One big question that comes up when people are making changes to their relationship with alcohol, is whether to stop drinking altogether or try to stick to moderation. This is a good question, and it is a good idea to consider this carefully. Some questions that can help guide your decision are:
Have I been able to drink in moderation in the past?
Is it possible for me to stop after one or two drinks?
Are there certain situations where I am likely to want to drink more?
How am I impacted by alcohol and what effect does it have on my body?
For some people, once they have looked at their relationship with alcohol, and made some changes to it, they may find that moderation is a good option. They may have made changes so that their consumption of alcohol is only in certain situations (like a glass of wine at dinner) and that there are some safeguards to prevent it from going further like asking their partner to support them in sticking to just the one drink.
For some people drinking mindfully will be effective in helping them to notice and enjoy the pleasant effects of alcohol, and understand when they have had enough.
When we are considering moderation, however, one really important thing to remember is that alcohol has a strong effect on the inhibitory parts of our brains, the parts that affect decision making and self-regulation. This is one of the reasons it can be really hard to stop after just one drink as our reward centres are buzzing with dopamine from that first drink, and at the same time, our ‘self-control’ centres are being taken offline by the effects of the alcohol. This is why we can sometimes have that war with our future and past selves, that part of us that was committed to going for a walk after the glass of wine might suddenly decide that it is a better idea to finish the whole bottle and watch a movie instead.
When we are considering moderation, remember this:
If we are trying to moderate our alcohol use, it can be really good to have some backup plans that can act as surrogate self-regulators. These could include having only a small amount of alcohol in the house, having a commitment where we need to be sober, having some replacement behaviours such as drinking sparkling water between drinks or having supportive people around us to gently remind us of our intentions. Checking into Daybreak is a good option as well since it can be an instant reminder of why we are wanting to make changes in the first place.
When might moderation not be a good option?
If you have never been able to drink in moderation, and have found that drinking generally results in losing control, then perhaps you are part of that population of people for whom alcohol just is not a good idea. We know that for some people, a combination of genetic and environmental factors result in them being really vulnerable to alcohol and their lives are a lot better when they are alcohol free. Attempting moderation can sometimes be stressful for these people, as it can be a huge challenge to stop at one drink and might lead to a person feeling discouraged and helpless.
Other times that moderation might not be a good idea might be when you are simply looking to take a break, to see what things are like without alcohol. It can be really refreshing to take a break from alcohol for a few weeks or months, even if you have no intention of stopping permanently.
The take home message from all of this is that, whether you choose moderation or alcohol free, the really important thing is to be realistic and guided by past behaviour.
Often when we first make the decision to change our relationship with alcohol, we will experiment with what works for us. Perhaps there are certain situations that we can drink in moderation, and others where we might find we drink more than we had planned most of the time. The key is to remain open and curious about these situations, and certain triggers. Considering what you would like your relationship with alcohol to be, in an ideal world, is a great place to start.
For someone wanting to cut back on their drinking, getting into healthier lifestyle habits can be an effective way to replace habits and change their relationship with alcohol.
People often have the tendency to replace one bad habit with another, like giving up smoking and binge eating sugary food. Whether it be exercise, art and creative therapies, picking up a new hobby or practising meditation, the replacement suggestions below are an important step in changing old habits and replacing your drink with something better for your mental and physical state.
When you start to develop new habits, passions and hobbies, you start to create new goals for yourself and the determination to improve in these areas can be a great distraction from drinking. You won’t want to drink on a Saturday night if you have an art course with a highly regarded teacher, or the waves are forecast to be clean and offshore the next day!
Replace habits by getting active
Alcohol releases a chemical in our brains called dopamine, the reason why you feel pretty good when you first start drinking. The great news is that exercise also releases these feel-good chemicals and endorphins into your body, so you don’t have to drink to get this effect! Plus, you can’t get a hangover from a jog or boot camp. As well as helping to replace habits, exercise works as a great stress relief, boosts your mood and helps you sleep better.
Getting active does not have to be all about spending a day in a stuffy, sweaty and uninspiring gym. There are so many activities you can try to see what you enjoy the most, whether that be:
Group fitness classes
Outdoor meetups, like sailing or kayaking
Running/ running groups
F45, aerobics, spin classes, or cross fit
Boxing or martial arts
Triathlons or marathons
As long as your chosen activity gets the blood pumping and the mind present, you’re on the right track!
While sitting in on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting recently, I heard people talk about their progress or their relapses and what really struck me was that over 50% of the people in the meeting spoke about how they deal with their anxiety or frustration by meditating.
Meditation does not have to be bound by any ‘right’ way or technique. Sometimes just sitting still and breathing can actually increase the feeling of heaviness and depression, or sitting still is not physically possible because of anxiety. Luckily, there are different techniques of moving meditation that helps move these negative energies around the body instead of sitting still. If you’re in this frame of mind, moving that energy around and out of the body can be the most effective. Some of these techniques include ancient mindfulness practices like Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga Asana, Kundalini, and Aikido. There are also group meditations, guided meditations, apps, books, workshops and endless resources to help get you started and replace habits.
“It’s helped me find my centre, helped me tone down and control my reactiveness, rebuilt the part of my brain that was affected by alcohol and pot and food addiction, given me control over my negative mind, pulled me out of depression again and again, allowed me to connect to that greater thing outside of me (or inside of me — however you want to look at it), and more than anything, become the number one coping mechanism in my life — for stress, anxiety, anger, blues, bitchiness — it fixes everything.”— Hip Sobriety
Art therapy is a type of treatment that guides people to use the creative part of their brain and express their emotions through creation to replace habits. Art therapy has been proven to boost self-esteem and confidence, reduce stress and anxiety, and stimulate different experiences and feelings by encouraging people to use their hands, paint and other mediums.
The Professional Association for Arts Therapy Australia says art can be an outlet for some and can encourage people to:
Express feelings that may be difficult to verbalise
Explore their imagination and creativity
Develop healthy coping skills and focus
Improve self-esteem and confidence
Identify and clarify issues and concerns
Increase communication skills
Share in a safe, nurturing environment
Improve motor skills and physical coordination
Identify blocks to emotional expression and personal growth.
Gardening and horticulture therapy
Gardening and horticulture therapy are often promoted as a tool to help people get outside and boost general wellbeing. Horticulture therapy is now practised in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, mental health programs and addiction rehab to replace habits. As it is also a caregiving type of role, gardening can often provide a sense of purpose and structure.
Research has shown that gardening can reduce aggression, anxiety, depression and improve concentration and even self-esteem. Getting into projects like creating a vegetable garden can be a great way to feel motivated to work outside, and often you will find that time just flows by when you stop to smell (and plant), the flowers.
Despite what people may think, you’re never too old to take up a new hobby. The best part about taking up a hobby is that it is something you are choosing to do because you enjoy doing it, and you don’t need anyone else to be involved, or even like it! To list all potential hobbies that you can explore would take up pages and pages of this blog, so here are just a few hobbies the team at Hello Sunday Morning are into:
Dancing- salsa, ballroom, No Lights No Lycra
For a heavy drinker to replace habits, these alternative therapies should be used in conjunction with talking to your GP, psychologist, and a consistent support platform such as the Daybreak program and community.
Why I chose to go dry in the music industry – Nathan Cavaleri
Jeff Beck – “Playing in front of an audience is total lunacy. Walking out in front of everyone is just terrifying, yet I have to do it. There’s a frozen moment when you set foot on the stage, when you don’t know if you’re going to fall over, or if someone’s going to give you a hard time in the front row. It feels like I’m facing death every single day I go on.”
Whether you’re in Red Hot Chili Peppers or a local cover band, you are the crowd’s reason to let go and get off.
Work environments for the nine-to-fiver range from mud and bricks to LCD screens; but as a musician, yours will be security guards, bar tenders and punters intoxicated on liquid amber, mary-jane and – if you’re doing your job correctly – great music.
As a musician, you will always be around alcohol and drugs, and for me celebratory vibes are contagious. I always want in. When I first cut out alcohol (after smashing apart yet another stage) I could only enviously watch my friends and fans laugh and drink the rest of the night away. Unfulfilled and feeling left out, I’d have to remind myself of why I chose to go dry.
My relationship with alcohol wasn’t an emotional one. I didn’t drink to numb anxiety or boost confidence. I didn’t even drink to relax. Alcohol was my ticket to the loosest circus in town.
Throughout my 20s, I’d poke bears and prod lions until the birds would sing the sun up, and laugh my fatigued body through the following day in the studio. But when hangovers became a mental and emotional rollercoaster, I thought twice before pouring my third rum. Soon, anxiety claimed alcohol altogether. I couldn’t touch a drop without feeling the fingers of fear slither up the back of my neck. It was no fun anymore, so I went dry for three years. Unlike many, this was a decision I was happy to make, but challenges surfaced – or, should I say, indicators began flashing. The void that alcohol abstinence left showed me things about myself I never knew existed.
The night I decided to quit drinking. I can laugh at it now, but my reaction to alcohol was an indicator of physical and emotional debts that needed to be paid.
Fortunately, booze made me play like shit, so it was never a problem around show time. But many musicians drink and use to dampen nerves or general emotional heat, others to keep the dying flames of passion alight. Networking, industry and crowd perception can also anchor many to the bottle. Being a substance of surrender, it can be a solution to dissolving stresses that block the creative highways when trying to write. Naturally, going dry will effect what alcohol depends on. For me, socialising became boring, and relationships shifted. It was as if the contrast on my social life had been turned down. I knew that as long as there were parts of my personality left unexpressed, I’d continue mourning the “fun times” and thus alcohol (now I understand yoyo sobriety). Thanks to the knowledge I had acquired dealing with anxiety, I was able to fully shift my relationship with alcohol.
I’m lying on my back in a sweaty state of blissful exhaustion and completely comfortable with mortality after one of the most amazing sex sessions I’ve ever had. As I’m enjoying the mental replays, I start laughing. I can’t believe I said that. I can’t believe she did that. It seemed natural at the time but from the ground up, it was almost embarrassing. With no substances in our systems, we rose above the day’s fatiguing stressors beyond boundaries and judgement. It was a ride of unfiltered connections much like the ones I chased socially with a bottle. Then it hits me. Alcohol is not the state itself, but a catalyst for bringing out something in me that already exists. I begin questioning every belief between alcohol and social fun.
Mood state change, night life stamina, psychological guard dropping, confidence, boldness, unfiltered connections, creativity, light-hearted shit talking, deep and meaningful conversations, laughing, dancing, climbing street poles, straddling street poles, networking, industry perception, crowd perception, relaxation, fear, presence and letting go of stressors were all qualities I learnt how to trigger substance-free through challenging the beliefs that inhibited them, and applying different internal strategies. Not only was the void filled, but a mental discipline was created in me that I apply to other areas in life. It took time, but some of the biggest, cosmic fearless nights I’ve had have been dry. And I remember them! Now I enjoy a glass of red for different reasons. There’s no void. I’m not chasing or dampening anything. There’s no clinging. It’s a take it or leave it situation.
An afterthought for the artist that is worried about perception – I reflect on my hangs with Slash, the guys from Deep Purple, B.B. King, Jimmy Barnes, whoever. Artists whose images are stained with drugs and alcohol, are loved because of what they do and who they are when they’re on it, not because they’re on it in the first place. When Courtney Love urinated on stage at The Big Day Out, nobody asked, “What was she drinking?”
Read more about Nathan and his incredible story here
An excerpt from A Happier Hour, written by Sexy Sobriety‘s Rebecca Weller.
Sexy Sobriety is an online life-coaching program designed for women who are ready to take control of their lives and unleash their authentic selves onto the world.
Back when I was in my corporate job, we were encouraged to take a ‘Defensive Driving’ course that involved performing a variety of manoeuvres on a race track. In one of the exercises, we were instructed to speed up and then slam on the brakes and avoid hitting a particular safety cone. Despite our best efforts, we all hit that cone.
We tried the activity again, but this time, rather than focusing on the cone, we were instructed to look for a safe place to steer the car. Same distance, same speed, same brakes; just a different intention and focus.
We were stunned. Every single one of us avoided the cone.
Our instructor explained that if something or someone jumps out in front of you, the worst thing you can do is look straight at it as you’re trying to avoid it. You need to focus on where you want to go, rather than where you don’t want to go.The lesson was powerful and I often found myself telling clients about it. Time and again, I noticed that when we focus on our fears, we often smash into them. And if we’re not focusing on where we really want to go, how can we expect to get there?
When it came to drinking, how many times had I given myself a lecture about not making a fool of myself, or letting the night get too messy, only to find that’s exactly where I’d ended up? Too many to count.
I thought about the next three months and everything I wanted to do, see, hear, taste, and experience in that time. Above all, I thought about how I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel playful, with confidence that was authentically me, not poured from a bottle. I wanted deeper connections, less anxiety, more space, more love, more potential. I wanted transformation, dammit!
I didn’t want to undertake a challenge that would make me miserable, and I was determined to make this experience a positive one. Sensing that overwhelm was not my friend, I decided to start with just two words of intention that inspired me most. I opened my journal to a fresh page, and wrote, My Sobriety Experiment.
My biggest fear around sobriety was that I’d never have fun again, so I decided to start with the big one. On the next line, I wrote, Playful. I thought about what playful meant to me. Creativity, fun, spontaneity, mischief, joy. I tapped my pen against the page, thinking about what I could do to feel that way without booze. I brainstormed on the page:
Choose love over fear. Trust. Believe. Tell jokes. Send funny messages to friends. Create fun, easy recipes. Schedule time off-line. Watch comedies. View each day as an adventure. Try new things. Take beautiful photos. Invite friends to lunch. Paint my toe nails. Create. Share. Skip. Giggle. Dance.
I took a deep breath as I reviewed my list. See? I told my inner critic. That doesn’t sound so bad. I turned the page and chose my next word, Radiant. I thought about what that word meant to me. Sparkly, healthy, glowing, connected, blissful. Obviously, just skipping the alcohol would guarantee that I felt infinitely more radiant, but what else could I do? I jotted down everything that came to mind:
Go to bed earlier. Stretch at sunrise. Juice. Run. Go to yoga class. Offer help. Eat fresh, whole foods. Feel sunshine on my skin. Splash around at the beach. Picnic in the park. Keep a gratitude journal. Meditate. Write. Create. Eat dinner by candlelight. Choose quality over quantity. Phone friends and family. Listen. Practice random acts of kindness.
I reviewed my lists, and started to feel tingles of excitement about this little adventure. Inspired, I switched on my laptop and created a secret Mood Board on Pinterest. I wanted something pretty I could look at on my phone whenever I felt wobbly; images to remind me how I wanted to feel, and why I was doing this. Why I wanted to change; what life might be like without this unhealthy habit; the kind of person I could become if I were free of its clutches.
Like a woman possessed, I spent hours clicking around the internet. Nutritious food, women doing yoga, women running on the beach, women splashing around in the ocean, click click click. Job done, and feeling marginally better about the whole endeavour, I decided to go one step further. I had a feeling this challenge would be one of the biggest of my life and I’d need all the safety nets I could possibly create.
For my birthday the previous year, Dom bought me the large vision board I’d been swooning over for months. It was gorgeous, with a huge expanse of white space to pin pictures, and a beautiful wooden frame, painted white. He’d kept it a surprise, filling the board with photos from our travels and other meaningful souvenirs. He snuck it into our study before coming in to meet me and a huge group of friends at a bar in the city. Naturally, because it was my birthday, I got rather silly indeed, downing cocktail after cocktail like it was the eve of Prohibition.
Dom had planned to surprise me with his thoughtful gift when we got home that night, but my actions robbed him, and myself, of the chance. I was a drunken mess and didn’t even remember the cab ride home. The next morning, when he took me into our study and showed it to me, I felt wretched with guilt and stupidity.
Now, I took a deep breath and lifted the board off the wall. It was time for an update: to the board, and to my life.
How childhood temperament can predict heavy drinking
An edited excerpt from Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment by Hello Sunday Morning supporter, Jenny Valentish.
1982. The UK. The Falklands War erupted. The lowest temperature on record was captured by a lonely weather station in east Scotland, at -27.2°C. Unemployment exceeded three million, the highest since the 1930s. The IRA bombed Hyde Park and Regents Park, killing eight and wounding forty-seven. Thatcher’s Tories were top of the opinion polls. In every kid’s Christmas stocking there was a copy of When the Wind Blows, depicting a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union. I was seven.
I don’t want to lose your sense of intrigue straight off the bat, but I was a sickly child, matted with eczema and, later, permanently trailing a hankie. The umbilical cord had noosed around my neck upon my grand entrance, rendering me mute. I brought with me a special delivery of postnatal depression and was soon registered as ‘failure to thrive’.
Around our house they called me the Grizzler. My super-powers included a sixth sense for the acutely unfair, and internal combustions at perceived slights. My parents also bandied around ‘sulking’, or ‘sulking again’, but those words didn’t do it justice. When wronged, their youngest child was a kamikaze pilot in a nosedive, unwilling or unable to pull up. Empires should collapse.
‘It’s not the end of the world!’ Mum would exclaim, in an ascending tone. Dad’s favoured description of Mum was ‘wittering’. Mum’s nickname for Dad was ‘Eeyore’. We all did the Myer Briggs personality test one time and came out as introverts with tempers rising. Our default setting was: ‘Expect nothing and be pleasantly surprised.’ Addendum: ‘Any pleasant surprise will be a massive fluke and should be dismissed as such.’
What I’m describing here is temperament. Temperament is observable from birth, and it’s the foundation upon which personality is built. The dim light in which I view 1982 gives some insight into mine.
There’s an episode of the 2012 ABC documentary Life at Seven called ‘Tackling Temperament’. The Australian children it follows have been the subjects of a longitudinal study since birth, and now it’s time to test their response to frustration with ‘The Painting Experiment’.
In groups of three, the children in the documentary are given the task of painting a picture of flowers. Midway through they’re distracted by a researcher, who calls them over to inspect the real floral arrangement more closely. While their backs are turned, one girl – who’s in on the trick – scribbles on their artwork, then slips back to her own easel.
Initially, each child is dismayed to discover their ruined painting – and they’re suspicious, of course.
Child 1 is subdued. She says she knows the other girl did it, but she keeps going with her painting regardless. By the time she skips out of the room, the insult is forgotten.
Child 2 finds another blank page beneath the first and, pleased with his own ingenuity, starts over from scratch.
Child 3 wants to get to the bottom of it, but eventually her desire to continue wins out. ‘I know,’ she decides, ‘I could colour the background in.’
Child 4 is angry. She stamps her foot. ‘That just can’t happen,’ she says. The researcher leans in: so what should Child 4 do? ‘I don’t know,’ she whimpers. Does she have an idea? ‘No.’ She rejects the suggestion of turning over the paper to the clean side, claiming that won’t work.
‘How did it happen?’ Child 4 repeats, aghast. Eventually she’s persuaded to start over, but the sense of injustice lingers.
Perhaps Child 4 adopted a permanent explanation for this ruined-painting scenario. This is a mindset described by psychologist Martin Seligman in his book The Optimistic Child. A positive thinker will regard a setback as being temporary: ‘This picture has been ruined but at least I had only just started.’ A pessimistic child will tell themselves a story with finality to it: ‘This is hopeless. Just my luck. This happens every time. People always have it in for me.’
This type will also have what’s called an external locus of control: the belief that they are a passive victim of their circumstances, rather than the architect of their own destiny. Every time a reasonable solution is offered, they’ll play the ‘yes, but’ game, preferring to nurse that sense of unfairness like Gollum and his ring.
Something might go really well yet by the end of the day it’s catastrophised, remembered as an unmitigated disaster. They might similarly revise their entire childhood, levelling out all experiences to the baseline of the worst. In my memory, for instance, my childhood is like Nordic noir: everyone’s withdrawn and secretive, the sky is overcast, and people drift about wearing thick woollen jumpers (Dad never turned on the central heating). At any moment someone’s liable to walk out into a snowdrift and never return.
That’s the past. As for the future – which in Child 4’s case is the option of turning over a sheet of paper and starting anew – they’re harbingers of doom.
In defence of Child 4, certainly not all pessimistic or reactive children will grow up wanting to funnel the world up one nostril. There are plenty of coping techniques that, with a bit of encouragement, an individual can employ to regulate their moods.
The ruined paintings of the Life at Seven kids were a minor setback. In the case of experiencing childhood trauma, having low resilience – like Child 4 – can be a huge risk factor for adult anxiety, depression and problematic substance use.
One of the most thorough studies of childhood personality began in Melbourne in 1983 and is ongoing. The psychologists and paediatricians behind the Australian Temperament Project have been following the children of 2443 Victorian families. They’ve found that the features of temperament most likely to have long-term influence are persistence, flexibility and reactivity/emotionality, with the biggest predictor of adult behaviour being self-regulation.
Someone with poor self-regulation has little capacity to control their reactions, which include physiological responses, such as a churning stomach when something is upsetting, but also their interpersonal attitudes. Take me. I was one of those kids who, if a friend came over to play and a row started, would rather endure an hour of anvil-heavy, atom-buzzing silence until their mother arrived to take them away, than try to rectify the situation. Not much has changed. Fast-forward thirty years and there I am necking two beta-blockers before resigning from a job, in order to firmly get my points across without hurling a stapler or letting loose a spittled string of expletives.
So why do some people fail at self-regulation?
In part it’s hereditary, but it’s also down to the home environment. When a child’s stress-response systems are activated – which means an increased heart rate, rise in blood pressure and release of stress hormones – some calm intervention by a caregiver can bring these responses back down to baseline. If these skills are not observed and learned, the habit of self-regulation will not be routed into the neural pathways. Failure to learn might be through parental neglect or through watching parents catastrophise minor issues.
Conversely, pandering to a child’s every whim can mean they’ll never experience disappointment and how to adapt to it. Increasingly, drug and alcohol counsellors are seeing clients in their thirties and forties who are living back at home with enabling parents who never learned to tell them ‘no’.
The danger in both cases is that defeat can become comforting. There’s a familiar cycle of disappointment and then – if you grow up to coddle yourself with drugs and alcohol – self-soothing. In time, defeat becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things are not for the likes of you. Something simply cannot be done. There is no point.
In summary, what we know to be high-risk factors for problematic substance use include low resilience, poor self-regulation, low self-efficacy and reactivity.
This is why it’s vital for any adult addressing their alcohol or drug use to specifically address their resilience and self-regulation, perhaps through counselling methods, such as CBT. Turn it into a game, if necessary: how quickly can I laugh off that slight? How many good things happened to me today before that wrong turn into shit-town?What advantage can I milk from this unexpected situation? What have I learned? Our temperament may be acquired through our genes, but our attributes are gained through our own free will.
Woman of Substances is available as a special offer here. The author’s blog is here.
Ten tips to help you understand your drinking limit
How many drinks are too many, and where do you draw the line? Chris Raine and the Hello Sunday Morning health coaches talk us through tips on how to not go overboard.
Many of us have been there at some point in our lives.
The night/s when you took it too far, had one drink too many and crossed your line. You may have lost control of your inhibitions and jeopardised a relationship, got into a fight, said things you didn’t mean or did something you would never have done without the alcohol.
It may seem excusable when we’re young; when we don’t have as many responsibilities and the consequences aren’t as great. But when we’re older and have a job where people are relying on us, or we’re in a committed relationship, the repercussions can be much more serious.
It may have taken you that one time to learn your limit, or, depending on your relationship with alcohol, you may still be looking. For some, it’s not as easy as just growing out of it. Different things work for different people and whether you refer to them as rules, guidelines, strategies or experiments, it’s important to try a few techniques to see what works for you.
Chris Raine, Hello Sunday Morning’s CEO and founder, says learning what works for you is key to knowing when you should take it easy on the booze.
“If you’re not one to say, ‘two drinks is my limit’, (which you can do when you’re driving, but it’s hard particularly if you get into shouts or something like that), it’s good to have other rules that work for you.
“So, for me, it’s not about how many drinks I have, it’s just things like having a glass of water before I drink when I arrive somewhere or doing my best to make sure if I’m drinking I have also exercised and had a good sleep. If I haven’t and I end up drinking a lot then I know those things are tied in together.”
Alcohol is biphasic, so when you first start drinking it’s a stimulant and as soon as you stop drinking, the depressant effects kick in. You may be able to have one drink and it metabolises, but if you have 4-5 drinks and you stop drinking, it can be a steep hill downwards.
“Because alcohol is a drug, it’s hard for people to realise when they probably shouldn’t have another drink. It makes you feel good and that’s how it works on our brain. You just want to keep being stimulated and alert and perform in a certain social situation, but as soon as you stop consuming the drug it goes down.”
Liv, a 23-year-old drama student who also works part-time, says that she does not have a limit because it’s not that easy to find one. In part, this is due to it being socially acceptable to drink too much, so no one calls you up on it.
“I guess you could say I don’t have a limit. I basically go out to get wasted. I’ll buy a bottle of spirits and mostly I’ll just free-pour until I lose count.”
Liv says she is not happy with her current relationship with alcohol, and in the past, she has woken up regretting the night before.
“I do things that I regret so often, I feel disgusting about it and I guess I repulse myself, so my coping mechanism is just not thinking about it and trying not to see that person again or that group of people again.”
Liv started drinking mixed drinks when she was 16 and when she was 18 she started drinking straight from the bottle.
“It’s not something I’ve addressed because you always think binge drinking and alcohol dependence are problems that 40-year-olds have and it seems acceptable when you’re 23. You can write it off as ‘going out’.
“If I’m at a family dinner I won’t get wasted, I’ll just have one or two glasses of wine. But I see that as a difference, between drinking for pleasure when you’re eating, or at a party when you’re drinking until you’re having fun.”
Liv admits that she definitely has fun, but she would like to be able to stop when she needs to.
“When do you stop? You get drunk and you forget to have a limit, and you keep ordering more and more drinks.
“In order to [stop] I know I need to make a few changes in my life, like a healthier relationship, better friends, maybe move away from my current living environment.”
Stopping at ‘the buzz’
Good Therapy Organisation says when we can learn to stop at the “buzz,” we are well on our way to having our relationship with alcohol fully in check.
“For most people, three or four drinks make them feel tipsy or buzzed. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, yet the initial effects of alcohol in these amounts are more stimulating and euphoric feeling. People tend not to get into serious trouble from these amounts, but since the initial effects feel good, many people continue to drink past these amounts, assuming more alcohol equates to more good. It does not. It takes time for alcohol to work itself into your system, so people don’t realise how drunk they are getting, and in larger amounts alcohol has a depressing effect. The alcohol you drink today can make you feel depressed days and weeks later, and these small amounts can contribute to depressive feelings over time.”
How to deal with slip-ups
Chris Raine says his approach is to ask yourself, “what did I learn from it?” and “why did I do it?”
“I’d love to say that after doing this for seven years I’ve found perfect peace with myself, but I haven’t. If there are times when I’ve woken up hungover, sometimes I’m cool with that, sometimes it was worth it. But it if is just an average Friday or Saturday night and I wake up after having not really achieved anything and I’ve kind of just wanted to finish the week on Friday and feeling stressed, I need to think of the things I ought to change in my week. There is a responsibility that I’ve let myself down a little bit.
“You need to be honest with yourself, but you also have to be curious and understand in order to take the right action.
“The more I drink in my life, the less I’m really happy with it.”
On 1 January 2017, I started an alcohol-free month. It was on the back of a classic ‘new year, new you’ moment (cliché, I know), but there’s something so neat and appealing about a bright, shiny new year. There’s also the bonus of New Year’s Eve, so you can go out with a bang.
I’ve done Dry July the past few years with various degrees of success (last year needed a reset to Dry August). I’ve always admired those strong-willed people who have a month off the booze in sunny February or October. I can cope when we’re knee deep in winter but balk at the thought of giving up alcohol in a nice month.
It’s pretty easy to get into the habit of drinking. I had a general plan for AFDs (alcohol-free days) Monday to Thursday, but too frequently that was pulling back to Wednesday, maybe Tuesday on a bad day. The routine of walk in the door; keys down; glass out and pour is very easy to slip into and so easily sustained when it’s an almost daily ritual with your partner. It just becomes a part of your routine.
What goes hand in hand with frequency is quantity. A couple of glasses at wine o’clockmost nights adds up pretty quickly, right? Throw in a sneaky bubbly on Friday after work and a Saturday night binge sesh, and say ‘hello’ to a couple of empty bottles of Adelaide Hills pinot gris by Sunday.
I was pretty good at knowing how much I could drink and stay under the limit for driving. Sometimes I’d plan my strategy in advance – would I drink up in the first hour and then wait it out? Or would I drink over a few hours and hang in there? It’s an imprecise science at the best of times and obviously impacted by the wine goggles you’re wearing when you’re in the moment.
One of the bonuses of being a successful grown-up is the capacity to afford good quality alcohol. Drinking well adds to the air of sophistication and makes you think you’re a wine aficionado, rather than just someone who drinks too much. I was starting to invest quite a few dollars of my hard earned cash in alcohol and would reason that I work hard, so I deserve to let my hair down every now and again.
The interesting thing about drinking is how enjoyable it is in the moment and how shit it is the next morning. I was starting to find that my capacity to drink was pretty good so I could hold my grog with the best of them. With increasing regularity, though, I’d lose my capacity to bounce back and I’d suffer the next day blues with a fuzzy head and blocked nose. I reasoned it might be those nasty preservatives in the wine so I took up organic varieties for a while. Surprise, surprise, this didn’t seem to help.
Women in their 40s and 50s are among the biggest binge drinkers around and are fast catching up to men in terms of problem drinking. Teenagers are taking the rap for the mild-mannered mums who are putting away eight or more glasses per week. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey was released on 1 June this year and showed that for the first time ever, women in their fifties do more high-risk drinking than 18-24 year-olds.
What’s that all about? Are we managing our stressful lives with alcohol? Is it the modern day version of a Bex and a lie-down? What I know is that I needed to interrupt the very comfy pattern I was in.
I’ve never been too good at moderation. I’m the type that will open a bag of lollies or chips and eat the whole lot. The call of an open packet of anything in the cupboard has always been too tempting for me. But for all my shocking lack of moderation, I’m really good at going cold turkey. There’s something I enjoy about the denial, something about the challenge of giving things up that spurs me on.
So here I am over five months later with nary a drop of alcohol past my lips. When I started in January I didn’t really have an end date. Having come this far I’m thinking I will definitely go six months and then see what I think. My biggest fear is that I’ll have one drink and slip straight back into old habits. Just having the fear tells me I might need to go on a bit longer.
There’s been a positive impact on my partner, too, as we no longer egg each other on and enable each other’s drinking. I’ve done Dry July on my own in the past and have found it hard when my partner didn’t do it. Doing it together has helped both of us break bad habits and he’s so proud of how strong I have been.
I hadn’t noticed before how much time I spent thinking and reading about alcohol until my inbox started overflowing with unopened emails from various merchants and wineries. I subscribed to wine clubs and had a steady supply arriving straight to my door without me even having to think about it. My last call from my Vinomofo guy ended with a polite decline and an interesting chat about that time he gave up alcohol for 364 days. He’s calling me back later in the year to see how I’m going.
You don’t realise how much our social occasions involve alcohol until you’re not drinking. I’ve been through family birthdays (including mine), knock off drinks, work events, parties, long haul flights, overseas holidays, free alcohol in the Qantas club (yes, I even withstood free alcohol!). I’ve sat there with my sparkling water or my cup of tea and felt okay about it. I do have an honest suspicion, though, that I’m a lot more interesting when I’ve had a few.
It might not be surprising to know that when everyone is drinking and you’re stone cold sober, it is quickly revealed how uninteresting drunk people are. I’ve been making lots of observations of my unsuspecting drinking subjects in the wild. I reckon three drinks is the turning point. The point where the drinker’s face starts to contort a bit, the words slur a bit, the speech volume goes up a bit and the assertiveness goes up a notch towards aggression. It’s an ugly transformation to witness. Yet somehow in this scenario, everyone tells me I’m the boring one. If only they could see themselves. If only we could see ourselves we would know we are just the same.
I know that the cold turkey approach is not for everyone. If you want some help to reset your relationship with alcohol, head over to hellosundaymorning.org to access to their online supports and community.
Article by Hello Sunday Morning supporter Kathryn Jordan. Kathryn blogs at How to be Fifty
We interview Mr. Perfect about the generational shift around male communication and why having a society that’s open to emotional freedom for men is so important.
You’re told to suck it up, to be strong, to not cry because crying is for wimps.
Men don’t often open up about how they are really feeling to friends and family. Showing emotion and vulnerability has long been stigmatised as a sign of weakness. It is the stereotype of the heroic male represented in popular culture as fearless, resourceful, stoic and usually facing adversity alone. These characters tell us a lot about what is considered to be ideal male behaviour within our society.
Men should be allowed to be whoever they want to be.
Daphne Rose Kingma, author of The Men We Never Knew, has said:
“We’ve dismissed men as the feelingless gender — we’ve given up on them. Because of the way boys are socialised, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.”
Men are more than likely to express emotions in places where they feel safe and it is deemed acceptable by society, like a sports event. You’ll see hugging, passionate shouting, even tears of joy after a win. But you may not see other men hugging or tearing up in another circumstance, because they don’t feel as comfortable or as open to do so. It is often the same case when alcohol is involved. Men seem to open up after (many) drinks, they can speak honestly from their heart and it’s okay because they ‘were drunk and have an excuse’.
But men shouldn’t have to have an excuse to lean back on for speaking their truth.
As Psychology Today says, “men who deviate from the traditional masculine norm by being emotionally expressive and talking about their fears are often judged as being poorly adjusted.”
When upset, women are more likely to express their feelings directly, and to seek the support of friends and family, whereas men might hide their emotions or withdraw. The problem is that withdrawing is very dangerous and can lead to serious mental health repercussions.
The restriction of emotional expression in many men’s lives can lead to:
A greater sense of isolation;
Less support being available from loved ones;
Health issues, due to carrying chronic tension in the body and other bad coping strategies;
Relationship difficulties due to an inability to resolve emotional conflicts and/or a perceived lack of ability to be intimate;
Psychological problems such as depression, insomnia and anxiety.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men aged 14–44 years old.
Yet, as a young woman in 2017, I think the toughest of all men are those who stand up for what they believe is right, even in the face of other men. Men who show their emotions and ask for help when they need it, and who open their heart to vulnerability.
I’m not the only one.
Mr. Perfect, founded by Terry Cornick, is a grassroots mental health support network with a vision to transform men’s mental health by making it a comfortable discussion for all. It is a sarcastic nod to the male approach to mental health.
Mr. Perfect is a metaphor for what the world expects us to be. It is the mask we wear.
Mr. Perfect started as an non-profit organisation to try and start these conversations that were lacking in male societies. As well as corporate talks, a blog and a few other projects, Terry also runs a monthly Meet Up in Sydney where anyone can come for an informal social barbecue, have a chance to speak to other people in the same boat, and listen to talks from doctors, psychologists and other organisations. The Meet Ups are inclusive to anyone whether it be successful men, fathers to be, students or older guys.
“I often speak to doctors who say they feel very hopeless and do not know what to do when men come in with mental health concerns. They either give you a pamphlet for an organisation or a prescription for medication.”
“If it’s not clinical, you’re not told about it.”
Terry says there is such a stigma around getting help because we have been conditioned to believe that seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a ‘shrink’ means you’re ‘damaged’.
“Not only that, but there’s also the age-old thing of being masculine and being a man, and we all propagate that: both men and women. We assume this is what we need to be and people think,
“Your wife’s allowed to show that emotion so that’s fine, but a guy just cant do it.”
“Whether it be tiny set backs or big set backs, you were expected to come home after being a robot for eight hours at work and not talk about anything and just get on with it. You would also excuse traits and behaviours in your mates and just brush it off as, ‘Oh, that’s just [Jimmy] acting out,’ and you laugh about it and that’s the end of it. There was never scratching below that surface.”
Mr. Perfect aims to normalise that conversation.
“Once guys start and open up just a little bit, there’s no stopping them. Often times they won’t stop and they will talk so much they will apologise to me for telling their story because they have probably not told anyone that for five years, or only their doctor.”
So, for someone to just say, “I know what you’re talking about mate,” or, “you’re not alone,” that’s the first step.
“My dad was alcohol dependent, and my perception of that growing up was thinking he was just an asshole. He was told he would die if he kept drinking 20 years ago, and when he kept drinking, that was it for me. I was never once told or ever thought, until I started getting help myself, that maybe something was going on in his head that caused him to drink. I can’t really put my finger on it and I’ll probably never know why, but alcohol is the best way for people to do that, to block it out temporarily.”
Terry says he has friends who will use alcohol as their crutch, so if they have a really bad day at work or they’re in a bad mood, their first reaction is to go have a pint. Then that leads to four pints, which leads to staying out until midnight and then onto a club, and before you know it, the next day they’re in a world of pain physically and mentally.
“When I used to not talk about things, I would have a big night and end up in an argument with my wife. That was painful to wake up the next day and go, ‘I think we argued, I don’t know what about but I know there was shouting’.
“So, where did that come from? That doesn’t come from me being a bad person. It probably comes from me being insecure and not being able to talk about my anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, whatever it was, while I was sober. It was just easier to do it while I was drunk and blame someone else.”
A generational movement is brewing
With Mr. Perfect, One Wave Fluro Fridays, Livin’, and many more small, start-up mental health organisations, people are starting to break down the stigma around talking about mental health issues.
Terry says there’s a real need for all these ideas and these contemporary initiatives are the best starting point.
“There are big government groups advocating ‘awareness’, but it’s hard to know what the money is really going to. There are a lot of smaller groups, starting from very low funds who are personally trying to change things. It’s positive but it’s so difficult with no backing and we now need support from those types of authorities and the government.”
How can you help?
Terry says that the most important thing is to have a good support network of friends.
“It’s just about listening and saying, ‘I went through that as well and I’m still here, so you’re doing well just by talking about it’. If you don’t have anyone to bounce these ideas off, it can very quickly go from a very small problem in your head to the biggest problem possible.
“When I’m going though a tough time, I text some of my mates and say, ‘Just letting you know mate, if I don’t get back to you tonight it’s because I’m just having a bit of a cloudy spell’. I’ve completely normalised it and instead of shying away they will text me and say ‘here if you need, give me a buzz now, reach out, I’m here, I’ll drop everything’.”
If I see someone suffering, I’ll just send them a text and say, ‘Mate, I’ve noticed you weren’t yourself tonight. Is everything okay?’ And sometimes that can open a can of worms but at least you’ve started that.
Before you get defensive about how awful that sounds, let me explain a few things. If you have followed my previous stories you will know that my drinking career didn’t start until I was divorced and about 25 years old. I spent my high school years as an outspoken, probably annoying, high school Jesus freak. That passion followed me to college, and naturally reflected Evangel University. I loved my four years at Evangel and still maintain incredible friendships. You have to sign a covenant to attend a faith-based school, which I did — no sex, alcohol or dancing, and I stayed true to that. Though I wish I tested the waters a little bit; but don’t tell anybody, I could get fined (Evangel joke).
I think Tenley was maybe two or three when I decided I would start drinking. I drank Moscato , the sweetest kind you could find. I never felt odd, or buzzed and in hindsight that should have been an indication of tolerance, but if you are surrounded by drinkers, active drinkers , everyone’s truth is a little distorted.
The last three years have been a whirlwind. I hit the lowest of lows. Imagine seeing a grown woman clinging to her pillow in a nightgown, with fuzzy socks on and a missing tooth. That is who I was, walking through the doors as an inpatient. Luckily I have been able to have a pretty kick-ass, stellar recovery process that has been tiresome but so worthy.
You’re probably asking how being an alcoholic made me a better mother. There are few key reasons that all sort of tie in with the theory of ‘desirable disadvantages’.
I was a very loving and kind mother. Most women naturally fill that role. But then I began to fill my nights with drinking and the nights turned into days which turned into months and, before I knew it, everything was unraveling.
Tenley has always been a child of bright curiosity and she radiates joy wherever she flutters. I was tired, irritable, half-assing my way through a job I loved but couldn’t find any additional strength for. I was disengaged, always planning my next stop for alcohol and/or planning to have care on the weekends I did have her, because ‘it’s normal to drink with friends’. Her joyful mother became sad, tired and uninterested.
That is one of the hardest truths I will ever have to swallow. To admit that when it came down to Tenley or alcohol, I would have chosen alcohol. It took me years to figure out why and what that meant and I accept that it isn’t a choice. Once you are at that point, you are a passenger on the train.
The last year and a half of sobriety have been the hardest moments in my life. I was broken, poor, unhealthy, starting my career over again. But I got creative. I saved everything I could, learned to budget correctly, attended night classes and rode the bus two hours every morning (a consequence of an OWI/DUI).
The first year of my change, I white-knuckled it all — I was happy to be alive, but did not yet appreciate what that entailed. I found myself jealous of my old life prior to sobriety but when I really put forth the effort that this deserved , my whole life shifted.
I believe the statement above with every fibre in my being. One of the hardest things for any parent to do is admit they failed their children.
And I did it. I failed Tenley. I wasn’t the mother she deserved or needed or asked for. I scared and worried my daughter and the shame kept me spiralling out of control. I didn’t want to accept that I had done this to her as I love Tenley more than anything. When I am drinking I am not choosing to not be the best mother, I cannot choose. I see so many excellent parents weighted with defeat. I see the stress, the sagging shoulders and bloodshot eyes.
YOU CAN GET BETTER. YOU CAN BE BETTER. YOUR CHILD WILL RESPECT YOUR FIGHT, AND LOVE YOU FIERCELY FOR IT.
Tenley and I are closer than ever, we talk openly about my past and my choices. She isn’t walking forward with a mum that hides or shames horrible behaviour or consequences or alcoholism, she is walking forward with my recovery, hand in hand with me. She is learning to overcome the worst case scenario and be the best version of herself she can.
Your children are your biggest fans, they love unconditionally and will forgive you in a heartbeat (but do not take advantage of a soft heart, they become adults who remember). They want you to be YOU and if that means taking time to go to rehab, DO IT, if that means changing jobs, DO IT, if that means getting medication to help curb chemical imbalances, DO IT. Your children are watching you fall, but more importantly, watching you stand back up and dust your knees and shoulders off, before grabbing them too, brushing the dirt from their knees, walking forward together because you are worth it and it is never too late. Ever.
I now have better relationships. It took me a long time to understand the ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’ concept. I need someone who loves me as is and can share that love with a smaller version of me. Tenley is watching me in a relationship with a recovering drinker who put sobriety first. Thankfully, my partner emits so many qualities that I would want for her to experience. She sees love practiced and given without condition, she sees a disagreement become a solution and finally she sees me valuing myself first and knowing that I can’t be a partner or mother if I am drinking.
I am financially stable. Drinking took a LOT of money from me, but also taught me how to plan a budget when my one source of debt was rejected. She watches me budget, and I now think about where my money is going.
I have a supportive job. I was able to be candid about my drinking past, and that makes me better prepared if I begin to feel stressed or anxious. In the past, drinking on the job became very easy and it usually does for most addicts. It’s not purposeful, it’s to survive at that point. When you stop drinking you shake, you crave, your body does everything it can to get you temporary relief. I shared my past openly with my boss in the first interview, because for me, it’s life or death. I don’t suggest that you share intimate details of your life if they aren’t necessary but for this position I needed to be candid and was respected for it.
Here is the takeaway. I am a better mother now because I have fought hard to be one again. My moments with Tenley are an adventure that strayed off track for a few years. I am a better mother because I value the little moments, even the bad moments, because when you are accepting of death, you become very much alive if you are given a second chance. Joy is more joyful, silence is more warming, love is bigger and louder.
This isn’t to say I live without pain. Fifty percent of my time is spent without my little radiant pixie and it’s in those times that I find myself sinking into that dark hole of loneliness and hurt, wondering how I made it through the past few years. It’s simple, I made it because I wasn’t feeling anything: my goal was to not feel. But my god, does the joy feel joyful.
Parents , if anything sticks with you , please let it be this: continue to fight for what is good and true. You are giving your children an incredible gift and that is showing them when you fail, there is a chance to do it right.
If you find yourself in a similar situation and are feeling alone, you are not. Tenley and I are rooting for you, hand in hand.
The five best ways to talk to mum about her drinking
We spoke to Talitha Cummins about stigma and the best approaches to opening up a conversation
“Such is the strength of denial when it comes to drinking … that a child talking to their parent may not even hit home.” — Talitha Cummins
Generally, mums are known to talk a lot. They call for a chat about anything: to tell you a trivial incident that happened at the shops; to remind you to pay your health insurance bill; or pester you to take back a stored box of clothes in your old room. But because mums are so used to helping others and putting themselves last, it can be hard to turn it around and open up a conversation with mum about how she may be drinking.
At Hello Sunday Morning, we refer to the mums in the Daybreak communityas ‘supermums’; they’re superheroes in our eyes. But the thing is, that’s a pretty high standard to live up to, and it can come with a lot of pressure. So far, Hello Sunday Morning has supported 80,000 women on their journey to change their relationship with alcohol. Our statistics show 56 per cent of female members on Daybreak have children, and of those mothers, 7.4 per cent have over six drinks daily or almost daily.
We spoke with mother, Australian journalist and Hello Sunday Morning ambassador, Talitha Cummins, about why there is a stigma attached to mums who drink and why it’s so hard for mothers to accept that they may need help to change their relationship with alcohol:
“We’re very good at drinking but we’re not very good at acknowledging the problems that come with it. There’s a tendency for people to sweep this issue under the mat because it’s a little bit too confronting. Research shows that women in their late 30s and early 40s have caught up to men on the drinking front for a number of reasons, like women entering the workforce and equality. I also think there’s an extra layer of stress on women who do a lot of the work looking after the children as well as working full time and that adds another layer of pressure. Alcohol is used to relieve that pressure. Too much of relying on that to relieve the pressure creates a problem.”
Talitha described herself as the definition of a high-functioning drinker, a category that we find often gets overlooked by GPs and social groups because they break the traditional stereotypes of alcohol dependency: a bedraggled man carrying a paper bag with hard liquor around the street.
“I would get up in the morning and go for a run no matter how much I’d had the night before. If I could get up and go for that run and turn up to my hair and makeup and present well, than I thought the alcohol wasn’t having an effect on me. I’d still be able to work all day and it wasn’t until I got home that night that I’d start drinking again. So on the face of it, I was still doing my job, perhaps not to the best of my ability, but it wasn’t a problem until it was. Things became unmanageable for me.”
Talitha thought she was the only one who knew that her drinking was getting out of hand. It took an intervention from her Chief Of Staff at work who sat her down and asked her if she was okay, for her to allow herself to accept the situation.
“I think I was just at the right point and I said ‘no’ and I just crumbled. I was ready for someone to reach out and say anything to me because I was just so sick and tired of going through this whole thing of drinking, feeling shame and guilt and drinking to make myself feel better.”
Talitha says it is so difficult to talk to a parent about their drinking because in a lot of instances, they won’t accept they have an issue themselves.
“I spoke to a parent this week whose daughter won’t speak to them because of their drinking. But this person is still in complete denial about the problem and wants to stop drinking, but not even being told by their child that there’s an issue makes them see that they need help.”
So, how do you begin the conversation with your mum about her relationship with alcohol?
There are many ways you could approach the topic, and the best for you may vary depending on your relationship with your mum. Talitha recommends a loving approach.
“I know there can be a lot of fall out from things that may have happened with the parents drinking, but approaching lovingly from a good place and making sure they understand that you’re there to support them is a good start to then let them know that you also think they need to seek help.”
You could also try opening up yourself and sharing something about your experience, such as:
“I have been thinking a lot about my relationship to alcohol lately. I have realised that it has been really valuable for me to reflect on it.”
Saying something personal demonstrates to the other person that you are comfortable (or maybe uncomfortable, but open to) being vulnerable around them.
In her TED talk, Dr. Brene Brown discusses the power of vulnerability. It is exceptionally difficult to let yourself be vulnerable in front of others.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,” says Dr. Brown. Letting ourselves be vulnerable.
“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” Which, many have argued, is sort of the point of everything. We are wired to connect to other people, it’s one of the things that has enabled humans to be so successful as a species and it is a powerful tool for the healing process.
But what if mum doesn’t see an issue and gets defensive?
It may be a good idea to be prepared for this reaction, as drinking carries with it a lot of negative stigma from our society and is linked with feelings such as shame and guilt. Which is ironic, as the social pressure and expectation to drink alcohol is massive.
Talitha points out that confrontation is often avoided because of the expectations that you should be able to handle your drinking.
“None of my friends actually confronted me about it, despite them seeing some of the things that I was doing. It’s awkward not only for the person who is drinking, but for the friends as well; they don’t know what to say, so there’s this embarrassment around it on both sides.”
People can become enraged at a suggestion that they may be drinking too much and deny that they need help. You may find a breakthrough and the person will acknowledge their drinking, but they may deny addressing it, saying something like: “I can stop anytime I want to” or, “Everyone drinks to unwind sometimes.”
A Washington Post article written by Sara Amato, shares her story of struggle when confronting her mum about her relationship with alcohol and the positive opportunity she got out of the experience.
“Over the years, I tried to talk with her about her alcoholism, but she never wanted to hear it. It forced me to come to terms with the fact I couldn’t change her and that it didn’t need to weigh me down. She refused to recognise she had a problem and actively denied it whenever I brought it up. I could pour her wine out, but she’d still find ways to drink. If she wasn’t willing to change then it couldn’t be my problem anymore.
Her drinking forced me to be more cautious. It wasn’t until after college that I started drinking socially. I thought that if I drank anything, I would turn into her. But the more she denied she had a problem, the more it dawned on me that I wasn’t her. I had developed more self-awareness and control than she had ever shown me. But that realisation didn’t happen overnight. There was never any therapy sessions or group programs, there was only time. Most importantly, I realised that talking about these issues and getting help isn’t shameful, because [drinking] isn’t a one-person [issue]: It affects everyone. I know that now at 27, but when I was 16? No, I was really stubborn. It took me a long time to realise that letting people in doesn’t make you weak. And you should never feel alone when dealing with a loved one’s addiction. Because you’re not.”
Here are a few tips to help you take the blame off yourself
Firstly, you need to acknowledge the issue. You may be in denial to protect your parent or hide the issue. Admitting that your parent needs support, even if they won’t, is the first step in taking control.
Don’t blame yourself and be aware of your emotions. Accepting and acknowledging helps you put things in perspective. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for your parents drinking too much and that you cannot cause it or stop it, only they can. Recognising how a parent’s drinking makes you feel can help you from burying your feelings and pretending that everything’s fine.
Learn healthy coping strategies. When we grow up around people who turn to alcohol or other unhealthy ways of dealing with problems, they become our example. It may be a good idea to find some role models who can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and ways of making good decisions.
Find support. Talk to people that may have gone through a similar thing and find support through Hello Sunday Morning or other support programs.
“To people out there who are in the midst of a drinking issue, life can get better. I was in such a low place too and I never thought that I would find the allusive happiness. But with a lot of hard work, you can get there. There is hope.” — Talitha Cummins
Hello Sunday Morning is a movement towards a better drinking culture. Our vision is a world where drinking is an individual choice, not a cultural expectation.
With aching legs, windblown faces and strands of hair frozen like spiky icicles, we “kanpai!” our Sapporo beers to a great day on the slopes as we look up to the view of Niseko’s Ana Puri mountain. The people around us sipping on steaming coffee or cold beers are likely to finish their drink and head to a Japanese onsen to end the day soaking their muscles in the healing, hot mineral springs that fill these public baths.
Comparing this to other vibrant après scenes like Canada’s Whistler or Big White ski resorts (nacho towers, live music and ski shots), the après culture in Japan appears a little more relaxed and sophisticated. However, the drinking culture in the corporate world back in the cities has far greater ramifications.
“However, once someone becomes [alcohol dependent], he or she is looked down on and it is not easy for that person to regain his or her status back in society after recovery.”
Business Insider published an article that recognises the significance of the Japanese corporate drinking culture, as this was how the older generation of workers established their relationships with clients and often used drinking as a bonding ritual for their own teams and employees. “During the day, the Japanese generally take a task-based approach, but the relationship building that happens in the evening can be critical to business success.” There is even an expression for this; nomunication, stemming from the Japanese verb nomu ‘to drink’ and the English word ‘communication’.
Hello Sunday Morning’s Chief Product Officer, Alex, lived immersed in this working culture in Tokyo for a few years:
“After-work drinks are almost mandatory, if you choose not to go then you are treated as the odd-man-out. One of the unspoken reasons this is pushed so hard is that ‘after work drinks’ is the only time you can air your grievances or communicate your feelings to superiors. During work hours it would be a massive disrespect to argue with your boss, so you are meant to bottle it inside and hold on for Friday drinks, during which you can have the ‘Oh, I had too much to drink’ excuse for opening up about your feelings.”
So there is a direct correlation between drinking as a way to cope with the pressures and stress from work. And if an organisation is encouraging employees to drink for business matters, they could be the ones leading them down the rabbit hole.
There is a uniquely beautiful type of therapy from Japan that could prove to be beneficial for people caught up in these over-working, over-drinking societies.
A therapy that goes by the poetic name of Forest Bathing.
So far, the Japanese government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004, with a goal of designating 100 official trails. At the moment, Japan has 48 Forest Therapy trails designated for shinrin-yokuby Japan’s Forestry Agency. Shinrin-yoku is a term inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, and it essentially means to let nature enter your body through all five senses.
Psychological research supports the theory that immersing oneself in nature has proven to be beneficial to relieve anxiety and depression, boost empathy and improve cognition. Forest bathing research supports scientists to measure the effects of the cells and neurons during this experience in nature. Research, led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki from the University of Chiba and Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, uses field tests, hormone analysis, and new brain-imaging technology to uncover how the benefit from these trails works on a molecular level.
Another unique therapy from Japan known as Morita therapy was influenced by the psychological principles of Zen Buddhism and is all about accepting life as it is, known as ‘arugamama’.
“The answer lies in practicing and mastering an attitude of being in touch with the outside world. This is called a reality-oriented attitude, which means, in short, liberation from self-centeredness.” Takahisa Kora, M.D.
Morita Shoma, a Japanese psychiatrist, developed Morita therapy to consist of four distinct stages. He was disillusioned by the harm caused to inpatients while being confined in dismal places and decided to take them into his country home. It initially consisted of complete rest, from which he progressed his therapy to include art, diary writing, interaction with the environment and outdoor activities, while observing that the safe familial environment fostered responsive healing. The Morita School explains that the principles of this approach have been adapted to outpatient settings and expanded to address not only emotional well-being but to improve function in many aspects of day to day life.
Morita identifies that our mind is capable of imagining and wishing for things that have nothing to do with how life is. The Morita School gives an example of people who want to adopt lifestyles without experiencing the natural outcome of those lifestyles. People imagine that they can neglect and abuse their bodies and not experience negative effects to their health. People imagine that they can live fully and not experience the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that are naturally a part of that kind of life.
Those in cities are turning to external, alternative therapies for treatment of addiction, anxiety and other mental issues caused by the current cultural expectations. But as the high number or people over-working in Japan starts to reduce, hopefully a generational change of relying on alcohol to communicate issues with employers will also see a cultural shift.
This article was originally published on Hello Sunday Morning’s Medium platform.
Why some use alcohol to cope with PTSD and why is it vital to get support.
“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” — George Bernard Shaw.
What is self-medication?
Self-medication is a coping response to tough emotional or social issues and often occurs when a person turns to prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or alcohol in order to deal with situations they find themselves struggling in.
Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope is often the first step towards substance abuse which can potentially lead down the road of addiction. The brutal truth is that this doesn’t help solve problems, in fact it may bring about more set backs and can spike a vicious cycle, fuelling further struggle and evoking emotions like guilt, shame, anxiety and depression.
Hello Sunday Morning supporter and author of This Naked Mind, Annie Grace, posted a blog on Hello Sunday Morning’s community platform reflecting on why drinking to relieve pain is the most dangerous drinking of all:
I was emotionally addicted to alcohol. Here’s what I wish someone had told me
Alcohol is a tricky devil. It will convince you that it is there in your times of need to make you forget. Drink enough and you will eventually feel as if it is cathartic. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, increasing feelings of depression and anxiety to the point where one often finds it difficult to cope with everyday stresses. What were once small, daily problems that were nothing more than an inconvenience become an insurmountable mountain when alcohol is involved.
Alcohol creates a vicious cycle in which you begin drinking to dull the pain of one problem, and, upon encountering other small obstacles, you feel overwhelmed, reach for another drink, and put dealing with reality off until tomorrow. Before alcohol, you would have just handled the situation as it came. Alcohol makes you rely upon it and think that without it you can’t function. When used to self-medicate, it becomes your motivation to wake up in the morning, a pick-me-up to get through the day, a reward for getting through the day, and, finally, an elixir to help you sleep. Meanwhile, it is actually robbing you of every pleasure and joy you deserve.
Life is better without alcohol. I wake every morning with a clear head, I know what I did the night before, and I have friends whom I don’t need alcohol in order to be honest with. I get to feel my emotions fully every day and enjoy every moment as it comes — fully and completely.
Statistics show that 50 per cent of people that have some form of dependence on a substance have a concurrent mental health challenge. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one main health concern where people turn to alcohol to try and cope. The U.S National Centre for PTSD says alcohol problems are more common for survivors who have ongoing health problems or pain. Up to three quarters of those who have survived abusive or violent trauma and up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters, report unhealthy drinking patterns.
What is PTSD?
Beyond Blue describes post-traumatic stress disorder as, “a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event which threatened their life or safety, or that of others around them. This could be a car or other serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or disasters such as bushfires or floods. As a result, the person experiences feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror.”
This anxiety disorder can be triggered by a range of things in everyday life that remind the person of the event. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include depression, anxiety, nightmares, emotional numbness and withdrawal from social interactions.
Returned soldiers suffering from PTSD tend to struggle to fit back into the day-to-day structure of normal life and can be constantly on guard, which can be difficult for their relationships with their friends or family. If they don’t seek the treatment they need in time, further problems can arise including self-medicating by drinking.
65-year-old British veteran, Stuart Wicks, opens up to Chronicle Liveabout his drinking and the lack of support for returned solders:
“In the military you are conditioned into being part of a team and you function as part of that team. I suddenly came out into an environment where I lacked in confidence, I had no self-confidence whatsoever.
The time to drink for me was from 4pm or 5pm onwards because that’s how it was on the army. If I drank, I would drink to oblivion.”
Stuart, who has now gone without a drink for five years, works for the charity Changing Lives as an outreach worker for veterans and has called for an Armed Services Rehabilitation Act to help ease the transition for veterans back into civilian life.
“I think anybody who has done some service and those in their last year before they come out, should go into a rehabilitation programme which would be able to identify and recondition that person back into an individual.
There’s a lot of group esteem from the services but self-esteem is what you need on the outside.”
RSLs (Returned Service Leagues) in Australia are a place where returned veterans can come together with other ex-servicemen and feel appreciated and part of a community. There are many scattered all over Australia’s cities and country towns. The RSL’s mission is to “ensure that programs are in place for the well-being, care, compensation and commemoration of serving and ex-service Defence Force members and their dependents.”
However, many of these ex-servicemen will come to a place like the RSL club with dark interiors, cheap drink specials and poker machines with the primary intention being to drink, a lot. Combat veterans often experience life-threatening situations or witness horrors that can trigger PTSD. A 2010 Defence report found that the rate of PTSD was higher among troops: 8.1 per cent, compared to 4.6 per cent for the general population.
Tribes, On Homecoming and Belonging, A book by Sebastian Junger, explains that we have a natural need to belong to small groups of people with purpose and understanding — tribes.
“This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.”
He points to a current example of combat veterans who return home and find themselves missing that tight bond of life with their comrades. “The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.”
Drinking can make PTSD worse
The National Center for PTSD says alcohol has actually been proven to increase PTSD symptoms like depression and anxiety, numbing your feelings, being cut off from friends and family and promoting the feeling of being on guard. Drinking can continue the cycle of avoidance.
“Avoiding the bad memories and dreams actually prolongs the PTSD and you cannot make as much progress in treatment if you avoid your problems. Alcohol use problems make PTSD treatment less effective.”
Why alcohol casts a dark shadow on the happiest nation on earth
My two great loves, travel and the study of psychology, brought me to the hidden Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. If you have heard of Bhutan (although you’re not alone if you haven’t) you’ll likely recognise it as the “land of Gross National Happiness.”
“Isn’t that one of the happiest countries in the world?” friends ask me when I mention my trip. In Bhutan, happiness isn’t relegated to self-help books and mantra chanting yogis (although there is some of that), it is for everyone. And this is what captured my interest when I learnt about the kingdom during a positive psychology lecture; it’s what captures most travellers to Bhutan. This tiny nation has put life satisfaction and psychological wellness at the forefront of their public governance and political concerns. And I think it’s working.
The flight into Paro International Airport is stunning. We weave through evergreen mountains and hop over grand snow-capped peaks. Is it embarrassing to admit that I cried a little? Disclaimer: I cry easily and it’s possible altitude was a contributing factor, but honestly, it’s difficult to not well up in one of the most literally breath-taking environments I’ve been in.
A unique approach to governance
Known locally as Druk Yul, or Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan is unique for more reasons than one. This is a country without a single set of traffic lights (they put some up in Thimphu which before long were taken down because they were ‘too ugly’). It is isolated. Bhutan did not have any diplomatic relations with another country until the 1960s. Television and internet were banned until 1999. Technology is now, slowly but surely, seeping into all corners of the culture. Still, the government is careful to not let anything get out of hand, from their strong handed emphasis on cultural preservation to their outright ban on smoking; Bhutan can’t exactly be described as a ‘land of the free’. But the Bhutanese love their government. As of 2008 Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy, and the current prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, seems generally well received. And the royal family are unanimously considered the lifeblood of the country. One of my Bhutanese friends told me that she considers the fourth king, father to the current ruler, a spiritual saviour. “I pray to him,” she says.
I mightn’t be religious but I don’t doubt that the Bhutanese have been blessed when it comes to good governance; to put it all down to luck would seem foolish. Centuries ago, the founder of Bhutan, Tibetan lama Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, is known to have said, “if the government cannot create happiness and peace for its people, then there is no purpose for the government to exist.” That is benevolent governance if I’ve ever seen it. And it is from these very roots that the idea for Gross National Happiness (GNH) evolved. What is the point of a government that cannot keep its people happy and healthy? During an interview with the financial times of London, the much beloved fourth King famously mentioned that to Bhutan, GNH is more important than GDP, pointing out that GDP alone cannot guarantee happiness and wellbeing.
Gross National Happiness
Sangay Chopel, who works at the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) in Thimphu, briefly explained to me the survey methods used to produce a comprehensive CBS report every few years. It was far from the simple census questionnaire I expected. The measurement and study of Happiness in Bhutan today is a thorough process; they’re not playing around. There are nine components within the GNH, some are subjectively measured, others objective and quantifiable, and they all emphasise a range of different values, from the spiritual to the material. These nine components include cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, ecological validity, living standards, education, time use and balance (i.e. work life balance), psychological well being (measured in terms of both cognitions and emotions), and health.
But ultimately, the GNH is not just a broad philosophy for development of states, it is also personal ethos which, even at an individual level, can help a person shape their life journey and realise their happiness and well being by restructuring their values towards the GNH.
And internationally, the idea is taking off.
Honestly, for a country of around 700,000 people, the complexity of this analysis is astonishing. Researchers at the CBS admit that the relationship between these variables is nonlinear, but believe that this reaffirms their decision to examine happiness holistically.
Alcohol in Bhutan
All of which is why it was so surprising for me to discover that there is a considerable blind spot within the GNH domain of health. It turns out that alcohol use, and abuse, is a huge problem in Bhutan.
“The highest number of cases admitted in hospitals is due to alcohol,” says Bhutan’s national health secretary Dr Ugen Dophu, and alcohol is now considered the leading cause of death in the country.
Dr Tashi Tobgay, a Pathologist at Thimphu’s national referral hospital, says that liver cirrhosis and other alcohol related issues represent significant burdens on the healthcare system in Bhutan. The government is beginning to realise the magnitude of this health concern and are investing in preventative public health measures. However, the issue is culturally entrenched and therefore difficult to address. There are only four psychiatrists in the country, says Dr Tobgay, and each one of them wakes to a hospital room full of patients with alcohol related issues.
The alcohol-happiness myth
Why do the Bhutanese drink so much? For social, cultural, traditional or religious reasons? Dr Chencho Dorji, the country’s first psychiatrist, suggests that a multitude of individual and social factors, and the way they relate to each other, can lead to heavy drinking. Dr Dorij describes the phenomenon of associating alcohol with happiness as a fictitious conjecture we have all bought into: the alcohol-happiness myth.
Back in Thimphu, Dr. Tobgay describes his experiences at university in Eastern Bhutan, the region with the strongest tradition of heavy drinking. “It is just the way they drink over there” he said, “they ferment Ara [homebrew liquor] and start drinking in the morning before heading out into the fields.”
And Dr Dorji, having spent years researching and treating the effects of alcohol use in Bhutan, believes that the behaviour is having an effect on GNH in a number of ways. For starters, its economic impact is predicted to be significant, particularly in agricultural areas, as local councils believe around half of all grain harvests are used to brew alcohol for the home. What’s more, Bhutan is home to one of the highest numbers of bars per capita in the world and one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the developing world. Still, alcohol generated revenue does not cover its overall cost. Drinking is associated with a range of social issues including unemployment, family neglect and abuse, crime and accidents. It is a leading cause of death and disability.
What is the relationship between alcohol and happiness? I spent some time thinking about this during my experiences working in the space of alcohol and addiction with Hello Sunday Morning, an organisation concerned with both of these things. So it was interesting to come face to face with the same issues in Bhutan, where they are grappling with them in unprecedented ways.
As recently as January 2017, a statement was released by the health secretary regarding the course of action in relation to policy around alcohol. Meanwhile, my friends in Bhutan tell me that public health campaigns are being rigorously implemented to address drinking behaviours. While these actions are similar to those taken by international governments, they retain a valuable asset in their toolbelt: GNH data. Perhaps we might learn something by observing how the Bhutanese tackle this issue.
What is most evident is that even one of the happiest countries in the world isn’t perfect. Still, while Bhutan doesn’t have the answers, they are absolutely on the way to finding them.
This article was originally posted to Hello Sunday Morning’s Medium platform.
We explore the tough questions around whether you should introduce your kids to alcohol before the drinking age, and when to have the conversation about drinking. We also offer advice and strategies to help you lead your teenagers down the road to a healthy relationship with alcohol.
As parents you have a significant influence on your kids. But unfortunately, your children’s relationship with alcohol doesn’t come down to simply saying, “I’ll just make sure I drink responsibly in front of them and not let them drink until they are of age.” As much as you wish you could, you cannot shelter your child from a world made up of ingrained cultural norms and expectations, friendship groups that break the ‘rules’, socio-economical factors, and the media.
First, let us address the question of why you should have the conversation
Because children are brought up around people drinking alcohol at parties, celebrations, friends’ houses and all sorts of occasions, they tend to be naturally curious about it. Therefore, it is important to make sure they know the right information about alcohol and drinking, like how alcohol works in our system, what happens to the body and mind when you drink and the possible dangers of drinking too much, so they can be more informed and educated to make their own choices in the future.
Statistics show that 86 per cent of Australian students have tried alcohol by age 14, with this figure increasing to 96 per cent by 17 years of age (White & Hayman, 2006). Moreover, 22 per cent of 14-year-olds who are current drinkers consume alcohol at levels exceeding the Australian Alcohol Guidelines, with this figure increasing through adolescence, and peaking at 44 per cent among 17-year-olds.
“You have to be realistic; you cannot protect children from the exposure to drinking, especially as they become teenagers, go to parties and start mixing with kids who drink. So try to build up a level of trust and communication so they can come to you for wisdom to make better decisions, know how to get out of a tricky situation, and learn from their mistakes.”
Hello Sunday Morning’s Health Coach and mother of two, Tehani, says it’s important to educate your kids by letting them know, “This is what you can expect, this is what you might see, this is what might happen,” and ask them how they would like to conduct themselves at a festival or party, and what their idea of fun looks like. Rather than saying, “This is what I think you should do,” give them ideas to achieve a goal that they have come up with on their own. Trying to find the right balance between protecting your child and giving them their own freedom isn’t easy. There’s a fine line between being overly controlling with your kids but also teaching them that they can go out and have fun without needing to get drunk.
When should you speak to them?
Tehani suggests that having the conservation with kids about drinking should start from a young age, as children start to learn that actions have consequences, and because you as parents are not always going to be there to enforce rules. The Alcohol Education Trust found that at age 11, children see it as unacceptable to get drunk and 99 per cent don’t drink regularly, but age 13 is what they call “the tipping point.” Teenagers tend to shy away from talking and opening up to their parents at this time in their lives as they start to form their own opinions and find their own identity.
Don’t make it harder for yourself, bring it up as a natural conversation when something relatable comes up and try to stay open and listen. A Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy report from a qualitative investigation of young people found that helpful communication results from this tactic. 59 boys and girls aged 13 to 15 years were interviewed, and many reported their parents talking openly and negotiating boundaries around their drinking. This approach appeared to be largely effective in helping them to develop a responsible approach to alcohol.
Should I let my kids drink alcohol at home before they are of age?
This is an ongoing debate for parents as there are both positives and negatives to introducing your child to a healthy relationship with alcohol. But Hello Sunday Morning’s Health Coach believes that if you make drinking taboo it can then become a big deal when it’s finally allowable:
“I don’t think humans respond very well to really strong rules. It’s in our nature, we want to test boundaries, so the more solid the boundaries the more likely we’re going to push against them.”
There are no laws in Australia that make it a crime to drink alcohol supplied by parents in a private home. There are, in fact, studies that have found drinking a little bit with your parents at home teaches kids about moderation. They are also less likely to be binge drinkers when they are older. A four-year study from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre followed 2,000 children and their parents to find what effect early introduction to alcohol has on consumption levels. After tracking the families for four years it found that teenagers and children introduced to alcohol by their parents were less likely to binge drink later on. However, it also showed that teenagers and kids introduced to alcohol early on were more likely to be drinking full serves by ages 15 or 16. Children who obtain alcohol from people other than their parents are three times more likely to binge drink.
The mediterranean countries have a different view on alcohol, as traditional liquors and quality wine plays a big role in their cultures. Alcohol is integrated into everyday life, where a 15-year-old having a drink with their family during a meal is not something that is frowned upon. For them, this approach has worked in introducing teens to alcohol as a healthy way of life; young people become intoxicated less frequently than in countries where alcohol is consumed less frequently but at higher levels.
But, true to form, these things are never entirely clear-cut. One of the authors of the four-year study from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Professor Richard Mattick, points to other research indicating that the adolescent brain is still developing well into the early 20s, and alcohol may interfere with optimum development.
A recent study from the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospitalfound that long-term heavy use of alcohol in adolescence alters cortical excitability and functional connectivity in the brain. The study concluded that for young people whose brain is still developing, heavy alcohol use is especially detrimental and caused significant alterations in both electrical and chemical neurotransmission among the study participants, although none of them fulfilled the diagnostic criteria of a substance abuse disorder.
The parts of the brain that are affected are the hippocampus (responsible for memory and learning) and the prefrontal lobe (important for planning, judgement, decision making, impulse control and language). Alcohol can affect these two crucial parts of a developing brain by resulting in irreversible brain changes that can impact decision making, personality, memory and learning. Alcohol Think Again recommends that for under-18-year-olds, no alcohol is the safest choice and that parents should delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible. Yet they also point out that although research tells us alcohol can damage the developing brain, it is not clear how much alcohol it takes to do this.
The role of identity and belonging
Research shows that having a sense of belonging is a really strong protective mechanism against misuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as other unsafe behaviours that teenagers engage in. Identity and belonging also give kids an insight into a less individualistic society, and a sense that actions often impact more than one person. In a series of focus groups made up of Year 11 students in Victoria, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire which focused on beliefs regarding the factors that promote resilience and well-being. The four main factors indicated by young people to promote resilience included: peer connectedness (having good friends); family connectedness (feeling that you are loved by family); feeling that your family respects your decisions; and school connectedness (believing that you fit in at school, and having good teachers).
How to talk to your teens about drinking
With so much mixed information around, it’s important to know where you stand on this issue as parents. Reflect on your values and communicate that to your children in an open, constructive and loving way. And if they do slip up here and there, use it as a process to help them learn to be the kind of person they want to be, and to choose a relationship with alcohol that works for them.
This article was originally posted on Hello Sunday Mornings Medium platform.
Why friends react badly, and how to get through it
“But you’re so fun drunk!”
“I could never go out sober”
“How do you even stand drunk people when you’re out?”
“Isn’t it boring?”
“But how can you not drink when everyone else does?”
Do any of these sound familiar?
They’re straight from the textbook of social circle reactions to the news that you’re cutting down or taking a break from drinking. These remarks can make you question your decision and start to self-doubt, “actually, why did I stop drinking?” Or they make you feel isolated, as if no one understands your situation.
But let’s discuss an alternative narrative. As you become more familiar with your decision and you start to feel yourself gaining more control, you will no longer really need their understanding. It’s like waking up from The Matrix.
Why it’s so hard for people to accept socialising alcohol-free
The first obvious reason that hangs over our head like a cloud is our socio-cultural pressure. Taking a fairly brief look into the history of drinking in Australia, author of The Rum State, Milton Lewis says heavy drinking was an established cultural norm transported to Australia at the time of colonisation. The Rum State points out two drinking practices that were established then and still exist presently. One is ‘shouting’, in which each person in turn buys a round of drinks for the whole group. The other is a bit of a ‘work hard, play harder’ mentality where we award ourselves with an overindulgence of alcohol for getting through a hard week of work.
‘Shouting’ and ‘rounds’ come with many implications. First, it doesn’t give people much choice in the matter; in how they want to drink, how fast they want to drink and how much they want to drink. It also makes it harder to refuse a drink when you’ve reached your limit, and your limit may differ to the others involved. Once everyone has finished their drink, another person from the group will buy a round and so on. But what if there are 10 people in a group and you have gone out to only have a couple of beers with friends?
It’s not just Australia that adopted ‘shouting’, according to the Social Issues Research Center’s document on social and cultural aspects of drinking, almost all drinking places, in almost all cultures, have unwritten laws and customs around some form of reciprocal drink-buying or sharing of drinks:
“This practice has been documented in drinking-places from modern, urban Japan and America and rural Spain and France to remote traditional societies in Africa and South America.”
A cursory search for ‘the etiquette of a round’ yields some interesting insights:
Immediacy — Never accept a beer if you do not intend to shout on that evening. Shouting “next time” is not acceptable no matter how much interest is involved.
Egalitarian — No matter how much money is earned by each of the party members, or where their money came from, the same shouting rules apply.
Abstaining — From time to time an individual may wish to stop getting drunk. Ideally, they should wait till the completion of every group member’s rounds before abstaining from future rounds. If it is essential that they abstain mid-round, they should request a non-alcoholic beverage. This ensures that the first volunteer is not punished for putting their hand up first. It ensures group equality and it also ensures that the person buying the next round does not feel like a bludger by being remiss in their obligations.
Australia’s ‘work hard, play hard’ psychology may be due to “a self-perpetuating cycle as work causes stress, which renders people more prone to addictions to substances and work,” believes Dr. Richard Wise, psychologist at Windana Drug and Alcohol Recovery.
“As stress increases the activity of brain regions responsible for drug seeking and craving, stressful work is often ‘addictive’ in itself.”
In fact, Roy Morgan Research found heavy drinkers in Australia were more likely to be males aged 18 to 35, single, earning a good income from working hard and long hours and over-represented among tradesmen. It is known that those enduring active alcohol dependence often seek out environments that facilitate and camouflage their drinking, like bars, pubs, RSLs and Friday night knock-off drinks at the workplace.
The Social Issues Research Center identifies a ‘drinking place’ as a facilitator of social bonding.
This function is so clearly evident that even in ambivalent drinking cultures, where research tends to be problem-centred and overwhelmingly concerned with quantitative aspects of consumption, those conducting research on public drinking places have been obliged to “focus on sociability, rather than the serving of beverage alcohol, as the main social fact to be examined.” (Campbell, 1991)
For many, socialising is one of the main functions of drinking. The Research Center points out that “the perception of the value of alcohol for promoting relaxation and sociability is one of the most significant generalisations to emerge from the cross-cultural study of drinking.” (Heath, 1987, 1995)
This is why it’s no real surprise that negative reactions and a lack of support from your social group can be the hardest thing to overcome, as people often feel as if your going without a drink is a judgment of them and the way they choose to drink and socialise. And, hell, in some situations this may just be the case. It’s important to be a realist about your situation and recognise that friends may be lost when you open up about your decision to change the way you drink. Understanding that they don’t have your best interests at heart if they’re not empathetic or supportive is not easy, but it is a vital process of moving forward in your progress.
Dealing with negative reactions from your social groups, family, colleagues or everyday interactions can be one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. And while the decision to drink less does not define you, for most of us, our social interactions do on some level stand to shape our identities.
Just because you have changed the way you’ve been drinking doesn’t mean you can no longer have a social life. The association between drinking and socialising remains pretty persistent, but remember that you’re cutting out alcohol, not friends. Wine, not dinner. Beer, not footy.
You don’t want to fall into the trap of resenting your decision to improve your relationship with alcohol because you no longer enjoy your time out with friends.
Strategies to help cope with an unsupportive friendship group
Methods from cognitive-behavioural therapy, a highly regarded clinical technique as used in the Daybreak app, can help you deal with a friendship group that may not be as supportive as you need. One example is the recognise-avoid-cope approach, where the first point is to recognise two different types of social pressure to drink — direct and indirect. ‘Direct social pressure’ is when someone offers you a drink or an opportunity to drink. ‘Indirect social pressure’ is when you feel tempted to drink just by being around others who are drinking, even if no one offers you a drink.
The second point in the module suggests to avoid any pressure to drink when possible. Moderation is key, but for some just having a few is not an option — and that’s okay. Certain social situations may need to be avoided altogether if you know that the people there will make it difficult for you to reach your goal in changing your relationship with alcohol. If you feel that you’re strong enough to resist these types of social pressures, you can gradually ease yourself back into these situations.
The third gives some advice on how to cope with those situations that you simply cannot avoid by knowing your ‘no’.
“When you know alcohol will be served, it’s important to have some resistance strategies lined up in advance. If you expect to be offered a drink, you’ll need to be ready to deliver a convincing ‘no, thanks’. Your goal is to be clear and firm, yet friendly and respectful. Avoid long explanations and vague excuses, as they tend to prolong the discussion and provide more of an opportunity to give in.”
Don’t put yourself in the situation — changing gamblers don’t hang out in casinos.
Arrive early, leave early. By 10 o’clock people are usually talking Spanglish — this is your cue to leave.
Explain to friends what you’re trying to achieve before a social engagement.
But most of all, recognise this is something you’re doing for yourself and you don’t need to answer to anyone.
At the end of the day, we need to recognise that the complex issues around social drinking are due to factors like our ingrained cultural expectation, other people’s expectations of socialising and our own self doubts. It will take a lot of campaigning, a lot of educating, enabling and understanding for people to start to accept that drinking doesn’t have to be part of your identity as a social individual, or your identity as part of a community. This is your road to follow, and if that road leads away from the idea of the traditions of social drinking and starts to lead elsewhere, we will support you to follow it.
Originally published on Hello Sunday Morning’s medium platform.
Dry January is nearly over — here’s what to do next
We’ve all heard of the challenges like Dry January,Dry July and Ocsober, where one abstains from drinking alcohol for the entire month — often to raise money for charity. While these challenges often give back to people and communities in need, more importantly they help people consider their relationship with alcohol if they haven’t before, and to better understand whether or not that relationship is healthy.
Dry January is often taken on in an attempt to redeem oneself from an overindulgence during the festive season, which, let’s face it many of us are guilty of.
But this is exactly where the problem lies … Why do we feel the need to drink to excess during a celebration? And isn’t it telling us something deeper about our drinking culture when going just one month without drinking alcohol is such a real challenge that people will financially sponsor us to do so? There’s bound to be those who toast to their success by finishing a bottle of wine or two.
Many partakers realise they need to cut back on their alcohol intake and want to continue a moderate drinking behaviour they self identify with, thus reducing the extreme drinking behaviour that caused the month off in the first place.
Sarah, A Hello Sunday Morning member, recorded a similar challenge and took the month of June off drinking to give her body, spirit and bank account a break. She posted her experience on Hello Sunday Morning’s community platform.
“A while ago I would have said it would be impossible for me to go more than a few weeks without drinking. But I made it through the month and it turns out it wasn’t as big of a deal as I had thought.”
Here are the lessons she learnt:
I got to the core of my drinking and realised that I was using it to self-medicate. So I prioritised my mental health and found that seeing a doctor gave me some perspective on what the real issues were.
A month seems long, but it isn’t forever. If you have tried to give up alcohol in the past, you may have cut it out completely and told yourself that’s final. But giving yourself an achievable time frame to change your habit and learn about your relationship with alcohol can be better in the long run.
It was my main focus and I wasn’t backing down. Any other goal like working out more came second and I could let that slip and still be proud that I achieved my one thing for the day … not drinking.
It’s not easy. I missed drinking as a reward, I didn’t instantly have a supermodel figure, I wasn’t always feeling on top of the world and my life.
BUT … My sleep improved, I am proud of myself, I’ve lost weight and with that I’ve gained a newfound confidence. I also used my money for more important things like paying off debt.
The BEST part of all? I have changed my relationship with alcohol. I know now that I can go for long periods without a drink, I can abstain or I can just have a few. I have the power to CHOOSE. Don’t worry about making the whole month, just focus on making it through tomorrow.
There is an ongoing debate about the long-term effectiveness of these challenges. A number of limitations from a public health perspective include a lack of long term support for the behaviour change process, and confusing people with an “all or nothing” message about alcohol.
The option of buying a “golden ticket,” for example, allows the purchaser to take a night off from the challenge and is considered by critics to encourage binge drinking. In terms of cultural change, seeing a brief period of abstinence as an inherently monstrous task probably serves to reinforce the importance of alcohol in our lives and proves ultimately ineffective, if not destructive.
In Mark Tuschel’s book, Okay, I Quit. Now What?, the author identifies that while quitting destructive drinking may initially be easy, life after can be tricky to navigate. The future may look bright when you’re feeling on top of your game, but like anything that is worth doing, it’s not an easy road.
“Quitting destructive drinking is the easy part — staying quit is the hard part. What do you do tonight, tomorrow, next weekend, when you go on vacation, for the rest of your life?”
The book lists some realities you may inevitably have to face when you decide to cut back on drinking short or long term:
Temptation, self-doubt and self-pity
Anger, guilt, frustration and sadness
Feelings of loneliness and isolation, like you’re the odd person in a group or party
The dissolution of friendships and relationships
Excess time on your hands and unspent money in your pocket
Feelings of superiority, boredom, a lack of enthusiasm
But if you really ask yourself, honestly, whether the realities outweigh the advantages to your lifestyle in the long run, I’m sure many would still want to change the way they drink. Tuschel asks readers to take out a pen and paper and scribble down the realities they think they will personally face by carrying through a changing relationship with alcohol:
What realities listed here must I personally face?
What other realities do I have that weren’t listed here?
How can I make the best of these realities?
What realities am I avoiding?
What can I do to better understand my realities?
What actions will I take to deal with my realities?
What behaviours can I get better at so I can accept and control my realities?
So as Dry January comes to a close, you could return to old habits with ease. Or you could ask yourself whether it was worth the month of temptation, the month of complete abstinence, the month of learning some important things about your drinking and yourself, to just let this chance to change slip away. Are you going to make 2017 the year you changed your relationship with alcohol, and take back your Sundays?
Originally posted on Hello Sunday Morning’s Medium page.
It’s the start of a new year and generally people will be feeling pretty optimistic about the time ahead. Resolutions have been made, goals have been set and a plan of some sort has been established. Perhaps you’re feeling like you can take on the world!
Here are some tips on how to keep your good vibrations up while getting back into the swing of things.
How to stay optimistic throughout the year
Listen to music
“Music, the combiner, nothing more spiritual, nothing more sensuous, a god, yet completely human, advances, prevails, holds highest place; supplying in certain wants and quarters what nothing else could supply.” Walt Whitman.
Plug that speaker in and let the magic happen. The power of music can do wonders on lifting moods and keeping us feeling good. Check out these 52 songs to cheer you up every time.
Listening to tunes that make you want to shake your hips or tap your feet has been found to lift your energy levels. When music sparks something in us or makes us want to bop our head, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that produces positive feelings. In fact, it has been proven by physiologists that playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.
“Often we behave in a rigid, planned and fixed way because of anxieties and worries we have … Instead of worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, acting instinctively allows us to engage fully in what we’re doing at the time, and focus our whole attention on this.”
But how do you become spontaneous? We have some ideas to add a little spice to your life by mixing it up:
Jump off the bus a few stops earlier and wander back home. Remember to stop and smell the flowers.
Leave a weekend day free to wake up and do whatever you feel like doing.
Be impulsive once in a while; it keeps things exciting.
Just say ‘yes’ and don’t over analyse.
Sustain optimism by getting outside
It’s hard to feel stressed while lying in a fluffy patch of grass with a gentle breeze tingling your skin and the sun shining through gaps in the trees. Spending some quality time with nature can be beneficial for anyone who wants to increase their Outdoorphins or Vitamin G (green).
A little bit of sunlight and exposure to UV-B radiation in the sun’s rays is the best natural source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health, including decreasing chances of osteoporosis, and assisting in healing skin conditions.
The daily top-up: get enough sleep
We have all heard these before: “sleep tight”; “beauty sleep”; “well rested”. And for good reason. There are many benefits to getting the perfect night’s sleep for your physical, mental and spiritual self. Not getting enough pillow time can lead to irritable moods and a gloomier outlook on life.
It’s easy to get caught up in work and responsibilities and not make time to do these things we love doing and after a while we can even forget that good feeling that comes over us when we’re pursuing our passion.
It’s important to find the time to fit the passion in to keep the pessimistic attitude out.
How often have you sculled a delicious beverage? Or scoffed down a tasty meal without even thinking about how the food was prepared or how the flavours complement each other?
What we are forgetting to do when we follow this behaviour is savour. Even moving away from the experience of food, sometimes we’re so preoccupied thinking about what to do after a beach walk that we forget to watch the waves, listen to the sea gulls and really feel the sand between our toes. While savouring involves pleasure, it is in fact more than that. It involves mindfulness and “conscious attention to the experience of pleasure”. When we are more aware, we notice and acknowledge pleasure., whether that be through feelings and emotions or through a stimulation of our senses. What this allows us to do is filter out distractions, and become awed by being in the world.
The savouring experience
Ever experienced a moment that you will never forget? This is savouring! When we reflect back on a treasured moment, often we can remember exactly what we were wearing, the smell in the air and the temperature outside because our minds took a mental photograph and we savoured a memory.
Practicing savouring is practicing mindfulness
Often we don’t find satisfaction from mindlessly doing. We can appreciate something more when we take the time to savour the thing and therefore experience a deeper level of gratitude. Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the greatest mindfulness zen masters of our time, teaches us that “Each minute we spend worrying about the future and regretting the past is a minute we miss in our appointment with life – a missed opportunity to engage life and to see that each moment gives us the chance to change for the better, to experience peace and joy.”And like most things, it’s a practice
When we think of holidays we usually think of sipping Pina Coladas on the beach somewhere exotic, feeling guilt free for doing absolutely nothing but enjoying some sweet, sweet chill time.
We tend to splurge on fancy accommodation, shopping sprees, food, and for many: plenty of booze to celebrate taking some time out. But what if there were a way to find balance on your holiday? Bring it back to why you’re there in the first place. To unwind? To explore a new place and create experiences?
But why should I lay off the alcohol while on holiday?
Holidaying sober means there will be nights you will remember and memories you won’t forget.
You’ll make the early morning pick up in the lobby for a tour you’ve booked and paid for months in advance.
You won’t crave greasy, fast food from overpriced tourist joints all day.
Wake up feeling fresh to get outdoors and explore.
You’ll meet people and make relationships not based on the sharing of tequila shots but on the sharing of stories.
You don’t have to be a ‘booze traveler’!
Okay to this all sounds great. But there is one destination most people would completely rule out as a sober holiday…Vegas! We believe you can do Vegas sober and actually have an excellent time!
How to do Vegas sober
Viva Las Vegas, the Holy Grail of alcohol and ‘all you can eat’ buffets.
You may think there’s not much else to do but party and gamble the days away, but Vegas is packed with activities one can enjoy without alcohol.
Check out fun things to do around Sin City (Sober)
Not only is Vegas notorious for strip shows but also the surrounding natural environment.
To keep your figure in shape and deter you from the minibar, there are tons of adventures offered for those who like to stay active while on holiday. Hike one of the many trails or go on a sunrise balloon ride over Grand Canyon, book a driving experience on a vegas race track (wouldn’t want to try that one hungover) or kayak the Hoover Dam.
Bonus Active Holiday Tip: While it’s great to have a break from wearing active wear when travelling, wearing exercise clothes really is practical for most activities (and doesn’t take up much room in the suitcase). You can wear your sneakers and tights on the plane, for morning walks and to and from hotel facilities.
For those after something a little more relaxing, why not treat yo’ self!
So how do you start and maintain an exercise routine? We have some ideas.
How to start and maintain an exercise routine
Although it can be tempting to write this off as no big deal, starting a fitness routine can be a genuinely tough task. In fact, it doesn’t hurt to talk to your Doctor about your plan to start exercising, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while and/or have other health concerns. If that’s not for you, jump ahead and start making yourself a fitness plan.
The key word here is realistic. Many of us jump the gun when creating these sorts of goals. Expecting yourself to run five kilometres every day, right off the bat, is a great ambition –– but not a realistic goal. So take it easy and ditch the all-or-nothing frame of mind. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
Everyone’s realistic goal will look different. Maybe when you’re a week in, the plan is to go for a run three times a week. At this stage, your indicator of success may simply be: did you get out the door? You might’ve walked the whole way, but as long as you got out of the house when you intended to, you checked off the box.
Further down the track, when you’re more comfortable with your three-day-a-week walk/run, you might set the intention to run for 30 minutes on each occasion without taking a break. Maybe you could start adding other activities to your routine, like resistance training. Perhaps throw in a longer run on the occasional Sunday. Soon enough it will be like brushing your teeth – a healthy habit.
Mix it up and see what works
Try different activities
Usually, when we think of the word ‘exercise’, we imagine either toned people cheerfully running in the sunshine, or Schwarzenegger’s figure pumping iron at the gym.
You could even try one of those workout plans that everyone’s always raving about at the water cooler. Typically these provide you with an interesting and specific exercise routine, access to a community of fellow exercise-ees, and sometimes even a nutrition plan. Kayla Itsines, we’re looking at you.
Here are a few tips if you’re planning on giving the morning workout a go:
Lay out your workout clothes the night before;
Plan the workout you’ll be doing. If you’re going to a class in the morning, book it in. If you’re doing your own thing, maybe consider roping a friend along to hold you accountable;
Set an alarm: don’t snooze. As soon as the alarm goes off, that’s it. No second guessing. You’re up. Dressed. Out the door.
P.S. a secondary tip here: keep your alarm away from your bed so you actually have to get up to turn it off.
If you’re anything like me, with a tendency to remain half-asleep for at least an hour after rousing, consider writing yourself a morning to-do list. Brush teeth, water plants, drink coffee. check, check, check.
Solo work-outs mean you get time and space for yourself. It means that you can work at the level that best suits you and really absorb yourself in the exercise task.
On the other hand, exercising with others also has its benefits. Primarily, you’re held accountable for turning up. If you’ve promised your mates you’ll turn up on Sunday morning for a doubles tennis match––unless you want to be “that guy”––you know you’re going to go.
If you’re serious about this, eliminating excuses should become your priority.
At least at first. Once exercise is a part of your routine, you can begin to work your life around your fitness schedule.
But the biggest excuse we tend to pull out of our back pockets is time. The thing to remember is,no one has time to exercise. Not even those people who do exercise regularly. You have to make time to exercise.
But, really, you don’t need to become an Exercise Person (i.e. change everything about yourself) when you begin to exercise regularly. Just because you brush your teeth every day doesn’t mean you’re “super into dental hygiene,” although that’s probably a good thing if you happen to be. Think of exercise in this way: it’s just another part of your average day.