One year!

It’s been ONE WHOLE YEAR since I had a drink. Can you believe it? I knew today was The Day but I still checked my sobriety app just to make sure. I swear it winked back at me. Hello, it said. I’m still here. You don’t check me very often any more but rest assured I’ve been here all along, quietly counting every day. And today is a real milestone.

It’s true, I don’t count the days anymore, because sobriety is the new normal. If you’re reading this from the sidelines, let me tell you – it’s pretty awesome. I am happier, thinner and richer. I sleep better. I have more control over my life. I don’t have as many secrets or as much guilt. I have more time to do stuff. If nothing else, life is just simpler. Controlling my drinking was like trying to keep the lid on a can of wriggly worms. I had to put so much energy into keeping the lid closed, but every now and then it would blow right off and I’d be clearing up for weeks.

When I first stopped drinking, one of the things that scared me most was how I would find my ‘off switch’. Before, drinking an entire bottle of wine had seemed like a pretty good way to close down my stressed out, racing brain, or turn off any unwelcome emotion. Alcohol allowed me to check out of life for a bit when things got difficult.

So what happens when you take that option away? Really, your only choice is to man up and start tackling things head on. It’s hard at first. Really hard. But if you keep doing it again and again you build emotional muscles that Popeye would be proud of. When you finally get ‘it’, and you do something like go to a party and mingle and have fun it’s a great feeling because that is the real you doing it. There’s no falseness.

It’s not always rainbows and glitterballs, but that’s because life isn’t like that. We all have crap days, but they’re easier to deal with when you’re sober. A hungover, emotional, miserable person does not always make the best choices (that’s what I’ve found anyway!). I’ve been quite ill this week. I think it’s the first time I’ve been poorly since I stopped drinking. It’s been a timely reminder of what it’s like to have a hangover. I am not used to operating at less than 100% any more and god, it is horrible.

I’ve made quite a few changes in my life over the past year. I’m in the process of buying a flat right next to a beautiful national park. I always thought I was a glamorous, city girl but actually I’ve realised I need green spaces in my life. I want to live near cosy cafes and fresh air, not clubs and kebab shops. I’ve got a new part-time job and have put a lot of work into making myself happier in my career. Change is happening slowly, but that’s ok because I’m pretty patient.

Of course, I couldn’t have done any of this without you lovely people. This big, supportive, sober blogosphere has got me through the hardest of times. Everyone needs a support network and if you can’t find the help you need in your day to day life I think it’s brilliant that you can get it here. When I look back on my previous attempts at stopping, it seems crazy that I thought I could do it all on my own. So, I want to end this with a big, big thank you to all of you out there who read and comment and blog. You rock.

xxx

 

Strangers on a train

This morning I was on a packed train to work when a very large man squeezed into the seat next to me. Straight away I could smell it: the booze on his breath. It was horrible. It was worse when he looked or breathed in my direction, but I could actually smell it whichever way he faced. I think it was coming out of his pores.

Things got considerably worse when he opened his bag and pulled out a hot McDonald’s breakfast. I don’t want to sound like a food snob here, but there’s something about the smell of McDonald’s food that really turns my stomach, especially at 8.30am. The seats on the tram were so small he was practically eating the food in my lap.

I spent most of the journey staring furiously out the window, before remembering that less than a year ago this could have been me (albeit without the Maccy D’s). I thought back on all those times that I’d finished work late, maybe not getting home until 10.30pm. Despite knowing that I had to be up early in the morning I would stop by the off licence for beer and a bottle of wine, planning just to have a few glasses. Just enough to relax. That was always the plan. But hey presto, all of a sudden it’d be 3am and I’d wake up and realise that a) the bottle was empty and b) I’d been sleeping on the sofa again.

The man on the train looked so tired. I remember feeling like that, like I could sleep for a week. Going to work with a secret hangover is tough. At best you are a 50% version of yourself. And you can’t tell anyone about your hangover because that would be weird, right? So it becomes this silent thing that you have to just get through, whilst appearing to be fine. It’s hard work. It amazes me how often drinkers are painted as weak-willed, because actually you have to be quite a strong person to cope with the hangovers, turn up to work on time and then repeat the process.

When you stop drinking you notice so many benefits. For starters you sleep better. You also look better, feel better and you save money. But above all, sobriety makes life so much easier. It really does. It brings an end to the lies you tell yourself and others. You stop having to keep so many secrets. You stop feeling guilty about failing to stop. This morning, I looked at this man on the train and thought: yes, life is so much simpler now. 

A simpler life doesn’t have to be a boring one either. On a slightly different note, I wanted to share this article about Davina McCall. I’ve always been a fan of hers but I became an even bigger one during her recent Sport Relief Challenge (running, cycling and swimming from Edinburgh to London). Talk about determination! She has been very open about her drink/drug problems in the past and I particularly like what she says in the interview about being “hedonistic whilst completely sober”. I like the sound of her parties…

Spring is around the corner

I cannot believe it’s going to be the 1st of March tomorrow. Where is this year going? February has flown by and I’ve hardly posted at all because things have been busy, busy, busy.

The big thing that happened this month is that I told some real life people about my blog. Eeek. Not just any old people either – my parents. For various reasons, it suddenly felt like the right time to do so. Needless to say, it was a nerve-wracking experience, but all is good. I have been cringing a bit, thinking of the things they have read and subconsciously I think this may have put the brakes on me writing anything else for a while. But all in all, it feels great to be a bit more honest about things. Much of this blog is about drinking in secret and then getting sober in secret. All that secrecy had become a bit of a burden.

In other news, I have a new job. Well, a part-time job to be precise. As some of you will know, I have been trying to change careers for a while, but my biggest problem has been working out exactly what it is I want to do. I don’t want to write off journalism completely, but my current job definitely isn’t right for me anymore. I think stopping drinking has played a big part in me realising that. My new role can mainly be done from home, but it’s part-time enough for me to juggle it with my full-time job, for now at least. Eventually I hope it will provide a bit of a financial cushion if I decide to leave my proper job or take a year out. Who knows?! It feels like I have lots of options.

This past month hasn’t all been hard work. Last week I had a very chilled few days at a fancy spa. It was incredibly posh: think stately home, surrounded by beautiful countryside. I went with a friend and we knew as soon as we arrived that we might be a little out of place because the car park was like a Range Rover showroom. Apparently the spa has a few permanent residents who live there all the time, waited on hand and foot everyday. Can you imagine?!

My friend and I went to the spa primarily to relax, but once we arrived it became obvious that most people go there to lose weight. The food, whilst delicious, was very, very healthy. Everything was fresh and cooked from scratch. There were lots of salads, herbal teas and fruit to snack on. But incredibly, the spa also had a bar. I looked at the menu and noticed it was mainly organic wine and champagne. So no beer or spirits. But still … alcohol? In a wellbeing spa?

We were eating dinner one evening when one of the reception staff came over to our table. There had been a problem with the shower in our room and the receptionist was very apologetic about it. She wanted to get us a complimentary drink from the bar by means of apology. Would we like a glass of champagne, she wondered? My friend, who does drink, said yes. I explained that I didn’t, but that I could murder a Diet Coke or a tonic water. The receptionist looked at me like I’d just asked for a Big Mac and fries. “We don’t serve those kind of drinks here” she replied, shaking her head.

Now I know that diet fizzy drinks, loaded with artificial sweeteners, aren’t the healthiest beverages. But they must be better for you than champagne, which is loaded with empty calories and contains alcohol, a POISON. It was very tempting to point all of this out. But I didn’t. After all, the receptionist was only trying to be nice. So I took a deep breath, ordered a sparkling water and resolved that if I ever went back I’d smuggle some Diet Coke in with me …

When drinking wine is like eating chocolate biscuits

On Friday I had to interview some people who’d taken part in Dry January. Truth be told, the feature was kind of my idea, but I wasn’t expecting to actually have to do it myself. I wasn’t in the mood for talking to people who were about to celebrate their sober success by getting pissed. So when it was assigned to me, I did what I do best and put it off for as long as possible.

I’ve written before about how weird I think the concept of Dry January is. All other public health campaigns encourage people to make a permanent change to their lives. Stoptober is all about stopping smoking, permanently. Change 4 Life encourages healthy eating, forever. But Dry January? It seems to imply that a month of saintly living is enough to counteract 11 months of boozing it up.

Anyway. On Friday afternoon – after taking a long lunch break, sorting through all my emails and making several cups of tea – I finally got round to picking up the phone. Despite my reluctance, chatting to the Dry January-ers was actually quite interesting.

For starters, their enthusiasm was infectious. They’d all lost weight, saved money and slept better. They’d got lots more done on Sundays. They’d realised that it was possible to socialise without drinking. They’d started to think about how much of their drinking was done out of sheer habit. It was all I could do not to chime in with “Well, wait till you get to 10 months, then you really will feel amazing!” But as I was in the office, surrounded by colleagues who still seem to be largely oblivious to my sobriety, I kept my mouth shut.

I was speaking to one lovely lady, Helen, when something clicked for me. I was listening to her talking about her love of white wine when I realised that her relationship with alcohol was about the same as the one I have with chocolate biscuits.

Helen likes a glass of wine when she gets home from work. It makes her feel better. At first she found not drinking hard, because it had become part of her routine. I love chocolate digestives with a cup of tea in the afternoon. But if I’m on a diet (hello January) I’ll try to cut them out altogether. I found that hard to start with, but got into the swing of things after a while. If Helen has a bad day at work, she might have two glasses of wine to cheer herself up. But she’d never drink enough to get a hangover or be incapable of looking after her children. If I’m having a bad afternoon I might have four biscuits instead of two. But as much as I love them, I’m never going to eat the whole packet because I know that would make me feel ill. And eating biscuits doesn’t actually solve anything.

Crucially, I could see that Helen felt her drinking had become a bad habit, one that she was keen to get on top of. But she wasn’t obsessed by alcohol and it didn’t control her.

My relationship with alcohol was very different. Once I had started drinking I could not control my intake. It didn’t matter what I had to do the next day. Once I’d started, I didn’t really care about the consequences. But no matter how much I drank, I never felt truly satisfied or content. Left to my own devices I would drink until I passed out. After a big binge I’d be ‘good’ for a while, but even then, alcohol would still be playing some tune in the background.

I’ve never had that problem with chocolate biscuits.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a rambling, long-winded kind of way, is that perhaps Dry January is a good thing for people who aren’t problem drinkers, but who have just got into the habit of drinking too much. People who drink wine like I eat chocolate biscuits. I still think some people might misuse it and see it as a wipe-the-slate-clean, magical detox. But there are some good points. And ultimately, anything that promotes sobriety in some shape or another has got to be a good thing, right?

A visit from the wolf

The other night I went to a lecture hosted by a writer I particularly admire. I was there with a friend and we were offered free drinks as we waited for it to start. There were bottles of red and white wine near the entrance, plus a pretty good collection of soft drinks. I’m sure that when I was still drinking – and therefore looking for an excuse to drink at every opportunity – events like that never seemed to offer alcohol. On the rare occasions they did, most people had just a teeny, tiny glass of wine. I, on the other hand, would try not to look greedy as I poured myself as much as I thought I could get away with.

Of course now that I’ve stopped drinking it feels exactly the opposite - everyone is knocking back loads of wine! But I know that really, the only thing that’s changed is me. Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where I don’t even notice what other people are drinking. It hasn’t happened yet. I am great at making idle chit-chat whilst keeping an eye on who’s had what.
 
Anyway, I digress. The talk began and as is always the way with these things I managed to sit behind two really tall people. So I had to lean slightly to see through the gap between them. As I was doing this I realised I’d accidentally moved my head very close to my friend’s glass of white wine. I could smell it really strongly and for the first time in ages I thought “Hmmm. That smells great” followed by “a glass of white wine would very nice right now….”
 
That’s what I really wanted to write about today because feeling like that pissed me off. I did always love white wine, but I haven’t craved it for ages. In fact nowadays I usually recoil slightly at the smell. It seems a bit sour and vinegary, especially when someone is breathing wine fumes on to me (yuck). But there was something about that cheap glass of wine that smelt so nice. And for a little while I felt really sorry for myself, unable to drink with the grownups, surrounded by people looking elegant and cool and intelligent as they sipped their wine slowwwly. 
 
I tuned out for some of the talk because I was busy thinking about the wine and whether it meant anything that I thought it smelt nice. I spent a bit of time wondering why that Wolfie voice comes back just as you think it’s given up. Why – when everything seems to be going so well, at last – am I suddenly wishing I could drink like a ‘normal’ person again? Blah blah blah. So many annoying and boring thoughts. 
 
Fortunately the feeling didn’t last long. I was distracted by the man on the other side of me who laughed really loudly and then started to cough over me. I could smell his bad breath. (Seriously, I think I have a heightened sense of smell these days, because I notice everything. Bad breath, BO, wine … an open bar of chocolate 100 metres away? I’m on it).
 
I’m feeling much better now and I’ve had a great weekend. Another busy one, with late nights and lots to do, so I am tired and in need of an early night. But as always, tired and sober is much better than feeling tired, hungover, depressed, miserable, guilty…. you know the rest!   

Fake it till you make it

The party invite said:
 
As everyone is busy in the run-up to Christmas I thought I’d invite you all round in the middle of January when there is bugger all else to do. There will be mince pies and mulled wine and possibly some other vaguely Christmas-y stuff.
But mostly there will be booze and dancing. And games for those that like such things.
A couple of people have asked if partners and friends are welcome. Partners are, of course. As to friends, that’s OK too, though only if they are hot and/or interesting. Remember… BRING BOOZE.
 
Things like this still make me feel nervous. Not in a “how will I manage not to drink?” way. It’s more of a “am I going to actually enjoy this?” feeling. I’ve written before about the perils of partying sober. Some nights are good – and some aren’t.
 
One of the things I worry about most is what other people will think about me not drinking. I worry they might think I’m boring. I hate the fact that I worry about what other people think, but I do. I want to be liked. I want to be considered fun. I want to fit in.
 
The writer who sums this feeling up the best is Sacha Z. Scoblic in her brilliant book My Lush Sobriety. She writes:
 
“I still felt viscerally close to the life I led as a drinker. I was also acutely aware of my own feeling toward people who didn’t drink: that they were all totally vanilla, uptight squares who wanted me to treat my body like a temple, take Jesus Christ as my savior and drink Kool-Aid with them at mixers in church basements….”
 
“….So now that I was sober, I blurted out things like, “Don’t worry, I’m still fun!” even though what I was really thinking was: “Don’t even for a minute think I’m vanilla because the truth is I am so hard core I had to quit. I drank so much it was a matter of life and death. I’m like a rock star compared with you. In fact, maybe you should just call me Sid Vicious from now on. You should look at me with a touch of fear and awe because you would quiver to think about the amount of rotgut I’ve ingested over the years. So step off with your preconceived notions, O.K.?”
 
The party was last night.
 
On my way there I decided to try a little experiment. I decided to pretend to be the version of myself that I used to be after a glass or two of wine. You know – when you’ve had just enough to make you confident, chatty and relaxed. When you’re feeling a bit tipsy but aren’t yet slurring and making passes at married men.

Well, it worked. Pretty soon I wasn’t pretending to have a good time, I genuinely was having fun. As other people really did get tipsy, the good-time feeling rubbed off on me. I didn’t hide the fact that I was on soft drinks, but I didn’t stand in the corner radiating shy sobriety either (I have done that in the past). I’d brought with me some nice cordials and soft drinks that I knew I would be happy to drink all night. I was also one of the few people who thought to bring any food and that turned out to be very welcome.

The only thing that would have made the night better would’ve been the presence of some straight men. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many gorgeous but gay men in one room. Big sigh. Anyway as I went to leave my friend Yuan said “hope you get home safely and don’t feel too hungover tomorrow….” He was so surprised when I said I hadn’t been drinking at all.
 
It was – as always – great to wake up without a hangover today. I got up really late and feel as if I’ve had quite a lazy day, but actually I’ve still done a big supermarket shop, two loads of washing, some ironing, tidied the flat, made lasagne and I’ve written this. If I’d woken up with a hangover today I would probably still be in my pyjamas, surrounded by all the clothes I tried on last night but threw on the floor.

A crazy couple of days

Last month I was contacted out of the blue by a BBC journalist who had read my post ‘Almost Alcoholic‘. She was writing an article about the same thing and wondered if she could interview me. We chatted on the phone for a while and then I forgot all about it. As a journalist myself I know that not everyone you speak to makes the final edit. Stories often get dropped or overtaken by other news. So it was a bit of a surprise when I woke up on yesterday morning to find lots of emails and comments from people who’d read this:

 
I think it’s a great, thought-provoking article, published at just the right time. I know that right now, in the second week of January, there will be thousands of people wondering (and worrying) about their relationship with alcohol. These are people who looked at the wine glass in their hand on New Year’s Eve and vowed to cut down on their alcohol consumption. Perhaps they decided to sign up for charity events such as Alcohol Concern’s Dry January or Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon. That’s what I did last year. I lasted a whole 7 days before I fell off the wagon. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Lots of my friends were also doing it and they seemed to be having an easy-peasy time staying sober. Having ‘liked’ Dry January on Facebook my news feed was filled with irritating, “You-can-do-it!” type posts, which I read everyday, whilst drinking and googling “Am I an alcoholic?”
 
As a result of the BBC article I’ve gained quite a few new followers and I wanted to say a little hello. Thanks for reading my blog and I really hope it helps in some way. I clearly remember the first sober blog I stumbled across. It was by Unpickled and it was a real ‘ah ha’ moment for me. I sat down, read every post and somehow, something just clicked. So to all the new people, I wanted to say a couple of things.
 
Firstly and most importantly, being sober is great. If you want to lose weight, sleep better, feel happier and be more confident, then trust me, sobriety will look good on you. Last May I wrote a list of why sobriety rocks. I’m now nine months sober and I could definitely add a few more things to that list.
 
Not all of my posts are sweetness and light. So if you’re new here, please don’t let any of my slightly downbeat posts put you off. I write honestly about my experiences and in the past nine months I have sometimes found it hard to be young, single and sober in the boozy world we live in. I’ve had to learn how to live life without an off switch. That’s not always easy. And I’ve had to work out how to actually deal with my emotions, rather than just anesthetizing myself with a bottle of wine. But you know, as far as downsides go, that’s been about it. The only other thing I can think of is that I can’t wear really high heels on nights out anymore. Without wine, they start to feel uncomfortable very quickly. And that’s annoying because I have a lot of beautiful shoes.
 
There are a couple of things that have really helped me get this far. I would highly recommend Jason Vale’s book “Kick the Drink, Easily”. The Allen Carr book is also good. I actually went to a stop drinking seminar at one of his clinics which you can read about here. Every week I listen to the Bubble Hour podcast because it’s brilliant. I read lots of blogs, as you can see from my blogroll. Last, but not least, at the very beginning I took part in Belle’s 100 day sobriety challenge. If you go to her site here you will find out all about sober cars and dehydrating the Wolf. The challenge goes against the AA ‘one day at a time’ way of living but hey, I’m just telling you what worked for me. Once I realised that I needed to make a long-term, permanent change to my drinking habits I found the idea of stopping for a hundred days much less scary than the idea of stopping ‘forever’.
 
Talking of AA, what the BBC article doesn’t mention is that I actually went back to AA last summer for about a month. I had a much better experience the second time round and met some truly wonderful people. So it’s kind of hard to explain why I stopped going. I guess it just didn’t feel quite right and I didn’t feel like I really needed it because I was getting all the support I needed online. But I know lots of other people who blog and go to AA. So each to their own.
 
I am going to end this post with a link to a video that I’ve posted before but it always makes me smile: Sh*t normies say to 12 steppers
If you’re sober you will relate to a lot of it  (even if you’re not part of a 12 step programme… ) 
 
 
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