Trust your sober self

In my last post, Living with your sober self, we looked at learning to accept and love yourself. This will help you to become a person who does not need alcohol to get through tough situations, because you know, deep down, that you are enough, and you are OK. You are what you need, not alcohol.

You might have read How to build a life you do not want to escape from, which explains how to accept or change your life so that you can overcome your need to drink to escape from your situation. 

The journey you are on is brave and bold. Making changes can be scary, learning to accept yourself can mean fighting against years of self-criticism. Accepting parts of life may feel like a challenge but these things are also liberating, and you are building the skills you need to accomplish it.

The next, and very important step is to learn to trust yourself and trust your world.

When drinking, you will have had no trust in yourself or your world and therefore you will have been constantly fighting against yourself and your past, present and future. The ultimate failure of alcohol to make any difference to any of these things will have increased your lack of trust and increased your frustration, subsequently fuelling your need to continue drinking.

In reality, alcohol was definitely part (if not all) of the problem, rather than the solution.

As I said in Living with your sober self, the power to change anything in your life comes from within you, and only you. There is no external quick fix. But luckily, there is a very internal long-lasting fix.   

So, how do we learn to trust our sober selves?

The subject gets me so genuinely excited I could squeal! But like all good ideas, it is simple yet complex and that makes me worry that I won’t be able to do it justice for you, but I am going to have a go.

Ego and the self

The Ego is most often talked of in relation to Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego. While there are parts of this theory that are applicable to the Ego it’s not quite the same.  

I am using the word Universe throughout this piece for want of a better phrase, so please don’t stop reading straight away because it sounds too hippy dippy for you. I am trying to convey the thing which can be described in so many different ways, such as the universe, the one reality, spirituality, a higher power or God – but is ultimately is the life force.

When I talk about the Self and the Ego, it is conveying the idea that the Self is our true nature, and the nature of the universe working through us, but the Ego is the influence from outside; the fear, the control and the things that we allow to get in the way of our life force.

To trust our sober self, we have to become more in tune with our Self and less controlled by our Ego.

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown is the major player in the Ego.  

Fear of the unknown is what can stop us trying, stop us forgiving, stop us reaching out. Fear of the unknown can make us create obstacles that aren’t necessarily there because we afraid to see what will happen if we try. Fear can be of the future, the past, of other people, of other places or of ourselves. If we do not know ourselves, do not like ourselves or do not understand or accept our emotions and feelings this will create fear.

Fundamentally, fear is a lack of trust.

Fear has played a huge part in my life. From a young age I was afraid of dying, afraid of people, afraid of social activities, afraid of being rejected, afraid of my emotions and afraid my own mental health. I drank because I couldn’t accept anything (I was too afraid), so I wanted to hide from it and pretend it wasn’t happening. This was my ‘coping’.

Being in your head, is being in your Ego. Drinking to hide form what’s in your head is even more so. In these situations, our Self doesn’t stand a chance.

The opposite to the fear of the unknown is acceptance, which come through flow.

Flow

Our Self is the part that is connected to the universe. Both the Self and the Universe are always in flow.

I am not a ‘religious’ person, but I am a spiritual person, and I thought it was important while home-schooling my son, to give him a broad understanding of beliefs around the world so that he could examine his own views and learn tolerance of other views. What I did not expect was how totally absorbing I would find it, and how much it would link to my own research on happiness and sobriety. What I discovered was that flow is a concept that appears in nearly every religion, culture, psychology and philosophy.

Eastern flow

In the East particularly, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, going ‘with the flow’ is the only way to reach your true self and a higher understanding of reality.

In Japan, there is a concept called ‘Ikagai’ which basically means flow. I recently read a wonderful book about Ikagai, where two people set about discovering why people in certain parts of the world had such long healthy lives. One of their main finding, was that these people had found their passion or their flow and dedicated their lives to that flow.

If you interested in reading it the link is below. 

Western flow

In the West, we would call a state of flow being ‘in the zone’. Have you ever found that when you are ‘in the zone’ things feel so much easier and just seem to happen naturally? You still have to put in the effort but when you are ‘in the zone’, challenges and goals are faced and completed more easily. Who wouldn’t want that?

In the West, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has developed a psychology around flow and written many books on the idea. His most famous is probably Flow: The Psychology of Happiness.  Very like Ikagai, it says that completely focusing on what you are doing gives meaning and happiness to it, rather than focusing on all the stresses around you. This focus is part of the flow, and the flow is what creates happiness.

It can go on a bit, a bit like the Power of Now below, but they both contain gems of transformational information if you want to go hunting!

In order to dedicate your life to the flow, you have to trust the flow.

Trust the flow

Deepak Chopra – I talk about him a lot because I think he is utterly inspirational – writes and talks about trusting the universe and trusting the flow.

In his book, Seven Secrets of Spiritual Success, Deepak talks about the importance of giving and receiving. This is a very important and well-known idea. Most religions and philosophies either state or imply that you ‘reap what you sow’.

Giving and receiving is at the heart of the nature of flow but you have to give willingly and be open to receive. Giving is not about material things, it is about giving yourself, your time, a compliment, a smile, a thought or a prayer for someone else.

My favourite self-help writer, Louise Hay says in, You can Heal Your life, that the thoughts we put out about ourselves are the ones we get back multiplied.

Robert Emmons, of the University of California, conducted studies on gratitude and he writes the same about gratitude: the more we express gratitude and appreciate what we have, the more we are given to be thankful for. You can read about his studies in his book Thanks!: How practicing gratitude can make you happier.  

Deepak says that Ego consumes all your energy while in contrast, when you are in the Self, your energy multiplies, and the universe responds to that energy. The universe knows how to fulfil our needs if we are open to it. He calls this ‘pure potentiality’.

To access pure potentiality, we must embrace the flow which will allow the universe to work through us. Yet we cannot be in the flow if we are not in the Now.

If you read nothing else here, then read Deepak Chopra

The Now

Being in the now is purely about being aware of ourselves and our surroundings at this very moment.  

Being in the now can be achieved through practices such as mindfulness, meditation, prayer or yoga. Basically, anything that leads you to be still, quiet and fully aware of thoughts, feelings, sensations and surroundings at that moment.

Being in the now allows us to access the flow. If we are worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, we are being consumed by Ego, and as we now know the Ego will consume all the energy that we should be channelling into the Self and the Universe.

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, had his moment of revelation on day on which consumed by misery and depression. He was thinking that there was way out when he suddenly understood that he was OK now, at this very moment, and that now is all there is, all the rest is not important. Our past and our future only have power if we give it the power.

Your life

Obviously, the now and the flow do not mean that you cannot have ideas and desires for your future or life, that would be unrealistic.

What you can do is set your intention for the future and then let it go. Accept everything as it is in this moment; you cannot change anything so why fight against it? Then you can intend for things to be different.

Deepak Chopra says we need to find a place of stillness or awareness and offer our intentions to the universe, but then let the universe work on them. Most importantly we must release our attachment to the outcome. The Universe will work in the way it works, if we hold onto an idea of how things ‘should’ work out, we will be back in the land of Ego, disappointment and suffering.

The heart of Buddhism is that suffering is caused by trying to hold onto something in a world that is always changing. Flow is an ever changing, flowing, twisting, turning force. If you try to hold onto something as it is, you go back into your Ego, because nothing is permanent or fixed. For Buddhists, in order to find peace, you have to release your hold everything you know, including material possessions, desires, thoughts and plans.

You’ll find things happen far more easily when you have surrendered to the flow – most obstacles will disappear on their own

States of consciousness

I wrote briefly in How to build a life you do not want to escape from, about the four states of consciousness.  This is a model that my sister introduced me to, which isn’t the usual states of consciousness theory, but it made so much sense to me. It is a model designed by John Renesch and Thomas Eddington, Co-Founders of FutureShapers, an organisation aimed at inspiring conscious leaders to aim for a better world.

In this model there are four states of consciousness

  1. Life happens TO ME
  2. Life happens BY ME
  3. Life happens THROUGH ME
  4. Life happens AS ME

Let me explain in more detail.

Stage 1

You feel you have no control over what happens to you. It also means that you take no responsibility for what happens to you. You tend to blame what happens to you on outside forces. It is a state of victimhood and you ask ‘why do this happen to me’ a lot.

Stage 2

You have taken control over your life and you make things happen. You feel empowered and like to problem solve. You create the life you live. This can be a very positive place, however, ultimately is in the Ego rather than the self. It can be exhausting and you are definitely sweating the small stuff!

Stage 3

You give up on the fear-based Ego, and accept your life based on trust. Although we are still a part of creating our lives, we have surrendered the outcome to a higher power.  Your life is abundantly blessed.

Stage 4

In the fourth stage, you are at one with the universe and everything is a part of the flow and everything flows through you.

Where are we?

We frequently move between the stages for different periods of time at different stages in our lives, but we tend to settle back into just one stage.

It is estimated that over 90% of people spend 90% of their time in states 1 or 2, yet when you trust your sober self you will predominantly be in stages 3. I won’t even go to stage 4 as I think I am far too far away from to understand it properly at the minute! But don’t despair if you are in 1 or 2. With a little effort and work, it is possible to change the stage we most often settle in.

You can move from stage 1 to stage 2 by taking back control and learning to take responsibility for your life. This is not about blaming yourself in some negative way, it is accepting that what happens to you is a direct result of how you think and feel about yourself and your worth.

You can move from stage 2 to stage 3 by surrendering to the flow of life and trusting in the universe to support you in all your decisions.

So, how do we learn to trust our sober self?

Learning to trust your sober self

Rather than writing anymore at this point, as I feel there is an overwhelming amount of information already in this post. Enough to be getting your head around for a while! Instead, I’m going to add links to posts that I have written about certain things in more detail. If my posts aren’t for you, the books linked above should hopefully be a good start.

  1. Practice loving and taking care of yourself – Sign up for my free 7 days email course below or read Change your thoughts to change your life
  2. Practice meditation and mindfulness – Sign up for my free 7 days email course below or read Living with your sober self
  3. Practice gratitude – How to practice gratitude
  4. Be aware of what your thoughts and how you can change them – Change your thoughts to change your life
  5. Find what you love and do that – Fun things to do without alcohol
  6. Practice setting intentions and letting them go – How to build a life you do not want to escape from

How exercise helped me quit drinking for good

“By forming this exercise habit, I found I had replaced my alcohol habit. When I did quit drinking, it almost happened by accident.”

Like so many people I have connected with in the alcohol-free community, my drinking started when I was young, at about 14 years old at boarding school. I had no idea who I was or where I fit in so I drank to feel more confident and grown up. At university I drank to cope with raging social anxiety. After university I drank because it was the social thing to do after work. After children I drank to cope with the stress of motherhood. Like so many, I drank to socialise, celebrate, commiserate and to cope with life.

Why drinking was no good for me

woman smiling at camera

I knew early in my drinking days that alcohol did not agree with me. Not just the awful hangovers, but the guilt, the shame and the tears. I suffered from depression and anxiety. There were reasons for this but ultimately, I know alcohol had a large role in my anxiety and depression. My answer to every problem was booze, yet after the relief of the first glass had quickly faded, everything seemed worse. I knew I had to quit drinking, but I didn’t seem to be able to.

Trying to quit

My first attempts to stop drinking were after university. I managed a few times, for a few weeks. I stayed alcohol-free for 6 weeks after my first son, when postnatal anxiety had taken over, but it didn’t last. I remained alcohol-free through my three pregnancies, but they were long, sick, miserable affairs filled with cravings and resentment.

I think I gave up trying to quit for a while after this because all I could think was that if I quit, the rest of my life would be filled with cravings and resentment like my pregnancies. I believed that I had put myself in a position where I would be miserable either drinking or not drinking, so there was no way out.

What changed

At the end of 2017, I had re-trained and was about to qualify as a nurse. It had been a very long and hard journey with divorce, remarriage, family illness and 3 children. I had a job that was starting in Jan 2018 and something had to give. But instead of being able to quit, I drank more over the Christmas than I ever had and after boxing day, I lay in my room, with my head spinning and body aching as if I had flu knowing that this was alcohol poisoning, and that if I didn’t stop I would probably die, not right now, but not at a good old age.

New Year

I do have faith that when you really need it, the universe steps in to help. I don’t have a TV at home, but I was in a hotel room on New Year’s Day, feeling shocking, so I thought I would have a look at what was on. There, on the screen was Andy Ramage, Ruari Fairbairns (from OYNB) and Catherine Gray, all talking about how they had quit or massively cut down on their drinking and how they were OK, even happy! I think this is what my subconscious needed to hear, that I could be sober and happy. Even after rock bottom you could be alcohol-free and happy. I bought The 28-Day Alcohol-Free Challenge and The Unexpected Joy of being Sober immediately!

Dry January

I signed up for Dry January 2018, plastered it on Facebook and started to use The 28-Day Alcohol-Free Challenge as my support for the month. It was absolute hell! I hated it. Completely craving filled, annoyed and resentful. BUT, in total I was 42 days alcohol-free and it changed so many things.

Before I read The 28-Day Alcohol-Free Challenge, I think my attempts to quit had always focused on the not drinking. But following their advice, I focused on something else – physical activity and community.

Finding exercise

woman meditating

I started a 30-day yoga challenge and a programme of High Intensity Interval Training.

I knew how good exercise made me feel but I had always done it in short bursts, for example, before a holiday or when trying to lose weight. It was always the first thing to go when time got tight. Now, I made it my priority and I told myself I was going to be consistent! This backfired a little in the beginning. Like so many people, I set expectations way too high. I told myself that consistency meant I had to do it every day, like being alcohol-free, and that if I missed a day I was falling. If I couldn’t exercise every day how could possibly stay AF every day?

Habit building

In the end I didn’t, I started drinking again at the end of February. However, I quit for good at the end on April 2018. So what changed?

I had started to get involved with the alcohol-free community online and was beginning to realise that my expectations were off. The important thing was to be consistent, but consistency doesn’t mean every day. Consistency means keeping going whenever you can until your new habit has been formed. Once your brain has adjusted to your new exercise habit, it becomes a part of life, so having a few days off doesn’t matter.

By forming this exercise habit over the intervening months, I found I had replaced my alcohol habit. When I did quit drinking, it almost happened by accident. I just hadn’t drunk for a few days, and I didn’t want to. I had the odd craving on and off for the first 6 months while my brain settled into its new life, and at 6 months I finally knew I was free.

Living with your sober self

So Dry January is nearly done. Whatever you accomplished during this time, you should be proud of yourself. Taking on Dry January is a challenge for most and being brave enough to give it a go is amazing.

But now we come to the crux of the matter. What are you going to do going forward?

Dry January is an amazing time and there is so much advice on how to cut down on your drinking. All of which is hugely valuable for your Dry January journey, but ultimately, Dry January or any of these other commendable challenges, do not give you much advice on what to do once you have stopped drinking and you have to face yourself, sober.

Whatever the reasons that we drank alcohol, more often that not it was to hide from some part of ourselves that we didn’t know how to handle.

Did we drink to hide from social anxiety? Did we drink to hide from problems at work or home? Did we drink to hide from powerful emotions? Did we drink from frustration or boredom? Or did we drink to hide from our past or from fear of our future? The list could go on indefinitely.

So in this post I want to give you some tips and advice on how to learn to live with your sober self.

So, how do we learn to live with our sober self?

Firstly, what does ‘living with your sober self’ actually mean? We can live with our sober self and be completely miserable but that is hopefully not what we are aiming for!

What I mean is getting to know yourself when you are sober. Learning all about you – you will probably be quite surprised by a lot of what you learn – and then learning to like who you are, with the aim to eventually love who you are. So few people like themselves, let alone love themselves.

Put in the work

Getting to know and learning to like yourself is a huge challenge for many people, probably even harder than not drinking, so be prepared to put in the time and effort to get to know yourself!

You have to make a commitment to yourself that you are going to do whatever it takes to get to know yourself.  You need to be honest with yourself and be brave enough to probe into areas of your life that you may have been trying to hide from for a long time.

You must accept that this journey will be emotional, rocky and will quite possibly leave you feeling exhausted, but it is worth it to know that afterwards you will be moving forward to your new sober life, free from the burden of all past worries and fears that have held you back so far.

It only takes a quick look at social media or the internet to see stories of people becoming sober and achieving goals that they never imagined possible. This is because, in order to remain sober, they will have learnt to accept themselves as they are, and that acceptance will have opened a whole world of possibilities that they are now brave enough to accept.

This can be you too, and don’t worry! You do not have to do any of this alone!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/16485299031/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ref_=as_acph_Music_wkoffrs_0514_0524&linkCode=ll2&tag=happysober21-21&linkId=cd7841d2117cbc473826f10c6f25b2e0&language=en_GB

Ask for help

The best thing I learnt on my sober journey was that I was not alone. My past history of depression and anxiety problems should have made me realise that I was not alone and that asking for help was not shameful, but while the world is beginning to accept mental health problems without the stigma, I felt that struggling with alcohol was still a massive no no to admit to anyone! I mean, was I an alcoholic? With every preconception that come attached to that label there was no way I was going to be opening that can of worms!  (See my post Am I an alcoholic? for more on my thoughts about alcohol labels)

Yet when I did finally enter the sober world, starting with Dry January 2018, I realised that I was absolutely not alone and there is a huge community of sober people out there waiting to help, share their stories and advise you on your journey.

If you are looking for this community try

Equally, if you need to ask for help on your journey to finding yourself, there is nothing wrong with that. Getting help is the bravest and best thing you can do for yourself and it is your first act of self-love on your journey.

Over the years I have asked for help with depression, help with anxiety that was so severe I couldn’t leave the house, help with pre and post-natal depression, help with staying sober and help with all my emotional baggage. Please ask for help, it is nothing to worry about or be ashamed of.

So, who do you ask?

If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, go to your doctor. They may prescribe medication to help and they are also able to sign post you to other things such as therapy.

Although believe me, staying sober will do wonders for your mental health. My anxiety, which could be debilitating, disappeared at about 6 months sober.

Ask for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an amazing talking therapy that helps you to understand your thoughts and the effect that your thoughts have on your behaviour.

I was referred by my doctor to a mindfulness-based CBT course to help with my post-natal depression after The Baby.

What is wonderful is that CBT doesn’t go delving around in your past, which can often make you feel far worse than you did before, but it teaches you about yourself now and how you are responsible for your life going forward. Although the doctor will often only put you on a short 6 – 10 week course, CBT is ultimately led by you and you can carry on doing it for the rest of your life.

CBT is centred around the idea that your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are an ongoing cycle all connected to each other. Basically, you will have a thought, that thought will make you feel a certain way and that feeling will lead to whatever action you take. That action will then lead to more thoughts and so on.

For example if you think ‘Nobody likes me’, you will probably feel pretty rubbish about yourself and then be less likely to go out to try to meet people, which will then make you think ‘I have no friends’ and then feel pretty lonely and sad etc.

However, if you think ‘I am a nice person’ you are more likely to feel good about yourself and therefore go out and talk to people which will make you think that you have friends and you will feel better.

This is a simplified version, but actually it is pretty simple. Like I said before though, it takes practice and effort to achieve this. We all have an inner voice that we have been allowing to dictate to us what we think and feel for our whole lives. We are now trying to change what that inner voice says. Hard at first, easier the more you practice, and ultimately life changing.

The book above is the one I used when I first started looking at CBT, or you can sign up to my free email course below on how to feel better about yourself in seven days below.

What about mindfulness?

Mindfulness is very closely linked to CBT. It is difficult to miss the rise in popularity of mindfulness, and there is good reason for its popularity.

Mindfulness is simply becoming aware of ourselves. We often run on auto pilot physically and mentally and therefore miss the signs that our body and mind our giving us to say that things are not quite right. I am convinced that had I known anything that I know now, my depression, anxiety and problems with alcohol would never have manifested the way they did. When I look back, I can see the signs that were screaming at me but at the time I didn’t realise what they were.

Physically, our bodies will tell us through niggling pains, repeated symptoms or illness that all is not well. If we ignore these symptoms the body will eventually manifest the problem as something extremely serious that cannot be ignored such as chronic illness, injury, cancers and disease. 

It is exactly the same mentally.  If we do not deal with what is happening with our thoughts then eventually, they will manifest in a way that we cannot ignore, through depression, anxiety or emotional collapse.

The Eastern side of the world has been practicing mindfulness for ever, but our Western manic hectic lives are often not compatible with taking the time to focus on ourselves and our own wellbeing.

My favourite Dalai Lama quote summarises our Western lives perfectly:

Man “sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Mindfulness techniques such as meditations, body scans and yoga can all help us to beginning to understand ourselves. They teach us to pay attention to what our bodies and thoughts are saying and telling us. This knowledge then gives us the power to change what we are doing and save ourselves from more serious harm.

These techniques are readily available and free on You Tube and here are some of my favourites.

Guided Body Scan Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation

Yoga with Adriene

Thoughts

Changing your thoughts is often the hardest things to do because we have been thinking those thoughts for so long.

I have written about habit changing for quitting alcohol in How to stop alcohol cravings, and it is exactly the same for quitting negative thoughts. You brain is happily taking the most well-trodden paths regardless of the consequences. If you have been thinking ‘I’m useless’ for years and years, your brain is going to use that pathway unless you give it another pathway to use. Like I said, this take effort!

Affirmations and visualisations can be a good way of doing this.

Now that you are mindful of your thoughts and aware of how CBT works, you can systematically replace those thoughts with different ones.

When you realise that you are thinking ‘I am useless’, you can actively change it to something else such as ‘I am good at….’. If you feel you don’t believe what you are saying, don’t worry! That’s just because you have said it for so long. The more you actively change your thoughts to more positive ones, the more your brain will start taking those pathways first and the more you will starts to believe them.

I love the quote that says the definition of insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”

It just makes it so clear that in order to change something you have to change something!

For more on how to change your thoughts see my post Change your thoughts to change your life.

Be gentle and kind with yourself

This journey to knowing and liking yourself is tough and intense. You are doing a lot of work and putting in a lot of effort with everything above, so it is crucially important at this time to be kind and gentle with yourself.

Your CBT and mindfulness should help with this. If you are aware of self-recriminating thoughts, you will be able to stop them and change them to kinder thoughts. But the important thing is to remember to stay aware, so that you don’t start slipping back to old negative thoughts.  

Make sure you take the time you need to do this work and give yourself a break about other things.

Eat and drink what you need to eat and drink. This time, early sobriety and all this learning about yourself, can be exhausting, so you do what you need to do to get you through. You can worry about healthy eating later, and you will probably be amazed how much better your body looks and feels just because you have quit drinking and are learning to like yourself more.

Do what you want to do. This is a tough enough time without you going to events you don’t want to go to or taking on things just because you feel that you should.

There is no should! You have the choice to do what you want with your life.  In my post Fun things to do without alcohol, I have written about things that you might want to try. You might be surprised what you learn about yourself and what you actually like doing.

The book you must read

My ultimate recommendation, as always, is a book that changed my life called You can heal your life. It was massively popular in its time because it started people questioning why they acted in certain ways and showed them how they could change their lives for the better. It is the ultimate book in learning to understand, like and love yourself. Louise Hays, the author, had an traumatic childhood but went on to do incredible things for many people and only recently died at the age of 90.

The link to this life changing book is below:

You have the power!

Not to quote He-Man here (for those of my generation, that will remember!) but you do have the power to do all of this.

Your life, your happiness and your health are all in your hands. While this can be a terrifying concept it is also completely wonderful because all you need is you!

The step you have taken towards your new sober life is a powerful one, because now you can really start to work on you and finding out what you actually want from your life.

In my next post, How to trust your sober self, I will look at how we can find that power within ourselves and use it to create the life that we want, however if you want some more food for thought in the meantime, have a read of my post How to build a life you do not want to escape from.

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.

I was never in control of my drinking until I quit

I knew I wasn’t in control of my drinking from the very start, when I was 14. After 18, when getting hammered at university was de rigueur, I just let go. I was incredibly unhappy and ended up on antidepressants at age 24. I am an introvert with social anxiety, not at all equipped for the society we live in that rewards extroverts. Alcohol helped me hide my personality and my fears. 24 years old was the beginning of my 12 year struggle to stop drinking.

From this point onwards, I ‘controlled’ my alcohol intake to a maximum of 1 bottle of wine or 4 cans of beer most days – unless it was a social or celebratory occasion, in which case, anything goes! But I was never in control. Alcohol completely controlled me. But because I seemingly had a grip on the situation – there was no rock bottom, no loss of job, I could juggle children, work and life without drinking in the mornings – I was dismissed time and time again as not having a problem.

I can look back now, at 15 months sober, in horrified fascination at how long it took me to stop. I think it is likely that I didn’t actually want to stop drinking, I just wanted to stop wanting to drink. But I finally quit drinking forever on 29th April 2018. I am around people who drink, I am around alcohol, I go to pubs, bars and restaurants and I am totally fine!

“We understand that most things are on a spectrum, so why is alcohol either all or nothing?”

So why did it take so long?

I never opened up to anyone other than close family and my doctor, all of whom didn’t think that there was a problem. I considered AA, but I didn’t access the support of the huge sober community because I didn’t want to be labelled ‘an alcoholic’. The negative connotations attached to that word makes it so hard for people to ask for help. We understand that most things are on a spectrum, so why is alcohol either all or nothing?

So what changed?

I decided, after an unnecessarily heavy Christmas which left me feeling dreadful, to try Dry January. I was happy to announce this intention to the world as it was a challenge, not a problem. There’s no stigma attached to a challenge! This was my first taste of support. Everyone around me and on social media was generally very encouraging. I lasted 40 long, craving-filled days and needless to say, I started drinking again very soon into February. But it had changed something in me.

I had never gone so long without alcohol, other than in pregnancy. I started to do yoga and exercise. I had done that before but always in an ‘all or nothing’ kind of way. If I didn’t do it daily or didn’t lose weight quickly enough I’d give up, feeling like a failure. This time was different, I realised that if I didn’t exercise one day it didn’t matter, as long as I did it again another day and didn’t just stop. Yoga and exercise made me feel amazing and I believe this was the start of forming new and healthier habits.

“…when it comes to forming new habits it doesn’t matter if you slip up one day, as long as you stand up again and keep going.”

For me, alcohol was a habit – a means to a very quick reward: relief from stress and anxiety, escapism – whatever the ‘reward’ or reason seemed to be. It was a well-trodden path that my brain was familiar and comfortable with. When I stopped drinking, my brain craved that quick reward. But brains can be trained to follow new pathways, to new rewards. For me, those new rewards were exercise – same happy hormones, but those good feelings lasted for so much longer than that first glass of wine! And like my exercise, when it comes to forming new habits it doesn’t matter if you slip up one day, as long as you stand up again and keep going. This attitude is how I got to my current, craving-free life!

One final note on accepting yourself that is crucial to living your happy alcohol-free life: I have always had feelings of low self-worth and anxiety. I thought that alcohol helped this. In reality it fuelled these feelings every day. I rarely have anxious feelings these days, unless there is a genuine reason! My sense of self-worth is increasing daily; otherwise I could never have opened up to others with my blog. I sometimes wonder, if I had stopped drinking sooner, where I would now be at 37 years old.

But I don’t worry for too long because if I had done anything differently, I wouldn’t have the life I have, and I am so grateful for every tiny part of it.