Our constant search for enlightening “recovery tales” has finally taken us across the border to Manchester.
And more specifically, to Julia, a sober, 40-something mum of two.
I found Julia on Instagram, wended my way to her blog and immediately contacted her to see if she’d like to share her words with us. She said yes, and I’m really delighted to be able to publish her entertaining piece on changing ones mindset about alcohol.
You’ve all heard of the 12 Steps, right?
Well… here are five more, courtesy of our new Mancunian friend!
How I changed my mindset about alcohol
Originally published August 23rd 2018
How did I change my mindset about alcohol?
The million dollar question. Because my blogs are generally pretty positive about sobriety, I‘ve been asked that quite a few times. How did you do it? How did I get from the cycle of drinking, feeling crap because of drinking, drinking again to feel better, feeling like drinking was one of the few good things in my life so why the hell would I give that up?
From my entire social world revolving around alcohol, from it being my treat, my relaxation, my comfort blanket, my excitement, my primary method of connecting with others. My go-to for all occasions. How did I get from that person, who I most definitely was, to Mrs ‘woo hoo sobriety is awesome!’?
It’s a question I really struggle to answer. It really is a kind of miracle that my mindset did change, and trying to explain how it happened is like trying to catch smoke with my hands, it slips away from me just when I think I’ve pinned it down. I would so love to take how I’m feeling now and magically transmit it to anyone who is struggling in the early days though, so I will try my best to explain. I do love a list, so here we go:
Although I never had a ‘rock bottom’ in terms of my marriage falling apart, my children‘s welfare being affected, being in trouble at work etc (thank god!), I did have a rock bottom in terms of the effect booze was having on my mental health. I had tried and tried and tried to find a balance between drinking as much as I wanted (loads!) and drinking as much as I could without it negatively impacting my life (not anywhere near as much). God, I had tried, I was worn out with the trying. And I was just so fucking done with it. I didn’t, on day one, think for a second that by choosing total abstinence from alcohol I was choosing an awesome new life.
To be quite honest I thought it would be a bit shit. But I accepted, completely and totally, for the first time that I was incapable, 100%, no arguments, totally and utterly incapable of drinking ‘normally’.
It didn’t matter how hard I worked at it, I could no more do that than I could learn to fly like a bird or breathe underwater. I don’t tend to use the term alcoholic about myself although as time goes on I am losing my fear of it. But I am a problem drinker no question. I cannot drink alcohol without it causing problems for my life that I am no longer willing to put up with. So there’s no point in thinking ‘if only I could just be a normal drinker’ because I know that I can’t and I never will be again. So the choice is clear – stop drinking completely or fuck my life up royally. And there was such freedom and relief in that acceptance believe me. I could stop trying, stop fighting, stop trying to achieve the impossible.
In AA they talk about the moment of surrender – when you stop trying to control the uncontrollable.
It is an essential part of the process and it actually feels really good. Just let it go.
2. Being very, very careful about my thoughts.
What we think about creates our life.
Our thoughts become our actions and words and they shape every aspect of our lives.
But we are not our thoughts and we are not our emotions – we can observe both and it is that awareness, the calm observer, we need to access.
At first, this is bloody hard. The ‘I just want a fucking DRINK’ thoughts are loud and persistent. But, as my lovely friend Kate from Love Sober says, you have to starve those thoughts of oxygen until they fucking die. Those thoughts are not you, they are your addicted brain and they do NOT have your best interests at heart.
For me, it helped hugely to use a mental trick I learned on Soberistas which is referred to as ‘addict head’ or the ‘wine witch’. I see those thoughts as an external, malevolent entity, I even picture her sometimes, a female version of Father Jack from Father Ted, drunken me in 20 years, smelly, unkempt, abusive, alone shouting ‘drink, drink, DRINK’, and I tell her ‘not today thanks’ (or something much less polite) and go about my business. In the early weeks, I had to do that a LOT. Like every ten minutes. But the brain is a living thing, it can be changed. Our thoughts actually change the structure of our brains. That’s just amazing if you think about it. By repetitively refusing to give your wine witch or whatever you want to call it any quarter at all you are creating new neural pathways in your brain and killing off the addiction.
Now it’s only once in a blue moon she even bothers to pipe up and when she does I just swat her away like an annoying fly. I’m also very careful about how I think about alcohol. I do not think ever about ‘a delicious chilled glass of crisp white wine’ – that’s all window dressing, it’s like marketing booze to myself and why would I do that for goodness sake? If thoughts like that ever creep in I take immediate action and replace them with thoughts of cheap, warm, oily white wine, the type that’s bright yellow and abrasive on the throat. I think about throwing up that type of wine the next day, which I’ve done so many times. There, that’s done it!
3. Reading and learning
Immersing myself in a world of positive sobriety.
It was the stigma attached to the idea of being a problem drinker, an alcoholic – that terrifying concept – that kept me drinking way past the point where it stopped being fun really, ever. And when I realised there was another way, an empowered, choice-driven, happy way to be sober, I grabbed it with both hands. I pretty much lived on Soberistas my first year and made so many incredible sober friends. I’ve also read tons of quit lit, novels about drinkers and other blogs. Anything and everything that reinforces the message – drinking bad (for everyone to a greater or lesser extent, not just the unfortunate few), sobriety awesome. My top tips are the Classic Blogs on Soberistas, other blogs Hip Sobriety and Laura Mckowen, Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind and William Porter’s Alcohol Explained.
This collection of writing introduced me to a world where it’s possible to be sober AND happy (I know, who knew?!) and also taught me so much about how alcohol affects the body and brought me to the realisation that there is nothing wrong with me because I became addicted to alcohol. I became addicted to alcohol because it’s an addictive drug and I drank a lot of it, end of. And I didn’t stop there, I’ve been introduced to a whole new world of mental wellbeing through my sobriety reading and the friends I’ve made.
I did a free online course called the Science of Happiness with edX and I’m currently doing another one on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. I love the Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey free 21-day meditation experiences. I’m reading widely now about how to foster mental well-being in general. I’m doing everything I can to grow the seed of positive sobriety and wellness that This Naked Mind planted in my mind. I’m growing as a person as a result and it’s awesome, it’s like a positive cycle of change has been unleashed by my sobriety which is in itself addictive because it feels really good.
4. I honour the preference
I learned this concept on the webinar about alcohol advertising Lucy Rocca [Ed: Founder of Soberistas] and Carrie Carlisle did on Soberistas last year. When I feel like I want a drink I think ‘why?’ and then find another way to honour that preference.
Is it to feel sophisticated and grown up? I get my nails done, have a haircut or buy clothes. Is it to feel relaxed? I have a bath, slob out in front of Netflix or go to bed early.
Is it to feel indulged? I have a special food treat like a little posh box of choccies all to myself. Is it because I need what Tommy Rosen on the Recovery 2.0 website calls impact (and I think you’ll all know what I mean by that)? I go for a run. Is it because I need to tune out the incessant noise of the kids and have just five minutes to myself before I go insane? If OH is around I take that time to myself, just before Christmas I actually said the words to him ‘sod this I‘m going upstairs to meditate for half an hour’. Never thought I’d see the day! If he’s not it’s just deep breaths and more chocolate! You get the picture. It’s actually fun after a while figuring out alternative ways to get the feeling I’m after. And sometimes the only thing to do is to sit with discomfort, but actually learning that is a really helpful skill. I can now run 13 miles because of learning how to do that.
5. I am careful about triggers
I know what triggers me and I plan ahead. On Wednesdays, my parents look after the girls while I work from home and I find that stressful, plus my mum always brings a bottle of wine with her as we all have tea together. So I always make sure I have my favourite, strongest ginger beer in (Fevertree, if you’re wondering). Over Christmas Facebook started to make me feel a fair bit of FOMO about boozy parties etc. I deleted the app off my phone and avoided it until silly season was over. I also changed my settings on Facebook to remove all alcohol advertising (unsurprisingly they had ’drinking’ down as one of the things I was interested in!). It doesn’t bother me now but in the early days, I didn’t watch TV with adverts or programmes where drinking is glamorised. I plan ahead massively for nights out with drinkers and holidays, even now. Plan, plan, plan.
And that’s it really.
My five steps!
If you are wanting a magic switch, someone to wave a wand and make you not want to drink anymore, then I’m afraid you will be very disappointed. It is still hard work, you have to give it your absolute all. But you have to give your all to the right things. Everyone who struggles with their relationship with alcohol has given it their all, and then some and then some, I know how exhausting and depleting it is trying to control problem drinking.
I’m certainly not accusing anyone of being lazy. You are trying to control the uncontrollable and what could be more exhausting than that? But once the acceptance is there that you are done with booze, that there is no going back, then you can give your all to building your sober life, and there you are freeing yourself from that awful, impossible cycle and giving your all to something you can control. And that’s when the miracles start to happen.
About our author, Julia.
Julia is a 40 something mum of two in Manchester, sober since February 2017, loving sober life and on a mission to get alcohol free living a much needed image update! A bit sweary and prone to the odd parenting whinge. Very slow runner, wannabe yogi, novice meditator, choir singer, Netflix binger. Flirting with low carb, gluten free and plant based food but still a sugar and coffee addict. Stays up too late and spends too much time on social media