Monthly Archives: December 2013

Goodbye letter to alcohol

Dear Alcohol

You have been the one constant in my life.  From my earliest memories you were always there, firstly in the life of my parents on a daily basis and once I looked old enough to get served in mine.  You were a factor in the choices that I made and with the friends and partners that I chose.  I have never known a time when you weren’t important to someone close to me or to me.

I always viewed you as a Jekyll and Hyde character, sometimes making those close to me more affectionate and then at other times causing anger and violence. I spent much of my childhood fearful of you and the effect and power that you seemed to have.  Those involved with you seemed to prioritise you over everyone else.  But you were who people I knew chose to help them in times of good and bad and so I learned the same message and the same way of being.

When I joined the dance with you, you appeared benign even helpful.  You gave me confidence, made me bigger, louder and funnier than the person I felt I was.  You were my side-kick in all my adventures whether here at home or overseas.  You helped me forget difficult memories and emotions and smoothed over the rough edges in my life.

I partied with you for almost twenty years never questioning your influence, even though during those times I worked as a nurse on a ward where you had done serious damage to other people and they were dying because of you.  They wanted to choose you over anything and everything else.  But I still didn’t see it.

But then I wanted to have children and people were telling me that you were bad for me and so I scaled back our dalliance, joining you only for short but stupendously large blow outs.  I resented that I couldn’t have you in my life as much as you had been in the past.  We had to separate for two short periods while I cared for my unborn babies but I still stole the odd clandestine night, missing you badly.

Once the children arrived life with you became much more difficult and I had to make choices against you, limiting our time together or the intensity of our time together.  This is when I began to realise that our relationship was problematic and was having a serious impact on my other now important relationships.

I began to bargain with you, set myself limits about how often and how long and I tried to stay away from you.  Plus our time together had changed.  Before it was mostly fun and I enjoyed our time together whereas now this seemed to have gone and had been replaced by something darker.  I was more out of control in our time together and this scared me.  You seemed to have taken the upper hand in the relationship and were more insistent and controlling.

I was also trying to give up other relationships that had served me well up until that point but that I could no longer ignore was damaging.  But that relationship was also linked to my time with you and so when I stopped this relationship with nicotine I knew I had to stay away from you too, at least until I had got over that one and could spend time with you and not miss them.

You grew angry at my withdrawal and would harp incessantly in my ear until I would relent and come back to you but the next day I would hate you and hate myself for giving in.  This pull and push has gone on for 5 years and now I am sick of you, sick of the way you make me feel and think about myself, sick of the stupid things I say and do when with you and I don’t enjoy your company any more.

So I have decided to say good bye.  I have decided to try and live my life without you.  You were furious when I made this decision and upped your rhetoric about how useless I was and how I would never survive a party or a difficult time without you.   But I held steadfast and it has been over three months.

You were right, it was hard and at times still is, but I know I have made the right decision.  I have experienced the joy of living without you and your voice has grown fainter and your power has lessened.  Other people still think you are important and want to spend time with you and that is fine.  This decision is about me and no one else and has been one of the hardest I have ever had to make but I feel stronger and more confident in myself and my life without you.

I have fond memories of you in the beginning but we can’t recreate those early days and I know that we never will.   What was once benign is now very much malignant and I must move on.  It is time to forge a new path without you.

Good-bye.

I can take no credit for this brilliant idea, which rightly goes to Veronica Valli when she talked about the goodbye letter in her book ‘Why You Drink and How to Stop: Journey to Freedom’.

Edited to add: 01/08/17  An alumni of my London ‘How to Quit Drinking’ workshop in 2015 (sober over 2 years!!) and now friend Janet in South Africa contacted me to share they have launched a Goodbye To Letter website where my letter has now been added here with this message:

Write your own “Goodbye to…” letter

We encourage our readers to write their own “Goodbye to…” letters.

Whether it’s addiction, toxic relationships or bad habits, getting it ‘off your chest’ is a step closer to healing.
If you are ready to write your “Goodbye to…” letter, then send it to us at worldwithoutwine@gmail.com

Self hugs

The last few years for me have been marked by loss – loss of grandparent, parent and two much loved pets.  This only ratcheted up my drinking as I tried to avoid the necessary but difficult grieving process.  Since I’ve stopped drinking the grief has been resurfacing along with all the other emotions that have laid dormant and been deliberately drowned by booze.  As part of my trying to ease this journey through grief  I’ve been reading a great book by SARK called ‘Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity’ which has been really helpful.

In her book she talks about giving yourself self-hugs as a way of being compassionate and kind to yourself and this triggered a deeply buried memory.  Growing up, our house wasn’t a warm, loving affectionate place where you would be given a hug.  It just wasn’t done and so as a child I used to give myself hugs to try and make myself feel better and less alone.  Now I’m not sharing this to elicit some virtual violin concerto of sympathy but as a painfully sad and simple fact.

But you know what when I was a kid it used to work.  In that moment I felt comforted even if I had to close my eyes and imagine it was someone else giving the hug to me.  Belle often signs off her emails with ‘hugs me’ so now if I’m struggling, and my hubby and kids aren’t around to hug me or for me to hug them, I have returned to using this gift to myself and I just imagine it is Belle.

Without her I wouldn’t be here at day 99 🙂

Belonging

I’ve been reflecting on Christmas, us Brits and the notion of group think that I discussed in this post here.  Yesterday I wrote ‘Just choosing not to drink over Christmas doesn’t mean that we are immune from the influence or attitudes of those around us’ and for me that is one of the biggest difficulties of not drinking.  We all want to belong and to be seen as part of our group whether that is British, drinker, celebrating Christmas rather than bah humbug, etc and not drinking puts us outside of  our mainstream group.  This is Tajfel’s Social identity theory which is where our individual self concept is derived from a perceived membership in a relevant social group.  A key assumption in social identity theory is that individuals are intrinsically motivated to achieve positive distinctiveness. That is, individuals “strive for a positive self-concept”.

So I like to be accepted and to fit in and to have a positive self-concept and to remain part of what Tajfel called the ‘in-group’.  But not drinking means I no longer feel like I fit in because I’m not doing what my social group are doing and this impacts on my positive self-image and I feel like a bit of  social outcast.  I am now part of the out-group of non-drinker not the in-group of drinker within my social group.

If only society could see the damaging effects of drinking in the same way that it does with smoking.  Now when you stop smoking people praise your achievement and are supportive of the change because of the health benefits but if you stop drinking this is met with suspicion, and at times derision.  Unlike smoking this is not yet perceived to be a socially acceptable change of lifestyle to pursuit or even admit to.

Which is where the sober blogging community comes in to its own and is so powerful.  By finding this group I have had the opportunity to re-frame my social identity within my new social group.  Within this group being a non-drinker makes you part of the ‘in-group’ and I feel accepted and fit in once more.  AA from the 1930’s provided what the internet revolution is providing now, an opportunity to find a group of like-minded people who understand and support each other.  For this I am filled with gratitude on a daily basis 🙂  Day 98.

Emotional hangover

So both hubby and I made it through Christmas and Boxing Day without drinking but not completely unscathed.  It would seem that for us at the moment we both struggle both pre and post the event or occasion and are snappy and argumentative with each other.  We were both ansty on Christmas Eve and on Boxing Day morning we argued as if we had had a drink the day before.  I thought that with alcohol removed from our lives our disharmony would be reduced as hangovers and drinking were a major catalyst for a falling out.

What I am learning is that removing the substance isn’t a magic cure all and that we are both adapting to this new way of being.  Although we had remained strong externally and not picked up a drink the internal stuff is still shifting and nowhere near settled.  We both had our reasons to drink and they have not gone away.  Just choosing not to drink over Christmas doesn’t mean that we are immune from the influence or attitudes of those around us.

Yesterday I watched the Christmas Charity edition of ‘Come Dine with Me’ on C4.  I love this show as it makes me laugh and this episode was no different as it’s 4 celebrities were comedians.  What I did notice with interest is that the show wasn’t sponsored by a wine manufacturer as it used to be and two of the people featured didn’t drink.  Not only did they not drink but when at the end they opened champagne to toast the winner one of the contestants took a sip of the champagne and responded with a loud ‘yuck’, pulled a grimacing face and visibly recoiled from the glass.  I loved this women for doing this!

I guess the point of this post is that the physical hangovers may have stopped but the emotional ones take a lot longer to resolve and for me it is important not to expect too much of myself or of my other half as our relationship finds a new equilibrium during this first year.  Day 97 🙂

Boxing Day blues no more

If you’d have said to me 4 months ago that I would choose not to drink on Christmas Day I would have gone very still in fear, laughed nervously and said that this was some kind of a joke.  Previous Christmas’ had been great excuses to make fast and loose with every and any kind of booze – bucks fizz for breakfast, red wine for dinner and Disaronno for tea.  It was the one day of the year where it was obligatory, even compulsory and so I happily committed to the cause.  You could have a ‘messy Xmas’ and no-one would bat an eye-lid and so I frequently did.  Cue the morning after and the hangover from hell and the Boxing Day blues.  I would drag my sorry hungover arse for a run, ever step punishment for the guilt and excesses of the day before, to get home and collapse in front of the telly with junk food and chocolate and maybe a ‘Bloody Mary’ to try to take the edge off.

This year the anticipatory anxiety started on Christmas Eve – around lunchtime as wolfie found his voice.  I got more ansty at the idea of not drinking as he got more vocal in my ear.  I had to have a long bath and go to bed early to escape myself.  I woke up without a hangover – that joy never gets old ever 🙂  I had mustered my sober toolbox for the day; own booze free drinks to take with me – check; driving for fast escape if needed – check; permission to take time out to hide in the bathroom/with the dog/with the kids if it all gets too much – check; leave early if necessary – check; and log in to sober blogging community if really struggling – check.  It wasn’t my sober tools I doubted it was me.  Could I stay strong?

But you know what it was okay and I learned a new tool for the toolkit.  When the first drinks were being poured I took myself off and played with the kids.  For me this is always the most difficult bit – resisting that first drink and watching others tuck in.  It is also the time that you may have to fend off questions as to why you aren’t drinking, so I avoided both by getting my San Pellegrino and effectively hid out with the non-grown ups!  It worked though as once everyone else had got past the first glass they stop worrying about what you are drinking and my anxiety dissipates.  I was asked if I wanted wine with my Xmas lunch to which I just said ‘I was good’ with what I had and that was that.  When things got difficult I went and helped the host with the drying up or hung out watching tv with my kids. They were tired by 7.30pm so we had a ready made excuse to leave as everyone else was just warming up and things were starting to get messy.  I had a lovely day and remember every single part of it.

I had a long bath when I got home as a reward and when I sat in bed last night the self-pride I felt was enormous.  If you are looking for a way to give your self-confidence a shot in the arm then this is a winner as far as I’m concerned.  I would go so far as to say that the glow of achievement I felt matched or exceeded that which I felt when I crossed the line of completing the London Marathon.  And this morning I woke up without a hangover and went for a run with no feelings of punishment and no guilt.  I’m not sure that this would have been possible without the knowledge that there were so many others I knew out here in the sober blogging community that were doing the same thing here with me in the UK but also in different time zones and parts of the world.  Thank you all for the sober skills, for listening and supporting 🙂 Day 96.

Hole in my soul

I’m just finished reading Veronica Valli’s ‘Why You Drink and How to Stop: Journey to Freedom’ and boy is it good!  She has helped me grasp some bits of sobriety I had heard talked about that I didn’t quite get before.  One of those things was the notion of the ‘dry drunk’.

She talks in the book about how people who drink express having a ‘hole in their soul’ which is a sense of worthlessness that nothing will fill.  Drinking is an attempt to make that hole disappear by pouring booze into it and the temporary relief that then provides.  I completely get this and this understanding then led me to make sense of the belief of needing to do not just the outer work but the inner work.  The outer work is self explanatory as this requires you to not pick up a drink.  It is the inner work that is more important and necessary as without this you end up a ‘dry drunk’ – someone who is not drinking but who hasn’t yet fully understood and come to terms with the emotional reasons for why they drink.  When talking to professionals at my local specialist alcohol misuse service this is their biggest lament – that they can detox people but that they also need psychological support otherwise the danger of relapse is high.

I think this is what the AA mean when they talk about you doing the spiritual work and this is the bit I have found the toughest.  When the emotions are raging inside me and I just want to make them stop not picking up a drink becomes very hard.  Sitting with the emotions of the ‘hole in my soul’ is painful and that is why I drank in the first place!  But the more time that goes by the more I understand the need for this inner work and of finding kinder ways to behave towards myself.  The sense of not being good enough that pre-existed the drinking hasn’t gone away but by not drowning it in alcohol the hole isn’t getting bigger it is getting smaller, day by day.

Day 95 and today has been the biggest challenge so far.  But I made it through to the other side 🙂

Virgin Mary

Virgin Mary

The Christmas Mocktail bar is closing its doors tonight and there was only one possibility that we could drink tonight.

150ml or 5fl oz tomato juice
30ml or 1fl oz fresh lemon juice
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stick celery

Pour the first four ingredients into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Season to taste. Stir well. Add the celery stick to use a a stirrer.

Day 94. Merry Sober Christmas to you all xx

Day 100 in the house!

Not mine but my other halves 🙂

In honour of his achievement I am posting something he wrote back in January 2008.  We were both struggling with our alcohol dependence and firmly in the camp of denial at the time and this piece of writing reflects his desire to escape the prison of booze even then.

Goodbye, Al

Rose’s bloodshot eyes leap out at me from thick black outlines smudged with tears. ‘If I’d have known it would end up like this I’d never of gone near you in the first place, Al. All those years ago. All those precious years. The best years of my life. Potential. Wasted. My career as a dancer. Dancers never last long… but I didn’t even get started. Because I met you, didn’t I?’

With her weaker left hand, Rose pulls me in as close to her barren chest as she can. Her right hand grips the smooth metal handrail that encircles the balcony of her flat, fifteen floors up, in that area of London where Hackney pushes its grubby nose up against Islington’s kitchen window.

She brightens all of a sudden, saying, ‘But you gave me the confidence to try new things that I never even dreamed of doing before. You made me feel special… made me feel young… made me feel clever and… articulate. For a while, in my innocence, I saw you as a… door? To the Big Wide World. A more exciting existence. A more dangerous one, at least. I remember it was you who introduced me to all kinds of narcotics, so that I could spend the night in your arms, taking you deep inside of me, til the light of dawn broke through the cocaine cocoon.’

‘My friends tried to tell me that you were bad for me. One by one, they gave up on me and left, saying that you’d changed me. But you always stuck nearby, didn’t you Al? Sometimes you were my only friend. I didn’t care. I didn’t think I was missing out on anything. I thought I only needed you. You didn’t judge me like they did; didn’t laugh at my foolishness; didn’t talk behind my back; didn’t conspire against me.’

Rose takes a deep breath of the night air, lets it out between her peanut brittle teeth and quivers like a cold clarinet in her black satin nightie.

‘You’re the reason that I never married, Al. Every time I met someone special, they disappeared off the face of the earth as soon as they found out about you and the hold that you have over me. I try as hard as I can to keep you away, sometimes for months. You always come back and ruin it for me. Like a bad smell. Your odour seeps from my every pore. I kill myself with the guilt.’

Rose gulps and seems to be holding back tears, croaking, ‘I think you’ve done enough damage now… don’t you?’

I say nothing. I have no feelings. No remorse. No desire. And Rose expects none of these things. I don’t even have the faintest idea what she is about to do next.

She holds me out beyond the railing, gripped in her trembling hand and whimpers, ‘Goodbye Al.’

With those words she pours me out of my bottle. Then with a dramatic flourish, she sends it hurtling after me, smashing into my liquid, soaking into the concrete of the car park.

New home of theelectrumblog!

New home of theelectrumblog!

Do you like the blog crawl instead of a pub crawl! 🙂

So the other reason for wanting to mix another mocktail today was to celebrate my new blog venue. I’ve been mulling over the whole sobriety thing ever since I stopped drinking 93 days ago. I loved theelectrumblog but the name was a little esoteric and didn’t really declare its intentions. So with only a week to go until I hit my 100th day I am nailing my colours to the mast and celebrating the very best thing about not drinking in the title of my new blog home! 🙂

Now my old self is saying ‘lets just see you slip up royally in the next 7 days now that you’ve made this big declaration’ whereas the new me is saying ‘I am grateful for what the last 93 days has shown me and this home is about the external manifestation of my internal intentions’ (oh and f**k you wolfie 😉 )

So now for the mocktail recipe:
Blueberry breezer

3 passion fruit
1 mango, peeled and stoned
125g or 4oz blueberries
Ice
Mineral water

Take the flesh of the passion fruit. Mix it with the mango, then with the blueberries and place all the ingredients in a blender. The amount of mineral water will depend on the consistency you prefer.

Chin chin!