escape from)

This year also taught me that some months, I suffer really badly with PMS and some months are better. This is better than it sounds. Although the months I do suffer, can be all the way from ovulation to period and I seem to lose all control of my emotions, it is not as often as I thought it was. Maybe 1 in 4, so I am very grateful for this new knowledge about myself, as it makes those really bad months easier to deal with.

The other things that has hit really badly this year is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I think all my Hygge-ness and exercise last year made this much better, but due to circumstances, the Hygge-ness and exercise have not been so prominent so I have felt it’s affects. SAD hits me at about 4pm, a busy time when it’s dark and everyone goes home and closes their curtains to hibernate, and lasts until about 8pm, funnily enough the exact time that I always felt the need to drink! I am trying to work out how to deal with SAD and hopefully next year can write some advice for you. Things I am trying are more exercise, St John’s Wort, a Light Therapy lamp, walking in the few bits of sunshine and keeping busy at times when it’s bad – I’ll let you know!

Keeping busy

There is more than one side to keeping busy.

The Good

I love being busy and doing things.

Evenings have been a revelation, especially summer evenings. I have been out for summer evening cycles, summer evening walks, summer evening picnics. I have been amazed by stunning sunsets in all seasons and how they change the look of all the normal things around you. I have also loved the number of other people still out in the evenings, walking their dogs or sitting by the river. I missed so much when I was drinking every evening.

I attended my first sober rave – and loved it completely! (see What is a sober rave like?)

I went to my first big music festival with all the children – and even survived the rain! (see Greenman Festival – Sober!)

I went to the theatre and cinema lots – the best being the Rocky Horror Show – although I wasn’t quite brave enough to dress up – next year I absolutely will!

I’ve started dancing again once a week with My Love and I am remembering how much I love all things dancing.

I have walked in Derbyshire, visited the seaside town that I want to move to, camped in Wales and had weekend trips to London, York, Birmingham, Sheffield, Lincoln, Hull, Newcastle and Edinburgh 

The Bad

I have tried to do too much, and I have spent a fortune!

The Ugly

I have neglected my self-care and felt the effects.

Health and Self-Care

My enthusiasm for my new sober life and my desire to get on with living it have come back to bite me a little bit. I felt somehow invincible when I stopped drinking and realised it was forever. I was flipping superwoman to have overcome this enormous, life changing hurdle and now anything was possible.

I started this blog because I want to get my story out there to help others who were in the same position I had been in. I wanted them to know not to give up, that they really could get sober and be happy. I had no idea how little I knew about computers and how insanely time-consuming writing a blog is!

I still wanted to work as a nurse and went into children’s intensive care nursing, working shifts in any random pattern that the hospital saw fit to give me.

I wanted to home-school The Bot who started Year 7 in September, as I thought that would be better than watching him struggle and feel defeated for another 7 years, so I started in September.

And among all of this I wanted to keep up yoga and exercise, look after my 3 children and household, support My Love through his studies, control The Bear’s diabetes, get up in the night to check blood sugars and look after sick children, cook well, eat well, stay positive and focused on  the now, meditate, write gratitude journals and read the odd book, not to mention respond to the 18 millions emails, letters, appointments and school needs that NEVER SEEM TO END!

Needless to add I’ve struggled emotionally – especially with SAD, had far more colds and chesty illnesses that usual, slept terribly, not done yoga for a while, injured myself exercising and look pretty rubbish! I am also still pretty reliant on sugar and my daily coffee.

On the upside, I still do not want to ever drink again, I no longer rely diet coke and I am the slimmest I have been in years without much additional effort.

Money

I don’t necessarily see this as good or bad. I have loved everything I have spend money on so I don’t really mind that I have spent too much and have a curb it a bit. One thing everyone always said was how much money you would save when you stopped drinking. Yes, I have not spent £25+ a week on booze but I have spent it on the cinema, theatre, meals out, coffee and cake, books and activities. Well worth it I’d say!

Self-Acceptance

This year has taught me so much about myself and I have come to accept things about myself that I hadn’t expected.

Without even realising it, I have had ingrained thoughts and beliefs that I have never challenged because they are too deeply rooted. Uncovering these has been so freeing. 

Walking through a garden centre this summer, I saw a quote that read ‘Not all who wander are lost’. It really hit home because I had always thought there was some flaw in me that made me feel such wanderlust and that if I could just fix me, it would go away and I would be as I am ‘supposed’ to be – settled, stable, secure.  I was so struck that I phoned My Love quickly to tell him what I’d discovered – I could be a wanderer and not fatally flawed. I then carried on chatting about our move to the seaside in a few years and how I thought I’d settle by the sea, and he said ‘Why do you need to settle anywhere?’ OMG!! Thunderbolt 2 in one afternoon! Ingrained expectations again – why do I need to settle? Surely you don’t ever have to settle anywhere if you don’t want to?

So this year I have realised the following:

I am a wanderer.

I do not have to ‘settle’ anywhere if I don’t want to.

I do not have to work for anyone, plans are fully afoot now to head down the self-employed route.

If I want a new job every two years, so what?

Mortgages scare the bejesus out of me. I will wait until I am ready before I even consider one.

What’s so freeing about all of this is I can now start making my life fit me, rather than fit what my life ‘should’ be.

Side note: I still don’t have a tattoo because I can’t yet bring myself to upset my mother that much but hey ho, some things just aren’t worth fighting for!!

My second sober birthday

My birthday was actually yesterday, so I can reflect a little on how it went. I have always loved my birthday and always looked forward to it, but also often ended up crying (alcohol related) and disappointment (also alcohol related). This year my birthday was on a Monday, so I went all out for a 3 days off work extended celebration! I put the Christmas decorations up with the boys on Saturday and we had a delicious meal with my parents in the evening before watching Strictly Come Dancing.   On Sunday, My Love and I drove to the Birmingham Christmas Market with The Baby, ate delicious food and bought a German Christmas decoration that I have always wanted, ending the day with the soppy Christmas romance, The Holiday. On Monday I had a shopping trip with my mother, played with make-up, bought each other presents and drank far too many coffees, before watching the best Christmas film ever, Arthur Christmas, with my boys.

I loved every bit of it, and even when things didn’t go to plan, it didn’t ruin everything and leave me weeping in a corner (as previous alcohol fuelled birthdays would have done), I just changed plans and I was flipping go with flow!

Still learning

What I have learnt most from one birthday to another, is how much I am still learning. I am still only 19 months into my new sober life and there is a lot to discover about me – things that I was probably trying to hide from for all those alcohol years.

I am not writing because I have all the answers, I am writing because I can help show you How to quit drinking and to give you hope that the life you want is possible.

I am so grateful to this learning, because it makes my feel braver and more able to make changes that enable me to choose my life, my path and my destiny.

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