This week’s guest blog is from Elaine Benson of Soberhood . Soberhood is a supportive judgement-free zone aimed at normalising an alcohol-free life.
As a former grey area drinker, I knew alcohol was crippling my life, but I didn’t realise just how much it was damaging my relationships and body until I felt forced to stop.
I had been drinking regularly from about the age of 16 and my teens and twenties were hedonistic, to say the least. It was accepted to drink till you blacked out and somehow woke up in your bed the next morning, not sure of how you got there. I had some great experiences but mostly it was a blur of alcohol, drugs, anxiety, depression and self-sabotage. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I started to question my antics and see that, for the most part, I was numbing the pain in my heart. Then, when I became a mother and ‘mommy’s special medicine’ became the norm in the evening to ‘relax’, matters deteriorated quickly. The drinking, coupled with the fact my son was not a fan of sleeping, sent me over the edge.
By the time he was two years old, I was desperately sad and feeling like life was a relentless struggle. My body was inflamed and in constant pain with endometriosis, which was intensified by the drinking. The relationship with his dad was in tatters. Like all my previous relationships, our connection was fuelled by alcohol and parties, so when our son was born, the already tenuous foundation collapsed.
After a particularly heavy night on the booze at my work Christmas party in 2018, I didn’t get long to recover before we set off on a family Christmas holiday, five hours’ drive up the coast of Australia.
It was sweltering in the car, 40 degrees, Christmas traffic was in full swing, my partner and I were arguing and the aircon was struggling. The situation was already stressful and with the hangover from hell, my brain couldn’t cope, and I had a panic attack.
My heart was breaking as my beautiful son watched me hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably. He was smiling at me but looking very confused. It must have been so unnerving for him to see his mother so scattered. I realised at that point that I wanted a better life for us. I wanted him to feel safe and grounded with me. I begged the universe to take the dread away, and in return, I would never drink again.
In an effort to support myself, I listened to quit-lit audiobooks repeatedly, I joined closed Facebook support groups, I listened to Tara Brach’s life-changing podcast, I went to therapy, I journalled. I tried to meditate daily, as well as practise mindfulness (which is basically being conscious and aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions so that you can be better at life!)
I am still on the road to shedding my old skin and discovering what it is to be present to the reality of life, but I have noticed a few shifts; here’s what I’ve found:
I notice stories that are coming up for me
Even as I write now, I can pay attention to my fearful ego saying ‘You’re alone, who are you to think you can do this …’ and on and on the fearful ego goes.
Stories regularly come up around alcohol too ‘I need a drink. It’s boring being sober’. I can notice these stories through awareness and respond by playing the scenario forward in my head. I’ll have one drink, which will turn to five, I’ll wake up tomorrow and hate myself, I’ll have a hangover which will affect my mood for days, even weeks. I won’t have the energy or desire to play with my son. And I know then: it’s so not worth it.
I can separate from my self-limiting and destructive thoughts and ego
When I catch it in time, I can see the script that is running ‘you’re not good at stuff!’ and interrupt it with loving kindness ‘you’re doing the best you can.’
I procrastinate less
A handy by-product of less self-loathing. If I had written a list that Christmas of what I wanted to achieve in a year of sobriety, I would have been selling myself way short! Procrastination is fear in sheep’s clothing. I back myself more.
I allow myself to feel my feelings
I am more connected to what is going on in my body (through conscious awareness) so, when I feel the pull of anxiety, sadness, or a craving to drink, instead of swallowing it down and feeling it follow me around for days. I stop, sit, close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and inquire ‘what’s going on for you?’ and answer with compassion ‘this is hard for you’ and let the tears (and snot) flow. I always feel better afterwards.
I know I don’t have to believe my thoughts
Understanding that thoughts and emotions are visitors, helps let them come and go. I try to frame these thoughts as ‘Negative Protectors’. Our primitive ancestors owed their very existence to the ‘Be careful!’ thoughts, but these days the voices say things like ‘Have a drink, you don’t have to feel this’, when we all know it only delays and worsens the feeling.
Mindfulness practice helps you live with your thoughts without always reacting.
Today as I write this, I am in a much better place mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I attribute that to sobriety and mindfulness. I still struggle, as we all do, that is the human experience. But I have greater reserves to deal with the tough times and they don’t last nearly as long.
As one of my inspirations, Jill Stark puts it,
‘Sometimes for the life we want, we have to sacrifice the short-term fix for the long-term rewards. We have to work out what we value the most and put that above the things that take us further away from everything we hold dear. It’s not always easy but jeez it’s worth it.’