Monthly Archives: March 2014

6 month sober-versary!

I can’t believe I’m here.  I never thought I could not drink for 6 months and feel so well.  The moments of missing booze are now fleeting and pass without angst.  This song and video expresses how I feel completely.  I used to think that I could only reach this place of nirvana after a skinful and now it is how I feel most of the time.  No need to spoil it with booze.  This is now my default setting not my only achieved after a bottle of wine state.

It’s not been an easy journey and the early days were tough but once you get through the gritty bits the potential for joy is endless.  This is why I started this journey and I am so glad that I did.

Enjoy!

Edited to add: this is hilarious, but I emailed Belle and she told me that it was my day 180 yesterday!!  When I drank I always peaked a day too early (you know got over-excited and overdid it the night before insert celebration so felt god-awful on the actual night) and now I’m sober I peak a day late!?  😀

Sober boosts

On giving up drinking I have noticed that I have been getting these ‘sober boosts’.  Every 6-8 weeks or so I get an increase in the feeling of physical and emotional well-being from the increased length of time without a drink.  It reminded me of the development of babies and developmental leaps that they have.

So using this analogy (bear with me) when a baby is born it is expelled from a comfortable known warm place into an uncomfortable cold unknown world which is how it felt to me when I stopped drinking.

For the first 4-6 weeks of life a baby spends most of it’s time crying, sleeping and eating (oh and pooing and weeing).  Everything is very basic.  Well again that is how I felt in the early days.  Emotional, wanting to hide under the duvet and sleep, and eating everything in sight to replace the sugar that I was no longer getting from booze.

At 6-8 weeks babies have a developmental growth spurt and start to interact with their surroundings and you see their first smile.   They become able to briefly calm themselves.   This is when I experienced my first sober boost and I began to become more settled and happy with where I was and what I was doing.  My first pink cloud moment came after this 🙂

At 4 months again they have another developmental growth spurt and are able to smile spontaneously and  to cry in different ways to show hunger, pain or being tired.  When I had my second sober boost I noticed another period of developing my ability to differentiate my emotions and an increase in calmness about who I am and where I am going.

At 6 months (which will be me tomorrow!) they have another developmental boost  where they start to roll.  At this stage of the game I feel like I’m rocking and rolling 😉 the sobriety thing.  They also recognise their name and will turn to look at you.  Me too, I now recognise myself as a sober person and if you offered to buy me a beer I would turn and look at you oddly!  They also like playing peekaboo with partially hidden objects and I’m enjoying getting to know parts of myself that has been partially hidden by booze.

I am curious to see if this matching will continue and will let you know how I’m getting on at 9 months when babies have their next big developmental leaps.  Sober bloggers further on in their journey’s have shared that it gets better at these times so it looks like it might be so.

Comparing sobriety to being a baby may seem a little far-fetched but if you have drank for a long period of time then chances are you are learning everything anew.  You are learning how to be in the world without the crutch of alcohol which I found both terrifying in the beginning and exhilarating now.  I have absolutely no desire to go back to my old way of being and the groundhog day of hungover, thinking about drinking, drinking, drunk, another hangover.  Not drinking is a very small price to pay for the huge benefits I have experienced so far 🙂

Take it easy

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This is an advert I remember really clearly from my youth in the 1980’s and 1990’s and for me is the antithesis of stress.  I love me a Cadbury’s Caramello as a pudding treat and desserts = stressed backwards!

Stress is something that we all live with on a daily basis.  Balancing home and work, meeting the demands of our partners and children, prioritising all the competing demands we have on our time and attention.  Life can feel stressful much of the time if I’m not careful!

Mind discuss how situations which are recognised to be very stressful are associated with change and with lack of control over what is happening.  This makes giving up drinking potentially stressful as it is a change but one you do have control over*.  But if this is a long overdue change you are motivated to make that can make it a positive stress!

Tips for coping with stress include:

  • Finding out what triggers you stress so you can then think about what you can stop doing or change to be able to manage the triggers better.
  • Sort out your worries dividing them into those that you can do something about (either now or soon) and those that you can’t.
  • Being organised by make a list of jobs, tackling one task at a time and alternating dull tasks with interesting ones.
  • Take control of what is stressing you by getting started by doing one task you feel you can manage.
  • Taking regular breaks when you feel things are getting on top of you – get a hot drink or a glass of water or take a short stroll.
  • Listing your achievements so that when you have done something you feel proud of, write it down. Remember to include the everyday tasks, like shopping, or preparing a meal. When you feel stressed, read the list to give yourself a boost.
  • Be active as physical activity can help you feel calmer, stronger, and better able to deal with emotional stresses. Try something you enjoy e.g. walking the dog, dancing, playing a sport or gardening.
  • Getting a different perspective by discussing your problems with someone else can help you get ideas about new ways of dealing with your problem or stress. Sharing your thoughts can also help you feel calmer and listened to.

I found stopping drinking initially stressful as it had become such an ingrained habit and it’s absence was acutely felt.  However as time has gone on and the stretch of non-drinking days has got longer now I don’t miss it at all and I wonder how I ever managed to juggle my life when I was permanently hung over.  Now that is stressful! 😉

  • If you feel that you are not in control of your drinking and are unable to stop through choice then I suggest you seek medical advice as you may need additional medical support to stop drinking.

R E S P E C T

Mind define low self-esteem as having negative beliefs about yourself.  They go on to say “You will tend to focus on your weaknesses or mistakes that you have made, and may find it hard to recognise the positive parts of your personality. You may also blame yourself for any difficulties or failures that you have.”

Yep that was me.  I think I had low self-confidence from childhood, and whereas in the early days of drinking booze was a shot in the arm for my confidence, lately it chipped away at what was already pretty poor on a day by day basis.  You couldn’t think worse of me than I already thought of myself come the end of my boozing career.

That’s the think about drinking though as we drink hoping it will help our confidence when actually it destroyed mine, as I would drink too much and then do or say something daft and hate myself for it.

As Mind says:

  • Negative thinking patterns associated with low self-esteem, such as assuming you will fail at things you do, can develop over time and lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
  • Low self-esteem can make it hard to try new things or complete tasks.  This can stop you from living your life the way you want, and lead to frustration and depression over time.

There’s that downward spiral again!

So to provide an opposing side to the negatively weighted argument in your head with yourself (hello wolfie!) this is what they recommend:

  • Do activities that you enjoy.
  • Spend time with positive, supportive people.
  • Be helpful and considerate to others.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other people.
  • Try to do regular exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep.
  • Be assertive – don’t let people treat you with a lack of respect.
  • Use self-help books and websites to develop helpful skills, like assertiveness or mindfulness.
  • Learn to challenge your negative beliefs.
  • Acknowledge your positive qualities and things you are good at.
  • Get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself.

The single biggest boost to my self-esteem and self-confidence has been giving up booze.  The internal negative chatter has almost gone and when it does pipe up I know how to challenge it rather than getting drawn into a negative thought spiral.  Not drinking has allowed me to respect myself, and therefore also others, in a way that I just wasn’t capable of while still boozing.  Give it a try – what have you got to lose? 😉

Sing it Aretha! 🙂

When I’m feeling blue

When you stop drinking it is sometimes hard to understand what is going on within yourself.  I had medicated my emotions with booze for so long that it was hard to decipher my own moods!  At day 66 in this journey I talked about having a wonky emotional thermostat as that is how it felt.

A study discussed in the ‘Almost Alcoholic’ book talked about in this post cites that 47% of those who were alcohol dependent had an anxiety disorder, while 41% had a mood disorder.  I found myself wondering what came first the depression or anxiety, or the drinking problem?  If you are early on in the journey and are wondering what the hell is going on and pondering the same question here is a really good video from Mind where four people discuss their experience of depression and how they managed it:

If you are struggling with low mood here are Mind’s tips on how to manage it:

Break the cycle of negativity by recognising the pattern of thinking when you are doing it, and replace it with a more constructive thought process. Look for things to do that occupy your mind.

Keep active.  I find it amazing how many of  us sober bloggers are runners and for me I am certain that taking up running was the first step to being where I am now, seriously.  It’s that spiral of change again 🙂

Connect with other people.

Care for yourself.  They recommend:

  • Allow yourself positive experiences and treats that reinforce the idea that you deserve good things. eg a long bath, a day out with a friend (hello Belle and sober treats!)
  • Pay attention to your personal appearance.
  • Set yourself goals that you can achieve and that will give you a sense of satisfaction.
  • If you find it hard to remember things, you may want to write them down on sticky notes, in a diary or set reminders on your mobile phone.
  • Look after yourself by eating healthily, as much as possible. Oily fish, in particular, may help reduce depression.
  • Be cautious with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, which make depression worse, and a lot of caffeine which may make you a bit jittery.
  • They also encourage mindfulness (which is accepting life, and living and paying attention to the present moment. It includes taking time to see what is happening around you in a non-judgmental way, rather than going over your problems again and again).

In my limited experience I found that by day 90 my head was a little less fried and everything felt a bit more emotionally stable.  If you are feeling some ups and downs hang on tight and it will pass 🙂

And if it doesn’t pass then seek medical advice as they will be able and want to help.  Drinking again is probably not the answer 😉

Managing Anxiety Without Booze

The poster I shared about mental health got me reflecting.  In my day job I get to work with young people who are struggling with emerging mental health issues, that include the culprits that I struggle with, namely stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

I realise now that I struggled with these before I started to drink and I used alcohol to manage these thoughts and feelings.  Over the next few posts I’m going to give myself the advice I give the young people that I see in the hope that I might take it!  Maybe it will be helpful for you too?

So starting with anxiety the resource that I give out is taken from the brilliant Mind website.  Their resources are so good I’m not going to re-invent the wheel but share here the bits I highlight with my students:

“Anxiety can make you fearful, alert, on edge, irritable, and unable to relax or concentrate.  They way you think can be affected: if you fear that the worst is going to happen, you may start to see everything negatively and become very pessimistic.  To cope with these feelings and sensations you may feel tempted to start smoking and drinking to much, or misusing drugs.”

This was me to a T.  Drinking to help me relax and to mediate and self-medicate away any anxiety.  It was a double-edged sword as the times I was most anxious, so before job interviews for example, I would want to drink more and then shoot myself in the foot for the next day as I felt so rough (rebound anxiety anyone?!).  I learned this pretty early on and in my later drinking years would always not drink before these most anxiety provoking events.  Untreated anxiety can progress to panic attacks and I have only ever had one and it’s no fun so if you need help seek medical advice.

Mind recommend these tips to help you with anxiety:

Learn to control the symptoms using breathing and relaxation techniques

Assertiveness training

Complimentary therapies, such as yoga, meditation, massage, reflexology, etc

A healthy lifestyle so a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and exercise and a key sentence for me was “You may find it easier to relax if you avoid stimulants such as coffee, cigarettes and alcohol.”

And reaching out and talking to someone about what is worrying you.

When I was drinking I became anxious that I couldn’t cope without alcohol and this fear fed on itself making it even harder to walk away from the very substance that was creating the anxiety.  Now that I don’t drink my anxiety has reduced considerably as the booze was making it worse not better.  Who knew?! 🙂

The spiral of change

I’m reading this great book called ‘Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem?’ by Robert Doyle, a Psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School and expert on alcoholism and Joseph Nowinski, a Clinical Psychologist.  It is really worth a read.

In it they talk about using dialectics to promote an inner dialogue to allow insight and maybe even the catalyst for an ‘aha’ moment!  Dialectics is a way to understand the way things are and the way things change.  The 3 simple rules of dialectics are:

  1. Every thing is made of opposing forces/sides (be it object or process)
  2. Gradual changes leads to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other
  3. Changes move in spirals, not circles

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This makes me think of the expression ‘being trapped in a downward spiral’ which is often how my drinking felt.  But we can also have upward spirals which is where I consider myself now as my health, wealth and happiness improve on an almost daily basis.

They give some great examples of dialetic thoughts and questions to ponder such as:

Who am I vs Who do I think I should I be?

What do I want vs Why am I here?

Where have I been vs Where am I going?

I find these questions useful both from a still drinking perspective or a post stopping perspective.  When I was drinking these questions were helpful in aiding my resolve to change my drinking behaviour initially temporarily and then permanently.

Now I’ve stopped I’m thinking about what I want to do with all the time, energy and resources that are now available to me and how I can best use them to make my life feel like it is moving forward and I am growing, learning and reaching my full potential.

I’m Done Drinking Counter

This was an app that Sharon mentioned in a comments discussion on her blog.  As soon as I read it I went scuttling off to the iTunes store looking for it and you can find it here.

The designer says that it was inspired by their ‘I’m Done Smoking’ App and this app was requested by many to track how many days and how much money you can save by not drinking.  And that’s what it does!

You programme in your quit date, how many drinks you drank per day, what was your choice of poison and the cost per drink was and it does the rest 🙂

It shows your quit date and time in days, hours and minutes since your last drink.

It shows the number of drinks not consumed in number of drinks, bottles/packs and cases.

It shows the calories saved (calculated using 125 calories for a 5oz serving of wine for me) and $$ cash saved.

A nice touch on the ‘About’ page is that the designer says ‘I started this app with the idea of just saying I’m Done and use it as daily motivation to prove that if I could stop drinking I could do anything, even create an iPhone app’ 🙂

I have it downloaded on my iPad and it cost $0.99

At the time of writing this post I was at 171 days since my last drink, had not consumed 686 alcoholic drinks, had saved a whopping 82,372 calories and £1024 in cash (x 2 as Mr HOF has also stopped) therefore meaning a combined total of £2048!!  It’s a great motivator 😉

Edited to add: the app has now been updated with a range of drinks from beer to spirits to wine to cocktails to chose from.

The Right Time?

Is it ever the right time to stop drinking?  Before I quit I used to ponder this question a lot.  Although I no longer drink I still consider myself a drinker, in the same way that I consider myself a smoker who no longer chooses to smoke, so thinking about this isn’t hard.  If I was still drinking I could think of several reasons why now would not be a good time.  Our wedding anniversary is this week, my niece’s 18th b day party is in a couple of weeks, Easter holidays approaching fast, etc, etc, etc.  Always a bad time and I would put it off and inevitably never come back to it.

So if it is never a good time then how do you decide to change and know if you are ready for change?  For me, because it would never be the right time I just bit the bullet and stopped even though it was 4 weeks before my birthday!

What you could do is fill out a readiness for change questionnaire (University of Rhode Island Change Assessment Scale, URICA).  This is a list of 14 questions that you can mark as disagree, undecided or agree with disagree scoring 0, undecided scoring 1 and agree scoring 2.

The questions are:

  1. As far as I’m concerned, I have a problem that needs changing
  2. I think I might be ready for some self-improvement
  3. I am doing something about a problem that has been bothering me
  4. It worries me that I might slip back on a problem that I have already changed, so I am looking for help
  5. I am finally doing some work on a problem that I have
  6. I’ve been thinking that I might want to change something about myself
  7. At times my problem is difficult, but I am working on it
  8. I’d like to understand myself and my behaviour better
  9. I have a problem and I really think I should work on it
  10. I have not been following through with something I’ve already changed and I want to prevent a relapse of the problem
  11. I thought I had once resolved this problem, but sometimes I find myself struggling with it
  12. I’d like to hear some ideas on how to solve my problem
  13. Anyone can talk about changing, but I am actually doing something about it
  14. Even though I am not always successful at changing, at least I am trying

If you score over 14 you are open-minded to the concept of change around your drinking.  Much like the contract to change, you can do a score intermittently to see how it changes and while you are not ready to change keep drinking or moderating and then come back and repeat it.  Also like the contract to change it can be used for anything, not just booze, and I shall be using it next to tackle the sugar issue that I seemed to have replaced booze with!!