Another article for Elephant Journal, this one is about the risks of addiction. https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/06/risk-factors-of-addiction-im-okay-arent-i/
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!
We went for a walk last week at our local National Trust property. We are lucky to have such a large amount of open space so close to home. I had to pre-book the car, but actually it was reassuring to know that it wasn’t going to be packed with visitors, although it was sad to see so many people ignoring the rules and parking on the lanes to gain access. It was a beautiful day to be out in nature, sunny, warm, with a nice breeze, and lovely to be somewhere different after being confined for so long.
I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors. I love being in the woods or on the beach. There is something about nature that soothes me. I think that’s why I got into trail running, the ability to see new places and to have a reason to be outdoors, regardless of the weather.
Our kids have always enjoyed being outdoors too. I’ve always encouraged them to get out and enjoy it, whenever they can. We actually moved the middle two, Katie and Barn to a primary school in the middle of nowhere because I fell in love with the school’s outdoor ethos. There were only 50 or so kids in the school and only about 6 in Katie’s year at the time, so they had a little more freedom than your average school. It was another thing that appealed to me so much about it, it was almost like stepping back in time a little when you went there, to a time when school was a little bit less rigid, and a little less security oriented. The school opened onto a village playing field and they’d been donated acres of woodland on the other side of it. The entire school would be out there more often than not, building dens, climbing trees and making ‘jungle juice’ over open fires that they’d made themselves. They’d always come home filthy but happy. Then there were the times when you couldn’t find your child at the end of the day because two friends had gone for a long walk along the lanes into the country walking the headteacher’s dog and had lost track of time. It was a magical time, not always without injuries, but the children learned how to safely take risks and gained valuable skills for life outside of the classroom. It’s too far to drive my little man now, so I hope I can find somewhere similar for him when the time comes.
There’s a generation of kids out there who didn’t learn how to take risks safely. I saw it through my own eyes working with troubled youngsters in my old job. There are children who don’t understand boundaries because they’ve never had them laid out, and don’t understand the consequences of their actions. There are also the children that grow up too quickly, with too much responsibility or without adequate protection and aren’t able to safely enjoy and explore their childhoods. So many youngsters see the world through screens and games without having to relate to different people in the real world. It’s a skill for life, as you aren’t always going to get on with people you don’t see eye to eye with and the sooner you learn that, the easier it makes the rest of life. I’m not necessarily one for letting the kids play out, near our home, but I love them being outdoors building dens, playing in the water and walking. It’s instilled my love of nature in them and I hope that continues as they get older.
For me freedom outdoors is one of the best lessons we can give our little ones. It can be safe and still fun. I think sometimes it does them a bit of good to have a little bit of measured risk if that makes sense? It helps them grow into well rounded young people. Wellies and waterproofs come in handy in this wet weather, for my little one at least, although due to his puddle jumping yesterday his boots are still full of water! At least he had fun, even if he does create a lot of washing!
Thanks for reading!
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.