How to do Dry January

So, Christmas and New Year are over for 2019. It’s that time of the year when, emerging from the haze of overindulgence – be that cheese, sugar or alcohol – our bodies scream at us to change something and try for a healthier happier lifestyle.

I know that when I started Dry January in 2018, I had reached a breaking point with alcohol, but I also knew that I had reached that point before in my 22 year drinking career, and that despite promises to myself and repeated attempts to quit, I always ended up back where I had been.

Every New Year I thought “this year will be my year” and “by Christmas next year I will have stopped drinking”. Every year, Christmas came around and I was there, drinking away, as I had been every other year.

Yet, incredibly, here in New Year 2020, I have been sober and happy for 20 months. 2 birthdays, 2 Christmases and 2 New Years.

What is Dry January?

Dry January is a campaign run by Alcohol Change UK, a charity that aims to change attitudes to alcohol in order to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

The Dry January campaign started in 2013 and its popularity has skyrocketed. I think statistics regarding alcohol consumption are dodgy as hell because most people either don’t want to admit to drinking too much (in case they are branded an ‘alcoholic’) or they have don’t know how much they are actually drinking. But according to alcohol change, 78% of people in Britain drink more than they want to, whether that is from pressure to drink, social anxiety or the fact that alcohol is used to mark every event from births to funerals.

Stopping drinking for 31 days will definitely help you to reassess your relationship with alcohol and with yourself, and potentially, as for me, change your life forever.

Should I try Dry January?

I think if you are questioning yourself regarding your drinking, then alcohol probably already has more of a hold on you than you would like. In which case, taking a month to reassess your relationship with booze can only be a positive step forward.

In my case, I was not in control of my drinking and especially not in control of the effect alcohol had on my anxiety and emotional state. Many people who drink moderately, still find that alcohol is dreadful for their mental health. If this is the case, why not try a month off to see whether it improves.

Benefits of Dry January

The benefits of not drinking are immense. A quick google search with leave you inundated with reasons why cutting the booze is the best thing ever.

These include:

Better sleep, less illness, less anxiety and depression, more energy, weight loss, better skin, happier, more confidence, more self-respect and more time.

Not to mention reducing those long-term effects such as heart disease, liver failure and cancer.

On a personal level I have been staggered by the effects of quitting alcohol. My anxiety has basically gone, my depression has gone, I have lost 10kg, I have achieved a huge amount, I am kinder to myself and don’t beat myself up constantly, I have a better relationship with my husband and my children know I am there all the time. I am less emotional, less snappy and less rollercoaster. I have a realistic exciting plans for the future, not just escapist pie in the sky plans, but I also love living my day to day (most of the time anyway!).  I am fitter, healthier and happier than I ever though possible.

For more on this see my post How to build a life you don’t want to escape from

How to complete Dry January

It’s all very well saying all this lovely stuff about stopping for a month and all the lovely benefits of this, but what if you don’t think you actually can stop. What if, like me, you’ve been trying to stop drinking for years and years but always end up in the same place? What if, other than pregnancy, you’ve never managed more than a week off, despite desperate efforts?

Here’s my advice on how to successfully manage your first Dry January.

Take it one day at a time

Don’t worry that this will always be the case, I promise you it won’t – I don’t crave alcohol anymore, and although it does cross my mind on occasion, thinking about drinking takes hardly any headspace. 

Don’t say forever. If you launch into your cutting alcohol project saying ‘this is forever’, then you are far more likely to get completely freaked out, and what do we do when we are freaked out? That’s right, we drink to ‘cope’ with it. So, give yourself a break. Each day is a huge achievement to be proud of, you can extend it later if you feel up to it.

Be extra kind to yourself

One of the worst things we do to ourselves is be unkind. Every time I slipped up and started drinking again, I would pour recriminations on my head, cry and tell myself I was pathetic and useless. I would then drink more to ‘cope’ with these feelings and would go back to my normal drinking.

This is the worst thing you can do. And I will admit, in my Dry January I had a night alone, about halfway through, and I had ½ a glass of prosecco. But I realised what I was doing, cried, tipped the rest away and carried on with Dry January.

That is the key. If you slip up, DO NOT just go back to normal. Pick up where you left of and carry on. I promise you that you are not alone. Every person who has succeeded in quitting drinking as slipped up again and again and again. But if you keep picking yourself up and carrying on then you will succeed.

See my post How to stop alcohol cravings to find out more about the incredible workings of our brain in relation to changing habits and breaking cravings.

Also please realise that you will have all sorts of emotions and feelings during this time. You need to treat yourself as you would treat a child or a new plant. Be gentle, kind and nurturing.

Sign up for my free 7 day email course below to find out how to start being kind to yourself. 

Take time for yourself

You are your only priority this month. You need to do exactly what you need to do and put everything else aside.

Have a look at my suggestions below, but also have a think about what you like doing that really nurtures you. Do you love reading but never have time? Do you long for a hot bath with candles? Do you wish you had more time to bake? Whatever it is that you long to do, that is your focus this month.

I promise you, that your home, children, relationship or job will cope with a little neglect, and they will gain hugely from a happy sober you.

Do what you WANT to do

Like my point above, only do what you want to do. You don’t HAVE TO do anything. Most people slip up in Dry January because they go back to their normal drinking haunts with the same people and expect that they will be OK. This is not true. Later on, in your sober career, you will be fine, but in this first month, why put yourself through that? You’ll probably be challenged on why you are not drinking, your automatic brain triggers will want to say yes to alcohol, you’ll crave like mad, you will worry that you will never quit drinking, or that if you do, you’ll always be craving and miserable. The upshot of this is that by the end of the evening you’ll have had a drink to ‘cope’ with your internal battle ground.

So, for this first month, don’t go near your triggers. Do things differently. Plan activities and events away from your usual ones and away from alcohol. Give yourself a proper break. You may also find out that there are things you love to do far more than drinking.

Track your progress

Be accountable to yourself. Alcohol Change UK have a Dry January app that you can use to chart your progress. This should help you to keep a track of where you are and how you are doing, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the whole experience.

Here is the link to the Dry January tracker app.

There are other apps such as Drinkaware tracker, AlcoDroid, SoberTool and Sobriety Counter. They all offer slightly different things so have a play and see what works for you.

If you’re feeling slightly more old school and like a pen and paper, writing a diary of your journey – with thoughts, feelings and achievements is a big help. Try in this diary to think every day about a few things you are truly grateful for. Gratitude, especially in hard times, can have a profound effect on hoe you see things. See my post How to practice gratitude for more on how gratitude works.

Find your community support

Another way you can track your journey is on Social Media. I wish I had known when I first quit about the huge community of people on social media in the same boat I was. Instagram is particularly good as it is easier to find and connect with people who are in the sober world. I have found everyone on Instagram insanely supportive. Just what you need to keep yourself positive and motivated, and most importantly, make you realise you are not alone in your struggle. You are not abnormal! 

Have a start with my Instagram page here.

Being part of a community like this can help you to stay accountable to them and to yourself. I think this is part of why Dry January works so well. You are not just you, struggling with your ‘alcohol problem’. You are part of a huge community all with the same intention. Support is an incredible thing. For more support from Alcohol Change UK you can sign up to Dry January and they will send you motivating emails and messages to help you through.

Another amazing website for community spirit and getting help to cut down is One Year No Beer. It was these guys that helped me through Dry January when I read their book, but they have website dedicated to their One Year No Beer Challenge. Don’t worry, you don’t have to start with a year! Like Dry January, you can start with 28 days.

Telling your friends that you are taking a challenge is so much easier to say than trying to explain why you are not drinking.

This is their book which helped me hugely.

The link to their website is here .

Read Read Read

So many people find that reading can help them through difficult time. I was certainly like this. In the sober world, self-help books are called ‘quit lit’ and here are my top quit lit choices.

If you are an overwhelmed mummy and don’t feel like you can ‘cope’ without the booze or simply don’t have time for a whole book, have a look at my four part post series of mummies and alcohol.

  1. Why do mums drink?
  2. What’s wrong with the mummy wine culture?
  3. Why mums DO NOT need to drink
  4. How to survive and thrive as a sober mum

Find your alcohol alternatives

It is so helpful in the beginning to find your alcohol-free alternatives. Luckily as the sober movement is taking off, more and more places offer alcohol free alternatives.

Find your activity alternatives

Like a said before, find something different to what you normally do this month. You might be surprised by what you actually enjoy more than drinking!

One year no beer and many groups like it, suggest taking an exercise challenge such as Couch to 5K or even training for a half marathon! The effects of exercise are incredible and will help you to complete and maybe even continue Dry January. All those lovely happy hormones released by exercise, not to mention feeling better, healthier and more energetic.

Getting out in nature can also be hugely beneficial. There is something about being at one with the outside world and breathing in that fresh air that can make us feel grounded, connected and supported – just wrap up warm!

Embrace mindfulness

If an exercise challenge is not for you, don’t give up on exercise completely. I didn’t do the couch to 5k, although I did do a 5K park run in January 2018 and ended up with a whopping migraine!

I started with a 30-day yoga challenge. I used Yoga with Adriene on YouTube as it is free, and she is amazingly accessible. After a few days you can start to feel the difference. But like I said before, if you don’t manage to do the challenge every day, don’t feel that you have to give up or start again. Just pick up where you left off and carry on. It is all progress on your journey.

Yoga helps with mindfulness, and mindfulness has been shown to help people to cope with the day to day ups and downs of living.

Mindfulness can come in many forms including yoga, meditation and a walk in nature. Sign up for my free 7 day email series below to find out more.

Mindfulness will help you to learn more about yourself, your real interests and passions and your relationships with others.

My Dry January

While I’m making all this sound easy and positive, it probably won’t be like that to start with. Personally, I hated every second of Dry January. I was miserable, craving and thought that if I quit for good, I’d feel like that forever. But it fundamentally changed something in me and I quit for good, relatively easily, 3 months later. What I am trying to do here is give you the benefit of my experience. I did Dry January all wrong and everything I have written above was learned in the following 3 months – and it worked!

I am sober, happy and more sorted than I have ever been. I understand myself better, and I actually like myself now.

For more on my story see Why I quit drinking

You can do it too.

For more advice on how to quit drinking see my other post How to quit drinking

To read more on what other people have experienced have a look at the blogs for

Alcohol Change UK

One Year No Beer

Join Club Soda

Good Luck! I’ll post daily on Instagram for motivation and support. Let me know how you are getting on!

How to beat the alcohol illusion

My last post looked at How to stop alcohol cravings, so I want to go back a little bit. Back to my post Why do people drink so that I can beat some of the myths around alcohol and reasons for drinking.

Normalisation

It is difficult in our society to escape from the normalisation of alcohol but things are improving. Many pubs now have a huge selection of alcohol free beers, soft drinks and mocktails. Supermarkets are expanding their alcohol free offerings. Sainsbury’s are even opening a low alcohol pop up pub, fair enough only for two days but…‘times, they are a changing’! Whether you agree with the sober curious movement or the sober wellness trend, it is all helping to de-normalise alcohol.

Alcohol was so normalised for me and it wasn’t until I became immersed in the sober world that I found the normalisation didn’t affect me anymore. I had a new normal. Now I am asked less and less why I don’t drink and my reasons aren’t questions as much. I’ve mentioned this before but it is so important I’m going to talk about it again! IMMERSE YOURSELF!

Read quit lit, as much as you can get hold of! My recommendations are:

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Link to sober blogs – especially mine obviously (!) but other good ones are:

Find sober communities to link to, these are widely available on Facebook but some good websites are:

There are so many Ted Talks, podcasts and webinars available if you do a simple internet search.

The information you need is ACCESSIBLE and FREE! The more immersed you are the less normal it seems.

Accessibility

When you are first starting out on your sober path, make it easier for yourself by making alcohol less accessible. I removed all alcohol from my house initially. My Love, who never drank very much anyway, said he would also not drink – he was definitely the champion I needed. It was strange initially not being able to offer guests an alcoholic drink, and I’m absolutely sure some people visited less because there wasn’t one, but now it’s OK and guests know they’ll be offered diet coke, rose lemonade or a HUGE array of teas!

This all changed a little further  into my sobriety. We have some alcohol in the house now, my husband very occasionally drinks. My family still drink lots, so family events are full of alcohol but it doesn’t bother me now. I know I will never drink again and I know that I don’t want to – sometimes they forget I’m not drinking so I always bring my own diet coke just in case! 

Another important thing at the beginning is to avoid places where alcohol is readily accessible; especially if these places are a trigger. Even if the place itself isn’t, the likelihood is that being surrounded by alcohol is going to trigger you. A trigger is the second part of the habit process and,  as I mentioned in How to stop alcohol cravings, we have the replace our habits and secure the new neural pathways associated with the new habit. If you expose yourself to your triggers before you have done the background work, you are relying on willpower alone, and I don’t know anyone who is happy sober who has relied on willpower alone. So give yourself a break, and until you are more secure, avoid your triggers.

Social Pressure

The idea that you cannot have fun or celebrate without alcohol is a dangerous and nonsense ILLUSION! Let’s look at this in more details

Fun?

While the first drink might be fun, what happens after that? Watch and listen to people who have drunk too much. Everything slows down in their brain so they start talking loudly and more slowly while repeating themselves constantly. They start being cocky, arrogant and boastful. Later they can’t walk properly and vomit all over themselves. I’ve seen numerous people wet themselves after drinking too much. I’ve seen people being abusive to other people, to police, ambulance crews, doctors, nurses. I’ve seen arguments, fights, assaults, domestic violence, homelessness, illness and death all related to alcohol. Does that sound like fun?

Hangovers – fun?? – need I say more?

But how will I have fun

Find what makes you happy and do that. If it’s been alcohol for too long, find what used to make you happy before alcohol, and try that. Some of my fun things are reading, dancing, eating, walking, cycling, climbing, yoga and water – being in it, on it or by it! And I now have so much more time and energy to do these things.

Ask those you love to try other things for fun. Try to find a happy middle ground. There are some people who will completely refuse. There are people who will try to divert you from your path. Often people struggle with the fact that they will lose friends on their new journey. It is true, there are probably people you will lose, but you have to bear in mind two things

  1. Did those friends have your best interests at heart? Don’t you deserve friends who do?
  2. You will gain so many more friends on your new path who will be similar to you,
    have the same interests and make it so much easier for you to stick to your
    resolution

But how will I celebrate?

I wondered this over and over again before I quit drinking. So many people who have quit say that they no longer celebrate – but doesn’t this depend on your definition of celebrations? Is alcohol so ingrained that no booze means no celebration? I have found that my celebrations are pretty similar. Good food, good company, good conversation. Maybe I glam up a little less, but I also know that when the children are older and I get out dancing more (which is my ultimate celebration!), I will glam up again.

There are so many cultures all over the world that do not drink, and I guarantee you that they are not walking around miserable and not celebrating or having fun.

But nothing will be fun because I’ll always be craving

You absolutely do not need to spend your life craving alcohol once you stop drinking! I genuinely believed that I would never be happy if I quit drinking because I would be feeling deprived all the time.

When I did Dry January, 3 months before I finally stopped, I was craving like mad and it was awful. But when I stopped for good 3 month later, the cravings had completely gone. I was as surprised as anyone but it is because of all the work, immersing and habit replacing that I did in those 3 months. If you are worried about cravings, please read my post How to stop alcohol cravings to find out how to quit alcohol and be happy sober.

Two good books to help to shatter you the alcohol illusion are the as follow, but you don’t need both because they are very similar.

 

Social anxiety

Everyone has social anxiety on some level. We are brought up as children to be wary of strangers and to stick around people that we know. We cannot suddenly expect that as adults that conditioning will vanish! It doesn’t help that as teenagers and young adults, trying to find our place in the world, we haven’t found our self-confidence yet, and it is usually at this time that alcohol finds us and tricks us into believing that it gives us confidence. It doesn’t, we just depress our brain function so we don’t care as much. But how many times have you been too embarrassed to return to people or a situation because of what you have done when drunk? Surely we are just enhancing our social anxiety in this way?

A few things to remember when approaching a social event:

      • Many people will be as anxious as you are!
      • If they are drinking, they probably won’t remember anything you say anyway!
      • Lots of people like talking about themselves so just give them an opening!
      • You have people in your life who love you, so what other people think does not matter

Ultimately though, swap I ‘should’ go to this social event to I ‘could’ go to this social event. Then if by saying ‘I could’, you realise you don’t want to – question why and if you can’t overcome those reasons – DO NOT GO! Or go and leave early. There is nothing anywhere that says you have to do anything! Protect yourself, do what makes you happy. If you need alcohol to make a situation OK, then maybe that is not a situation you want to be in.

Bear in mind, as with anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Socialising and small talk is no different to anything else in this respect.

If you are an introvert, embrace it! The world needs balance. It is unfortunate that we live in a world that celebrates extroverts, but not everyone can be an extrovert and we need both. Find those people like you, because I promise there are lots of them out there! Miranda Hart, a brilliant comedienne, is also a well-known introvert.

Susan Cain talks brilliantly about being an introvert. Watch her TED talk or read her book The Power of introverts in a worlds that can’t stop talking.

Pleasure

Alcohol may give you a temporary feeling of pleasure, but as anyone who drinks know, this does not last. It often gives way to anxiety, guilt, fear and remorse.

It most definitely DOES NOT make you happy.

What makes you happy might be the situation you are in and the people you are with.

Picture this really common trigger. A beautiful summer day, picnic benches outside a pub by a river, sun shining, breeze in the trees, beautiful people in beautiful clothes chatting, drinking, eating, relaxing, carefree and enjoying life. What can alcohol add to this? Surely the sun still shines, the breeze still blows, the chats still happen and the beautiful clothes are still worn without alcohol? You may say that alcohol helps you relax, but wouldn’t this situation be relaxing anyway? And wouldn’t it be nicer to have enjoyed that day and go home clear headed, no headache or nauseous feeling, able to do things with the rest of your evening?

Do we use the situation as an excuse to drink or do we use alcohol to give ourselves permission to relax?

Alcohol adds nothing to that situation, so there must be something else. If you aren’t enjoying the situation without alcohol then maybe it is not a situation you enjoy naturally. I realised after drinking that I hate BBQs. I hosted them, went to them, drank through them, pretended to enjoy them, but I really didn’t! So now I don’t do them. Way too much delicious food in the world to burn sausages on a fire!

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Instant gratification

I think many people drink because it is so quick to give you the sensation of pleasure or relief from stress, upset and frustration – whatever your reason for drinking is.

Whilst it is true that nothing gives you those feelings quite so quickly, we can get around this.

Exercise, say a 4 minute Tabata routine from You Tube, can get those happy hormones flowing – it may not be immediate, but 4 minutes isn’t much to ask!

If you need it at the beginning, sugar can have a similar effect.

A short meditation or breathing exercise can reduce those stress hormones. To be honest, I struggled with this one because when I’m properly pissed off, I find it hard to relax with a short meditation, but it’s coming with practice.

And if we keep up with our new healthier habits – exercise, baths, reading, yoga, meditation (OK, diet coke and sugar are not healthy but they are better than alcohol!), then our periods of stress will be fewer and we will know how to deal with them without needing that instant relief.

Ultimately, delayed gratification has been shown time and again to be far more pleasurable than instant gratification!

Escapism

I know I drank to escape. Massive escapism! I drank because I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings.

I am not unusual in having feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, frustration, disappointment, excitement, fear and loneliness.

We are escaping from the feelings brought on by bad past experiences, present experiences, parenting, unhappiness as work, loss and feeling trapped.

The lists can be endless, because feelings are a part of life. More often than not, we are escaping because we don’t know how to just be us. To be honest, I am still learning how to be me, but that is OK because by learning to be me, I am learning to like me, just me as I am, and that makes all the difference in the world! 

Something I discovered quite early in my sobriety was that so many of these feelings were exacerbated by alcohol. I used my (non-existent) Latin blood as the reason that I shrieked, shouted, argued and cried (all the time!). I am a Sagittarius; it’s my birth month that makes me fiery.  Instead of trying to slowly change anything to make a difference, I would fight and kick against the unfairness of it all. If I made a change it had to be dramatic and huge, therefore unrealistic and unsustainable, so it would fail and I would be back to the feeling that life was against me. I was comfortable in my uncomfortable roller coaster of emotions.

I still am a bit fiery (My Love might say more than a bit), but now that I am comfortable in my sobriety, those feelings have so much less power over me.

I’m going to talk about escapism more in How I used alcohol to escape and How to build a life you do not want to escape from, because it is such a huge topic.

Cutting down

I am probably going to lose a lot of reader by saying this but I have to. Cutting down is so much harder than stopping completely. Cutting down will do nothing but extend your misery. I ‘cut down’, ‘moderated’ and ‘controlled’ my drinking for 12 years. I didn’t want to stop completely because of all the myths, which I hope I have tackled above. The neural pathways for your alcohol habit are formed and well-trodden. Although we can reroute pathways and build new ones to better, healthier habits, unfortunately the old ones do not disappear. So while we feel we might be OK to ‘have just one’, ultimately, it is very easy for the brain to slip down the old route and reawaken the old habit. You may not believe me now, but please know that for most people, moderating is not an option. You can live an amazing, happy, fulfilling life that you may have only dreamt of, if you accept that alcohol has no part in it.

How to stop alcohol cravings

In the last post, Am I an alcoholic?, we looked at how a habit works. Now we are going to look at how to break bad habits and stop cravings.

Although this will hopefully be helpful to anyone who drinks too much, if you suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms, such as shakes, nausea or hallucinations, please see a professional to decide the best course of action.

What is a habit?

Based on James Clear’s book Atomic Habit, a habit has four distinct elements that follow the same pattern every time. These are

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

You brain is constantly seeking a reward and has associated many things with the reward: these are the cues. The cue triggers a craving, we respond to the craving and the brain receives its reward. For someone who drinks alcohol, as we saw in Am I an alcoholic , the rewards for drinking are initially huge, so the brain continues to want these rewards. The more often we drink, the more developed the neural pathways to this reward becomes. The more we drink, the more cues become associated with the drinking reward.

This is why it is so hard to break the alcohol cycle.

Theoretically, to break the habit we have to change one element of this cycle. However, if only it was that easy!!!

Willpower

People get caught up in the willpower cycle. They think that they can’t stop because they are weak and don’t have enough willpower. That is completely the wrong way to go about things! A lot of people who drink too much are often extremely strong and high achieving people.

If we get to the craving point of the habit then there is going to be willpower required to stop ourselves responding, so let’s go back a bit and see how we can avoid getting to that point.

We need to do a little work on ourselves before we even approach dealing with the habit. If anyone has woken up one morning, said I’m going to stop drinking, and just done it like that then please let me know how! As far as I know, it takes some background work first.

There is a famous quote, usually accredited to Einstein, which says “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. The fact is that to change anything we actually have to change something, and changing something often takes effort. So you have to know that you are willing to make that effort before you begin.

If you are doing this for someone else, or because you feel you should, it is very unlikely that anything is going to change. The problem is, we are often wanting to quit for the wrong reasons. We feel like we should stop drinking (for health, relationships, or a whole myriad of reasons) but we don’t actually want to stop drinking, because we still want that escape, stress relief, social easer and celebratory tool. We don’t want to stop drinking, we want to stop wanting to drink.

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How to want to stop drinking

See alcohol for what it really is

Alcohol contains ethanol. Ethanol is a toxic poison used in lots of things you would never consider putting in your body, and in its pure form it is likely to kill you (1). For adults, a lethal dose can be 1 litre of spirits or four bottle of wine (2).

Alcohol is created in the fermentation process, basically what happens when certain foods go off. 

Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, making it harder for you to function normally. It also acts as a diuretic, making you wee more and become dehydrated – hangover time.

I know that when I was trying to quit, if I thought too much about what I was actually doing to my body it made me panic more, and how did I deal with panic and anxiety…..you guessed it! So I’m not going to go into anymore of the negative effects of alcohol. But it can be good to have it in the back of your mind that anything that makes your body feel the way alcohol does, can not be a positive thing for you.  

Know why we want to drink

Put some time into working out why you want to drink in the first place. Have a look at my post Why do people drink? and write down or think about your reasons for drinking.

Acknowledge that alcohol is an illusion and not a friend

One of the traps we fall into is the idea that alcohol is our friend, our support, our soothing medicine. It is the idea that alcohol creates the fun that we have rather than the thing we are doing actually being fun. One of the most amazing things about being sober is that we can clearly see alcohol for the illusion that it is. It took me a long time to realise this, I was thoroughly in the ‘I need alcohol to have fun/relax/cope’ camp.

What had happened was that my brain was extremely comfortable with the ease of the pathway to my ‘reward’, alcohol. And even when the alcohol made me feel completely awful, I knew the feelings, I knew the results, I knew my life with alcohol, so I was comfortable in my struggle. So much scarier to leave everything I knew and try to be just….me. 

My next post, How to beat the alcohol illusion, looks to tackle and dispel some of the myths around why we drink alcohol, so have a read.

Picture your life without it

Visualisation is a very powerful tool for bringing about change. I used Paul Mckenna’s meditation in Change your life in 7 days, but you don’t need to follow a meditation. Just think about what you want your life to be like. Why is it that you think you should stop drinking? Is it to improve your relationship? Is it to be a better parent? Is it to improve your health? Is it to feel and look better? Is it to attain some goal that is out of reach? When you have all your reasons, visualise yourself as the person you want to be as often as possible. Really take time doing this. Feel how it would feel to be that person. Use a visualisation board if you prefer something more solid to look at. This is not a tool to berate yourself with later, so make sure you only look at it as a positive force for change.

How to stop wanting to drink

Once we have established why we want to stop drinking, we can look at the habit. But, as my husband pointed out to me reading this over my shoulder, it is not about breaking the habit, it’s about changing the habit. Initially, it is easier to replace a habit with another habit than break it completely.  

Have a plan

Essential to your quitting alcohol toolbox is a plan.

Your visualisation will have given you an image of your life without alcohol. However, often the image is so far from where you are now that it can seem disheartening. Mine was, as I described in What I learnt my first year sober, the floaty, bohemian, calm, hippy, zen, coping person – which was laughably far from what I was! So you need to have your image in the back of your head but put the focus of your plan into the baby steps you are going to take to move forward from your current position.

Changing habits

While it is good to write out or think about the steps you want to take to reach your goal, you don’t want to start too much at once. You are trying to reroute or create neural pathways. The more the pathway is trodden, the easier it becomes for your brain to use that route instead of your old bad habit route. If you start too much at once, you won’t secure that new pathway easily. So maybe choose one or two new habit, repeat them consistently, until they and you feel more secure.

What new habits?

My new habit was definitely exercise and yoga. I had done these things before but sporadically, in unsustainable intensive bursts. You know the type of thing, ‘I’m going to lose a stone and become really strong in a month’, then you go at it in a frenzied way until you realise you can’t sustain the pace, you’re not losing a stone that quickly, so you quit, feel crap, and slip back to your old, comfortable habits. To create these new habits, make them REALISTIC and SUSTAINABLE.

I mentioned before that I used T25 and Yoga with Adriene on You Tube. T25 is 25 minutes and Yoga with Adriene is normally between 16 – 30 minutes. I did these at home which made it realistic that, between work and parenting, I could find the time to do it. I planned it meticulously so that I would do it while the boys were at school and the baby napped. This made it sustainable.

Realistic and sustainable = consistent = new neural pathway = new habit!

Now, I can often find the time to do T25 and Yoga daily (if not yoga twice daily), and I can do it anytime, children or no children. The Baby often shouts ‘yoga’ in the morning and eats his breakfast while I’m doing it. The Bot will occasionally do T25 with me, he shows willing for about 10 minutes!

New habits that feel good

You have to create habits that you want to sustain. Trying to create a treadmill habit if you loathe the treadmill is not sustainable!

So have a think about what makes you feel good. Think about you as a child; sadly for many of us, pre-teens was the last time we actually did stuff that nurtured us and made us genuinely happy.  As a child what did you do for fun? What did you absolutely love doing? What made you the happiest. This is a starting point to find new habits.

As we saw in the Am I an alcoholic?, the reward of alcohol has a lot to do with the chemicals in the brain. Luckily there are proven natural ways to get to the same reward.

These are, doing things that make you happy, listening to music, being in nature, absorbing sunlight, visualisation (see above), meditation, yoga, being with people you love, laughing and exercise.

Exercise is a guaranteed win on the feel good front! The idea of exercise puts so many people off but it really shouldn’t! There are so many different ways to exercise and there will be one that suits you. It doesn’t have to be pounding the street in your running shoes – although go for that if you love it! And it doesn’t have to take long, just increasing your heart rate for 20 minutes a day can be enough. 

If you sign up for my free course below, it goes into more detail about different exercises and meditation

The 28 day alcohol free challenge joins exercise with community – really important when trying to quit drinking, as I talk about in How I Quit Drinking . They say find an exercise challenge – like a running club – which will combine the benefits of exercise and community not to mention the positive reinforcement to your self worth when you achieve something new.

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Supporting new habits

There are also habits you can form that will help to support your body in its quest to stop drinking.

Drink water – being thirsty often has people reaching for an alcoholic drink. Apart from the fact that is insanity because alcohol dehydrates you, it is a huge cue for many people. By drinking regularly we should avoid feeling thirsty and avoid the cue.

Eat regularly – Similarly, swings in blood sugar levels make us crave sugar and for many of us that sugar is in alcohol. Try to eat regularly to avoid these swings.

Protein – eating protein has been shown to increase dopamine (one of those nice reward chemicals)

Sleep – get your sleep! We are far less able to manage anything if we are sleep deprived. It messes with our hormones and it is so much easier to slip back to old habits (I will write more extensively on sleep in later post because it is so important).

Equally though, it is EXTREMELY common for an alcohol habit to be replaced by food and especially sugar. Sugar has a similar effect to alcohol, triggering those neurotransmitters and hormones, and creating those happy feelings.

THIS IS OK! I am sure I will be shouted at left right and centre for saying this – but for me, for you, for your sobriety – do what you need to do! I ate loads of pizza, ice cream and sugar when I first stopped drinking – still do to be honest!

Coffee and doughnuts, yes please. Chocolate in the evening, yes please. I’m not saying this is a long term solution but if it works for you, stick with it, and eventually, when you are feeling more secure and stable, you can start to work on other things, if you want to. Even doing this, I still lost 8kgs in weight and am stronger, fitter and happier than I have ever been – so suck on that alcohol!!

Community

I will just touch on this here because I have written about the importance of community in previous posts. I found Dry January amazing. It allowed me to be a part of something, be open, talk about my struggle, without all the stigma usually attached to saying you want to stop drinking (“Is she an alcoholic??”- see Am I an alcoholic for more on this). It was hard but it kept me going and I genuinely believe it started the changes in my thoughts that led me to stop drinking completely. There are so many challenges available now. Dry January, Sober Spring, Dry July, Go Sober for October, One Year No Beer. Just pick on and have a go.

Be kind to yourself

A common reason that we start and continue drinking is due to our own lack of self-worth. We are not enough without something else. When our unrealistic plans don’t amount to what we hoped, we berate ourselves and use it as proof of our hopelessness, uselessness and failure.

If this resonates with you please start to look at why you feel this way, alongside starting your new habits. I promise you will feel much better about yourself once you stop drinking, but learning to like yourself will make your sober journey so much easier.  I have addressed this in my free course which you can sign up for at the bottom of this page. But if like me, you are into bibliotherapy, I found the following books amazing.

When you are building your new habits be extra extra kind to yourself. The 28 day alcohol free challenge says “bad habits need replacing not telling off”. If you slip up one day, that’s OK. If your day doesn’t go to plan, tell yourself you are amazing and tomorrow you will try again. If you baby ruins your yoga practice, it doesn’t matter! What matters for building these new neural pathways is that you do it consistently and kindly. Slip ups do not wipe out all the hard work you have done, but berating yourself, until you fall into your old patterns, can.

Cues

As you can probably tell, I could go on forever! But you might be asking yourself why this post is called How to stop alcohol cravings, when I’ve talked very little about cravings. This because I want you to live a sober life that is happy and free from cravings. I never thought that would be possible and that I would be fighting cravings every day, but that is so untrue!!

Much of this new habit forming happens before we actually stop drinking. Think about what your drinking cues are and if possible try to avoid them while forming your new habit. The more secure your new habits, the less deprivation you will feel when confronted with your old habit. But at some point you will come across cues that spark you old habit. For these times we need to learn how to deal with our cues, or as people often call them, our triggers.

– Have a trusted someone that you can talk to or rant at if you are really struggling not to respond to the cue

– Get away from the cue as quickly as you can

– Acknowledge the feeling. It is only a feeling, it cannot make you do anything, and it will pass.

– Drink water or something else and try to wait it out. If you are away from the cue, the craving should only last 10 minutes.

– Try to do something else in this time – preferably one or your new habits.

I hope this post has helped you to see how you can start to build new habits which will make it infinitely easier to change your old alcohol habits and lead to a happy life without cravings and feelings of deprivation. My next post, How to beat the alcohol illusion, will debunk the myths and reasons for drinking, as discussed in Why do people drink?

  1. https://www.chemicals.co.uk/blog/what-is-ethanol-used-for
  2. https://www.alcohol.org.nz/alcohol-its-effects/health-effects/alcohol-poisoning

How to quit drinking

So you’ve hopefully read How I Quit Drinking and seen my journey to sobriety 14 months ago. In this post I’m going to give you my tips for How to quit drinking. I drank for 22 years. For 18 of them I drank too much and for 12 of them I battled to quit. I hope they help you, as they definitely worked for me.

1) Get a champion

Everyone needs to have someone they can turn to when things get rough. For you this may be your mother, sister, partner or best friend. Pick someone you feel happy being completely open with, someone who doesn’t put you down or tell you your ideas are wrong. Someone who has a good outlook on life and who you respect. There are always people out there willing to pull you down, so choose wisely. I am so lucky for the people in my life, but I know there are people, often for legitimate reasons (such as worry), that I would not choose for this role. For me it was my husband. My Love always supported me, never ridiculed any of my ideas, played along with my crazy schemes and listened to my drunken rants. I could never have done any of this without him. You need to find this person and open up to them. Tell them your intentions, your reasons, your goal and the support you need to reach it.

2) Announce your intention proudly

For me this was through Facebook and Dry January. There are so many support groups online, especially through Facebook and Instagram. These groups, on both platforms, are for people to share ideas, talk, support each other and even meet up. There also likely to be local support groups if you need a more face to face environment. As sobriety increases in popularity (yay!), there are so many more opportunities to give up drinking. Not just Dry January, but also Sober Spring, Dry July, Go Sober for October, or Dryathalon. This way you’ll have a plan to follow and have lots of support from people doing the same thing and probably feeling the same way as you!

3) Practice self-care

This part is crucial and I cannot do it justice in this blog post. Instead I have created a free course called ‘7 days to feel better about yourself’. Just sign up in the box below and I will send you an email every day for 7 days with advice and practical elements to complete that will have you knowing and loving yourself so much more in as little as a week. 

For the purposes of this post, let me just reiterate how important this part is in overcoming any problem. If you constantly criticise a child, tell them they are too this or too that, berate them endlessly when they make a mistake, tell them will never amount to anything – would they succeed? Would they grow up to be well rounded, loving, caring and successful people with few problems? Probably not. Of course, it is unlikely that you would ever do this to a child – so why do it to yourself? If you encouraged, supported, nurtured and loved that child, imagine what it could achieve! Enough with the child analogy, but I hope it makes my point.

Make sure in whatever journey you are on, that you make time for yourself. If you love reading, find a space to read, if you love music put it on., if you love cooking, buy those special ingredients and make something you really want to make. Have that bath, light those candles, take that walk, go to that spa. Why not? Where in the rule book does it say we cannot do what makes us happy?  You need to balance in your day what depletes you with what nurtures you. When I attended a mindfulness course to help with post-natal depression after The Baby, they talked about making lists of what depleted and what nurtured us. Obviously in early motherhood with 2 other children there isn’t much to nurture us. I was already in a bad place so when they suggested that we tried to turn the things that deplete us into the things that nourish us, by doing them to the best of our ability, I was not really loving it. I believe the point that I burst into tears and started shouting was the point that they said ‘master the ironing’. MASTER THE IRONING?!! SOD THAT! I have not been through everything I have been through and achieved everything I have achieved to be told that my value and joy in life is the ironing. Well, no. I do actually understand the point and maybe my reaction would not have been so strong if they had said cooking instead of ironing! The point is that if we do the best we can do with what we have at the time, then, when we have more capacity, what we will achieve will be even greater. So, if you are in a crap place, choose one thing that you love, one thing that will nourish and nurture you. Start doing that thing whenever you can. If it’s something you cannot exactly do right now, is there anything you can you do now that will help you do it better when you can?

One final point on self-love. If there is a situation you do not want to be in, do not be in it. So many times we force ourselves to do things because we should, without actually examining whether we really want to. If you are trying to stop drinking, why go to a party or a pub that you don’t want to go to. If you don’t want to be there, you’re already in a weak position within yourself, so slipping up is far more likely. You can worry about pubs and parties later down the line when you are feeling stronger. If anyone is so unhappy with you for this that they stop speaking to you, then maybe that isn’t the type of unsupportive person that you need around.

However, if, after all of this, things do go wrong – don’t beat yourself up. Accept that it is what it is. There is nothing you can do to change the past, but there is plenty you can do, with a little self-love, to change the future.

Sign up below for my free ‘7 days to feel better about yourself’ course,

4) Practice bibliotherapy

I have found time and again that when I put my intention out there, the universe gives me an answer. When I’m struggling, this is most often in the form of a book. But for you and many others it could be a podcast, a Ted Talk or an audio book. I find the act of sitting down to read is an act of complete self-love. You are giving yourself the permission to take time for yourself and your own development.

Bibliotherapy is not a recent phenomenon. Using my most trusted source of Wikipedia, it says that the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses II (in the 1200s BC) had a phrase above his library saying “the house of healing for the soul”. Also that in 1272, the Koran prescribed reading as a medical treatment. Apologies if anyone can tell me this is wrong but I love the idea of it!

Neuropsychologists have said that reading reduces stress levels by 68% (1). Looking back on my experience with bibliotherapy, I can totally understand this. When you read you float into another world. This is not a world of the stresses and worries you have in your life. The complete distraction it provides allows you to relax, and therefore any tension and stress to temporarily slip away. Any reduction in stress has been shown to improve your mood and boost your immune system, as prolonged stress hormones have a negative effect on the body.  

The problem we often face is that we become bogged down in the complexities of our lives and our problems become so big that they overtake the whole picture. Reading, and the distraction and relaxation provided, gives us that moment outside ourselves reflect. Is it possible that in this time we can see that our insurmountable problems aren’t quite so insurmountable? Black and white thinking is often seen to be one of the factors in depression, but if by reading you can reflect, see another person’s story or perspective, then we are taking in a little of the grey.

The content of the books, particularly self-help books, are often positive stories about people who have overcome their battles. These stories, read at a time when our mind is relaxed and open, can give us a positive boost to say ‘these people have done it, why not me?’. In the midst of our problems we can feel very alone. But reading a story that is similar to yours, or very often one that is worse than yours, helps us to feel that we are not alone, someone out there understands what we are going through. There is a connection. Connection is one of the keys to happiness.

I know that for me, each time a book has found its way to me at the right time, wonderful things have happened. 

My recommendations are:

Other people’s recommendations

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5) Find your exercise

I have written about gentle movement in my ‘7 days to feel better about yourself’ course. I know people groan at the idea of exercise, but it is so important. It is shown to boost mood and self-esteem, reduce stress and depression, improve sleep and energy as well as reducing the risk of a whole host of physical ailments such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s (2).

Exercise does not have to be awful. We are not talking about half an hour on the treadmill every day – ugh, what could be worse! If you look and experiment there will absolutely be an exercise for you. Do you like dancing? There are so many people I know that have taken up Ceroc (modern jive dancing). It is accessible at all levels and abilities, is seriously good cardio and is very social (no partner required). I do not get paid to advertise Ceroc but it is where I met My Love and it holds a special place for me. Do you like hiking, horse riding, ice skating, yoga, martial arts, outdoor swimming, surfing, sailing or cycling? Do you want something more social? Look for a netball team, football team or hockey team. If you have children, is there something you can do with them or at the same time as their classes? If you can’t get out, You Tube is packed with exercise classes and ideas. If you hate cardio, Tabata is amazing.  Four minutes of circuits, 40 seconds hard core exercise with 20 seconds rest x 4. Who can’t do 40 seconds cardio? The best thing is, your fitness and ability will improve so quickly – 2 weeks for me, and after that it is far less daunting. Exercise is proven to be pretty addictive so give it the two week and get those happy hormones flowing! They will be your best friend when things get hard.

6) Find your tribe

In my previous post I talked in detail about how important it is to find those people on the same journey as you, as they will be your rock and your support when things get tough. You need to know you are not alone. You need to have people you can talk to, who can relate and understand your story. Be around sober people. Immerse yourself in groups, blogs and relevant social media. Feeling a connection, like I said before is one of the cornerstones of happiness. If you are truly happy, how likely is it that you will want to hide behind alcohol? Read my post How I quit drinking to find out more about finding your tribe.

7) Reminders

Visualisation is an important tool in your problem solving box. If you can visualise where you want to be it is easier to maintain your course. Use meditation to help you create a peaceful place to visualise your goal. This is looked at further in my 7 days to feel better about yourself’ course. Make a board with images of what you are trying to achieve. Keep it somewhere visible as a constant reminder. Make some jewellery or a T-shirt or a tattoo, if you like them. Make it obvious so that you are always aware of what you are trying to achieve. It’s almost a form of brain training. If you say it enough and think it enough and believe it enough, it will eventually be. 

8) Other things that helped me on my journey

A gratitude diary. I will write about gratitude in a later post, but for this I will explain how I did it. Every time I felt happy, or saw something beautiful or got a warm fuzzy feeling, I would make a note on my phone of what had caused it. This was a lovely reminder of that fuzzy feeling that could be triggered again with the memory, but also it was a reminder when I was feeling low of what I had to be grateful for. Having just one thing to be grateful for in a day is enough. Being grateful expands exponentially until you have more than you ever imagined possible to be grateful for.

Find your drink. For some this is non alcoholic alternative, helpful if you don’t want to stand out or you are in early sobriety. For me it was Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade, Caffeine free Diet Coke and Coffee. Rose lemonade was my treat drink, I would have it in a champagne glass to celebrate, although thankfully I’ve lost the need to do this now as I am a very happy non-drinker. Diet coke is my go to when I’m feeling stressed. Coffee is my relaxing  me time treat, especially if I buy myself a cup out. Savour it, nurture it, enjoy it. Obviously I try not to have more than one coffee or diet coke a day as it isn’t the healthiest, but hey, better than booze! Also, I must mention tea. There are so many weird and wonderful teas out there for very occasion! Bird and Blend and Whittards are particularly good and you can taste before you buy or return it if you’re not keen.

Find a drink you love for the times that you need it

So that’s all for today. I hope it helps. Remember – it’s OK to fall down but that doesn’t make it OK to give up. Each time you fall you are a bit closer, a bit stronger and have learnt a bit more about reaching you goal. Don’ forget to sign up for 7 days to feel better about yourself’ and future courses

Happy not drinking everyone!

How I quit drinking

Dry January

After a heavy 2017 Christmas, I had taken The Bot and The Bear up to their grandparents to stay for New Year so it was just My Love, The Baby and I staying at a Premier Inn by the sea for New Year. I love the sea but I hate New Year, it feels so forced and so fake. I didn’t have a drink on New Year because I was feeling pretty consumed with self-loathing. We don’t really watch TV at home, so on New Year’s morning while My Love was in the shower and I was lounging around in bed, I decided to have a go at this channel flicking. Yet another of those universe moments. I saw flash up “The 28 day alcohol-free challenge” and I thought, mmmm, that doesn’t sound too long (I had only managed 28 days a handful of miserable times but positive thinking and all that!). So I started watching the interview and it was a discussion about recent sober literature between Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns who had written The 28 day alcohol-free challenge and Catherine Gray who had written The unexpected joy of being sober.

While really wanting to believe Catherine and all her claims of being happy sober, I dismissed it because it seemed so implausible. This 28 day challenge sounded like an idea though. Despite everything else I really like to challenge myself! I have 3 children, 3 degrees and a new career – high functioning? I bought both books from my place in the bed and said thank you to Amazon Prime – it would be there when I got home.

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I needn’t have bothered with that though, as on 1st January the supermarkets are full of these books for Dry January. Speaking of which, Dry January and announcing my intentions to the world seemed like a good idea. If I told everyone what I was doing and said it was a challenge – not that I had a problem with alcohol – still full of shame there – then I would feel pressured to complete the challenge but without the pressure to quit drinking for good. So I showered Facebook with Dry January stuff, changed my profile picture to say I was doing it and wrote a post telling everyone I was doing it. So much love and support poured in, I felt so grateful.

Bibliotherapy

When my books arrived I read the 28 day challenge proudly. Previously I had covered my quit drinking literature in wrapping paper so people wouldn’t see that I had a problem. Now it was ok because it was a challenge, not a problem! This book wasn’t about giving up FOREVER, which is all too daunting to start with, it was about using the 28 days to change your relationship with alcohol. A chance to step back and reassess. They start with Get ready, Get Set, Go! Get ready takes you through all the challenges facing you when you drink and when you choose not to drink. Get set talks to you about practices needed to change your mindset and Go! is Go! Each day has a chapter with exercises and thoughts for motivation and support. They talked about exercise a lot, so that became a bit of a focus for that month – more on that later in the post. Healthy eating, which was also talked about a lot, did not become a focus! I have always eaten well but January 2018 definitely had more pizza, chocolate and ice cream than usual! While I loved this book and it was great at keeping me going, there was a lot of stuff about dealing with the social aspects of drinking. By this time, social drinking wasn’t really a thing I did, much more alone drinking, but I know that a lot of people do have very active social lives and that not drinking in social situations can be their biggest challenge so this book will definitely be good for you.  The guys set up an online community One year no beer whose mission is ‘to help as many people as possible change their relationship with alcohol completely’. It was the start of an online support tribe – more on this later.

I didn’t drink again until February 10th. Don’t get me wrong, the challenge was hard! There were days I could feel myself being drawn to the booze aisle in the shop and having to force myself to turn around, but I’d set a challenge so I had to complete it! My books and exercise kept me going every day. I told My Love all the really shitty things I was feeling and thinking. I was also so proud of myself, I had reached 28 days and was still going – maybe 60 days next. Then I went to visit a school friend. She doesn’t have children, I came with 3. I am shockingly bad at being a guest. I love seeing old friends and having a day out, but being a guest and not in my own space freaks me out completely. My Love was supposed to be at home studying, but he could see that I was getting really anxious about going so he picked up his laptop and came with me. It was lovely and we had a nice day. We were staying at my friend’s partner’s house who I hadn’t met properly before. In the evening they sat and read their newspapers while I tried to keep the children peaceful – this house was immaculate – and worrying about when the children would get supper and what The Bear’s blood sugars were doing. I eventually broached the subject and supper got slowly underway.  By this point my anxiety was so tight in my chest that I wanted to jump in the car and run home, so when my friend offered me a glass of wine, I took it. Very slowly I drank it and the anxiety ebbed away. I nursed the glass all night through supper and Moana until I had an excuse to go to bed. That was it, I had felt better, my alcohol friend was back and I was going to use it to the full!  

The next few months were full of booze and back to the usual routine. Exercise was out the window, everything was back to normal – I was back in my comfort zone – anxiety, tears and all! So, while drinking, I started reading quit lit again. Because actually having got so far, the shame and guilt were even worse than before. I couldn’t believe I’d done that to myself but also revelled in the fact that I had given myself a green light to keep going. Lots of people online recommended Jason Vale’s Kick the Drink…Easily! So I ordered away. When it arrived and I started reading, it felt very familiar! I did some research and I think there were some legal questions between Jason Vale and Allen Carr – this book read very similarly to Allen Carr’s The Easy Way To Control Alcohol. I had read Allen Carr’s book in 2013 in another failed attempt to stop drinking – but it did stop me smoking! After that book I never touched another cigarette and felt really good about it. I loved the theory, but worried that if I’d read it once and it had failed, it would probably fail again.

After Jason Vale I hunted around for more recommendations. I had put off reading The unexpected joy as I had skipped the first few pages in when it arrived in January and it was waaaay too depressing! When you are living that life, you don’t want to read about it. One night when feeling particularly rubbish I just decided to wallow and read the book. I couldn’t put it down. Although she had it worse than me and in a very different situation, all her feelings and emotions felt so similar. I completely understood what she was saying and she had managed it! She didn’t drink! I had seen her on TV looking healthy and happy. It suddenly felt like there was hope. This was the the last book I read before I quit drinking for good. 

There are so many books that other people have found helpful too including The Sober Diaries by Claire Pooley, Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Scoblic, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.

Find your tribe

One of the things Catherine Gray recommended to help you on your journey was to find your tribe. I wasn’t about to go out and start joining local sobriety groups (people fear and all that), but the fab thing about this digital age we live in is that we are all connected and you can find what you need to at the click of a button. I subscribed to everything! Blogs were great: I subscribed to Hip Sobriety and Mummy was a secret drinker.  I read about what people had experienced and how they’d overcome it. I especially focused on mothers who had turned their lives around – because it’s all very well saying I gave up alcohol after travelling the world and rediscovering myself or I gave up after spending weeks in a beautiful recovery sanctuary – not practical for day to day working parent!  I joined communities online such as Soberistas. I followed sober blogs on Facebook such as Sober Courage, SoberMummy, The sober mama and The Sober Fish Story.  I signed up to Belle Robertson’s Tired of thinking about drinking – 100 day sober challenge.

Reminders

I was being bombarded daily by a self-inflicted stream of emails, notifications, newsletters and posts but it was EXACTLY what I needed. Instead of feeling alone in my struggle, I was suddenly a part of something HUGE!  If I felt like things were getting on top of me I just opened my Facebook or email and there were stories and supportive posts and comments from other people feeling the same way. It was all I needed to say, phew, OK, I am OK and I am not alone. Belle was amazing. I read the free exerts for her book about her journey to stop drinking then I signed up to the 100 day sober challenge. You can either do this with her help or by yourself. She is there for you to email every day in your challenge if you need her and she will reply with support and encouragement. She will also track where you are in you journey and cheer you on. It’s a whole community where people post where they are in their journey and how you’re feeling so if you need the support and need to know how others are coping then this is definitely for you! I did the self-administered challenge to start with but signed up for the daily inspirational emails which kept me motivated. I also loved a post I read from Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety where she talked about her tattoo saying NQTD. This was her commitment to Never Question the Decision to stop drinking. I went straight to a bead shop and made myself a lovely colourful bracelet with NQTD in the middle and small charms hanging. The charms were a bird (for my freedom from drinking), a heart (for loving myself enough to stop), and Ankh (for life) and a star (because it’s pretty!). I wear this bracelet nearly every day and it’s a constant reminder of my commitment to myself and my choice for life.    

My quit drinking reminder

Yoga and exercise

In Dry January I focused heavily on exercise and yoga. I loved yoga and had practiced it intermittently over the years but now I did a daily (almost) practice before bed. I knew from previous attempts that joining the gym was pointless because when do I actually have time to say, “Right My Love, I’m off to the gym for a few hours (every day), you sort the children out”! So home exercise was what I needed. I read a lot of posts and lots of people raved about Yoga with Adriene on You Tube so I thought I’d give it a go.  I started doing her 30 days of yoga videos, which as it says, is a different yoga video every day for 30 days. They only last about 20-30 minutes each and felt soooo good at about 9.30pm as a way of coming down from the day. It was my treat to myself. I lit scented candles, turned the lights down, put on fairy lights, put on comfy clothes and revelled in my treat to myself that I deserved at the end of each day. I made sure that after the practice I went straight to bed so that I was relaxed and I couldn’t start stressing about anything else! It also felt amazing to stretch my muscles after my daily vigorous exercise. My sister had met someone who had raved about T25. This was a daily 25 minute high intensity exercise routine with Shaun T of Insanity fame. I obviously wanted to get it immediately but the price had put me off a bit (quite a lot actually!). I justified its purchase in Dry January with all the money I would apparently save from not buying £7 bottles of prosecco 4 times a week –

7×4 = £28 x 4 = £112

T25 = £115 – It is far cheaper than this now!

I have never been so exhausted in my life! In 25 minutes you expend more energy than I think I have ever done at the gym. It is also targeted, so it hit areas that you might miss completely otherwise. I tried to stick to his routine which is quite intensive and was physically exhausted at the end of every day. I made sure, with the help of My Love, that I squeezed that 25 minutes in whenever there was a small lull in the day. By week 3 the work outs became easier and the exhaustion eased to leave such a feeling of energy and positivity. I recommend this to anyone who has ever experienced a post exercise high, it will change your exercising life!  I will do a full review of it in a later post.

When I started drinking after Dry January I gave up the yoga and the exercise, feeling defeated and sinking back into my ‘safe’ routine. But I started to miss the buzz of T25 and the peace of yoga, so slowly over the following months I reintroduced it.  

In the middle of all of this I had somehow stopped drinking. After 22 years of drinking and a conscious 12 year struggle, my first day of my new life was 29th April 2018. I was so immersed in this new life and new way of thinking that drinking stopped being my focus. I did not experience the struggles that I had had on previous attempts to stop drinking. I did not feel the craving and the longings. I was so immersed in everything else I was focused on that it just went away. I have not touched a drink since and I love being sober. My next post will tell you all the things I have learnt about How to stop drinking.

Why I quit drinking – the alcohol part of it all

I started drinking at 14 years old. Something that boarding school does to a lot of people I believe! It was just what you did, vodka behind the squash courts while we lit up those Marlborough lights. At university, I drank to cover my raging social anxiety and because I felt bubbly and fun and stopped worrying about whether people liked me or not. Inevitably I had very few friends at university and gained my self-worth through a stream of dodgy relationships. When I no longer had friends to go out with, I drank at home, drank after work, drank until it was a reasonable time to go to bed so that I could forget about the day and see if tomorrow was any different. It wasn’t. At this point I couldn’t see that alcohol as the problem.

In my first job Friday night drinking was de rigueur. Drinking was now an acceptable part of the week. Everything led to Friday, it was all about Friday. Finish work, head out with all the other smart officey people, down the first 250mls of Pinot Grigio with my Marlborough lights. Stumble home at about midnight and spend the whole of Saturday feeling dreadful, Sunday feeling miserable and then starting again Monday morning. Everyone else was doing it so it must be ok. I realised later that they were on the same merry go round – and also far worse than I was. I came to see at this stage that alcohol and I were not a good combination, not that that stopped me drinking at every possible occasion.

Even after moving to Edinburgh I didn’t stop. My new work friends also liked the Friday night drinking circuit and for a while I joined in to the full! In my worse moments I looked at AA but didn’t go in case the people didn’t like me. I was also unwilling to give up my friend. I mean, the first glass of wine made me feel better didn’t it? Lighter, less worried, more full of potential. This didn’t mean I didn’t know there was a problem. One night I opened up, drunkenly, to my sister who said ‘don’t be silly you’re fine’.  ‘Don’t be silly your fine’, ‘you’re not an alcoholic’, ‘you’re just drunk and overacting’, ‘you’ve not got a problem’, ‘you’re just coping’ were the phrases that would follow my constantly in the next 12 years as I tried to defeat this alcohol demon. My first husband, my GP, my family – I did not drink enough to have a problem.  

I knew I did though and I couldn’t understand why everyone was fighting me, almost willing me to keep drinking. I tried to stop, over and over again. Sometimes it even lasted a few months. But eventually I started again – something too stressful, some party that I ‘needed’ to go to and couldn’t do without a glass in hand. By this stage I was counting units so my weekly intake had decreased from the 50, give or take, units a week. Now I was at a mere 27 – 36 units a week (a few more than that 14 though eh?!). A lovely hypnotherapist I went to see to help me with anxiety and drinking almost turned me away when I said I drank 3 – 4 bottles of wine a week rather than a night.  In this world of fixatedly counting alcohol units – forget calorie counting, I knew the unit value for everything – I got pregnant. Every day of pregnancy was a painful battle not to have a drink. Even googling to see if drinking really would damage the baby, or how much I could have to not cause foetal alcohol syndrome. I got through 3 pregnancies without a drink and hated every single painful dragging minute of them all. No wonder I didn’t want to stop drinking if that is what every day would feel like.

After babies, I was supposed to be in mummy heaven right? To an extent I was. I adored The Bot, he was cute and funny and giggly. But I was insanely anxious and left alone with a small defenceless baby all day. It didn’t help that he got sepsis at 2 weeks old and was in hospital for 3 weeks. I started worrying constantly that he would die or I would die, it all eventually focused around carbon monoxide, the silent killer that would get us as we slept. Looking back now I think it was a form of post natal depression, but I didn’t see that. I dealt with the problem by drinking it away. Drinking it away became very easy. Every time something seemed too much, it was OK because I knew that in the evening I could have some wine and it would all go away, I was self-soothing with alcohol. I never drank during the day after I had children, only at wine o’clock (about 5pm in my household) and then I stopped by 8pm.

Moving to Egypt, where alcohol is not such a social thing, I thought it might break the cycle. But the expat circuit is all about the booze! The alcohol in Egypt it so bad that you actually develop a hangover while drinking it, but I didn’t let that small fact get in the way. Nor the fact that you had order it in advance from a special shop because you couldn’t buy it locally. You can be sure I always knew when we were running low and if I didn’t have a corkscrew, I knew how to get into the bottle with a biro casing! My loneliness and social anxiety were all soothed away by very bad booze.

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I was so confused and so desperate to be OK and be happy. Life seemed to be getting harder and harder to manage. My husband and I were very unhappy. He had never been a drinker but he’d started. We knew we’d had fun while drinking in the past so the answer was clearly to start drinking at home. We could recreate those happy time. But while it didn’t seem to affect him too badly, I was becoming consumed with guilt and shame. Every drink I had was counted and measured and I knew obsessively how many units of what to drink and when to stop each evening. My head was full and going round and round in circles of thinking about drinking. I was anxious, crying and exhausted. Even though I started to feel better after reading You can heal your life by Louise Hays, it was not enough to finally stop drinking. I knew I want to be happy, but I honestly didn’t believe I could be happy without it. How would I celebrate? How would I commiserate? How would I manage the ups and downs? How would I cope with all my feelings? But I also worried that my children might think drinking every day was normal. I worried that The Bear might think that it was OK to drink every day when you have diabetes. I was worried that I wasn’t ever fully present with them in the crucial after school up to bed time. The guilt was huge. Every day around lunch time the battle in my head started. Should I drink tonight/shouldn’t I drink tonight. This thought pattern consumed my head until 5pm when I inevitably gave in to manage the stress and guilt I had inflicted on myself. By 8pm? The guilt was back. Nothing was better.

I was in this cycle for years but I couldn’t seem to stop. When I remarried, my husband rarely drank. I couldn’t understand how he got through every day without it. He seemed to be OK at parties with nothing! He celebrated quietly or had a cup of tea – how was that exciting? How boring I thought. But he was the first person who said to me that it didn’t matter what anyone else said. If I thought my drinking was a problem then it was a problem. He supported every one of my attempts to stop and he never judged me when I started again – although I was judging myself like crazy! It took a while. I kept going and eventually in January 2018 things finally changed. Read my next post How I quit drinking to find out more

This was me – My back story

This is my story without including the alcohol part. When I tried writing it all together it became way to confusing and LOOONG! It does seem quite bleak and my future posts can all be read without understanding the back story but it’s here in case anyone needs to see that no matter how crap, unbalanced and unstable you may feel (or indeed be!), there is always a way out, you just have to start small and keep going. If it’s too much you can skip forward to my posts Why I quit drinking, How I quit drinking or How to quit drinking.

It is difficult to condense 20 years and I hope that, in some way, it shows anyone feeling the same way that you’re not alone, that no matter how bad things may seem, you can do it, and as you’ll see from my subsequent posts, things can be really really good and you really can be victorious in this battle.

University

Like many people I had a gap year at 18 and went to university at 19. I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do and no desire to be at university. I was there because my parents/school/friends – pretty much everyone – said I should just go. I had been thoroughly institutionalised in boarding school and when I left had absolutely no clue how to manage all the time I had. I also realised I was terrified of people! I was convinced that I wasn’t intelligent enough, that people would find me boring or that they would flat out not like me. I felt that if I had got on with someone once then I couldn’t possibly meet them again in case they realised, on second meeting, that I was actually a fraud and had NOTHING interesting to say. To overcome this fear I partied HARD and worked hard. I had multiple bar jobs and waitressing jobs during my time at uni, which gave me some structure, but studying did not come into it. The fact that I graduated with a 2:1, having read very few of the books in my English Literature degree, has to say something is slightly off with our university system.

Relationships

The partying and lack self-confidence inevitably led to some interesting relationship choices. I had a relationship with my supervisor, whom I had known from my gap year, and who turned out to be a prize idiot and dodgy stalker to boot. When I came to my senses and ended the relationship, the stalking really kicked in and I fell into what I didn’t realise was depression. All I knew was that I was blank every day. I got out of bed, just, and carried on but I had a permanent lump in my throat that stopped me eating or drinking. I walked around in a daze. I knew the theory of how to make myself feel better and what should work, so when two girls from work invited me to aqua aerobics, I went, carried out the movements, and cried all the way home. I forced myself to jog because exercise releases those lovely endorphins right?  I will always wonder what people walking past thought of the girl jogging with tears streaming uncontrollably down her face. I was alone in a city with no friends, no family, unable to see any escape from where I was. At this point, in my final year at university, I met the man who was to become my first husband. He was an undergraduate and very kind. He had a lot of friends and was very funny and sociable. For the first time I started be OK with people. The pressure was off because they already liked him so they didn’t have to like me. They would come back because they liked him; I could just be there. I also went to see my doctor who was an absolute life saver, and even when I said I wouldn’t take medicine, she told me not to be an idiot and to take antidepressants for long enough to give me the boost I needed to make positive changes. I took the pills, all the time convinced that I would have all the horrendous side effects listed in the information (seriously people- never read these!), and after a few weeks I began to feel better. I’d always loved reading (not university material though obviously!) and went to see if there were any books on the subject of depression. I was a complete innocent at this point, and I had no idea that there were other people experiencing what I was experiencing let alone and entire world of self-help! At this point I was 22 years old. I believe that often things come to you when you need them most, and The Road Less Travelled by M.Scott Peck found its way to me. My happiest memory, in those times, was finding a beautiful spot in a park or by a pond and immersing myself in the book’s lessons, about self-love and choosing your life, while watching the sunlight dancing through the greenness of the trees or glinting off the water’s dark surface. I began to feel some peace. This tranquillity was clearly not going to last.

Work

However, I was no longer a student and couldn’t spend my whole time reading, I needed to work. I took a job working 60 hours a week getting paid £14,000 and taxed at basic rate so my pay came in at £800 a month when my rent was £500. Why did I take the job? Because I was young, silly, unconfident and had no idea that I deserved any better. It was hard core cold calling sales and I loathed it. I battled on for a year, as my soon to be husband said that if I quit I’d always be a quitter. And what did everyone in my office to best? Friday night drinking!!! Despite how much I hated it and how unhappy I was, I felt it had to be OK because I was in the real world now with a real job and real friends. These friends accepted me. I thought the belittling, micromanaging and sexual harassment that happened in this job was just how it was. I was Bridget Jones! Or so I justified to myself. After about 10 months of this my mood was beginning to go downhill again fast. I was sobbing uncontrollably every day and no amount of journaling as helping. Thankfully I’ve always had enough of a self-preservation instinct to say whoa! Need to stop now. So I came up with new plan. I was fed up with my university city, which I’d never particularly liked, and I needed to go back to Edinburgh, where I had spent my gap year (working on the clubbing circuit). My sister lived in Edinburgh so I could stay with her, get a proper job and sort my life out. My soon to be husband decided not to leave, so it would be long distance relationship for us. In Edinburgh things looked up. I worked 3 jobs to be able to afford to live initially but it kept me busy and Edinburgh was an exciting place to be! I couldn’t afford to do anything exciting but at least I felt it was there, there was so much potential. Eventually I got a ‘proper’ job with some decent(ish) money and my soon to be husband moved up to Edinburgh after a year apart. We lived there for 18 months and it was wonderful. Fun job, fun times, fun people. We got married after 4 years together, when I was one month pregnant.

Children

I left my wonderful city of Edinburgh to move back near my mother and oldest sister because I didn’t feel that I could manage having a baby with no support network and my sister already had 4 children so would know all about it. I have been pregnant three times and suffered badly with ALL DAY sickness throughout all of them. I hated every step of being pregnant.

Being a mummy was lovely, the cute baby cuddles and giggles and smells. I had a little routine going that worked for us. We watched the West Wing Box set on repeat while feeding for HOURS! But that happy baby stage is fleeting and just as we were getting into toddler stage I had baby number 2. Two under twos, yes, there are many parents who will know what I mean! The first year of The Bear’s life I actually cannot remember. I remember the first two weeks, and then try as I might it’s a blank until his first birthday. I think with the exhaustion and the constant cycle of daily living, I just went into autopilot. When The Bot was just 3 and The Bear was 18 months, my husband got a teaching job in Egypt. It seemed like such an adventure but in reality was incredibly lonely. I was not very good at the mummy coffee circuit, due to my people fear, and I although I tried to work, I had the boys.  We basically lived in a compound in the desert with no public transport and no means of getting anywhere. It felt like prison. 6 months in, and thoroughly miserable I came home to visit my mother. 2 days later I was in hospital being told my son had Type 1 Diabetes. It was a shock but it would be OK, I would look after him and at least it wasn’t cancer. We went home and carried on, but this time with a health condition to manage. My husband came home and was miserable. I started working shifts as well as managing home life. It’s well known apparently to have a delayed reaction to drastic changes and man, we had had a few. A year after my son’s diagnosis I had my first panic attack. I literally thought I was going to die. I woke up, gripped by this sense of impending doom, knowing that I was about to die. I tried to wake my husband up who told me I was fine and to go back to sleep. I crept into the sitting room and phoned my mother. I cried in pure fear at was happening and she came over to sit with me. The next day I couldn’t leave the house. I wanted to, I knew that I was being ridiculous, but every time I got my shoes on and headed to the door my heart started beating so fast I was sure it couldn’t sustain it. I also experienced my hearts slowing down until it felt like it has stopped and then starting again with a bang and going super-fast. I’m pretty sure there is a medical term for this but I’ve forgotten what it is! What was happening was that I had been putting huge amounts of pressure on myself for a long time and I was doing a marvellous job of pretending manage the stress until my body took over and said enough is enough. I knew things had to change though. This hyper-stressed hyper-anxious person was not good for me and it was not good for my children. As before, I stood in Waterstones and was drawn to a book called You can heal you life by Louise Hays. Reading this book with renewed energy, I started to learn to love myself, I started to choose my thoughts and I started to question the negative reel in my head. I realised that to love properly had to start with self-love and self-care. I also started to realise that my marriage was a problem.

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Divorce

After 10 years together our relationship had completely broken down. Divorce is awful, and even more awful with children. But I had been learning to love myself and accept that the universe would look after me if I believed that I deserved it. I genuinely feel that the universe gave me my now husband. I started to get my life back and began dancing classes. It was love at first sight in way that I never believed possible. We knew each other completely without really knowing each other at all. I would love to say that it was happy ever after from this point but the real world is not quite so easy!

Re-marriage and children again

When things started to settle down on the divorce, children, new relationship front I became pregnant again. I was not expecting to have more children, I thought I’d done with that. It was one month before I got married. I felt like history was repeating itself but with a new partner. I felt it was my punishment and I would inevitably suffer an awful pregnancy, repeat all the things that had gone wrong, and end up divorced again. Not a good mind-set to go into pregnancy/marriage with. I completely freaked out. Anxiety and panic reared its head again. Instead of sensibly postponing the wedding until things had settled, I changed the date of the actual wedding, just had a few people there to watch and had the party on the original date. Everyone was pissed off and it was absolutely awful. I got through it in a daze of not wanting to be there and going through the motions until I could say it was over and never talk about it again. Talking to my husband now, he said he went through with it because he was convinced he would lose me if he didn’t. I was disappearing fast and he was trying to keep hold of me. With this auspicious start, pregnancy was not fun. I was retraining and doing shift work while vomiting and being terrified and angry in equal measure. 6 weeks after birth I hit full post-natal depression. I spent hours researching how to run away or how to get a passport for the baby to take him with me. I had a recurrent dream that the baby was actually adopted and I hadn’t given birth to him and the birth mother wanted him back. My husband took me to the GP and said we needed to sort this. I refused to take pills, it’s seemed too much of a step backwards, so he booked me onto a mindfulness course with other mothers. These mothers, and this course, did start me back on the path away from depression. That was the second truly depressed period of my life and I knew that I never wanted to come near it again. 

Happiness

In my life all I’ve really wanted to be is to be happy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve just condensed the bad stuff here. There were happy times in all of this but everything got so confused and muddled. I was in a vicious cycle because of the pressures of life and because of my relationship with alcohol.  I knew that I could never be happy until I quit drinking, so why couldn’t I just do it?