Am I an alcoholic?

Effects of alcohol

The 2010 study from the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (1) showed that alcohol ranked as the number 1 most harmful drug in the UK when combining harm to users and harm to others. There can be lots of arguments around this and obviously alcohol use is far more widespread than most other drugs, so this will affect the statistics, but let’s just compare it to smoking. We all know smoking is bad for us and most smokers would like to quit. But smoking only ranked 6th most harmful and had less ‘health damage’ than alcohol. When we’ve seen what smoking can do to us physically, that’s quite a scary thought.

So just some quick facts about the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol Change UK (2) says that in the UK 20 people a day die as a result of their drinking and it is the biggest risk factor for death in 15 – 49 year olds. Alcohol is also implicated in many crimes, sexual assaults and road accidents. In terms of health, the NHS (3) lists the risks involved in drinking from accidents, violence and homelessness to heart disease, stroke, and a whole array of cancers.

Am I an alcoholic?

For the next section I apologise to anyone who has found the term alcoholic helpful for their recovery. As with everything, do what feels right for you. These are just my thoughts and feelings on the subject.

This is a question I asked myself and asked Google many, many times. The problem is that it is such a huge spectrum, that most drinkers are on somewhere, that it is difficult draw a line and say – that side is the alcoholic and that side isn’t. ‘Alcoholic’ has so many negative connotations, and I have felt myself cringe since writing this blog as my parents, aunts, and others have all whispered ‘is she an alcoholic?’  But I think this negative attitude is exactly the reason why many people fail to say anything when they are struggling and don’t ask for the support they need.

When I worked in A&E a while ago, one of the questions we were supposed to ask every person who checked in was do you drink 6 or more units (8 for men) more than twice a week?” Right people, that’s two large glasses of wine twice a week or 2-3 pints twice week. If they answered yes, we were to put in a referral to the drug and alcohol team. Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! So, as you can tell we never asked that question. Firstly, people massively lie when they are asked how much they drink – society shaming us again. Secondly, nearly every single bloody person who worked there or walked through the doors would have needed a referral. What a joke! 

The scoring systems you can get from the NHS, Alcohol Change UK, Drink Aware and similar places are also not especially helpful. I scored High risk drinker on all of them, which is true I was. But they skip so nimbly from ‘Do you feel guilty about drinking’ to ‘Do you drink in the morning’. I’m sorry, but there is a huge part of the spectrum that comes between feeling guilty and drinking in the morning. So the stigma attached to being a ‘morning drinker’ puts high risk drinkers, like myself, off trying to do anything about it because you don’t want to be labelled an alcoholic.

Also, if you tell yourself you are an alcoholic, that often takes the power away from you do to do anything about it. ‘It’s an illness’, ‘It’s something genetic’, ‘Once and alcoholic always an alcoholic’. I find these phrases so massively disempowering and unhelpful. Like when I was told that once depressed, always depressed, I refuse to believe that. Yes, there may be an underlying propensity to slip back that way if I don’t pay attention to my thoughts, feelings and circumstances, but that in no way means that there is a daily battle not to be those things. You can help yourself to get out of the vicious alcohol loop, so don’t disempower yourself before you’ve even started. 

When looking at the symptoms of withdrawal they name physical symptoms of shakes, sweating, nausea, hallucinations and seizures, and psychological symptoms as depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness and insomnia.  Now, as you may have guessed, I also have a problem with this (4). So I have seen withdrawal, and it’s not pretty. I have no argument with the physical symptoms because they are what they are, but my issue comes with the psychological symptoms. Many people who drink suffer with depression and anxiety so it’s not really a withdrawal symptom – I’ll talk more about that in a bit. Personally, I was massively irritable when I was quitting, but that’s because I was hugely pissed off that my cravings weren’t being met not because I had the irritability and restlessness that accompanies withdrawal – they look, and I imagine feel, very different.

The point I’m trying to make is there is always hope! You can help yourself! Do not disempower yourself and admit defeat before you have even started.  Be proud of yourself and what you are doing, it is strong and brave. Acknowledging you have a problem is hugely important, but don’t label yourself and alcoholic with all its negative connotations, unless you find it helpful. You are a survivor and a warrior. 

So for the purposes of this post I am talking to all those people on the spectrum before physical dependence. If you are trying to quit and suffering from shakes, sweating, or fever, nausea, stomach troubles, hallucinations or a restless irritability that cannot be distracted, then please seek professional help.

Bit more than a habit

I said in my previous post Why do people drink?, that to describe my relationship with alcohol, habit is too weak, but addiction is to strong.  So I was intrigued by this and wanted to find out why it is harder to quit drinking than it is to change other habits. I wondered if I was completely wrong and maybe you were immediately addicted to alcohol and that was that. So, this is what I discovered. A habit has 4 stages that follow the same route every time. I have taken this from James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits  – a book about building good habits and breaking bad ones (5).

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These stages are

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

If you do something repeatedly, your brain associates the reward with the cue, so the next time you see the cue, it will trigger the craving, your response and then the reward. It is continual loop. Your brain is scanning all the time for rewards and the cue shows your brain that a reward is coming. For example, when I was drinking I always drank in the kitchen while cooking. So every day, opening the fridge and starting to cook was my cue. I then craved the drink, my response was to reach for it or go and buy it, and then my reward was drinking it. It was a very well used loop. If I didn’t get my reward I was a bad tempered cow until I was away from the cue and the craving subsided.

The theory goes that you have to break the loop somewhere and you can break the habit. No one is forcing you to respond (pick up the drink) other than yourself. That all sounds lovely in theory but anyone who has tried to break any habit, let alone alcohol, knows it’s a bit harder than that!  You also have to break the habit consistently. Studies claim this can be anywhere from 18 to 245 day of consistent loop breaking (6)! This is where despondency comes in, as people believe they just need willpower.

But something wonderful that is becoming more accepted is that there is no Day 1! On social media particularly I see people so devastated because they had a drink and feel like all their effort has been wasted and they are back at the beginning. I was completely the same, and every time I drank I felt like a monumental failure. But studies are showing that when forming a new habit, if you slip up one day, you do not go back to the beginning.  As long as you start again with forming your new habit, all the hard work you have done to this point is still there (6).

We have all tried to break a habit, so why does breaking the alcohol habit seem so much harder?

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Alcohol and the brain

The neurochemical changes are what make alcohol a harder habit to kick.  

We have seen from the habit making that what we are craving is the reward. So with alcohol, this has a few factors.

  1. Endorphins – we’ve heard of these right? The happy hormones.  Drinking triggers the release of these happy hormones making us relaxed and euphoric (7) 
  2. Dopamine – alcohol releases dopamine into the ‘reward centres’ of our brain making us again, feel great (8)
  3. Serotonin – this is the chemical we use to have those nice feelings of wellbeing. When we drink alcohol, we temporarily boost those nice wellbeing feelings (9).
  4. GABA – this is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Alcohol mimics the GABA signalling in the brain meaning that it inhibits brain activity, giving those feelings of inhibition, relaxation and sedation (10)

Our brain is continually creating neural pathways. The more often these pathways are used the easier it is for the brain to send signals down the same pathway. The brain is constantly looking for rewards so it is going to use the neural pathway that will reach this goal the quickest. With alcohol, it is not just the reward from satisfying the habit that we are chasing, it has added a whole host of other nice things above to make it even more rewarding.  The more we satisfy the habit and the more alcohol we drink, the easier it is to follow this neural pathway.

No wonder it is harder to kick the alcohol habit!

The problem when we drink far too much for far too long is that the body starts adapting. This is the land of physical addiction so I won’t go into too much detail but briefly, your body gets used to the increased GABA sedation effect so produces glutamate to excite brain activity. This will make it harder for the person to get the same sedative effect, so they will have to drink more. Too much glutamate causes those withdrawal effects when there is no alcohol to mimic the GABA effect (7).  

With long term drinking the effect of dopamine is practically non-existent and serotonin levels are reduced. This leaves the drinker chasing rewards that they are not going to get (8,9).

Why does alcohol make anxiety worse

Anyone who has drunk too much for too long will be able to attest to the awful feeling of anxiety that accompanies drinking. I read an interesting article that explained why this could be (9). It suggested that low blood sugars, caused by the body producing insulin in response to alcohol, lead to dizziness, confusion and shaking which can mimic and trigger anxiety attacks. It says that symptoms of dehydration can trigger anxiety as they mimic the symptoms of illness.

Long term drinking leaves the body with higher levels of stress hormones. It also depletes vitamin B6 and folic acid which help the body manage stress and reduces certain neural receptors that would normally help the calm the mind.

Not a good combination! This is likely to be why my anxiety, which was getting worse as I got older, is virtually non-existent at 14 month sober.  I would say that alone, is well worth quitting for!

Reroute neural pathways

The hugely positive thing is that we can change all this! Our brains are so clever that we can retrain them to stop our destructive behaviour. Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to find new neural pathways to follow (12, 13). The more we use the new pathway, the more secure it becomes and the easier it is for the brain to use it.

In the next post I will look at how to change our habits, start to create new neural pathways and overcome the effects of alcohol. But the amazing thing is, the more we understand what is going on inside us – physically and psychologically, the more likely we are to be able to put a stop to it once and  for all!

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11660210
  2. https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/
  4. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms/
  5. https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/10/change-your-life-habit-28-day-rule
  7. https://drugabuse.com/alcohol/alcohol-addiction/
  8. https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/10/16/what-alcohol-really-does-to-your-brain/#2994b58c664e
  9. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/negative-effects-alcohol-anxiety/
  10. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/alcohol-abuse/alcohol-and-gaba/#gref
  11. – telegraph – alcohol resleases addcitiev endorphins article
  12.  https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/changes-the-brain/
  13. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/ending-addiction-good/201302/neuroplasticity-and-addiction-recovery?quicktabs_5=0

Why do people drink?

Drinking is the worst thing that I have ever done to myself, so why on earth did I start and then continue drinking?

I look at teenagers and young adults now, who do not drink and have absolutely no problem with it and I ask – why was I not like that? What made me feel I had to start?

I am not claiming to be an expert in the physical or psychological motivations and consequences of drinking alcohol, but I am writing based on knowledge I have gained through personal experience and personal research in my own quest to understand why I drank and eventually stopped drinking. 

Why do start people drink?

Normalisation

I started drinking at 14 because it was completely normal. I had grown up in a family of drinkers, every single social occasion involved drinking, and I sent to boarding school where alcohol on a Saturday night before the disco was basically de rigeur. Alcohol was present at meals, in the evenings and after church on a Sunday. Alcohol took centre stage at birthdays, Christmas, funerals, Easter, parties and holidays. It was used to celebrate new jobs, new homes and new babies, and to commiserate break ups, unsuccessful jobs interviews or any other unfortunate event. Advertisements scream about the latest alcohol and show the beautiful, glamourous people having a wonderful time with the alcohol with a tiny bit in the corner saying ‘Please drink responsibly.’ Oh OK, why didn’t I just think to do that?!

Accessibility

Alcohol was all over university, it was everywhere I used to work (pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs) and it was in nearly every home I ever visited. The accessibility of alcohol made it so much easier to start drinking. I think the ‘think 25’ challenge in shops and bars has made it a little harder to access alcohol at a younger age, but when I was a teenager I could buy it at 15. Funnily enough now, without my children in tow, I’m asked for ID for alcohol free beers!! But once you hit 18, it’s a free for all. Buy and drink whatever you like! The first polite offer as you enter a house, ‘would you like a drink?’ Our society, particularly in the UK and Europe, is alcohol soaked. From what I have seen, if you come from a family who do not drink or smoke, you are less likely to drink or smoke. So normalisation and accessibility play a massive part in why we start drinking.

Social Pressure

Similar to the points above, if you live surrounded by alcohol, there is a massive social pressure to start and continue drinking. It is hard as a teenager and young adult, to navigate the big scary world and try to find your place in it.  If all your friends are drinking, it’s very unlikely that you are going to be the one who wants to stand out by abstaining. If your boss in a new job is taking you out for after work drinks, are you going to be the one who says, actually no thanks. It’s far more likely at that age that you want to impress your friends or your boss. You want to be seen as fun, social and popular. The expression ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’ is famous for a reason.

Social Anxiety

Like social pressure, social anxiety is a huge problem for young people and often carries on well into adulthood. Many, many people are shy or introverted. People like this will often hide these parts of their character behind alcohol. Our society celebrates people who are loud, funny extroverts. So where does this leave the shy introverts. Think of Robin Williams. One of the most brilliant actors of my time and by all accounts an incredibly kind and good man. The public saw him as hysterical, loud and energetic but apparently in real life he was quiet and reserved. Tragically he struggled with depression, alcohol and drug abuse. I am speculating here, but could part of his alcohol abuse have been because he was fighting against his true nature?  When we drink it does lower our inhibitions, so it makes us feel like we are OK in situations that we are actually not comfortable in.

Pleasure

The first drink of alcohol is often a pleasant experience. Initially when we start drinking, before it takes over, those first drinks and first social occasions are fun. We feel part of something, we feel accepted, at ease socially, funny, exciting, spontaneous and relaxed. The initial tipsy can be so nice why wouldn’t you want more? It’s not very long before we are chasing that feeling. I loved the feeling of the initial glass, but realistically the nice feeling only lasted about 15 minutes. After that, the rest of the time was spent drinking more and more to try to recapture that nice feeling that could never be recaptured until the next day. Was that 15 minute nice feeling really worth the years of struggling, arguments, hating myself, and feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety?

 Instant gratification

One of the reasons we keep chasing that 15 minutes is that it’s so quick and easy to reach. Alcohol starts working pretty quickly and all the pleasant feelings are there. Everything melts away and we are temporarily at peace. Everything else that could give us the same feelings takes work and effort and we all have such busy, often difficult and stressful lives, that reaching for a glass of instant relief is more realistic. However, like I said, that peace doesn’t last.

Escapism

I believe that escapism is a HUGE reason why people continue to drink, and end up drinking to excess. For the 15 minutes you feel better and for the rest of the drinking time, until you go to sleep or pass out, you are not fully there. You don’t have to face anything, do anything, you can dream and pretend and nothing is really real. It will be real the next day, it won’t go away, but for the drinking time, it’s not there. So what are we escaping from?

Often it’s stress. We don’t live in a very relaxed society. We expect ourselves to work, raise families, maintain friendships and relationships, be glamourous and thin, look after our health, cook well and be sociable, fun and spontaneous. Not exactly a small order!

As parents, we are expected to do all of the above and be good parents, give our children special attention, cook, clean and wash, do homework, do fun family things, take them to school and extracurricular activities and, obviously, bring them up to be happy, healthy, kind, loving, well rounded people. All of this while they are fighting us, fighting each other and learning to navigate their own place in the world. Is it any wonder we need a break? Even though there are amazing books like ‘The Unmumsy Mum’, that have made it easier for people to talk about how hard motherhood is, it still feels like we can’t really say ‘Help! I can’t cope!’ We still have to pretend everything is wonderful and post pictures on social media to show how well we are doing.  So we hide our not coping behind our wine or gin or cocktail. There are other books about motherhood that are really funny, like Hurrah for Gin, and I have laughed so many times at parts of this book, but it comes with the downside of normalising alcohol for mothers as a coping mechanism. It’s not just books. Facebook memes, birthday cards, presents and Gifs – all screaming, we need alcohol to cope! 

On top of this people often have really crappy things going on in their lives. If you don’t have people to talk to and share the problem, or people who can help, you are going to try to help yourself. It is awful but there are so many people who have had rubbish childhoods. From full on abuse and bullying to benign neglect, there is a whole spectrum of stuff that goes on in childhood which is often not dealt with and is buried. As people get older and they start drinking, it becomes another way to escape from and bury negative feelings and memories.

I had a whole combination of reasons to start and continue drinking. Later, I added disappointment and frustration to the list. I had this idea of what my life was going to be like. I would have a job I loved – preferably with a charity abroad, travel the world, learn languages, have amazing friends, be sociable and glamourous, attend black tie events and dance and sing all the time. I would read books, paint pictures and practice yoga. I would walk up mountains and host charity events. Then…..children. What happens when you have children? You love them fiercely but you give up your whole life. I found that I disappeared into motherhood and there was very little of me left. All those dreams became much harder to fulfil, and when The Bear got diabetes they became harder still. I was living a life I had never wanted to live and everything around me was telling me I was supposed to be happy about it. So I drank to dream, and pretend I could still do all of those things.

Feelings

We are hiding from feelings because we have not learnt how to deal with them. From loneliness, sadness, stress and disappointment to depression and anxiety, alcohol can temporarily numb and block out these feelings, appearing to make life easier to manage.

Underlying reasons we drink

Ultimately, I think the reason we drink comes down to two categories, a lack of community and a lack of self-worth.

Communities are not what they used to be. Although I wouldn’t say that community was always a good thing, there were definite benefits. We are all now expected to navigate the world in small nuclear families or by ourselves. We feel we have to do everything ourselves and prove to the world how well we are doing it. If we’re ‘failing’ we blame ourselves not the situation. We don’t have the large support network that communities used to provide to support us and reassure us that we are doing OK. We haven’t got the experience of watching people living their lives in the open to know what is normal and what isn’t.

Imagine as a parent, you’re suddenly expected to have a child, know how to bring it up, care for it entirely yourself, give up everything you’ve done before (except possibly work) and get no break. Is it any wonder this causes feelings of inadequacy, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression?

This would be hard enough to manage if many of us weren’t struggling with a lack of self-worth. There are few people who really appreciate their own value and love themselves. The people I have met who are closest to this are usually the ones how have really struggled and dragged themselves out of difficulties. We often judge our value on what our families and then society tell us it is rather than looking to ourselves and those who love us. Families and parents, either consciously or subconsciously, will give us our initial sense of self-worth as children. Often parents are dealing with their own feelings of inadequacy, so can pass this onto their children accidentally. As a teenager it is society, peers and family. If we are shy, we do not have value; if we don’t conform we don’t have value; if we don’t look the part, we don’t have value. As we get older it becomes more about ‘success’, possessions and parenting. We end up believing these things and berating ourselves for not being enough. The more we listen to this negative voice, the more we believe its negativity. If we do not believe we are to enough, we are never going to believe we deserve the life we want, so we will not strive for it and we will lose ourselves in trying to be acceptable to society. We will then drown the accompanying negativity, frustration, disappointment, unhappiness and loneliness in alcohol.  

Why is it so hard to stop

Social pressure

I listened to an amazing TED talk by Claire Pooley, author of The Sober Diaries. She said we still see drinking too much as a taboo. Like a shameful character failing. She says when people say that they’ve quit smoking, everyone says ‘wow that’s amazing, well done!’ When you say you’ve stopped drinking, they look shocked, ask if you were ‘an alcoholic’, justify why their drinking is OK and try to push you to have just one.  Alcohol is so deeply ingrained in our society and not drinking is seen as the odd thing, not visa versa. So stopping, in this society, is very hard for anyone.

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Form of self-harm

I know that for me alcohol had become a form of self-harm. Self-harmers are often trying to escape from or cope with feelings they can’t manage and trying to punish themselves for their inadequacies. I couldn’t cope with my inner voice and daily struggles so I drank to cover them. I then felt so shit for drinking that I drank more to punish myself. I then spent months trying to stop again because I was so filled with disgust at myself. I never forgave myself, just berated and hated. Very hard to make any positive changes with this mindset.

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Addiction

To be honest, this is where my knowledge gets bit fuzzy and I’m not entirely sure what I believe yet. In post How to beat the alcohol illusion, I to try to counter all my points above and discuss how we can overcome alcohol once and for all. However when it comes to addiction, my posts Am I an alcoholic and How to stop alcohol cravings put forward arguments and counter arguments from reputable sources do try to gain some understanding for myself and for my readers. I have seen people in withdrawal, from alcohol and drugs. I have seen people at the end of their lives; their body’s destroyed by alcohol. So I know that addiction is a real and awful thing. But I have also seen people go from drinking bottles of whiskey a day to stopping completely without the withdrawal effects. I don’t really understand where we cross the line, or even if there is a line to cross. From my personal experience, I know I drank too much because it made me feel dreadful, but I think, for me, it was all psychological. Habit is too weak a description, but addiction is to strong. 

What I learnt my first year sober

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

Evenings

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

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

Family

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

Job

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

Holidays

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

Exercise

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

Safe space

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

Feelings

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

Stress

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

Being kind to yourself

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

Community

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

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

Be grateful

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

Let go of control

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

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

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

My 1st year sober

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to quit drinking

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

1) Get a champion

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

2) Announce your intention proudly

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

3) Practice self-care

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Practice bibliotherapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

My recommendations are:

Other people’s recommendations

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5) Find your exercise

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

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

6) Find your tribe

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

7) Reminders

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

8) Other things that helped me on my journey

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

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

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

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

Happy not drinking everyone!

How I quit drinking

Dry January

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

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

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

Bibliotherapy

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

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

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

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

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

Find your tribe

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

Reminders

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

My quit drinking reminder

Yoga and exercise

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

7×4 = £28 x 4 = £112

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

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

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

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

Why I quit drinking – the alcohol part of it all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was me – My back story

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

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

University

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

Relationships

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

Work

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

Children

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

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

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Divorce

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

Re-marriage and children again

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

Happiness

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