Monthly Archives: January 2014

Rebuilding my self-respect

Drinking was always a way of undermining any self-respect for myself that I had.  Drink too much and do or say something stupid = shame.  Wake up the next morning not really knowing what you had done or said because you couldn’t remember = some more shame.

Shame + more shame x multiple occasions = crushed self-esteem & self-respect.

Now my self-esteem and respect is slowly picking itself up off the floor but writing the post about how much I drank reminded me just how fragile it still is.  For a person who likes to be liked over-sharing can be as self-sabotaging as keeping everything to yourself as I found to my peril when I prematurely opened my mouth about my Guardian article.  The anxiety it provoked almost derailed my sobriety.

I am 4 months sober today and it has taken me that long to shine the light of truth in the darkest and most shameful of corners of my past drinking exploits and before I felt able to share on this blog the truth about my consumption habits.  I was extremely anxious about putting it out here but your responses proved to me that I was safe.

Equally it can be dangerous to choose to share with the wrong person.  If they are not supportive and understanding of your journey their failure to appreciate the brevity of the situation can cause enough shame to tip you back to your old ways or may convince you that your problem isn’t that bad and set you back on the drinking path either way.  Those thoughts crossed my mind again today.  This response has happened to me and I had to remind myself that they were ‘projecting their shadows’ (Carl Jung) about their drinking not mine.  They felt it was important that I drank alcohol free beer around other people so that it didn’t make them feel uncomfortable about their drinking.  My stopping drinking was compared to finding God, and as one of a group of secular friends, this was felt by me as intended as an insult, although by sharing this I wish to cause no offense to anyone about their religious beliefs.

It’s interesting in that you start to get your self-respect back and are happy about where you are and some people who laughed at your shameful drinking antics now try to shame you for your non-drinking non-antics.

4 months today 🙂

Edited to add: the Guardian does it again!  This piece is running today and my favourite bits are:

There are lots of people who aren’t full blown addicts but who do struggle to do things in moderation – whether it’s booze, cigarettes, sex, drugs or Nutella (or in my case, all of the above). Substances that are addictive are inherently difficult to consume in moderation. That’s what “addictive” means. In fact, when you encourage someone who’s struggling with an addictive substance to do it in moderation, what you’re also saying is “Hey, you know that stuff that makes you want more and more as soon as you have a bit? Yeah, just have a bit!” It’s not helpful to tell someone to have “just” a little alcohol if they’re struggling with it.

So when you run into a friend who is abstaining completely, whether temporarily for a good start to the New Year or for the long-term, remember it’s not a commentary on your drinking and nobody is trying to ruin anyone’s fun. Be supportive and treat it as a completely legitimate, if not necessary, alternative for those people for whom moderation is not an option.

Deconstructing the buzz

Last night I went to the cinema to watch the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, Scorsese’s new film.  Going to the cinema is one of my sober treats – a good film, bottle of water and bag of liquorice and I’m happy 🙂

Jordan Belfort, the film’s lead character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is the wolf of wall street and for me he is the human personification of ‘wolfie’ complete with glass of red wine.


He develops a massively chronic addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex and money during the film.  You also see him get clean and sober for 2 years, which he hates and says as much, and is very much the epitome of what I would call a ‘dry drunk’.

Early on in the film you see the seeds of his drug addiction take root when you see him take his first hit off a crack pipe.  The acting and filming is superb and he portrays so well the effect of the drug as he inhales and exhales and it hits his brain.

And this is when the light bulb went off in my head – that was it, that was what I was chasing when I drank.  That first drink when alcohol crosses your blood-brain barrier initially and shifts your consciousness making the edges of life fuzzy.  That was what I craved.  Any drink beyond that was drunk hoping for that moment to be recreated again but it had passed.  Now I truly understood what people meant when they said that it was that first drink that was the problem – it was all a mirage.

During the film he took more drugs, drank more, had more sex, earned more money but it had gone from a desire or a want to a need that he now couldn’t live without.  That was me and booze too.  The drinking at the end was determined and not pleasurable – almost a chore but I kidded myself that it was fun despite knowing the next morning it would be far from fun.

I feel like these blogs about my drinking days have been hard-work and heavy going and I’m keen to finish this series of recollections on a lighter note!  So I’ll share this comedy sketch from BBC Radio 4 where the characters of Winnie the Pooh stage an intervention for Pooh Bear because of his honey issues 🙂

Starts at 12.15 mins and lasts just over 3 1/2 minutes.

De-glamourising drinking

In my post yesterday I hope I didn’t look like I was glamourising some of the drinking antics of my  younger years.  The drinking dentist’s chair was banned in 2010 and just to underscore why, one of the national newspapers ran a story last year of a man dying on his stag do in Spain after some time in the ‘chair’.

Now I don’t want to come over all ‘outraged from Orsett’ but a programme that’s currently running on C4 here had my toes curling last week (and for a nurse that’s saying something!).  It’s called ‘What Happens in Sunny Beach’ and follows the antics of the holiday reps in the resort of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.  This was once an upmarket playground for the Eastern bloc elite, but is now the new destination for British teenagers looking to get their fix of hedonistic fun. The first episode takes a look at the secret world of the pleasure-seeking young Brits working in Sunny Beach for the summer.  The film  shows a birthday celebration going horribly wrong when one very p*ssed holiday rep decides that lighting a firecracker in his arse would be a good idea.  8 stitches later he still went back to the bar to finish the number of shots that had been lined up for him – one for each year of his age.

What really bothered me about this programme was that much of the payment of the holiday reps was done with booze.  So they would be given three buckets of booze a day that they could drink while recruiting people to the bars and clubs on the street.  They had this concoction that they called ‘fish’ that was neat vodka mixed with fisherman’s friends so that they could drink and their breath remained fresh!  They showed the bar staff making it up in the mornings and their hands were shaking badly, which they themselves commented on as being down to ‘too much alcohol’.  Most of these 18-28 year old’s if they didn’t arrive with an alcohol problem certainly left with one.

Here’s a clip of fish being made:

They seemed completely oblivious to the damage that they were doing to themselves and that the hand shaking was a symptom of the DT’s.  I found it all really sad and quite depressing and if you’re going to watch the whole show be warned as it is very graphic and I had to pick my jaw up off of the floor a couple of times!

Edited to add: the C4 link takes you to the full programme and if you want to see the clip of fish being made, go to ‘clips and extras’ and the clip is called ‘Don’t screw the crew’ and lasts just under 1 minute

How much did I drink?

The answer to this question would have depended on when and where I was in my drinking career.  The honest answer, that I am ashamed to admit, is anywhere between 50 and 150 units a week.  When I said in this post that I drank way more than the govt recommended guidelines here in the UK I wasn’t joking.  To provide some context 150 units is two bottles of wine a day and the alcoholics that I nursed drank anywhere between 150 and 300 units (which is just over a 1 litre bottle of 40% spirits a day) a week so I was indeed closer to their numbers than to the 14 units a week govt guidelines.

This 150 units a week peak was probably about 15 years ago in my unfettered singleton London living days where amongst my group of friends I was nowhere near the worst end of the drinking that we did.  Being able to ‘hold your drink’ and having a high tolerance was worn as a badge of honour.  These guys and gals were pro’s at the ‘dentist’s chair’

Dentist's Chair: England footballers including Teddy Sheringham were snapped playing the drinking game in a Hong Kong bar in the run-up to the Euro '96 tournament

that was popular in many of the Antipodean pubs that we frequented, because if you wanted to drink to excess and no one bat an eye then these were the place to be at that time (sorry Mrs D 😉 ).  Now you see where my no shot rule came from ……

The 50 unit number was what it was recently as I was moderating hard and that is still at the high risk end of the spectrum according to the UK guidelines (which is above 35 units a week).

I felt so sh*t after each night that, again I am ashamed to admit, that I would cycle what I drank.  So for example:

Monday: cider then red wine

Tuesday: beer then rose

Wednesday: g&t then white wine

Thursday: back to cider then red wine

Friday: as Tuesday

Saturday: sparkling wine then red wine

Sunday: as Wednesday

Yep – I managed the sickness from the hangover by not drinking the same drink the next day knowing I couldn’t stomach it 🙁

I’m not proud of this fact and I want to be honest.  And having read this post by FitFatFood I also want to say that if the number of units that you are drinking is nowhere near these numbers please do not think that this is how much you need to drink to have a problem.  However much you are drinking if it is affecting the quality of your life, stopping you living your best life how you want to live it and you think it is a problem – then it is, irrespective of what anyone else says.  No one can tell you how much or how often is too much, only you know this.

So now you probably understand why I wanted and needed to stop …….

What kept me putting it off?

These were the thoughts that swirled round in my head and came out of wolfie’s mouth when I contemplated stopping:

How will you ever relax?

How will you manage stress?

How will you celebrate?

How will you mark the transition from work day to evening/week-day to week-end/parenting to grown-up time?

How will you ever survive Xmas and New Year?

What about your birthday?

What would happen with my family (drinkers)?

What will happen with all of my friends (drinkers too)?

Won’t you become really boring?

Won’t you become really serious?

How will you talk to people you don’t know at a party/event without some ‘dutch courage’ on board?

What will people think of you?

Will people stop liking me?

Will people stop inviting you round/spending time with you?

How will you explain it to people?

Will they think you are an alcoholic?

What will I do with all of my time?

How will I escape/cut loose from life?

The final thought was:  You will die a slow and horribly dull existence with extra years of life because you don’t drink therefore it is better to live fast and die young 🙁

I thought I was unique in thinking these things until I found the sober blogging community!  I’m sure there are some that I have omitted so what would be on your list or what would you add to mine?

What made it important for me?

Everyone’s reason for stopping is probably different and personal to them.  But for me the pro’s of stopping included (in order of importance):

My children.  I had grown up in a household where daily drinking was normal and I did not want to role-model that to my children.  I didn’t want them to believe that daily drinking was normal or that binge-drinking at the week-end was normal either.  I wanted them to have a more balanced and realistic understanding of alcohol than I did.

My children again.  I did not want to be a grumpy hungover parent.  I did not want them to experience inconsistent parenting that was determined by whether I had had a drink or was recovering from having a drink.

Cost.  We were spending on average £400 a month on booze.  This was not something that we could continue to afford or how we wanted to spend our money.

Health.  My liver function test is currently healthy but how much longer would it continue to be so if I continued to drink?  I felt rough much of the time because of being hungover.

Weight.  My weight was difficult to manage because of the all the ’empty’ calories I was consuming in alcohol.  I would rather eat something nice for those extra 500 calories than drink it!

Sleep.  I love my sleep and it was awful while I drank.  I craved a good nights sleep more than I craved a drink!

Exercise.  I ran a couple of times a week and this was painful if I was hungover.  I wanted to enjoy my runs not just for the health related benefits but for the experience itself.

This list is not exhaustive and I’m sure given more time I would think of a load more reasons not to drink.  What would be on your list if you wrote one?

The moderating game part two

So how did I moderate?  Every which way and any which way. I tried:

Starting drinking later

Finishing drinking earlier

Not drinking at lunchtime

Not drinking on a school night

Having two days off a week

Drinking on alternate days

Not drinking for more than a month

Only drinking when I had something to celebrate

Counting units as I drank

Only drinking a certain amount in one day and then stopping

Only drinking with food

Eating a carb heavy meal before

Alternating each drink with a soft drink or glass of water

Not drinking shots

Drinking spritzers rather than wine

Drinking shandy rather than beer

Using additional mixer to make a spirit drink very long

Starting with beer or cider before drinking wine and following the old adage: beer then wine – fine, wine then beer – oh dear

Drinking low alcohol drinks e.g a Radler

Drinking less when it was my turn to get up with the kids

Going to bed early

Only drinking spirits when I went out

Not mixing beer and wine

Putting my glass down between drinks

Putting the glass or bottle on the other side of the room

Not joining rounds

Not topping up my glass as I went – finishing it then refilling

Counting how many bottles or cans I was taking to the recycling a week

Sipping a drink – not gulping

Drinking but not drinking to get drunk

Drinking one drink per hour

Sitting down to drink not standing up (as apparently you drink more)

Starting with a soft drink

Not drinking because of boredom

Giving up smoking

Not mixing drinks

Taking only a little cash out so that I couldn’t buy much booze (and no card either)

Not getting a tab at the bar

I’m sure there are more things I tried over the almost 10 years and I’m sure there are others you could add too.  We can all be very inventive when playing the moderating game and in our efforts to keep drinking without stopping completely 😉

The moderating game part one

So why has it been almost 10 years since that first quit attempt?  Because we started to play the moderating game believing that this would be the answer.  We wanted children and knew that we needed to reduce the amount we drank to stand a chance of conceiving and so we cut down our regular drinking.  Two pregnancies and births over 4 years kept the lid on my habit temporarily but it rekindled as soon as the breastfeeding finished.  Plus I left the ward that I’d been working on and moved to France for half a year.  No daily reminder of the horrors of drinking and living in a country where the wine was cheap, good quality and plentiful and I was back to my old drinking ways.  I rationalised away my drinking concerns, was resigned to it and reluctant to try again and also the rebellious teenager within me was insistent that caring for two young children was difficult and I needed that drink to transition between parent and grown-up time.  I was back to being pre-contemplative and not interested in change ….

But I was more watchful of my drinking and would look at and intermittently record:

How many days of the week was I drinking?

How much was I drinking a day when I did?

How many times when I drank did I consume more than 6 units on one single occasion?

What time of day did I have my first drink?

Did I enjoy it?  Every glass?

How often did I find that once I started drinking I wasn’t able to stop?

How often had I failed to do what was normally expected of me because of my drinking?

How often had I felt guilt or remorse after drinking?

How often had I been unable to remember what happened the night before because of my drinking?

These questions make up part of the Audit questionnaire developed by the World Health Organisation and used by the Department of Health here in the UK.

Other questions include:

How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

Have you or somebody else been injured as a result of your drinking?

Has a relative or friend, doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

If you are concerned about your drinking and thinking about change maybe these would be useful for you to use to establish an honest picture of your drinking?  You can find the AUDIT tool to complete online here

Tomorrow I’ll share how I tried to moderate my drinking before finally realising I was fighting a losing battle.

The cycle of change

An addiction is a product of the interaction of three things:

The person

The drug

The circumstances

Now I hadn’t changed and the drug hadn’t changed but our circumstances were.

I now knew the harmful effects of drinking and alcohol addiction as I had nursed patients to their death because of it.  I could no longer stick my head in the sand and ignore the facts but I continued to drink.  We tried sporadic attempts at stopping – giving up for 18 days almost 10 years ago and struggled to manage the urges to drink and to stay stopped using willpower alone.  What we noticed when we cut down is that the cravings seemed to get worse, that we became obsessed with when we would drink again, and when we did start again we felt even more dependent.  We had gone from happy drinkers to unhappy drinkers.

There is a famous cycle of change model by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983)

What we had done was we had ventured on to the cycle of change and had moved from happy drinker (pre-contemplative) to unhappy drinker (contemplation and action) and then relapsed.  What we had done is not unusual and we were to go on to do this many many times over the next many years.  We hadn’t done enough preparation to prepare for the change either externally or internally and therefore were unable to maintain the change.

If you are reading this and are thinking about this change in the next few posts I’ll share a few of the tools that helped me move through the cycle of change more successfully.

What kept me drinking?

As I grew older drinking established itself as my favourite leisure activity plus at that time the ‘ladette‘ culture exploded here in the UK giving a perceived legitimacy to my behaviour.  As well as being a social thing that I did out in the pubs, bars and clubs it became something that you did at home – house parties, dinner parties, friends round for drinks but I also began to drink alone.  Mostly I did it because it had become a regular habit but also because I felt it helped reduce stress and aided relaxation and became my ‘go to’ coping strategy.  It became my best friend when I was lonely.  Whole days or evenings could be whiled away drinking so boredom was managed.  It became my emotional regulator, heightening a celebration or soothing a loss.  I became less able to manage every day life without the ‘reward’ or treat of a drink, or five, at the end of the day or the end of the week.

I met my husband and he was also a drinker so that just made it easier as now I had a regular drinking buddy.  Life seemed good and the party kept going.  It was during this time that I worked on a ward where, amongst other patients, I cared for alcoholics.  Now there was no denying the physical and psychological impact and effects that alcohol had and I saw first hand how deadly this supposedly ‘benign’ substance could be and was.  But many of my colleagues drank like me and none of them seemed to worry so I didn’t.  Plus it was just me and hubby so it didn’t seem to be impacting on our life or lifestyle and ironically you felt you’d earned a drink after a shift on this ward.

But we began to want different things from life and the questioning began ……