07 June 2020
Here's an article I wrote recently for Elephant Journal. It's not the title I gave it, or the picture, but other than that, I'd love to know what you think! 💖💖 xx https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/06/the-gift-of-sobriety/
Adjusting to life without alcohol can be very difficult when you’ve spent a long time living with an addiction. Suddenly you have much more time to fill, and it can be confusing and also frustrating to work through it. In some instances it can seem easier to give in and have a drink, and yet, in reality if you can keep on going, each day will get easier. That’s something I learned the hard way!
Learning to live in a way that leaves behind your old lifestyle can feel impossible, so it’s important to put the right strategies in place in order to make it successful. Addiction is insidious, and before you know it, it has crept into every area of your life, with everything seeming to revolve around having that drink. Just hoping a change will work probably won’t be enough, so here’s some pointers that might help.
1. Connection. Get out with people. Or, stay in with people. Find new people, or reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. You might find some relationships are damaged, if you have put your addiction in the way. Some might be salvageable, but not every one of them, and in all honesty, you might not want to salvage them all. As you evolve, you might find yourself wanting to put distance between you and some of your old ‘friends’. That isn’t always a bad thing.
2. Hobbies. There are so many things to try, and everyone is good at something different. I took up drawing when I first stopped drinking. I found I had much more patience than I had before, and would sit and practice for ages. It really helped me find a bit of quiet and time for myself. As time has gone on my hobbies have evolved, but just having time to find new things that I enjoy has been really wonderful.
3. Exercise. It doesn’t matter what, you can go to the gym, you can run or you can start a fitness class like yoga. After spending so much time treating your body harshly, it can feel good to respect it and treat it well again. Everyone responds and enjoys different things, so don’t worry if the first thing you try doesn’t suit you, equally, be open-minded enough to try something new. I never thought I’d enjoy running, but I do, that was a huge surprise for me. Team sports might be something fun to try, and you might end up making new friends too.
4. Volunteering. Giving something back to the community is a great way to help you feel good about yourself, do something for others and keep yourself busy all at once. It’s good to have a purpose as it makes you feel valued. I personally like to volunteer quite frequently at parkrun, but there are so many different ways you can give your time to help out others.
5. Travel. Okay, so maybe not right now, but when the world starts running again properly again, it might be nice to explore and see new places. They don’t have to be far, but they can be if you have the time and money, but you can do a fair bit of travelling on a shoestring. For now, maybe you can start planning things, and have a list of places to go when travelling is easier again. A change in environment is a great way to help you change your habits, there is nothing so triggering as being stuck in your same rut all the time. Change things up a little and it might make a huge difference to you.
There is no limit to the things you can try, so don’t limit yourself. Make the most of your time and energy and try to enjoy exploring new things. I think the most important thing to remember is that you need to change everything you can to make sobriety easier and more successful. If you just hope to stop drinking and carry on everything else in your life in the same way, not only are you making things really super hard for yourself, but you’re also going to find it likely that there are a lot of temptations and triggering situations right there in front of you. Changing things gives you a fresh perspective, and you might find out things you didn’t know about yourself too!
A lot of people say they enjoy a drink for fun, or to relax, and even to reduce stress. It’s true that those are some of the effects of alcohol, at least for a short time, but it is also true that alcohol is a depressant and it has a direct effect on the central nervous system. Not to mention the fact that it is addictive.
In the short term it seems that having a few drinks can reduce your troubles, or at least take your mind off them for a while. It can feel like a boost to your confidence but as we know, it’s effects don’t last for long and as you continue to drink over a longer time, it is very likely that you will build up a tolerance and so need to drink more and more to get the same effect. At this point it can seem harder and harder to relax as when you are without the alcohol in your system, there is nothing to numb you and keep you calm. This is because alcohol affects the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in your body and so, as the alcohol wears off, your anxiety may actually heighten. This can start a continuous cycle where you drink, feel worse, drink more, feel even worse and so on. I’ve been there. It’s rubbish.
As well as affecting serotonin, alcohol causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released in higher amounts which affects the way the body perceives it’s normal base level. This alters how we cope with stress and changes our body’s responses to it. Cortisol also affects the brain’s reward system which reinforces the need for alcohol as we strive to achieve the same level we have previously reached. This is one of the reasons drinking becomes a learned behaviour, due to the feeling of reward and also why many people relapse, trying to regain the feeling that becomes less and less attainable. The effects of drinking don’t stop when we stop drinking, but rather, when we have allowed our brains to recover from the long term effects of alcohol use. For me, that took far longer than I expected. Prolonged and heavy use of alcohol can have both physical and mental side-effects such as memory loss and blackouts. These of course will do nothing to ease your anxiety as you struggle to remember what you have said and done.
There are other ways of relieving stress, many which can be fun, a great deal cheaper, better for you and have the benefit of not being addictive. Unfortunately alcohol is heavily relied on in our society for a source of fun and relaxation, and of course that reward at the end of the day. It’s fine when it’s done occasionally, but it’s too easy to slip into a habit, and once you are there it is harder to get out of it. I often think that by the time you start wondering or thinking about whether you have a problem, it is probably a little bit late and that problem has already formed.
Generally, if someone questions whether they drink too much, it’s often because they do. I’m not judging at all, once I was there, so I understand. I was in denial and didn’t believe that I really had a problem, because problems happen to other people, don’t they? Not people like me? Once those questions start, it’s often a case of trying to justify it to yourself rather than proving you don’t have a problem. But as I, and many others like me have shown, you can overcome an addiction and live well without alcohol. It takes time and effort, but there are so many advantages to living a sober life, I promise you that.
Always remember to be kind to yourselves.
I have been having the weirdest dreams since the start of this whole Corona Virus business. None of them are virus related, but they are all strange!
So, the other night I was climbing Everest with my husband and three of our employees. Our son who also works for us wasn’t there, but I’m not sure if that has any relevance. It was very deep snow, but I was preoccupied with paperwork and was trying to work out pay while we were there. Weirdly we had to collect American looking number plates from cars, to send home so that people knew where we were. I was frustrated because I couldn’t get anyone to listen to me, and there was some debate about whether we should send the number plates home as we passed other mountaineers, or save them all until the end. It was decided that we could talk about it when we stopped for a break at a restaurant. We descended a few steps to find one that sold Scotch Eggs and not a lot else, but it was very warm, like an outdoor space in Spain.
If anyone feels able to unpick that and tell me what it means, that would be great!
Apparently many of us are dreaming a lot more at the moment, with the lockdown having a direct influence on us. It’s not just that our sleep patterns are probably different due to the affect it has had on home and work life, but also what we are actually dreaming about.
A survey carried out by King’s College in London suggests that we are getting the same, if not more sleep since the introduction of lockdown, with additional time being found where we are not currently commuting, etc. According to an article I read, this means that not only our time dreaming, but also the recall of our dreams is increasing. The longer we sleep, the more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep we have, and this is the state from where most of our dreams are recalled. It is thought that modern life causes less sleep like this, which is why normally many of us don’t remember our dreams. Alarm clocks are also thought to disrupt our dreams, as a natural wake up seems to result in longer dreams. Interestingly it is also suggested that anxiety can cause us to have a more disrupted sleep which means we are more likely to remember what we were dreaming of when we woke up.
Outside influences such as memories, and events in our waking life are thought to influence our dreams, which is strange as I haven’t watched anything about climbing mountains recently. I wonder if it’s more subtle than that? It is thought that dreams are our brains way of making sense of things, but also that it’s a way of helping to prepare us for perceived threat. I’ve also read about the allostatic load recently, which basically is our awareness of coping with a crisis such as the pandemic, where we are largely helpless to do anything, besides wash our hands and stay home. We are aware of it, but it isn’t a threat we can fight, and that is what our bodies are wired to do. So I wonder whether this awareness of an unreachable threat adds to our, or at least my, crazy and illogical dreams?
The brain is an interesting thing isn’t it? Even when we don’t understand it completely.
Thanks for reading.
Photo credit to my daughter Katie Hatwell.
Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2242379-how-coronavirus-is-affecting-your-dreams-and-what-to-do-about-it/#ixzz6OlSzGjGi
It’s easy to have one too many. That’s what I used to do, one too many, once too often until it was all the time, every evening. It’s so easy to slip into a habit, and I know for me, once I got home from work, going to the fridge for a bottle of wine was one of my first stops.
The NHS and Government in the UK suggest that to limit health risks, men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week and if close to that amount then drinking should be spread across three or more days with at least two alcohol free days a week. Of course though a glass doesn’t equate to a unit, and especially at home, it can be easy to lose track of how much you are drinking. At the height of my drinking I was drinking more than fourteen units in one evening, and of course that was every evening. It’s scary when you look at it like that, but when a bottle of white wine averages about 9 units, it isn’t out of the question is it?
When you drink frequently you can get used to the feeling and forget that without alcohol you feel better. Without alcohol in your system you should feel better in the mornings, and less tired, lots of people have improvement in their skin and have more energy. Of course alcohol affects your mood, not just when you’re drinking when it can make your temper shorter but long term when it can make your behaviour more irrational. It can affect you in more serious ways as there is a strong link between drinking and mental health. When you’re dealing with an addiction it can be harder to see other things in your life in the same way as you see alcohol and so your priorities can become muddled.
It might be that you just want to cut down your drinking. Moderation might work for you, it didn’t for me, although it took a few tries to realise that. I understand sobriety isn’t for everyone, but for some of us, it is the only, and in my opinion the best, option. Whether you are cutting down, or cutting down on your way to cutting out completely, I have put a list together here of things that might help you.
• Don’t make your targets too hard. Just cut down a little bit each day or each week. It makes it more achievable for you to last, and gives you a chance to adjust.
• Talk to people. You don’t have to talk to everyone, but it will help to talk to those who you are around all the time, or those who you drink with normally. At least then they will be more understanding and hopefully provide you with support rather than encouragement to drink.
• Don’t think about the long term. It sounds mad, but what I mean is take each moment as it comes, and don’t worry about the big picture. It can be overwhelming and I know that when I thought about not every drinking again, it was quite scary, it was easier to concentrate on not having that one drink instead.
• Choose a lower percentage of alcohol, alternate with water or soft drinks instead of drinking consecutive alcoholic drinks or set yourself a limit before you start.
• Try to take a day or two off each week to allow your body time to recover.
I hope these tips help, and just remember if you’re on this journey, there’s probably a good reone of the best things you’ve ever done for yourself!
On Sunday I had a really crazy brain day. It’s been a while since I’ve felt quite so sketchy, and it came completely out of nowhere. I don’t mind so much when it has a reason, and I at least know to expect it. Lee worked on Saturday as well as the rest of the week, which is not a problem, but sometimes I think it throws my inner control freak a little bit, because things aren’t as they are ‘supposed’ to be. On Saturday night I realised we had run out of Diet Coke. Shock horror, what was I going to be able to drink instead of that on Saturday evening? So, because nothing else would do, at least until later on when I could drink tea again, we went up to Asda. It was pouring down with rain, so luckily there was no queue to get in, and because we have been doing a weekly online shop with Tesco, we haven’t browsed in a long while, so we did. We bought a nice joint for Sunday and everything was good.
Even on Sunday morning things were fine, I woke up a little later than I would have liked, and that’s never a good thing, it always makes me spin out a little bit, because I feel like I’ve missed something. It’s like if I rush, I’ll catch up. It’s not a nice feeling. Plus the fact when I sleep really heavily, which I must have done, I find it hard to wake up, I feel groggy and it’s a bit reminiscent of a hangover. I hate that feeling.
Lee did us some nice breakfast and then we thought we’d put the roast on so it would have a nice long time to cook. We’d forgotten to buy carrots, but we have a lovely local farm shop five minutes walk from our house, so we took Stanley and walked there. We even managed to miss a super heavy rain shower, that came down when we were in the shop but had stopped by the time we had finished.
When we got home I picked up my laptop but I just couldn’t concentrate. My mind was whirring around, and try as I might, I couldn’t focus, anything I read went in one ear and out the other. Inside it feels like I have something important to do, that I’ve forgotten about. It makes me feel panicky and I struggle to focus on anything in particular. It’s weird when it comes out of nowhere, because I’m never sure what to do about it.
I rolled out my yoga mat in the end. There’s a nice practice I like that concentrates on over-coming anxiety. The first five minutes or so are based on something called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing. It’s meant to balance you as you practice. Of course, my mind was so all over the place that the voice in my head was telling me I was stupid for getting the yoga mat out, that it wouldn’t help, that I was being silly. I had no choice but to concentrate and try to keep going, in the hope that the little voice would shut up.
Whenever I get my yoga mat out, Stanley gets his out too. He has been doing yoga of some form with me since he was five weeks old. The problem is, he gets his mat out and then joins me on mine! He does a lovely little downward dog. It’s very cute! So I carried on practicing around him, and his inflatable penguin that also joined us, concentrating on my breathing, and just keeping moving, and after about twenty minutes I realised the knot in my tummy had gone, and that the panic was subsiding.
It isn’t nice having anxiety. Especially after all this time, I thought I would have a better handle on it. I thought it would have gone away, and yet, as Lee pointed out, I did know what to do to make myself feel better, and even though I doubted myself, it worked. I did feel better. So I guess, I need to start trusting myself more!
The sun is shining, so I’m going to take my boys out for a bike ride now. Have a lovely day everyone!
Thanks for reading.
For a long time after I stopped drinking I replaced my wine with alcohol removed wines. It is a controversial idea I know, and while some people seem to really like the idea of drinking something similar, others think it is just a substitute, a replacement which doesn’t really address a problem and may in fact make it worse. For many, the idea of drinking something so similar, even when the alcohol is removed is a trigger for those who no longer drink.
It seems alcohol free wines are made in the same way as a ‘normal’ wine, from fermented grapes. When fermentation occurs, it converts sugar into alcohol, while keeping the characteristics from the individual grapes and so retain a similar taste, regardless of the alcohol content. After the making of the wine, the alcohol is removed, leaving a product that doesn’t give you the after-effects of drinking, and has far less calories. The varieties come just as traditional wines do, to suit the mood or the foods you’re eating, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot.
A difficulty of nonalcoholic wines is that while the alcohol is removed, approximately less than 0.5% alcohol remains. Drinks with less than 1.2% ABV or alcoholic strength by volume are referred to as low-alcohol while those with an ABV of 0.05% or below are referred to as alcohol free. This ABV value refers to the amount of alcohol in a drink, so for example, a wine bottle that states 12% ABV means that 12% of the contents is pure alcohol. According to the producer Fre, the amount of wine left in an alcohol removed wine is, “roughly equivalent to the alcohol content of orange juice left unrefrigerated overnight.” While it is marketed as a suitable choice for those who want to reduce their alcohol intake, I’ll be honest, seeing that there is a minuscule amount of alcohol in it makes me nervous. I can see where the trigger could be, and of course, drinking it might seem the same as drinking wine, but it doesn’t give the same feeling, and if we are chasing that, there seems little point.
So, if we are being literal, even in these low, or alcohol removed drinks, if they state 0.05%, then they are not completely free from alcohol. On the other hand, many foods contain a similar amount of alcohol. I’m not even talking about cooking with alcohol, because we don’t do that, but just those found naturally. A quick Google search tells me that that a very ripe banana can contain up to 0.4g per 100g (0.4% ABV). The measure of this amount of alcohol is tiny, and some have argued that it can’t accurately be measured at a lesser amount so these drinks have to be categorised in the lowest bracket. It is thought to be such a tiny amount that 0.5% is often considered alcohol-free in many countries, even though it technically isn’t. It’s a bit of a mine-field really if you ask me, but I suppose the biggest thing is the way it makes you feel. It is ultimately your choice, and there really is no right or wrong.
It is confusing as to how it’s marketed too. While many companies sell it as the ‘healthy alternative’ to wine, there are a lot of people like me, who want to replace their vice with something else. For me, walking down the wine aisle at the supermarket to buy something non-alcoholic was weird. I felt guilty that I was even on that aisle, and it was hard at times when I was so used to picking up ‘real’ wine. When grape juices and similar are found on the soft drink aisle, I find it strange that these drinks have to share the aisle with the stronger versions. Especially considering wine and beer make their way out onto the food aisles to be sold as part of a meal deal. It’s just an observation that confuses me a little.
Replacing my wine intake with alcohol removed versions did work for me, it allowed me to replace it with something less damaging, and change my thinking. But, after a year or so, I noticed the same thought patterns emerging as they had done with wine. I began to worry if it wasn’t in the house, or God forbid, if the shop ran out. It made me stress out, and to be honest, that isn’t a normal reaction. It was like I couldn’t see that I could drink other things, anything not in a wine glass was alien to me. It was a vast improvement on other things I had tried to replace alcohol with though, like soda water and lime. While it was nice, I still drank the same amount and it was too fizzy for that. So for me at least, it had a place in my recovery, although I understand it isn’t the same for everyone.
There’s still some bottles in the house actually. I haven’t thrown them away as it seems a waste, but I worry now that it feels like a backwards step to drink them. While I can reassure myself that it’s okay to drink them if I want to, strangely it would feel a bit like letting myself down, and even to get a wine glass out I think would feel a bit weird now. So I don’t, I was going to say maybe one day I will, but actually on reflection, I think that might be the start of a slippery slope and that isn’t somewhere I want to find myself. These things all have their places and I am glad for the part non-alcoholic wine played in my recovery, but I’m also glad that I am finally feeling free of the ties I had.
What’s your opinion on drinks like these?
These are two of the brands I used to enjoy, https://www.frewines.com and http://www.eisberg.co.uk Both were available in the supermarkets.