This week’s guest blog is from Leonie, one of the featured stars from Hello Sunday Morning’s ‘The Talk We Needed’ Campaign.

It’s life changing when I see how different I am as a woman  today, as mother, wife, friend and daughter, and apparently I am changing lives by living life out loud! I am enjoying my Friday nights much more without drowning my sorrows and I look forward to waking to a cup of tea, which is now my drink of choice. 

I am happiest to hear from people from out of nowhere who have heard my story, who would like to thank me for talking about my unhealthy relationship with booze. 

Even more taken aback when friends tell me that I have helped them to drink less or consider a break from alcohol because I spoke up. So I am making new connections and living the life that I truly desire.

It was from a deep sense of not being able to control my drinking that I felt like I was not worthy as a person.  Whether or not I felt like I needed to drink, I did so to feel like I was a better mother, or to fit in, or because I thought I deserved it after a typical busy week. Even during my pregnancies I did not abstain from drinking alcohol, reasoning that if my obstetrician was okay with it, then so was I.

Why was I finding myself calling Alcoholics Anonymous to make enquiries for ‘other people’, but could not see myself, even for looking. 

I often feel like I was making more of an issue about my drinking than anyone else was,  and the truth is that I was not drinking any more or less than the next person, but I knew that I must seek help for a problem that only I would realise after stopping, was bigger than what I realised, because I did not see that I had a choice.

I thought you were just destined to drink, drink lots, and do it often , usually behind closed doors , or think about it and plan for the next big night , usually when I could sleep it off the next day without having to front-up to friends, family or my kids. It would see me spiralling, mentally spinning and lost for words.  

I was sinking further into a pit that I was not familiar with. I was not aware, until I sought help, that I was experiencing a pretty intense mood disorder, not made much better by drinking alcohol. 

I wondered, when reflecting upon my relationship with alcohol, whether or not I would discuss mental Illness and I suppose the answer is clear, for me the two go hand in hand.  If it wasn’t for the alcohol dependence, I do not believe I would’ve met with many of those debilitating days of depression, finding myself lost, or finding myself locked away because the ceiling was caving in with panic, anxiety which I could only describe as impending disaster. You too, will know what I mean  if you have experienced a full-blown panic attack. 

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the high highs and the dreaded lows lower my insight into what made for a healthy lifestyle, or was the desire to numb, too great?

My weekends are much clearer now. I am more present, less selfish, less irritable, less moody and more inspired to find connection. I feel more ME … I am less inclined to please people, more inclined to listen to my own judgement, more inclined to play and spend the weekend hanging out with the kids, and planning for our fun Friday movie nights together, munching popcorn, and sipping lemonade. Compared to how I used to feel, when I did binge, I was designing the opposite life that I deserved or really craved. I thought that I was craving a normal lifestyle that many had, many did, yet when I looked around I didn’t see the desperate drinker that I had become. I thought that was normal. 

What I really desired was the freedom which I have only now that I know that I don’t need to crack open a beer the moment I walk through the door each Friday night. It doesn’t give me what I really crave which is ‘connection’.  I was living a disconnect with myself, the real me, the people that I love and the world around me. I never drank to enjoy the taste, when socialising with others; instead it was done in private mostly, with my children in the other room and my husband by my side ready to catch my glass before it hit the carpet. This is not what I wanted to model to my children, so that they too thought this was normal. I didn’t know that I had a choice to change!! 

Since giving the booze away, I feel as though Friday is much like every other night, as I am happier every day and I am less inclined to become mentally exhausted by the week’s end.  Life in general is less about the need to escape the rat race, as my mood is more stable and I am still within ‘balance’ and too excited to feel ‘pissy’… I am excited about relaxing into the weekend, without hesitation, without trying to prolong it, or make Friday night beers in front of the TV ; instead I’m more looking forward to parenting, or waking on Monday morning. 

I was just living life going through the paces, just coping with a mental illness, and consuming drinks meant that I was also digesting additional depression and anxiety each sip, swig, drink; it had become my medicine in a bottle, and I was reckless, misusing and not prepared to make better choices.  

I remember I would begin to be quite fun, flirty and frivolous … until I wasn’t. I could become quite fiery and flighty and not much fun to be around. In my sobriety I have found that I made some dangerous choices on boozy nights, and my story is not different to the next person. I am not different to you; I drank to take the fear away, as do many others. I gave up so that I could live again and because I did wake one day and realise that I DID have a choice …  I woke one day to realise that all along I had the craving, the longing for a life only half-lived, and the choice to live it fully. I chose to live life sober until I realised that I also had the choice to stop after one drink! By giving up, I gained so much more than I could have imagined. I no longer feel the need to escape …  

I chose to speak up, because if my girlfriend on the other side of the world hadn’t done so one day, it could’ve taken me longer or I could’ve just continued doing life the same way I always had, blind to the truth that the choice was there all along. I have the choice and I am living life boldly and I desire connection. It is only with connection that I realise that there is no room for addiction. 

I was addicted to a life that I thought was so normal, and it was making me unwell as I was not able to stop at one, until I realised that I had the choice to make that decision for myself all along. 

 

This week we have a guest blog from Nicole, a courageous and intelligent woman who was diagnosed with bowel cancer and took action action to regain as much control of her life as possible, including changing her relationship with alcohol, which was not easy … for others.   

I had terminal cancer, a glass of Pimm’s and nothing to say.

As I watched a slice of lemon bob around in front of me, I contemplated making a toast.

My family were gathered around a long table at a restaurant on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. Did we look like a happy family? Skipping out of work together for an afternoon drink on a crisp autumn weekday? Or did our forlorn faces betray our devastation? And most pressingly, in that moment, were we really about to cheers to all of this?

I had spent three days with the knowledge that I was dying from bowel cancer. My family had flown in and driven over and gathered close. We had cuddled and cried. We had gazed into oblivion and tried to comprehend what life looked like now. And then, inevitably, eventually, our minds had turned to what we should do next.

Sure, doctors. And hospitals. And treatment. Fighting for life.

But what did we do now, today? On this sunny afternoon?

“We could drive around some wineries and hang out and drink some wine, I guess?”

It made just as much sense as anything else that we could have done in the wake of such destructive news.

And so, we did. Off we went.

It was a peculiar thing to do. Wasn’t it? To tour some wineries and have a long lunch. Were we commemorating this moment, this news, this learning that I had two years left? Were we celebrating life? Were we boldly standing in the face of a cancer diagnosis, resolute? Or were we just doing what we would have always done?

As the wine went down and our spirits went up, I was quietly relieved. This was a dose of normality. It felt familiar. As my inhibitions receded, I felt more comfortable acknowledging the trauma that lay ahead of us. Talking about it and processing it. Glass in hand, glass half full, I had some conversations that I really needed to have.

* * *

I was living a balanced, healthy life when I was diagnosed with cancer. I exercised. I was breast feeding my eight-month-old son, so I was very conscious of what I put in my body – but then, I always had been. I would have that special glass (or three) of wine. The occasional block of chocolate. The sporadic serve of French fries. But overwhelmingly, I ate a balanced diet, high in fibre, fruit, vegetables and protein, and low in meat. And yet, I had found myself with stage IV cancer as a 32-year-old. Bowel cancer. A cancer that research has clearly linked to lifestyle factors.

There was no avoiding the question: had I done this to myself? Research told me that it was possible. Alcohol is a carcinogen. There is no denying that. So is processed meat. The World Health Organisation has determined that even red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans. I began to contemplate the choices I had made and the choices I would make, in the wake of my diagnosis.

My chemotherapy regime, which I kicked off a couple of days after our day of wine-enabled dialogue, was toxic in so many ways. I was asked to fill myself with poison each fortnight, again and again. My doctors told me to keep going for as long as I could possibly go: the chemo was my only chance at extending my prognosis. It made me feel miserable and sick. It made my head spin and my hands shake. It made my body feel like it was not my own. It was intoxicating in all of the wrong ways – for all of the right reasons.

I stopped drinking. I felt like I had to, but I also wanted to. Because yes, I wanted to hit pause on the carcinogens. But more than this: I wanted to regain control over the way that my body functioned. I followed the research and did everything I possibly could to make survival my reality. I took up an intense exercise regime, diligently reported to every chemo appointment and ate a clean, meat-free, alcohol-free diet.

I didn’t feel amazing. I didn’t feel compelled to spruik the benefits. I didn’t love it. I would have preferred a glass of wine over the endless glasses of sparkling water. But it felt right, for my fight. For me.

Nicole, Tim, and Moses

* * *

Terminal cancer is an impossibly difficult thing to discuss. Be it with intimate friends or casual acquaintances. And even when you don’t intend to mention it, cancer oozes into the conversation. Leeches on to a meaningful connection. Lurking there, stubbornly. Mostly, saying very little, yet all the while, invalidating a whole lot.

I was spending month after month almost completely absorbed in my cancer. Fighting my fight. But around me, life continued. The same, but different. When I did come up for air, it was to a dance card full of awkward cancer conversations.

Yes, I looked fairly well.

No, my treatment was not over.

Yes, I may still die.

My clean-eating, water-drinking self soon learnt that cancer was even more difficult to contemplate while sober. Each time I declined a drink, I winced: how did they see me? Poor sad cancer patient? Mourning the passing of a carefree cheers? Or worse, judgementally tisk-tisking their chardonnay?

As I navigated a road that was choked of abundant, free-flowing engagement, I contemplated a simple truth: alcohol makes conversations easier. Particularly, those tongue-tied, alien conversations in which nobody can claim to be fluent. I was missing the nonchalant connection that alcohol offered. The security blanket that it afforded.

But the more times I carried a glass of water to the depths of my new normal, the better I got at it. And the more I realised that I needed to learn how to tackle the largest of life’s problems without a snuggly blanket of gin. Or effervescent Aperol spritz. I learnt how to speak about cancer, with cancer, around cancer, without a veil. I learnt from others and I learnt from myself.

Slowly, I became comfortable in owning my choice to do my cancer fight – my life – my own way. That is, until I decided to drink again.

* * *

I was given a one-per-cent chance of surviving my terminal diagnosis. It was a percentage that I demanded to know and generally, felt vindicated in fighting for, by my own rules. And in mid-2019, after over two years of waging my delicate rebellion, at least 40 rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries, and countless hospital admissions, I am in remission. Cancer free. For now.

It was a moment that I chose to celebrate with family and a bottle of champagne. Not because it was the only way to celebrate such a milestone. But because I had earned the choice to. And as I have recovered from surgeries and stepped down from intense treatments, I have continued to drink on occasion – when my health has permitted, if I have felt inclined.

Yet, just as I had feared the perceptions of my sobriety, I have been acutely aware of opinions on my drinking. Would I be viewed as thoughtless? Ungrateful? Or worse – reckless?

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. And this year, my own awareness is drawn not to what caused my cancer, or how to treat it; but instead, how we best navigate cancer conversations. Because awareness is lifesaving. And talking is healthy.

My life is a gift. Trite, but true. My cancer has delivered dreamy highs and distressing lows – and I have encountered and responded to iterations of both, sometimes with a drink, and other times without. I have no idea what caused my cancer, but I am accountable for my actions now, irrespective of what happened then.

I continue to undergo treatment and will do for the foreseeable future. I continue to review my lifestyle choices for improvement and balance. Every choice deserves a rethink. And most importantly, I continue to learn how to have life’s hardest conversations, without the support of alcohol.

Cheers.

* * *

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is an annual initiative of Bowel Cancer Australia, running throughout the month of June (1 – 30), to raise public awareness of a disease that claims the lives of 103 Australians every week. To find out more or to donate visit bowelcanceraustralia.org/bowel-cancer-awareness-month

 

To find out more about bowel cancer and Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, visit bowelcanceraustralia.org.

 

For a confidential conversation with a Bowel Care Nurse, contact the free Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline 1800 555 494 during business hours.

Here at Hello Sunday Morning we know what a huge question ‘should I give up alcohol’? can be to even put out to the universe. It’s not easy to give up something that’s incorporated into your daily dinner, salubrious socialising, or relaxation routine. We know how hard it is for our community and our Daybreak members to give up alcohol, but we also know the huge benefits that come from a life with less or no booze; weight loss, mental clarity, no hangovers, peace of mind and much more time to focus on your goals, just to mention a few. And guess what?! Our Daybreak community is so supportive, encouraging and resourceful they are constantly offering suggestions on getting over the first few hurdles in giving up alcohol and in staying sober.

Whether you’re a bookworm, audiophile, couch potato or app aficionado, below is a  comprehensive list of resources on getting sober for everyone seeking help in giving up alcohol.

Books about giving up alcohol recommended by our community

  1. Alcohol Explained by William Porter

This book explains how alcohol affects human beings on a chemical, physiological and psychological level, from those first drinks right up to chronic alcoholism. The book provides a logical, easy to follow explanation of the phenomenon and detailed instructions on how to beat it.

  1. The Naked Mind by Annie Grace

Annie Grace presents the psychological and neurological components of alcohol use based on the latest science, and reveals the cultural, social, and industry factors that support alcohol dependence in all of us.  Packed with surprising insight into the reasons we drink, this book will open your eyes to the startling role of alcohol in our culture, and how the stigma of alcoholism and recovery keeps people from getting the help they need.

  1.  Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Sarah often blacked out after a night drinking, waking up with a blank space where four hours should have been. Mornings became detective work on her own life. What did I say last night? How did I meet that guy? She apologised for things she couldn’t remember doing, as though she were cleaning up after an evil twin. Her tale will resonate with anyone who has been forced to reinvent or struggled in the face of necessary change. It’s about giving up the thing you cherish most – but getting yourself back in return.

  1. The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley

Like many women, Clare Pooley found the juggle of a stressful career and family life a struggle, so she left her successful role as a managing partner in one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies to look after her family. She knew the change wouldn’t be easy, but she never expected to find herself an overweight, depressed, middle-aged mother of three who was drinking more than a bottle of wine a day and spending her evenings Googling ‘am I an alcoholic?’

  1.  Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

Caroline Knapp was a successful woman with her own apartment, a steady boyfriend and a career in newspaper journalism. Beneath her polished veneer was a person so broken and insecure she drank herself into a stupor every night. This is her account of her twenty-year love affair with alcohol.

  1.   Alcohol Lied to Me (the Intelligent Escape from Alcohol Addiction) by Craig Beck 

Craig Beck was a successful and functioning professional man in spite of a ‘two bottles of wine a night’ drinking habit. For 20 years, he struggled with problem drinking, all the time refusing to label himself an alcoholic because he did not think he met the stereotypical image that the word portrayed. All these ‘willpower’ based attempts to stop drinking, failed. Slowly he discovered the truth about alcohol dependence and, one by one, all the lies he had previously believed started to fall apart.

  1.  A Girl Walks Out of A Bar by Lisa Smith

Lisa Smith was a bright young lawyer at a prestigious law firm in NYC when alcoholism and drug dependence took over her life. What was once a way she escaped her insecurity and negativity as a teenager became a means of coping with the anxiety and stress of an impossible workload. The book is a candid portrait of alcoholism through the lens of gritty New York realism. Beneath the façade of success lies the reality of dependence.

  1. Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

The New York Times Bestseller tells the story of Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers.

  1.  Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Hollis once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, or ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.

  1. Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else? A Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding Why You Drink and Knowing How to Take a Break by Rachel Hart

If you’ve ever struggled with drinking too much and want to learn how to take a break without feeling like you’re missing out on life, look no further. Rachel wrote Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else? to share with people the tools she uses with her private clients and to show people that you can answer this question without labels or shame.

  1.  Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

  1. The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living by Russ Harris

A guide to ACT – the revolutionary mindfulness-based program for reducing stress, overcoming fear, and finding fulfilment. Popular ideas about happiness are misleading, inaccurate, and directly contribute to the current epidemic of stress, anxiety & depression. In this empowering book, Dr Harris provides the means to escape the happiness trap.

  1. Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington

Drawing on research, expert interviews, and personal narrative, Sober Curious is a radical takedown of the myths that keep so many of us drinking. Inspiring, timely, and blame-free, Sober Curious is both conversation starter and handbook – essential information that empowers listeners to transform their relationship with alcohol so they can lead their most fulfilling lives. It’s available as a book and audiobook.

  1. Craig Beck

Further to his book above, Craig is a self-proclaimed ‘stop drinking expert’ and ‘quit drinking coach’  and offers Youtube videos, a bootcamp and personal coaching for those looking to give up alcohol.

  1. Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin is a Buddhist author, teacher, and leader in the mindful recovery movement. Kevin teaches internationally in Buddhist centres, treatment centres, professional conferences, and academic settings. He specialises in helping people in recovery to connect with meditation and a progressive understanding of the 12 Steps. He offers retreats, videos, books and other resources to help people give up alcohol.

Podcasts recommended by Daybreakers and the Hello Sunday Morning community

  1. Home with Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker (soundcloud)

This podcast takes up the big questions of life through the lens of addiction recovery. Each week, it explores a new discussion about  hearts, relationships, life, love and the universe at large.

  1. The Temper by Holly Glenn Whitaker, founder and CEO of Tempest (formerly Hip Sobriety)

“The Temper explores life through the lens of sobriety, addiction, and recovery—with an unapologetically intersectional feminist approach.We acknowledge that whatever we struggle with has fundamentally changed the way we exist in the world. That’s often alcohol, but is just as likely to be food, smoking, social media, overspending—all the things we do to numb ourselves.”

  1. The Bubble Hour hosted by Jean M

The Bubble Hour seeks to inform, educate and help people identify with the stories they hear, the conversations and interviews with people who are just like they are, and let people know they aren’t alone. Nobody can take the first tentative steps towards sobriety without first getting past denial, but even once they are past denial the stigma surrounding alcoholism is so strong that people are reluctant to seek help. The Bubble Hour would like to change that stigma.

  1. Tara Brach

Tara Brach’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world. The result is a distinctive voice in Western Buddhism, one that offers a wise and caring approach to freeing ourselves and society from suffering.

  1. On being with Krista Tippett

A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Our Daybreakers particularly like this episode with John O’Donohue.

Documentaries, TV series and Movies to help you give up alcohol

  1. Risky Drinking, a documentary by HBO, available on Youtube

Produced by HBO Documentary Films (2015) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (USA), Risky Drinking is a no-holds-barred look at the drinking epidemic, through the intimate stories of four people whose drinking dramatically affects their relationships.

  1. Drugged: High on Alcohol –  a documentary

In the ‘High on Alcohol’ special edition of ‘Drugged’, viewers were presented with a story that was both a tragedy and a cautionary tale. Ryan, a 28-year-old, drank three pints of vodka a day. Ryan turned to alcohol when his father, who was dependent on alcohol, passed away four years ago.

  1. Drinking to Oblivion – Louis Theroux

Louis Theroux heads to Europe’s largest liver transplant centre where he sees the physical side effects of alcoholism and learns about the challenges doctors, patients and patients’ families face, in trying to treat it.

Apps to help you give up alcohol, stay sober, or for other support

  1. Recovery elevator sobriety app

Recovery Elevator sobriety counter app and the private community offer a safe, informative place, for those who wish to quit drinking. Many find solace and comfort in our cohesive community. They also offer a podcast and sober travel group trips!

  1. Penda app

Launched at Parliament House, Canberra, the Penda App aims to break the cycle of domestic and family violence (DFV) by combining much-needed financial, personal safety and legal information with nationwide referrals. If you are experiencing DVF please contact 1800RESPECT (Australia) for support.

  1. Daisy app

Daisy is an app developed by 1800RESPECT to connect people experiencing violence or abuse to services in their local area. Daisy can be downloaded for free from iTunes or Google Play. Once the app is on your phone, you can use it to search for support services in your local area without them showing up in your browser history.

  1. Calm app

Calm is an app for meditation and mindfulness. It has over 100 guided meditations to help you manage anxiety, lower stress and sleep better. For  beginners through to intermediate and advanced users.

  1. Daybreak app and online program

Of course, this wouldn’t be a complete list of ‘alcohol-free’ resources without mentioning our own app! Daybreak is an online program that helps you change your relationship with alcohol through a supportive community, habit-change experiments, and one-on-one chat with health coaches. We’re really proud of Daybreak and love the feedback we get from our members about how life changing and supportive our app and community are.

Music to be sober to

  1. Alcohol Free (AF) playlists

Find a playlist on your favourite music streaming service, or create your own list of alcohol-free and inspiring songs to keep you motivated, like this one from Hollis Bertsch on Spotify.

  1. Self-love playlists

If you need to dance around the house in your underwear, sing in the shower, or lip synch to karaoke in the car, find a playlist like this one from Deannelove77 on Spotify to love yourself a little more.

If this list is missing something or you want to add your vote for one of the above, please leave a comment below!

I decided to stop drinking and have my last drink on 28th December 2018. Although I was not an everyday drinker, I was what some may call a ‘problem drinker’ – I would binge drink.

I am a 55-year-old single mum of an 18 year-old. When I broke up with my partner in March 2003, I decided that I would make sure my daughter was brought up in a loving and secure home; I was present for her ALWAYS!
Growing up I didn’t realise until I had my own child, how neglected I was from the love of my mother who is an alcoholic and now has been diagnosed with dementia. I didn’t want this for my daughter; I wanted to be a strong role model for her.

I didn’t drink all the time but in recent years I would have a couple of wines three or four times a week, and this became more and more over time. I would isolate myself at home, prefer to drink alone and watch Netflix rather than go out and socialise. If I did socialise I would leave early so I could go home and have a drink. I was always worried about how I would get home or who would be there to look out for me if I had too much to drink, so I would prefer to be behind closed doors; that way I felt safe.

One terrible incident that came into my mind was getting home from a work’s Christmas party a few years ago. I cannot remember getting home and I was so sick for 3–4 days afterwards, I never wanted to touch a drink again. But I did!
I was beginning not to enjoy my drinking as much as I used to; I would feel ashamed, self-loathing and just hate myself for sitting at home drinking alone. I would wake up and go to work feeling heady, foggy and so tired and grumpy. I would be so disappointed in myself for even having the two glasses of wine the previous night! I would torment myself each day, saying ‘I won’t drink after work, blah blah’, but would always end up having a couple of glasses, sometimes the whole bottle. This cycle went on for months.

The light-bulb moment when I realised that I needed to make a change with my drinking, was the day after Boxing Day 2018. I was sitting at home with my bottle of wine, relaxing after a busy Christmas. I hadn’t really had much to drink over the Chrissy period as I was mainly the designated driver, so that night I remember drinking the whole bottle of wine. My daughter was out with her friends. They were at a club and I knew she would probably have a few drinks herself, so before I went to bed, I put a bottle of water, some Panadol and her eye mask by her bed.

The next day when she got up, she said ‘I love you so much Mum, you are so cute leaving the water etc. by my bed’ – I couldn’t remember doing it. I felt so ashamed and disgusted with myself because I couldn’t remember putting the water etc. by her bed. This was the moment I knew I had to stop drinking; it wasn’t making me happy; it wasn’t making my life better; it was holding me back and making me feel isolated. I didn’t want to sit at home anymore; I didn’t want the alcohol to rule my life; I didn’t want to end up like my mother. I was sick of the torment in my head about my drinking; I was sick of wasting so much of my time on alcohol.

I felt desperate; I didn’t want to live like that anymore, drinking to get confidence before I went out, drinking alone and at times having blackouts. I remember a few years ago I stopped drinking for a few months with the help of ‘Hello Sunday Morning’, so I got straight back onto the site and saw an app called ‘DayBreak’. This is what has helped me get through the past three months. The community is so supportive, very positive and doesn’t have a negative thing to say even if you have a down day; they pick you up and understand where you are coming from. There are so many people out there that want to stop drinking, and this app is amazing.

I’m still not drinking and what I have noticed is that I am more alert, focussed, happy and, believe it or not, much more confident. I am happy to be out and about; I have put my heart and soul into my health and fitness, and I feel amazing. I still take each day as it comes but have worked out that alcohol is not for me right now.

I don’t know if I will ever drink again, but at this stage I really need to keep on HSM and the Daybreak app to help me keep going. I know I am a better person within myself, without alcohol.

Lee

This week, we have a guest post from our mates at Sober in the Country, curated by Shanna Whan. 

I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience of beating their alcohol addiction.

In my case, there was this tiny, seemingly inconsequential moment – the kind that happens thousands of times a day – that proved the catalyst for change. It was nothing I could have planned or set up. I could never have foreseen what would make the difference.

I had tried AA meetings, tried quitting drinking for a month here or three months there, tried drinking only on weekends, or drinking by an ever-shifting set of rules that was designed to give me the illusion of control but only left me exhausted and defeated.

My husband, Chris, had landed a new job that included a lovely house on acreage. I was always a country girl in an urban world, so my bag was packed before the ink had dried on his contract. We were only about a month into our new arrangement and still in awe of our good fortune.

Sitting on the front verandah of our beautiful new house on a warm October afternoon, our 18-month-old daughter was playing on the lawn in front of us. I was drinking a glass of white wine – my second or third for the afternoon – when she waddled up to me and stretched her hand toward my wine glass.

‘Tah?’ she said.

In an instant I saw my daughter – not 18 months old now – but eight years old, then 10, then 13, then 17, then an adult, then a parent herself.

I saw her growing and as she did, learning what the glass meant. Learning that after a couple, Mum would become boisterous and funny, after another one or two, quieter, with eyes that were slower to focus, speech that would slow down, imperceptibly at first, just the odd word here and there.

She would learn that awful dread feeling when she saw her mother’s glass being filled. The feeling of knowing what was to unfold over the next few hours and being powerless to stop it. She would learn the shame of despising a parent you love because of their weakness. The inability to respect them as you hear them slurring and repeating themselves, or see them stumbling and holding themselves up on the furniture. The fury at their vehement denial of a problem.

It was October 31, 2009 and that was it. That was the moment.

The day after

The next afternoon when Chris got home, I went to the gym. It was not so much about a healthy lifestyle change as it was about breaking a pattern. If I was at home at the pre-dinner hour, I didn’t trust myself to stick to my promise.

Every day for the next three weeks I went to the gym at 5 o’clock. Then one day, I didn’t. The spell was broken. My days of opening a bottle of wine when Chris got home from work, were over.

There was Christmas to get through, but by then I was two months in. The longer it was since my last drink, the more determined I was not to cave. I didn’t want to have to start the counter again from Day 1, and because I had made this promise to my daughter, I felt that if I didn’t make it work this time, I would never be able to kick it. It felt like life and death to me.

Onwards and upwards

My decision to quit drinking coincided with my first semester of a Graduate Certificate I had enrolled in at university, as a mature-aged student.

I had been a bright kid at school: I was dux of my primary school and went to a selective high school and on to university before wasting my 20s and early 30s in a self-destructive haze of mediocre jobs and a lack of direction.

The time that I reclaimed through sobriety I put into study, and was rewarded with four High Distinctions from four subjects. The certificate I received at the end of that course represents to me a point in my life so significant and poignant, a point where I chose a life of quality and dignity over one of careless disregard for myself, and by extension, my family. That piece of paper signifies a return to self-love and self-respect. I am so proud of it.

Confidante

One of the things I have come to understand as a recovered alcoholic (I use ‘recovered’ rather than the term ‘recovering’, because I know there will be no going back for me) is that your choice becomes an inspiration for others.

Struggling with alcohol can feel very shameful and lonely, but once you are sober you learn that many, many people fret about their levels of drinking.

When I meet people and they learn that I don’t drink, they are often curious about my reasons. I try to be open about my past, although it depends on the company – I am not always immune to worrying about what others will think.

When people learn I have overcome alcoholism, more often that not, they will say something along the lines of ‘I really need to look at how much I drink’ or ‘I wish I could be as strong as you’.

Nightmares

If I ever lost sight of how important my sober life is to me now, I am occasionally reminded by a nightmare that is always the same scenario.

In these dreams, which I have maybe two or three times a year, I am at a party and I start drinking again after all the years sober. The devastation at having broken my promise to myself is palpable, and when I wake up I am always weak with relief to find that it is not real. These nightmares serve as a powerful reminder of what I would lose if I ever went back to drinking.

In the years since October 31, 2009, I feel like I have started living my life instead of reacting to it. I have found courage because I have stopped feeling like a fraud. I am more organised and more disciplined in every area.

My life of drinking was characterised by ‘I can’t be bothered …’ but now things are very different.

My home and career are as I have designed them, and I am devoted to my little family. Studying is still a big part of my life. Instead of using alcohol to ‘turn the volume down’ every night, I spend my evenings charting new intellectual territory.

We have horses and go riding as a family. I have the energy to experiment with new recipes when I cook. I do ‘tourist’ things in neighbouring towns. I plan holidays, I save money, I buy thoughtful gifts for people, I keep my home clean and uncluttered.

In short, these days I can be bothered.

But beneath all the shouts of ‘Cheers!’ and ‘Taxi!!’ there is a level of shame and concern for many people about the levels at which they drink.

For anyone wanting to embark on a life of sobriety, but who fears what that involves, you should be reassured. Waiting ‘on the other side’ is a life of peace and freedom from craving, of fulfilment and quiet pride, and of endless time to achieve all those things you’ve always wanted.

Anonymous 

The last time I drank alcohol was 1 year and 1 month ago.

Why was it so easy to give up drinking?

I can honestly say that there was no decision made to ‘stop drinking’. I simply didn’t have an urge to drink in the months that followed that last drink, and before I knew it, a year had past. Had I told myself back then ‘I’m not drinking for a year’, I probably would have been more likely to do the opposite. Instead, I stayed open to the possibility that I may have a drink if I wanted one in the moment. But I haven’t … yet.

Healthy replacements

When I reflect back on the last year and even the year before that, where I only drank alcohol on a couple of occasions, I see that in this time I had spent most of my weekends on courses learning about how we as human beings run our minds, about how we engage in thinking patterns, and completing my training in human development. Could it be that I have replaced my nights out with this new passion for understanding human behaviour? It seems so.

What I can see now is the more I learn about people and myself, the more I can see the distraction alcohol can provide from ‘reality’. I now no longer need to be distracted, as I am able to understand the impact that our thoughts can have, and the freedom that comes with that. I feel that we are often confusing our ‘constructed thoughts’ with what is real, and too often that results in giving ourselves a hard time.

Setting ourselves up for failure

When we tell ourselves we ‘shouldn’t’ or ‘must not’ do something, we are often more likely to engage in exactly that behaviour. And then if we do ‘fail’ in the goals we’ve set for ourselves, we struggle, judge ourselves, beat ourselves up over this. We feel disappointed or even angry in ourselves for this ‘failure’. We can spend hours, days, weeks feeling this way and as a result, keep repeating unhealthy patterns.

Be kinder to yourself

The less we impose rules on ourselves, the less we beat ourselves up over things, the more likely we are to live as the healthy human beings we want to be! The mind, and how we talk to ourselves, is often the cause of unhealthy cycles, more so than that glass of wine, piece of chocolate, big weekender or shopping spree!

So, can you give yourself a break, be kinder to yourself in those times where you were previously hard on yourself over something? What would that look like for you?

I made a choice in every moment over the last year not to drink alcohol, just as there may be a choice in another moment where I do drink. I am not resisting either as a possibility and I don’t burden myself with unhelpful thoughts anymore around what I ‘should’ be doing in any area of my life. Doing so would keep me stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.

It’s not always easy to break these habitual patterns, but it is very possible with patience and, if necessary, help from others. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, so I encourage anyone reading this to reach out for help if you are struggling yourself. You are never alone!

Anita Tomecki

In its earlier days, Hello Sunday Morning encouraged people to “do an HSM challenge” – a period of three, six or 12 months completely without alcohol. I recently started working as Head of Marketing with HSM and decided to get into character by giving this a go for the first quarter of this year. I chose the easy-peasy three-month entry-level point, and at the halfway point of just six weeks, this is what I have found …

So, what happens when you give up the booze?

I imagine it depends on how large booze looms in your life before you jam the cork back in the bottle. In my case, I suspected that my drinking was on the wrong side of the bell-curve, although not to a reckless or unhealthy extent – but maybe I’ve been deluding myself. One time in my 40s I reviewed the previous year and realised that my casual drinking had become habitual, to the point where there probably hadn’t been a single 24-hour period in that 12 months when I wouldn’t have blown over 0.05 in a breathalyser at some stage.

I cooled it a bit on that realisation, but through my 50s I’d still drink nearly daily, although I started to leave a few alcohol-free days in the working week. My drinking left me functional and I had no problems with it domestically (I have a wife who matches me drink for drink). It was normal when compared against my circle of friends, and it was also normal when compared with what I remember of my parents’ drinking.

I like to drink. I don’t like being at the point where I slur my words (and that is quite a low threshold for me), but I certainly enjoy heading in that direction. On normal evenings, when I was working the next day, I would share a bottle of wine with my wife, and often get some way into a second. On weekends, it would be two bottles between us on both Friday and Saturday. I’m not a great one for following expert advice on health, but even I could work out that I was consuming up to 35 standard drinks per week, compared to the 14 that is recommended as a safe limit.

So what prompted me to give it up?

Well, I noticed that I functioned better on those days following an alcohol-free day. In particular, I slept very much better. On nights that I drank, I would go to sleep readily, but often wake up after midnight with a racing mind and anxious thoughts. Sometimes this would be accompanied by a hard-beating heart, and a return to sleep was always a few hours away (usually just minutes before the alarm clock went off). It left me feeling like crap the following day, even when there was no detectable hangover. On alcohol-free nights, I would usually sleep right through, and if I did awaken in the night, I could easily fall asleep again.

On working weeks that I went alcohol free, it was clear to me that my alertness, focus and general intellect improved as the week wore on, and I began to wonder if, perhaps, a late-40s career plateau had been partly self-inflicted.

Finally, I recently began to wake up in the mornings with distinctly tender feelings in the kidneys, which would pass after a couple of hours. On days following an alcohol-free night this never happened.

So this year I’ve decided to do a Hello Sunday Morning 3-month challenge: no booze at all until April. I’m now at the six-week midpoint and I’ve noticed some positive things, but I’ve also noticed a few downsides, so here they are in summary:

Upsides of going without alcohol

Sleep. The first and most unmistakable benefit is a great night’s sleep. This kicked in after the first 48 hours, but it also seems to be improving over the six weeks. Not only is the sleep deep and unbroken, but the quality of dreams also seems to have improved: they’ve been more detailed, linger in the memory for longer with an almost cinematic quality to them, and for some reason often feature Her Majesty the Queen (although I realise this last phenomenon may not be universal).

General well-being. You know how your car feels after you’ve just given it a 15,000 km service? You can’t put your finger on it, but everything seems tighter, more responsive and just works better? That’s how I felt at the two week mark, and it hasn’t fallen off yet. I know I would pay a lot of money for a vitamin supplement that had this effect.

Energy and focus. There’s been a small but definite improvement in my work performance, particularly in my ability to concentrate, organise and generally be ‘present’ during meetings. The effect carries over when I get home. Just the other night, I ate my dinner and then carried on painting a spare bedroom from where I’d left off over the weekend. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d opened a bottle of wine first. However, it doesn’t last long into the night, and I’ve been going to bed earlier than usual since starting this dry spell.

Mood. I’m told we all conduct a continuous dialogue with ourselves in our heads during waking hours. Over the past couple of decades, my dialogue has tended towards the unhelpful and self-critical, particularly at 2:00 am when I’m trying to get back to sleep. I think it’s had a corrosive effect on my self-confidence over that time, because I can feel confidence returning during this period.

Downsides to going without alcohol

Something’s missing. I’d got into the habit of coming home, starting the cooking and opening a bottle of wine each day. For the first few weeks I felt uneasy during the 5:00–7:00 pm window – like I’d forgotten to do something important. A glass in hand was a prop for the post working-day chit-chat with my wife, and it felt odd without the wine. It’s also noticeable that our conversation doesn’t flow or digress onto tangents in quite the same way.

Twinges. Every now and then, quite out of the blue, I get a pang of regret that I won’t be opening a bottle of shiraz tonight. It passes.

NA substitutes. During the first few weeks we tried some of the non-alcoholic options that are available, with mixed results. To my surprise, the non-alcoholic beers were pretty good. It’s obvious at first sip that Cooper’s Birell is non-alcoholic, but if you accept it for what it is, then it’s a very pleasant thirst-quenching lager-style drink. Carlton Zero actually does taste like a nicely hoppy-flavoured beer, but tends to bloat a bit. Other than the beers, there don’t seem to be any ersatz products that have the same satisfying depth of flavour of a wine or spirit. The NA wines were pretty dire; the whites were too sweet, and the reds were flat, like a bottle that has been left open for a couple of weeks. We also tried the non-alcoholic distilled botanicals which are promoted as an alternative to gin. For the life of me, I couldn’t detect the connection. One of them tasted like water that had recently been used to boil peas, and the taste of all of them was too weak to survive a mixer. (However, my wife really likes the Brunswick Aces with tonic water.)

Adverts. I’m realising now just how powerful adverts for booze are. They ambush you with a desire when you’re going dry, and either the industry has recently doubled its advertising spend, or the ads have always been all over the place. Product placement also works well on me. I’ve never been much of a spirit drinker before, but the sight of a couple of fingers of golden scotch being poured in a Netflix series gets me thinking “Mmmm – whiskey …” The cues are everywhere!

People’s reactions. This is quite a complex one, and I might expand on this at the three month mark. Most people don’t give a damn if you’re not drinking, and that’s great. However, some people take it as passive-aggressive criticism of their own drinking, or as a dismissal of their culture, almost a form of apostasy. I’m building a repertoire of responses beyond “mind your own business”, and I’ll give them a test run for the remainder of the 3-month trial.

Which brings me to contemplation of my return to boozing in April. On the one hand, I’ve got my eye on the exact bottle of shiraz for opening on 1 April. But on the other hand …

The last couple of weeks have been quite easy as I settle into new habits while still noticing the benefits, and I’m tempted to stretch this out to a 6-month HSM challenge period. I remember once reading an interview with Mel Gibson (okay, not the best choice of role model, perhaps – but this was about 20 years ago) who was talking about the benefits of staying off the grog. He said the real benefits don’t kick in until 6 months, but that most people simply don’t have the patience to last that long.

That’s got me curious …

Roger

For all its positives, Christmas can be a challenging time when we are trying to focus on our health – those parties, heavy food and socialising can mean we are low on sleep, eating to excess and without the usual structures that keep us functioning well. Often we’re torn between wanting to enjoy life to its fullest, and also wanting to enjoy great physical and mental health.

In addition, we don’t really want to be ‘that person’ who refuses dessert or avoids social situations because of our health – things like family and work events are important for a number of reasons, including catching up with relatives, celebrating the end of another year, and making plans for the year to come.

So, how to have it all? Recent research into wellbeing and ‘protective health behaviour’ has good news for us – which you may have already suspected. In a nutshell, it is not the juice-fasting, two-session-a-day gym fiends who enjoy the highest levels of wellbeing, but rather those who demonstrate regular and consistent health behaviours – the plodders rather than the sprinters.

With alcohol, one of the ideas that fits well with this framework is that of ‘harm minimisation’ – finding ways to keep ourselves healthy and functioning well, even if we are in the midst of holiday festivities. With this in mind, here are some realistic tips for an enjoyable holiday period.

AF Days – we know that a lot of harm from alcohol use comes from drinking in high volumes, and frequently. In fact, a lot of the issues that arise around holidays (e.g. fatigue, weight gain, low energy and low mood) can be due to regular and excessive alcohol consumption. If you are intending to have one or two drinks over the holidays, it might be helpful to plan a certain number of alcohol-free days. This gives you the opportunity to catch up on good quality sleep, recover physically and engage in some restorative activities, like exercise and reflection. It can also give an opportunity to experience some of those holiday activities without alcohol, and to reflect on the role of alcohol in your life. For many people, this is a great opportunity to do things differently, and stock up on energy to get active, or start to prepare for the year ahead.

Self-Care – it sounds obvious, but often alcohol can be a form of self-care – particularly when we are in the midst of holiday activity and tired out from preparing for family events or trips away. For many people, self-care really entails having some control over how they spend their time – e.g. taking an hour out to have a nap, or a coffee with a friend, or heading to the movies alone. Giving ourselves some space to recover and recharge can mean that we are less likely to use alcohol to relax – and we may be more present and appreciative of the things around us, and enjoy things like the opportunity to sleep in or spend time with family.

Self-Monitoring – a large amount of the behaviour change- and wellbeing literature supports the practice of self-monitoring for (1) raising our awareness of the behaviour and (2) providing us with insight into ‘risky’ situations and triggers.

For many people, using apps to record their food intake and exercise helps them to be more aware of their consumption, and set a bit of an internal calculator around what they consume. The same goes for alcohol. If we are able to set ourselves some realistic goals for the holiday period, and keep a rough track of what we are eating and drinking, it can help us to stay on track – or a lot closer to the track than if we were not paying attention. Goal-setting theory proposes that, by setting a goal, we are likely to get closer to the goal than if we had never set it. Just having the goal – whether that is to keep below a certain number of calories or drinks, or to exercise a certain number of times per week – is a really good first step, as well as considering how we might work that goal into our plans over the holidays (e.g. bring walking shoes on a trip, or bring some alcohol-free wine to Christmas dinner).                                              

Replacements – this is the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ section of the tips. As noted, most of our issues over the holidays come from our love of excess. We love to eat Christmas food, and the feelings of celebration and freedom can result in us over-indulging in food and drink, and then regretting the consequences. Just being aware of this is part of the battle, and knowing that for most things there are moderate replacements that can reduce some of the harm that we’d otherwise be experiencing. Some ideas are here and also:

  • Champagne – AF sparkling wine, or Champagne with sparkling mineral water
  • Cocktails – AF cocktails (recipes here), Seedlip (AF gin replacement), Altina (AF spirit replacement), Brunswick Aces (AF gin replacement), Kombucha with sparkling water
  • Beer – AF beer (Carlton Zero), Kombucha
  • Wine – Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon (AF wine).

Alternatively, here are some cocktail ideas from our archives:

  • Cranberry juice, blood orange juice, lime, soda, and fruit pieces.
  • Quarter of a glass of apple juice, fill up the rest with Indian tonic water, throw in a couple of mint leaves
  • Soda, lime, and bitters
  • Soda water, a spoon of maple syrup, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cayenne
  • Lemonade, pineapple juice and a splash of lime cordial
  • Ginger beer, ice and lots of mint leaves.

Remember, the aim of any of these kinds of changes is that we want them to be sustainable – we want them to be valid alternatives to how we are currently doing things. Exploring what works for you might be a matter of reflecting on what went well for you last year, and what didn’t go so well, and how you might like to do things differently this year.

It is likely that even a couple of small changes (e.g. a few AF days, some self-monitoring and having some replacement drinks in the fridge if needed) will have an impact on your physical and mental functioning over this period.

It can be a tricky balance between enjoying the festivities and also looking after ourselves physically and mentally, and we don’t always get it right! This is fine – remember, harm minimisation is about being realistic about human behaviour and acknowledging that sometimes we may over-indulge – and the important thing is that we can recognise this and plan around it. This looks different for everybody. For some people, regular exercise isn’t important, but they need eight hours of sleep or else mayhem ensues. For others, focusing on their diet means that everything else works like clockwork. Considering your own wellbeing and health goals might be useful in the lead-up to this holiday period, so that you can enjoy the whole experience and head into the new year in good physical and mental health.

June 17, 2018. The day that would change my life forever.

I started drinking at the young age of 14, and I fell in love with being drunk. It made life fun and entertaining, and turned me into a more sociable and likeable person. It helped ease my nerves in a social environment and made me not care what others thought about me. To be frank, it made me not care at all.

I liked the feeling of security and invincibility when I was intoxicated. It wasn’t until after years of drinking and getting older that I learned my lessons the hard way. I started experiencing the negative impact alcohol had on me but it still didn’t stop me. I was blind to it. I was too stubborn and delusional to admit I had a lost control with my drinking.

My drinking turned me into someone I hated

I would say and do things to family members and people I loved that I would regret years later. I would say and do whatever I wanted without thinking about the short- or long-term consequences.

Alcohol let me live in a distorted world where anything goes. I thought I was on top of the world and in control of everything, only to have the world fall apart and crush me underneath. After a failed relationship, I was no longer drinking for the same reasons I did when I was younger. It was no longer for pleasure, enjoyment or social gatherings; I was drinking to kill or at least ease pain, loneliness, self-pity, blame, anger, hatred, shame, guilt and depression. It was the end of the world. I was in a black hole. I felt like there was nothing left for me. I was literally trying to drink myself to death.

I couldn’t function normally without alcohol in my system

The only way to stop the sweating and shaking at night was to wake up and have a drink. I thought I could never break this vicious cycle, so I lost hope and accepted my defeat.

At this point, the few people who still loved and cared about me saw a version of me that nobody had seen before; a version of me that I never thought I could be. They knew I was battling demons stronger than I had thought possible. I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy or pity because the hard truth was I had put myself in the position I was in. I didn’t want to admit it, accept it or even face it.

I told myself that death had to be better than whatever this thing called life was, and by this stager my family had seen and heard enough. My parents mentioned the idea of sending me into a detox and rehab center for my drinking. I still can’t say how or why it happened but one day I could see how much my self-destructive drinking was hurting my family. Parents were watching a son, and brothers were watching a brother inch closer to his funeral.

I finally decided, after spending half of my life in denial, that I had a problem with my drinking and it was time to get help

So low was my self-regard that I feel that the decision to go into detox and rehab was done more for the sake of my family that for myself. Ironically, it was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t being selfish. I wanted to die but my family wanted me to live. It took a lot of courage and willpower for me to finally admit that I had a problem, and that it was time for change.

That decision started me on the road to controlling my life again. It gave me a higher sense of personal responsibility and ownership. I agreed to enter a detox and rehab center on June 17, 2018. The idea of entering a detox and rehab centre was terrifying at first. I asked myself, “how did I ever get to this point?” I told myself, “I’m nothing like these other people here, I don’t belong in a place like this.” But I realised on the very first day just how wrong I was.

We all shared an obvious weakness in common. However, we were also defiant, courageous and strong enough to admit we needed help. People like us come from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life, and if you saw us on the street you would not know that we had lost control of our drinking habits.

I came to understand how my choices and behaviours had affected people who’d had the misfortune of crossing paths with the old me. I acknowledged and accepted the chaos and destruction I’d inflicted on others – I had no choice but to. I was finally able to forgive myself for what I had done in the hope that, one day, those that I have harmed can forgive me, even though I may not deserve it.

The new, sober me has learned to love myself and others again

The new, sober me is the strongest version of me I’ve ever known. It was the longest, darkest and hardest battle I had ever fought. Accepting that I needed help allowed me to take back control of my life. It made me feel I was human again, and not an abomination to society. My only regret is not going through treatment sooner…but I also learned it’s never too late to seek help.

Written by Hello Sunday Morning supporter, Kevin Repass

If you find yourself having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, should you just stop altogether? Or should you try to moderate your drinking? Our Daybreak health coach helps you discover the best option for you.

Members on our supportive community app, Daybreak, often debate about whether it is possible for someone to be able to moderate their drinking, or whether this is not going to be possible for them.

Some people believe passionately in abstinence, having learned through repeated relapses and difficulties, that it is not possible for them to moderate their alcohol consumption. Others work towards moderation, finding the balance between using alcohol as a social lubricant, while not becoming too reliant on it to regulate difficult emotions.

The truth of the matter is, it is a bit of both

It may be the case that there are certain groups of people who would be much better off not drinking. This can include people with serious mental illness, a history of trauma or neglect, or ongoing chronic stress. That said, there are people with these profiles who are also able to have reasonable and positive relationships with alcohol. It is just a lot harder to achieve.

There is a relationship between an individual’s response to stress and their reaction to alcohol. This means that the reward and regulation systems of someone who is stressed, anxious, depressed or generally suffering, can become sensitised to alcohol.

Taking the edge off

A glass of wine after a busy work day might feel twice as rewarding to someone who is suffering from anxiety or grief. This could be because they are already feeling in need of comfort and relaxation, even before their stressful day. Our brains quickly learn what kinds of things are effective in taking away pain and replacing it with something more rewarding. Unfortunately, alcohol is one of those things that works as a socially acceptable anaesthetic.

This is often why we might find ourselves drinking more than we would like to during stressful times in our lives. It is also why, when things settle down a bit, we might be interested in pulling back from alcohol a little and focussing on our health and other aspects of our lives.

For people with ongoing mental health difficulties or ongoing stress, this can be a lot harder. Sometimes thing don’t settle down, and alcohol becomes something that is used as habitually as coffee as a way to regulate mood or energy levels.

So how do you know which group you fall into?

If you answer yes to the following questions, it is possible that total abstinence is a safer option for you:

– Have you always struggled to stop drinking after one or two drinks? This might indicate that you struggle with moderating the effects of alcohol, and your reward system has become sensitised to the effects.

– Have you experienced significant stressful or traumatic events in your life, after which you had problems moderating your alcohol use? This might indicate that alcohol has been incorporated into your emotional regulation, and you may benefit from a long or permanent period of abstinence.

– Have people around you commented or expressed concern about your drinking or about not having an ‘off’ button? This might mean that while you don’t necessarily notice the effects of alcohol, those who care about you might be getting concerned about the level of intoxication you are reaching.

If you feel that the above don’t apply to you, and you are more suited to moderation, here are some ideas that might be helpful for you and reduce the risks that come with drinking:

– See if you can reflect on situations in which you consumed more than you intended to, and see if you can identify some things that contributed to the problem. For example, ‘I went out when I was exhausted from work and hadn’t eaten, and drank very quickly’. Another example might be, ‘I had a fight with my partner and knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to go out drinking’. Often, looking back, we are able to see that there were things that we could have done differently.

– Monitor your alcohol usage over the week. Take note of how much you drink each session, and how many drinks that equates to over the week. Set yourself some guidelines for how many drinks you would like to consume each week, and on what days. Consider having some alcohol-free days during the week to allow your body to recover.

– Gauge your limits. If you find that it is hard to stop after two glasses of wine, make sure that you take your time in reaching that amount. This may mean pacing yourself with sparkling water in between drinks, or not opening a bottle until dinner is served. Doing this will help you to keep your blood alcohol content below a certain amount, and give your body the chance to process the alcohol properly.

– Consider who you are drinking with, and what you are drinking. Often we are influenced by those around us in terms of volume and pace of consumption, and we can sometimes find that certain people or situations will reliably end up exceeding our limits. For example, having friends over for dinner, or a celebratory night out with work colleagues. See if you can set expectations early on about how much you can drink, or limit the availability of alcohol like only keeping one bottle of wine in the house.

– Consider the situations where you feel you are relying on alcohol to change your mood, and then avoid drinking in these situations! These are what we would refer to as risky situations, in which we are using alcohol to regulate our emotions. Using alcohol in this way is risky because we can lose the ability to regulate our emotions in other ways. We can also over-use alcohol if the emotions are particularly overwhelming. For example, alcohol might help to temporarily relieve a feeling of anxiety, and so we tend to use a lot of it when we feel a lot of anxiety, but of course, this isn’t effective at all.

Re-learning a relationship with alcohol

Part of the process of learning to moderate is to ‘re-learn’ our relationship with alcohol, and move away from some of the problematic ways we are using it. We could be drinking to feel happy, as a way to escape unpleasant feelings of sadness or anxiety or as a way to numb or avoid painful things in our lives. Try to move towards using it to celebrate special occasions, and add to your experience of pleasure and enjoyment.

Many people enjoy alcohol, and the experience of sharing a bottle of wine or having a beer with friends. Often, members of Daybreak are reluctant to give up the opportunity to do this when the occasion arises, and often they don’t need to. It is just about being aware of how they are using alcohol, and how they can have it as just one part of their life, without it taking over the show.

If you’d like some more information about which is the best approach for you, head over to Hello Sunday Morning to read more about how to change your relationship with alcohol, and be part of a supportive community of people who are working towards the same goal. The Daybreak app also offers Health Coaching for people wanting some more information about how to achieve long lasting and substantial change.

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