Tag Archives: smoking

Drinking rituals

When I think back on my drinking it wasn’t just about drinking habits it was also about drinking rituals.  Interestingly when I looked at the word ‘rituals’ on Wiki it said this:

In psychology, the term ritual is sometimes used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety; it is a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder.

How very interesting?!

And I think for me it was a bit like this as I was a bit obsessive about my drinking.  What do I mean by that?  Well I had certain wine glasses that I preferred to drink out of – you know a ‘favourite’ and would be eager to replace them if they got broken.  I would always have spare wine in the house so we NEVER ran out.  The wine rack was filled regularly, the fridge always had a bottle of fizz, white and rose chilling in it (for unexpected guests of course!) and I used to love those supermarket offers that incentivised  me to buy even more.  Interestingly us UK folks love of a drink bargain may also be confirmed by recent University of Cambridge research that found end of aisle displays significantly increased sales of displayed products: 46% for spirits, 34% for wine and 23% for beer.  So it wasn’t just me then?

If I was having the lie-in the next morning at the w/end I would almost always stay up beyond Mr HOF and sink another couple of glasses and smoke a couple more fags – like I needed them?  Same with the fags had to always make sure there were 2 left in the pack for the following day.  Not nuts much huh?

Was it just me with the drinking rituals or does this all sound familiar to you too? 🙂

Raising the bar on life

So this week-end has really shaken things up for me.  My running buddy was the first person I told I was going to give up drinking the week-end before I did and this was our first time together again since that day.  Not only that but it was a week-end of more firsts – first hotel, first organised run event, first meal out with friend, all sober.

Don’t get me wrong it was a huge success and I feel so proud of myself but that in itself has created a bit of a problem.  See when you start to do well in some aspects of your life you, or I at least, start to question other elements of it that are less rosy.  It’s like you raise the bar on life.

See before if I wasn’t particularly happy about something that was happening, or I had to do, I would drink, smoke and moan to a friend.  You know ‘poor me, poor me, pour me another one’.  But 2/3rd’s of that coping strategy is no longer available to me and so I find myself in a bit of a conniption (I love that word and just had to use it!)

I used to be a happy little wage slave and the private and public corporations could do their worst and I would drink.  Annoying person in the office?  Have a drink when you get home.  Dull and boring task?  Reward yourself later.  So I am struggling with the whole happy in my work day existence and the fabulous week-end just drew attention to that fact.  I love my job, I just hate the office politics and am not very good at playing the game or keeping my mouth shut – can you tell? 😉

What I’m struggling with is do I trust myself and my emotions in these early days?  It feels like a real issue but I can’t work out if it’s a ruse to destabilise things and make drinking more likely or if I genuinely am just not happy with the status quo in a way that I used to be before.  Maybe I’ve always been less than happy with things and I just need to let it go.  I really don’t know and it is giving me angst.

If there are any wise words that you can offer I’d much appreciate it.  Answers on a postcard please, or in the comments section below 🙂


New perspectives

Last week-end I went to the 18th birthday party of a close family member.  It was a lovely evening where the young person was surrounded by family and friends cheering on their coming of age.

But boy do I see things through different eyes now I don’t drink!  In my old drinking days this would have been a bona fide excuse to get absolutely ripped.  The kids would have been amused with a film whilst I got down to the job of drinking and smoking myself to oblivion.  They would have been put to bed at the host’s home and we would have carried on carousing until the early hours.  Mother’s day the next day would have been completely ruined as I would have been hanging from a major hangover and Bloody Mary’s would have been the order of the day for an early lunchtime to try and manage the pain in my head. But I wasn’t an alcoholic was I because the drink at lunchtime when I had finished drinking in the early hours of the night before, and struggled out of bed at 10 or 11am,  wasn’t a drink first thing in the morning was it? 😉

The amount of booze at this party could have sunk a small ship.  When did it morph from taking a four pack of beer to taking a whole slab or case, from one bottle of wine to three and bottles of spirits?  The total units of alcohol sitting inside this house was mind-bending, liver failing and made me feel quite sick at just the thought.

Is this a marketing thing where it is just cheaper to buy this larger volume?  It would seem so as this week Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has criticised the “deplorable” tactics of supermarkets designed to encourage customers to buy “ever-greater quantities of alcohol” in the latest annual report on the state of the public’s health.  Within this report she also says ‘in popular culture, drinking alcohol to excess is sometimes portrayed as normal behaviour. An analysis of six weeks of soap operas in the UK in 2010 found 162 instances of characters drinking to excess, with negative consequences rarely shown’.  Do people just drink more and is the normalisation of this behaviour in the soaps supporting this excessive drinking?  We used to say that people should bring their body weight in booze to a party but we weren’t being serious!!

But I did not want to drink any of it I’m happy to say.  What other people did was absolutely fine by me but I was not tempted in the slightest.  I nursed a couple of AF beers (which threw some people who knew I’d stopped drinking as they thought I had started again until I pointed out that it was alcohol free) and we took the kids home at 10pm when they got tired.  People were unsurprisingly fairly well oiled and starting to get worse for wear by the time we left.

But the next morning I was struck by the question, how do you celebrate an 18th if you don’t drink?  OK turning 18 means you can also vote but most young people are excited by the prospect of legally drinking.  In the British culture alcohol is so embedded as part of our coming of age rituals that this really foxed me.  How do you mark this milestone without booze??  Any thoughts or suggestions from you? 🙂

Health check-in (2)

One of the things I really like about the ‘Smokefree’ booklet is it gives you a timeline  of how quitting smoking benefits your health after certain time frames.  I haven’t seen one for quitting booze so I’m creating my own based on my own experience.

The last time I checked in I was at 4 1/2 months and now I’m another 2 months on.  So what do I notice?

My nails are stronger and tend to split less.

I used to wash my hair every day as I didn’t like it getting greasy and it would within 2 days.  Now I can wash it and leave it for 2 days without problems.

We have a new kitten who likes to play, scratch and bite and I’m noticing that the scratches he inflicts heal quickly.  Spots also disappear faster!

Working as a nurse, and as a parent to primary school age children, every winter I used to get a good share of all the bugs going round and some lovely colds.  This winter I have only had one mild cold and no more.  This and the quicker healing wounds all suggests an improving immune system.

Finally, having spent 25 years working as a nurse I have some rather fetching varicose veins from all those hours standing and running around.  Astoundingly they are looking better and less prominent suggesting an improvement in my cardiovascular health.

I’ll check in again in another few months and share what I find 🙂

16.50 UK time

Edited to add: I’ve been having a conversation with wolfish (@wintersknife) on Twitter about creating a stopping drinking health benefits timeline.  If you would like to contribute your experience and how far along you were in your sober journey when you noticed the benefit then please post a comment below and we’ll make sure it’s included! 🙂

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?! 🙂

I’m Done Drinking Counter/Dry January app

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.

Edited to add: 16th December 2017

Alcohol Concern have also launched an app to help you:

Download the free app now and enjoy a progress calendar, money and calories saved trackers, and support if you need it for January and beyond.


Download the Dry January App




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!!

Health Warning

In the UK cigarette’s have carried a Government health warning, in it’s simplest form, since 1971.  These warnings were increased in size in 1991 and then again in 2003 so that now 40% of the packaging display is covered.  Plus in 2008 the graphic picture warnings were introduced.


What does this have to do with alcohol you may be asking?  Well I guess my question is – why doesn’t booze carry the same kind of warning?  See, if you check the list of many of the warnings now given on cigarettes (which you can see listed here) many of them are equally applicable to alcohol.

So why doesn’t a bottle of wine, spirits or can of beer carry the message  ‘Drinking is highly addictive, don’t start’ or ‘Drinking when pregnant harms your baby’?  High blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, impotence and reduced fertility, aging of the skin, premature death?  Booze will do this too not just the fags.

Alcohol is carcinogenic because alcohol (ethanol) is metabolized in the liver, where it produces acetylaldehyde, a chemical that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated as a carcinogen (this was in 1988).  Alcohol creates the greatest cancer risks in the upper respiratory tract, liver, colon, rectum and breast as found in a meta-analysis of 229 studies of cancer in 19 sites of the body (source).

Now you could argue that these statements only apply if you are a heavy drinker but the same could be said for cigarettes.  The more you smoke the greater the risk, right?  So I just wonder when it will be that these warnings will replace the existing somewhat ambiguous, and often tiny part of the advertisement, ‘drink responsibly’ message currently displayed on alcohol.  And what does that mean exactly anyway?

By using a personal responsibility message the cynical might argued that the supplier of the product is putting the onus on the consumer not the manufacturer.  How else would a court be able to consider criminalising a women who drinks during pregnancy and causes harm to her child?  This completely avoids the issue of the nature of the substance being addictive.  Now if the bottle of wine that a pregnant women picked up to drink stated clearly that consuming it would harm her child then it could be argued that she was culpable but it does not.

Cigarette’s also carry the message that ‘Your doctor or your pharmacist can help you stop smoking’ or ‘Get help to stop smoking: consult your doctor/pharmacist’.   Pity alcohol doesn’t have these health advice message’s too …….

Edited to add: Alcohol Justice in the US released this on 26th Feb ‘There is no determined safe limit for alcohol consumption with regard to cancer risk’  and ‘daily alcohol consumption of as little as 1.5 drinks accounts for up to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in the United States’. Read more here: http://alcoholjustice.org/press-room/press-releases/988-alcohol-is-a-leading-cause-of-cancer-even-with-moderate-use.html

Alcohol test case

It’s funny how one idea leads to another.  The friend who mentioned Waterloo Road asked if I’d heard on the news about the guy in the States who was suing a casino for lending him $500,000 while he was ‘blacked out’ drunk which he then gambled away.  As the Telegraph reported “Eventually, having had 30 drinks in 17 hours, he blacked out and it was only after he woke up that he realised how much he had lost.”

Whilst looking for this story I found a news report about a landmark test case regarding drinking alcohol whilst pregnant.  This interests me as when I submitted my article to the Guardian for publishing a paragraph was removed by the editor which read:

This is very worrying when research has shown that the leading known cause of people born with learning disabilities in the western world is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and 1 in 100 live births in the UK and US have neurodevelopmental damage caused by alcohol.  Yet this isn’t brought to our attention.

Why the editor removed it I have no idea and they have final editorial rights so I’m not complaining.  The piece in The Independent was discussing a landmark test case, due to be heard by the Court of Appeal, that could criminalise excessive drinking during pregnancy and it made me think of this removed paragraph about FAS.

The Telegraph article detailed how “It will be argued that a six-year-old girl is the victim of a crime because she suffered brain damage when she was exposed to alcohol in the womb – a risk that her mother was aware of, Sky News has reported.

The case comes amid a 50 per cent rise in Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the past three years, with 313 damaged from exposure to alcohol in the womb in 2012/2013.”

Sue Brett, the adoptive mother of 15-year-old Glenn who was born with FAS after his mother drank excessively, said women need to be better alerted to the dangers.

She told the news channel: “It should be to abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy. You can’t make it a criminal offence if you are still legally saying this is a safe amount to drink or you can drink.

”It needs to be clear from the start that you can’t drink.”

So two recent legal cases where alcohol is under the spotlight and where people are claiming damages because of it’s direct impact or influence.  Is this the thin end of the wedge for the drinks industry, in the same way that the first landmark case about smoking and claims made against the tobacco industry opened the door and led to the truth being exposed about the damaging effect of this other highly addictive substance?

Committing to stopping


Like the postcard above I had always made stopping drinking a joke.  That was my defense mechanism to what I knew was a pretty serious problem, even if none of my friends or family saw me as any worse than any of them.  But now I wanted to take it seriously and so I made a contract with myself.

This contract is modelled on the making changes worksheet taken from the centre for smoking cessation and training here in the UK.  It could be used for any change that you are considering making.

It detailed the change I wanted to make to my drinking, and could just as easily be used for moderating for a specified length of time if you are not ready to stop completely.

It considered; how changing/not changing made me feel. how changing/not changing might affect how others viewed me and the consequences to myself and other people

It listed the advantages and disadvantages of both making the change and not making the change and the conclusions that I had come to.

It then listed a ratings scale of how motivated I was about the change and how confident I felt about the change.  Finally at the bottom it had a section for other considerations. So for me previously when I used it to give up smoking I included the risk of drinking alcohol while quitting smoking as for me the two went hand in hand.

Critically I completed it when I was really hungover and my desire to change was at it’s highest. I then posted it up on the front of my fridge so when ever I was tempted to consider having a drink it was there as a reminder of the deal I’d made with myself.

You can use this with yourself progressively as you moderate or stretch your duration of non-drinking to longer and longer time frames.  You can keep former contracts as a record of progress and to see how your motivation and confidence changes over time and what influences them as you learn more skills to manage your drinking.

If you would like a print friendly pdf version it is included in a guest feature article that was published on Soberistas yesterday here 🙂