Drinking guilt and its big brother shame

When I used to drink the drinking threw in a free gift of a helping of guilt and shame on the side – how kind!  Guilt is the emotion that we feel when we have behaved in a way that we perceive to be hurtful to others or as a moral lapse.  Guilt serves a purpose when we recognise, acknowledge and rectify the behaviour, such as apologising if necessary.  The thing is, when I was drinking, sometimes I didn’t remember the behaviour so what I got left with was guilt’s big brother, shame.

Shame is the emotion that we feel when ‘we’ as a person are at fault, not our behaviour.  It is the way we feel if we have fallen short of our own internalised ideals or if there is a public disclosure of a perceived weakness or defect. For me shame was the fast track path to self-loathing, failing self-esteem and crushed self-confidence and it was hard not to feel shame as I felt like I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore my behaviour.  If I couldn’t manage this there was something wrong with ‘me’ right?

But if you drink alcohol, which is addictive and designed to make you thirsty (so you drink more) and acts as a disinhibitor (encouraging behaviour that you would not normally engage in) then how is that a weakness or defect in yourself?  Now I’m not handing total responsibility for my actions over to the booze monster as the choice to pick up the first drink was always mine.  What I didn’t fully choose was the addiction created by the substance to go on drinking to the point of total black out, guilt making antics and no memories to attach the guilt to therefore leaving me with an overwhelming sense of shame.  And then I would drink to forget the shame compounding the problem. Shame, drink, shame, lather, rinse, repeat.

The leading expert and queen of shame research is Brene Brown who I love.  Her PhD was studying vulnerability.

What her research found was that shame is highly highly correlated with addiction.  Shame is the voice in my head telling me that I’m ‘never good enough’ and I can’t do life sober.  Shame is that same internal critic saying ‘who do you think you are’ to blog about my sober journey thinking people would be interested in what I have to say.

This is the most toxic of emotions and now I don’t drink I don’t really experience it like I used to anymore.  I know that I can do life sober and have done it for over five months. I know that people are interested in what I have to say because they take the time to read my blog and comment.  My internal voice of shame has gone quiet and this gift is perhaps bigger than the gift of no hangover.  The no hangover is the physical gift of not drinking but the diminished feeling of shame is the psychological gift of sobriety.  And the two go hand in hand for me as part of the hangover distress was the angst caused by the shame.  In the words of Brene, for shame to survive it needs secrecy, silence and judgement (of self or of others).  Choosing not to drink and this blog is the answer to resolving my shame and I would chose this option hands down every day over drinking now 🙂

PS If you’ve not seen the original Brene Brown TED talk on vulnerability, you can find it here

PPS My other most popular blog post is my Goodbye Letter to Alcohol which you can read here

Edited to add: I found this brilliant card that summed up how this drinking shame and guilt felt for me so if this is how you feel too then can I recommend this self-compassion break  🙂

Overindulgence Disposal Unit

Friday Sober Inspiration: Abundance

abundance-scaleSo this image is taken from the book Money Love by Meadow Devor who was interviewed by Tommy Rosen as part of his Recovery 2.0 online conference in September.  She was talking to him about financial sobriety and some of the things she said had my mouth fall open in recognition.  So I thought I would share a few key points from what she shared about abundance, compassionately observing and noting our thinking and moving on from the ‘please like me discount’.

Although her book focuses on money so much of what she said is applicable to so many other areas of life too, including booze.  Interestingly Meadow is also in recovery from alcohol.  So without giving away too much – these were my key take-away points from her wisdom.

When you engage in a behaviour whether it is spending, eating, drinking, internet surfing, etc ask yourself:

  1. What are you feeling?
  2. What are you trying to achieve/avoid? Why are you doing this?
  3. Can you afford it? In terms of money, time or emotions

And to weigh up the value vs the cost (again talking about financial, time or emotional).

She also talks a great deal about how we act from either scarcity or abundance as represented by the scale illustrated at the top of the post.  I definitely grew up with a scarcity mentality and mindset and have been doing some serious work around reframing how I view the world in a more abundant way.  Part of that work was leaving behind my own ‘please like me discount’ which, because of my own issues with co-dependency, was a big thing that I knew I did but had never before heard it put so succinctly into words!  I have a post it note above my desk that reminds me:

You do enough

You have enough

You are enough

You can listen to her being interviewed by Laura McKowen & Holly Whitaker on the Home podcast here:

If you are struggling with feelings of worry, frustration or lack how about trying this abundance meditation to see if you can start to shift your way of thinking too?  I can promise you if you begin to practise gratitude, and try to engage with the world from a place of empowerment and abundance soon the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach will shift becoming not just a desired hope but your reality.  Why not give it a try?

PS As if our cup wasn’t overflowing enough with abundance today this news broke this afternoon too! Go Scotland!! 🙂

Plans to set a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland have today (21 October 2016) been backed by the Scottish courts.

“We are satisfied that the Scottish courts have concluded that MUP is legal, as we have argued for many years, and we now call for it to be implemented without delay.” (Herald Scotland)


Friday Sober Jukebox – Exercise and Alcohol (Dr Feelgood)

exercise-and-alcoholThis post feels pretty autobiographical as this is exactly what I used to do.  Running on a Sunday morning with a cracking hangover was my penance for the night before excesses (and the rest of the week if I’m honest).  And now research has been done about that very thing and was covered in The Independent last month!

Regular exercise could mitigate some of the harmful effects of drinking alcohol, new research has suggested. 

However, scientists also stressed that consuming alcohol remains a potentially risky activity and suggested the study indicated the great health benefits of exercise. 

The research, for which scientists from University College London and the University of Sydney analysed the behaviour of over-forties, is described as the first of its kind. 

The habits of the subjects were compared with national health surveys from England and Scotland dating back to 1994.

Results showed those who performed regular physical activity and drank between recommended and harmful levels had a reduced risk of death from all causes associated with alcohol.

In some cases, the exercise even appeared to cancel out the risk completely. Those who only drank occasionally were also at lower risk.

With the minimum recommended amount of exercise just 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, the exercises could be activities as light as gardening, brisk walking and golf. 

However, the study did not take into account drinking habits or other dietary factors which can also influence health. 

The study said: “Our results provide an additional argument for the role of (physical activity) as a means to promote the health of the population even in the presence of other less healthy behaviours.

“The public health relevance of our results is further emphasised by the recently updated alcohol consumption guidelines review by the UK chief medical officer that found that cancer mortality risk starts from a relatively low level of alcohol consumption.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, said a quarter of respondents met the higher weekly target for exercise, while just over 60 per cent did not meet the minimum recommended amount.

Just under 15 per cent did not drink at all, while 13 per cent drank more than the daily recommended maximum – when it was classified as more than 35 units per week for women and 49 units for men.

Head of health information at the World Cancer Research Fund, Sarah Toule, said: “We would not recommend that anyone sees these findings as a ‘get out of jail free card’, as alcohol does increase the risk of many different health conditions, including cancer.

“Doing more physical activity can have great health benefits and our own evidence shows that, if everyone in the UK was regularly active, about 12,000 cancer cases could be prevented every year. However, by not drinking alcohol, 24,000 cancer cases could be avoided.”

Also picked up by Reuters:

Getting regular moderate or vigorous exercise may offset some of the potentially lethal health effects of regular alcohol consumption, a new study suggests.

So exercise may help but it won’t resolve the health issues created.  However much we’d like to ‘feel good’ alcohol and post imbibing exercise isn’t the answer (and yes the link to the tune is tenuous!) 😉

PS I went to see ‘The Girl on The Train’ at the cinema last week having read the book written by Paula Hawkins when it came out last year.  OMG it was absolutely brilliant!!  Sometimes having read a book the film adaptation can be so disappointing but this one was superb (apart from the fact that the film setting was moved to the US).

Without wishing to provide any spoilers I was really heartened to see that it didn’t try to play down or minimise how important Rachel’s alcoholism and black outs were to the story.    As The Guardian review says: “Most importantly, in the shape of the mercurial Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train has a believably derailed heroine whose hollow eyes, crusty lips and stumbling gait convey Leaving Las Vegas levels of addiction while still retaining an air of mystery and intrigue.”  and as one of the comments on the review said: Her drunken lurching in and out of reality as she desperately tried to work out what she had/hadn’t seen or done were heart breakingly realistic. As someone who has an alcoholic in the family it really hit home.

Here’s the trailer 🙂

Friday Sober Jukebox – Problem Drinker? (Blame It)

am-i-a-functioning-alcoholicThis was a featured article in Vice at the end of August titled ‘I Have a Drink Almost Every Day – Am I a Problem Drinker?’  Over to Michael Segalov:

It’s funny that we all “have a relationship” with alcohol. It’s maybe the only thing we consume that – in Britain, at least – we feel the need to directly relate to the rest of our lives. I’ve never heard anyone open up about their toxic relationship with gorgonzola, or how they’re working on their relationship with Coke Zero. But alcohol? From heavy drinkers to teetotallers, we all have a personal bond.

Like pretty much everyone else, I have a relationship with alcohol. In fact, like pretty much everyone else, nearly every significant moment in my life revolves around drink. As an eight-day-old Jewish baby I was given the snip, put to sleep with a little drop of wine. My first proper kiss, at Reading of 2009, was fuelled by a blend of vodka and Tesco Value cola. My 18th birthday was just an excuse to get pissed. Freshers week: gin, Jägerbombs and Kronenberg. Celebrations, commiserations, falling in love and gut-wrenching heartbreaks have always seen me – and my contemporaries, elders and ancestors – reaching for a glass.

So when statistics surfaced earlier this month that suggested young people in Britain are drinking less than ever before, I started thinking about my drinking. As I wandered home from the pub one night, a few glasses of wine down, I asked myself: is my relationship with alcohol really OK? I’d always thought that everyone my age was drinking a little bit too much, but that, y’know, it was kind of OK because we’re the first generation to be worse off than our parents; we’re stuck with a lifetime of debt; we’ll never be able to buy a home, etc, ad infinitum. But turns out that’s just not the case.

My housemates reassured me that of course I was healthy. I work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. I don’t drink alone, rarely in the daytime, no blacking out after nights at the pub. But, at the same time, it dawned on me pretty quickly that my lifestyle involves drinking most nights of the week. I rarely drink to the point where things get too wobbly, which, until now, I’d told myself, meant things were nowhere near out of hand.

But I wanted to be certain, so I decided to keep track of my drinking habits for a week. Monday night I was heading down to an event in central London. After the job? Well, everyone headed to the pub. Tuesday was a Turkish dinner with a glass or three of wine, Wednesday work drinks, Thursday my housemate passed me a beer on the sofa. I was never drinking huge amounts, but there was a bottle there every night of the working week. On Friday evening I was off to Wilderness Festival, and I had a few gins when we got there. By Saturday lunchtime I was heading down to Brighton Pride. I tried to keep a tally of units, but to be honest I couldn’t easily keep count. I imagine that’s probably not a great thing.

I decided to get in touch with James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK. Before I started panicking about whether or not there were any issues with my relationship with booze, I wanted to work out if the amount I consume is a problem for my health. If not, then why worry?

“The revised government guidelines are 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women,” said James over the phone. “The guidelines set out how much you should drink to keep your risk of dying of an alcohol-related condition below 1 percent.”

It didn’t take me long to realise, after checking what 14 units represents, that I – and most of my friends – could get through that in an afternoon. Six standard glasses of wine? Six pints of beer? Over the course of an entire week, that seems like nothing. But maybe it’s not; only 25 percent of the UK population drinks more than the recommended weekly limit.

Yet, this didn’t worry me too much. Sure, at 23 I’m drinking way over the recommended limit week-on-week, but that’s a risk for my body that, for now, I’m willing to take. We make decisions every day that see us risk our bodies to some degree, for pleasure, for comfort or for a thrill. As far as I could see, what was vital was that drinking remained a choice and not a necessity, and when it came to my own drinking, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure where I fell.

Dr Sally Marlow is a Fellow at King’s College London, with an expertise in addiction and the stigma that surrounds it. “There’s no single trait or gene, no single answer that says whether you’re addicted,” she explained from her home. According to Sally, the kind of thing you see in the Daily Mail when it comes to alcohol addiction is a “crock of shite”. Instead, she assured me that alcoholism spawns from a “complex interplay between your genetic makeup and the things that happen to you in your life”.

In short: there was no easy answer to the question, “Do I have a problem with drink?”

What Sally also made clear is that you can’t judge a drink problem solely on the amount of alcohol you consume. “A heavy drinker can build up a tolerance where you need more and more to get the same effect,” she said, pointing to smoking or heroin addiction as similar examples; you might start off slowly, but soon increasing your intake to feel the same effect.

“It’s the same with alcohol, but it’s slower: over a couple of years you might need more and more to be relaxed, to be a party animal, to be self-confident,” she said. “People who can knock back a couple of bottles of wine might only get the effect of a few glasses.”

So it’s not in the quantity alone that points to a problem. Instead, Sally pointed me towards the types of behaviours that might signal alcoholism: can’t get to work due to hangovers; arguing with your friends, family or partner because of the drink; getting busted for drink driving; drunken accidents or getting into fights; feelings of shame and guilt; or blackouts where you continue to function but you don’t recall what was going on. Sally says these are all red flags – behavioural signs that you might have a problem.

Speaking to Sally, it was clear that what she described is not the way I – or many of my peers – drink. However, it’s also clear that casual drinking can easily mutate into problem drinking.

I got in contact with an Alcoholics Anonymous member named Jack. Now aged 30, Jack has been sober since the age of 21, when he realised something just wasn’t right. “From the outside everything was perfect: I had a good job, a long-term relationship, a nice flat,” he said, “but I looked in the mirror every day and I hated what I saw.”

For Jack, drinking was a way of escaping. “I feel happy? Have a drink. Feel like shit? Have a drink. When I was without alcohol I was irritable, snappy, an arsehole – I was worse sober than when I was drunk.”

I asked Jack what it was that made him realise he had a problem. Turned out it was a work lunch with his office when things, as he put it, got seriously fucking bad. “I nearly lost my job, I lost clients, I lost the company a lot of business. I embarrassed myself,” he said. “Let’s just say: when you’re trying to get a contract with a client, it’s best not to offer to sleep with them when their wife is also there.”

When Jack was drinking he didn’t know whether or not he was going to carry on long into the night. “I might go out for a drink or two, and sometimes I would [only have a couple], but other times I’d wake up the next day and not know where I was.”

British drinking culture can make it difficult to spot an alcohol problem. On the surface, my consumption – and that of most people I spoke to while writing this article – should probably be setting off some alarm bells. But really, it’s just become normal for many of us to drink like this day-to-day.

I can’t help but think about a close friend of mine, a journalist, who did Dry January earlier this year. Yes, he managed nearly 31 days sober, but he moaned about it every night of the week. Does this mean he has a problem? If it does, it also means basically everyone who did Dry January also does.

The line between healthy and dangerous is alarmingly murky, but trying a period of sobriety and seeing how you’re left feeling seems to be a pretty solid way to test the water. Either way I’ll now be keeping much closer tabs not just on how much I’m drinking, but why.

Plus feeling shared this yesterday which seemed extremely apt!

And to finish off the post a tune: Jamie Foxx Blame It on The Alcohol …..

Edited to add: Sat am – if this is you why not try this?

Sober for October Starts Here :)

Go sober for OctoberThat time of year starts here again when we ask you to think of your liver and go Sober for October 🙂  I will be 😉

I read this in The Independent and rather liked so I thought I’d share here:

What one man learned from a decade of drink-free dating

As the nights draw in and garden parties and festivals become a distant memory, you may be considering cutting down on your drinking. But it can be easier said than done – especially for those on the dating scene.  

But meeting someone you fancy is entirely possible, and in many ways better, if you skip the booze, says Eden Blackman, a dating expert and founder of ‘Would Like to Meet’, who is backing cancer charity Macmillan’s Go Sober for October campaign.

And he would know. After he realised it was taking longer and longer to recover after a night out, he challenged himself and succeeded in not drinking for 10 years. That’s a decade of sober dating. 

Here’s what Blackman learned by dating without drink. 

You’ll actually remember what your date said 

It sounds obvious, but being able to recall what your date has said scores major points. “When I stopped drinking I was remembering more, I wasn’t asking embarrassing questions about where they live and if they have brothers and sisters,” says Blackman. And that’s crucial to winning a second or third date. 

Embarrassing texts become less likely

“We’ve all sent that drunken text,” says Blackman. “If it isn’t something you’d say in person then don’t say it via text,” he warns. If you think you missed the chance to say something when you met, just save it for next time.

Your date will feel appreciated 

Drinking can make you distracted says Blackman. “When I stopped drinking I was a lot more on point, a lot more conscious and a lot more attentive to what my date was saying. If you’re constantly looking behind your date, they’ll be wondering if you are more interested in them or Sky Sports.” Blackman’s dates noticed that he was more interested and attentive towards them. 

Drinking doesn’t make you interesting 

“The first couple of dates were a bit daunting,” admits Blackman, but he soon realised alcohol was just a social crutch. “You don’t need to have a drink. You realise you’re a good person and you can find confidence without it. It’s rewarding and you find out exactly what kind of person you are.”

You find out what your date is really like

If your date is put off by the fact you’re not drinking then alarm bells should ring. “Never apologise or say ‘sorry I’m not drinking’ because it suggests you feel bad.” Stopping drinking – whether or not it’s to raise money – is something to be proud of. The sort of person you will want to date will be interested in finding out more, and your sober-stint will be a conversation starter.

Find out more about Macmillan Cancer Support’s Go Sober for October campaign.

Friday Sober Inspiration: Love Warrior On!

love-warriorSo just over a week after I hit 3 years sober I share with you this little nugget of wisdom from Glennon Doyle Melton founder of Momastery who I saw interviewed by Marie Forleo recently.  Instead of sharing a tune tonight I’m going to link their interview for you to enjoy and boy it was a aha-moment fest!

Glennon knows addiction well having been in recovery for 20 years and some of her shared insights during this interview were exceptional.  I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the interview by sharing too much but here are the three that had me hastily reaching for a pen!

I am not what just happened to me, but I might be what I do next.

As you may have noticed ‘doing the next right thing’ was my mantra for year 2 in recovery and I was looking for one for year 3.  I think I just found it! 😉

Plus if you’re drinking, worried about it and reading this then this one is for you too.  It reminds me of that saying that ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’.  Why not do something different?

Shame is not true.  It’s a lie and it tells us that our experience is different than everyone else and we’re bad.

This one gave me goose bumps!  We’re not different and bad *nodding head furiously in agreement as she said the words* That critical shame voice in our head just wants us to think so.  This quote will be linked and added to my most popular blog post about drinking shame.

Writing from a scar and not a wound.

This one was both very personal and rang true because it spoke of how I share things out here in the sober blogging world but that I do so once I have processed the experience first.  That I’m not still caught up in the heat and the emotion of the triggering event as that is a safer approach for both me the writer and you the reader 🙂

So without further ado here’s the interview.  Enjoy!

Quick apology (and small celebratory dance!)

sorrySo the site went down at around 7.20 am yesterday morning and I’ve been working frantically behind the scenes to get it back up!  If you came here in the last 32 hours looking for me a heartfelt apology for not being here 🙁

Without getting too technical I had a 500 internal server error caused by a routine plug-in update that basically took the site down and the kind folks at WordPress couldn’t help because it was a host server issue! Last night I was frantically engaged in an exceptionally steep learning curve and digging around in my server files trying to figure out where the fatal error had occurred.  I was just beginning to resign myself to the fact that all that I had created here might be lost forever when at 4.30 pm today I cracked it 🙂


Cue small celebratory dance but not just about that!  I also found out today that I passed my University of Cambridge Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Studies with really great feedback about my assignment.  So now I start the research publishing quest to try and get it approved and submitted before we head off to Australia!  I won’t share it here yet – you’ll have to wait 😉

As for a celebratory sober treat?  A soupcon of chocolate today but I’ll be getting myself something bigger tomorrow 😀

Friday Sober Jukebox – Escape Velocity

escape velocitySo here we are again now heading into year 4 🙂

There are many things I still haven’t covered on this blog so until I run out of new things to share and say a post will keep appearing,  probably on a weekly or two weekly basis, depending on what’s going on.  Plus I know myself well enough now to know I won’t be able to keep my big mouth shut about any major news story that breaks in the alcohol and public health worlds!

So today is about psychological escape velocity (the minimum speed needed for an object to escape from the gravitational attraction of a massive body).  I had a headf*ck experience recently where I was given the opportunity to see photo’s of a house I lived in when I was a girl.  What was really spooky and serendipitous about this was it was via a nursing colleague who had lived in this house about 20 years after me, had taken photo’s and had recently been sorting through them and happened to have them with her in the office then and there that lunchtime!  Weird right?

What she didn’t know was that I have really distressing and traumatic memories of this house and time and have spent a good amount of time in therapy talking about it so seeing those images triggered an avalanche of memories.  What was so reassuring was that although the memories had only been experienced in the last 5 years (which fuelled a massive amount of drinking back then) my recall of that house was EXACTLY right.  Every detail that I had summoned from 40 years ago and discussed was spot on – so if my memory of the place was right so was my recall of the events.  This was a major revelation because at the time when I tried to tell someone I hadn’t been believed and I had therefore doubted my own experience and had questioned whether it was all just in my head – that my nightmare’s were just that horrors in my head not real life.  Although seeing the photo’s caused intense psychic tremors I was okay and I was able to regulate my emotions and handle the triggered distress.  This felt like massive progress to me and as if I had enough emotional and boundary depth to not be pulled back into the psychological pain of that time.  These events no longer defined me – I had reached my psychological escape velocity 🙂

When I told MrHOF he said this was not just the end of a chapter but the end of a volume in my life and he felt it was no co-incidence and a sign from the universe (because I believe in such stuff) that that experience and how I managed it marked closure both emotionally and mentally for me and that I wasn’t doing a geographical by planning our move to Australia.

That same day I was contacted by Regina Walker at The Fix who is a psychotherapist.  I was reading her writing archives when I came across an article about Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) a technique used in the UK mainly to treat those with borderline personality disorder.  Thanks to my research assistant experience with a Clinical Psychologist who worked with this client group it was something I knew about, knew it was a successful and valuable therapeutic approach and learned from this discovered article that it is being used and applied in addiction!

Here are the key excepts that link my experience recounted above and this technique (the whole article is well worth your time in reading):

The goal of DBT is to acquire skills to deal with the mental anguish the sufferer experiences and create a life worth living. The tools offered in DBT are meant to aid in the achievement of these goals.

DBT, for people struggling with substance abuse problems, is a way to achieve self-acceptance while simultaneously accepting the need for change. There are four basic aspects to DBT: mindfulness, interpersonal relations, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.

The emotion regulation aspect of DBT teaches how to identify, regulate and experience emotions without becoming overwhelmed and acting on impulse. The skills aim to reduce vulnerability and increase positive experiences.

The fourth area of DBT is distress tolerance. This area is focused on the development of skills to cope with crises when emotions become overwhelming and the individual is unable to immediately solve the problem (a death, sickness, loss of job, etc.) but needs to persevere and live through the crisis without making it worse by impulsive actions (for example, getting high or drunk).

Dr. Linehan acknowledged that the self-harming behavior she saw in suffering patients made sense and had a purpose.  But she also recognised that this had to change and that the person had to accept themselves.

She referred to this as “Radical Acceptance”—acceptance of life as it is, not as it is supposed to be; and the need to change, despite that reality and because of it. These seem to be opposites: on the one hand, you have to take life as it is; on the other hand, that change is essential for survival. But for real change to happen, both self-acceptance, and acceptance of the need for change have to come together. This blending of two seemingly opposite views is called a dialectic—and it’s the vision behind the name of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

So after 3 years of living life sober, and ‘in the raw’ as Mrs D would say, I have both accepted myself and what happened to me as a child and shown myself self-compassion.  I have taken life as it is but recognised that change was essential for my survival.   My psychological escape velocity from my past, and as part of that alcohol, has reached a critical juncture 🙂

In the past those photo’s would have rocked my world in a very negative way and triggered the most almighty bender.  Now I just feel peaceful and content that I can trust myself to take care of myself as I tried to as a young girl.

I Did It For Me and Everyone Around Me (Guest blog from Andy at 8 years sober)

gratitudeOne of the things I most love about having this blog is that many people contact me and wish to share their story here.  It seems so fitting that I was contacted by Andy in the last week who wanted to share his story at 8 years sober with everyone here and when I’ve just celebrated 3 years that felt really serendipitous 🙂

Over to Andy:

I Did It For Me and Everyone Around Me

“For a star to be  born,

There is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse.

So collapse.


This is not your destruction.

This is your birth.”


Hi, my name is Andy and I have been sober for 8 years. Eight years. Wow. As I write these words I feel a kind of euphoria. I feel like climbing the world’s highest mountain and screaming them out for all the universe to hear. I did it. I can’t believe I did it. But it’s been no walk in the park to get here. I collapsed, I crumbled, and I’m finally here.

Paradise Lost

My family and I were living in SoCal. After having fled from the internal conflict as well as the infamous drug cartel activity that plagued Colombia in the ‘80s. I was a happy kid and had a great childhood. My life was everything I ever dreamed of until the night that I first tasted Aguardiente.

Aguardiente is an immensely popular form of alcohol in Colombia. It’s strong and has the flavour of anise. My family was having a party at home, and if you know anything about Latin culture it’s that we love to party.The adults always seemed to have such a good time while drinking Aguardiente. They would dance, laugh and be merry. I was a preteen and I wanted to feel whatever it was that the adults felt. That night, I snuck some of it while all the adults were busy dancing. Then I snuck a little more, and a little more after that. Soon enough I was drunk.

I wish I could tell you that it went horribly and I steered clear of the stuff until much later in life. But the truth is that I enjoyed the feeling of being carefree and letting go. I enjoyed it so much that I thought I was just a cooler person when drunk. With that mentality I became hooked to marijuana when I was 14 years old, which was then followed by meth at 19. 

Steel Bars with a Silver Lining

I was sentenced to two years in prison for drug related charges when I was 22 and I still didn’t think I had a problem. I even joined AA meetings while in prison, but it was purely to spend an hour or so outside of my tiny, cold cell. During the first dozen meetings I would just sit there. I wouldn’t introduce myself, and I sure as hell wouldn’t share anything. It all seemed so worthless to me. I felt like everyone else had a problem whereas I was just so much better and in control of myself.

The only people that ever visited me during my time there were my parents. Those visits were both the highlights and lowlights of those two years. On the one hand it was good to get to see the people that actually cared about me, the people that raised me, but on the other hand I saw their disappointment. Pretty much every visit was tainted with the faint shadow of disappointment. They tried to hide it, but it was there.

What was worse was my mother’s guilt. During one of their first visits she started sobbing and listing all the things she thought she could have done to stop this from happening. But I couldn’t deal with that. I didn’t even properly comfort her. There was this coldness that rushed over me, a hardness, I just wanted her to stop talking. It was her problem, not mine. I had enough to deal with.

It wasn’t until an NA meeting much further into my sentencing that I was able to understand my mother’s guilt. An older man stood up to share his story and I felt as if I experienced a paradigm shift. His story was one of lost love. The woman he loved had always been there for him. She always supported him, covered for him, loved him. But then she started blaming herself for the fact that he wasn’t getting better until finally, after so many years, she realized that none of it was her fault and just left.

The only woman I ever loved was my mother. She had always been my rock. I couldn’t keep the thought of losing her, once and for all, out of my mind. Being locked up, the physical consequences and the emotional consequences made me realize that I needed to change.


That’s when I decided to recover. I dropped the alcohol and the drugs, and became completely focused on work. I found a job that I was actually really good at. The job was to sell discount perfumes and colognes. I got so good at it that people respected me for it, I got my own little office with a desk and everything. I was even in charge of training new salespeople. I got so wrapped up in my job that I became a workaholic. Little did I know that I wasn’t recovering at all. I now know that I was simply sublimating. I was still an addict, and my work was my new high. It was just a more socially acceptable high. And of course I relapsed. I relapsed hard.

I still remember the feeling. This time I knew something was terribly wrong. I could see how much I thought I needed something to make me feel better. I would lash out and felt like my insides were screaming at me. The moment I drank or smoked or whatever, I felt a sense of relief. But the relief was accompanied by a crushing guilt and I couldn’t take it. I begged my parents for help. I’m fairly certain that I would have died if they hadn’t admitted me into a rehabilitation center in Boise. They helped me work through the guilt, the shame, the anger, everything. They encouraged me to write letters to the people I love and bare my heart and soul. It’s because of those letters that I can proudly say that my mother is now my best friend. That place damn near saved my life.

New and Improved

My life truly took a turn for the better when I met my incredible sponsor at a local AA meeting. He gave me an ultimatum. Either go through the process of passing a college course, or find another sponsor. I gave in and enrolled in a computer course. I’ve always been pretty handy with the internet and computers so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, I was in love. Soon enough, I was swimming in textbooks about digital marketing, HTML, coding, online everything. I finally found my passion.

Here I am now, and I’ve been completely clean for 8 years. In those 8 years I moved back to Colombia and co-created a website development agency right in the very city I was born. I’ve surrounded myself with good people, hard-working go-getters with good heads on their shoulders. And I know that in order to get to where I am today, I had to go through everything. I had to collapse, I had to crumble and become a whole new me. I still go to meetings, to always be mindful and always stay on the right track. My parents visit me whenever they can and one day I will get my Mom and Dad a place of their own here so they can back home.

No I in Recovery

Addiction is a selfish thing. Even though I’ve found addicts to be generally good people, our addiction makes us selfish without us even realizing it. I believe the true anchor to my recovery is the realization that it is not all about me. Of course it is somewhat about me. But it is also about the people around me and the people I love.

I have to stay sober for me, my job, my mom, and everyone else. Addiction is not a spectator sport, and I know that now, so I am grateful for every single person in my life and every opportunity that comes my way.

Hi, I’m Andy. I have been sober for 8 years and I will never let addiction hurt me or the people I love, ever again.   

Thank you to Andy and also thank you to every one of you who reached out to me via the comments or email yesterday.  It makes my heart swell even more with gratitude and love for this most wonderful sober community <3

3 years and what next?

the fortune tellerThis is the drinks coaster that sits on my desk beside my laptop where I write this blog.  I bought it when I was District Nursing on our return from France so probably in 2009/2010.  Edward Monkton’s quirky works always make me chuckle and cider was one of my drinks of choice so that is undoubtedly why I chose this.  I am also really struck by how prescient it was too – my subconscious was trying to tell me something which took  me another few years to finally ‘hear’.  3 years ago today was my last hangover – the last time I woke up feeling like shit, both physically and psychologically.  I had planned 6 days before to stop drinking once I had finished reading Allen Carr and had one final week-end blow-out.  I went out not with a bang but a whimper drinking not for enjoyment but in grim determination thinking what next?

Back at the beginning of the summer the lovely Prim asked me whether I would write a list of all my achievements since quitting both external and internal for the blog, her or myself to mark the occasion of reaching 3 years and I said I would let it percolate in Australia and write it on my return.  So here it is 🙂

The external stuff is easy to list and quantify:

  • I started this blog which has been awarded 2 top recovery blog listings at the end of 2015 (After Party Magazine & Ocean Recovery) and 2 in 2016 (The Fix & Port of Call)
  • I had a piece published in The Guardian about alcohol and public health
  • I left my job as a school nurse and set up my own business
  • I had 20 sessions of CBT
  • I started a post graduate qualification at the University of Cambridge (which included being in weekly therapy)
  • I wrote and self-published an e-book on Amazon
  • I created, designed and published an online course with Udemy
  • I had academic research about alcohol and PSHE published in the Community Practictioner
  • I started volunteering at  Focus 12, a local drug and alcohol treatment centre
  • I created, designed and ran How to Quit Workshops with Club Soda in London
  • We saved up all the booze money we would have spent and as a family went to Australia for a month  (£10,000!!)
  • I lost 12 lbs in weight
  • I didn’t drink no matter what happened or how I felt

I got very busy doing lots of things to prove that I was okay, I was good enough …

And as time passed, my self esteem recovered from not making a tit of myself under the influence of alcohol, my self-worth climbed as I was accepted and welcomed unconditionally out here in the sober blogging world and new friendships were made, lunches and week-ends away with sober friends had, and as I worked on my psychological core strength through CBT and therapy I began to change emotionally.  It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that I wouldn’t be here without each and every one of YOU so a massive THANK YOU for your love and support!!

My final 8000 word assignment this year for Cambridge was about the link between insecure attachment, alexithymia and addiction in adolescence.  I was basically doing a literature review on myself looking for answers.  And what I found is that research has shown that an approach called Adolescent Mentalization Based Integrative Therapy (AMBIT) is working.  Where an adolescent experiences a healthy, secure attachment with a counsellor or team that allows the role-modelling of positive, supportive relationships and the repair of attachment traumas they heal and their sense of self-worth begins to recover.  This relational repair with self and within the self allows reconnection with the felt senses and allows the development of understanding and recognition around somatics felt in the body and their connections to feelings experienced.  Plus the therapeutic role-modelling allows the learning of words to express them cognitively, so they basically recover from alexithymia.

And guess what? When those things happen rather than attach to a substance or behavioural addiction the link to it is weakened or broken.  And that is exactly what has happened out here for me in the last three years.  Because I had drank for so long I was stuck emotionally at an adolescent level and all the work I have done has allowed me to move beyond addiction and mature emotionally into a more adult way of thinking, feeling and being.  And critically it has allowed my self-worth to flourish and to feel that I am good enough.  Several people have suggested I seek to publish my academic literature review as it is an under-researched area and if I’m successful I’ll share a link here so you can read it 🙂

And in doing that work it has had a knock on effect on my ways of relating.  As the adult child of an alcoholic I used to be a chronic people pleaser with very porous boundaries.  Everybody’s needs were more important than my own so I put myself last all the time and poured wine down my neck.  But now with the help of therapeutic support and lots of appropriate self care my boundaries are strong so that I know where I end and another starts so I don’t feel compelled to fix things.  It is their stuff and they’ll figure it out.  The rescuer in me has retired!  This means the way I relate to everyone has changed but most importantly it has strengthened my relationships with MrHOF and the children.

And a strange thing happened.  The more I felt okay in myself the more those external things ceased to matter until I have reached the place where now, in the words of my therapist Anna, I have learned to stop trying so hard.

So what next?

Well since March we’ve been busy exploring the option of moving to Australia more permanently and I applied for my Australian Nursing Board registration.  It has been successfully granted and so I’m looking for a nursing job hopefully in the Bundaberg area (yes home to Australia’s famous rum – how ironic is that!!).  I don’t need to continue on the  Masters at Cambridge to prove that I am good enough.  I know that I am.

I don’t need to keep producing sober resources to prove that I am good enough.  I know that I am.  So I’m going to stop writing the blog so frequently.  Here are the links to my news sources (DrugWise Daily and Alcohol News) so you can find them and follow them yourselves if you so wish and everything I have written will be left here as a resource.   I’m going to pin the ‘Drinking Guilt and its Big Brother Shame‘ post as the landing page as it remains the most popular blog post by far.  I have removed the HelloBar email subscriber bar and password protection from my e-book so you can access it freely from the front page of the blog.  I will leave the Udemy course running as it is self-directed and the e-book will remain listed on Amazon.  If you would like 1:1 support from me about your drinking just drop me an email at ahangoverfreelife@gmail.com.  I’ll still swing by regularly and post a Friday Sober Jukebox to let you know how I am but mainly I’m planning on spending time with MrHOF and my kids playing outside in the sunshine and exploring the world Hangover Free 🙂

This is what happens when you take a chance ………

PS Don’t worry the sober advent calendar will still be here to help you rock your alcohol free warrior moves through the booze fest that is December 😉

Am I getting cold feet?

cold-feetSo I’m sneaking in an extra post on the eve of my 3rd year soberversary.  This time 3 years ago I was having my last drinking session.  I’ve been reminded and reminiscent of the not so recent past what with the return of an old TV series that I watched back in my drinking days glass in hand – Cold Feet.  What’s interesting to me about this programme is that I have grown up with this show – it was like the UK equivalent to Friends and the characters were the same age in the show as I was in real life so it felt very current to me.  The same applies now as they are approaching 50 as am I.

My two favourite characters were Karen and Pete who interestingly both have troubled relationships with alcohol.  John Thomson who plays Pete has been in recovery for many years and was actively in his addiction when the last series was filmed 13 years ago and you can see him here talking about it recently:

Karen’s character (played by Hermione Norris) develops alcoholism during Series 4 and there are some key scene’s where she discusses her drinking with fellow colleague, who becomes lover, Mark:

I so identified with Karen’s character and on rewatching these scenes I thought these discussions felt very real and honest.  The irony is that when these were airing in 2002-2003 I had no idea that I would become far more like Karen than I could ever imagine at the time!!  I’ve been watching her closely in the new series and she’s still abstinent which means her character has now been in recovery for 13-14 years, much like her then dishy co-star Mark played by Sean Pertwee 😉

There’s something really heartening about this for me.  It feels really great that I am watching the show and know that Karen and I do now share that similarity, that we both are living happily in recovery and that it isn’t just in the show because the actors involved have also shared their struggles with booze and are long term role models of recovery too 🙂

No cold feet here about the decision I made 3 years ago, not one bit!