Archive | August, 2014

21 Day Chocolate Challenge

31 Aug

In early sobriety they tell us to do anything that keeps us sober. For many, allowing ourselves sugar cravings is a big part of that. I had a special anti-booze secret weapon of a Cadburys Twirl tucked away in my handbag to kill cravings. And it worked.

But as regular readers of this blog know, I’ve always had a problematic relationship with food and body image which has variously manifested itself over the years from anorexia to binge episodes. In early recovery in particular, my body image was terrible and that, of course, as an addict, drove me to eat sweet, comforting foods.

I was expecting to drop weight in very early recovery by virtue of cutting out thousands if calories of booze every week, but alas, I maintained the weight I’ve been for the past year or so. This got me down hugely.

I haven’t blogged on this topic for a while but a big change has happened: my body image has got dramatically better because I made a big change.

I eased off the running in search of a huge new challenge, and chose weight lifting. I’m not talking 3lbs dumbells whilst doing some light aerobics in my living room, I’m talking body weight squats. 65kg deadlifts. Joining the men for the tussle to get to the bench press at 6:30am before work. IT. FEELS. AMAZING. So bloody empowering. I’m getting stronger, it’s boosting my self esteem and my body is getting harder, more muscular, whilst remaining feminine. I love it. I love my body for possibly the first time in 10 years. Completing marathons made me feel like this to an extent, but with weights, I feel like superwoman 3 times a week.

But here’s the thing. I’m not happy with my eating. I’ll eat really well all day and then blow it with chocolate. And I’m not talking “a little of what you fancy” here, I’m talking binges. It’s pure emotional eating, swapping the booze for another crutch. I’m using food to punctuate my stressful day, to mark “alone time”, to make me feel comforted. I hate to write this. It fills me with as much shame as the drinking did.

Last time I talked about this on the blog and my desire to shift some weight, I was rightly cautioned against dieting or restriction of any kind because I’m still very early in my sober journey. My motives have evolved slightly, however. This time, it’s about breaking the negative emotional behaviour that is jeopardising my mental well-being. It’s emerged that my destructive easting behaviours are as damaging as the alcohol in some ways, because I’m using them mindlessly to numb. I occasionally get an elated boost from a binge, but as I do it, I see myself as if from afar and think “what the fuck are you doing?!”

Like the alcohol, food is a crutch that I abuse to change the way I feel, and I think it’s time to tackle that negative behaviour. I was considering Whole 30-ing it or some other strict plan. But that won’t work for me- it will lead me to rebel against the rules and get a case of “the fuck its.”

So I’ve decided on this. I want to reset my bad habits, by doing a short, manageable challenge. I’ve tried sugar detoxes in the past but the insistence on fruit being off limits is ridiculous. It’s the only thing that keeps my sweet tooth at bay.

So, I’m going to do a 21 day sweet-tox. No chocolate, sugary flapjacks or biscuits. Smoothies and dried fruit and nuts are fine.

I’m hoping to end the desire to binge by practicing new habits, and to reset my emotional connection with food. I’ll never binge eat a bag of prunes (thank God, can you imagine?) so how will I soothe myself instead? How else will I punctuate a busy day? It will be a really interesting one for me, and I have no idea whether I can stick to it.

I’m going to try and check in here more regularly than I have been doing of late, to keep myself accountable.

21 days is the time it takes to change a habit, apparently, so we’ll see how much progress I have made in shifting away from the poor habits that have developed in sobriety and whether shifting those habits will make space for the more hardcore emotional work that needs to be done. 

1st Semptember, here we go!

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Emotional Landscape

29 Aug

Life has been 110mph of late. I’ve had no internet to check in on the blogs, no time to get to meetings. Working every hour god sends whilst trying to renovate my home is not a recipe for serenity. And yet…

My emotional landscape is the most stable it has ever been. Whatever each day throws at me, I deal with it, usually without getting too flustered.

I use the term “landscape” because now I feel like I’m standing on top of a hill, surveying my emotional life that rolls over the land below.

Look! Over there, a knotty crag that’s my former abusive relationship. Over there, the little lake of joy that is my running and racing memories. On the periphery of my vision is my resentment at being an alcoholic, a little dark corner tucked away from sight, which only affects my view if I turn my full attention to it. Glimmering on the horizon is a land unknown that represents a future full of excitement and challenges and joy and sadness.

When I was drinking, I was standing at the bottom of this seemingly insurmountable mountain, never believing I’d get up. I remember once likening my feelings about stopping drinking to the ancient myth of Sisphyus, who was eternally condemned to pushing a rock up a hill that would roll down upon him, setting him at square one.

I could barely even think about the view I’d find if I got to the top of that mountain. All that emotional stuff was, I thought, what was causing me to drink in the first place. I’d never be able to cope with life sober. I’d be suffocated by my emotions.

But here’s the thing. You have to “cope” much less when you’re sober. Magical things happen inside you help you through life’s trials. You need to put the emotional work in in whatever form that takes for you (blogging, therapy, recovery meetings) but the rest feels, to me, like it’s being taken care of by my sobriety.

This time last year I was on the brink of hospitalising myself through drinking when I had kidney issues. Then, I was so caught in the cycle I couldn’t see another way out. I drank to make my illness feel better. Just beyond mad.

I blogged recently about the differences a year makes, and the big event I was referring to where last year I disgraced myself passed absolutely fine. It was easier to get through than I thought it would be because sobriety suits me. I’ve put the work in, I’ve struggled through the hard times and today, I’m reaping the rewards.

Happy Friday!

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What a difference a year makes…

21 Aug

This time last year, I was around 20 days through my first attempt at sobriety and on the brink of spectacular relapse.

That relapse will forever stick with me as one of the reasons I cannot drink; it was very public, very humiliating and very dangerous. I slept through a fire alarm that saw my whole hotel evacuated. I fell down a steep flight of stone stairs. It’s a wonder I didn’t choke on my own vomit.

I’ve been seeing this long weekend ahead as a bit of a benchmark in my sobriety for some time. I’ll be at the site of my relapse, with much more sobriety under my belt and I’m hoping to make it through in one piece, sober and proud.

If I’m honest, I’m really worried about the bad memories going to this place will bring back- the mere thought of what happened here last time sends my blood cold in that special way only bad drinking memories can. I’m worried being here again will drive me to drink. Such is the paradoxical tyranny of being an alcoholic.

I’ve been thinking about this weekend for months, using it to get me through wobbles: “there’s no way I’m drinking again before I go to (X), I want to celebrate how far I’ve come in a year, not being stuck in drinking again.”

I don’t think I’ll be tempted to actually go through with having a drink, but I will be tempted. The strange thing is, I know drinking is the devil. And yet it still calls to me sometimes, when I’m feeling nervous and a bit vulnerable as I do now.

I remember the day after my relapse, forcing my way through a pint to feel normal. Drinking the best part of a bottle of wine alone on the long train journey home the day after that. Drinking the next day to quell the anxiety, and the next and… It went on. It took me months to string together more than a couple of days of sobriety.

This is why I can’t take the first drink. This is why alcohol is the enemy.
This is why I feel so whole and proud when sober.

On Saturday afternoon, I want to be writing a post saying I got through this. And I will get through it, but I have to be more vigilant than ever. What I have is so precious, I’m determined not to throw it away.

Happy Thursday!

Dealing with Stress in Recovery

13 Aug

I’ve always been someone for whom worry and stress has been an issue. I remember lying awake at night as a 9 or 10 years old, fretting about my father dying as he drove through the night, or not doing well enough at school. More often than not, I was the architect of my own anxiety, wrapping myself up in the spiders web of worry I had woven. 

Secretly, I think I enjoyed it, that sense of vulnerability. It feels similar to the addiction to drama that was part of my drinking and eating disorder days. I wanted something to think my way out of. It made me feel special to have something to fret over. It fitted in with my image of myself as a delicate soul and the older I got, the worse my worrying ways became. By the time I hit my early 20s, my worrying had penetrated the walls of my brain, seeping down into my body and pulsing through my veins, making me feel every anxious thought so viscerally I thought I would melt. This is where alcohol came in. It was the soothing balm that made my body relax, my tight thoughts uncoil. When I first tried to stop drinking, I couldn’t deal with any sort of stress. It was too much for my un-oiled brain and body to cope with, so I did what I knew would work: I drank. Except it didn’t work, because once that alcohol passed through my system, I was left with an even greater sense of anxiety and despair that alcohol had compounded. 

When I embarked on the journey of recovery, I hoped stopping drinking would stop me feel so depressed, but I hadn’t considered its impact on my ability to Deal with Life. 

The principles we learn in recovery give us a new armour, helping us to weather the storms that the sea of life likes to throw at us, and for one I feel like I’m definitely finding my sea legs.

I have, without specifically addressing my anxiety and worry issues, found that they have almost entirely dissipated. In focusing on the principles of recovery that AA and other recovery communities teach, I’ve discovered an amazing new freedom to live unfettered by anxiety and worry. The famous serenity prayer helps me immeasurably: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Every day I apply this thinking to my life in some small way and it helps. 

Another gem of wisdom that my sponsor told me, which helps me daily and I want to share here is a way of thinking about things that you want. I’ve never been able to handle not getting what I want, and would sometimes almost implode from the perceived injustice of things not going my way. Now, she tells me to think that when you want something, ask the universe for it, and there are 3 potential answers:

1) Yes

2) Yes, but not now

2) I have something better in store for you

Filtering my daily desires and experiences through this lens has been life changing. It works at a conscious, cerebral level, helping me think through issues or worries I have, but it also penetrates more deeply, allowing me a general sense of calm I have never experienced before. 

Since I came into recovery I have had huge major upsets in terms of my job and having nowhere to live, and yet I’ve coped amazingly well. I just focus on doing the next thing I can do to be proactive, and wait patiently for the things I can’t control to resolve themselves. This is unheard of, and a gift of sobriety I had never anticipated.

Today I am so calm, despite a big storm having kicked off around me, and it’s all due to being sober. 7 months ago today I drank my last drink, and ever since that day, I’ve grown slowly stronger, learning how to get through life’s challenges. I never thought it would get better, but it has, month by month. I am so glad I stuck around through the cravings, the upset, the low mood, the exhaustion of recovery and trusted those on the road of ahead of me who promised me a better life if I put down the bottle. I know they were telling the truth because here I am, living it!

Happy Wednesday 🙂

 

 

 

A Sober Girl’s Guide to Partying

10 Aug

Whenever I mention in a post about sober social events, particularly clubbing, it seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. Sober socialising is pretty terrifying for many of us.

I wanted to write a more detailed post about it because for me, a bit part of getting sober was begin ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED that it would not effect my social life, and that if I was going to be sober, I was going to learn how to have fun with it. I’m in my 20s, in a big exciting city with friends who are out making the most of it all. I thought My Life Was Over as I Knew It when I realised I had to get sober, but guess what? That was bollocks. It’s just got better, and I enjoy myself when socialising more than ever.

In the past year, I’ve been sober for 9 months out of 12. 7 months continuously, and 2 runs of around a month, followed by spectacular relapse. So this is based on a very short amount of experience, but I’ve packed in a lot of fun at that time… This is all just based on my experience, but I wanted to share how I’ve been navigating the world of socialising: 

1. Choose your moment- I was not out partying from Day 1. As anyone who’s in those early weeks of sobriety knows, just getting through the day sober is exhausting. Cancel your plans, eat chocolate, get lots of sleep and focus on getting a couple of sober weeks (or months) under your belt. However long it takes. I learnt the hard way that trying to have it all too quickly is dangerous. In November last year, I had a couple of weeks of sobriety under my belt and held a huuuuge house party. I made it through and had a great time, but the overwhelm of doing this, plus stubbornly going to every Christmas party going meant that I was putting too much pressure on my delicate sobriety. I wore myself down and eventually had a horrible relapse that took me almost a month to get over. 

2. Get excited- Half the fun of a great social event is the build up. The second I switched my mindset from dreading the social event to getting excited about it, everything changed. Carrie came up with the wonderful notion of Sober Tiaras, an invisible badge of sober pride and beauty that we wear when we socialise. I LOVED this notion, and have bought into it wholeheartedly. I make getting ready to go out an exercise in affirming my sobriety. I make sure I look my damn best, and take pleasure in the fact that all night, I’ll look that way. I used to suffer terribly from red cheeks when drinking, and now, I look sparkly eyed and prettier than I ever would have done with red wine down my dress and smeared mascara… I love getting ready for a night knowing that my sobriety will make it all the better.

3. Ritual is key– popping open that bottle of wine as I got ready and feeling it course through my veins was a big part of my getting ready routine. I’d drink half the bottle, and wobble out of the house ready for a night on the tiles. Now, I turn up my music, dance round the house getting ready and make myself a sober treat drink to get ready with. It gets me in the mood just as well, if not better, and I turn up to the party ready to have a good time, without a drop of alcohol in my system. 

4. Find your sober drink of choice- very closely linked to the above is the importance of finding a non-alcoholic drink that, to you, signals down time. When we get sober, we discover that we were marking time for ourselves by opening that bottle, be it from a long day at work, after the kids have gone to bed or before we have to spend the evening working a room at an event we don’t really want to go to. Whilst tea has been a great ‘me time’ drink, finding a sober drink that signals fun and social time has been crucial to me. I opt for soda water, ice and tonne of lime, and love the feeling when I first take that sip. I’ve started to associate it with fun and socialising, so get a mini boost when I drink it, anticipating the night ahead. 

5. Check in on how you’re feeling- some nights, you have to go to a social event that you really don’t want to. Such is life. Something that’s really helped me is having a little word with myself before I go, and working out why it is Im going. Is it to please someone else? Social obligation? Crucial work networking? A friend’s birthday that you’re just not in the mood for? If my heart really isn’t in it (which let’s face it, happens often when we don’t see every social occasion as an excuse to down the Pinot), I set myself an objective. I’ll just go for 2-3 hours to show my face, speak to the people I need to speak to and then slip away. Having a small goal like that helps me loads. Usually, I enjoy myself more than expected and stay. But if I’m not, I leave. More often than not people don’t mind, or (much to my ego’s horror) even notice. Knowing I can escape home to a book and a bath really helps me get through the tougher events. Give yourself a get-out clause, there’s no harm in that. 

6. If you feel at risk of drinking, don’t go– If I examine my relapses, deep down, I knew I was going to drink before I did. If I’d been honest with myself, I wouldn’t have gone out. I’d have protected my precious sobriety by staying in. NOTHING is more important than staying sober. The world will wait for you. People who might be offended by your absence will forgive you. Being honest with myself is really important, as it’s helped me avoid impulses to drink up to this point.

7. Nobody cares what’s in your glass– I hear a lot of sober people say this when I was trying to get sober, but it’s true. At big social events in early sobriety, I was constantly on edge about being asked why I was clutching a diet coke, but more often than not, people didn’t. I’ve learnt with time that there are some occasions where being blatant about not drinking is fine, and others where it’s easier to not let on. When I’m at a work event where there’s more likely to be pressure to drink from people you don’t know and who don’t care about you, I always furnish myself with what looks like a G&T, or a non alcoholic beer if there’s one available. If people offer to buy my a round, I say I’ll have a soft drink on this one, and I’ll buy the next. That seems to work. Not once has anyone put any real pressure on me to drink. People might be inquisitive, but in my experience, they quickly forget you’re not drinking as they’re so focused on their own consumption. Or just don’t give a toss, because they have a normal relationship with alcohol…

8. Drinking isn’t All That– I still get pangs where I want to drink baaaaaadly. This is always before I go out, or watch a bottle of wine being opened at a restaurant. The anticipation feels way better than drinking would. I find that if I make it past the first drink or two, and settle into the occasion, the urge passes. Watching other people get drunk is GREAT for me because it reminds me drinking is not as fun as we’d have ourselves believe. Slurred words, memory loss, hangovers… It’s really overrated, as it turns out. 

9. Get into the spirit– I was talking to Sober Journalist recently about one of the key things I’ve found helps me enjoy my sober social life. I fully enter into the spirit of being drunk, whilst staying sober. This is a little tricky to explain. Essentially, I match my energy to the rest of the room- so if people are giggly and silly and drunk, I get swept up in that and am giggly and silly too. If people are opening up and pouring their deepest darkest secrets, I get into the spirit of intimacy and share what I feel comfortable with, or empathise with them. When we’re in a nightclub, I make myself lose all inhibitions and dance like crazy, without the alcohol. This is easier said than done, but if you just commit to doing yourself and lose yourself in the music, it is GREAT. One of my fears when getting sober was ‘people won’t think I’m fun anymore.’ Well guess what, I am MORE fun now, because I’m not drained by wine, sneaking off to throw up or collapsing on the floor. 

10. If you’re bored, leave– Some nights just aren’t that fun, an alcohol wouldn’t have improved them. Cut your losses and get outta there. 

11. Caffeine is my friend- I’ve been on some looooomg clubbing nights recently. Like out until 5am. On these, I’ve made it through because the music and company was great and I was enjoying myself, but I’ve got to say, without an emergency espresso or Red Bull, I might not have done. Yes, it’s not ideal to drink a can of Red Bull (although the sugar free version makes me feel less guilty!), but if it’s between drinking that or eternally gong to bed at midnight and missing out on some great times with my friends, I choose the latter. 

12. Being sober has opened up my social life- One of the things that made me realise my drinking was a problem was the fact that at some point, I changed from wanting to go out and socialise to drink, to wanting to drink alone. Alone, I could get drunk in the safety of my own home without worrying about getting too drunk in front of other people, getting home safely or collapsing in an embarrassing fashion. Now I’m sober, I go out all the time, I have energy, I have a new found excitement for life and because i’m rocking aforementioned sober tiara, I want to get out and show people that you can be fun and happy sober. I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve done so far this year if I was drinking. Amen to that!

13. Be true to yourself- I’m not a natural partier. I’m a bookworm, someone who needs rest and solitude. But if I pick my moment right, I LOVE going out til the sun comes up. I live and work in an environment where I could (and often used to be) out every night. Now, I pick my moments, not forcing myself to do things that will make me uncomfortable. I was recently invited to an all night techno rave. My response: NO F**KING WAY. I wouldn’t enjoy that in the slightest drunk, so the idea of doing it with all my faculties intact is horrific. Likewise going to a Jazz show. Just not my bag. I’ve forced myself to say no when I know it’s the best decision for me, and it’s so empowering. 

I could keep on writing forever, but I’m on my way out to a music festival in the pouring rain. Ahhh British Summer Time!

Happy Sunday all 🙂

First Sober Holiday

6 Aug

I stand before you today as a graduate of my FIRST SOBER HOLIDAY. I bloody did it. And it was wonderful.

I cannot express the joy I felt every day on that break. I was in the most beautiful surroundings, with some fantastic friends, and I was PRESENT to enjoy it. 

The last two holidays I went on cemented my knowledge that I had a drink problem. I was taking deceptive to whole new levels, sneaking red wine into diet coke at lunch time, sneakily calling reception to refill the mini bar, disappearing for hours to drink alone on the beach, trying to stay sober-looking enough to have dinner in some sort of respectable state. It was grim. And I’d mark the end of each holiday by drinking a bottle (or more) of wine alone when I arrived back, putting off reality.

This time, there was none of that. And there was ALOT of drinking going on around me. Prosecco on the train to the airport, wine on the plane, endless sitting outside beautiful bars, beers on the balcony, a night out til 5am clubbing fuelled by jagar bombs. I sparkling watered/diet coked/espressoed it through and had the time of my life. 

All of it was wonderful because of being sober, not in spite of. 

Yes I had pangs, but nothing I’d ever want to act on, because at almost 7 months sober, I’m on a roll I never want to break. On the best days, I feel calm, in control and thrilled to be alive. That holiday was made up of day after day of feeling the best bits of sobriety. No more shame, no more deception, no more nausea that only a drink can fix, just sunshine, laughter and serenity.

This time last year, I was at the beginning of my first attempt of Belle’s 100 Day Challenge and really struggling. Sobriety takes time and work, but it really is achievable. I never thought I’d make it to where I am now, so if you’re struggling or new to trying to sobriety, have faith that it’s possible. 

HAPPY WEDNESDAY!

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