Destination unknown

The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better today.

Another fabulous Simon Sinek quote which I so agree with.

This isn’t about doing sobriety perfectly – is there such a thing?  It is about starting on the journey without knowing where it will lead.

If you had told me 10 months ago that this is where I would be and these would be the things that I would have achieved I would not have believed you or believed that I was capable of such things:

  • The increased happiness overall
  • The increased joy in the moment that isn’t dependent on me having a drink in my hand
  • The improved relationships with my husband and children
  • The radically improved health and steadily increasing fitness
  • The glorious sleep I now have and energy I have to want to get out of bed
  • The savings of £3,500 (that’s me and Mr HOF combined)
  • The decision to shake up my working life
  • The offer of a place to do a Masters
  • The 10lb weight loss
  • The recognition that my diet now needs some serious work next because my taste buds feel alive in a way that they’ve never done before and shite tastes well – shit
  • I could go on and on but I don’t want to bore you or for you to feel like I’m bragging or rubbing anyone’s nose in it.

The single change of stopping drinking has lead to all of these things and not only that but I have met some of the most amazingly supportive people both in real life and here on the interweb.  Without you this would not have been sustainable for this amount of time of that I am absolutely sure.

If you could change one thing to make your life better today, without knowing the destination or end result, what would it be?  Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just trust in yourself :)

59 days to go

Changing it up

So today is the last day of school summer term here in the UK and the last day of my job.  Like a fair few other sober bloggers who have been on this journey with me removing the booze has initiated some fairly spectacular re-evaluations of happiness, life and it’s future trajectory.

So I have the summer off with the kids and then come my 1st year soberversary a new life begins.  I’m starting a Masters at the University of Cambridge, have reduced my NHS public health nursing hours and plan to spend more time here developing this part of my life on the blog side of things.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how our health care system manages alcohol issues and to be frank it’s not great.  Partly because the Govt fails to recognise it as an issue and what funding exists to support substance abuse is quietly being whittled away.  Even within the realms of substance abuse services alcohol is the poor cousin when compared to drugs.  This blatantly ignores the fact that 1 in 4 people in this country are believed to have a problem with alcohol.  So you can get support from your GP or practice nurse through an Alcohol IBA and then until you end up with a physical dependency issue, and require specialist substance abuse services, there isn’t much out there.  Comic Relief have recently released an Alcohol Hidden Harm Toolkit to support managers, commissioners and practitioners involved in designing, assessing or improving Alcohol Hidden Harm services for children and families which is encouraging.  Outside of the NHS you have again two extremes of expensive private rehab, such as The Priory, or you have AA.  Soberistas are doing a brilliant job of providing an alternative community to AA but from a healthcare perspective it is very thin pickings.

I’m working on that though and will be sharing soon some plans that I have to help you if you’re reading this and would like some support from a healthcare professional who, through personal experience, knows how difficult managing your drinking or giving up booze can be.  Who knew that changing your drinking life could change your life completely?!

Watch this space! :)

60 days to go

Nick is not drinking – response from Nick

Hello. As what I wrote and said is the subject of your blog post and subsequent discussion I hope you don’t mind me contributing.

I have always drunk a lot. My best man used to run a website called Will’s Pub Guide. When I was 15 I used to go drinking in an Army pub at JHQ Rheindahlen in Germany called The Queens Head where Heineken was the equivalent of 30p a pint. In my student days, I basically lived in the union. We drank far too much. It was the best fun.

Before I started dating Mrs Wallis, I lived with some wonderful, intelligent and stone cold hilarious people. They would drink one or two cans of Special Brew an evening and four at the weekend. I tried but could never match them. I stuck to my Kronenbourg. I guess for the last 25 years or so I’ve been your standard binge drinker, sober during the week, but drinking as a hobby with friends when I’ve got “nothing” to do the next day.

Fatherhood changes all that. Suddenly you never have “nothing” to do all day. You have to maintain shared responsibility 24/7 for one, two then three little nippas. Over the last 9 years drinking on the sort of epic (and I appreciate everything is relative, epic for me would be eight or nine pints of session lager) scale I used to in my twenties was simply no longer viable.

In the run up to giving up my drinking pattern was smaller amounts, taken more frequently. This would irritate me because I would plan things around when and if I would be likely to have a drink – ie if I went over to my in-laws I knew I’d probably be offered a drink. If that were the case then I would have to think about whether it was fair to ask Mrs Wallis to drive etc. It all just became a bit tedious.

Anyway, the upshot was, I felt that although I wasn’t drinking a huge amount I seemed to be thinking about it a lot, and it was becoming reflexive. Why was I having a drink? Because I could.

When you start thinking about something a lot, you naturally end up wanting to find out why you might be doing so. I did, I admit, have thoughts about writing a book on the subject. I felt that giving up for a year might a) provide me with some decent material and b) free up the time I need to research the subject properly.

I have tried to give up for long periods before and always failed because a drinking buddy was coming to stay, or there was a big social event coming up. I felt that this time I could succeed because I was fed up with drinking at social occasions (being a parent is incredibly fatiguing and there’s just too much to think about logistically nowadays!) and my drinking buddies could, I’m sure, wait a year for me.

Just to make sure I was committed to this I came up with the idea of blogging it and just to make sure I was bound into it I started requesting sponsorship as a form of bet. The formal intention was to explore why alcohol meant so much to me and society in general, the informal intention was to do it as a personal achievement and raise a bit of money for some good causes along the way.

I’ve certainly learned a lot. A vast amount, in fact. If I had to recommend a book which lays the facts out in as scientific a manner as possible, I’d point you in the direction of The Diseases of Alcohol by Dr David Marjot. I think I must have had a galleys copy because some of it is really badly edited, but Dr Marjot’s lifetime of experience and understanding in the field of alcohol addiction is all there in one book. His approach is very interesting too – part medical, part psychiatric.

The main thing I would like you to remember about the way you read the posts in my blog and the panel discussion I had on London Live was that you were seeing me articulate the way I felt at a particular moment in time. A blog/discussion is a work in progress, a way of sharing and debating positions and ideas. I haven’t got the solution. I don’t pretend to. I’m sorry people find some of my opinions unhelpful. I was being honest. Perhaps you’d rather I lie or not express them at all? That, to me, would be unhelpful.

Would I write what I’ve written in the past knowing what I know now? No, probably not. My blog post at the 6 months sober stage marks a significant shift in thinking. Will my position change again? Probably. I’ve just finished Allen Carr’s book “How to Control Your Drinking”. He is an infuriating sophist, but he gets under your skin and makes some very good arguments for never drinking again. I want to write about that, when I get the time.

To address some points raised above:

1. I am not getting paid for this. It’s a hobby. Drinking was my hobby. This year, Not Drinking is my hobby. If someone does want to pay me to write a book about it, I’m all ears.

2. Childcare can be boring. Children are charming, delightful, lovely individuals (especially mine), but when they are young and they’re been particularly difficult, and you’re tired, it’s a drudge. There was one very specific occasion where the urge to have a drink after I’d got them all to bed was overwhelming. Instead I found myself pouring my dad a beer whilst he watched the football and I tidied the kitchen. I did wonder what I thought I trying to prove by not drinking, because the whole exercise at that stage did seem a little pointless.

3. People who say they’re bored are boring. There’s a logical inconsistency there. People who are bored can be fascinating. People who are engaged and interested can also be incredibly dull. If, by saying I was bored, I made you bored too, then I apologise.

4. Do I have a problem? Alcohol is an addictive substance. It’s just a question of dose over time. Too much too soon and you can become addicted. I have had a lot to drink over the last twenty years and I was concerned I was starting to think like an addict. Over the course of the last (nearly) seven months, my outlook has changed, my thinking has changed and the urges to drink which left me down when I couldn’t fulfil them, have gone. Completely. It took around five and a half months, though. The last six or seven weeks? Fine.

Do I still have a problem? Will I always have a problem? Anyone who drinks has a problem – they may not know it, the may refuse to acknowledge it, they may be trying to manage it, they may be well on top of it, but all of us who drink have a problem, which is that you are coming into contact with a highly damaging, highly addictive substance for purely hedonistic reasons. Anyone who doesn’t tread carefully could be setting themselves up for difficulty in the future.

Why take the risk? Why skydive? Why pothole? Why horse ride? The thrill, for some, is worth chasing. For others, not so much. Those who don’t drink don’t have a problem. Simples.

All I would say is, for the “he doth protest too much” “he’s in denial” “he’s not being honest with himself” brigade – a) you might be right b) be careful you are not projecting the value system that worked for you onto someone else in order to re-inforce your own prejudices. It might be helpful to you. It might not be helpful to other people. For some people God is the answer, for some people it’s physics. For some it’s both.

5. Responsibility. I don’t think anyone should be under any illusions about the difficulty of giving up drinking. Clarity comes some way down the line. At first it’s a struggle. Being honest about that is better than lying or omitting to mention it. Lying about it makes it look easy and sets people up for failure. The psychoactive effect of alcohol is, for many, a very interesting and intriguing place to put yourself. Its capacity to destroy awareness of time, the pleasure it adds to music, the flowing connections it makes between people sharing the drug are all, when you first abstain for a long period, missed. I was invited to sit on the London Live panel to speak from personal experience and I called it as I saw it at that time in my non-drinking cycle. You may take the view there is no such thing as responsible drinking. At the moment I think there is. You can’t call me irresponsible for articulating that view. Well, you can, but I will disagree with you.

Anyway, I have to go to the gym. Reading your blog post and the thoughtful responses has been exactly the sort of thing I need to get the neurons firing. It has also allowed me to continue to explore the strength or otherwise of my own position and thinking in this debate. Thank you.

My reply to Nick in the comments section:

Nick thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. Would you mind if I posted your reply as a separate blog post because it’s length and detail should be more central than being buried in the comments section? As you say we can only see the issue from our own perspective and no one can tell or diagnose if anyone else has a drink problem, it is as much about our thinking around drinking as it is in the act of drinking itself. Of course I would not wish you to lie about your experience but someone watching the panel discussion may not appreciate the ‘snapshot in time’ nature of your expressed feeling and therefore interpret that as how not drinking is generally.  Thank you for responding and I hope that, although we disagree, the discussion has been constructive and respectful as I certainly think it has :)

61 days to go

 

People are not their disease

 

 

This is a fabulous TEDx talk from Jacki Hillios called Transcending Addiction and Redefining Recovery.   I saw it on Soberistas and was so impressed with that I thought I’d share it here.

The message is so strong and so powerful – that people are not their disease and that we shouldn’t be defined by where we have come from, but for who we are now and who we can become now we’ve put down the drink.

I wish we had something similar to Phoenix Multisport here in the UK because I would join in a heartbeat.  If I could find a sober active community like this filled with like-minded people who understood addiction but who are busy living life in recovery, who enjoyed running, cycling, yoga – what a gift that would be.

Their success rate compared to traditional rehabilitation is better (75% vs 50%) and even if people do relapse over 90% said they would come back, and without feelings of shame or guilt or worry.  This is amazing because addiction is a chronic relapsing condition so re-engagement is key to help people move forward.  The community also reports increases of 93% in physical health, 91% in mental health and 91% in quality of life.

The key messages from their experience is that:

  1. People matter – recovery on your own is hard and community is key
  2. Fun matters – if you have no joy today you have no hope for tomorrow
  3. Tomorrow matters – because if we have hope for our future then it makes dealing with the difficulties of today easier

Such an inspiration and I hope you enjoy as much as I did :)

62 days to go

Edited to add: found this heroes tribute on CNN about Scott Strode, the founder of Phoenix Multisport.

Nick is not drinking

As part of a recent Independent news piece about key GP questions to aid identification of alcohol issues was a London Live discussion about Alcohol Abuse where they interviewed a panel including a journalist who has given up alcohol for the year.  It was an interesting discussion but I found myself becoming quite annoyed as Nick Wallis (said journalist) described not drinking as boring.  He’s writing a blog for the year recording his experience and this passage is taken from a recent entry:

The overriding sensation I have experienced through staying dry over the last six months is one of boredom. People said I would feel much better. I don’t feel any better. I don’t feel any worse. That’s what teetotalism does – iron out the extremes of experience so that the best you feel is okay, or possibly chipper.

He goes on to say:

I have to be careful here, because there are people reading this blog who have been through the mill with alcohol, and feeling “okay” or “chipper” is akin to a state of grace. If alcohol was such a problem that abstention is the only answer – more power to you.

Now I appreciate that this is his opinion but it feels really unhelpful.  If not drinking is viewed and expressed this way in the media then it runs counter to my experience and wouldn’t encourage me to even try it as an option if I heard it and was still drinking.

What’s your thoughts?

63 days to go

 

Two key questions for GP to identify a drink problem

There was an article in The Independent recently that stated that:

Two questions is all it could take to establish whether a person currently suffers from or is at risk of a drink problem, a study for GPs says.

‘How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?’ and ‘as a result of your drinking or drug use, did anything happen in the last year that you wish didn’t happen?’ are the two enquiries a GP could make to detect hidden alcohol abuse, it claims.

Scientists from the University of Leicester, led by consultant in psycho-oncology Alex Mitchell, looked at 17 previous alcohol studies spanning 5,646 people to see whether simple preliminary screening using one or two questions could provide an accurate foundation for intervention.

The team found that the “optimal approach appears to be two questions” followed by a possible four more.

If this was completed then it “achieved an overall accuracy of 90.9 per cent and required only 3.3 questions per attendee.”

The study was published today in the British Journal of General Practice.

I really like this idea and think it should be implemented across all GP practices immediately.  I suspect it won’t be though because firstly the Govt don’t want to see we have a problem as then resources would need to be allocated to manage and resolve it. Secondly being a GP does not make you exempt from being a person who potential has a drink problem.  Asking this question of others makes it uncomfortable on yourself and denial being as powerful as it is I could see resistance to their use being expressed and experienced.  I hope I’m wrong and if you’d been asked these questions would you have answered them honestly?  I’m not sure I would have …….

 

64 days to go

 

Upward spiral of positive change

If we work to make every day better than the day before, imagine what our days will be like at the end of our lives.

This is a Simon Sinek quote and it isn’t the first of his I’ve posted up.  I really like it and it makes me think so optimistically of the future.

When I was drinking it felt like the only way was down.  Less control, less desire to control, brakes off rolling down the hill towards an almighty drunken, metaphorical or literal, car crash.

With almost 10 months sobriety under my belt it all feels better and upwards now.  That difficult stuck phase of over-analyzing moderation has passed and I feel all ‘pink cloudy’ again.  I’m working hard to make every day better than the last but am finding it’s improving with very little deliberate effort.  Moods are so much more level, which means relationships with everyone, but particularly MrHOF and the kids are massively easier and feel all round kinder.

In the past I often felt a slave to my emotions and I would argue and justify that they drove me to drink if only to forget.  Early sobriety was an emotional smorgasbord and I felt all over the place but now when an ‘emotional hijacking’ is in the offing I have found a way to pause.  This has been one of the biggest learns and positive change rewards of this whole process.

Looking back I cannot believe that I stayed trapped in the drinking hamster wheel for as long as I did and oh how I wish that I had trusted myself to know that I would be okay without alcohol before I did.  It matters not, as I’ve done it now and I am so bloody proud of myself and MrHOF.

Day 300! :)

65 days to go

 

 

Sharp rise in foetal alcohol syndrome

Another week and another ‘sharp rise’ in health related drinking harm.  This news piece was in the Guardian recently:

The number of diagnosed cases of foetal alcohol syndrome in those born to women who drink during pregnancy has tripled since records of the debilitating condition were first kept 16 years ago.

In 2012-2013 there were 252 diagnoses of the syndrome, which can leave victims severely mentally and physically impaired, compared with 89 in 1997-98. Cases are up 37% since 2009-2010.

Experts say the figures, for England only, suggest an improved ability to diagnose the condition but also a continued failure to deal with alcohol abuse.

It is feared that those so far diagnosed are the tip of the iceberg. There is often no physical sign of the condition, but victims are left with learning difficulties and an inability to connect emotionally with their peers. Without diagnosis, they are often not helped during their time at school and become isolated as adults.

Susan Fleisher, chief executive of the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, whose adopted daughter suffers from the condition, said: “The World Health Organisation says that one in 100 people has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which is the umbrella term used to describe the conditions that occur in people who have been diagnosed with some, but not all, of the symptoms of foetal alcohol syndrome. But there have been studies in Italy and the US that say that between 2% and 5% of the population is affected by this.

“And, remember, Britain is the number one binge-drinking country in Europe. The chances are we are closer to 5%, although we can’t say that for sure because it is under-diagnosed and difficult to diagnose. Only 20% have the physical signs of this condition such as small, wide-set eye openings, flattened filtrum, thin upper lip, lower ears, different creases in the hands and there can be skeletal damage. Those are the physical things, but if you don’t see them, then perhaps you don’t ask the question.”

Alcohol kills brain cells in developing foetuses by reducing their oxygen and nutrient intake. More than half of women drink more than the recommended daily amounts, and a quarter of those drink more than twice the recommended amounts. In 2002 some 200,000 women were admitted to NHS hospitals because of alcohol abuse. By 2010 the figure was 437,000.

Luciana Berger, the shadow public health minister, said the government should do more to highlight the consequences of heavy drinking and, in particular, during pregnancy.

The Department of Health advises that alcohol is to be avoided in pregnancy, while the independent National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy because of the risk of a miscarriage.

In 2007 Lord Mitchell introduced an alcohol labelling bill into the House of Lords. The bill was passed, but it failed to gain a sponsor in the Commons. The bill sought to make it mandatory for all containers of alcoholic products to have a government warning telling purchasers: “Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy, even in small quantities, can have serious consequences for the health of the baby.”

In the United States and Canada all containers have similar wording and all pubs, bars and clubs are obliged to display a warning statement.

Berger, who uncovered the new figures, said: “The government must ensure that expectant mums have the information they need to make informed choices during their pregnancy. Instead, ministers have relied too heavily on the drinks industry to do it for them.

“Government must stop putting the interests of business before the health of mums and babies and take a bolder approach.”

No sh*t sherlock! *sigh*

66 days to go

 

 

 

 

Short Cuts

I love Short Cuts.  Both the book by Raymond Carver and the Robert Altman film from the 1990′s if anyone else watched it.  Interestingly he was an alcoholic so I’m not sure if his style of writing appealed to me because of that long before I realised I had a problem with booze.

I also love short cuts in life.  If there is an easier and quicker way to do something then I’m all ears.  It is part of my instant gratification no patience thing.  Why re-invent the wheel right?

But the problem is that for me wine became a short cut for self care.  It’s how it is painted in the media and advertising isn’t it.  Hard day at work?  Have a glass of wine.  Need to unwind and reward yourself?  Have a drink.  But for me booze wasn’t self-care – it was actually a short cut to self-destruction.  It’s taken me 45 years and 9 months without it to figure that out!  And I prided myself on being a quick learner :s

And this is where the danger still lurks.  The ‘just one glass?’ from friends and family when you are with them who don’t know or understand what downward spiral this would eventually unleash.  It may not be that day or that week but it would come because as I have learned through all my moderation efforts and failures, one glass does not work for me and this kind of thinking is what keeps wolfie alive and well in my mind.

Some things there are no short cuts for and much though it pains me to admit this getting sober is one of them.  The minute I go back to thinking that a glass of wine is self-care all of my hard work and struggles of the last 9 months will be undone.  I have to be patient and have learned that there are other forms of self-care but I must be consistent in their application.  I drank every day and I need to apply these new self-care strategies every day too.  It is hard at first and I have to constantly remind myself but the minute I stop this wolfie pipes up.

I wish there was a short cut to getting sober and if there was I would be front of the queue!  You can make it easier on yourself by finding a supportive recovery community to pick you up when you are faltering and by reading and learning about living booze free.  The rest is then trial and error and time.

Does anyone have any good short cuts that would help me that I haven’t discovered yet?

67 days to go

 

 

Euphoric recall

I read this great article by Maria Weeks on The Fix called ‘Only Lockdown Rehab Worked‘ and the whole article is worth a read.  A particularly couple of paragraphs really jumped out at me so I thought I would share them here:

Cravings are nothing but extremely powerful memories of pleasure (euphoric recall) brought on by drug use. It’s also estimated that “euphoric recall” registers two to ten times stronger in the hippocampus than any other pleasurable activity – even sex! So if someone has told you in your first few days of sobriety the best way to deal with cravings is to play the tape back by remembering how bad things got the last time you used, you may not have much success, because euphoric recall is so powerful, it overrides negative memories.

So what is the solution? The solution is to rid oneself of euphoric recall! And it’s a lot easier than you might think and here’s why: if euphoric recall is nothing but a memory, don’t most memories fade in time? For example, I’ve forgotten how to speak Japanese, only because I no longer use it living in California.

It’s estimated that cravings begin to attenuate in about three months, and by the sixth month they are usually gone. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, for some people cravings may never go away completely. However, they will be a lot fainter and easier to manage than they were in early sobriety.

The bolding of those sentences is mine because it explains so clearly why cravings can be so overwhelming and difficult to resist!

The article recommends staying away from people and places that are triggers for you for as long as possible to allow the cravings to diminish.  She spent 6 months away and when she returned home the booze shop that had been the trigger for several other post 1 month rehab relapses no longer was a problem and rather than remembering good things she remembered a negative experience!

I appreciate that it isn’t possible to avoid all situations where your drinking memories are triggered but if you can reduce them to the barest minimum you are giving yourself a fighting chance of allowing and creating permanent change :)

68 days to go