We are almost halfway through July. For those who are doing Dry July or who have made a commitment to take a break from alcohol this year, the excitement and motivation can slowly fade away. When faced with challenges and temptation we often forget why we took the pledge.
To keep you motivated, we ask four individuals who mean a lot to Hello Sunday Morning to share their own personal journey for a healthier relationship with alcohol. Jill Stark, Will Gordon, Molly Stroud and Andy Moore share their before and after sobriety lifestyles, their physical and mental changes, their challenges and their struggles. Each experience is unique, but also relatable to us all. Consider this as a way to renew your vow!
What’s your before and after story?
Author, speaker, mental health advocate, and one of Hello Sunday Morning’s earliest friends.
Jill has written the following bestselling books: High Sobriety, Happy Never After and When You’re Not OK.
It was a particularly raucous party at my place that tipped me over the edge. That night, my drunken exploits were so epic I have very little recollection of what happened.
The next morning, I woke up wrapped in that familiar cloak of shame and regret. The hangxiety was so crippling, I could barely breathe. It was becoming a regular occurrence.
Sunday morning panic had become my default position. With every big night, my mental health took a hammering. Even after just one or two drinks, I’d feel flattened the next day.
That was just over a year ago. I haven’t had a drink since.
Sobriety has been one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done to manage my mental health. I feel calmer, happier and more in control than I have in a long time.
Those of you who read my first book High Sobriety, will know that my relationship with alcohol has been a tumultuous one since I was a teenager, growing up in Scotland’s booze-soaked culture. When it came out in 2013, I unwittingly became the poster girl for sobriety. I felt the pressure to present an image of sober serenity long after the book hit the shelves. Truth is, I was a much more mindful, moderate drinker – at first.
But as the years progressed, I found moderation increasingly a challenge.
Drinking was often a fast-track to ‘belonging’, for someone who spent too many years looking for external validation of her self-worth. On that hungover Sunday morning a year ago, I messaged my friends to fill in the blanks.
They told me I’d missed a great party. But I knew I was missing so much more. I was missing the chance to be present in my life. I was missing the joy that comes from cultivating deep emotional connections not built on booze. And more than anything, I was missing the chance to be the stronger, more authentic version of myself I knew I could be if I had the courage to swim against a social tide that tricks you into believing that belonging comes in a bottle.
They say that the quieter you become the more you can hear. For me, alcohol made a lot of noise. I used it to drown out those loud, messy feelings I didn’t want to face. Taking it away has been raw and confronting at times. But jeez, it’s been worth it.
Turning down the noise has allowed me to really listen to what’s underneath. There’s strength in that clarity. Being able to sit with myself – my whole self, flaws and all – is a work in progress but it’s more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.
I’m proud of who I am. Even the parts that feel broken and bruised. That’s not something I could have said a year ago. Sunday mornings are different now. I wouldn’t swap them for anything.
Our Northerner (UK) friend who is absolutely passionate about rugby, music and beer! Giving up any one of them is a big deal for him.
Here is his story:
Before I was hoisted on to the bar to down a ‘yard of ale’ on my 18th birthday I already had a well-established relationship with alcohol, and not all of it was positive. As I look back over the past three decades it was always there. I have always been described as the heart and soul of the party – always the guy who got the first round in and always the last man standing at the end of the night. I never really thought of my drinking as being an issue let alone a problem, but the signs were there. I just chose to ignore them.
I have often wondered if I chose my career or it chose me. After three years of heavy drinking at university, I graduated and fell into a job in the brewing industry. If there was ever a dream job this was it. Hospitality at marquee sporting events at Wembley, Lords, The Grand National and the Premier League, being paid to drink and watch sport. What’s not to love, right?
For many the arrival of children is the point in most people’s life where the responsibilities of parenthood kick in and lifestyle is changed to reflect new responsibilities and priorities. Sadly, I didn’t apply the brakes when I should have and ploughed on with my career in the drinks industry.
The decision to stop came about through a combination of factors. Healthwise, the hangovers were taking longer and longer to recover from, and I felt for the first time that alcohol was probably the main contributing factor to feelings of anxiety and depression. Thankfully, my family and friends stuck with me through the period where my drinking got heavier and at some point, tipped over in to being quite a big problem.
So, I left the drinks industry and stopped drinking.
It wasn’t planned and to be honest I wasn’t even sure how long I was stopping for. At first, I felt as if I was constantly explaining ‘why’ to everyone. It was as if the alcohol was an integral part of who I had become, and I struggled to put in words why I had taken this course of action. Initially, I explained that I was in training for a half marathon (which I was), but that came and went so I had to find a new approach.
The past two sober years I have focused much more on my health and wellbeing. I exercise regularly and have seen a step change in mental health as a result. It has also afforded me the opportunity to build stronger relationships with my family.
Socially, I still love going to rugby and going to gigs. Both still continue to be massive drinking occasions. I won’t say it hasn’t been without any challenges, however, I have learned how to enjoy these events sober and there isn’t the stress at the end of the night trying to find a taxi to get home.
Here is the truth about my sobriety journey; I’ve never really gotten to the pink cloud.
I have used the Instagram community as a huge part of my “recovery” and am so grateful to everyone on that platform who is sharing their journey, being vulnerable, recommending resources, and celebrating each other’s milestones.
But even with all of my perseverance, my determination to get back on whenever I fall off, and my intense pursuit of knowledge, I’ve never quite managed to get to the place that so many of them seem to arrive at in short order. That magical place in the journey where everything just comes together and becomes “so much better”.
People post about this constantly. Claiming to not miss a single thing about drinking alcohol. Claiming that everything is so much more enjoyable now that they do not drink and experience life with a clear and present mind.
I keep hoping I will get to the place where this is true for me too. Where dancing is wonderful. Sex is amazing. Socializing is bomb. Everything I once drank my way through is just so much more fun and rewarding. I have hoped and waited and tried all of the affirmations and positive thinking a girl could muster. Yet, in many situations, without alcohol, I still manage to feel awkward, out of place, like a giant stick-in-the-mud, and like I just want to go home.
The truth is, I’ve never really managed to get to that place where I’m comfortable enough in my skin to not miss booze.
The truth is, there are many occasions where I DO miss it.
There are many occasions where I miss the me I once was. The me I was with a buzz. The me who was the life of the party and could kick back and have a good time and make sure everyone around her had a good time too.
I miss fitting in.
I miss drunken sex. The loosened up, less self-conscious, who-cares-about-my-stretch-marks kind.
I miss dancing, parties of any sort, days at the beach. Dinner out. Game night. Patios. Backyard fires. Because while I still try to do these things, more often than not, without drinking, they just seem to fall flat. The world takes on a beige hue. Nothing is what it once was.
Waking up without a hangover is wonderful. Remembering the night before and not having to look for my phone, purse or wallet is fantastic. Saving a shit ton of money is a huge perk. Enjoying being present without the distraction of “when is it time to drink?” while hiking, shopping, having coffee, meandering through a new town, is beyond pleasant.
I am grateful for those things and they sustain me.
But there is a certain type of fun and inclusiveness I fear I may never find again. And I am still mourning that.
I am still waiting for the pink cloud to go floating by. Until then I white knuckle my way through many occasions and envy the ones who have already arrived.
CEO of Hello Sunday Morning
It’s now week five into the role and the question I am often asked is why join Hello Sunday Morning? What’s your story with alcohol?
The story really starts at the age of 25, when I moved to Hong Kong in 1995. I was young, starting a career in media, and enjoying the life as a single young man in a crazy 24-hour town. But then I was hit by a bolt from the blue.
I was diagnosed with cancer. After six months of treatment, I decided that I wanted to change the direction of my life. I started working for not-for-profits and I prioritised my personal health and personal development.
I did my first triathlon. I completed a Master of Public Health. I did all the things I thought would push me and make me a better person.
The one thing I didn’t tackle though, was alcohol. And if I am being perfectly honest, at the age of 26, tackling alcohol wasn’t even on the radar. I was a social drinker. What could be wrong with that? It wasn’t harming me. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to 2004 and I arrived in Australia. A new place, no social network and with my first child on the way. I needed to prove myself in a new country, so I threw myself into my career. I worked hard in a stressful job. And alcohol slowly started to creep into my life a little more.
Over the next seven or so years, work and my personal life became more stressful and alcohol became a bigger part of my life. While I didn’t think I was drinking any more than most people, I do know this: psychologically, alcohol had become a dominant part of my life. I was either thinking about wanting to drink or thinking about not wanting to drink. Either way, I was thinking about alcohol a lot.
Around 2011 this came to a head because I was diagnosed with severe depression. And I knew that alcohol was a big part of the reason why.
I knew I had to change my relationship with alcohol but struggled with tackling this over a number of years. I tried to do this on my own and I struggled with it. I had some short-term successes, but then quickly went back to normal habits. Then I felt guilty about not being able to change my drinking habits. Then I beat myself up for not being strong enough. And then I drank again.
It wasn’t until 2017 that things improved. My personal life changed, and I had the support of my wife to stop drinking. I was in an environment where drink wasn’t a part of the everyday. Because I desperately wanted to change, once the support was there, I did it fairly quickly.
I haven’t stopped drinking completely. I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine every two or three weeks. But I don’t think about it anymore. I don’t get to Thursday and think ‘well it’s almost the weekend, why not?’. It doesn’t dominate my thinking anymore and I feel free of the shackles that alcohol can bring. But it took me a long time. And today I feel so much better. In the last few years I have had to cope with many significant things that, with alcohol, would have knocked me down. Without alcohol, life is so much easier. And it was only really the support around me that allowed me to succeed. I couldn’t do it alone.
And that’s what Daybreak does. It’s a safe space for people to share their struggles. It’s a place for support and encouragement and not casting any judgement if you relapse. It’s a space where you feel normal, free of the stigma of not drinking. It’s where talking about changing your relationship with alcohol is normal.
That’s why I joined Hello Sunday Morning. Because you can’t do this alone. And I want to make sure anyone who wants to change their relationship with alcohol has the support and environment they need, to do it.