Monday 25 June 2018

Filling the Hole

When you quit drinking it usually leaves a big hole. It certainly did for me.

So much of my life revolved around drinking - at parties, in restaurants and bars, and at home alone - that when I stopped, there was a huge... gap.

I've discovered that it is crucial to fill that gap with something else, ideally something that allows you to switch off, to get out of your head, the way that alcohol used to do.

My readers have found all sorts of ways of doing this - running, yoga, drawing, knitting, gardening, jewellery making, and much, much more. The crucial thing is that, whatever activity you pick, it keeps you in the moment. 

If you're in the early days of quitting, and you're really not sure how to fill the hole, then here's my advice: think back to when you were a teenager. What made your heart beat faster? How did you spend your spare time? What did you want to be when you 'grew up?'

Many people tell me that when they quit drinking they re-discovered long forgotten passions. I read a story about a lady who loved to ice-skate as a young girl, but stopped when she became an adult. She took it up again in middle age, and it's now her greatest joy in life.

Another lady told me that she was passionate about horses and riding. When she quit drinking she got back on a horse for the first time in twenty years. She can't believe she left it so long.

It is never too late to rekindle that fire. And, if you find the right thing, you'll discover that it gives you a much greater high than alcohol ever did. And without the hangover. Perhaps you'll even turn it into your new career....

My 'thing' as a teenager was words. Writing, reading, anything and everything. So, when I quit drinking, that's what I went back to. I set up this blog and started writing every day, for the first time in nearly thirty years. This blog led to my book - The Sober Diaries.

Then, as you may remember from a previous post, I applied to do a three month novel-writing course.

I've spent the last three months lost in a fictional world in my own head. It's been the most intense and mind-blowing experience. At times I've felt like I was going a little crazy. And apologies for not posting on here very much through that period.

But it's not just the writing that I've loved - it's the course itself.

There are fifteen of us in our group, and our ages range from twenty-three to around sixty. We come from very different backgrounds, have different careers and interests and are writing totally different novels, but we all have a shared passion.

I spent decades choosing companions by their ability to match me drink for drink. It's wonderful to have a diverse group of friends with something completely different in common.

I've loved spending two evenings a week discussing great literature and our own (not so great) attempts, rather than just exchanging idle gossip down the pub.

So, why not spend some of the money you've saved on not drinking doing an evening course? It'll keep your hands and mind busy, introduce you to a new social circle and may become your new passion.

Learn to make pots! Discover how a car engine works! Find out how to do your own decorating or plumbing.  The world is your oyster.

Do tell us what you're planning to do in the comments below.

I'm still posting information and inspiration daily on the SoberMummy Facebook page here. If you 'like' the page then Facebook will keep you updated.

Lots of love to you all!

SM x

Friday 15 June 2018

Sober Date Night

I was looking for a picture to illustrate this post, so I typed 'romantic dinner' into the Google search. Almost all the images that came up featured two glasses of wine. And that really illustrates the problem. At least this one has two empty glasses. 

I get lots of letters from people who worry that giving up drinking will ruin date night forever. 

This was one of my main worries too. I'd had so many wonderful, drunken evenings out with my husband over the years, in restaurants, bars and parties. I really wasn't sure whether I could do 'date night' sober, without being haunted by memories of better nights in the past.

Well please, please don't worry! There will be a tricky few months of re-adjustment, but sober romance is not only possible, but fabulous. 

Date night is particularly tricky if your partner still drinks. They're sad because they've lost a drinking buddy, and you're annoyed because have to sit and watch someone drinking all evening. Aaarrrghhh.

There are a few things you can do to make it easier:

Firstly, try and be a bit more inventive of what you do on a date night. 

We drinkers get very lazy about nights out. So long as they involve lots of booze, we don't really care, so it's generally all restaurants, bars and parties. 

In the early few months I really recommend avoiding spending hours at a restaurant or bar table. You just won't enjoy it. 

Why not go to a great movie instead? You'll be so engrossed that you won't even think about drinking. Or, splash out some of the money you've saved on theatre tickets, or a concert or gig. Go and see some stand up comedy - laughter is a great aphrodisiac.

You'll quite quickly find that not only is date night still fun, it's way more varied and interesting than it used to be!

Secondly, think about what you (and they) drink.

I discovered that date night is much easier and more romantic if you can drink roughly the same thing. What I mean is that if Mr SM has a mojito, I have a virgin mojito. If he has a beer, I'll have an alcohol-free beer, and so on. That way, both of us feel as if we're on the same wavelength. And we are!

If your partner still drinks and your biggest issue was, like mine, wine, then ask them to drink something else on date night for a while. Staring at a glass of wine all evening when you're not drinking it is no fun.

And finally, try not to romance the old days.

It's easy to look back and remember the times when you were both merrily drunk and laughing hysterically over some shared joke, and to forget all the drunken rows, the terrible hangovers and the festering misunderstandings caused by something said after a few too many,

Date night may take re-adjusting to, but it will, eventually, be better than ever and, crucially, your relationship will be way stronger because you will be a much nicer person to live with - more even tempered, energetic, understanding and happy.

So hurrah for sober romance, and hurrah for all of you!

If you have some of your own tips and advice for sober date nights, then please do leave them in the comments below. Thank you!

To find our more about the first year sober, read The Sober Diaries. Click here UK, here USA, here Australia.

Thank you so much to Feedspot for voting Mummy was a Secret Drinker one of the UK's top 10 alcohol blogs. Whoop whoop. To see the full list click here.

If you'd like more face-to-face help and advice, there are still some places on the October workshop in London which I'm hosting with World Without Wine. For more information click here.

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Grey Area Drinking

As a society, we are very black and white about alcohol addiction. The accepted view is that people fall into one of two categories: 'normal drinker' or 'an alcoholic.'

The science doesn't support this. Alcohol addiction, like any other addiction, is progressive. It's a spectrum of shades of grey (or gray, if you're reading this from the USA).

Medical professionals have, for many years, been moving away from talking about 'alcoholism' to referring to 'alcohol use disorder' which is a sliding scale. And, finally, it looks as if society is starting to catch up.

I first came across the expression 'Grey Area Drinking' in the fabulous TEDx talk by Jolene Park, and yesterday I found an article which I posted on the SoberMummy Facebook page titled 'Am I an Almost Alcoholic?'

There is more and more talk on social media and in the press about those of us who fall somewhere in between the neat categories of 'normal' and 'rock bottom.'

This issue is way more important that just semantics about terminology.

Firstly, the black and white view stops many of us acknowledging that we have a problem.

In my TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful, I tell the story of the evenings I spent Googling 'Am I an Alcoholic' and answering the resulting questionnaires. It would ask things like 'do you drink alone?' (no, I'm with the dog), and 'do you have blackouts?'

Some of those questions I'd answer 'yes' to, but many of them I'd answer 'no'. At which point I'd think 'phew, I'm okay then,' and carry on drinking, despite knowing, in my heart, that I had an issue.

The fear of being branded 'an alcoholic' stopped me from addressing my addiction for many years.

This black and white thinking perpetuates the shame of addiction. It enables the vast majority of people to think 'I'm alright, Jack,' and to look pityingly at those of us who aren't.

The reality is, however, that many, many people lie somewhere on that spectrum of dependency, even those who are only drinking one small glass of wine a day, if that glass is one they absolutely can't do without.

If we started seeing alcohol addiction as a spectrum of shades of grey, then more people would realise that they had a problem, and be encouraged to quit before they slid further down the slippery slope.

Because it is progressive. As with any other drug, your tolerance increases over time and your mind and body start to crave more and more.

The traditional view that you have to 'hit rock bottom' before you can quit is wrong and dangerous. The closer towards rock bottom you slide, the harder it is to stop.

By rock bottom, you're physically more dependant, your habits are more ingrained, and you feel more hopeless.

Once you've lost your job, your family and your home it's difficult to see what you have left to live for. Despair keeps you trapped in the downward spiral of addiction.

Instead of asking ourselves 'am I an alcoholic?' we should be asking questions like 'am I becoming dependant on booze? Is it having a negative impact on my life? Is it gradually becoming more of a problem?'

If your answer to those questions is 'yes', then climb off that slippery slide while it's still relatively easy to do so.

If you'd like to read the story of my first year without booze, The Sober Diaries, then click here (UK). The Kindle version is now back online in USA and Canada! Click here (USA), here (Canada or here (Australia).

There are still places available on the October workshop in London that I'm hosting with World Without Wine. For more information click here.

Love to you all!

SM x