Since ditching the booze 5 years, almost 8 months ago, I am proud of my achievements.
I’ve done 250 episodes of the Alcohol Free Life podcast, with incredible guests, I’ve given two TEDx talks, I run the community The Sober Club, a non judgmental platform for the sober and sober curious who want to focus on wellbeing, I host retreats, have trained and work as a sobriety wellbeing coach, (also trained in EFT / NLP / Matrix / Family Constellations, and now train others to become Sober 360 coaches, I’ve also written Happy Healthy Sober, a book I’m very proud of. It’s a lot right? I am proud of that stuff, but it didn’t all just happen because I wanted a new career, far from it, sharing the joy of sobriety has become a new obsession for me, but it wasn’t plain sailing at the beginning.
I wanted to share some of insights and incredible lessons that have come my way since I embarked on my journey of sobriety. It’s been quite the rollercoaster, filled with twists, turns, and breathtaking views.
So, here are some gems of wisdom that I’ve uncovered, some of the stones, and hidden treasures along the path:
Insight 1: The early days can be really tough.
If you are not clinically dependent, physically the discomfort can ease fairly quickly, I felt a bit headachy for a few days, sleep was terrible – that was a shocker, but above all it’s the mental anguish. The constant chatter in your brain, the voice that tells you, ‘This is too hard, you can’t do this, what will everyone else think, you’ll never manage this even for 30 days’…
Its been the neural pathway that’s been furrowed for, in my case years, and boy was it stubborn. I learnt that it was important to try and quiet that voice, talk back to that inner critic, and say …’.I am just curious as to how it might feel when I am free from this trap’. I now highly recommend curiosity!!
I felt fragile and disconnected back then. I was an emotional wreck, crying at everything, (I still do in fairness, but now its more likely to be tears of joy, or gratitude for being by the sea, or whatever is inspiring me)
Insight 2 : The Brain chemistry is out of whack and the basics are what support it.
I literally forgot everything I knew, when I quit booze, I’ve always taken supplements and eaten well, but it all went to pot, I felt sorry for myself, and forgot my own stuff, eventually by about week 3, way too late, I rang a nutritionist friend who told me to get a grip, and went back onto proper food, and some great supplements to support it all. I’ve since done a huge amount of training and research on this, and now with my 1-1 clients we go over their diet, their supplements and their lifestyle ‘basics’. The basics for everyone are:
Eat properly, no fasting, protein with every meal, (a few nuts are better than nothing), and everyone needs good supplements,
I highly recommend the Clive de Carle Magnesium Blend (gamer changer for sleep, anxiety, headaches, mood swings, hiccups et al) Most of us need Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and if you’re menopausal Iodine is incredible (message me for more info on that) Please use this link for anything you buy from Clives site, and a bit gets contributed to our sober club, so thank you if you’re willing!
Don’t skip this step, if you start the good nutrition and the supplements early on it really helps
Insight 3 : Shame can rear its ugly head.
In addition to feeling very emotional, because lets face it you have to ‘feel all the feels’, life was somehow easier when you just numb it all out, (not really but that’s how we perceive it) but in addition, for me, shame reared its low vibrational ugly head. I felt huge embarrassment and shame about what I’d done for years. Previously, I’d have just defended my own habit, but when I quit I had to own it. Acknowledging my own addiction was challenging, partly because it felt like a huge responsibility and also because I wanted to shield others from pain. Of course, the antidote to shame is vulnerability and honesty, even when those conversations are tough.
I found all the terms around quitting awkward too, I had and never would label myself an alcoholic, I used the term ‘alcohol free’, but the word Sober and Sobriety felt awkward back then, its become so much more acceptable now and authors like Catherine Gray have helped, as she says The word sober needs a rebrand, her book is ‘Sunshine warm sober’, instead of ‘stone cold sober’ a phrase that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Insight 4: At some point forgiveness will need to come in.
Once we start to look back at what has happened in the past, it can literally blindside us, the weight of our guilt and shame feels too much, I must stress that the early months are NOT the time to deal with this, maybe there are ‘amends’ to be made, but not at the beginning of the journey, when what we need to do is forgive ourself. None of us can change what happened, or what we did, but we can change now. We can look forward, leave the baggage behind
Being able to forgive ourselves is key. I also think we must forgive ourselves for becoming addicted in the first place, it’s the alcohol that’s addictive, its not our lack of willpower or addictive personality that’s to blame, Its the societal norm, alcohol is everywhere, from celebrations to commiserations and everywhere in between. Our culture and society would have us all drink, a lot, and go to great pains to ensure that we continue to drink, it drives me bonkers that doctors will recommend having an alcohol free day – How about, ‘life is better without, have none!’ I’ve shared the ACE (adverse childhood experiences) study, if you score 3 or more you’re likely to have an addiction in later life, but the answer to that isn’t, duh blame the parents, Its that lovely phrase…
‘Its not your fault, but it is your responsibility’. Once we can see it, we can deal with it and take back control. None of us are perfect, my book and website are called ‘imperfectly natural’, glad I landed on that, we can all embrace our imperfections. Check out the Family Constellations we run, they can be very powerful, perhaps you can be the one to break the cycle.
Insight 5: When you focus only on what you’re gaining, and become more resilient.
Never use the phrase ‘giving up’, there is nothing to give up, What we can do is focus on what we will be gaining. As soon as I caught sight of a potentially better life without the booze, I was able to find enough of flame within me to keep me going, a flame that can extinguish doubts and fears. Slowly it started to feel like it might become possible for me. Before I quit I could only have imagined that at best I might be able to just ‘manage’ living without alcohol, but I could only imagine a bleak existence, that’s how it is if you focus on the lack. But to think of missing out in this instance is insanity, Alcohol is toxic, there is nothing to give up! Feeling happy and well felt like a distant destination, but every step brings you closer. To put it poetically, ‘The beauty of reaching that peak lies not just in the view, but in realizing how truly deserving you are.’ It took me a good long time but I started to feel a little glimmer of excitement, that I’d overcome this addiction, I’d get free.
When you ditch the booze, you get more clarity and more resilience.
5.8 years on, I am free, I’m not ‘recovering’, I’m recovered, (that will spark arguments if you are from a 12 step background, but its absolutely my truth)
Insight 6: Addiction’s Invisible Face.
I became very good at playing a role, when I was drinking. I seemed completely fine, Not all battles are visible on the surface. Addiction isn’t always a dishevelled appearance or run-ins with the law. My struggle was internal, a storm beneath calm waters. No-one else knew I had an issue, I rocked up to work, I never drove when I’d been drinking. None of us know what its like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes do we,? I had to acknowledge it myself first, I had to validate my own experience,
Sharing what is going on with someone else is crucial, I told Clare Pooley, (whose book The Sober Diaries kickstarted it all for me) bless her, I needed that support.
I didn’t share it with my family in the early weeks, though God knows they must have wondered about the quit lit book orders flying through the door from amazon, I’m glad I didn’t, because while my husband was well meaning, it wasn’t his experience, he had an ‘off switch’ so if I’d have shared with him exactly how raw and emotional I was feeling, he would probably have said, ‘Oh but you’ve done 3 weeks, that’s great, you can just have one now!
Share how you are feeling, don’t hide, but share it with someone who gets it
Join us in The Sober Club; You get an online course Get the Buzz without the booze, a whole library of inspirational content, regular zoom meet ups and a truly supportive non judgemental private group to ‘cheerlead you’
Insight 7: Empowerment Through Knowledge.
Talking of quit lit books, I do think immersing yourself in knowledge and inspiration is a game changer. I delved into the science and logic of it all, I really needed to learn about alcohol. I’d had so many years when I thought that I was the problem, but had not realised that alcohol is a toxic addictive substance with zero benefits. But the more I learned, the more I realized change was necessary. Knowledge can be the catalyst for transformation. I do however think its critical to also have the motivation, so in addition to the logic books, I read memoirs, and books about how wonderful sobriety is – that’s what made the biggest difference, catching sight of that happier life. Here are some recommendations
Insight 8: There are many shades of grey, none of them sexy!
There are many paths beyond the traditional AA approach. I had no idea 6 years ago that anyone else was like me, society has led us to believe that there are two types of drinkers, those at rock bottom, for whom 12 step programmes are often the only recommendation, or rehab, and there is everyone else, happy social drinkers, who if they report being hungover are just encouraged to drink more water
We now know it’s a spectrum, many shades of grey, at least 50, and none of them sexy. Jolene park coined the phrase Grey Area Drinkers in her TEDx talk and its powerful, it helps us to see that it’s a spectrum, and many people are some way down that booze elevator but we do not have to wait till we hit rock bottom to get off. Finding this out, and starting to realise that there were many others who also hadn’t hit the bottom, yet had chosen to quit, was so empowering for me, suddenly I didn’t feel alone.
Insight 9: Trusting Intuition and recognising that our thoughts create our reality.
I had to become better at trusting my intuition, for so many years I had listened to that voice in my head that said, ‘Go on have another’, and given nowhere near enough attention to the small quite voice of conscience, that voice that spoke to me at 3 am, that seemed to literally give me a nudge… ‘What are you doing? Please take care of yourself!‘ When we stop drinking we can get more in tune with our intuition and it can guide us toward transformation. Sometimes, thoughts act as arrows pointing us toward a new direction.
I had to start noticing my thoughts, and being aware of them, even the not so nice ones. I’ve since done lots of work around how our thoughts create our reality and shape our future. We all need to become ‘thought detectives’, we need to challenge the thoughts that come in, and ask if they are true?. I now choose my thoughts wisely. Of course the negative ones come in, but I notice, and try and reframe them. I’ve borrowed the mantra from one of my dear friends and author of Live Life Love Life, and A Wonderful world for all, Sue Stone, she says, repeat regularly, ‘I love life…and life loves me!’ We can manifest the future we want.
Insight 10: We need Patience in Change.
Things don’t change especially quickly…. I felt very frustrated, I had literally expected to drop two stone, sleep well, look amazing and never feel anxious after two weeks off the booze. Sadly after years of drinking, its not that simple. Change takes time to fully embrace. Awareness builds, eventually leading to a transformative eruption. Accepting oneself as a non-drinker is a gradual process. Stuff needs to shift physically and emotionally, we need patience, baby steps. We do however get stronger. I started to document the little things that were changing, I encourage clients now to write down 5 blessings, not obvious stuff, tiny things that are getting better, or feel different because of not drinking Over time the little ‘moments’ start to build, I like to call them bright spots, or I’ve heard them described as ‘glimmers’. I used to be that horrible impatient person who was grouchy if a nice tea shop didn’t also serve wine, I now savour the vintage tea cups and practice gratitude.
Insight 11: Social Pressure doesn’t have to be a problem.
I didn’t tell anyone for the first few months, so I went about my life as before, not everyone does this, its up to you, but I carried on as per normal. I didn’t even especially prep ahead which wasn’t a great idea, but the truth was at gatherings, people hardly noticed if I chose not to drink. Thats because I didn’t make a big deal of it, I just asked for whatever drink I wanted, in a wine glass, On one occasion a glass of alcohol was poured for me, I didn’t say anything,I just didn’t drink it, and went and got some water, no one noticed. The pressure I had felt was self-imposed. I learned to ease my anxiety and truly enjoy social events. I don’t deny people can come up against sober shamers, but often if you’re solid in your decision, if you’re authentic, people barely notice and often don’t comment,
Feeling fearful of socialising is often a number one fear of early days sobriety, it doesn’t have to be. I do make lots of recommendations in The Sober Club for prepping ahead and how to deal with tricky social gatherings.
Insight 12: Stepping into a new identity.
Embracing your new identity takes time, but it also strengthens the connections that truly matter. I really wasn’t sure who I was to start with, the loud party gal seemed to have gone, the impatient grumpy one seemed to have left too, my anxiety was less but I felt very ungrounded, it takes a while, I now know that by being connected, getting in touch with those emotions really helps, and what underpins it all is selfcare. As I slowly began to take care of myself I started to discover who I was, I started to get back to the real me, I’ve never met anyone who liked themselves more when they were drinking! What always underpins addiction is that lack of self esteem – the self love doesn’t come instantly, its built very slowly for me, connection and having cheer leaders really helps!
Insight 13: Cravings as Emotional Signals and the Fading Effect Bias.
Cravings are deeper than mere thirst. If I had a ‘craving’ it wasn’t really for toxic liquid, it was for all the associations I had been brainwashed into thinking alcohol created, the confidence, the laughter, the glamour, the fun. The cravings, when they came, were really a yearning for emotional change. It was about wanting to feel different , wanting to be able to embrace all emotions. I did get the fading effect bias, the looking back with rose coloured specs, ‘oh wouldn’t it be nice’….but no, the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, going back to drinking would not in fact, solve anything.
Insight 14: Ditching the booze is the best parenting hack.
Feeling all emotions fully became a powerful challenge for me, especially having to face my own parenting and interactions with my kids. I was able to better understand their sensitivities and handle their emotional outbursts, as I became more aware of my own. I found I had more empathy, more patience, more time, and of course I was a much better role model for my teenagers! One of the highlights of ditching the booze was knowing I was fully present, I got a call at midnight to pick up my son, and was delighted to jump in the car, (a bittersweet victory becoming a taxi driver), but how cool to be sober and have that sense of freedom. My only regret is not doing this when the kids were younger.
Insight 15: A new realisation of what Joy and gratitude is.
The whole lie we’ve been sold about alcohol making us cheerful is nonsense, Alcohol numbs both negative and positive feelings. Eventually everything flattens out, and its hard to properly feel anything much. Sobriety let me rediscover authentic happiness. You’ve heard me say on the podcast, I became aware of a feeling of contentment, I barely recognised what that feeling was, the word ‘joy’ popped up, and I’d not considered that word since worshipping in a church many years ago, even then it didn’t seem real to me. But alcohol does steal your joy, and being sober enables you to find that sense of authenticity and happiness, not always ‘mega high’ and bouncing off the walls, its more a feeling of being centered, despite lifes ups and downs.
I’ve learnt too that gratitude is everything, and there is always something to be grateful for, by practicing gratitude it will bring us more to feel grateful for. When I had crap days, I forced myself to go and write a list of what I did appreciate, it helped.
Insight 16: Prioritizing Selfcare.
I came to learn, the hard way that self care isn’t selfish, its essential. I used to think drinking a large Sauvignon was my selfcare, my reward after a long day, I now realise that was self harm. I began to introduce walks in nature, journalling, making good food just for myself, taking time to walk by the sea, I became better at prioritising my needs. it’s acknowledging our worthiness and nurturing our resilience.
I now literally insist that my clients focus on their selfcare, ‘Extreme Selfcare’ a term coined by coach Cheryl Richardson, especially in the early weeks, nothing is more important than you getting well again. Its difficult for ‘people pleasers’, this may be the first time you have had to focus on you, and your wellbeing.
Insight 17: Going within.
In addition to taking time out for selfcare, I began to realise the importance of going within. Despite being a Hay House author and presenter, interviewing every meditation and self help Guru going, I had never been able to meditate myself, I just couldn’t sit in stillness. It took only a short time for me to realise that was because I wasn’t authentic then, alcohol was lowering my vibration and sitting in silence, where potentially the truth might come flying in, was just too uncomfortable. I learnt to turn off my phone first thing (or rather don’t switch it on) till I’d gone within for at least twenty minutes, whether for you that’s meditation, hypnosis, journalling or walking in nature, it doesn’t matter, just do it before you encounter the outside world, no radio, phones, even conversations ideally, till you’ve checked in with how you feel.
I do now meditate, I do now trust myself to be still, that’s a huge shift!
Insight 18 Finding creativity and purpose and having more time.
I had no idea just how much time I wasted on drinking, until I was no longer doing that! It took so much brain space, planning to get the drink, drinking, recovering from drinking,. When you start to feel better you have more time, and that can be dangerous for some. I went back to some creative pursuits that I wanted to do just for me. Some of my clients have gone back to old hobbies they loved as a kid, others have just become curious as to how best to fill their time. Some people find a whole new sense of purpose and direction. For me since ditching the booze I have realised that its absolutely my purpose to communicate with as many people as possible just how freakin’ fantastic life without the booze is!
Insight 19: The best ‘ageing gracefully’ secret ever!
None of us are delighted as we age, but before ditching the booze, as someone working in the media, I was literally in denial and terrified, I didn’t like the idea of looking older, I was quite bloated, looking a bit grey round the gills, I didn’t like the lines on my face, the dryness of my skin, I was fearful of everything ‘going south’, illness coming in, energy depleting, everything felt a bit s**t.
I didn’t want to go the botox, surgery route, I hated vigorous boot camp style exercise, and didn’t fancy starving myself to drop a few pounds. Since stopping drinking I have a whole new attitude, I think I look younger, now perhaps I don’t, (!) maybe its just that I’ve toned up a bit, but most definitely my skin is clearer, I have better eyesight, who knew! Sober hair, (yep better condition) and masses more energy. If none of that is true, and you think I look terrible, the great news is… I don’t care,- I like myself a lot more now!
Truly ditching the booze is the best anti ageing hack ever. You genuinely cop a bit of anti ageing magic. Listen to my podcast episode with Dr Anya Topiwala on Alcohol and ageing, its very hard hitting!
Insight 20: Kindness is good for you.
I was a fan of Dr David Hamiltons work and his book Why Kindness is good for you, long before I stopped drinking, I knew the ‘science’ around doing something for others, around random acts of kindness and the fact that the person being kind gets an even bigger dopamine hit than the reciever….but I hadn’t properly embodied it. It was only once I started to feel more compassion for others that I really began to see the power of kindness. I genuinely believe that sober people are more kind, we are nicer….really! Imagine if the world was choc full of people who wanted to see you succeed, who were cheering you on, to reach your goals, to live your best life, free from addiction, no competition or envy, just support and encouragment. – Thats the Sober Community.
Insight 21: It’s way more than just a health fad.
Years ago, I may have lumped going alcohol free in with doing a juice challenge, being vegan for a month, rocking up to a hardcore exercise regime. Its not, it’s the biggest most important decision you will EVER make, its not just a ‘health fad’ a wellbeing trend, its underpins Everything!
Don’t underestimate the power of choosing to step free from the alcohol trap.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving, every year gets better. I love the fact that sober heroes and celebs like Anthony Hopkins, Elton John, et al regularly wax lyrical about their ‘soberversary’ it means so much.
At 2000 days sober, I’ve finally become who I am meant to be, its been challenging and miraculous, revealing life’s intricate tapestry. As I say in my book happy healthy sober, ditching the booze means you can finally see life in glorious technicolour.