Why do mums drink?

This is going to be a four-part post – one now and two on subsequent weeks. It is such a relevant topic that I want to do it justice.

This week we’ll have a look at the reasons that mums find they are wanting to drink. Next week we’ll look at the mummy wine culture and how mums are starting to question the culture. Then I’ll look at why mums DO NOT need to drink and lastly we’ll look at how mums can survive and thrive without it. 

So, why do mums drink?

Many of the reasons are the same reasons that other people drink. See Why do people drink? for more on this.

Socialising

I drank way before I had children, so I don’t think we start drinking just because children arrived. I was drinking after work, with friends out and with family at home. Drinking, and usually too much, was very much a part of any social life I had. For most, drinking is thoroughly ingrained as a way of socialising, celebrating, commiserating and relaxing – so once the baby is born, it’s business as usual!

However, after having a baby, nights out happen far less often, so socialising often happens at home, with family and friends or with other mothers. Drinking at home becomes normal.

I think I unconsciously, or maybe consciously, chose mummy friends who drank too. A bit of a party animal? Yes please, I’ll be friends with you. Non-drinking, vegan, yoga mummy – no thanks! Despite the fact, or maybe because of the fact, I wished I could be a non-drinking, vegan, yoga mummy!

Yet the social drinking at home or with other mums, doesn’t seem to lessen the excessive drinking on the odd night out/celebration you have. I still went at it as if you’ve been deprived of a drink for that whole time!

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Normalisation

When something seems normal, you are far less likely to question it. After my first baby I had a night out with some other new mums. The babies were about 3 months old and it was near Christmas, so obviously the only choice was a boozy night out – that’s all there is right? I wasn’t breast feeding by this stage but most of the others were, and they chatted about pump and dump nights like it was completely normal. Pump and dump for anyone who doesn’t know, is drinking lots, expressing your breast milk and throwing it out, so theoretically any of the booze that’s gone into the breast milk has been thrown away and your baby won’t be drinking booze. I am very uncertain of the scientific nature of this plan! But please can we actually take a minute to consider the enormity of this idea. We’re told it normal and we deserve a night out, yes we do but why does that automatically mean getting smashed? Also, the enormity of the fact that at 3 months old, I left my first son with his father for 2 nights while I went to hospital with binge drinking induced gastritis – drinking loads of white wine having not drunk for a year. I literally cringed when the doctor told me what he was writing down. Nothing about it was normal. 

But everything tells us and we tell each other that it is normal, and we are just coping. I only really drank after 4pm, because if I drank before I would feel so awful for the rest of the day that I couldn’t function. As I slowly crept into the land of daytime weekend drinking, soon before I quit for good, I was staggered by the number of people, with children in tow, drinking in the day time. Dad’s groups, feeding babies with pints at 10.30am. Mum’s afternoon teas with prosecco. Cocktails, gin, wine, beer, you name it! Instead of worrying me, at first I found it very comforting that I was not alone in this. Almost like a carte blanche to do it more. Thankfully, I also think it started bringing things to a head until I finally scared myself enough to quit.

Lonely

It is totally understandable though. Being a mother is bloody lonely. We go from working, socialising people who speak to other adults on a daily basis, to finding ourselves at home, alone, with a nonverbal human that we are utterly responsible for with no support. Family, friends and partner are probably at work and there we are, stuck. I might sound like I am stereotyping here, but in all the families with children I have known, the father works and the mother is at home with the children doing EVERYTHING else.

Mental Load

I saw a comic strip called ‘You should’ve asked’ that became a book called Mental Load, a few years ago that resonated completely and I am sure resonated with many other mothers. Read it here, its amazing, but I’ve put one picture here as an example.

By Emma

It just seems to be the lot of a mother that our heads never stop as we try to juggle school, after school activities, working, tidying, cleaning, cooking, washing, doctors, dentists, school costumes and activities, finances, weekend child fun and shopping – usually with toddler in tow. Not to mention giving enough attention to your small people while teaching them how to live and hoping they’ll be nice, kind, well rounded, successful educated people, while questioning everything you do in case it somehow psychologically damages them in the future!

The lists go on and on and round and round.

Women can be very harsh and critical of other women – only take a glance at the breast-feeding v bottle feeding forums! Ouch! It’s no different with parenting. Working mothers often get a lot of stick for not being at home with their children. Two things on this. Firstly, why on earth do working fathers not get the same stick, secondly, working mothers don’t escape from the mental load, they just have to manage work on top of it! The only benefit of working is financial (and possibly your sanity!) 

Ooooh, my feminist side starts to rage!

Expectations

But it’s not just people being critical of other people. We are hugely critical of ourselves. I talk about being kind to yourself in many of my previous posts and go into detail son how to start in my free 7 day course below. But it is so important for sobriety and happiness so please sign up and have a look.

We expect ourselves to be amazing mothers, partners, employees etc. I had images of me as a lovely mother, playing with my children, laughing, baking with them, doing arts and crafts in a tidy house with delicious nutritious meals simmering away. We would snuggle and read together; we would have lovely days out.

I mean it is so laughably far from the truth! I am hysterical in the house! Baking – while fun on occasion, creates a messy kitchen, messy child, inedible cake – just more flipping hard work for me! Same with arts and crafts. By the time I got to The Baby, I was of the opinion that the more time out of the house creating less dirty, messy chaos, the better! And everyone playing nicely – what a joke! We get on really well as a family and the boys all love each other, but that means nothing when it comes to bickering, arguing, winding each other up, play fighting and hurting each other!

But instead of saying – ‘Aaaah! Help! This is all too much!’, we take a picture of the one nice moment, in the day of chaos, and post it on social media saying – ‘What an amazing day! So grateful for my lovely life!’.

Of course, we are grateful, and we do love our children. But denying the hard stuff is missing out a huge part of what parenting is. Mums who are struggling (most of us), see these images and captions and think – ‘Shit I’m failing. Why can’t I get this right?’ And the critical, negative loop continues exacerbating the mental load, negative mental health and the need to drink.                                                                                  

Parenting is hard!

And I’ll say it again parenting is hard!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children so completely and there are magical moments with them, but a lot of the time it’s just lonely hard work. I was at home, alone, managing two toddlers. I dreaded most days.

But so many mother’s feel like they aren’t allowed to say ‘This is hard! Help me!’ The idea is that we have to be so grateful all the time that if we dare to say, actually I’m not enjoying this, then you feel ashamed that you are an ungrateful, bad parent. I won’t go into the ins and out of how hard parenting is; if you are a parent and you are reading this, you know! But if you are lonely, finding things hard every day and feeling guilty for doing so, is it any wonder that a little escape behind the wine seems like a good idea?

No time for you

In the chaotic circus that is out parenting lives, it is very rare that we make time for ourselves.

As a mummy, we are often so busy ensuring that our children eat and drink well, that we forget to do this basic thing for ourselves. The problem is that unstable blood sugar levels and thirst, increase our cravings for alcohol.

Self-care is so important. Any person I have talked to who has quit has done it by starting to focus on a little self-love and self-care.

Alcohol gives us a momentary relief from everything going on outside and in our own head. We need this as we are not giving ourselves that relief anywhere else. Our lives are constantly full on but we know that when it gets too much we can have that immediate relief from a glass of wine. 

We can do the same without alcohol though. I’ll talk more about how in the second part of this post but for now see How to beat the alcohol illusion.

Frustration

Frustration was such a massive part of the reason that I drank. Woman are told that, now we’ve broken the bonds of the patriarchal society and we get all those nice things like education and votes, that we can do and be anything! The world is our oyster! Anything is possible! You can have it all!

But hold on, can we? Can we have children and have everything?

When children come along you give up a huge part of yourself. It happens naturally, you can’t help it. You are responsible for this tiny human that you have created and that you love fiercely, so there is no choice but to put yourself aside and take care of them. Even more so the more children you have.

High flying careers, travelling adventures or anything you might have imagined in this oyster of a world, suddenly becomes far harder to achieve. So you have talented, educated, capable women – who are now at home cooking, cleaning, washing, and looking after small people.

The big world of opportunity has just become a lot smaller.

I struggled with this alot (probably the reason I did master’s degrees, moved abroad and retrained after my children!) My post, Change your thoughts to change your life, looks at how we always have a choice in anything. I did, and still do at times, wrestle with this idea. Yes I have the choice to have a travelling career but I would have to accept seeing my children less and them not liking it (they barely like it when I go to a shift!). So yes, it’s a choice I make to not have the travelling career to be with my children, but that doesn’t always lessen the frustration!

Years ago, just after The Bot was born, I was talking to my sister who was feeling the mummy frustration. My sister is a clever, capable, sociable, bubbly amazing person. She is a Cambridge graduate and she can charm anyone into doing anything she wants. She was at home with four children.  She said to me, women would be better off being like the poorer women of countries like India, who are OK with their lot at home with children because they don’t have any other expectations. I was horrified by this idea, I still am for many reasons that I won’t go into here, but I get her point now. We are given access to the world, and then the door is closed, and sometimes it feels locked and barred.

I’ll talk more about how to lessen this frustration in the second part of this post, but for more now, have a look at my post How to build a life you do not want to escape from.

Mental Health

I think this frustration was the most damaging to my mental health, especially when I was pregnant with The Baby.

But every parent, and especially mothers, get burnt out! Stress, depression and anxiety can all be related to burn out and exhaustion!  But when you have children, you can’t really burn out and just stop, you have to keep going. So often we keep going with the assistance of antidepressants, drugs or alcohol – and bizarrely there is far more stigma attached to taking antidepressants than there is to downing a few bottles of wine! So we self-medicate with alcohol.

Lack of awareness or denial

Now I have always been hyper aware of how much I drink, but following many conversations with many people, I think people are either unaware of what they are drinking or they don’t want to be aware.

Media advice corroborates these excuses that we make to keep drinking. ‘I need it for stress relief and stress is bad for me.’ ‘I only drink red wine because it’s good for my heart.’

The media also offers confusing advise about safe drinking levels. Many websites say this many ‘drinks’ is too many. But what is a drink? A large glass of wine is 3-4 units, depending on the strength of the wine. Is that one drink or three? A pint is 2-3 units, Is that one, two or three drinks?

I have spoken to people who have said a bottle of wine a night is OK because it’s only 3 drinks (actually 9-10 units, most of your alcohol allowance for the week). I have known people who say they hardly ever drink while quaffing an entire bottle with barely any visible effort or effect.

Denial is not a judgement. I hated being aware of what I was drinking, because I constantly felt the need to do something about it. Even at times I consciously tried to become unaware and just let go to see if that made things better – it didn’t. But when life is on top of you, you do not want to hear that the thing you feel is supporting you is actually the thing that you need to get rid of!

Lack of support  

My firm belief is that all these reasons come down to one thing. Lack of support as a mother. Our communities have all but vanished. We are left with nuclear families, often no extended family around, partners working long hours. We have no community support left to tell us we are doing OK. I think that this is why the mummy wine culture exploded. It offers the support and community that are lacking.  Social media support groups allow you to blow of steam, voice what you might be ashamed to say otherwise about parenting and normalises alcohol as a way of coping with the day to day trials. Drinking with mummy friends is exactly the same, you feel the support and the solidarity of other mums in the same boat.

In my next post I’ll be looking at the mummy wine culture and why there is now a backlash against it.

Furious Sober Yoga Mummy

So apparently, my sister tells me, I got the name of the requested post wrong, and it should be furiously sober yoga mummy not furious sober yoga mummy! There is a difference, but I’ll get to that.

This post emerged in a twofold way. There can be nothing worse, when you are in a bad place, than people telling you that everything is wonderful, and everything is positive. It used to make me feel angry, hopeless and frustrated to be told that being grateful and being positive would make everything better. How could anyone possibly be so patronising and simplistic?!

Now I realise the outrageous hypocrisy of saying this when my blog is stuffed full of be grateful, be positive and change your thinking information. But I do this for two reasons; firstly because I know that when I was actively trying to quit drinking, reading about how things could be better, gave me real hope that I could stop drinking and be happy, and secondly being grateful and positive actually does help, you just have to be in the right place to hear it.   

The times I didn’t want to hear were the times that I felt completely trapped. When I had sunk into funk and didn’t want to fight anymore. When I was in this mindset, it was not the time to hear about gratitude and positivity. Ultimately this mindset was extremely destructive for me and never helped me to reach my goal, but if you need more on that, have a read of my posts  How to build a life you do not want to escape from or Change your thoughts to change your life.  

I am writing this post because I want to show you that my blog is not some social media bollocks. I am not trying to convince you or myself that my life is completely sorted and I am not trying to say my life is now some problem free, Facebook picture perfect existence. Of course it isn’t! I am a working, overwrought, far too driven mother of 3, to say it’s perfect would be disingenuous, and also nonsense. What I am trying to give you hope that, despite all that life throws at us, we can have a better and happier future.

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So back to my sister’s word distinction.

I booked a night in Norfolk for the girls (mother, sister and me) and children (niece and my boys). I love the sea and have been told many times how beautiful the Norfolk beaches are, so I thought we’d go and have a look. Bit too far for a day trip, so I booked a last minute Air BnB. We packed up, beach ready, and drove what seemed like endless hours to get to Holkham beach.

Now, I think as children get older, people forget exactly how difficult toddlers are. So they plan and do things that ‘normal people’ can do and enjoy. ‘Normal people’ do not have toddlers. This whole trip was an example. My sister and mother thought it would be fun to stop, on the way to the beach, in a pretty town and have a browse of the shops. After finally finding a parking spot, I decided it would be a good idea to throw my car keys, to my locked car, in the bin. Not any bin, a proper metal bin with little slits on the side. I literally did not know what to do. I phoned My Love, just on the off chance he could rescue me from this nightmare situation from 100 miles away! Bizarrely, just as I was beginning to freak out, a boy came across the road from a shop with a grabber devise. He had also thrown something in, and instead of freaking out – a la me – he went to borrow a grabber from the shop. With a lot of digging around and a horrendous smell, I got his toy and my keys out.

Then ‘browsing’. The baby was like a naughty whirlwind, going through expensive, boutiquey, ‘we don’t do children’ shops. When he wasn’t instigating the destruction of the shops, he was running out and trying to play with the cars on the road. Great, good start to our fun trip away.

Eventually I dragged my mother out of the shops and on the way to the beach, my niece wanted to show us the old-fashioned sweet shop she had been to before. Queue expensive sugar filled nightmare for The Baby and diabetic nightmare for The Bear.

By the time we reached the beach – 3pm at this point – I had kind of lost my enthusiastic edge already but I was going to persist -we’d come to see the sea hadn’t we. The sea calms me and I love it. Hardi bloody har!!! What my sister had failed to mention was that the ‘beach’ was about half a mile through a forest and then another miles (probably more but we never made it) to the water. Great for their dogs, not so great for my toddler! The Baby, cannot walk at the same pace as everyone else so they charged ahead while the baby and I lagged behind. Halfway across the beach with the remnants of my enthusiasm clinging desperately onto the edges of my sanity, the sky released its full fury. I have never, ever, ever been in rain like it. The Baby and I had rain clothes on but they had soaked right through in 2 minutes. As we reached that two minutes, I watched my wet phobic mother and her little doggy charge past me back to the car without so much as a glance of offer of assistance. Following closely behind her were the rest of the children and my sister plus doggy.

The Baby just before the deluge!

The only person who stopped to help with wet – now crying and wanting to be carried across wet sand – giant lump of a baby, was The Bot. He even offered to give him a piggyback for a bit – but then his wellies started rubbing and giving him cuts on the backs of his legs, which mixed with wet sand was not a good combination. He eventually had to take the wellies off and walk in bare feet which was freezing! Wet cold miserable baby, wet cold miserable son, and wet cold miserable mummy.

The Bot, offering assistance

At some point someone must have realised that we were not appearing at the car because my sister came back to offer a hand. She picked up The Baby, told me how wonderful the rain was, asked why on earth I had a problem – ‘wasn’t it fun?’ ‘why did I have a problem with wet children?’, ‘hadn’t I ever camped before?’. Sorry my lovely sister, I was ready to kick you then back then!

I Iove the rain, but when it’s cold with no shower in sight, I am not so great at being in it! Same with sea, lakes, streams – anything wet! I am absolutely certain that my raging anxiety before the Greenman Festival was exacerbated by the unpleasantness of this experience. A week of showerless rain?!!

Having made it back to the car, wet clothes stripped off everyone, car stinking of wet dog, I attempted to find the house I had rented for the night. Thankfully although far, it was a pretty painless trip. By the time the bags were in and everyone had finished fighting about who was sleeping where, it was way past food time for The Baby and the Bear. We had no food and no clue where the shop was. My anxiety was running pretty high by now, I dumped the children with my mother and dragged my sister to a supermarket. She stocked up on G&T while I stocked up on rose lemonade – and food of course!

I find it so hard, despite years of children and 7 years of The Bear’s diabetes, when food times or food availability is messed with. Although I am so much better, my head goes into overdrive about what carbohydrate ratio he is on at what time, whether his blood sugar is going low because it’s so late without food and what effect the time he is eating will have on his blood sugars for the rest of the night – none off this is helped by The Baby vocally telling me he is hungry. 

While the food was cooking, I was freaking out and took myself off to the conservatory, with my rose lemonade, to have a moments peace listening to the rain. It was at this point that my sister came to join me and suggested that I write the post furious sober yoga mummy. Or so I thought.

You see furious sober yoga mummy implies that like all people, I can be furious as well as happy as well as frustrated as well sad and a whole other host of emotions. Whereas furiously sober yoga mummy implies that I am experiencing those emotions because I am trying to stay sober.

NOT AT ALL!!

Don’t get me wrong, before I stopped drinking. Furiously sober was what I was almost every evening that I couldn’t drink, or every time I tried to quit for a while. Each pregnancy was 9 months of being furiously sober! But that isn’t me anymore. I am so happy that I do not have the cravings that made me furious anymore. All the work I put into myself and changing my habits has led to a craving free sobriety. For more on this see How to stop alcohol cravings and How to beat the alcohol illusion.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking that I really am a moan pot! Maybe I should have taken it all with a sense of humour, maybe I should have been able to shake it off and not let it affect the whole evening. Maybe I will do that in the future, maybe not. I am just me, experiencing emotions and trying to muddle my way through life and family. Hoping that one day everything I am learning and putting into practice will make situations that cause anxiety easier to manage.

The great thing about sobriety is knowing that these crappy emotions don’t last. If drinking, I would have drunk too much, and all it would have accomplished was adding another layer of guilt and anger with myself on top of the other emotions. I may even have verbally kicked my lovely sister (sorry darling!) Helpful? I think not!

Sobriety is not going to cure you of emotions or difficult times.

This summer we have had bereavement, grief, job stress, marital rows about parenting and a toddler who our neighbours kindly call – ‘full of character’! Added to it the usual joys of all being together for far too long.

One thing I have realised is that things get far harder to manage when I go into my head and start over thinking. When I think too much, I feel a huge weight of responsibility for the happiness of everyone around me. My own struggles with mental health make me very fearful of anyone I love having to experience that same thing.

For example, I take 1-2 hours a week to write this blog. Doesn’t seem much but in reality, it’s huge! If The Baby wakes up early, like now, I take the chance to write it while he watches a bit of Netflix – not great parenting but I’m OK with this one while everyone else is asleep. But God forbid I have to do it at another time. If I write it in the evening I feel guilty about not giving My Love enough attention – maybe I’ll ruin our marriage?! If I do it while the boys are playing, I feel guilty that I’m not giving them enough attention – maybe this will affect their self-esteem?! If I write with The Baby without Netflix – no chance! I feel guilty if My Love cleans or cooks or tidies up when I am writing it because I should be helping – maybe he’ll start resenting me?! I feel guilty and annoyed when the boys and My Love start arguing – maybe they’ll fall out so badly that the boys will want to live with their father and be emotionally scarred for life?!

As you can tell, retreating into my head is a bad idea! So I am carrying on with my journey, trying to put everything I have learnt and written about into everyday practice, not just for sobriety now but for happiness. And it is working! Although I still have emotions and days like Norfolk that completely overwhelm me, I am predominantly happy.

What I can say is that nothing, absolutely nothing I have been through would have been made better with alcohol.

If you are looking to quit or start your journey to a happier life, have a read of my posts How to quit drinking or any of my posts highlighted above, also found here.

If you prefer to read books, a few that may help you are

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Imposter syndrome

What is imposter syndrome

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

History of Imposter syndrome and how it works

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

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

Imposter cycle

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

The need to be special or the best

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

Superwoman/Superman aspects

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

Fear of failure

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

Denial of competence and discounting praise

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

Fear and guilt about success

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

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The effects of imposter syndrome

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

Who it affects

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

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

Albert Einstein:

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

Agatha Christie:

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

Maya Angelou:

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

How this relates to alcohol

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

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

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

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

Why am I writing about imposter syndrome?

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

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

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

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

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

How imposter syndrome has affected my life

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

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

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

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

How I am dealing with imposter syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

21 ways to overcome imposter syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

Greenman Festival – Sober!

A week before the festival I was all up for selling my tickets online and saying sod it, I’m not going.

Since becoming sober, my anxiety has been so much better. I don’t feel the twisting of my insides and the accompanying black cloud that tells me – this is who you are, and you’ll never escape from anxiety and blackness. I was on such an emotional roller coaster when I drank that every little thing was a cause for anxiety and then an excuse to drink.

When I stopped drinking, I also stopped putting myself in situations I didn’t want to be in. I thoroughly used ‘could’ instead of ‘should’ and questioned everything I was doing. Socially, if it made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it, then usually I didn’t. I was fiercely protective of my newfound sobriety and I was not going to let anything shake that.

So why did I feel my anxiety rearing its head before the festival? It was something I really, really wanted to do, but also something I had never done before, so I only had hearsay on what to expect. One of the things you hear most about are the portaloos – was I really going to spend a week taking the – newly potty trained – Baby to disgusting, stinky, blocked loos? Then the weather forecast, rain all week! I am not good with cold and wet unless I know I have a nice warm shower to get to. I am especially not good at being responsible for 3 cold and wet small people. Where would I dry the clothes? What were the showers like? Where would I dry the towels? How could I pack enough clothes for rain every day? What if their raincoats and wellies didn’t dry for the next day?

I had packed up and gone home a week into a two-week caravan holiday in Wales two years before, due to my anxiety, and felt completely crap about it. Did I want to do that to myself again?

My head went into overdrive and panic mode. I didn’t want my panic to tip me over the edge into drinking again, especially as I had heard festivals were basically giant piss ups with music.

My Love said we could sell the tickets if I wanted to, but on the flip side I did not want alcohol to define me. Could I really say to myself that I was never going to go to a festival just ‘in case’ I wanted to drink? Surely, at 15 months sober, without cravings I would be OK?

So, we packed up the car on the Monday morning and headed to beautiful, rainy Wales.

If you haven’t been to Wales, I recommend it, it is quite literally beautiful. At times you are clearly in the UK, at other times you could be in the Mediterranean. The emerald hills roll down to crystal clear rivers or turquoise sea waters. I have to be grateful for the rain, as without it, the verdant nature of Wales would not be as it is.

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We were camped in a huge site in the middle of the Brecon Beacons. On arrival, thinking we were early, we were surprised by the number of cars. We came on settler’s passes, meaning we camped Monday to Monday, rather than just for the festival. But it seemed like every parking space and every pitch site was already full! Little did we know then that 25,000 people would be attending this festival – I had thought about 5,000!!

We picked the first reasonable looking pitch I came to, albeit on a massive incline! As luck would have it, we had a clear view of both the mountains and the main stage. In the evenings, when it was dark, I loved looking up at the odd houses dotted across the mountainside, with their lights brightly glowing against the dark and the car lights making their way up the mountain. It felt insanely cosy. I am sure that those houses don’t have open fires, AGA cookers, the smell of baking bread and simmering stews but it was lovely to imagine.

View of the main stage from our tent

It rained on and off during the first day but was mostly warm. I kicked everyone out while I got organised inside – needing control somewhere! By the evening we realised that the boys tent had a leak and wasn’t habitable. I moved them into the big tent for the night – no sleep for My Love and I sharing an airbed with an overactive, head kicking toddler – but hey, at least the boys were dry! Next day we made it to Abergavenny where they had an Argos. We bought a cheapy new tent and a cheapy pushchair. I was amazed by the set up of regular festival goers with children. They have pull along trolleys decked out with bedding, lights and waterproof covers! I loved them! But The Baby would have to have a pushchair this time, and even that, pushed through inches of thick mud, was a God send for later nights!

I realised, after setting up, that I was doing OK. We were on the main path into the campsite, so we saw everyone coming in and out. Lots of people were walking around with cans of various alcoholic drinks, even first thing in the morning, but it wasn’t making me want to drink. Bizarrely, I did have a cigarette craving – I haven’t smoked in 7 years – but thankfully that passed pretty quickly!  The atmosphere on the settler’s camps was relaxed, friendly and family orientated. Down at the settler’s evening shenanigans, there was a tent with a bar and a stage, and a tent next to it with teas, coffees and cakes. Each was equally full at all hours of the day and night. I was impressed by programme, which had a whole page saying, we know more and more people are choosing not to drink alcohol so here is a page of alcohol-free drinks we are serving. This boded well for the actual festival!

When the festival started, on Thursday, it was a beautiful sunny day with no rain forecast, so we took that day to explore. I was feeling pretty proud of myself by this stage for not freaking out, not panicking and not wanting to drink. I had a little system going. Give children breakfast then find coffee stall. I find buying myself a coffee in the morning is a self-care treat that immediately relaxes me. We discovered early on that unless you want to queue for hours to have a cold shower that morning showers are a no go. We therefore set off early each day, came back in the late afternoon for quick and warm showers, ate supper, and headed out again for the evening. Obviously, I got the boys to wash their hands with soap in the morning as the portaloos really are revolting! Better than I imagined but OMG the smell!! Didn’t help that The Baby thought the flushing lever was the best toy at the whole festival – ugh! But even that, which would have had me freaking big time in my drinking days, was not so bad.

Funnily enough, with me not freaking out all the time, I realised that My Love is not the completely calm person I always thought he was. He was constantly worried about the logistics, the tent, the tarpaulins to keep stuff dry and spider free. I realised how much we both do but in totally different ways. I manage the activities, the clothes, the cleaning and the fun, he manages the car, the tents, the cooking and the maintenance.  Both essential! Although I would have liked to gel better while we were away, it was lovely that my freaking out had not taken over, and I had been able to give some of his concerns the attention they deserved.

Having had the few days extra build up, realising that I was actually having fun, when the rain – light and first, torrential later, and constant all day – came on Friday, I was ready and feeling strong. We were properly kitted up and warm.  We ate food in the rain, listened to music in the rain, did science experiments in the rain, danced in the rain and charged our phones in the rain! In front of the main stage were four small hills all leading on from one and other. The Bear and The Baby had the most fun rolling down those wet muddy hills – repeatedly! At one stage, The Bear accidentally pushed The Baby into a stream so water overflowed his wellies and socks. I scooped The Baby up, took him back to the tent and changed him into dry clothes before heading back out. I realised, my panic and anxiety is all my own doing. The children don’t care if they are wet and muddy, they are having a lovely time! As long as I catch it before they all get cold then everyone is happy. My worry is creating issues that aren’t really there. However at 6 hours, the rain was getting through all of our waterproof clothes and I called it a day. Everyone had a shower, changed into dry clothes, and we set the inside of the tent up with chairs, games and books – no need for music, that was coming loud and strong from the festival site!

The Baby wet, muddy and loving it!

I was seriously proud of myself. Had it rained like that for the whole time, I may have freaked out, but luckily, things never seem as long lasting or dramatic as you convince yourself they are.

Saturday was wonderful. Sunny, warm and teeming with people and activity. We set out ready to get a full day in. The little folk area was fantastic for small people. We did family yoga together first thing, then heard a lot of activity from across the way so went to investigate. It was a charity called the Flying Seagull Project who do amazing work bringing fun and laughter to children in pretty crappy situations.  Their energy and enthusiasm was unceasing. Parents had to join in with the children, firstly singing and dancing to the Greatest Showman and then joining in with playground games. 50 parents and children all playing Bull Dog, What’s the time Mr Wolf and the Big Dipper was amazing to see. I laughed so hard and so much, it felt wonderful. It made me aware of how little we properly laugh in day to day life. If playing playground games with my children made me laugh so much, why is it so much harder to do day to day? I don’t have the answer and I am still reflecting on this!

Laughing with the Flying Seagulls Project

Throughout the day, I laughed more and more. I laughed at the man in a kilt and bomber jacket making children and adults play musical chairs; I laughed at the guys in insane costumes playing a music quiz where you had to sing and dance the answers; I laughed with the couple singing songs for children about protecting animals; I laughed at the incredible science experiments they were putting on which made things I had found difficult to understand at school seem so easy! 

I was laughing and having so much fun without alcohol. It made me wonder if all those who were drinking during these activities, realised that the activities themselves were hilarious or if they believed, as I used to, that they needed to alcohol to enjoy it.

I was constantly drawn to the beauty of my surroundings but at one point, when the boys were playing in a bubble shop that had a constant stream of bubbles coming out of it, I was staggered by the magic that something as simple as bubbles could create. It was twilight, the air was full of bubbles that glowed pink and purple as they floated off, some popping to release little puffs of smoke and hundreds of children laughing and playing underneath. It filled me with wonder.

I can only imagine this is what is meant by mindfulness. I was so aware of everything that was happening: my feelings, my reactions and my surroundings.

The magic of bubbles at twilight

I did not manage to do or see everything I wanted to see or do. Often it was too expensive, there was simply too much to see or we were just too tired. On Saturday night, all completely exhausted at 11.30pm, we headed back to the tent to sleep. Once in bed DJ Four Tet started up on the main stage. The music was celestial and hypnotic, the beats pulsed through the floor of my tent, all I wanted to do was jump out of bed and run to the main stage to dance. The children were asleep so I couldn’t but I did have a little boogie in my tent, imagining that I’ll dance there with the boys one day! I had almost forgotten that music could overtake you in that way.    

Even though we didn’t do everything, we saw music, science, dancing, circus acts, fire shows and comedy. Pretty wonderful!

There were obviously downsides, I am not so unrealistic as to say it was all perfect. I found My Love and I bickering more than we ever usually do. The Baby was an absolute monkey – loving the freedom but screaming when he didn’t get complete freedom! The Bot was a totally ungracious nearly teenager and had a strop every time he couldn’t get what he wanted. The loos were grim and it was an absolute mud bath but the upsides far outweighed the downsides. I’ll give it to the Bear, he was fab!

I truly believe that I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did if I had been drinking. I might have laughed and danced but I would also have cried and panicked. I would have been in my head the whole time and I wouldn’t remember the wonder and magic of it all, or the feeling of experiencing it with the people I love. When I came home, I felt a weight descend on me again. Funny because I thought that I had made the home and the life I wanted. I will spend some time trying to work out what’s going on there. Maybe the festival is escapism, or maybe there are parts of the festival that I could bring home to lessen some of the weight. I’m not sure yet.

So if you are wondering if sober you can manage a festival or just a holiday, please don’t let drinking or not drinking ruin your enjoyment of what is really on offer. There were as many people not drinking at the festival as drinking so you will not be alone. Times are changing and it is easier too not drink now than it has ever been.

So just one last word before I sign off for today. If you have never been to a festival – GO! (and bring soap!)

FUN WITHOUT ALCOHOL

Although quitting drinking is never easy; I drank for 22 years and actively tried to quit for 12 of them, I think it is made much harder by the illusion, perpetuated by our society, that you cannot have fun without it.

Alcohol is so normalised within our society that all fun events seem to include it. What do we do for celebrations, nights out, dates, summer evenings, summer days, Christmases, birthdays and holidays? We drink! Even a child’s birthday party – bring on the gin and prosecco. 

This does not even begin to mention when we drink for things that are not fun – loss, pain and commiseration. Society tells us that alcohol is pretty much the answer to everything.

It certainly does have a lot to answer for.

SOCIAL ANXIETY

I convinced myself that it was the alcohol that made the situation fun and not the situation itself. There are definitely times when alcohol made the situation feel manageable, for example, parties that I didn’t want to be at with people that I didn’t want to talk to: but why on earth was I putting myself in these situations in the first place? 

I drank at university to deal with social anxiety and because it’s what everyone was doing for fun. But I was kidding myself that I was having fun. I didn’t have many friends, probably alienated them with my drinking, I was lonely, shy, anxious and by the end suffering from depression. I probably could have had more friends and a real social life and been happier, if I hadn’t drunk so much and then spent days hungover, ashamed, guilty and too anxious to go out again.

I knew that my drinking was a problem, so after uni, I ‘controlled’ my drinking for 12 years.

THE ILLUSION

Drinking for fun was an illusion. I’d lived in cultures that don’t drink and I have friends around the world that don’t drink. They absolutely have fun, celebrate and enjoy life without alcohol. So yes, I knew it was possible. But I worried that I’d made this impossible for myself. Whenever I managed to quit for a while, every evening was spent craving alcohol and feeling miserable. Three pregnancies equated to about 3 years of feeling miserable and deprived. Even though I desperately wanted to quit, I literally couldn’t cope with the idea that I would feel like that every day for the rest of my life. That would not be fun at all. That would mean I would never have fun again. Better keep drinking then!

Yet the longer it went on, the less fun I was having drinking. Examples of this were Birthdays and Christmases. Since childhood, I have loved family Birthdays and Christmases. The problem became that, as soon as the day got going so did the drinking. The nice fuzzy feeling lasted for approximately one glass, maybe two, of prosecco and then wore off. Then my anxiety kicked in and my worry about the day, the children, the noise and the mess. So I drank to try to recapture the nice fuzzy feeling, which is impossible, and then did not enjoy the rest of the day because it all became a hazy blur which I would end early because I felt tired, upset, anxious and ashamed. 

So there I was stuck – no fun drinking, no fun not drinking.

SELF-SABOTAGE

I first rediscovered fun without alcohol when I went dancing. I had recovered from a breakdown about 6 months before and had started to try to heal my life. Very bravely, raging social anxiety present, I went by myself to a dance class. I discovered the pure, unadulterated joy in dancing. I felt like a child again and I was on a cloud for the whole time. I didn’t drink while doing it because I felt so happy. Then I let my negative inner voice and my anxiety in and eventually started drinking again. The thing is that vigorous exercise, which dancing is, and alcohol do not really go together. So in typical style, I self-sabotaged and gave up the dancing rather than the drinking.

I am not going to go into habit-changing here, as this post would be far too long! But let me say that working consistently to change your habits is the key to getting rid of those cravings.

LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL

I quit drinking for good on 29th April 2018. I had completed a miserable Dry January in 2018 and started drinking again afterwards. Then I began habit changing. Since I quit I have been basically craving free and have never been happier, less anxious and had more fun.

These are the things that I now find so much fun without alcohol.

Exercise:

The word exercise can put so many people off but please, believe me, there is some kind of movement for everyone out there that they can enjoy. For me, it’s dancing, yoga, cycling, walking and short high-intensity circuits, all of which I can do at or from home. Exercise gives amazing and long-lasting feelings of wellness.

Nature:

They say nature heals and it is so true. Get out of your house and into nature as often as you can. I love the warm sun on my face, the sound of the ocean, the breeze in the trees, the glistening of frozen grass, the sound of rain and the crunch of snowfall. I walk across a big field to get my bus to work at 5.45 am. I never thought that would be a time I could enjoy but now I feel my heart lifting at its beauty and silence.

Taking me time:

Often people, especially mothers, do not feel they have a right to me time. Me time is so important for your health, mental and physical, and for your healing. Drinking coffee in a bookshop, surrounded by books, while reading a book is my idea of heaven! If I can’t get to a bookshop, a bath will do!

Evenings:

Booze free evenings have been a revelation. In winter they are warm and cosy, with tea, good food, family and probably a few too many sweet treats. In summer it’s eating alfresco, outdoor cinema and sunset walks. I missed so many evenings because of drinking.

Celebrations:

Whatever you loved as a child you will probably still love as an adult. So birthdays, Christmas, Easter – try them as booze-free events. I was so surprised and delighted to have these celebrations back the way I wanted them to be. Just make sure you are doing them with people you want to be with and with lots of good food! 

My message in all this is please do not keep drinking because you’re worried you’ll be constantly craving and miserable if you quit. Once you start changing your habits, the cravings will go and there is a world of fun and happiness waiting for you.

Change your thoughts to change your life

Deepak Chopra quotes

“Simply with a change of mind you can change your life.”

“Our future is created from choices we make every minute.”

Seriously, my thoughts have created my life?

Since my forays into the land of self-help began, at 24 years old, everything alluded to the fact that the power to change your life is within your thoughts. I cannot tell you how many times I have been completely inspired by this and how many times I have been so angry about it. My anger always came when I was in a low place and couldn’t seem to find a way out of my situation. I felt like this message was telling me that I had deliberately put myself in my bad situation and that everything that was going wrong was my fault.  

This is a very negative and destructive headspace to be in. What I need to make clear, so that you do not make the same mistakes I did, is that there is no blame or judgement. Our situation and our lives are a result of our thoughts, our actions and our behaviours but that does not mean that we are to blame.

Mostly our thoughts are unconscious. They are a product of what we were told as children and then they change according to how we are treated growing up and according to events in our lives. We are usually totally unaware of what our thoughts are telling us day in day out. How can we then be to blame for thoughts created as a child? How can we be to blame for something we are unaware of?

An example of this that always struck me is abusive relationships. A victim of domestic abuse is in no way to blame for being in an abusive relationship. However, their thoughts going into the relationship probably told them that they didn’t deserve any better and when they were in the relationship their thoughts may have said that they were unworthy and deserved the life they had. The more we head down the cycle of negative thoughts, the harder it is to see that it is our thoughts are perpetuating the situation and changing our thoughts may feel impossible. 

What I am trying to say with this is please do not just ignore any upcoming advice because the idea has evoked a powerful emotional reaction. I had these reactions so many times, but the fact is I came back to the idea again and again, because ultimately, it is true. Changing your thoughts is the only thing that will change your life.

Mindfulness

I am assuming that most people reading this will not have escaped from the mindfulness craze that has taken over in the last few years. Although I had a huge amount of self-help knowledge and experience, I didn’t really get mindfulness until I took a mindfulness course to help me manage my post-natal depression after The Baby.  

Mindfulness is actually really simple. It is just becoming aware of what is happening. Aware of what is around you, aware of how your body feels, aware of your emotions and aware of your thoughts.

Meditation

Becoming aware of what is going on can be incredibly difficult in this high-octane world that we live in. There is very little space for quiet time, pondering, thinking or just being.  How are we supposed to know what we think if we can’t even find the time to think about our thoughts?

Starting a meditation practice gives us the space to do these things. Meditation does not have to be anything special. You do not need gongs, bells and incense. All you need is some quiet and a little space.

Watch this very short video, by a Buddhist monk, which My Love recommended as it showed him how simple meditation is.

How to train your monkey mind

I think it is brilliantly simple! Initially, by concentrating on your breath, you are just teaching your brain to be calm, giving it some space. Once you have practiced and feel more confident in your meditation, you can choose to give some thoughts more attention. This is the point where you can start to become aware of your subconscious thoughts. Crucially though, becoming aware of your thoughts doesn’t mean engaging with them. If you feel that your thoughts starting to spiral, come back to concentrating on your breath until your mind settles again.

There are so many meditation videos of all types and lengths on You Tube so just have a play and see what suits you. If you want a starting point, I find the Honest Guys really good.

When you become more comfortable with meditation, it can also be done while moving. Yoga and Tai Chi are the most common examples of this, but there is no reason why the movement shouldn’t be simpler, like walking in nature or swimming. Anything that gives you quiet and space.

For yoga videos, I found the 30 day Yoga with Adriene practices an amazing starting point.

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Thoughts

So, now that we are aware of our thoughts, what thoughts have arisen?

It is so common to find thoughts that say:

  • I am not good/clever/strong/brave enough
  • I am a failure or always failing
  • I can’t do this
  • I am not enough
  • I am alone, nobody cares about me
  • Nobody likes me
  • It’s impossible/hopeless  
  • It’s my fault

You will probably find that your negative thoughts far outweigh your positive ones. It is estimated that we have between 2-3,000 thoughts an hour. Now imagine someone telling you ‘you are no good’ 2-3,000 times an hour. Then imagine that they have been telling yourself this most of your life. You are going to believe that aren’t you? This amount of negative energy is inevitably going to have a profound effect on actions, behaviours and choices which will massively impact the path of your life.  

How to change your thoughts

Once we have become aware of these thoughts – what to do about them?

We literally have to change our thoughts. Contradict them, say ‘NO!’ to them, tell your thoughts they are wrong. Then actively tell yourself something good. Initially this may feel really weird, but as with everything, with practice it becomes more natural.

It might help to write down the thoughts that were most prominent when meditating, and then write a counter to these thoughts.

As I have talked about so often, we are changing a habit (see How to stop alcohol cravings). These thoughts are just a habit. Trying to change all your thoughts at once is quite unlikely, so just pick a few thoughts and concentrate on those ones until your counter argument feels more natural, then pick a new thought habit to change.

For example, if your thoughts say ‘I am not good enough’ you say no! And change your thought to ‘I am confident and capable, I am enough’ or ‘I am loving and caring, I am enough’ or simply, ‘I am amazing!’ You get the idea.

Some people find positive affirmations really good. A positive affirmation is just a positive statement about you and your life, such as ‘My life is full and happy’. Like a habit, saying these affirmations repeatedly, trains the brain to start thinking that affirmation. Thoughts, as we have seen, turn into actions and behaviours, these actions and behaviours change what you are doing to make these thoughts a reality. It’s a bit ‘fake it until you make it’, but it works!

Just a quick word of warning though. If your life is feeling pretty shit, and you are seriously down, saying ‘My life is full and happy’ is probably going to evoke feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, sadness and ultimately you will stop saying it  pretty quickly because it feels so far from the truth that it must be nonsense. So like all my advice, baby steps. Don’t say ‘My life is full and happy’ if it really really isn’t right now. Maybe pick one thing that you are grateful for. Once thing that made you smile, even slightly, or one person who loves you and say that ‘I am grateful for….’ Or ‘I have love in my life’ (I will write much more on gratitude soon). Slowly these small thoughts will improve your thoughts and mood and bring you to a place where you can move onto the bigger affirmations.

Learning to love and forgive yourself

Most important to your thought changing is kindness. You have to train yourself to be super doper kind to yourself.

No judgement, no blame.

One of the things I hear most often from people trying to change their lives, such as quitting drinking, (and believe me, I was no different), is ‘I have failed again’. Failure is a judgement, and you are also blaming yourself. Neither of these thoughts will help you. Things are as they are. If you have had a drink when you didn’t want to, then there is nothing that beating yourself up about it is going to do about that now; you can’t take it back or change it. The only thing beating yourself up might do is prevent you from starting again, and it is only by starting again and accumulating of baby steps that we finally reach our goal.

As I often say, it’s easier to say this than to practice it, especially if you have had a self-critical thought pattern for a long time. But as with everything, it takes awareness of your thoughts and consistent practice at changing them.

I have created a free course, sign up is below, which will send you a daily email with actions to take to change your thoughts and improve your sense of self-worth.

How changing your thoughts will change your relationship with alcohol  

By changing out thoughts, we become aware of what is going on in us. This awareness allows us to work out our triggers, the reasons that we drink and what we really want from life.

Changing your thoughts allows you to change our behaviours and introduce those new habits which can replace your alcohol habit (see How to stop alcohol cravings for more on this.)

It also allows us to start finding out who we really are. In not being critical we can start to actually like ourselves. Once you learn to love yourself, anything is possible. Most importantly, if you love yourself you will take time to nurture yourself and become the person you want to be.

Lessons I learnt from my thoughts

I learnt by doing this that my inner voice was hugely critical. I had no belief in myself, I was afraid of people and I needed to prove my life’s validity constantly. Every time I made a good or brave decision, my thoughts led me to sabotage it (see How I used alcohol to escape). I most definitely, looking back, created the life I have. Although I fought with this idea for so long – because I was full of anger, judgement and blame – it kept coming back until I realised I had to let go of dwelling on my past and trying to control my future, and simply be aware of my thoughts in the now. Being aware of the now will heal the past and change your future. Let go and trust. (See How to build a life you do not want to escape from for more on this).

Book recommendations for changing your thoughts

These books have been amazing for helping me to change my thoughts – so have a read if that sounds good.

For healing

For trusting

For changing

For happiness

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Awareness gives you the ability to consciously choose your thoughts and subsequently your actions and behaviours, and as a result your life.

How to build a life you do not want to escape from

I know that this is a mad thing to say, but in a way I have always felt a little bit lucky to have been through everything I have been through. Don’t get me wrong, it was completely awful at the time, yet when I came out the other end, I realised how much I had learnt and how that knowledge could help me to be a little closer to the person I wanted to be. It has helped me to build the life I do not want to escape from.

When I was trying to quit drinking I would say to my husband that not drinking was the last big battle I needed to fight. I had overcome depression, stopped smoking, survived a breakdown, been through divorce and started to heal my life. I was so frustrated that after everything I had overcome I still couldn’t beat alcohol.

My previous posts have covered a lot of ground on why this was the case:

My last post, How I used alcohol to escape, looked at what I was trying to escape from.

The fact is that most of us, at some point, feel the need to escape from something. A mid-life crisis is a well-known example of this. People get on, living the life they ‘should’ live, having the babies, the jobs, the houses, earning the money, working all hours for children and then to save for retirement. It can be so easy to slip into this cycle, never really questioning whether it is what you want and whether you are happy. Then as children grow up and middle age comes, people become aware of their age and mortality, aware of the dreams they may not have fulfilled, the limitations that have been on their lives. If you’ve never questioned it before, I imagine it can come as a huge shock – leading to all the desperate attempts to regain youth and opportunity.

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I think my problem was that I was aware of all of this far too early!! My family used to like debating, and a common topic of debate was death, the apocalypse, politics, religion and wars. I was far too young to understand that all of this stuff is what has occurred throughout history, I interpreted it as meaning it was all happening tomorrow. So I always felt a pressure to do everything NOW.

I now have a massive issue with quotes like ‘live life as if there is no tomorrow’, ‘live life to the full’ and ‘carpe diem’.

Because while they might inspire people who are cruising through life, I was never cruising. I was striving, fighting, trying to fit everything into every day, trying to achieve everything as quickly as I could. As I discussed previously, these grand plans were often unrealistic within the time frame I wanted, leading to frustration and disappointment. I then drank to deal with those feelings, to dream that I could achieve everything I wanted to quickly, to hide from the fact that I might die tomorrow not having achieved or seized the day! The more I became embedded in life, work and children the more I felt that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to with each day, so the harder I fought, the more frustrated I became and the more I wanted to drink to escape.

If you have a propensity towards cruising, the take those quotes on board, but if you are like me, step away from them quickly!

Ultimately, I was terrified of dying not having lived. All those dreams as a young person: the charity jobs, the travelling, the adventures, the excitement and glamour seemed further and further away, so I fought harder.  

My favourite Dalai Lama quote, when he was asked what surprised him most about humanity, was this: “Man! Because he 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.”

This quote applies to cruisers and fighters alike. We get so bogged down in doing what we ‘should’ do that we forget ourselves. No one is a machine. We expect so much from ourselves; working, being a good parent, being fit and healthy, managing a household and being good friends. I have talked about how difficult this it can be, especially in our current society, where people try to juggle it all with less family and less community for support.

What we forget in all of this is that we have the right to look after ourselves. We deserve to live a life that we want to live.

However, neither cruising nor fighting is going to get you that life.

Firstly, many of us do not believe that we have the right to look after ourselves or put to our needs as a priority. We struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and a lack of self-worth and validity. This is such a huge and important topic that I am going to talk about it in my next post, where I will talk you through changing your thoughts to improve your sense of self-worth. As we looked at in my last post, this lack of self-worth will often lead us to sabotage the steps we do take, so we need to stop this cycle in order to move towards the life we want.

For now, back to why you need to stop fighting your way through life.

I found that by fighting to achieve the life I wanted, I ended up micromanaging every tiny aspect of my life. There was no ‘going with the flow’ or ‘see where life takes you’. Every second of my time was planned in the fear that life wouldn’t progress if I didn’t make it.

I remember my sister telling me about the states of consciousness which are To me, By Me, Through me and As me. Later, I will write about them in depth because they are amazing and very relevant to your journey. But basically it is as follow:

  • To me – life happens to you
  • By Me – I make life happen
  • Through me – you let go on control and work with life
  • As me – A deeper state of consciousness and understanding of the universe – peace, freedom, enlightenment 

I was most definitely in the BY ME category. I was going to make sure life happened and that I was in control and didn’t miss anything.

An example was that I used to plan the after school time precisely. There’s a lot to do in that time so I thought if I planned food time, homework time, family time, bath time, bed time, story time, get stuff ready for next day time and My Love and I time, then I would have the evenings I wanted to have. But it doesn’t work like that and so I would get frustrated when the plan wasn’t followed, anxious because I felt out of control, snappy at the boys and My Love and then resentful because after all my hard work planning, I still didn’t have the lovely family evening I wanted.

As this shows, micromanaging your life doesn’t actually work. Although I got A LOT done, I was never really happy doing it. I felt satisfied when I had ticked something off my to-do list, but had I actually enjoyed the process and was my to-do list any shorter than it previously had been? Most of the time, no. Anything I actually wanted to do was usually shoved to the side because, as any parent knows, your to do list rarely has anything but ‘jobs’ on it.

When I used to get the odd bit of spare time, once The Bot and The Bear were at school, before The Baby arrived, I would fill that gap with studying or yoga classes or planning the future. Anything I did with that time had to be part of a future plan otherwise I would be wasting the precious free time I had. I couldn’t do a yoga class for the joy of yoga, I had to do it as part of a plan to become a yoga teacher. I still don’t know if this was to validate my time, because I felt I had to justify my right to time to myself, or whether it was frantically grabbing at any opportunity for the future in case it disappeared.

Micromanaging my life left me frustrated, dissatisfied, entrenched in my rut and no further towards the life I wanted to live. 

No wonder I thought I wanted that temporary release of alcohol and the fuzzing of reality just to allow myself to lose control for a moment.

Things started to change after I read Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success. It’s a tiny book and can be read in an hour, but the power of his words hit me like a tsunami! I will write a post later going into more depth about this book because it is SO POWERFUL! A lot of what he says resonates with other amazing books like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and You can Heal your life, by Louise Hay.

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He says that our present is a result of our conscious or unconscious thoughts. Everything in our lives now is happening because we wanted it to happen. Now DON’T FREAK OUT! Bear with me, and Deepak! I was so pissed off with this thought but I had heard it before. The idea that I had created my own unhappiness when I had fought and planned so hard not to get the happy life I wanted was frankly insulting. Yet he is completely right. I had not trusted in life, I was convinced I was going to be hit by a bus tomorrow, convinced there was no greater power and that I had to create the life I wanted. My thought pattern had created the life I was now living.

However, wonderfully, we can change those patterns and change the course of our lives. We can change our thoughts to create the life we want (much more on this next post). We have to consciously change negative thought cycles. My thoughts were telling me that I had no value and that I needed to justify my life. Just being me and enjoying life was not enough. Whereas, Deepak Chopra says that by doing this I was ‘stopping the flow of energy’.

So the theory goes that the energy of the universe is all around. We have to let go of control and let the universe step in to do the work (this is the THROUGH ME part of the states of consciousness).

While consciously changing our thoughts, we have to create quiet time for our minds to set our intentions for the future. These are the ‘what I want my life to look like’ thoughts. Our minds need to be still as, to paraphrase was he says, if we drop a pebble in a quiet pond you can see the effect of the ripples, but if you drop it in a stormy ocean, the universe won’t notice a thing! Once we have set our intention, we have to let go of trying to control how we get there (the planning part) and trust in the universe to control how we get there.

This frees up your time and mind to focus on the baby steps you need to take to activate change in your life. These baby steps, as I have talked about before, are the foundations to getting the life you want. Big dramatic goals lead to failure and frustration, so entrust those goals to the universe and work on you in the now.

Having just watched the new Men in Black film, I heard a quote that I used to know well but had forgotten, by Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu –

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’ 

Try to search inside yourself for what you are unhappy with or afraid of, or what negative thoughts are holding you back. Pick one thing at a time to change. Focus on taking steps towards changing that thing. The more you practice changing your thoughts, your habits and your behaviours, the easier it becomes to tackle more than one thing at once. 

My formula goes:

Small & Realistic steps = Sustainable = Big changes = Dream fulfilment  

I know it’s a silly analogy, but I was watching The Baby trying to get undressed the other day and it struck me how true my formula is for everything in life. He desperately wanted his bath, he loves water and the sooner he is in it the happier he is. His goal was that bath. But he was so desperate to get into the bath that he was trying to pull everything off at once. He was getting into a tangle, falling over and crying with frustration. Eventually I said ‘Stop!!’ Take one thing off at a time. He looked at me, took each item of clothing off individually and quickly got into the bath. ONE SMALL THING AT A TIME!! Brilliant!!  

One of the most amazing parts of my formula is that by taking these steps, you also learn to love your present. Loving your present does not, as I thought it did, mean denying your dreams. It just means entrusting those dreams to the universe and working on your present. Being happy in the present is like exponential growth. The happier you are in the present and the more you trust in the universe, the more amazing your life will become – probably different and better than the one you expected!  

You are building a life you DO NOT WANT TO ESCAPE FROM!         

Please do not think that this all airy fairy rosy nonsense that is far from reality. I am not saying this happens without a little effort (this is why you can’t be a cruiser either!) and I am not saying that you will not have days when you think it is all rubbish and you want to jack it all in – my sister has requested a ‘furious sober yoga mummy’ posts which will be forthcoming! I have had stretches of time where I’m feeling OK so my naughty brain slips back into habit mode and starts planning – queue worry, frustration and dissatisfaction. Then I eventually realise what’s happening, and bring myself back round to letting go of control again. 

Whether this is before you stop drinking or finding the life you want after you stop drinking, just remember that like anything, it’s being conscious and aware of what is happening in your mind that allows you to make the small changes you need to build the life you do not want to escape from.

How I used alcohol to escape

In my previous posts, Why do people drink and How to beat the alcohol illusion, we looked at escapism. To be honest, most people are not living the life they thought they would live. Expectations set in adolescents are very rarely what the reality of adulthood looks like. Therefore a massively important part of maintaining your sobriety is to build a life you DO NOT WANT TO ESCAPE FROM!          

This, my friends, is easier said than done!

Youthful dreams

So, part of my personal story. After I had tackled depression in my early twenties, I was full of positive oomph at having found life again. For a while, in Edinburgh, things were good. I was getting married, I was doing a TEFL course so that we could travel abroad for a while, before settling somewhere and having children. Literally in the last week of my TEFL course I had a positive pregnancy test. I wanted children, so I am pretty sure that I self-sabotaged my plans to travel, due to fear of the unknown, and that I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. Depression set back in and mixed with 9 months of vomiting, it wasn’t a great experience!

Babies

But The Bot was so insanely cute, lovely and taciturn that I was OK for a while. Then, we decided that we could still travel and have the life we wanted. So while my ex-husband retrained as a teacher I signed up for a Masters in International Relations – sensible grown up ways of making travel abroad with a child more likely – then BAM, pregnancy No. 2. This time I really had done everything I should have done to not have baby number 2 so HUGE shock. Again I rallied and postponed my Masters for a year, another 9 months of vomiting. The Bear was born on a very snowy January night and I find it very hard to remember the first year with two toddlers. I must have swum rather sunk, as I’m still here and they are lovely boys, but I don’t remember. Somehow in all of this I completed my Masters.

My father made a littler picture for me, which was supposed to be funny but was actually painfully true.

Because actually, with a working husband and two toddlers, what exactly did I think I was going to do? Head off abroad to, become a charity worker, have adventures, with no real skills to offer and children in tow? Or just leave the children at home? I still had a fear of the unknown, my lack of confidence and lack of self-worth – so did I stay put to be a ‘good mother’ or did I stay at home as an excuse not to face my fears? Bit of both I think.

I hated being a stay at home mother. Some people love it but that was not me. I was going completely bonkers. I was stressed (with two toddlers and a by now miserable husband), anxious (with what I believe was badly managed post natal depression), frustrated  that life wasn’t working out as planned, afraid of the future and feeling trapped in my life – too name a few.

Egyptian escape

We moved to Egypt to escape the life that wasn’t working for us here. My ex got a job as a teacher in a private school and we packed up and headed off with the 3 year old Bot and the 18 month old Bear. What I quickly and depressingly realised was that I hadn’t escaped AT ALL!! What I now had was a 3 year old who cried every day going to preschool and was bullied horribly, a husband who was still miserable, a baby that I still had to stay at home with so still couldn’t so all the stuff I had imagined I would do. I had no car, was stuck in a purpose build town in the middle of the desert, no money (despite all the schools promises). I had to take taxis to get anywhere and no taxi driver would take me where I wanted to go because they thought, after the Arab Spring Egyptian Revolution, that it was too dangerous. Other than a trip top Luxor after Christmas, I did not see the Cairo I knew and loved at all.

They were probably right though. In the ‘safe’ purpose built town, despite wearing completely appropriate covering clothes, I was grabbed, groped, chased and masturbated on, all while my children were present. Lovely. No one at the school seemed to have these problems, but they very much kept to their expat bit, going to expat bars in Cairo or to the golf course, and drinking lots – nothing very toddler friendly.

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Self-sabotage

My anxiety set in, because I could no longer control or escape my life. Then my IBS set in, my stomach swelled up like I was pregnant and I missed periods due to stress, Additional fear of being pregnant stress added then too! 

But I also constantly self-sabotaged. Like TEFL, I believed in myself enough to plan and pursue dreams, but when push came to shove, I found a way to back out. I had been talking to a supervisor at Edinburgh University who had said he would be able to take me on as a PhD student. Amazingly, he was going to a conference in Cairo and would I be able to meet him to chat about it. Or course I agreed – amazing! Fate! Exciting! The day arrived, panic, fear, anxiety – that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d be rejected after the meeting, etc etc. So I sabotaged. The taxi journey was too long, too expensive, too hot for The Bear. Would The Bear behave? Would it be too long for him? Then I sent a message with every excuse saying I couldn’t attend the meeting. I was disappointed, frustrated and angry with myself all over again. Needless to add, I did not get another invitation.

Panic

I was so hysterical by this point, 6 months in, that I booked flights home with the boys, and said I wasn’t coming back. We arrived back on the Wednesday and by the Saturday we were in hospital and The Bear had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I honestly believe my Bear must have a guardian angel. Going back to Egypt was not an option. My ex did not return until the end of the year.

I had tried to retrain (for my current job) multiple times but things kept falling apart. I was so close at one point. After Egypt, I worked full time shifts in A&E (The Bot and Bear were 2 and 4 years old). I relied on my mother for childcare, as my ex was working, miserable and unhelpful. I would come home from a 12 hour shift and he would say, ‘what’s for supper?’ and then complain that I was going to bed to early (10pm – I was up at 5am) and who was going to keep him company while he planned  lessons. More often than not I slept on the sofa. I tried to run the household, work shifts, study and look after children. This was definitely not what I planned!  On top of this, working in A&E you see the end result of alcohol for many people. The pancreatitis, the cancer, the pain, the jaundice, the desperation in these poor people who have fallen victim to the horrors of alcohol. Most people brush it off and say, ‘that won’t be me’ but I knew that it could be anyone. I knew I drank too much, I was constantly controlling my intake, but my treat after 3 night shifts was a bottle of prosecco in a short space of time! I knew that this could be me if I didn’t get a grip on things, but this just caused further panic and more drinking to deal with the panic.  

Breakdown

This is when I had a breakdown. I had never really believed in breakdowns before. I almost believe that people chose to stop. 

One night, I got a phone call from my mother saying a family friend had died of carbon monoxide poisoning while visiting a friend. I had been paranoid about carbon monoxide since The Bot was born. I believe it was undiagnosed post natal depression that fixated on carbon monoxide as the thing that was going to kill us all. This news was the culmination of everything. I woke up in the night with an absolute certainty that I was imminently going to die. I have never been so sure of anything. I woke my ex to tell him and he said ‘go back to sleep you are fine’. I crept into the sitting room, unable to breath, heart pounding, sweating and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. For the next two weeks I couldn’t leave the house. I wanted to, I told myself I could, I told myself I had to leave for the children, but every time I approached the door I started sweating, my heart was pounding and I became lightheaded. My ex did not help me during this time and my mother eventually got me to the doctors for antidepressants and beta-blockers.

After two weeks, I went back to work. But realised it was unsustainable and made the very difficult decision to stop chasing my retraining dream and accept that motherhood in the suburbs was my lot. I read You Can Heal your Life at the is time and started working on healing my life. I soon realised that my ex was not going to be part of healing my life going forward and we divorced soon afterwards.  

New dreams

I have said it before but genuinely believe that all the work I did at that time to heal and help myself, helped me open up to the universe and the universe gave me My Love (my now husband). He is a kindest, gentlest, sweetest most respectful and loving man in the world. He has helped me to fully heal and become the person that I am today, I am so infinitely grateful to him and the universe.

Not that it was quite that easy. My healing was still in the beginning stages so adding divorce, new relationship and failed retraining dreams all together was maybe a bit much. I was still drinking, obviously, and drinking far more than usual to manage the emotions. He hardly drank and although he never criticised, I knew he couldn’t understand why I did.

I had given up on the work I had been doing to heal myself was still a bit lost. Although I loved My Love so much, I was doing the whole lack of self-worth thing, and didn’t believe he really loved me. I wanted to test him, to try it, to push him. He stayed completely solid throughout, I have no idea how! I had said when I first met him that I absolutely did not want more children, but then I worried that, as he didn’t have any children, that he would resent me later on if we didn’t. He said he didn’t mind, but I didn’t believe that. I was completely overwhelmed by anxiety and worry again so pushed him to decide about children. I booked and appointment to be sterilised and said this was the last chance if he wanted to change his mind. This was not the manipulation that it sounds, I really didn’t want more children and thought being sterilised would give me peace of mind. I have subsequently been sterilised and it really has! He did change his mind. We stopped trying not to have children for 9 months and nothing happened. He had always wondered if he would be able to have children so we thought that this was the answer. I guiltily felt relieved that the universe had saved me from myself and I could say we had tried.

New baby

Then we did the Whole 30. I hated it, (no alcohol or sugar!) and only lasted 9 miserable days, but My Love lasted the whole 30. So I recommend, anyone struggling to get pregnant, to give it a try, because pregnant I became straight afterwards!

It was the worst time of my life. It ruined my wedding, nearly ruined our relationship and who knows what it did to my poor boys. I had started retraining on the old path again before I got pregnant and so I was working shifts, studying, vomiting constantly and being a mummy and new wife.

I thought history was repeating itself and I sank badly into depression. I also realise that I did nothing to help myself. I wallowed big time. Furious at the world even though I knew I had done this to myself. This was the biggest self-sabotage of all time. I was awful to My Love the whole time, I was angry, kicking and screaming and unable to drink to hide from the pain

I know people reading this will be horrified that I could possibly be so ungrateful for the gift of another baby, but I was. Deeply, hideously ungrateful. I thought that this was the end of my life. I would never achieve anything now, never travel, never enjoy things with the older boys. The feelings and depression went on all through pregnancy and for 10 months afterwards. I refused medication this time and a mindfulness course started to get me back on track. But after the 10 months, it took another year before I stopped drinking and started to heal properly.

Denying my dreams

In the time after the mindfulness course, when I was healing, I took a wrong turning. In trying to learn to be grateful for the present and enjoy the moment, I started trying to be something I wasn’t. I denied my wanderlust, tried to force myself to accept it could never be, bought a caravan for UK holidays, stopped dreaming and tried to accept that my lot, which I had to be happy with, was as a suburban working mother. The antithesis of every dream I had ever had. I believe this wrong turn, is why it took me another year before I stop drinking.

Next post I am going to go into detail, (more detail you say?!), about how we can build the life we want, but to end this post about my journey, I want to say a few things that I learnt.

I learnt that, fight it or not, I did most of it to myself. Whether through a lack of self-worth, a need for validation and lack og confidence and belief, I created and then sabotaged my own situations again and again.

You need to learn to know and love who you actually are, not try to be someone else.

I spent years and years thinking about past missed opportunities or planning and dreaming about future opportunities, but at no point was I living or appreciating the life I had in the present. My mother told me I always made my life difficult. She was right. I could never just be, never just enjoy life, as soon as I was comfortable I was trying to sabotage it in some way in the fear of getting stuck.  

Nothing I did was small, realistic or sustainable. Everything was grand, unrealistic and doomed to failure. I read too many novels and believed I could transform my life in an instant.

I believed in myself enough to set dreams and plans but I didn’t believe in myself enough to carry any of it through, to take a chance or to trust.  

How to beat the alcohol illusion

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

Normalisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accessibility

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

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

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

Social Pressure

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

Fun?

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

Hangovers – fun?? – need I say more?

But how will I have fun

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

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

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

But how will I celebrate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Social anxiety

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

A few things to remember when approaching a social event:

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

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

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

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

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

Pleasure

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

It most definitely DOES NOT make you happy.

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

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

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

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

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Instant gratification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escapism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting down

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

How to stop alcohol cravings

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

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

What is a habit?

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

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

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

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

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

Willpower

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

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

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

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

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

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How to want to stop drinking

See alcohol for what it really is

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

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

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

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

Know why we want to drink

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

Acknowledge that alcohol is an illusion and not a friend

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

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

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

Picture your life without it

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

How to stop wanting to drink

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

Have a plan

Essential to your quitting alcohol toolbox is a plan.

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

Changing habits

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

What new habits?

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

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

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

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

New habits that feel good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Supporting new habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community

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

Be kind to yourself

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

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

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

Cues

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

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

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

– Get away from the cue as quickly as you can

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

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

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

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

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