Fun things to do without alcohol

By the time I quit drinking, having too much time on my hands was definitely not a problem for me – I had so much to do that I was drinking more because I couldn’t cope with it, and the stuff I actually wanted to do got pushed out to fit in the stuff I had to do.

But I do know that, when I was not in the throes of childrendom, I often had no idea what to do with the time I had. That time was frequently filled up with boozing.

Many people are staggered, when they quit drinking, at the amount of time that is suddenly available. Time that previously disappeared into a blurry fug of self-pity, anxiety and exhaustion.

Binge watching Netflix leaves me feeling completely miserable with raging cabin fever, so I do not recommend that!! Instead, here are a few ideas if you are at a loss for alcohol-free things to do with your newfound alcohol-free time.

Indoors

I was much worse indoors than outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, I drank in all environments, but I know that being in the house for any length of time, and the accompanying cabin fever, definitely triggered me to crack open the booze.

But there is more to being at home than doing the day to day mundane tasks. Pick a room and slowly decorate it as you would like. Or move the furniture around so that it makes you feel calmer (I have moved my furniture approximately every 6 months – much to My Love’s horror!)

Have a puzzle on the table so that you can add little bits to it each time you go past. Have some magazines that interest you within reach for a quiet moment.

This is the one we have just finished

Bake! Baking helps so many people to feel grounded and safe. That initial effort, followed by the enticing smell as it cooks and then the joys when you finally get to taste it and all your hard work has paid off. This is not me to be honest, my stuff hardly ever goes to plan, but My Love bakes and it relaxes him (and I get the spoils!) 

Outdoors                                                                                                                                          

Getting out into nature is one of the most calming activities. Surrounding ourselves by the incredible world that we live in and the enormous beauty and intelligence of nature can take us out of our own problems for a while.

The breeze in the trees, the swell of the sea, the wind, the pouring rain, the frost, the snow, flowers, streams, rivers, lakes, grass, fields and forests. How can you not be amazed and feel grateful when you see these things?

Any do whatever you want to do in nature – sit, watch, walk, cycle, swim, climb, do yoga, sail, play, eat – just being in it is enough.

Nature is why so many people feel completely at peace while gardening (again not my thing – I have a tendency to kill plants off!) but when we eat what My Love has grown in the garden, the boys and I cannot help but feel grateful as it is so much more delicious than anything you can buy in a shop. The patient daily work of tending and nurturing plants is soothing and healing. Hopefully reminding us to nurture ourselves a little too. 

In winter

Winter does not have to stop the outdoor adventures. There is nothing more beautiful than a walk on a crisp winter morning, or glistening winter evening (just make sure you have sufficient clothes, or it won’t be pleasant!

This coat saved my life in winter!

But when it’s cold and miserable looking outside, there can be nothing nicer than going to the cinema for a good film in some comfortable chairs with popcorn (hey, you can afford that now you are not buying the booze!)

Or go pot painting or climbing!

In summer

Take a trip to the seaside! Nothing soothes my soul like watching the waves crashing against the rocks and listening to swoosh.

If it’s warm enough I’ve even started to brave a dip in the sea (although I still get freaked out by what I can’t see in the water!) There are always places nearby that you can hire wetsuits and bodyboards/surfboards, and open water swimming is blissfully liberating! 

If you can’t make it to the seaside, any water nearby will do. Walking and sitting by the river in the evening is so relaxing. Or nothing is more beautiful than watching an evening sunset in a park while having a picnic with friends or family.

Where I live there are things I am dying to try like paddle boarding and open water swimming at a local park lake. I’m sure if you look near you there will be all sorts of things!

Camping is another wonderful summer activity whether alone, with family or with friends. Although if setting up the tent stresses you out make sure there is someone who is happy to do it for you. Also, check the weather forecast first, although the sound of rain in a tent can be wonderful (as long as there are no leaks)! You can’t be more in nature than basically sleeping, eating and living outside in it!

Also, try a festival. We went to our first family festival last summer and it was better than I could have imagined – see Greenman Festival – Sober!

In the daytime

If you have time in the day then use that time well. Join a gym. Exercise is the thing that keeps most people on the sober path when they first start. But don’t go in all guns blazing thinking you have to immediately transform into some gladiator style fitness fanatic. Just take it at a pace that makes you happy and doesn’t put you off ever coming again. Take a yoga class, go for a gentle swim. If you feel more energetic do more, if you feel less energetic go to the steam room and then read the paper in the cafe! 

There are also loads of courses that run in the daytime and you could try to learn something new. I know near me there are language courses, art courses, cake decorating courses, sewing courses and calligraphy courses – just to name a few.

If that is all too much, there is still nothing I love more than going out for a coffee. I know it sounds silly but it always feels like a real treat and I love the warm cosy communal coffee shop environment.

In the evening

Evenings can be challenging so treat yourself kindly in the evenings. It is also probably where you will notice the most extra time. Much of what I say in this post can be applied to evenings, but some of my favourite evening treats are reading a good book, having a bath with salts or essential oils and a face mask, doing yoga and mediating. I try to always make sure my evenings are relaxing because, quite frankly, I do enough during the day! Also, relaxing evening will tell your body that sleep time is approaching and it will help you develop and natural sleeping rhythm. Insomnia can be a huge problem in early sobriety. Try not to do anything too invigorating or spend to much time around screens. 

With a partner

Other than the obvious enjoyable partner related activity, here are some others that spring to mind!

Dance! I have taken up dancing again with My Love and it is the most wonderful feeling. Find a local Ballroom and Latin class, you’ll feel like you are on Strictly in no time! If that’s too serious for you, try a local Salsa or Modern Jive class – way less footwork and don’t actually need a partner to go to it.

If dancing isn’t your thing try martial arts or climbing.

If you aren’t feeling as active, try going to the theatre. I still feel that going to the theatre is a proper occasion and I see so many people that still dress up and look glamourous when they are off to a performance. Recently we’ve been to musicals, ballets, pantos and my favourite – The Rocky Horror Picture show! Just look up what’s on in your local theatre and get booking (I go for the view restricted cheap seats and it is still fab!)

With friends

One of the most wonderful things about Hygge, the Danish concept or cosiness, is that it involves cosiness with friends. The joy comes from doing things together. So, if you are with friends for dinner, don’t just let one person do the cooking or cleaning up, all pitch in together. Isn’t it nicer to eat something you have all helped to prepare, than just being waited on – and often feeling a bit awkward! The act of doing something together is the thing that creates the cosy comfortable feeling.

For more on this wonderful idea read this book written by a Danish guys who’s job it is to research happiness!

But if having friends in your house freaks you out a bit (maybe I’m just odd like that!) there is plenty to do otherwise.

Go out for a meal, breakfast lunch or dinner – any will do! Try to make sure there is somewhere for the children to play together if you’re bringing them, so you aren’t worrying about them all the time.

Go bowling, play minigolf – or normal golf, take a boat trip if you live near water or go to a concert.

One of my favourite things is walking in the Peak District and then afterwards finding a cosy pub, obviously with a log fire if it is cold outside, and having a full on pub meal with pudding. This is a perfect weekend activity. You will feel so exhausted but also rejuvenated by the walk and the company that you’ll be ready to flop when you get home without the need for alcohol to relax you. (FYI, if you have children in tow, make absolutely sure that before you leave for you walk, the house is tidy and all the jobs are done so that you don’t come home and feel stressed by the chaos of everything. That will completely defeat the point!)

With children

Anything I’ve mentioned can be done with children but make sure that what you do with your children is a joy and not a chore. If you don’t really want to do it then it will be the latter and you will get stressed about it.

Eating together sharing food with your children can be very bonding. Walking, even small walks, as a family garners conversation and memories.

Currently we are starting to watch some comedy together, Michael McIntyre and Miranda, and laughing together is the best feeling in the world.

Alone

It is often the alone time that is hardest to manage. The time with no distractions, when you can get into your own head and talk yourself into thinking a drink would be a good idea to blur or obliterate the edges off your loneliness or whatever might be worrying you. As we know, even if you are still in the midst of your drinking days, it won’t. It will just leave us with more feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and self-loathing than we started out with. So let me help you to see that there are far better ways to spends your precious alone time that drinking.

Do something in which you can express yourself and your creativity. Build something, cook, paint or write. Many people feel writing is very cathartic so crack on with your diary, blog, gratitude journal, autobiography, novel – whatever makes you feel good to write.

Share share share. If you are lonely, get into social media and talk to people in the same boat as you. It can easily relieve the burden of feeling alone if you know there are other people out their going through the things you are going through. Here is a link to my Instagram page to get you started – Happy Sober Yoga Mummy.

Listen to music, do brain puzzles, do crosswords, do a paint by numbers!

Look after yourself – brush your hair, use a facemask, moisturise your legs, paint your nails!

Conclusion

Whatever you choose to do with the time that has been given to you in your new sobriety, see it as a gift to be treasured. There will be so many feelings and emotions that you have to learn to deal with now that you can’t block it all out, and learning takes time – you can’t force it.

So, in the meantime learn to use the time you have to do things that you enjoy and that nurture your soul. Being mindful and present in every moment will help you appreciate the moment and should help you not to dwell on the past or future.

Be brave and try new things, you might be surprised what your sober self actually enjoys!

Happy sober times my friends

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!

Top 10 alcohol free reasons to love Christmas

It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

I have loved Christmas since I was a tiny girl, and now that I am a slightly bigger girl, my love is unchanged and can now go unchecked!

For so long Christmas included vast quantities of booze and for so long, without my realising it, alcohol was marring the magnificence of the festive season.

I thought Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without prosecco or gin and tonic, but really? I can assure you that as the small girl loving Christmas all the way up to 15 years old, alcohol had nothing to do with it that love!

And as I happily found out, when I quit drinking nearly 20 months ago, Christmas is still Christmas without the booze, and it really is the most wonderful time of the year!

So here for you now, in whatever stage of your life journey you are in, are my top 10 alcohol free reasons to love Christmas.

10) Community spirit

Although there is a lot of bad press about grumpy shoppers and fights over the last broccoli (yes, I have seen this!) there is also a huge feeling of coming together to celebrate. People feel more connected, as you do when you are in something together, and they start to feel more community minded, more generous and more aware of their fortunes compared to some people’s misfortunes.

Not surprising really, religious or not (and I have serious misgivings about the effect of religion), the message in nearly all religions is love, gratitude and looking after those less fortunate. Fitting then, that the will to look after others and be part of a community becomes more apparent in the build up to one of the biggest Christian festivals.

As most of us realise in our sober journey, community is the thing that eventually helps us to quit. People are more willing to chat, smile and be friendly at Christmas, so get smiling and chatting!

Being a part of a community is a magical feeing so grab onto it this Christmas time and just try to join in the alcohol-free community events!     

9) Giving 

Giving is a wonderful thing. Not only for the person who receives but for the person who does the giving. Who doesn’t feel warm and cosy inside knowing that they have made someone else happy by something they have done?

I love choosing presents that I know will make those I love happy. I choose them thinking about how they’ll use it, how much they will enjoy it, and loving the pleasure it will give them.

I love that there are far more ways to give back at Christmas, local charity boxes, food donations (horrible that we need so many of these) and many other ways of giving, become more apparent.

But it doesn’t have to be anything physical. Giving a smile to someone might make their day. Taking the time to say hello might make all the difference. Reaching out to someone struggling could mean everything for that person.

I read on my local community Facebook group a message from a man who has been homeless (now he has thankfully found a room), saying how grateful he was for all the people who had stopped to chat, buy him a drink or food and see how they could help. It is awesome that, in a world that can be so materialistic and so self-focused, this desire to help is still there.

Give yourself this Christmas, you might change someone’s future.

8) Togetherness

Whether we all complain about family, arguments and stress at Christmas time, there is still something wonderful about coming together and being together. It doesn’t have to be biological family, sometimes friends and the community you chose can be the family that is really good for you.

But coming together with the people you love, who love and support you is the most incredible feeling. This point is worth considering. Many people drink at Christmas to ‘get through’ family events of parties etc. If you are really coming together with the people who have your back, you shouldn’t need a drink to ‘get through it’. So if this is you’re reason for alcohol this Christmas, it might be worth reassessing the health of those relationships and considering what you could do in the new year to either improve those relationships or move away from them. Remember, you don’t HAVE to do anything, but in your sober life, you do HAVE to look after yourself.

For me, I adore decorating the house with my family, and I ruined it for years by drinking prosecco while doing it. I’d decorate but then I’d drink and become anxious, short tempered, stroppy and upset. Talk about ways to lose the joy! Now we decorate at the start of December and it is pure joy (topped off by watching Arthur Christmas!)

I also find that I can now bake with the children and make festive things without getting totally stressed out by it! Win win as far as I can tell

7) Dressing up  

I for one adore dressing up! I have a cupboard full of evening dresses, sequins, and diamante jewellery. I think I should have been a princess!  

I love that at Christmas everyone makes an effort. Whether it’s a Christmas jumper, Christmas hat, some Christmas earrings or a full on sequin party dress with matching shoes!

I got into the mindset that dressing up was only something I could do when I was drinking or going out somewhere (also usually involved drinking). I still find it hard to find dressy uppy occasions that aren’t party related, so Christmas is a fabulous excuse to dress up for a WHOLE MONTH!

6) The world sparkles

Not just the trees and sequin dresses sparkle at Christmas!

I love the frost that settles on the pavements or grass and sparkles like crystals in the moonlight. I love the frosty mist that hangs over the fields as I return from night shift. I love the clear cold air on a winter evening that is almost painful to breath in. If we’re very very lucky, there is the crunch and sparkle of freshly fallen snow (even if it only lasts a few hours!)

I have a tree at the bottom of my road that loses all its leaves in the winter but keeps its red apples. These apples are then covered in a crisscross of frosty flakes. I am amazed every time I walk past by what is basically a naturally decorated Christmas tree.

5) Music

OMG the music!!

I mean what would Christmas be without music?

Christmas carols are my favourite. I go to as many Christmas carol events as I can find in my town, and usually drag the reluctant boys to all of them! We sing carols in churches, outside the local windmills, in the street, at home, in halls – anywhere I can! I was brought up singing the descant to most of the carols so every time I think I can get away with it I belt out the tops notes, however squeaky they might sound!

There I nothing that warms my heart more than watching my boys in their various Christmas services, concerts and plays. Even when half the children are out of tune and off time, their enthusiasm makes up for it. The older, super cool boys, even soften a bit when singing at Christmas. The toddlers are just too cute for words!

The Baby started December very grumpy with me as I wouldn’t play ‘his music’ in the car (little tyrant toddler anyone?!). But I couldn’t possibly miss out of the first playing of Fairytale of New York, the belting out of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ or the shrieking top notes of ‘All I want for Christmas’. I love that the radio starts small and as Christmas gets closer, they play more and more Christmas songs. The baby has just about accepted it, 12 days in, and has even give his own rendition of ‘Jingle bells’ and ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’ as we drive.

My latest discovery, or rather My Love’s discovery, was last year during my first sober Christmas. We were embracing Hygge (cosiness) big time and he found videos on YouTube of crackling fireplaces, extremely effective despite how that may sound! Some of them have gentle Christmas Jazz playing over the top of the crackling logs. There is nothing cosier than snuggling under a warm blanket, by the light of the Christmas tree, some candles and the YouTube fire, with gentle Christmas Jazz playing. Try it, I promise it is wonderful and absolutely does not require alcohol!  

4) Christmas Smells

I don’t care if these smells are real or artificially created by candles, it still works!

Real Christmas trees, which I don’t have at the minute as they aren’t very child friendly, smell amazing! So, I fully appreciate this smell with the real trees at my parents’ and sister’s house.

My favourite candle is the cinnamon Yankie Candle, as cinnamon is the most Christmassy smell.

Ginger bread smells, mince pie smells, baking smells, spiced coffee….mmm, just can’t get enough! It best when you have been outside in the freezing cold and you walk into your house to be hit by a wall of warmth and Christmas smells.

3) Foodie

Smells and taste are so intrinsically linked that it’s almost impossible to write separately about these!

My first Greggs mince pie of the year is an occasion, and My Love scours the Greggs shops waiting for the first batch to come out – he really is amazing!

Coffee, hot chocolate, chai tea, My Love’s random collection of spicy Christmas teas – all so delicious.

Spiced cakes, gingerbread Christmas trees and chocolate. So hard to walk into the shop at the end of the street and not be tempted by some of their festive treats. Christmas is not a time for restraint! 

It is a time for sharing food (not alcohol!) and the choices are fabulous! Every December we make a special trip to M&S and buy a meal to share with all their Christmassy bits like smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, bread, cheese and salad.

Don’t even get me started on the stews, vegetables, soups, breads and roasts that I crave at this time of year!

2) Cosy

I was so worried about my first sober winter, as I am affected badly by seasonal affective disorder and I worried that it might tip me back into drinking. With the help of Hygge, I had an amazing winter! This year I had forgotten my tactics for last year and the SAD hit me badly because it was unexpected! But more on that in a future post.

Hygge is the Danish concept of cosiness. It’s about being together with people you love, doing things together, sharing food together, lighting candles, mood lighting, and warmth. Things that would be needed to survive a Danish winter!

For me it was everything mentioned above but also watching good films, taking time to read books, having a warm bath before bed and doing some Yoga by candle light in the evening.

Cosiness is an act of self-love and self-care because you are taking the time to do things that make you feel amazing and rejuvenate you so you can deal with the long cold dark winter.

Bring on the fluffy PJs, slippers and tea!

For more on being Hygge have a look at the book that saved me during my first sober winter!

1) Let there be light!

Oh, the lights, the colour, the magic!

In this cold dark season, what could possibly be better than warming it up with colourful bright pretty lights?

I have always loved walking or driving around when it’s dark and enjoying the decorations.  Whether it is the lights on the houses or the trees on the street, the lights in town, the Christmas market lights or the glimpses on lights and Christmas trees in the windows of houses. It seems that more people are embracing the decoration of the outside of their houses and I thoroughly approve! (maybe not the inflatable Santas though!

I decorate our house to the max and it is the best feeling walking home from the bus or shop and seeing all warm colourful lights through the front window. I feel so insanely grateful for my home and family when I see it.

I have a multicoloured warm lights Christmas tree (don’t like the harsh LED bulbs that are most easily available – too cold!) so I have to seriously search for the ones I want which makes them more special! We have candles, pretty candles holders, fairy lights in all the house plants, beautiful wooden and German themed decorations. Everything we have has been bought with a special memory attached. My Christmas tree is full of decorations that my mother has bought me. She buys me one a year and the boys think they are the most precious ornaments and take great care of them (well maybe not The Baby!

To conclude

As you may be able to tell, Christmas is my favourite time of year! I spoilt it for so long with alcohol and I am happy that I will never do that again.

There are so many reasons to love Christmas that have nothing to do with alcohol.

Find the reasons that you love Christmas, try some of the things above, decide what you want from your festive time and focus on that – forget what you normally do, or what you are expected to do – find what you love and do that!

At Christmas the world sparkles and so can you.  

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.

How to practice gratitude

I have wanted to write about gratitude for quite a while now, but I think I have been putting it off. It is so easy (although scary) to write about your own life and what you have done, but when it comes to writing about ‘big ideas’, that horrible old imposter syndrome sets in, and I worry I won’t be able to write about it in a way that you will understand or that will make a difference to you. And this topic is so important that I really want you to give it a go and see how much happier your life can be.

On that note, have a read and if you think I’m talking nonsense then please don’t give up on the idea.  There is a lot of writing out there on gratitude, read a bit, read the books I’ve linked and just give gratitude a go for yourself – I promise you, with a little time and practice it will make all the difference in the world! 

What is gratitude

Gratitude has lots of different definitions, all of them focus on the idea of giving thanks for something.

For me, it is a feeling. I know that I am grateful when I get a warm glowing feeling in my stomach and the centre of my chest – my heart if you will. I know when I feel that, that there is something I feel grateful for.  

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What gratitude does

There was a big study carried out in 2003 which is always referenced when discussing gratitude. The study was called Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, by two guys in America called Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough.

What they found was that practicing gratitude has overwhelming physical and psychological effects.

People who practice gratitude have

  • Better sleep
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better ability to cope with stress, illness and adversity
  • More desire to exercise and take care of their health
  • Stronger relationships
  • More joy and pleasure

They are also

  • More optimistic
  • More resilient
  • Better able to cope with pain
  • less lonely and isolated
  • more forgiving
  • more helpful, generous and compassionate
  • happier (2,3)

They have written extensively since on the subject and I’ll put the links to their books at the bottom.

Why does gratitude work

So how is something as simple as gratitude a seeming panacea for so many ills?

Studies have shown that gratitude encourages us to focus on what is good in our lives. By doing so, it becomes very hard to focus on negative emotions. They almost cancel each other out. When something bad happens or when stress hits, if you are used to focusing on the positive, you will be less likely to be swallowed up by overwhelming life events. Gratitude forces us to see passed ourselves; it forces us to acknowledge that there is a world of goodness outside ourselves which allows us to feel a part of something bigger. Connection to something bigger has been shown time and time again to increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing, whereas isolation has been shown to increase feelings of depression. Feeling connected, gives you more feelings of self-worth.

When you feel grateful, you are truly in the moment, because you are feeling that moment.  Celebrating the present, prevents us from spending too much time focusing on the past or worrying about the future. If you are enjoying, and therefore grateful for, the present, you are not going to want to lose that feeling so you will focus more energy on being grateful for the present rather than taking it for granted. Seeing the things in your life to be grateful for in the present, will lessen your desire to escape from the present.  Focusing on the present also forces you to let go of control and just accept what is.

Finally, it has been shown that people who are grateful have better relationships, personally and with their community.  They don’t take relationships for granted, are willing to express gratitude for their partner and are more willing to ‘pay it forward’, bringing the blessings and enjoyment to other people. (2)

How does gratitude work

For me it makes total sense. When looking at gratitude, what the studies show fits with all the things I have learned over the years through spiritual teachings and philosophy.

Louise Hay, author of You can heal your life, says that the universe supports us in everything we think. She says that what we give out we get back. Therefore, if we nurture our feelings of gratitude and give thanks for the good in our lives, then the universe will support our feelings and give us more good in our lives to be grateful for.

Deepak Chopra, author of the Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, says that the universe operates a dynamic exchange. This exchange means that we get more of what we give out, positive or negative. So, if you focus on what you are grateful for you will have more to be grateful for. He also teaches that focusing on the present, rather than worrying about your past (which you cannot change) or trying to control your future (which you cannot do), allows the energy of the universe to continue its flow. As previously said, this flow will take with it what you are focusing on in the present, positive or negative.

Zen philosophy teaches us to cultivate gratitude for everything you have and everything you have been given by nature and by your ancestors. It teaches that the most happiness is found in gratitude for the smallest, most ordinary things. For more on this read Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life

Spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, writes that there is nothing but the Now. You have everything you need right now, worrying about the past and future does nothing but block your ability to live in and enjoy the present. Not living in the moment increases feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, depression and anxiety. Gratitude allows you to be more in the present, thereby countering these feelings. 

The science of gratitude

However, recently it is not just spiritual teachers and philosophers who are amazed by the profound positive effects of gratitude. The University of California, Los Angeles has stated that gratitude changes the ‘molecular structure of the brain’ and people who are grateful are ‘more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant’. The University of California, Berkeley analysed people’s brains using an MRI scanner while they were undertaking activities which induced gratitude – such as writing gratitude letters and giving money when they felt grateful. The scanner showed that gratitude activated areas of the brain related to social understanding, empathy, stress relief and pleasure. The Institute of HeartMath, also in California, examined heart rhythms and signals in people experiencing gratitude  and found that this positive emotional state induced a more ordered and stable heart rhythm which reflected the signals travelling from the heart to the brain, supporting higher cognitive function (4,5).

How does gratitude will help your sobriety

So much of the time we are drinking to escape the past or escape worry about the future. Often, we are stuck in a situation that we don’t want to be in and therefore use alcohol to escape. We use alcohol to escape from pain, depression and anxiety. We can feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. I often drank to escape, but I also drank to give myself a moments respite from the overwhelming responsibility I felt to control and be in control of everything. 

Feeling gratitude can help us to find the good in the now, enjoy the now, and therefore lose the need to escape. It can also help us to let go of the past, let go of worry about the future and let go of the need to control everything.

In early sobriety, we can sometimes feel lots of negative emotions, and looking for the good in our lives will allow us to direct some positive energy into our sober journey. Focusing only on the negative will often lead to a relapse as you convince yourself that there is no good in your life, so you need alcohol to manage.

Feeling gratitude for our new sobriety will help us to not take it for granted. From hearing many experiences, it is usually when we start taking our sobriety for granted, that we can more easily slip back into old drinking ways.

How to practice gratitude

Gratitude, like anything, is a practice to be cultivated. Like sobriety, exercise, yoga, music, art, meditation, it isn’t something that you will suddenly be able to do with no practice. You brain has old habitual pathways that it likes to follow (see Am I an alcoholic? for more on this). We can retrain these pathways or make new pathways, but it takes practice to convince our brain to follow the new route, rather than the older easier one.  If you have spent a lot of your life worrying, anxious and focusing on the negatives, it will take a little time to get used to focusing on gratitude. My point is, don’t give up if it doesn’t come naturally straight away.

Here are some ideas for how to practice gratitude.

Most often people talk about writing a gratitude journal. This can be carving out a small part of your day to think about and write down what you have felt grateful for, or it can be carrying a small notebook with you and writing down times that you feel grateful. Personally, I use my phone. I have a note section in my phone and when I feel grateful, I write down what’s happening at the time that I feel grateful.

Other people will take time at the start or the end of the day to do a short meditation and give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Some people do it through prayer.

Some people keep a gratitude jar. They write down things they are grateful for on a small piece of paper and add it to the jar.

Couples, or people in close relationships, can write gratitude letters to each other as a way of saying thank you and showing their appreciation for the other person. This has been shown to have a hugely positive effect on relationships. Or you can just take time to say to the person what you are grateful for.

The important thing is to feel the gratitude. It is easy to say I grateful for this or that, especially the things that you feel you ‘should’ be grateful for, but it won’t have those positive lasting effects if you don’t actually feel the gratitude. Next time you feel grateful try to be aware of how your body feels, so that you know what gratitude feels like for you. As I said, for me it is a warm glowing feeling in my stomach and the centre of my chest.

I’ll just give you an example of some of the things I have felt grateful for.

Walking across the field near my house to the bus stop at 5.45am on my way to work. The field is a big, open green expanse and surrounded by trees that rustle in the wind. The sun is rising and the streaks of pinky purple are lining the sky. I am grateful for the beautiful natural spaces so close to home.

The beauty of my children when they are asleep. Their breathing and the relaxed peace on their faces. I am so grateful for their lives and their health.

Getting out of my car after a night shift, the sun is rising and I can see all the different colours of sunrise reflected in the windows of the houses nestled in the trees on the hill opposite. I feel grateful to come back to a warm home, a sense of fulfilment at finishing a shift in a job I love and the knowledge that I can kiss my family and get into a cosy bed for a well-earned sleep.

I feel grateful for the rain splashing onto a dark road reflecting the streetlights when I’m sheltering in a bus stop. I feel grateful for the first bite of the warm mince pies at Christmas. I feel grateful for my warm coffee as I sit in the town market square waiting for my bus. I feel grateful for the glitter of frost on the road, grass and cars that makes everything look precious.  I feel grateful for any delicious food.

Last, and definitely not least, I feel grateful for the unconditional love I receive from my husband and my mother, even when I am at my grumpiest and most objectionable. My glowing feeling swells when my mother tells me she is proud of me and even a little bit when she is disapproving of my latest hairbrained scheme, because I know she is proud of those too (if also totally terrified by most of them!).

It is so easy to take your closest relationships for granted, but even when we are a little bit like ships that pass in the night, there are moments when the love I feel for and from my husband, ignites the glowing feelings and I grab onto them because they are the most special.

How to practice gratitude when things suck 

Whilst I stand by my comment that it is important to feel the gratitude, it can also be good to “fake it until you make it” at times.

As I said, gratitude is a practice. The more you practice it, the easier it is to be grateful. Initially, you may only find one thing to be grateful about, but make sure you feel grateful about that, and then keep looking for any other good things. The more you look, the more you will eventually find; and the more you understand how you feel gratitude, the easier it will become to feel.

Make sure you look for things to be grateful about in yourself. This is a great practice in self-love, learning to appreciate the good things about you. Sign up for my course below to find out more about the importance of loving yourself.

If you have been practicing gratitude and you start to hit a bleak spot again – like any new practice or habit, you are going to have ups and downs on your journey – then go back to your journal or phone or gratitude jar, and read what your felt grateful for. If you truly felt the gratitude at the time, the memories stirred will reignite the warm glowing feeling and make it easier for you to get back on track.

Everyone struggles to maintain good practices sometimes, but it does get easier with practice. Remember that just because you have slipped back into old habits, it does not mean that all the work that has gone in before is wasted. Use the bank of gratitude memories to help you on those darker days.

Reading list:

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References:

  1. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf
  2. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
  3. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition
  4. https://www.collective-evolution.com/2019/02/14/scientists-show-how-gratitude-literally-alters-the-human-heart-molecular-structure-of-the-brain/
  5. https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/

What is a SOBER RAVE like?

This is a question I asked myself many times before heading off to my first sober rave for Halloween. I have raved many times in my life, all with alcohol, usually ending in a blur and a hangover. To be fair, I wasn’t sure what a rave was really like due to the alcohol distortion.

So, Halloween 2019 and 18 months sober seemed like a good time to find out.

I haven’t had a night out since I became sober. I don’t get that many as a mother of 3 anyway, but a sober night in town seemed way too scary!  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had nights at social dances, nights at a festival (See Greenman Festival – Sober!) and parties; but never just a night out for a night outs sake.

I kept asking myself what the point of a night out was. I mean, why do we go out on a Friday night into town? I was impelled to go to this one for two reasons, firstly to tell you about it and secondly to support my local sober bar (also because My Love loves dressing up for Halloween and I love dressing up full stop!)

Yet the more sober events we have and the more normal we can make being sober, the easier it will be for so many people who are struggling with their relationship with alcohol to feel that they have a choice not to drink.

I had a think about what I wanted from the evening (see How to party sober at Halloween). I have always adored dancing. More recently I’ve taken up Ballroom and Latin dancing, but I still have that desire to just boogie around randomly to music. I also wanted an excuse to dress up, because there are far too few of those once you are a mother! I wanted a night out with My Love (see note above!) and l also wanted to meet people like me; people who had fought through their own battles to make positive changes in their life, especially by becoming sober. Maybe this night would lay the groundwork for some friendships and some local community.

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So, Friday began. 1st November not the 31st October but hey ho, close enough to still call it Halloween. My boys had just come back from a week away on Halloween and we’d gone all out with the dressing up, trick or treating, party games and food. I love celebrations and I love making the children happy, but mix the evening with bickering older children and wilful toddler and I was feeling slightly fraught already.

My boys on Halloween

Friday came and I wanted to take the boys to see the Adams Family (something that, to My Love’s horror, I have never seen). I had been mentioning for a few days that something didn’t seem right with the gears of the car and My Love had made jokes about my dodgy driving. While driving up the hill to the cinema, the gears gave up completely and we couldn’t move on a tiny road, uphill. My Love, still not entirely believing me, took over the driving and we eventually limped our way to a 3-hour parking spot near(ish) to the cinema. My Love was all up for sacking off the cinema and taking the car to a garage straight away, but I had got everyone out to the cinema so to the cinema we would go!

The film was fun, and The Baby was sat remarkably well while munching through a bag of popcorn. Afterwards, My Love got the car to a garage with the conclusion that the clutch had gone and I would be carless until Monday, with all the post half term, paid for activities starting again the next day (not to mention £400 down). Starting to feel slightly more fraught, I got the children into town on the bus and thought, while I’m here I’ll make it worthwhile and get their bus passes. Turns out that at 9 and 11 years old, they looked far too like 19 to be to get an under 19s bus pass without passports!

Needing to get the bus home, it was approaching 5pm by this point. The children hadn’t eaten and were getting ansy. I was still trying to work out how to, without a car, get my children to my mother’s in the sticks (she was having all 3 for a sleep over on proviso that I came after the sober rave to looks after the Bear’s blood sugars in the night), get home, dress up, get to town, party sober and get back to the sticks. Not to put it mildly, I had lost the will. It seemed that the universe clearly did not want me to attend this rave. Do you know why I went? Because I had promised you, my lovely reader, that I would. If I couldn’t just suck it up and make it happen, what kind of example was I?! And thank you for the incentive, it was so worth it!

My mother kindly picked up and fed the boys. She automatically said, make sure you eat, you need to line your stomach, which made me laugh! My Love and I then did a quick rush job to get the face paints on. Thank goodness for Snazaroo face paints, they glide on and off with no fuss – about the only thing of the day that was not a fuss!

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We jumped on the bus, frightening a few small children as we went and finally made it, at 8pm to the sober rave. We arrived on time, but early for a rave, for two reasons; our last bus to the sticks was at 10.55pm (so not long really), and sober people tend to follow their bodies natural rhythms more and don’t want to stay out until crazy o’clock. Also I had no idea if I was going to hate it and want to escape!

My Love – quick Snazaroo job!

I had started to cheer up a bit and to feel nervous, now that we had made it, but were greeted warmly on the door of Café Sobar by the manager in a captain’s hat and smoking jacket – it suited him well. Morticia stood behind him (I now recognised who Morticia was). It was quiet but still a good few tables full.

I looked around at everyone, mostly in full fancy dress, and wondered what they were hoping for from the evening. Some were lively and loud in big groups, still tottering on 6 inch heels – my desire for those died years ago! Some were in couples, some sat alone. I couldn’t help but feel amazed by those sitting alone. Yes, probably waiting for someone, but to arrive alone, in fancy dress and sit waiting with no alcohol, cigarette, book, phone or tablet to hide behind is something I would never be brave enough to do, so hats off to you.

We started with a Rose Lemonade and J20. Chatting, but in that slightly awkward ‘we’re here on a date, sober, in a rave, unsure of what to do, so better make conversation’ kind of way. The dance floor was empty but the 90s tunes started belting out from two DJs so I thought, ‘I’ve come to dance so I’d better start now!’ I did wonder if the 90s choice was due to the number of people who are now sober but were probably boozing away at school in the 90s – seemed like it was very much the thing then!

My Love dances beautifully in formal dances but doesn’t feel so comfortable with the boogying so he took a while to warm up, but I am so grateful to him for joining in. For me, it came back like I was still at a school disco. I was throwing myself around and loving every minute. Some single dancers joined the floor – I loved the guy in full colourful tie-dye and the male policeman in a skirt, boots and fishnets with huge muscles!

Harlequin, the sad clown, the bad fairy and some amazing blue wigged costume laughed and smiled from behind the bar, serving fizzy drinks, teas, mocktails and smoothies with a dab hand. Funnily enough, I didn’t want lots to drink. Not surprising really as, although I was dehydrating myself with the dancing, that doesn’t even come close to the alcohol dehydration. I had a rose lemonade, cup of tea, some of My Love’s avocado smoothie (sounded dreadful but was light, fruity, gingery and delicious!). I did have a full sugar coke near the end because it turns out my mother was right, I should have eaten more before dancing solidly for 3 hours!

90s made way for techno/trance – sorry if I’m completely wrong on that but hey, you weren’t there so I’ll definitely say it was one of them!! This was around 10pm and the floor was pretty much full. An incredible array of costumes had arrived from a full wedding sari to a beautiful Maleficent. A Donald Trump mask kept popping up next to me as I spun around, scaring the bejesus out of me!

The beats swept through me on the floor and my body seemed to know how I was supposed to move. I pondered that it must be similar to the ‘om’ chant in yoga; the vibrations are on a level your body and mind respond to it naturally and it can be felt by everyone on the floor. It was wonderful to be sober and aware of how much I was being swept up by the music. Also being sober, I could appreciate the skill of the DJs keeping the floor full and moving. This guy had it.

I wondered whether everyone on the floor was so friendly because they all knew each other or just because they had equally succumbed to the music. It didn’t seem to matter either way, maybe these smiles and this shared experience would start new friendships later down the line, at subsequent sober events (or may not if they don’t recognise me without all the face paint!)

As I was getting tired and thinking about heading bus wards, I was jumped by my niece and then more sedately by the nephew and sister. Turn out the 3rd DJ was my nephew DJing teacher who was there to do a set and support his sober friend (small world but growing community). I was so happy to see them and, tiredness forgotten, the boogying started all over again. My nephew looked hugely uncomfortable and said he hadn’t got his sober dancing shoes yet. Whilst this is such a common feeling for so many, he told me that he was impressed that all these people were dancing so freely while completely sober. I felt really happy to have shown him this, because these small moments can impact what we consider normal. For him, dancing always has to include alcohol, but maybe, having seen so many sober people raving, he’ll question that assumption.

For me, I loved every minute of my first Sober Rave and cannot wait for the next one. For me it really is about the dancing and the music (and the dressing up!). If music and dancing are not your thing, the maybe look for a different sober activity that you love.

Thank you to all the team at Café Sobar Nottingham for such a fab event and for all your hard work making the night such fun. Also thanks to DJs Es Vedra, Blimey O’Reilly, Chubz & Nukem and Charlie Four Four.

How to party sober at Halloween

Halloween themed food

Any festive time, such as Halloween, can seem daunting, particularly we’re first sober. Worries about drinking, triggers and social anxiety can all overwhelm the occasion, making what is supposed to be fun, no fun at all.

Do not despair! And do not give up! If you are newly sober, you have already done the hard bit. You have stopped drinking which is an achievement and act of self-love of epic proportions. The rest is just practice and resetting habits and neural pathways, hard at first but much easier as you go on (see Am I an alcoholic? and How to stop alcohol cravings for more on this)

If you haven’t yet, and you want to or you’re just reassessing your relationship with alcohol then have a look at some of my other blog posts such as

But I promise you the more you practice celebrations, the easier they becomes. And sober celebrations really will be fun again!

So, what will Halloween 2019 hold for you? Going out with friends? Staying in with family? Either way can be sober and awesome.

If you are heading out to town or a party, usually alcohol will abound at these types of events. You are forewarned, so now let’s make sure you are forearmed! Here are 7 tips for a fab sober Halloween.

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Halloween tip 1 – If you do not want to go, do not go!

Pumpkin carving

Do you want to go out? Now this may seem silly as you’ve probably already decided that you are going, but just check with yourself. Do a little breathing exercise. Breathe in for 5 and out for 5. Concentrate only on the feeling of your breath going in and out. Breathe as slowly as is comfortable.

When you are feeling relaxed, thing about your Halloween activity. In this quiet space, your real feelings about this activity will surface. Do you feel a knot of anxiety in your stomach or a clutch of fear in your chest? Do you feel an excited buzz? Is it a mixture of both? Once you have established your feeling towards your activity, you need to break it down a bit more. It is unlikely that there will be no worries, so try to dig a bit deeper and find out which part is worrying you most.

Here are examples of some worries

  1. Will I drink?
  2. What will I say when someone asks me why I’m not drinking?
  3. What will I say when someone offers me a drink?
  4. I feel silly dressing up
  5. I won’t know anyone
  6. I don’t like dancing

If you can find out which part is worrying you most, you can do some work prior to heading out to tackle those worries. More on this in the following Halloween tips

The upshot is, if you prospect of your Halloween activity is filling you with all out dread, or even filling you with anxiety for every aspect you have analysed, then don’t go. What on earth says that you have to go anywhere that makes you feel that way? If people think it’s strange, so what? Why does their opinion matter? If their opinion does matter to you, or you think they might be upset, then be honest with them. If it’s too early for honesty with this person or you think they won’t understand, this might be the time to have an honest look at this relationship and what is holding you back.  This is you looking after you, which, in your early sobriety, is THE most important thing to do.

You are vulnerable at this point and putting yourself in a position that causes you stress and anxiety will increase your vulnerability and increase the likelihood that you will drink. 

Halloween tip 2 – To drink or not to drink?

The Bot Halloween 2018

Like I have said, this is vulnerable time for you, and going out, surrounded by alcohol, can make you feel so much more vulnerable.

The question of will you drink boils down to a number of factors, which I am looking to address in this blog. A large part though, is that you have to not want to drink. Like the tip above, if you’re feeling that you shouldn’t drink, but actually you want to, maybe avoid the occasion all together. Don’t risk your sobriety when you have done so well. Maybe accept sitting this one out and try again next year when your sobriety is more secure.

So many people get totally freaked out by the idea that they may have to justify why they are not drinking. Unfortunately, this is often the case. I love the quote by Jolene Park, author or the website greyareadrinkers.com.

“Alcohol is the only drug in the world that you have to justify not taking”

Because, although it is madness, it’s true! The justification opens up a huge can of worms and all the hushed ‘are you an alcoholic?’ questions or the ‘you’re not that bad’ comments. Completely no one elses business, but unfortunately most drinkers don’t see it that way!

So, if someone offers you a drink, have a plan. Know beforehand what drink you are going to ask for, don’t even give yourself the option. If you are more comfortable drinking alcohol free alternatives, then drink those. I drank these a lot in the beginning and bars are getting a much wider selection – do your research before you go! If you’re at a party bring your own supplies. These are my favourites and they are 0%. I don’t like to even try the 0.05% or 0.5% but that’s just me (these links earn me a little commission – sorry to my friends across the pond but couldn’t seem to find US links that weren’t extortionate so you you’ll have to go to see what your local supermarket has).

Personally find the gin alternatives revolting but lots of people swear by it, the link is below.

Seedlip non alcoholic spirit

Alternatively, Sainsburys and Tesco have a good choice. Sorry if you are not UK based, I’m not sure about supermarkets abroad, although I know Carrefour in Italy sells 0% Birra Moretti!

Also, prepare a set answer for the ‘Why aren’t you drinking’ question. Could you drive to the event? Perfect get out of jail free card right there and a warm, easy ride home! If not, ‘I’m not antibiotics’ is an option. If you are more comfortable to be open, you can use the sober curious reason or I’m doing Sober October or I’m training for a marathon! Loads of reasons, just pick one for the night so you are not sidelined by the question.

I’m quite open if asked now. I say alcohol gave me anxiety, it doesn’t agree with my stomach and it is incompatible with raising 3 children and working. All completely true and although I get some odd looks, my choice is rarely questioned.

Halloween tip 3 – Go with support  

Vegetable Skeleton

It is so much easier to feel stronger and braver when you have someone at your side. Find someone who knows about your choice and is happy to come along and back you up in your decision. Parties can be scary, especially if there are lots of people you don’t know. One of the reasons most often given for drinking is social anxiety, (see Why do people drink?) so why put yourself in a position that made you want to drink in the first place!

Have a signal with your support for when you need an escape. It is very likely that at some point you’ll be in a conversation you don’t want to be in – whether because it’s controversial, awkward, dull or the other person is now so drunk they can’t speak – so have a back up plan. Signal your support, get another drink (alcohol free!) or go to the loo. Don’t feel you have to stick it out, they probably won’t remember anyway!

Halloween tip 4 – Don’t do what make you uncomfortable

The Bear Halloween 2018

Feeling uncomfortable makes you more vulnerable, so as well as the tips above, assess what makes you uncomfortable.

There is no earthly reason that you should dress up, dance or join in games. Remember – ‘could not should’! You can do anything but you do not have to do anything.

I often get the feeling that I’m going to go somewhere and be the only person dressed up. It always make me nervous. Not very likely at Halloween but if you’re worried, go in normal clothes and bring your dress up stuff with you – simple!

I personally adore dancing and games, but I know it is a no go area for many people without alcohol, so be true to yourself and do what is right for you. Phones are an amazing excuse to avoid many situations you don’t want to be in.

Halloween tip 5 – What do you want?

Me party 1 2019

So much focus can be taken up by avoiding what you don’t want to be involved in, but equally importantly, what do you want to be involved in.

Why are you going in the first place? What do you want to get out of the evening? As I said, I love dancing, so a dance space with good music is pretty much my only reason for going out ever! I also love dressing up and there are just not enough excuses to dress up once you are a mother.

But your reason could be to have fun with friends, or meet some new friends, or meet a new prospective partner. Whatever the reason, surely it is better to have this experience sober so that firstly, it is the real you that people are meeting or having fun with and secondly, that it is an experience you will remember. No hangovers, no guilt, no regrets, no embarrassment and if you’re lucky enough to meet someone – you’ll remember whatever transpires!!

If you’re not sure, use the breathing exercise above to find out what it is that you want to get out of the event. Consider what you used to enjoy at parties when you were a child, there will be some pre-drinking memory somewhere! Once you know, breathe deeply and picture how you want the evening to go. Stick to the positives here because visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool and you can change your experience of the event by using it.

Halloween tip 6 – Exit plan

The baby Halloween party 2019

Plan when and how you are going to arrive, but more importantly, have a plan for how you are going to escape!

You need to ensure that you can leave whenever you are ready to. If you feel stuck, your vulnerability will increase. For this reason, make sure you know how you are getting home (driving is perfect!), and try not to rely on anyone else for transportation, as you will then have to check they are happy to leave too.

Don’t ever feel you have to stay to the bitter end. One of the joys of sobriety is that your body is back in a healthy routine and it knows when it is tired and when it wants to wake up. If we start messing with this natural rhythm, and start getting tired, we make ourselves vulnerable. Most sober people will be looking for bed at 10 or 11pm – so go with what your body tells you not what you ‘should’ do.

So, that’s the end of the how to party sober at Halloween when you are out and about tips. Let’s have a brief look at how to party sober at Halloween at home.

The tips above can all be easily translated to apply to celebrating at home, for example:

  • Party? Trick or treating? – Don’t celebrate if you don’t want to
  • Don’t invite people you don’t want to be there
  • Have a reason that you’re not drinking
  • Know that you can escape to your room or the loo if you need a minute
  • Give the party a clear end time – maybe an afternoon children’s party?
  • Plan the party to do what you want to do and what you are comfortable with

I’m loving Halloween more and more in the last few years, especially since becoming sober. Before that I’d only really celebrated it as a child. This, interestingly, made a few things more obvious, as I hadn’t had that time to grow used to alcohol at Halloween. I had memories of childhood Halloweens and then memories of starting those traditions with my children a few years ago. But alcohol had never been a part of childhood Halloween so I couldn’t understand why our celebrations didn’t feel quite right – almost like I was quaffing back the prosecco with any excuse – which of course I was.

It is way more comfortable sober, because ultimately, I am doing it for the children. We decorate the house, do fancy dress, paint faces, carve pumpkins, make Halloween themed food and set up Halloween games like apple bobbing and pear hanging. I never went trick or treating as a child, so we don’t either, but we have everything set up for the trick or treaters that come our way – surprise doorbell, silly string and sweets. Where does prosecco fit into that?

If you are celebrating at home, try to enjoy yourself but most of all, try to enjoy other people’s enjoyment.

Halloween tip 7 – Be proud of your achievement 

Whatever you do this Halloween, be proud of your achievement. If you went out or had a party and stayed sober – that is phenomenal! So many huge pats on the back for you. Add it to your growing list of things to feel awesomely proud of.

If you decided not to celebrate, that is a brave and courageous act of self-love. In the end it is about you and your sobriety. It is not selfish, it is necessary. There is always the next year or the next celebration, when you can reassess what you can handle.

If you tried and slipped up, don’t beat yourself up. It is all a journey forward. No matter how disappointed you might be that you didn’t stay sober, you still tried and that is incredible. That shows you are on the right path, but just need to do a little more work to get there

See my other posts (links below) for more on this work.

Your journey to being happy celebrating sober, is like everything in your sober journey, one step forward at a time. Each step forward gets you a little closer to your goal.

I’m going to my first sober rave on Friday 1st November in the town centre. I have not been for a night out in town for years, and especially not a sober one. I am going with my husband you there won’t be many people I know – I did ask some friends, but no one seemed that keen when I mentioned the word sober! In my next post I’ll let you know all about it  xx  

How to survive and thrive as a sober mum

So, we have reached the final post in my four-part post on mums and alcohol. If you have missed any and my content resonates with you then please follow the links below.

The first post, Why do mums drink? Looks at the reasons that mums feel that they want or need to have a drink.

The second post looks at the problems associated with the societally accepted mummy wine culture that is so prevalent currently. Read that post here.

The penultimate post aims to show mums who are struggling with booze, all the benefits of not drinking and how much better off they can be without it. That post is Why mums DO NOT need to drink

In this final post, I want to show you that you can not only survive as a sober mum but you can thrive way beyond your expectations! 

Before you dismiss this as impossible, let me reassure you that I am living, breathing proof of this! I am a mother of 3 boys. I drank for 22 years and for 12 years I tried to quit. I believed there must just be something wrong with me that I couldn’t do it, when other people seemed to be able to. I also thought that if I did, I’d be unhappy and craving for the rest of my life.

Please let me reassure you, that now, at nearly 18 months sober, I have never looked back and I have never been happier. I am also craving free!

This post is not going to go into detail about how to quit. Instead I want to show you how you can manage being a mum while sober, and that when you are a sober mum, your life will be so much better and happier.

If you are still struggling with quitting drinking, I have some other posts that will help.

How to Quit drinking, is obviously the big post with practical tips about how to quit once you have decided that you want to. However, it is never quite that easy and there is groundwork that you need to commit to first.

Seeing alcohol for what it really is often helps people to realise that in reality it is not what they need – see How to beat the alcohol illusion for more on this.

The fear of cravings really put me off trying to quit for good, so have a read of How to stop alcohol cravings to find out how you can be craving free.

However, if you feel that you are physically addicted, by which I mean experiencing shakes, sweating, vomiting or uncontrollable irritability, please contact a health professional to discuss your needs.

How to survive as a sober mum

Tackle loneliness

Being a mum can be such a lonely time, and being a mum struggling with a problem with alcohol that you don’t feel like you can talk about, can be the loneliest feeling in the world.

If you feel there are people you can talk to then do talk to them. But if you are not keen, find some non-drinking friends to talk to. Social Media in great for this. I have met incredible people through Instagram, who are all on their own alcohol-free journey, and happy to share and talk. There are also loads on Facebook and places like Join Club Soda have a private group where you can air all your struggles and receive support and advise from fellow members.

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Also, you could join One Year No Beer and meet people who are similarly reassessing their relationship with alcohol. Or, if you are feeling brave, there are more and more sober cafés and sober events popping up. Find one and go along, find someone who will go with you to make it less daunting initially. My husband and I are off to our first sober rave for Halloween this year in our towns sober bar.

Community is often what will give you the strength to finally get to where you want to be. Be aware that you may lose people along the way but do not let this put you off! Sometimes we have to lose in some places to gain in others, and the friends that you make on your sober journey will be the ones who have your back.

Parenting jobs

So that’s outside life sorted, what about at home? Parenting is hard. More often than not as mums, we just keep going and going, and it can be completely overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. We need to break stuff up into bits, and then find out which the problem bits actually are. Try to really think about you day and what you actually do. Then as you are doing each thing assess how you feel when doing it. There unfortunately is no escape from some parenting jobs no matter how much we hate them! Washing has to be done, meals have to be cooked and the house needs to be cleaned.

This is an example that worked for me.

I loathe cleaning. I have said this before that hey ho! I did have a cleaner for while but working part time with 3 children I couldn’t really justify the expense. But if you can, (your drinking probably cost more than £20 a week!) the go for it!

I found every time I had to clean I ended up furious with everyone and everything! So I broke everything down. I realised that I actually I have no issue tidying I just hate actual cleaning. Then I broke it down further and realised that doing it all at once was just too much. So I broke each job down onto different days. On the days I don’t have a shift I’ll clean either the bathroom, or hoover downstairs, or clean the kitchen, but not all together. By doing this, each cleaning job takes less than 20 minutes, so not overwhelming, and it all gets done pretty painlessly. My worst job seems to be hoovering upstairs, so I make sure that I do it at a time where I am not feeling stressed or tired, but also that I get it out of the way as soon as possible!

It seems simple, but it is so easy to let everything become a massive overwhelming black whole when really, it’s all just little manageable bits put together. Just put them together differently in a way that works for you!

This will help so much later when it comes to nurturing yourself, which I talk more about it the next section.

Routine

It also helped me to find a routine that works with the children. Children usually respond really well to routine They want their freedom and independence, but routine helped them to feel safe, because they know what is coming and what is expected.

We have a routine where we use a 10 minute musical timer for The Baby to dress himself in the morning. It works, mostly, and the big boys love it too – they know it’s nearly time to leave and they know what they have to do.

In the evening, after supper, the boys (usually) clear the table, my husband and I will take turns for who does the washing up and who washes The Baby, and then I will read stories and he’ll go to sleep with his train nightlight and classic FM. My eldest goes to sleep every night with the fan and a low string of fairy lights.

I have found, if every member of the family understands of the rules of the game, it all becomes so much easier to manage!

You don’t always need to follow your plan or get frustrated if you don’t, you can just have it in the background as a fall back. But ultimately do what works for you, assessing how you feel and how your children are responding as you go.

Take time for yourself

Part of having a routine is ensuring that there is time for you. It is so important, as I have mentioned so many times, to have regular time for yourself! I will talk more about nurturing yourself in the next section but make sure every day, you routinely fit some ‘you time’ into the day.

When your ‘you time’ is routine, it will have become so normal that taking emergency time for yourself, when things are going wrong, will not seem too alien and you will know what you need to do with that time, whether that is have a bath, have a cup of tea, listen to music, paint, breath, yoga – whatever works for you.

Share the mental load

This isn’t really optional but can be extremely difficult.

Mental load is the idea that as mothers, we have everything for every family member going on in our heads. Not just the day to day household and parenting jobs, but we know who has homework for when, who has a doctors appointment, who needs what for a class trip, when they last saw the dentist, whose shoes are getting to small, who has what extracurricular class and what they need. Often this mental load includes partners as well as children. In my first marriage, there was an explosion because I had put the ironed shirt in the wrong drawer and he would have had to open a different draw to find it! Thinking more kindly, your partner just might not realise exactly what you have to juggle; so talk about it. It’s about your partner learning that they are equally responsible for the family mental load and are not there to ‘help you’ – they are there to share it all with you.

If you have no idea what I am talking about then have a read of this amazing comic that explains it all!

Manage your expectations

Realise that most of what you see on social media or in photographs or at church are just the good bits among all the same shit that you have to deal with on a daily basis. We really are all in the same boat! Be realistic about what family life is, one big messy, hopefully love filled, mess.

Manage your frustrations

I have mentioned that being a mum can often be frustrating because it isn’t the picture of the life you imagined, and it is hard once you are a mum to achieve the things that you hoped to achieve. If you are struggling with this, have a read of my posts How to build a life you do not want to escape from and Change your thoughts to change your life.

Bad days

Expect and accept that there will be bad days, emotional days, tough times, difficult stages. Everyone in a family is just a human with all the ups and downs that humans go through. Accept that a bad day or two or three doesn’t make you a bad mum. Again, you are human not superhuman. You children have shocking days and you still love them unconditionally, so your bad days won’t make them love you any less. Yes, you are an adult, and may have slightly more control over your emotions and reactions, but in reality, this often isn’t the case and being an adult doesn’t make you superhuman either.

There will be hard times but it’s ok – you will be ok.

How to thrive as a sober mum

Consciously nurture yourself

I cannot say this enough. Find something that fulfils you and brings you joy and do it every day. I love reading, I love yoga, I love meditating, I love watching a crime series episode at the end of the night, I love having a bath, I love writing this blog. Make sure, without fail, you put your small bit of time aside every day. It helps to nurture your soul and remind you who you are.  It gives you an non-alcohol related break in the circle of parenting life.

Find the activities you love

Don’t do things just because you feel like you should. I used to hate going to the play park, so don’t force yourself to go. Your children and you will both be aware that you’re not enjoying it.

Find the activities that you do enjoy and that you can enjoy together. We love cycling – this can be a big day out in clumber park with a picnic, or just a short cycle in the park. Equally, I realised that although I hate the play park in the day, I love it in the evening! Sunsets in summer, getting dark and the lights coming on in the winter. I love reading to my children. I used to see this as a school related chore, but we have put school stuff aside and I read what we’ve chosen together.

Try lots of different things but remember to assess your feelings as you go because then you know how you are genuinely feeling.

Exercise

I have talked about exercise a lot, and I also talk about it in my free 7 days to feel better about yourself course which you can sign up for below. It is too big a topic to broach here, and I will write a proper post about it soon.

But exercise, along with other health benefits, gives you some space, increases your confidence, improves your mood, increases your ability to cope, boosts your happy hormones and generally makes you feel amazing!

Don’t be put off. There will be an exercise that you love, you just have a try a few out to find it. Also, the first two weeks are usually a bit ugh, but your fitness and stamina will improve quickly and it will all become easier – I promise!!

Time

We can be so overwhelmed with parenting that we sometimes miss the whole point of it! Your children need your time and attention, but they don’t need it all the time. They want their own time to do their own thing too. So compromise. Give them your full attention at some point during each day, it doesn’t have to be for long, but they definitely know whether they have your attention for not. By doing this, your children are happy that they have had concentrated mummy time, and you don’t feel guilty about taking the time for yourself or for whatever else you need to do.

Practice gratitude

This is such a important topic that my next post will be all about gratitude. But gratitude is a practice. Sometimes it come naturally, but there are days when we can feel that we have nothing to be grateful for or if we say we are its not sincere. By looking every day to find even one thing to be grateful for, we build up a bank to things that we are grateful for, which we can drawn on on those crappy days. The more we feel grateful, the more there is to be grateful for. Gratitude is exponential.

Why it is so much better being a sober mum

To conclude, being a sober mum is a real and frightening experience. All those emotions and experiences to deal with! No hiding behind anything. But facing these experiences sober will give you so much strength and self-respect. These things are self-perpetuating and the more you face, the more you realise you can manage, the better and more secure you will feel.

For you and your children, you will share love, closeness and time. Your time together will be more enjoyable and more memorable.

Ultimately, as a sober mum, I am a happier mum.

Why mums DO NOT need to drink

Welcome to part 3 of my four-part mums and booze post.

Looking around supermarkets, online or in bookshops it is only too easy to see that the overarching theme is that mums need to drink. I am not criticising this as such, I have written in the first part of this post series, Why do mums drink?, about the stresses and strains that can come with being a mum, I completely get the need to feel like your doing OK. I was the first one to say that I needed a drink to cope with life and being a mum. The problem is that alcohol was a totally destructive force in my life, and destructive to my health, my mental health and my ability to cope with life and being a mum. It did the exact opposite of what I needed it to do.

I am absolutely not challenging or criticising mums here, I am just trying to reach out to those mums who feel like they are alone in their struggle with motherhood and alcohol and say, ‘Hey, you are strong enough to manage everything in your life and I want to show you how!’.  In next weeks post I will go through how you can not only survive but thrive as a sober mum!

But for this week, I want to look at why mums DO NOT need a drink.

No hangovers!

I am not sure that this need any further explanation. Who would not like to never have a hangover again?!

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Better physical health

Not to mention reducing the risk of a whole host of health problems as you get older, not drinking will make you feel so much better immediately. No hangovers, no dehydration and not full of toxins – let’s face it these make you feel pretty dreadful! You will sleep better and have more energy – who doesn’t need more of these things as a mum!

More energy means you are more likely to exercise.

So, let’s look at the health benefits of better sleep and more exercise. Both are shown individually to

  • Improve mood
  • Improve memory
  • Increase energy
  • Aid weight loss
  • Reduce the risk of ill health and chronic disease
  • Reduce pain
  • Improve the health of your brain, heart, bones, muscles and skin

Imagine what they do together! It’s a kind of self-perpetuating good cycle. It is basically the opposite of what alcohol does to us!

Better mental health

As you can see, a better physical state will lead to improved mental health. Definitely something that would help a lot of mums.

Depression rates are high among mums, for many reasons (see Why do mums drink?) and anxiety is rife. Modern life is almost designed to make mums feel like they cannot cope. These feelings affect our sense of self worth and our confidence in a negative spiral.

I know I suffered badly from depression, post and antenatal depression and anxiety. Then I added to it the shame, guilt and remorse I felt about my drinking.

So much time was spent in my head battling with these feelings. Most often, the overwhelming empty blackhole feeling would hit me around 4/5pm and I would drink to hide from it because it was so awful. I used to talk to My Love and say, maybe I just have to accept that my body and mind are designed to feel this way. But now, I absolutely know that it is no coincidence that since I quit drinking, I no longer have these feelings.

Obviously, I still get feelings and emotions. Obviously, I can still get a bit overwhelmed, but never in the same way and I never feel like I am being consumed and can’t handle it.

What I didn’t expect, and I’m sorry if I’ve said this a thousand times, is the complete disappearance of anxiety. I had anxiety to the point of not being able to leave the house. Before this happened to me, I didn’t even believe it could. It improved enough for me to start functioning normally again, but it was always present and was gradually increasing over the last few years before I quit drinking. My anxiety was one of the main reasons that I kept drinking, it allowed me to be free of it, however briefly. My anxiety did not disappear immediately after I stopped drinking, but at about the 6 months point, I realised that I wasn’t anxious anymore, I would almost say I was internally calm. No twisting stomach, no racing brain, no tight chest, no internal shaking and no anger. I was so stunned that I concentrated on noticing this lack of anxiety, in case it was some kind of accidental one off. But no, although I am not completely Zen (haha!) the anxiety is not there and I am the calmest I have ever been.

What would you give to be a mum who is not struggling daily with anxiety and low mood?

Feeling better

There is a feeling that I want you to imagine. Think about one of the occasions, even if it was a long time ago, when you felt genuinely good about yourself. Your body felt right, what you were wearing felt good, you seemed to glide easily through whatever occasion it was, people seemed drawn to you. Deep down things felt right.

Even if you it is not recent, I’m sure everyone has a memory like this, even if it was just one time! Wouldn’t it be lovely to feel like this more often, maybe even all the time?

When I stopped drinking for the final time, I gradually started to feel like this more often. I had more energy, better sleep (even if not more sleep!), I was exercising more, I lost 8kg in 9 months, I actually felt comfortable in my own body for the first time as an adult. I liked the way I looked; I no longer hid from photos. I started to actually know myself and what I was like. For the first time, I didn’t mind that person, and as my sobriety has continued, I actually quite liked her. This feeling, the feeling right in yourself, really started to manifest at about a year sober and the confidence that comes from knowing and respecting your own value is phenomenal.

Better social life

People worry so much about their social life once they stop drinking. It is naturally a very daunting prospect because everything in our society is geared up to join socialising with alcohol. Being the one who is different, the one standing out, is terrifying! Even more so if your confidence and sense of self-worth is shot.

Now, as I have mentioned before, I am something of a social introvert. I can pull it off when I have to, but there are times when I am just not comfortable.

My answer is simple: if you really don’t want to be a part of some social occasion, don’t be! I’m not saying reject it out of hand, I’m not saying don’t do it just because you’re afraid, what I am saying is assess why you feel the way you do, question yourself, and if you are still uncomfortable, go with your gut feeling and stay away!

There is a very real chance, and people get worried about this, that you may lose some friends along your path to being a sober mum. Some people won’t understand, some people will feel challenged, some people will have their own battles to deal with. Whatever the case, please know, that the friends you have left, will be the ones that have your best interests at heart – and those are the people you need to be around! I promise you, that the friends you make on your sober journey, will not be the ones who want to bring you down – because your increasing self-worth won’t let that happen anymore.

Better relationships

Not only your friendships, but most importantly your closer relationships will improve. Not being in your own head all the time gives you so much more head space to focus on those you love, and it makes a HUGE difference.

My relationships with My Love, my boys, my mother, my sister and my nieces and nephews feel so much more supportive and connected. My Love has been through the most awful 6 months due to the loss of close family members to cancer. It terrifies me to think of the lack of support he would probably have received had I still been drinking.

If you are not in a romantic relationships at the minute but would like to be, I can almost guarantee that your increasing sense of confidence and self-worth, not to mention the fact that you like and respect yourself more, will not allow you to slip back into any negative patterns of relationships. I cannot guarantee you the best relationships, relationships are funny things that work and don’t work for all sorts of reasons, but I can guarantee that your sober self will be less likely to head into a bad relationship or self-sabotage a good one.

Better mum

I mean this is the crucial bit isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be the best mum they can be? Although I’ve always been a good and committed mum and I’ve always loved my boys more than anything, I have never been a happy mum. It always felt like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.

I remember so many bad days where I knew during that day that I was actually creating that bad day. Children being their usual naughty boisterous selves but me not having the capacity to deal with it – usually due to a niggling hangover and bad sleep (I am still a monster with no sleep!).  Those days ended with me annoyed, frustrated and unhappy and the boys disgruntled. Then cue the mum guilt and beating myself up about it, because I knew that on a different day in a different set of circumstances those days would have been absolutely fine.

Alcohol, no sleep, no energy and hangovers all deplete our capacity to cope with anything, let alone the demands of our offspring!

Being sober has given me a much longer fuse. The lack of anxiety has given me the ability to see the funny side of a lot of situations. It has all ultimately made me a much happier mother who really wants to be with her children. In turn has made my children happier and more secure.

More real fun

I have always been driven, and true to form, I always made sure we did lots of ‘fun’ things. By this stage, my drinking was not really what I could pretend was ’fun’ anymore. Trying desperately to reach fun yes, but real fun, no. The made ‘fun’ with a grim, controlled determination and although the boys and My Love did actually have fun, if I did it was by the exception rather than the rule.  

In becoming sober I have become less anxious and more go with the flow. My family will probably howl with laughter reading this, but that only go to prove how bad I was!

Just to prove what I was like, even though I love the sea, I hardly ever went with my children and on one memorable occasion I had a complete melt down and left 10 minutes after traipsing everything to the beach. Why? Because I couldn’t cope with sandy children.

Another time, I was on holiday in a stunning location on the Pembrokeshire coast, I couldn’t cope with cleaning the caravan and the mess of 5 people in the gazebo, so I packed up a week into out two week holiday and drove our caravan the 8 hours back home. I then sold our hardly used caravan.

Even sober, the fear of the old me rearing her head again almost put me off going to the Greenman Festival because of having to deal with rain-soaked children. I am so eternally grateful that this didn’t put me off, and yes it rained! See more on this in my post Greenman Festival – Sober!

I’ll talk more about finding the sober activities that you love in the next post.

Don’t get me wrong, at times stuff can still accumulate and go wrong, See Furious Sober Yoga Mummy for an example of this, but thankfully these situation are now the exception.

Time

I have talked about time in my previous post, What’s wrong with the mummy wine culture? and I will talk about it lots more in my next post, but having the extra time, created by being sober, open up so much opportunity.

Happier

Maybe not immediately, but I promise you, over time, as you get used to your sobriety, you will be genuinely far happier than you have ever been, not only as a mum but in your own life.

What’s wrong with the mummy wine culture?

Last week, in the first part of this post, I looked at the reasons that mums feel they need to drink. This second part will look at what the mummy wine culture is and why people are beginning to question it. Next week I’ll look at why mums really do not need to drink and finally how we can thrive as mums without wine.

I need to make it clear from the very beginning that this is not a post judging or criticising anyone or anything. I was so firmly in the mums needs wine camp and I struggled long and hard to get out of it and to work out how to function as a mother without it. Please don’t feel got at, criticised or attacked my anything I say.

One Year No Beer, a group that really helped me when I was trying to quit (the successful time!) talks about the shamed lonely drinking mums. The ones who believe they have a problem but feel alone and too guilty or ashamed to reach out for help. 

If this is you, I want to show you with this post that there is another way. It is possible to cope with everything parenting throws at you without alcohol, AND most importantly, you can be happy doing it!

What is it?

It is pretty much impossible to escape the mummy wine culture that has been floating around for a good few decades now. Initially starting with red wines, moving onto the chardonnays, pinot grigios, proseccos and now the ever-present gin. Mummy wine culture is not limited to one country. A simple internet search will flag up articles from all over the world highlighting the prominence of the mummy wine culture across the globe. 

Nor is this a new phenomenon. Pictures, books and films throughout the last few centuries have shown women drinking gin, martini, wine and even laudanum with the accompanying euphemisms – mother’s milk, mother’s friend, mother’s ruin and most recently, mummy juice.

Nowadays, those in the mummy wine set are generally educated, capable mothers who are wine/gin appreciating connoisseurs, drinking as a means of relaxation and socialisation while sustaining a high octane, high achieving existence. 

As I said, I was fully in the mummy wine camp. Don’t get me wrong, I started drinking way before I had children, but the mummy wine culture was there, waiting to welcome me when motherhood arrived, and I was more than ready to fall into it.

Wine o’clock

Wine o’clock was 4/5 pm. Boys back from school, homework, starting to cook, children wanting attention, squabbling together. These few hours seemed endless and hard. Getting children to do homework or read, eat without complaining, have baths without flooding the house, get ready for bed and then actually go to sleep – aaahhh! Wine soothed it all and made it feel manageable.

Many people say they don’t start drinking until the children are asleep but most wine mummies I have seen, just about reach the 5pm mark. To be honest, I think I would have drunk at those times anyway (wine after a hard day at work?), but I was very willing to be convinced that I deserved/needed a drink at wine o’clock!

Why is it so talked about now?

Support

The wine mummy culture taps into the fact that parenting is lonely and hard and offers what all mothers need – SUPPORT!

The mummy wine culture became more talked about since mothers started to open up about how hard parenting is. This allowed others to come out of the woodwork and say, yes! I find it hard too! People opened up about having a drink to relax after a hard day with the children, and social media exploded with people saying – Hey I drink after a hard day with children too!

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Marketing

With social media buzzing and books being published about drinking to cope with children, the marketing people had a field day. It is hard to find anything mummy related now that doesn’t have a more than generous smattering of mummy wine references. Bottled sized wine glasses with ‘Wine o’clock’ emblazoned across the front. Wine glasses for new mothers saying ‘I’ve waited 9 months for this’. Tumblers with ‘Mommy Juice’ printed on them. ‘Emergency mum fuel’, ‘Goodnight kids, hello wine’. ‘Mummy’s medicine’, the list goes on and on. 

I have had more mummy wine birthday cards than I’d like, but they also made me feel safe. Everyone was saying drinking to cope was normal, so what I was doing was acceptable – all mothers need wine to cope. 

But, with the explosion of honesty about mummy wine, come the questions about what the mummy wine culture is actually telling us.

Mummy wine backlash

Honesty?

The honesty that came with the mummy wine culture allowed people to unburden and show the reality of coping as mother, so people could feel they were doing OK. Mummy wine culture allowed people to get the essential support they needed, so what is there to question?

The problem is that it can be hard to speak up when you start to worry about your drinking because you don’t want to break the camaraderie and the sisterhood. If you are not drinking, it’s considered odd. If you say you’re are worried about your drinking you’ll get the dreaded ‘are you an alcoholic’ questions, followed by the reasons that the other person isn’t. Suddenly your support mechanisms are collapsing. So much easier to keep going. Please don’t think I am being judgy because I promise I am not. I have been the giver and receiver of such comments, it is what alcohol does.

Change

Thankfully, things do seem to be slowly changing.  Many people have begun to question and reject the idea of the mummy wine culture. Articles, books, blogs and social media accounts now abound saying – whoa! I think this might not actually be the best coping strategy! Clare Pooley was one of the first to bravely open up about her drinking in her blog about her first year sober. Having realised that her drinking had got out of control, she quit drinking but in her first year sober she was diagnosed with breast cancer (thankfully now cancer free).  This is now a book called The Sober Diaries and can be found with this link.

Other good book in a similar vein are The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober and The Sober Revolution.

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I am not going to go into facts and figures about increasing numbers of female drinkers for a few reasons. I think statistics like this are often utterly inaccurate. It is well known that doctors double the amount of alcohol patients say they consume. Like I said in my previous post, people either don’t want to be honest about how much they are drinking, or they don’t know how much they are drinking. However, even with dodgy statistics the medical profession is saying that middle aged to older women are now drinking far more than advised and they are worried about it.

Problems with drinking as a mum

Physical Health

The health effects for a woman drinking are unfortunately far worse than they are for a man drinking the same amount. Our bodies just can’t tolerate it the same way. It increases our risk of a whole host of rather nasty health problems from neurological issues, to heart disease and cancers.

The other problem is that by drinking and enduing hangovers, the time and energy that we could spend on exercise and looking after our bodies is gone. As exercise is amazing for physical and mental health it’s definitely a reason to start questioning the advisability of using wine to cope!

Mental Health

Another health problem related to the over consumption of alcohol is mental health. In Why do mums drink?, I mentioned that mums often develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Being a mum is hard enough (See Mental Load comic!), it is stressful and exhausting. You then add to that loneliness, the feeling that you can’t ask for help, the feeling that you are failing when presented with happy social media images, the frustration of your expectations, the high expectations that you place on yourself and the general all-consuming MUM GUILT.

The conundrum is, that most people don’t realise, until they stop drinking, that by drinking to cope with being a mum, you are 100% exacerbating and sometimes creating your mental health problems. It’s funny, I just did a search in my own blog website to find the posts where I had written about anxiety to give you more details, and every single post came up!! I think that proves the impact of quitting drinking on my anxiety.

Over the years I suffered from depression, post-natal depression and anxiety. Anxiety to the point I couldn’t leave my house. When I was bad, the only thing that would give me temporary (very) relief, was drinking. What I realised when I quit, was that alcohol was the cause of my anxiety. In the last 16 months sober, my anxiety has all but disappeared. That’s not to say it doesn’t rear its head sometimes (see Furious Sober Yoga Mummy), but it is never as bad, always temporary and always manageable.

Normalisation

One of the things that worried me most, and I’ve seen other mums worrying about it, is the effect the mummy wine culture has on our children. I’ve always been terrified that The Bear will think drinking is totally normal and it will have horrendous repercussions for his diabetes when he’s older. I was particularly struck by this a few years ago. My niece, then 15, and I had a shopping dates in town. Unfortunately, my childcare didn’t go to plan so my eldest two and my younger niece had to come along for the trip. We had a good trip but obviously shopping with children in tow is exhausting! Later than evening my niece put up a social media picture with her drinking something out of a wine glass (I think it was OJ!) saying: ‘Shopping with children, now I need a break’. I thought ‘Aaahhh!’ What are we doing? She doesn’t even have children yet or understand the full load of parenting/adulthood but the message there is already, alcohol will help you cope!

Time

This is so important. Just take a minute to think about the amount of time that you use when drinking. That first blissful fuzzy 10 minutes that blurs out the stresses, strains, emotions and whatever else we’re hiding from is followed by how many hours of nothingness (except maybe fighting, shouting, tears and anxiety).

What could you be doing with that time?

I am definitely not talking about doing more of the mummy stuff! We pretty much stay sober enough to do that anyway. I’m talking about that stuff that could actually nurture you enough to make you feel that you can cope without the booze! I talk a lot about this in my next post, but for now I’ll just mention a few things.

Use your time wisely

Exercise, in whatever form you enjoy it, is literally a miracle drug! Everything you get from alcohol you can get from exercise – and a whole array of other positive benefits. You need to make exercise your habit instead – See How to stop alcohol cravings for how to do this. Realistically you only need 30-45 minutes decent exercise a day and you will feel the positive effects for the next few days. After that 30-45 minutes there is no guilt, no shame, no anger and tears and no wasting hours!

Exercise also improves your mental health. When I took antidepressants, that doctors told me I needed to use them to get to a place where I felt strong enough to make permanent changes in my life, then I could come off them and those changes would help me from falling back into depression. It worked at the time but it is very easy to slip back into old negative thinking patterns when things get hard and no one wants to be on antidepressants for ever! I honestly found regular exercise as good as antidepressants. When things are hard and just for maintenance, use exercise to boost yourself so that you feel strong enough to tackle whatever issues are currently bringing out down. Sign up for my free 7 day email course below to find out how to start feeling better about yourself.

You will now have a little bit of extra time because after your 30-45 minutes exercise, you are sober and feeling great, so no time wasted being drunk and miserable!

You can use this time to start the positive life changes you need.

You need to use that time to focus solely on you? Relax, do something you enjoy, nurture yourself to give yourself that energy you need to handle this mummying stuff! 

There is a piece of advice I give regularly because it has worked for me so many times and it is amazing! It will help you tackle your frustrations when they rear their heads, and will help you to let go of your expectations that are causing so much stress.

We cannot change the past and we cannot change the future. The only thing we can change is the now. Things are as they are, fighting against that will only cause you pain and ultimately make no difference to your situation at all. All you can do is accept your situation, say thank you for the things that are good, and work out what you can do now that will help you to get the future that you want, even if you can’t have this future now. 

Once you accept your present and stop fighting, the universe steps in and you will be amazed how things start falling into place (See Change your thoughts to change your life for more on this).

Please believe me when I say I know exactly how hard that can be. But I have put myself into depression by fighting my life and I have brought myself out by accepting. In my times of acceptance, I have met My Love, the best, kindest, most supportive and loving person that I know; I have found my love of Yoga; I have retrained; I have accepted that I am a self-sufficient wanderer and need to work for myself; I have started this blog and I have become sober.

In these times I have been a better, happier, kinder person.  It is a constant work in progress, but I have no doubt that, with consistent practice, I will learn to truly live in the present.

To read more on how to learn to live in the now, my favourite book is the Power of Now by Echkart Tolle which you can buy by following the link.

To read more on how to learn to let go of your expectations and allow the world to work for you, my favourite book is the The Seven Secrets of Spiritual Success by Deepak Chopra.

It is a problem

Most mums don’t hit rock bottom. Most mums continue to function as mothers, wives, friends and part of the community every day. But many of them do it with the constant knowledge that their drinking had taken on a life of its own and they no longer feel in control of their lives. Balancing on the knife edge of just being OK with the knowledge that rock bottom, depression, collapse and burn out could be on either side of this blade. Often these fears keep us drinking.

Rock bottom is not a place you need to reach before you take back control.