Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Royal Hangover

Last night I had the most fantastic conversation with Veronica Valli.  She writes a blog which you can find here and she wrote the book ‘Why You Drink and How to Stop: The Journey to Freedom’.

During our long conversation about our journeys through drinking and drug taking (we were both part of the rave generation) to sobriety she mentioned a film I hadn’t heard of and I’m so glad she did.

It’s called A Royal Hangover and looks superb.  The synopsis reads:

Forget the bad weather. Forget the crooked teeth. Forget the quiet, reserved, tea-drinking aristocrat. We are fast painting a new image of Britain: an image of a nation with a drinking problem.

British adults now drink on average 180 bottles of wine a year, or 1137 pints of beer. This means that we Brits now officially drink more alcohol than we drink tea. We drink when we go out, and we drink when we stay in. We even drink BEFORE we go out to drink. It’s almost as if alcohol has become an essential prelude to any form of social engagement: a beer before the date with the hot girl, a couple of vodkas before work, a bottle of whisky before that dreaded trip to the dentist.

Whereas alcohol consumption across Europe has steadily decreased over the past 40 years, in Britain it has risen dramatically, with nearly a 50% rise in alcohol related hospital admissions in the past 10 years alone. Alcohol abuse causes 20,000 deaths and £22 billion of damage to our society each year, and we are showing no signs of slowing down. We start drinking younger and are drinking more and more.

Here is the trailer that was only released on Monday to wet your appetite:

If you would like to see more clips and read more it about it you can do so here: http://aroyalhangover.com/index.html

I am very excited about this and am not sure when it is due for release but will be following any news avidly and will let you know the minute I hear when it’s out 🙂

Edited to add:

I had an email from Arthur Cauty the Director, Writer and Producer of this documentary and if you can help with promoting this via your social media networks then even better!

Hi Lucy,

That’s very kind of you to feature the film on your blog – we appreciate all the support and promotion we can get. Simply posting the trailer on twitter, facebook etc, or inviting people to our Facebook page is a huge help if you’re able to do that.
Thank you very much!
Arthur

Clear Thinking

I recently read the book by David Downie ‘Escape the Routine, Take Control, and Join the Clear Thinkers‘ and really enjoyed it.  I read it in one sitting and it triggered a great deal of reflection on my part.

David is an Aussie who knows a thing or two about beer having founded AustralianBeers.com and was the Australian contributor  to the international beer bible ‘1001 Beers You Must Drink Before You Die’.  Having been such an advocate and encourager of the swilling of beer he is now 3 years into a stint of being ‘between drinks’.

This started as a decision to give up alcohol for a year and he was so struck by the changes that happened that he decided to keep going.   Why did he stop?  Tired of feeling tired and unfit, curious as to what life would be like and because he felt he had nothing to lose as he could always change his mind and have a drink if he wanted.

When he started the journey he was a partner in a major law firm and beer expert.  Now he has left this job having cleared all his debt and works as a writer, has moved from the city to a beach on the Gold Coast and found a new girl.  Life for him has improved immeasurably since he became a clear thinker.  Stopping drinking enabled him to assess what he wanted from his life which prompted massive changes.

The book looks at the value of being a clear thinker and the differences between clear thinkers and typical drinkers.  He shares his experiences through the first year and offers actions at the end of each chapter.  The thing I really like about this book is it considers the benefits of this change in lifestyle and the implications for the long term.  It is framed in terms of huge gains and you read it and think why would you not?

This paragraph summed it up for me:

for people who have let the grog monster grab them by the tail, I am 100 per cent confident that breaking the pattern and letting your soul and mind recover for a good while can give you an opportunity to ask some of the bigger questions, and make real changes to your life as a result.

I absolutely agree with David on this and my life has changed immeasurably in the 5 months since I quit.  Personally, I would never have started this blog if I was still drinking.  I wouldn’t have tried my hand at sewing again.  I wouldn’t have met the brilliant people who write these great books and the many brilliant sober blogs I read every day.

I’ve already worked out that we will save almost £5K a year from not drinking.  And that’s enough to pay for tickets for my family to potentially fly to Australia and go sit on the beach with David now that he doesn’t have to do the work slog.  If that’s OK with him? 😉

Edited to add: David and I have been in touch on email and he had an update for me:

I’m about to take off with my ‘new girl’ next week, around Australia, and then Thailand I think, who knows after that. Maybe France…

Of course as France is only across the water from here I invited him for a cup of tea  🙂  If this is booze free living – I’m in!!

Survival’s Law of Three

This is an old adage from battlefield medicine and triage about survival times:

3 seconds – fight or flight decision making time

3 minutes – without air

3 hours – without warmth or shelter

3 days – without water

3 weeks – without food

This rule of three’s has stuck with me for many things and I used it when giving up the fags and then I applied it to giving up the booze too:

3 days – physical withdrawal time.  Towards the end of my drinking my hangovers could last 2 days and I wouldn’t feel recovered until the third morning of waking (unless of course I chose to manage the hangover with a ‘hair of the dog’ and then I was back to square one)

3 weeks – psychological withdrawal time (remember PAWS)  The first 3 weeks can be really tough mentally and can feel like you are ‘white knuckling’ it at times.  Hold on tight and it will pass.

3 months – length of time it takes to break an old habit and make a new habit.  Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) medication programmes are for 12 weeks because of this knowledge.

If you can survive these key stages and push past 3 months to 100 days then you will give your neural networks a good go at breaking the drinking habit.

On any length of days of moderating or quitting you will learn valuable ‘survival without booze’ skills for the next time.  Never give up giving up if that is what you want to achieve.  I got really good at giving up as I got so much practice 😉

Meh

Yesterday was a ‘meh’ or ‘pants’ day as my kids would say.

I sometimes say to Mr Hangoverfree and kids that 90% of the time I love them dearly and wouldn’t be without them and the other 10% they do my head in and I daydream about a different life.  That was how I felt about my sober life yesterday.  I daydreamed about my drinking life wistfully and just felt a bit ‘well – is this it?’.

I know I’m not the first to say this but I don’t want people reading this to think that every day is unicorns and rainbows now I don’t drink.  Some days are just plain underwhelming drinking or no drinking.

I’m not sure why that was – maybe it was going back to work after a lovely week off, maybe it was a female hormone thing, maybe it was the passing of another sober milestone, who knows.  I do know though that before it would have been a good enough reason to drink – to ‘cheer myself up’ of course.  But now I know better and the right answer is an early night and the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.  At least I didn’t have a hangover 😉

The drug we ignore that kills thousands

After seeing the Anonymous film trailer and my expression of the need to address the problem we have in the UK Owen Jones wrote this fantastic piece in the Independent last week.

This all-too silent pandemic urgently needs to be addressed, and that means dealing with the lack of funding for dealing with alcohol compared with other drugs

Consider this fact, from Alcohol Concern, which underlines just how perverse our response to alcohol is compared with other drugs: while £1,313 is spent on treating every dependent drug user, just £136 is reserved for every dependent drinker. The trend is frightening indeed. Drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction tell me that, two years ago, booze replaced heroin as the main substance-abuse problem they had to deal with. The number of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease has surged by nearly a fifth since 2002.

Alcohol abuse needs to be treated as the national disaster that it is. Banning alcohol advertising would be a good start. But those struggling with alcohol abuse need far more help: just 6 per cent of people struggling with alcohol dependency get access to treatment, compared with 23 per cent in Italy. This is indefensible, and not just from the perspective of basic humanity. As Alcohol Concern point out, every £1 spent on treatment saves £5 in cost. Unless there is change, thousands will continue to die, and billions will continue to be lost. What a waste.

To read the full article go here.

If only 6 per cent are getting access to treatment and that number is less than 110,000 (see yesterday’s blog post) then that means we have over 1.8 million people requiring treatment who are struggling with alcohol here in the UK.

And these are people with a physical dependency to alcohol.  It does not include those with a psychological dependency to alcohol, like myself, and many of us out here who are blogging and reading …….

Shocking and saddening at the same time and something needs to be done.

The Anonymous People

I was reading the book High Sobriety: Confessions of a Drinker by Alice King last week and in it she wrote that it was thought that 1 in 6 Britons have some sort of problem with alcohol, either through their own drinking or someone else’s.  To me this seems huge and largely unacknowledged.

The UK 2011 census states that the current UK population is 63 million. That means that potentially we have 10 million people where alcohol is a problem for them. The Govt monitors alcohol statistics via the Alcohol Annual Report and in 2012-2013 less than 110,000 were in structured treatment. That’s only 0.01% – the literal ‘tip of the iceberg’.

I admire this American films courage immensely and feel that we need to be acknowledging and owning our problem in the same way here.  You can read more about what the US are doing here.

Edited to add: thanks to soberlearning for letting me know that you can watch this film on 1st March as they are doing a free 24 hour open stream at hazelden.org/social

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.  Erik Erikson argued that “shame is blame turned against the self” and Pete Walker writes that “shame is the death of self-acceptance and self-worth.”  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

Cutting loose

It’s my 5 month sober-versary today! 🙂

I’m going to celebrate with this tune:

The reason I love both this song and this video is because it reminds me of how life used to be for me before booze.  Soul Train started to air in 1971 and is a big part of my memory of my youth.  Maybe I have a nostalgic naive view of this programme but they appear to be having a fantastic time just grooving to the music and in the most amazing 70’s threads! 😉 No booze.

This song also reminds me of a bitching session I had to Belle back in the earlier days of this journey.  Me whining about how will I ever cut loose again? cue face palm from me.  I got so caught up in the ‘no booze = no fun’ belief that I completely overlooked how joyous life could be with out it, which is what Belle kindly reminded me about (thanks again Belle) during my temper tantrum hissy fit pity party.

Five months in there are loads of ways I lose myself;  in dance, in music, in a good film, in a good book, in a run, in nature, in time with my kids, luxurating in the bath.  The world didn’t stop turning when I stopped drinking.  Fun didn’t get less fun.  It got clearer, sharper, more memorable – because I actually remember it all 🙂

What things do you cut loose with/too that I should consider trying?

Levelling out

This week had the potential to be a triple witching.  Not only is it half term but for the ladies reading this it is approaching a time in the month when I can be, shall we say, a little more intolerant and quick to temper IYKWIM.  Sorry to my fellow male sober bloggers for this post but we’re in female only territory here.

Again travelling back in time to me when I was still stuck staring into a glass or bottle on a far too regular basis and I would have been really really unpleasant company.  Hangover, half-term and PMS – not a good look or mix 😉

Now 5 months in tomorrow and no witching at all.  Yes I am still a little hair trigger snappy than usual and extra sensitive to what people say and how I interpret things but compared to how dragon-like I used to be at this time of the month, it is a revelation!  It’s taken me this far into the sober journey to actually tease stuff out and recognise all the subtle components of what used to make me unhappy, grumpy and generally not much fun to be around before.

Each day that goes by the reasons not to drink again just keep stacking up and up.  It really is the gift that keeps on giving 🙂

Half term hell to half term happiness

It is half term here in the UK which means my two are at home for the week taking a well earned rest from school.  They are both at primary school and are normally struggling with tiredness at this point in the term.

Now in my old drinking life and if I was moderating in a ‘no drinking on a school night’ way then this was carte blanche to up the ante.  No work for me, no school for them, Bingo!  To be honest even if I wasn’t moderating and was on a ‘I deserve the reward of a glass or bottle every night for getting through the day’ stage we were all officially on holiday so holiday means ‘holiday drinking!’  Yep I could always find a bona fide reason to drink MORE.

As you can imagine I used to be pretty cranky and not really very good company for them.  I  would endeavour to keep them in bed for as long as possible, so I didn’t have to get up, and would hustle them to bed as quickly as possible come evening time so that I could get ‘my’ holiday thing on.

Drinking made me a really selfish parent because I grew up around daily drinking and knew the havoc it wrecked so never wanted my kids to see me drinking or drunk.  Never wanted to role-model that behaviour so tried to hide it from them.  That’s when you know you have a disconnect because if it wasn’t a problem then why was I so worried about them seeing me drinking?

The belief that because they didn’t see me drinking somehow protected them also underestimates their intelligence and the impact of drinking even when you don’t  have a glass in your hand.  Who was I kidding that because they didn’t see it – it wasn’t a problem for our family?  I was hiding my drinking from them – that made it a problem.

Fast forward to today and I am awake and up before them, greet them with a smile not a sigh and I genuinely want to spend time with them.  Before I would struggle through the day, wanting to be left alone in a quiet darkened room nursing a hangover waiting for the clock to strike wine o’clock for the hair of the dog to bring some alcohol first aid.

It feels like I have become a better parent but that makes it sound like I was not a ‘good enough’ parent before and that isn’t true.  I was good enough but much of the time I wasn’t as present as I could have been with them.  I missed a lot of the cues and moments because I was too distracted with either a hangover or planning my next supermarket run for booze or thinking about drinking.  I feel like an ‘enhanced’ good enough parent now and long may it continue 🙂