Sober Birthday Reflections

Birthday tray

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.

Imposter syndrome

What is imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a pattern of thinking where people doubt their own success and ability, despite evidence to the contrary. They feel that any success is down to luck. People with imposter syndrome will feel that they don’t deserve their success and will downplay it for fear of being found to actually be the fraud they believe themselves to be (1, 2)

History of Imposter syndrome and how it works

Rather than being a condition, imposter syndrome was a phrase used by Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 paper (2).

Imposter syndrome can be broken down into 6 parts (3)

Imposter cycle

This is a four-part cycle that is repeated constantly. The imposter is given a task which will be measured, anxiety and doubt over the result leads to over-preparation (more work than needed to make sure they don’t fail) or procrastination (avoiding the task until the last minute). These actions distract from the anxiety. Once the task has been measured the result is discounted as the result of over-preparation or luck after procrastination (4)

The need to be special or the best

Those with imposter syndrome feel the need to be the best and when confronted with people of equal or more ability, conclude that they are, in fact, inadequate.

Superwoman/Superman aspects

Like the need to be the best, the person with imposter syndrome will set their expectations impossibly high and expect everything in all aspects of their lives and work to run flawlessly. When expectations are not met they become overwhelmed and blames themselves again for being a failure.

Fear of failure

But unfortunately, failing is one of the imposters biggest fears – leading to over-preparation or procrastination.

Denial of competence and discounting praise

The person with impostor syndrome will dismiss positive feedback and actively try to discredit any praise

Fear and guilt about success

Imposter syndrome leads the person to feel guilt about their success, feel different from those around them, and feel anxious about any subsequent tasks.

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The effects of imposter syndrome

As anyone who has suffered from anxiety can attest, anxiety can be completely debilitating. The imposter cycle and the need to constantly meet high expectations, while not enjoying the fruits of your results, leads to stress, anxiety, shame, low self-worth and depression (2)

Who it affects

Although initially thought to affect women the most, research has been undertaken which states that men and women are both affected equally (2). It affects people who have some measure of success in their lives (5). It affects people with low self-esteem, who have had a critical or unstable upbringing and those who feel out of place.

It has affected many famous people as their quotes show us.

Albert Einstein:

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”

Agatha Christie:

“I don’t know whether every author feels it, but I think quite a lot do — that I am pretending to be something I am not, because, even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”

Maya Angelou:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ” 

How this relates to alcohol

I’ll tell you why I am writing about this in a minute, but I read a very interesting article, which can be found here, that discussed why imposter syndrome is prevalent in adult children of alcoholics. The insecurity, low self-esteem, critical upbringing and self-doubt all take root within whatever that adult is trying to achieve (6). Often these adult children have their own alcohol problems.

And it is easy to see why. The characteristics of people suffering from imposter syndrome are very similar to the characteristics of people suffering from an alcohol problem. Especially if looking at functioning or high functioning alcohol problems. These people will be the achievers, putting pressure on themselves and then, when they can’t take the anxiety, pressure, feelings of failure, inability to meet their own expectations, they suppress those feeling with alcohol.

The same for parents; expecting to run the gauntlet of parenthood and work, unsupported while comparing themselves constantly to the social media perfect images of other people managing beautifully. See my post Why do people drink for more on this.

Recovery websites talk about how imposter syndrome can lead people to relapse because they feel that their sober selves are imposters.

Why am I writing about imposter syndrome?

I fought so hard for 12 years to get sober, and always feared that if I succeeded, I would be miserable, frustrated and craving every day.  When I quit smoking, at 30 years old, it just happened. I got my first really bad chest infection and something in my brain said ‘that’s enough of that’ and I stopped. But I always put that down to the fact that I only really smoked when I drank so I wasn’t ‘properly’ addicted. I worried that wanting to drink every day mean that I wouldn’t be able to live a craving free life. When I finally quit, on 29th April 2018, the same thing happened. Don’t get me wrong I had vile moments, but the further I went along my sober path, the less power these moments and craving had over me. Now I am basically completely craving free.

When I realised this was the case, and I had already started this blog – at 14 months sober – I began to panic. Maybe I hadn’t really had a problem at all! Maybe I didn’t have the right to talk to people who were suffering now, because I wasn’t suffering anymore! I felt like a fake and a fraud!!

I talked to My Love about it, downplaying my worries and saying I knew I was being ridiculous. I knew my past, the alcohol fuelled actions, the rollercoaster emotions, the tears, the anxiety, the shame, the fear, the loss of control.

Nevertheless, there was a niggling doubt constantly that I was going to be found to be an imposter and somehow all my past suffering hadn’t really happened. And then BAM! Not 3 months into my blog, a comment from a reader arrived saying I had never had a problem and I had to get over myself and spend time with my family rather than blogging about not having a problem.

I was expecting negative comments, no one is mad enough to go into the world of social media and blogging without expecting some nasty trolling, but this first comment hit me in the solar plexus of my deepest concern!

How imposter syndrome has affected my life

I have been affected by imposter syndrome my whole life. Not going for jobs I didn’t think I was good enough for despite high qualifications, having a degree and two masters and still not feeling clever enough, not pursing a PhD despite a 95% grade on my master’s dissertation, never writing in case no-one wanted to read it, never singing in case I wasn’t the best and struggling with friendships because I was sure they would see through me and realise I am nothing.

Yet I could not believe that I was going to be challenged for succeeding and overcoming the biggest obstacle I had ever faced!!! I had my own worries about my success and my own survivor’s guilt that I was now OK, but some many people aren’t. The reason many people speak out about their problems is to help other people to get to where they are, not to be pulled down and told they are a fraud!! 

I was terrified about starting this blog as it played into all my fears about people, being found out, exposing myself and not being good enough. I worried that if I got horrible comments they would feed my negative self-beliefs so much that they would send me back into the clutches of alcohol. But I did it anyway because I knew that if it helped just one person to learn to love themselves enough to stop drinking and to look for happiness, then it was enough.

I realise that many of my posts have a rosy glow but that is because I am so damn grateful for the life I now have. When I used to read articles about how life could be better, they fired my motivation to quit drinking. My next post, as requested by my beloved sister is called Furious Sober Yoga Mummy and acknowledges all the shitty stuff that comes with the good stuff!!

How I am dealing with imposter syndrome

I do not know how to deal with imposter syndrome yet, but like everything in my blog, it’s a healing journey that I am on. I have always managed my imposter syndrome by powering through it. I am trying now to overcome it with the help of everything I have learned on my journey to sobriety.

I have to say that once I got over the shock and worry of my negative comment it inspired me to keep going. I thought about everything I had been through, all the crap and all the achievements on my journey to sobriety and I am bloody proud of myself. It has been a hell of a journey, but I managed it and this is one thing I am not going to let my imposter self take away from me.

I think overcoming imposter syndrome has a lot to do with awareness of your inner voice. If you can take control of that voice and those thoughts, the imposter syndrome will eventually have less power over you. See my post Change your thoughts to change you life for more on this.

It’s also helps to reach out. When I got the negative comment I reached out to my Instagram followers and their love and support was amazing. Helped me to see that my story was valid and helpful.

This is a fantastic blog post that I read about overcoming imposter syndrome so have a read if you want more.

21 ways to overcome imposter syndrome

I have always loved the following two quotes which have scared and inspired me in equal measure in the mad, unstable world that we live in. I will share them with you before I go.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russell

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” Yeats

Let’s start loving ourselves enough to give the world more of the best and wise people it deserves.

Sign up for my free course below to learn how to love yourself.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome
  3. https://www.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521/pdf.
  4. https://road2resolutions.com/how-to-break-the-impostor-syndrome-cycle-of-social-anxiety-over-preparation-and-procrastination/
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/19/fraud-impostor-syndrome-confidence-self-esteem
  6. https://www.promises.com/blog/does-the-imposter-syndrome-plague-adult-children-of-alcoholics/

What I learnt my first year sober

When I imagined myself sober, the image was wonderful. I would be transformed into a bohemian, happy, floaty type who would wear pretty summer dresses, practice yoga and meditate daily while walking around in a mindful haze. I would serenely cook healthy meals for my family. Sugar would have no part in my life. My peaceful state would be such that reading, art and exercise would all come naturally. My children would obviously have my undivided attention and they would feel the love emanating from me.  I WOULD BE ZEN!!!! Well that didn’t happen! I soon realised that I was exactly the same person – just minus alcohol, hangover and guilt. That may seem disappointing but it’s not! It is actually wonderful! Nothing has to change, you already have the power within you to be sober and be you.  You have the power to cope with everything, and to face head on the things you are hiding from.

Conversely though, I am slowly becoming the person I imagined, not through some miracle transformation, but because I am choosing to become that person.

I used to laugh at the idea of using yoga to relax instead of alcohol. I remember talking to some girlfriends after a job interview for a very stressful job. The interviewer had asked how I would cope with stress and I, of course, said I’d do some yoga and have a bath to reflect. To my friends I said hahahahaha, like hell, I’d actually drink a bottle of prosecco and cry. We all laughed. But seriously? Why was I laughing? I frequently did drink a bottle of prosecco and cry. It wasn’t nice and it didn’t help, so why did we laugh? I actually really wanted to be that person who did yoga and had a bath, but I felt it was so far from anything I could ever become that I had to laugh or I would cry.

Since I stopped drinking I am now becoming that person and I love it! Not completely zen yet – or anywhere near in fact – but I am working on that! I try to practice yoga every day. If I’m seriously pissed off I’ll do a HIIT session and my mood evaporates. I love baths, candles and breathing exercises. I feel so much better than I have ever felt before. No regrets, no shame, no guilt and no hangovers!

Expectations, that may seem unrealistic when drinking, can be achieved sober, you just have to choose what is important to you and work up to it slowly.

Choice is a huge part of sobriety and happiness. One of the quotes that struck me most in my journey was ‘change could for should’. We all, especially as mothers, feel there are so many things we ‘should’ do. But why should we? Who says we should? What if we changed that should to could and asked the question again? Say there is a party for a friend. You feel a bit off but feel like you ‘should’ go. Change it to I ‘could’ go. If you still don’t feel up to it you can ask yourself why and then based on those answers, make your decision. Another example, my sister gets annoyed with me because I currently have no idea about what’s happening in the news. She says, ‘how can you have a degree in international relations and not care what’s going on’. The fact is I do care what’s going on. I care deeply. But I changed ‘I should listen to the news’ to ‘I could listen to the news’, and then asked myself why I wasn’t. Currently I get upset with the state of the world so I am protecting myself emotionally; I have so many things I am doing, that I need to protect my time so I am not overwhelmed. I am protecting myself and choosing what is important for me now. Later I may choose current affairs, but not right now.

Everything we do is a choice. In choosing ourselves we can begin to find out who we truly are. I used to feel like a bad mother if the children were driving me crazy – especially at ‘wine o’clock’ – so I drank to cover it. Now, if it’s too much, I close the kitchen door, cook supper, listen to an audio book and drink a diet coke. Does this make me a bad mother? No, I am choosing myself for 20 minutes so that the boys can have a happier, more stable, sober mother. Those 20 minutes are better for everyone in the long run! Choosing yourself is part of the self-care and self-love that is crucial in early sobriety and beyond. 

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These are the things I have discovered about me in my first year sober.

Celebrations

I still love celebrating and no alcohol has made very little difference. I do not like sit down meals or date meals. They feel formal and forced and I feel pressure to make conversation in an unnatural environment. Now we go for date breakfasts, and I love them!

I am actually surprisingly good at parties, but I think this is because I can move on or leave when I need to. I love dressing up. As a mother there are fewer opportunities so I used alcohol as an excuse to dress up. I have dressed up less in this year sober but I know that I love dancing and at some point when the boys are a little older I will be able to dance more often and that’s a perfect excuse for dressing up!

I love birthdays. Mine, my children’s anyone’s! But instead of a big party and flowing booze, I want to eat good food, be with those I love, take a trip, sing karaoke and dance. I was even loving musical statues at The Baby’s third birthday.

I love Easter and Christmas. This Easter was the best one I have had. Family around, lots of food, painted eggs. We did yoga in the garden, my nieces and nephews sunbathed with music on, we played silly games outside, watched a film and played board games in the evening. It was a whole day of fun and I loved every minute. With alcohol I’d have been tired, anxious, feeling sick and just wanting it to end.

Christmas I have loved since a child so I suppose it’s not surprising that I still love it, although it surprised me a great deal! But what I have discovered is that I don’t like Christmas day. We never did Christmas Day as children because my mother was a nurse for the elderly so she chose to work. We celebrated Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. For this reason Christmas Day has never sat right with me, although I’ve tried to do it for the children. Next year we’ll try something completely different but it doesn’t have to look like a ‘normal’ Christmas Day does it?

Evenings

I always dreaded evenings but I have realised I was creating that situation myself by drinking. I love evenings now and hardly ever get the evening blues anymore. They were a daily occurrence before. In the winter I love being fluffy and cosy, lighting candles, looking at my YouTube fire, reading books and having baths.

I also enjoy going out in the evenings, just to walk or drive around. Both summer and winter evening can be insanely beautiful. Lights on in houses, Christmas decorations, ice sparkling on the grass or rich red sunsets, warm breezes and swishing leaves in the trees. Ooooh, so yummy!

Family

I love being with my family now and don’t find the children nearly as stressful. Don’t get me wrong, they drive me completely crazy at times but I don’t get cross in the same way I used to and we feel more of a team than ‘me versus them’. I have realised I can’t stand wet and cold children. So if we go swimming (which I never used to do but now do twice a week), or we go to the beach, or play in the fountains in our town square, or get soaked in the rain – I need to know that I can get them back to a shower with ease, then it all feels more manageable.

Job

I have somehow always had it in my head that I would find the right niche for me and then I’d be a complete high flier at work. Now I have realised this is not me at all. Firstly, by this age wouldn’t I have found it already? Secondly I can’t stand being part of a huge corporation or institution – I’d much rather do my own thing; thirdly, if I’m going to put massive amounts of stress on myself, it’s going to be for something that means something to me, like family, or a business of my own, or this blog – not for a job.

Holidays

I adore holidays, but what I have discovered is I prefer the planning and the travelling to the destinations. This has been a huge revelation. I have always known I have itchy feet but I have fought against it as there is the feeling that you ‘should’ settle down, you ‘should’ have a house/car/mortgage. But why? My husband asked me why I had to do any of those things and the question really surprised me because I hadn’t considered that I had a choice before. I then found a quote that I loved which goes ‘not all who wander are lost’. I had always felt that my need to move around and travel was because I hadn’t found myself and I wasn’t happy. But maybe I am just a wanderer? To find out, we are planning 6 months of nomadic living in Asia with the children. I may come back saying how awful, but at least I have taken the chance.

Exercise

Exercise is my salvation. Without regular exercise I become more grumpy, emotional and anxious. I choose to find the time every day to exercise. It has to take priority over other things and the more I do it the easier it is to find that 25 minutes.

Safe space

I need to know I have a safe space I can get to if I start becoming anxious. For this reason I need to not be reliant on other people for lifts, not stay at other people’s houses unless I am very comfortable and not agree to do things that I don’t want to do. Yes, I am also working on my control issues!!

Feelings

I have found my feelings so much easier to manage since I stopped drinking. This is mostly because I now recognise my feelings, so can question them, or just let them be, because I know they will pass. I am not hiding from them or frightened by them anymore. Now that the guilt, shame, raging anxiety and hangovers have gone, feeling are much easier to manage. There is way less black and white thinking without booze.

Stress

I react to real stress in life with a huge bout of IBS that takes months to settle back down. I used to blame this completely on alcohol but it’s mostly because I still haven’t worked out my coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Currently I try to avoid it.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t challenge myself. I am very driven and constantly looking for new challenges. However, if I feel that they are detrimental I am now equally happy to walk away and not feel like a failure.

Being kind to yourself

I was never very kind to myself and I believe that for most people struggling, this is the crux of the issue. If you pay attention to your inner voice, how often do you say nice things to yourself? Imagine if that was a child and you were saying all those things. Would they grow up happy and successful? Learning to stop berating myself was one of the most important things in my journey to sobriety and away from depression. To the extent that healthy eating never stuck, stopping drinking never stuck and exercise never stuck. I would make unrealistic plans and then get so angry with myself when they didn’t work that I would stop trying. Now if I eat pizza, so what? I made that choice. If I choose not to exercise one day, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed my 30 day yoga challenge and have to start again! It just means I pick it up where I left off and keep going. This was an absolute revelation for me! The only thing I will not do is drink. Luckily that is now because I really don’t want to.

Community

I am a bit of an introvert and people scare me, so I always struggled with the idea of community. In my head community meant having lots of friends who came over of drinks or making plans to meet in parks or going to their houses. Massive pressure, totally freaked me out, so I stayed hidden. I have realised in my year sober that that isn’t all that community is about. Family and friends are so important but so is being part of where you live. I now love going to local cafes, taking the bus, going to the library, going to our local cinema or swimming pool. All stuff I never considered as special before, but if you do it enough you get to know the people who work there or go there regularly. You can have random conversations and find out what people are doing with their lives. It Is often surprising and sometimes awe inspiring. It makes me feel grounded and connected.

One thing I always loved was the idea of big Italian family’s eating food together and being in their community. One of my stumbling blocks in stopping drinking was that this idyll then couldn’t be for me. I felt I would lose my dream of living the Italian lifestyle. When I read The Little Book of Hygge, it changed my viewpoint. The Italian lifestyle is about the community, the sharing and the food – not about the alcohol. Companionship is so important for all humans and without it we become depressed and despondent. I am so grateful to all my local cafes for their friendliness and good food!

Be grateful

How many times have we heard this. It used to really piss me off. Those Facebook posts that say ‘cleaning the house? Feel grateful that you have one to clean’ – oh fuck off!!! However, I found that when I went warm and fuzzy about something I would make a note of it in my phone. Then when  was feeling pissed off and not particularly grateful, I could look back at my notes and the warm fuzzy feelings would start to peak in. Gratitude makes things you have to be grateful for grow exponentially. So help yourself on bad days by having a list to remind yourself of what you have to be grateful for.

Let go of control

Stopping drinking was not a magic elixir that cured everything straight away, but it allowed me to start working on loving and getting to know myself which made all sorts of surprising and wonderful things happen, not least of which is being happy!

I am still a control freak and get very anxious when I lose control. But I am working on this. To manage my dread of evenings I’d plan them meticulously, but this never worked and I ended up frustrated, annoyed and anxious. Since I’ve let evening go, my ideal evenings actually now happen. It’s about setting an intention and then letting it go. Then the universe gets to work on your intention to makes it happen. If you cling on tightly to it, this will never happen! Sorry if that sound hippy dippy but its worked too many times for me not to be true. For more on this read Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

You have to be who you are, acknowledge what is right for you and honour yourself.

My 1st year sober

Dry January was hard. Every day was a decision not to drink but it did not come easily. I had always hoped that if I stopped drinking I wouldn’t have to go through the agonies that so many people talked about. I didn’t want to be ‘once and alcoholic always an alcoholic’. I wanted to believe that I could ‘kick the drink….easily’. Nothing leading up to that point had been easy and one of the things that puts people off trying to quit drinking is the thought that every day, from that point forward, will be hard but without the temporary relief offered by alcohol. But when I finally quit, on 29th April 2018, after a 22 year bad relationship with alcohol, it just happened. There was no fanfare, no memorable promise to stop, no announcement to the world, no force of willpower. My husband, a few weeks before, at my request, had removed all alcohol from the house so there had been nothing there immediately to tempt me.

My first Facebook post related to Dry January did not paint a rosy picture. To sum it up, feeling all positive and ready to be the best mother, I headed out for a day out with the boys. We were going to go scooting and go to the cinema to watch the Greatest Showman. We went to a local lake that is very pretty and the boys enjoy scooting around. The Baby, who had been given a scooter for Christmas, refused to scoot. In the end I had to let the big boys go off by themselves around the lake while I pottered about with The Baby. The Baby was being a pain and in trying to help him avoid a very large puddle, he fell right into a bigger one. Cue wet cold screaming child. Having taken all his spare clothes out of his bag after a calpol disaster, I had forgotten to put any back in. Now I had a screaming cold child dressed in the hodge podge of clothes below.

The boys took so long to reappear I thought they had fallen into the lake and was wondering what I was supposed to do at this point, with wet screaming baby and potentially drowning children (they can swim but mother’s anxiety and all that!) They eventually emerged and The Bear’s blood sugars were super high again. He had had a sickness bug for weeks and had lost 6kgs in three weeks. We just couldn’t control his blood sugars. I was extremely tempted at this point to jack it all in and go home to drink wine and rant. But I didn’t. I thought I…AM…GOING…TO…DO…THIS. Instead I persevered and picked up sandwiches to feed the boys in the cinema. I didn’t know this at the time, nor did I after this viewing, but the Greatest Showman was soon to become my best film ever and I would watch it 7 times in the cinema including two sing alongs and an outdoor viewing. This is me was my anthem and A million dreams my life’s story) 

Shameless affiliate link for the Greatest Showman here as it’s just so good that you have to own it!!

Having made it to the cinema, everyone settled, ate their sandwiches and the baby fell asleep in my arms. I breathed a sigh of relief and start to take in some of the film. As The Baby slept, I started to relax and think how lucky I was. After not very long, The Baby started coughing. Poor thing I thought, cough cough cough – VOMIT!!! Everywhere!!! Over remaining clothes, the floor, me, the badly packed changing back. On my own in the cinema with 3 boys covered in vomit.

So, not a propitious start to my coping mummy sober lifestyle. But a win because I didn’t drink that day. I got home, cried, told My Love how crap it all was, read the next day of the 28 day alcohol free challenge, wrote the post for Facebook and enjoyed the replies.  By the evening I saw the funny side. Definitely not what would have happened if I had had a drink. The result then would have been tears, arguing, guilt, shame, feelings of inadequacy.

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People talk about how negative social media can be, and I understand the negative side of it, but for me it was a game changer. The biggest thing I learned in Dry January was how huge and supportive the online sober community is and how fast it is growing. Instead of reading ‘how much can I drink and not die of cirrhosis of the liver’ (I’ve seen many, many people at the end of their alcohol careers and it’s pretty nasty stuff), I was immersed in articles about why to quit drinking, how much better life is afterwards, how alcohol is the enemy not the friend and comfort I’d always used it as

When I started drinking again I felt like I’d failed again, even worse this time because I’d stopped for so long and really thought that was it. The sober community helped me see that it was OK; most of them have fallen down multiple times before finally reaching the sober goal. I believe this really helped me to finally stop three month later.

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When I finally quit, it almost happened unnoticed. I realised I hadn’t drunk for a couple of days, but also that I hadn’t missed it. This revelation was startling. It had never ever happened before. I realised quickly that if I touched another drink I’d be back on the same treadmill for years, so I didn’t. I know that sounds insane and unrealistic but my outlook and support had changed so completely that I didn’t need the crutch anymore.  I couldn’t believe that after 22 years, and 12 years of struggling, that that was it. But I’ve always believed that the universe gives you what you need if you are open to it.  I truly believe that opening myself up to the sober world had finally opened myself up to sobriety as an option and the universe stepped in to help.

Did I never have a craving? Of course not, there were definitely times – when I was annoyed with the children or My Love, when I was scared, stressed or uncomfortable – that I absolutely wanted to drink. Summer evenings were hard, something about a summer evening says ‘sit outside a café, chill, chat, drink.’ I worried massively about December. My Birthday and Christmas in the same month. Usually an excuse for prosecco every night and no-one will notice because EVERYONE IS DOING IT! I kept my birthday lower key. I went to my sister’s with my mother. We had an Indian take away and watched Strictly Come Dancing. To be fair I love Strictly Come Dancing and would have probably watched it anyway but would have done it after day out, dressed up to the nines, drinking too much prosecco and eventually feeling upset, disappointed and resentful that I didn’t have time to dance, dress up and was too overweight and unfit to look gorgeous as the people on Strictly. Alcohol consumption not actually as much fun as it appears? I did feel weird though. I didn’t have the over excited feeling I usually get about my birthday, but I didn’t have the upset or disappointment either. One birthday navigated alcohol free.

After my birthday Christmas didn’t seem quite so worrying. In December I ate a lot! Mince pies, chocolate, biscuits. But I just accepted what I needed to do to get through December alcohol free. I would worry about it in January. I also watched cooking programmes constantly! I don’t really do TV but I have always enjoyed the odd episode of Nigella or Great British Bake off. I am a foody and love cooking delicious food with My Love. It reminds me of meals together and companionship – all very hygge. And Hygge is definitely what I needed! A bit late to the game, I read the Little Book of Hygge .

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It filled me with such warm, cosy, hygge, happy feelings that I was determined that my winter would be Hygge and not a SAD affair (seasonal affective disorder most years!). I concentrated my December on being cosy and warm, wearing fluffy socks and fluffy jumpers, reading books by the fire (Fire on TV from YouTube but it works!), candles, hot chocolate, food and tea. Bit different to the glamorous, dressed up, prosecco filled party girl I always tried to be!  It was wonderful and was also a step further to changing my outlook. When my sister had given me fluffy socks for my birthday the year before I had almost been offended! But this year I was revelling in the fluffy!

I also properly discovered tea. Although I always drank tea and liked tea, I hadn’t fully immersed myself in the world of tea. Now I have teas for the morning, teas for the afternoon, tea for hot days versus tea for winter days, tea for zen evenings or teas for slouchy evenings. I had always loved the idea of the Japanese tea ceremony. Taking things slowly, being mindful of each moment, savouring the present. However I had always thought I didn’t have time for that. I don’t spend hours every day making tea, but there is something about having different teas for different moods and situations. Something about making a pot to share rather than a cup, watching it infuse and waiting to taste it. 

This all made winter evenings much easier to manage. I used to dread evenings and that is why they were prime drinking time. Evening made me completely miserable. With a drink I felt ok but after 8ish I felt completely miserable, ashamed and anxious. Without a drink I felt miserable from 5pm (when I would have had a drink) to 8ish (when I would have stopped) and then it cleared – connection?? This meant that crucial family time just wasn’t there. I did what I felt was my duty – family meals, bathing children, stories – but I didn’t enjoy it, couldn’t understand people when they said they did , and if I’m honest I slightly resented it. I think on some level the boys felt this, because when they were younger, they never stayed in bed, they messed about and it frequently descended into arguments.

Since I stopped drinking evenings have been a revelation. Apart from a bit of a down feeling that goes with winter dark evenings sometimes, I do not have those black feelings. We cook, eat and clean up together. After supper I bath the baby while we listen to music and sing together. Then I read stories with the baby, give him a kiss and he goes to bed. I mean who knew that toddlers can actually go to sleep willingly??? Maybe the baby is just odd, but I do think the concentrated attention he gets at that time leaves him feeling happy and safe and ready to sleep. Once the baby is a sleep it gives me an hour to be with the boys before they go to bed. We’ve found a few Netflix things we enjoy together, or I try to read a chapter of something to them. They’ve always loved stories and I’m still trying to convince them that reading is amazing! Once they’re in bed it gives My Love and I a little time together when we try to do some yoga – usually Yoga with Adriene – before bed.

Reading this it all sounds a bit idyllic. Obviously this doesn’t happen so smoothly every time, they still act up, fight and drive me crazy. It’s sometimes just way too busy to do all the nice stuff. We all still argue and shout. But in another way it is idyllic. It’s how I always wanted evenings to be. Even when it doesn’t go to plan it’s OK, because I really enjoy the times it does. This all developed slowly over the course of the year, not a sudden transition from horrendous evening to idyllic life. But like anything, the more you do it the easier it is to sustain and then it becomes natural.

Speaking of things becoming easier to sustain, in my 1st year sober I did more exercise, more consistently than any other time in my life. It was hard at first, but the more I did, the easier it became. At first it was hard to find the time, but when I got into it I could just slot it in anywhere. I exercised at home or outside, as I knew I would never have the time to disappear to the gym, but that made it easier to sustain. I practised yoga morning and evening, I did T25 (High Intensity Interval Training stuff) for 25 minutes, I cycled to work and with the family and we went for long family walk. There were days when this didn’t happen, but lots of days when it did.  The endorphins flowed and I felt amazing!

One of the things people dread when they stop drinking is going on holiday, and I was no different. I have had two holidays since then. The first was a family trip to the seaside for a week in August and the second a week in Italy. My parents came to both.  I love holidays and don’t normally get two, but it was firstly a treat to say well done for being sober and secondly as a thank you to my mother for all the childcare help she give us so we can work. I was very anxious, especially as the year before I had become so anxious and hysterical in a caravan by the sea that I had cut a two week holiday in half and come home. We were five in a hotel room for 7 days. Hotel rooms also say to me – wine on arrival. As it was it was OK. If I needed to escape the room I took us out. I kept a supply of diets cokes and San Pellegrino cans in the room. I had a bath if I needed 5 minutes. I also chilled out and stopped trying to control everything – if the boys wanted to watch too much TV rather than go out – so what? It’s their holiday too. I love the sea, so any time I felt anxious, which wasn’t very often, I left the hotel and sat on the beach listening to the waves.  In Italy I was also worried but I had been sober for nearly a year by then. But doesn’t Italy mean eating alfresco and long afternoons drinking wine? I did eat alfresco, we did enjoy long afternoons with coffee and ice cream, we did argue (all sharing an apartment), I did get frustrated with the children just wanting to play on I Pads instead of going out – especially as THIS WAS ITALY! But I didn’t drink, and I didn’t want to drink. I did however; discover alot more about myself than I would have done if I had been drinking. More on that in the next post. This year I have my first festival and we are camping for a week in Wales – eeeek!

In my 1st year sober, became a better mother and wife, I became stronger physically and emotionally, I lost 8kgs and for the first time, felt happy in my own skin.