Tag Archives: relationships

Introducing … The Sober School

Hello there! Long time no see! I’d like to apologise for abandoning my blog without explanation. Have no fear, I didn’t disappear because something bad happened. Quite the opposite. I was busy being sober and happy – drinking tea, eating cake, catching up with old friends, making new friends, going out with my running club, trying new hobbies, starting new jobs and all sorts of other lovely stuff. I’ve been sober for 843 days now and I really am so happy with life. I don’t take my sobriety for granted but it’s pretty much become second nature now. In fact it all became so normal that I felt I didn’t have much to say … until now.

I wanted to let you know about a new project that I’ve been working on. Ever since I got sober I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that there should be more help for people like me. Bright, professional women who know they’re drinking too much but just can’t seem to get out of the alcohol trap. Women who can’t bring themselves to tell their doctor how much they really drink but don’t fancy going to AA. Women who want to lose the booze, but not their social life – who desperately want to stop drinking, but can’t quite work out how to stay stopped.

Whilst the sober blogosphere is great, it’s quite a hidden corner of the internet. It took me a good few years of searching for help before I stumbled across the blogs that made such a difference to me. I wanted to create something more mainstream. I wanted to create the website that I wish had existed when I was trying to stop drinking. Something that talked about alcohol addiction in a relatable way, providing help and advice without being patronising.

So I decided to set up this: thesoberschool.com

It’s a little space online where you can find inspiration to help you stop drinking and achieve wonderful things. I have a new blog over there, plus some help and advice pages. I’m in the middle of training to be coach, because my plan is to create a course that guides sober wannabes through the first few important weeks of their alcohol free life.

There are also quite a few pictures of me on there, so if you want to put a face to a name have a look…

It’s an exciting and nerve wracking time. I’ve done something that once seemed unthinkable – outing myself to the world. I’ve reduced my hours at work and told my employers what I’m doing. I’ve also had to be really honest with friends. Until recently, even those in the know had only heard a sanitised version of my drinking story. There are still a lot of people in my life who don’t know everything yet, but I will tell them in due course.

So far the response has been brilliant. And I really hope it will all make a difference. I try not to sound too much like a preachy reformed drinker, but I really believe something big needs to change in our society. It shouldn’t be this hard to talk about being addicted to alcohol. We have no problem talking about smoking in these terms, do we?

This will be my last post on this blog. So if you want to follow my new blog, please do head on over to thesoberschool.com

I’m also on Facebook  Twitter and Instagram

Phew. That’s all for now.

Lots of love,

Kate
The Sober School Sub Mark 2
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Leftovers

Something quite strange happened to me last weekend… I bought a bottle of wine.

Yes, you read that right. For the first time in 17 months I bought some alcohol – but don’t worry, it wasn’t for me. I haven’t drunk it. In fact, the people I intended on giving it to didn’t drink it either! So now the bottle in question is sitting at the back of a kitchen cupboard, next to the baked beans and orange squash. The thing is, I can’t decide whether I’m bothered by it being there or not.

So to explain – I had some friends round on Saturday night. The plan was to meet at mine for a few drinks and then go out for dinner. I was pretty sure everyone would be intent on having a boozy evening. (I know that’s what I’d have been hoping for not so long ago….)

Whilst I have an impressive selection of soft drinks, cordials and fancy teas, I suspected they might not go down too well on a Saturday night. And I didn’t want to be a bad host. There’s definitely still a bit of me that worries about being perceived as boring. Whilst I know sobriety isn’t dull, some of my friends still think my teetotal life is a bit odd. I certainly don’t want to force my sobriety upon them.

So earlier that day I found myself in the wine aisle at Tesco, trying to buy something that didn’t scream ‘cheap and white’. It occurred to me that I actually know very little about wine, which is hilarious given the amount I drunk. I eventually chose the wine, bought a corkscrew – I’d got rid of mine a long time ago – and got the wine glasses out. And do you know what happened that evening when I offered people wine? They opted for a soft drink.

Seriously.

Did my friends feel weird accepting an alcoholic drink from me? Perhaps they didn’t fancy white wine? Maybe they just didn’t feel like drinking that early on in the evening? I have no idea. Afterall, I know a lot about heavy drinking but not much about normal drinking, so who knows what they were thinking. The upshot is that I still have an entire bottle of wine in my kitchen.

I know some people will be reading this wondering what all the fuss is. If you’ve managed to stop drinking whilst living with someone else who does drink, then hats off to you. I know that when I first stopped I absolutely couldn’t keep alcohol in my house. It was just too tempting. Besides, I wanted my home to be a sanctuary; it had to be a safe haven away from the boozy world we live in.

But gradually things have changed slightly. Over the summer I spent several weeks at my parents house – where there’s always lots of booze lying around – and I noticed I wasn’t really bothered by it. In the supermarket I no longer feel the need to walk the long way round to avoid the wine aisle.  And at parties I’m not bothered by other people drinking, because if they want to get smashed then that’s their choice.

So why the big deal about this bottle of wine in my cupboard? It’s not as if I feel the urge to drink it – I’ve not had any cravings for ages and ages. It just feels a bit … wrong. It’s like an ardent vegetarian storing fillet steak in their freezer. It goes against my whole lifestyle and belief system. And yet another part of me thinks I should just get a grip and keep it for next time someone comes round and fancies a glass.

What do you reckon? Should I keep the wine in my kitchen, snuggling up to the baked beans? Or should I give it away to a friend? Maybe I’ll leave it somewhere random where it could be a nice surprise for a total stranger.

Coping with life’s ups and downs

Wow. It’s been a long time since my last post. I seem to have got out of the habit of blogging recently but rest assured I’m still here – sober, drinking tea and eating ice cream.

My life got a bit crazy at the end of May, when I found out I needed major surgery to remove an ovarian tumour. I’d been admitted to hospital with unexplained, excruciating stomach pains. (I’m no wimp but I’ve not known pain like it). A scan revealed a cyst the size of a large orange. Although ovarian cysts aren’t that unusual – and most are totally benign – the doctors weren’t sure about mine.

I was told countless times that it was very, very unlikely to be cancerous. But it’s hard not to be scared when you’re allocated a cancer support nurse and talked through exactly what will happen if the results aren’t good.

When I first stopped drinking I often wondered how I’d cope in future if something very bad were to happen. Were there exceptional circumstances in which it was ok to relapse? Perhaps if something happened to my family, or my house burnt down? What if I found out I only had a few days left on the planet. Would it be ok then?

Well I’m pleased to say a brush with cancer didn’t rock my sober boat. And that’s all it was, thank goodness. A near miss. The results were all totally clear. It’s hard to describe what a relief that news was. I’ve been left with a great big ugly scar up the front of my stomach and I’ve lost an ovary. But that’s all. And that seems a pretty good outcome in the grand scheme of things.

In the run up to the operation, drinking didn’t really cross my mind. Once or twice I did think ‘this would be a good excuse for a relapse’, but I didn’t feel that pull to drink. Besides, I had so much other stuff to do – like move house. I was warned that post op I’d need six weeks off work, lots of rest and I wasn’t to lift anything heavy. So all of a sudden there was a real rush to get as much done as possible before life was put on hold for a bit. It was incredibly stressful at the time but looking back I think being busy was a good thing; the night before the op I was up late cramming my belongings into boxes.

My family were brilliant during this time and so were my friends. I was lucky to have lots of visitors both times I was in hospital. Surprisingly, many of the people who came were actually friends I felt I’d drifted apart from, because of being sober and not going out as much.

Before the op I did wonder if my drinking history had played a part in my illness. I guess I’ll never really know the answer so there’s probably no point dwelling on it. In hospital it was comforting to be sober – I had to fill out countless pre op questionnaires and it was very satisfying to answer the ‘how much do you drink?’ question with a big fat zero. Post op I feel that by being sober I’ve given my body the best chance of healing properly.

It’s exactly six weeks since my surgery now and I thought I’d have written about all of this a lot sooner, but somehow I just didn’t. I guess sobriety isn’t dominating my life in the way it once did. Does that make me sound complacent? I hope not – I think it’s a good thing. Sobriety is a bit like driving; it’s hard at the beginning but you get better with practice. I don’t feel like a learner driver anymore, but I know I’ll always need to keep my eyes on the road.

I was catching up on some episodes of the Bubble Hour yesterday and it was just so lovely and familiar and comforting that it prompted me to write this. The awesome thing about the sober blogosphere is that it’s always there, just waiting for when you need it. And I definitely still need people in my life who get what it’s like not to be able to drink normally.

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?

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.

Here’s to a happy and sober 2014

Just checking in to wish you all a Happy New Year. I hope Christmas was good? I know I wasn’t the only one facing my first sober Christmas and on the whole I’m pleased to report it went pretty well.

There were a few challenges, as I knew there would be. There was some not-drinking awkwardness on Christmas Day when a relative handed me a glass of champagne. As everyone else raised their glasses and took a long sip I thought “Is this some kind of test? Or have they all just forgotten?” It turned out it was the latter. I didn’t want to make a scene and dithered over what to do for ages. In the end I left my glass untouched but no one seemed to notice.

I had a couple of pangs. I guess this was inevitable, especially as Christmas has always been a time that I’ve associated with drinking a lot and being ‘merry’. On Boxing Day I woke up looking forward to another day of eating and drinking, before remembering that I wouldn’t be drinking. Doh. Later we were eating delicious smoked salmon and I could have murdered a glass of white wine to go with the food. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying theirs.

Fortunately those cravings came and went pretty quickly and waking up the next day without a hangover more than made up for them. I tried not to dwell on the wolfie thoughts whenever I did hear them. In fact that is my new way of dealing with Wolfie. I don’t think about what he has to say until the next day. So far I have never woken up following morning and thought ‘gosh I should have listened to that voice telling me I was missing out by not drinking. I really wish I’d had a drink last night….’

It was great to feel ‘present’ around my family, rather than obsessing over where and when the next drink was coming from. I think I ate less and I was definitely less grumpy. All in all, being sober at Christmas was, well, not a big deal really. And I mean that in a good way. For me, alcohol had been such a huge part of the festive period that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without it. When I tried repeatedly in 2012 to stop drinking one of my big stumbling points had been my birthday and Christmas. I just couldn’t imagine how I could ever have fun or be able to celebrate without alcohol.

I’ve been writing some New Year’s resolutions today and have been rereading last year’s list in the process. I’d totally forgotten about half of them (“be able to do 30 proper press ups by the time I turn 30” – what was I thinking?!) but there’s one I clearly remember writing: “stop drinking home alone”. With hindsight that sounds like a goal made by someone who knew she had a problem but was desperately trying to find a way to carry on drinking. Well, I think I’ve smashed that target. Sure, it took me until April to get round to it, but I had never imagined I’d stop drinking altogether. My alcohol related resolution for this year is to stay sober for the whole of 2014. Bring it on!

A Christmas food question

They say the average person consumes 7,000 calories on Christmas day. I’m not surprised. One of my favourite things about Christmas (aside from all the presents) is the food. In my family we eat the same thing every single year. It absolutely has to be turkey, with pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, stuffing, gravy, the works. All washed down with lots of red wine, of course. The turkey is followed by Christmas pudding, doused in brandy and served with brandy sauce. By late afternoon everyone will be passed out in a food coma watching crap TV. But as if by magic, a few hours later we’ll find room for cheese and biscuits, Christmas cake and half a tub of Quality Street.

No wonder I can never fit into my skinny jeans come January 1st.

Obviously this year I’ll be skipping the champagne breakfast, buckets of red wine and G&Ts. And that’s fine. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Not at all. To be honest, the combination of all that food and alcohol made me feel unpleasantly drowsy and uncomfortable. By the afternoon I’d have a headache and would start feeling annoyed with everyone.

So I’m actually looking forward to not drinking this year. My question is this: what about the food?

I love Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, but are they off the menu now? I think the pudding probably is. It’s covered in brandy and set alight just before serving, so I don’t think the alcohol is burnt off properly. What about the Christmas cake? Made in November, it is topped up with brandy in late December.

On the other hand, what’s the big deal about consuming alcohol in food? It’s not going to get me drunk. I’d be sick before I got at all tipsy. But will it reignite my taste for alcohol? Until now I have avoided food with alcohol in like the plague. I don’t even buy mouthwash with alcohol in it, just in case.

I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out. My mum always serves the same food on Christmas day – it’s tradition. So I can’t just say “let’s have chocolate cake instead this year”. Anyway, I don’t want to kick up a fuss. It’s taken my family a while to get their heads round the fact that I don’t drink now. But not eating certain foods? I’m not sure they’ll understand that and I’m not sure I want to miss out.