Five Ways to Stay on Track After Dry July
Congratulations, you’re nearing the end of a month without alcohol! Maybe you found it easier than anticipated, maybe it brought up some uncomfortable moments for you, maybe you slipped up a few times and indulged in ‘just a few sips’ … or more. It can be hard to make the adjustment back to ‘normal’ once the monthly restriction has lifted and there’s no longer the public declaration of ‘I’m not drinking’ and the socially acceptable excuse of Dry July sobriety to hide behind. But don’t panic! Here at Hello Sunday Morning, we’ve prepared five tips to help you stay on track to assess or change your relationship with alcohol after your little hiatus.
Well done, you did it! You stuck to a goal and proved to yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind to. You got to reap the many health benefits to your liver, mental state, waistline and vital organs, from having a break from alcohol. Now it might be tempting to think about ‘rewarding yourself’ … so go ahead we say! But keep in mind that reward doesn’t need to be an alcohol-based one. Buy some new clothes, plan a holiday with your mates, take the kids on a spontaneous day-trip or splurge on a giant box of the finest imported Belgian chocolate truffles money can buy (ok, maybe just me?).
Make a note of how it felt:
- To wake up without a hangover
- To remember everything you did the night before
- To have that extra cash in your wallet not spent on late night Ubers, expensive rounds at the bar and greasy hangover food
- To lose a kilo or two
- To have more time up your sleeve
- To go to the social event sober … and survive
- To come home from work and not reach for that glass or bottle of plonk
If you can do it for a month, can you do it for longer?
Assess your relationship with alcohol
Think about the what, why, when and how of your drinking. How much do you normally drink in a week? Three glasses a day is 21 a week, or more than a thousand a year. And the glasses you pour yourself are probably bigger than the ‘standard drinks’ used to measure health effects and long-term harms. Do you drink because it’s fun and enjoyable? Or because of habit and routine? Or because ‘everyone else around you is’? If you’re drinking to manage stress, anxiety or a bad day, some of the tried and tested tips we recommend at HSM include changing your routine, getting out into nature, taking up meditation or yoga, committing to an exercise routine, and finding other ways to process your thoughts – like journaling or therapy.
Make some new goals
Now you know you can stick to a goal, set another one! These don’t have to be as strict as giving up alcohol. You might want to find a new hobby, do that thing you’ve been putting off for a year, learn a language or get your Marie Kondo on and clear the clutter. You’ve already proven to yourself that you can follow through on a goal, so run with the momentum and set a new one to challenge yourself.
Find your community
Was it easier to give up the booze for a month knowing there were thousands of people around the world simultaneously sharing your journey? Being part of a community of people all on the same path is a really effective way to find support and understanding, and makes it more likely you’ll stick to your goal. If your new goal is to join a gym and get fit – find a gym buddy! If it’s to drink less or moderate your drinking, join our Daybreak community right here. Daybreak is a community of people all supporting each other to change their relationship with alcohol, and all from the convenience of the phone that you’re probably holding right now.
How did you find Dry July? What got you through the tough moments? Do you have any tips for others to stay on track? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Alcohol in TV shows and movies: is it ever relevant?
The struggle to find a show or movie that doesn’t contain alcohol is quite universal and reflects why alcohol has become central to socialising, glamour, excess and wealth. It’s often what most characters in a movie or show will do when they get home from work, or after a success or a difficult day and you’ll often see them on screen saying to their co-worker ‘F*&(&^ I need a drink’ or ‘C’mon I’ll buy you a drink’ or ‘let’s all get drinks!’. Now it’s not wrong to enjoy a drink but making alcohol the first thing they have after a hard day or a good day, over time, creates an expectation that this is the norm. I strongly believe this has contributed to a society where it’s often deemed strange or ‘unhelpful’ to not offer or turn to alcohol.
Some shows like Suits I absolutely adore and love, and so do many others, but I often ask myself whether they were being sponsored by a whiskey or Scotch company, based on the sheer number of times they would ALWAYS pour a glass of liquor. Does seeing this repeatedly on our screens from a young age influence us? I think it would be ignorant to assume it doesn’t to some degree, whether we are aware of it or not. Now that’s not to say that the movie industry is to blame for the 5,500 deaths due to alcohol that we see every year in Australia, but it certainly plays a role in our drinking culture. High-profile endorsements of a product have always contributed to promoting the use or consumption of that product; this is the fundamental basis of marketing – make a product seem attractive and convince you to buy it. These tactics are similar to what we have seen in the past with tobacco, using celebrities and supermodels to promote a product which aligns itself with what some would consider ‘attractive’ lifestyles. The power of branding is incredibly influential on the human psyche and I would be lying if I did not at one stage think ‘I should have a glass of wine in the shot’ before taking a photo. Why is that? What does having a glass of wine in a photo represent? It represents a cultivation of hundreds of years of short-lived positive experiences which alcohol does provide, contributing to its continued positive public perception for a long period of time. However, as education and human knowledge has improved over the last century, we are becoming more aware than ever of the risks that alcohol poses to our health.
I think we are seeing a shift in Australian drinking cultures as we become aware of our drinking behaviours. Developing an awareness of when and why we consume alcohol as a part of self-care is something that anyone anywhere can do. Doing this myself has already been so helpful because I feel so much more in control around alcohol, rather than being reactive.
The White Jacket Effect: changing the drinking culture in the kitchen
My name is Amber. I am a chef and have been in the hospitality industry for about 20 years. I believe that it takes a certain type of personality to become a chef. There is a craving for achievement, a passion for perfection and a desire to go above and beyond. Over my career I have witnessed first-hand how this drive can cause outstanding success but ironically – like a double-edged sword – the consequences can be debilitating.
Two years ago, I hit rock bottom, after many years of alcohol abuse, cleverly hidden from view. It damaged my health, ruined my relationships with boyfriends and family and destroyed my ability to function during everyday tasks without having had a drink.
At that time of my life I was not aware of support services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue and help was certainly not something I asked for. It was beaten into me as an apprentice that you must find a way to do things yourself and that asking for help was weak. This, unfortunately for many chefs (mainly older generations), is still just the way it is – in life – as well as at work.
The hardest thing I found, in getting back on my feet, was telling my chef friends and colleagues. Drinking is so ingrained in the culture of the kitchen that I was faced with encouragement to continue drinking, not the support I needed to stop. Consequently, I had to remove myself from those groups and slowly build the muscle to socialise again. I am so pleased and proud to say that I am strong enough to be around alcohol without having it myself and haven’t done now for two years.
Just after Christmas, my chef mentor and best friend took his own life. He had been in the game for many years, had owned his own restaurant, been in the limelight, had what looked like ‘it all’ but underneath that was obviously not the case. He had been struggling with drug and alcohol dependency since virtually the moment he stepped into the kitchen and that, unfortunately, is the lifestyle you get handed when you enter the cheffing world.
The package deal is a constant on-the-go existence, with busy services and a work hard, play hard mentality. Having to keep the energy up when all signs point to shutting it down. Even on days off it’s a constant search for perfection, where can you get the next best idea, quest for the perfect dish, must impress, gotta get the hats, gotta get the stars, it’s non-stop. I can only imagine its likeness to a battle field, under around-the-clock panic mode. Then, the accepted and encouraged antidote is to uncoil the pain and stress with alcohol or drugs, anything that will numb you for a while so you can take time out. I refer to this package deal chefs receive when putting on their apprentice uniforms as ‘The White Jacket Effect.’
It is unrealistic to expect to reduce the pressure in this unforgiving work environment, but I would like to step up and do something to get the topic talked about and get rid of the ‘push-on’ motto. There is certainly a shift occurring in the younger generations, but it is the older ones such as myself and Richard, that have it ingrained in our make-up.
Chefs are not invincible and I don’t want to see another brilliant life be wasted. Therefore, I am hosting the first ever White Jacket Effect Workshop in a few weeks time with 20 – 30 of my chef friends and colleagues. There will be speakers from RUOK?, Hello Sunday Morning and The Red Cross to talk about the resources and support available to people who were in the same situation as me. These guys and girls who are in the kitchen, day in and day out, will discuss the heavy topics and nut out some positive solutions together.
My vision is to develop communicative, ‘Safe House Leaders’ in the cheffing community, who are keen to:
- abolish suffering in silence
- address ‘balance’ and encourage health and wellness
- start conversations about how to have a healthy relationship with alcohol.
I am committed to taking action to cause change in the culture of the kitchen and to redefine what it means to put on that white jacket.
Lifeline Australia: 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au
Five things all women should know about alcohol
This Friday, 8th March, is International Women’s day – a time to celebrate how far women have come and reflect on how far they still have to go, in terms of gender equality. While politics, policies and parenting may take the spotlight, there’s one area where women may not be able to make considerable progress – alcohol. The effects of alcohol can be more pronounced in women, and women have unique considerations in terms of fertility and health. So, before you reach for the glass of chardonnay after the kids have gone to bed, or the gin and tonics for your girls weekend away, here are five things all women should know about alcohol, and tips for healthier outcomes.
1. Women are generally more easily affected by alcohol than men
Women generally have more fat and less muscle in their body composition than men. Alcohol tends to distribute itself mostly in tissues rich in water like muscle, instead of those rich in fat. In a way, the fat acts like tetris blocks where the alcohol doesn’t distribute, thus making it more highly concentrated within the rest of the body. Similarly, women are generally smaller in stature than men, meaning less space for alcohol to concentrate in. Both of these factors can lead to higher Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC) for women when they drink the same amount as similarly sized men.
Tip: Women shouldn’t feel pressured to keep up drink-for-drink with men, nor participate in rounds, as the effects of alcohol can be more pronounced for them. Alternate water with each alcoholic drink and have a nutritious meal before drinking alcohol.
2. Women are drinking more now than in the past, and middle-aged women are the risky drinkers
Around one hundred years ago, the number of women who drank alcohol, globally, was approximately half that of men. The social acceptability and availability of alcohol has seen women catch up over the century to reach consumption rates almost on a par with men, effectively meaning almost double the alcohol consumption for women over this time period.
In Australia, among women, 13 per cent of those aged 50–59 are likely to be drinking at risky levels – defined as more than two standard drinks per day. This usurps the ‘stereotypical’ thinking that the younger nonchalant generation drink to excess. Women aged 40–49 are not far behind with a risky drinking rate of 12.5 per cent. Many theories attempt to explain this trend, such as the expectations of juggling parenting and careers, patterns of ingrained and automatic behaviour formed over time, or the emotional labour of running a household.
Tip: If drinking has become a way to cope with the ‘mental load’ or the emotional labour of running a household that disproportionately falls to women, try reducing your expectations, delegating and ‘doing less’ instead.
3. Cutting down on alcohol may be the fastest way to lose weight
Whether for vanity or health reasons, straw polls of women in the Western world often indicate a desire to ‘shift a few kilos around the waistline’. In 2016, Australian women aged 25 and over were most likely to drink bottled wine as their alcoholic beverage of choice in 2016, whereas men preferred regular strength beer. While it may be obvious that sugar-laden cocktails can quickly add ‘empty calories’ to your overall daily intake, wine isn’t a harmless bystander. A regular sized glass of wine (150 ml) contains around 130 calories, with slight variants for red vs white and sweet vs dry. Beer sits slightly higher, at around 140 calories per ~350 ml bottle. You may also be more likely to reach for larger serving sizes of food, extra sweets and – more wine – due to reduced inhibitions and decision-making capabilities and not feeling satiated from the consumption of ‘empty calories’.
Tip: Drink half a bottle of wine, four times a week? If you cut it out completely and do nothing else differently you’d lose ~9 kilos in 12 months.
4. Alcohol may increase the risk of developing breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers
Alcohol use is a cause of cancer, the risk increasing in line with consumption for both genders. For women specifically, there is strong evidence to suggest that alcohol use increases the risk of breast cancer. For women whose alcohol consumption leads to weight gain and a high percentage of body fat, this in turn can increase the risk of cancers including of the ovaries and endometrium. Women who drink excessively develop more medical problems than men.
Tip: For those who choose to drink alcohol, do so within the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol i.e. drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime. Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
5. Alcohol can affect conception, fertility and the health of your baby
For pregnant women, drinking alcohol increases the risk of stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, miscarriage, birth defects and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. FASD is a condition that is an outcome of parents either not being aware of the dangers of alcohol use when pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or not being supported to stay healthy and strong during pregnancy.
While alcohol does not directly affect the contraceptive pill, consumption of alcohol can lead to less compliance with contraception generally, due to forgetfulness, a change in regular routines or reduced inhibitions to use barrier methods, and therefore increases the risk of pregnancy.
Conversely, research shows that even drinking lightly can increase the time it takes to get pregnant; women who drink large amounts of alcohol are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods and fertility problems; and alcohol can also affect ovulation, which can make it difficult to conceive.
Tip: The National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia’s peak body on developing national health advice, recommends that for women who are pregnant, planning pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
In what other ways do women have a unique relationship with alcohol?
Alcohol, other drugs and mental health in Australia’s Queer community: a snapshot for Mardi Gras 2019
Festivities for Sydney’s Mardi Gras are in full swing this week and it’s a time to celebrate diversity in sexuality, gender and relationships. Oxford street will be filled with colour, music, choreographed dance moves and elaborate costumes on Saturday night for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. The parade originated as an equal rights protest 41 years ago, but these days is much more of a pride celebration, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from Australia and overseas. Changes have occured recently in Australia for the LGBTIQA+ community in terms of marriage equality, but discrimination and abuse is still very present, and this can have deleterious effects on the physical and mental health of those on the receiving end. Sadly, statistics indicate poorer health outcomes for the queer community in terms of alcohol and other drug use, mental health outcomes and help-seeking behaviour.
Alcohol use in Queer communities
Research indicates those in the sexual- and gender-minority communities are more likely to drink alcohol, to drink at risky levels and are at greater risk of experiencing alcohol use disorders.
- In a survey of the health and wellbeing of LGBT Australians in 2012, nearly 92 per cent of respondents reported drinking in the past year, compared with 77 per cent of the population aged over 14 from a 2016 national data set
- A national survey of Australians in 2016 found 25.8 per cent of homosexual or bisexual respondents drank at a level considered to be risky to their health over a lifetime (more than two standard drinks per day), which was much higher than the figure of 17.2 per cent for those identifying as heterosexual
- Higher rates of risky drinking per single occasion (more than four standard drinks) were also reported for homosexual and bisexual respondents (41 per cent) compared to heterosexual respondents (25.5 per cent).
Illicit and other drug use
Similarly elevated patterns exist among homosexual and bisexual communities in terms of illicit drug use and the misuse of prescription drugs. For example, use of methamphetamines in the past year was almost six times higher (6.9 per cent vs 1.2 per cent) and the misuse of pharmaceuticals almost three times higher (12 per cent vs 4.3 per cent) in bisexual and homosexual survey responders, versus those who identified as heterosexual.
Mental health outcomes for Queer Australians
Research suggests that LGBT people are at increased risk of a range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm and suicide. This may largely be due to discrimination, abuse and stigma. In a report by The Australian Human Rights Commission, around 60 per cent of same-sex attracted- and gender-questioning young people said they experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality, while 18 per cent reported experiencing physical abuse.
It’s important to reduce as many barriers as possible for those in the queer community to access assistance, support and treatment for both mental health or alcohol and other drug issues. Barriers can include things like lack of money, limited time, travel to healthcare providers, previous negative experiences and lack of knowledge about available support. Studies also show that LGBT people may delay seeking treatment in the expectation that they will be subject to discrimination or receive reduced quality of care and they also risk presenting for help much later in their trajectory, which can lead to worse health outcomes.
Anonymous, free, professional, immediate, non-discriminatory support to quit or cut down alcohol use
Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak app reduces many of these barriers. Daybreak is an online program and app that helps people change their relationship with alcohol through a supportive community, habit-change experiments, and one-on-one chat with health coaches.
Daybreak is free for Australians to download, it’s immediate and doesn’t require travel to an appointment, or a referral from a different practitioner. Best of all, Daybreak doesn’t discriminate. No questions about sexuality are included in the sign-up form. Most members who download Daybreak receive support from other members (peers) within five minutes of posting an update. The chat function enables coaching from qualified health professionals for those who want more support.
Other alcohol, drug and mental health support options available for the queer community
Culturally appropriate services offer safe spaces for non-discriminatory and non-judgemental support on a range of issues including sexual health, mental health and alcohol and other drug use.
The AIDS council of NSW (ACON) works with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, specialising in HIV prevention, HIV support and general health outcomes.
Touchbase, an online resource, seeks to help LGBTI people – as well as their partners, family, and friends – improve their knowledge about the interaction between psychological wellbeing and the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Reachout has compiled a further comprehensive list of Australia-wide LGBTQI support services.
While the revelry will fill the front pages of the Sunday papers, not all those in the queer community will be celebrating this weekend, and some may find this a particularly hard time of year if they are struggling with their own sexuality or gender issues. If you know someone who may be struggling (or that someone is you), please let them know they are not alone, and support, without fear of discrimination, is available.
Act on Alcohol: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities. Available: http://actonalcohol.org.au/facts/fact/lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-lgbt-people/
Australian Human Rights Commission: Face the Facts: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people • 2014 ISBN 978-1-921449-67-3. Available: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/7_FTF_2014_LGBTI.pdf
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug Statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW. Available: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/3bbdb961-ed19-4067-94c1-69de4263b537/21028-13nov2017.pdf.aspx
William Leonard, Marian Pitts, Anne Mitchell, Anthony Lyons, Anthony Smith, Sunil Patel, Murray Couch and Anna Barrett (2012) Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Australians. Monograph Series Number 86. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University. Available: https://www.glhv.org.au/sites/default/files/PrivateLives2Report.pdf
The long road worth travelling
It doesn’t feel like long ago that I struggled to go just one week without alcohol. So it’s hard to believe that it’s now been two years without a drink. My original goal was to stop drinking for a year. However, after seeing how much my life changed in that year, I decided to stick with the sober life. I haven’t decided that I will never drink again but the longer I stay sober, the more reasons I find to want to stay sober.
Giving up a twenty-year binge-drinking habit has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The new lifestyle still presents challenges, although it has proven that sometimes the hardest things to do are often the most rewarding.
Last year was tough. I consciously didn’t date anyone all year. I knew it was going to take at least twelve months to adjust to an alcohol-free life and to feel comfortable enough within my new sober skin to go on a first date. I also avoided as many social events as possible. Just the thought of going to a pub or bar, sober, made me feel uncomfortable. A few months into the year I came to the realisation that I not only had social anxiety but most likely always did have, and had been self-medicating with alcohol.
A few months into the sober life I got invited to a party. I knew I had to go because it was for a good friend and I couldn’t avoid parties for the rest of my life. I was dreading the thought of going. I constantly pictured myself at the party being socially awkward. I would keep coming up with excuses in my head of how I could get out of going. However, I knew that to move forward I would have to get over these hurdles. As it turns out, the party wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, nor were the next few parties after that. It’s like anything I guess, the more you do something the easier it becomes. Which is what happened after the first sober date; once I’d jumped that first dreaded hurdle it became easier and easier.
Slowly, I would start to see the benefits of being the sober one. Sure, maybe I wasn’t as loud, or cracking as many jokes, as the people drinking but at least at the end of the night I was coming home with money in my wallet and a clear head. It was a nice change to be able to remember everything that happened on a night out. The biggest benefit was saying goodbye to hangovers. Waking up fresh on the weekends has opened up a whole new world of opportunities. This simple pleasure was something that I’d not really experienced many times before. In my first (and last) blog ‘My twenty-year love-hate relationship with alcohol’, I calculated that I’d roughly wasted three and a half years of my life laying on a couch watching TV, hungover. With hangovers now out of my life, I’ve gained at least one night a week (from not drinking) and one full day (from no hangovers). I now find I have time to do things that I’ve wanted to do for years but never thought I had the time or money.
Another huge benefit of saying goodbye to booze is the amount of money you save. Also, the amount of energy you find you really have. Last year I discovered that with all the extra time, money and energy I had, I could finally start living the life that alcohol was holding me back from living. My thirst for alcohol became a thirst for knowledge. I took a short course in photography, which was something I’d always been interested in. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up doing two more similar courses. I also started up at a guitar-building school and built a bass guitar as well as rebuilding an old bass guitar that I had. I started studying Spanish. Learning another language was always on my bucket list. When alcohol was in my life, the thought of studying anything after work was just not an option. I couldn’t think of anything worse back then. Probably because I spent most of the week tired and recovering from the weekend. When I was drinking I would come home from work exhausted and quite often fall asleep on the couch before dinner. These days, most evenings I feel like doing something productive.
Realising how much more time I had on my hands got me thinking how I could get more hours out of a week to do things I wanted to do. So I slowly cut back on TV, to a point where I don’t really watch any now. I was watching probably three hours a night and maybe ten hours a day on a weekend, if I was really hungover. That’s up to thirty-five hours a week I’m getting back. So now I feel like I’m making up for some of that time I wasted with all those hangovers. I cut back on social media as well. Cutting out roughly an hour a day gives me another seven hours per week.
I love to travel. A big dream of mine was to do a big trip around the world. So now with a clear head, I put together a plan to make it happen. Obviously giving up partying was a huge saving but it also got me thinking of other ways to save money. As the year went on I could almost feel the brain cells grow back and actually started to feel smarter. Well, I was at least thinking a hell of a lot clearer anyway. Even the fact that I’m now writing blogs. The old me would have laughed at the idea of writing. The old me couldn’t have been bothered. My memory has never been great but I think that has improved a bit as well.
So by the end of 2017, after a year of planning and saving hard, I was off on my dream holiday. I travelled to twenty countries over six and a half months and ticked off a bunch of things from the bucket list. Peru and the Inca Trail were at the top of my bucket list. I got to spend seven weeks in Peru and did the Inca Trail. It was as amazing as I hoped it would be. I swam with sharks on the Belize Barrier Reef and snorkeled with a manatee. I went caving in some beautiful caves in Cuba, Belize, and Vietnam. I went to a few NBA games in Canada and the US and went to an NHL game. I went on the biggest zip line in the southern hemisphere, in Costa Rica, Superman style. In Nicaragua I saw flowing lava in a volcano, I climbed volcanos and even boarded down one. I met hundreds of people and made new friends all over the globe.
Living that dream was the best thing I’ve ever done. There is no doubt that it was better than a bunch of nights out at my local pub. That was another one of my reasons for wanting to stop drinking. I figured that I had been drunk so many times and had so many nights out but there were so many countries out there waiting to be explored. So why would I want to live the repetitious life of getting drunk every weekend when that money could be getting spent on something much more rewarding.
I think one appeal of alcohol is that it’s a quick solution to make you feel good. At least, that’s what we think. Is it really making you feel good though? If you are a heavy drinker like I was, there was only really a window of maybe a few hours that you felt good and happy before things started to get blurry and memory loss kicked in. For that few hours of feeling good, I would have to pay. Not just financially but for the next few days whilst I recovered. They say the older you get the worse the hangovers get. I partially agree with that. In my case, the hangovers were not necessarily getting worse but just lasting a lot longer. I don’t believe that it was just because I was getting older though. I think it was because the older I got the more alcohol I could handle and the longer I could drink for. As an adolescent, I maybe drank for two to six hours before vomiting or passing out. As I got older, I practically trained myself to be able to drink all through the day and night. So if your drinking sessions are three to four times longer than when you started out drinking, it makes sense that the hangovers are going to last three to four times longer.
So I eventually realised the hangovers that lasted for days were just not worth the one night (a few hours) of fun. In fact, the nights were no longer even really fun anymore. Rollercoasters are great fun but I imagine if you sat on one for twenty years, the novelty would probably wear off. Not only was drinking no longer as fun as it used to be but it was slowly becoming depressing. I felt like I was walking through a really long tunnel, slowly walking away from the light (the fun times) and into the darkness.
I think a lot of people are under the misconception that a night out with friends was fun because they were drunk. Maybe the night out was fun because you enjoy the company of your friends and they make you laugh. I don’t miss the taste of alcohol or the action of drinking. I do miss hanging out and having a laugh with friends though. It’s just unfortunate that having nights out in our culture, and most Western cultures, usually involves alcohol.
When I went back to work after travelling for the first half of the year, there was a new guy at work. He’s one of the most stereotypical Australians I’ve ever met. A tradie who’s life revolves around football, cricket, gambling, and beer. When he found out I didn’t drink, it was as if I’d just told him I was an alien or something. ‘What’s wrong with ya!?’ he said, in absolute shock. That reaction really annoyed me. I don’t think it was necessarily him I was annoyed at though. I was more annoyed because I felt that statement summed up the mentality of so many Australians. Because the vast majority of Aussies drink, they seem to think there must be something wrong with anyone that doesn’t. Coming home and having to deal with that attitude again was kind of unwelcoming.
People get stuck in loops. If you have a big night every weekend you usually feel pretty run down for a few days. Later in the week, you might feel like you need to get drunk to pick you up again. I think that in itself is a misconception though. Does it really make us feel that good? We might tell ourselves that it makes us feel good because we’ve had so many fun nights with alcohol. But really, there’s nothing fun about drinking alone and it doesn’t really make you feel good either. In fact, if you’re drinking alone, it’s probably making you feel more alone. Some people say they like a drink because it helps them relax. Is it the alcohol making you relaxed though, or the fact that you’re no longer at work and now sitting at home with your feet up. Ask yourself: Why do I drink? Question your relationship with alcohol. Is it really making you happier? I would actually love to hear all your answers.
Other negative loops can be eating too much and having weight issues. I’ve never really been overweight but I can relate to overweight people. Eating fatty or sugary foods is a way to momentarily feel good but then you may have the remorse when you start to put on weight. You might start to get down because of how you look, so you eat something that tastes good to make you feel better again. It’s a snowball effect. Drinking is the same. I enjoyed getting drunk (in the early days anyway) but then would have regrets about wasting money and only having myself to blame for feeling like rubbish for days after. It starts to really beat you down after so many years.
In my last year of drinking, that metaphorical tunnel was getting dark. To my surprise, it continued to get darker after I stopped drinking. Eventually, I stopped, I turned around. Now I’m heading back towards the light end and into a much happier and brighter future. I’m slowly becoming stronger, healthier and wealthier. I now feel like I’m stuck in a positive loop. The healthier I become physically, the healthier I become mentally, so I want to become stronger and healthier physically etc. At thirty-eight years old the thought of turning forty was really getting me down. Not now though; now I’m genuinely excited to see what my future holds and no longer worried about being in my forties.
It’s probably no real big surprise that one of the biggest benefits of getting rid of binge drinking from your life, is the health benefit. I had suffered from headaches and poor digestion as long as I can remember. Now for the first time in my life, my body is functioning the way it should be and coincidentally, no more headaches! For decades I had tried to work out what was causing the headaches. I now believe they were caused by digestive issues which were most likely linked to dehydration from binge drinking. The last few years I was drinking, I also noticed my legs would ache a lot. Sometimes to the point that I couldn’t sleep because my legs were so restless and aching so much. I had read that this could be caused by being dehydrated.
Which made sense, considering I was almost always in a state of dehydration. When I was drinking, I would constantly need water at hand, even all through the week. I was always thirsty. About six months after giving up alcohol, I started to notice that I could survive without having a water bottle constantly attached to my hand. About six to twelve months later, I started to notice my legs weren’t aching as much. There were a couple of times in the years leading up to me giving up alcohol that I had a month off drinking. When my legs still ached after a month sober, I decided that it must have been just from work and because I was getting old. Even though I didn’t think it was quite right to feel like that before I’d even turned forty. As it turns out, it takes longer than one month for your body to fully recover from twenty years of abuse. So, my advice to anyone looking to give up drinking is, don’t give up after a month because you haven’t noticed enough changes. It’s now been two years for me and I’m still discovering new benefits. I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety but I definitely am an overthinker and occasionally get anxious about things. For example, I would overthink everything I posted on social media. I probably deleted fifty percent of things I posted because I would sit there overthinking what I had posted and wondering what people would think. In the last year, I think I’ve only deleted maybe one or two posts. So obviously my mental health is in a much better place as well.
They say ‘you are what you eat’. I now know what they mean by that. Although, I think the saying should be, ‘you are what you consume’. It’s amazing how much your mental and physical health changes when you stop fueling your body with rubbish and start filling it with decent fuel.
A quick recap of the last two years:
- Made peace with who I really am.
- Randomly got offered (and accepted) a great job.
- Travelled the world for six and a half months.
- Swam with sharks.
- Hiked the Inca Trail.
- Climbed a volcano.
- Lowered my anxiety levels.
- Became healthier and stronger both physically and mentally.
- For the first time in thirteen years, got involved in a serious relationship.
Far too many amazing life-changing events to just be a coincidence that they happened when I stopped drinking. Having said that, I did go through some tough times as I adjusted to a life without alcohol. My tip for anyone considering going down the long and rough road to a sober life (I learned this on my travelling. It’s a bit of a cliche but it’s true): Sometimes the longest and bumpiest roads, lead to the best places.
Tips for moving to a new place as a non-drinker
Written by Zane Pocock
If you’ve decided to forgo alcohol, maintaining a healthy social life is one of the most difficult aspects that many of us are familiar with. This is a complex enough challenge when we stay in the same place; maintaining friendships that have been partially built on drinking, getting through the Christmas season and getting to know yourself again are just the start of the hurdles we face.
But removing yourself completely only makes this change even harder, even if it might initially seem easier to start over. Whether by choice or for work, family or any other reason, sometimes we find ourselves leaving our old lives behind not only behaviourally, but geographically as well. It’s no small undertaking and it can be even more difficult when we’ve already removed a crutch we previously relied on.
I have now moved to an entirely different country twice since I decided to stop drinking. The first time was so difficult that I reflect on those three years with a feeling that I partially wasted a chunk of my mid-20s.
The main realisation is obvious in hindsight but difficult to confront when life is already busy: not all enjoyment, socialising and purpose can come from work and family. No matter where we find ourselves, it’s imperative to build a community. In my case, the easiest way to do this in a new environment would have been to hit the piss and connect with others over painting the town red. Hell, I’m comfortable admitting that I did that the first time I moved and I still have lifelong friends from that time.
But habits change and now I don’t drink. I’m still comfortable and happy about this decision, but it has made life difficult when moving around the world. So what do you do?
Here are some tips I’ve discovered for moving to a new place as a non-drinker. They can probably be applied to all situations, but moving geographically is a particularly difficult challenge to navigate. The key is to follow through on these intentions.
Build your comfort zone
This post is all about getting into social environments and building your sense of community without the help of alcohol. Although it might seem counterintuitive, one of the best things I’ve done is put a lot of effort into making myself feel at home.
For the three years that we were living in Sydney, my wife and I never set up our own place. We moved into a fully furnished apartment because we liked the harbour view, and that was that. But it never once felt like home – it always felt like we were living in someone else’s life, in transit to whatever our ‘permanent’ home was going to be.
This was a mistake. No matter how important it is to get outside and meet people in your new community, it’s equally important to have a home that you feel comfortable in; somewhere that offers respite from a loud, busy world and can function as a home base for all the battles and challenges you’re going to face.
So, what makes a place feel like home for you? For us it meant we needed to buy our own furniture, invest in some resilient house plants, and front up for the wall-repair costs to install some art that we actually wanted to live with. I had forgotten the feeling of walking in the door and feeling the stress drop off as my nest was revealed before me. It’s helped me acclimatise and jump into unknown situations with the knowledge that there’s a comfortable respite waiting to greet me later in the evening.
Join a Meetup group
What are you passionate about? A great hack I’ve found for easing into social situations without the help of a drink, has been to connect with others that are interested in similar things to me. It means the conversation flows relatively seamlessly – in many cases, so effectively that I found it easier than with alcohol.
Meetup is a powerful online tool for this, with in-person gatherings organised by crowds of like-minded people in various group sizes and locations. I was astonished by how many groups I could join when I signed up for the service and I’ve made healthy use of it. I try to get to something every week and my community thus far has essentially grown from this central hub.
There are other options, most of which are facilitated through other virtual or online communities – it all depends on what social channel your people tend to concentrate on. Local Facebook groups will often be very specific and bond over a sense of where you’ve come from. In my case, for example, a group of New Zealanders in New York has been a supportive, thriving community. Or an app like Shapr facilitates one-on-one meetings. This has been great for professional and personal connections alike, in a context that allows for deeper personal relationships to be built.
Join a sports club
This is similar to interest-aligned socialising such as joining Meetups or book clubs, except sport is a particularly helpful exercise (sorry) thanks to the endorphins – locking those good feelings into a connection with the people you’re with and forming incredibly deep, meaningful social bonds. The key thing to realise here is that you don’t have to be any good.
It’s also a great way to get to know a different culture. For me, baseball was a foreign concept, but through engaging with a local club I now feel like a piece of the American puzzle has been filled in for me – while also being a lot of fun.
When I’m at home before an event, the sun has set and I’m a little tired from the day, I’ve always found it the obvious choice to just stay home. Social environments exhaust me; even more so now that I don’t have a prop to launch me into everyone else’s superhuman social level.
But from my recent experience, Woody Allen seems to be right when he says, “Showing up is 80% of life.” When I moved earlier this year, it didn’t take long to fall into the familiar trap of signing up for things then using every available excuse not to go. I was tired, it was too hot, the commute too long, I had very important work to do … You know them all.
But in the past couple of months I adopted a policy that I had to go to everything I signed up for. This had some great benefits. It forced me to filter the signal from the noise on all the great groups I’d signed up to, through Meetup and the like. For most of us, we’re never going to go out for something every single evening. That is objectively exhausting and it requires being picky about what you sign up for. It means I’ve actually gone to things and now that I’ve met people, not only do they expect to see me again, but I also feel familiar with the environment and more comfortable heading out. It’s a self-reinforcing social cycle.
Keep in touch back home
Life gets busy, and if there’s one thing I know painfully well it’s that international social connections take a lot of effort to maintain, even with the global communications infrastructure we now have at our fingertips. Heck, sometimes it feels difficult enough if people are just in another neighbourhood.
Thing is, when you’re not seeing your friends, family and colleagues as often as you used to, it’s easy for this to escalate into full-blown social isolation – even if you’re doing everything else to establish a new community, perfectly. Home is where the heart is, and no matter how well you set yourself up, you’re likely going to miss everyone you’ve left behind.
Some people I know are really good at managing this, but if you’re not one of them then the solution, unfortunately, is good scheduling. Particularly if you’re managing different time zones, it’s helpful to have a regular recurring catch-up with the people you miss the most – it reduces the cognitive load for everyone involved and the game theory means everyone will give a second thought to cancelling at the last minute – what if you’ve arisen early or passed up another opportunity? Take your pick of medium for this – there are so many services from Skype to Facetime that there’s no point listing any preferred ones.
Challenge yourself to start conversations
In case you can’t tell by now, I’m a ‘textbook’ introvert. Socialising doesn’t come naturally to me and it takes a lot of energy to feel confident without liquid courage.
Are you curious about the place you find yourself in? That curiosity alone is probably enough to fuel an avalanche of questions for any locals you meet. That’s been the case for me. We all know this can be easy if you go down to the local bar, but if that’s difficult to manage then you can try some other tricks. One of my favourites is to skip the supermarket and instead go to the local butcher, baker, farmers’ market and the like. These environments are socially similar to bars as they often become local community hubs and you’ll find the people behind the counter will have sunk deep roots into the local goings-on and way of life.
I also try to make a habit of striking up conversations with taxi- and Uber drivers, people I’m stuck in a queue with, and in any other situation that seems ripe for a chat – with varying success. Pro tip: New Yorkers don’t like talking on the Subway.
No matter how many times people stress the importance of looking after yourself, it’s always worth being reminded of it and I’m sure many of us have yoga, meditation and exercise goals on our New Year’s resolution lists.
But the amount of noise generated in the name of self-care doesn’t undermine its value. A good diet, for example, is going to substantially change how your mood evolves in the course of a day and have a material impact on how you interact with others while you’re building your community.
Proper self-care brings the disparate pieces of the puzzle together. It means you have routines to get in to the day and unwind at the end of it. Exercise helps you think straight, and consistent sleep cycles help you reinforce things you’ve learned and build good mental models for your new environment. Look after yourself and the rest will follow.
Consider getting a pet
This one might be a bit difficult to manage so it’s certainly an optional suggestion. With that caveat aside, getting a dog is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my sense of community.
Within a few months of our most recent move, my wife and I had adopted a puppy. It’s a blessing in disguise because we’re constantly being forced outside for her toilet breaks, only to meet half the residents in our neighbourhood. Even ‘back home’ I have never felt so connected to a community as I do right now. After all, dogs will be dogs, and when they get together to do their doggy things the only option owners are left with is to get to know each other.
If a pet isn’t appropriate for your situation, just talk to your neighbours! I feel like I’m tapped into this thriving hyper-local network which isn’t exclusive to dog owners – it just helps to have the excuse. Now, when we have 20 police officers gathering in the apartment building hallway (true story) there are enough of us connected to systematically work out what’s happening, despite their tight-lipped approach. It’s deeply rewarding – and even a good safety precaution – to know the people you live amongst.
This list is not exhaustive, but it accurately presents the steps I’ve taken to build a community in a new environment as a non-drinker. What was a daunting task when I first moved, is now an opportunity to slowly construct exactly the life I want to live and the community I want to be surrounded by. If you find yourself in a similar situation, see it for the promise it holds and invest heavily in building your new social life. It makes life fun again. What have you found that works for building your community?
When Christmas is not an easy time of year: How to help yourself or someone you love
Christmas in Australia: the shopping centres are filled with perfectly decorated Christmas trees, long lines for Santa photos and upbeat festive tunes from Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé humming from every speaker. At home, Christmas movies are on every TV and Netflix channel, the kids are finishing school for the year and the smell of mangoes and sound of cicadas fill the warm summer nights. For many, these associations mean happy times with family and friends and reflecting on a wonderful year of health, love and laughter. For others, Christmas time and the holiday season are tinged with sadness, heartbreak, loneliness and grief. Unmet goals or resolutions, the burden of ill health, the loss of loved ones and feelings of hardship can be magnified at this time of year, when it seems like everyone else around you is so happy and festive. If someone you care about might be struggling this holiday period, here are some ideas for reaching out to them and showing you care. And if that someone is you, we’ve got tips to look after yourself in a healthy and positive way this Christmas season.
A simple message to a loved one can go a long way
How often do we ‘intend’ to send that text message or make that phone call to tell someone we’re thinking of them? And how often does that well-intentioned thought quickly pass and get replaced by the myriad to-do lists and extra burdens of the Christmas period? Take a few minutes each day before you go to sleep to send a quick message to the three people who were on your mind that day. A simple ‘thinking of you’ or ‘how are you this week?’ can mean the world to someone, and brighten their day. Plus, thinking about others can help to give us perspective on our own issues, help form social bonds and potentially reduce our own depression and anxiety due to less self-focused thinking.
Extend the invitation, or find a new tribe of your own
Know someone who might be spending Christmas alone? Perhaps they just moved to the area and don’t have a big social circle; perhaps they’ve lost a loved one this year and no longer have the security of their usual traditions. Check in with the host of your event and ask if they wouldn’t mind setting an extra place at the table. Don’t take it personally if they decline – being social among strangers can be a hard task for someone going through an emotional time at Christmas, but they will likely appreciate the invitation and thought.
If you want to connect with others and make new friends to share your holidays with, search for meetups happening in your area (organised group and social events, often free or cheap in cost); use Facebook to search for events near you, ask at your local church or community group for their social schedule, or check your local council website for Carols by Candlelight or other community events.
Connect with nature
Running around trying to find last-minute Christmas gifts, attend school concerts, flutter between social events and see every friend and family member before the end of year for ‘Christmas catch-ups’ can be overwhelming, stressful and expensive. A simple antidote is to take some time for yourself and head back to basics, in nature. Go camping for a night (even if it’s in your own backyard), head to a rainforest or the beach, go for a long hike, catch a sunset, take up bird watching or swim in your local pool. Nature can be a grounding force, can reset our energies and help us to keep perspective on what’s important at this time of year. If you know someone who is going through a rough time this Christmas, ask them to join you. Or better yet, ask them what their favourite nature pursuit is and offer to accompany them.
Enrol in a Mental Health First Aid course
If you’re altruistically inclined and dedicated to helping others, not just for the festive season but beyond, consider enrolling in a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Course. One in five Australians will experience mental illness in their lives, and stigma and lack of knowledge about, or access to, treatment options can often exacerbate these conditions. MHFA courses can teach you how to listen and respond to someone with a mental health problem, even if they are experiencing a crisis. You’ll learn how to help someone to access the support they might need for the successful management of symptoms as part of their recovery. Courses are certified and can often be subsidised by your workplace or charitable organisations.
Download the Daybreak app and connect to a supportive community in your pocket
It can be easy to turn to alcohol or to drink more than usual during the festive season. Whether it’s the social pressure of Christmas events, a way to unwind from the extra stress, or to cope with feelings of loneliness and loss. While this may feel good in the short term, it can lead to negative coping patterns being established that are harder to break, down the track. If you’re considering quitting, cutting back or even maintaining the amount of alcohol you drink, type ‘Daybreak’ into your phone’s app download store and start connecting with others on a similar journey. It’s free for Australians and there’s also a desktop version if you prefer to use your computer.
For these who need more serious help at this time of year
If you feel like your problems are insurmountable and can’t be solved on your own, or if you’re seriously concerned about a loved one, it’s time to call in the professionals.
Lifeline is a free service for any Australian experiencing a personal crisis, and offers access to 24-hour support and suicide prevention services via phone and online chat.
Kids Helpline is a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for Australian young people aged 5 to 25, and offers support anytime, for any reason.
Remember, you are not alone. It’s quite normal to feel different emotions at this time of year and it’s ok to admit it. If you’re not feeling yourself, reach out to someone you trust and let them know, or seek professional support.
We wish all our community a safe, happy and healthy Christmas season!
It’s never too late
June 17, 2018. The day that would change my life forever.
I started drinking at the young age of 14, and I fell in love with being drunk. It made life fun and entertaining, and turned me into a more sociable and likeable person. It helped ease my nerves in a social environment and made me not care what others thought about me. To be frank, it made me not care at all.
I liked the feeling of security and invincibility when I was intoxicated. It wasn’t until after years of drinking and getting older that I learned my lessons the hard way. I started experiencing the negative impact alcohol had on me but it still didn’t stop me. I was blind to it. I was too stubborn and delusional to admit I had a lost control with my drinking.
My drinking turned me into someone I hated
I would say and do things to family members and people I loved that I would regret years later. I would say and do whatever I wanted without thinking about the short- or long-term consequences.
Alcohol let me live in a distorted world where anything goes. I thought I was on top of the world and in control of everything, only to have the world fall apart and crush me underneath. After a failed relationship, I was no longer drinking for the same reasons I did when I was younger. It was no longer for pleasure, enjoyment or social gatherings; I was drinking to kill or at least ease pain, loneliness, self-pity, blame, anger, hatred, shame, guilt and depression. It was the end of the world. I was in a black hole. I felt like there was nothing left for me. I was literally trying to drink myself to death.
I couldn’t function normally without alcohol in my system
The only way to stop the sweating and shaking at night was to wake up and have a drink. I thought I could never break this vicious cycle, so I lost hope and accepted my defeat.At this point, the few people who still loved and cared about me saw a version of me that nobody had seen before; a version of me that I never thought I could be. They knew I was battling demons stronger than I had thought possible. I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy or pity because the hard truth was I had put myself in the position I was in. I didn’t want to admit it, accept it or even face it.I told myself that death had to be better than whatever this thing called life was, and by this stager my family had seen and heard enough. My parents mentioned the idea of sending me into a detox and rehab center for my drinking. I still can’t say how or why it happened but one day I could see how much my self-destructive drinking was hurting my family. Parents were watching a son, and brothers were watching a brother inch closer to his funeral.
I finally decided, after spending half of my life in denial, that I had a problem with my drinking and it was time to get help
So low was my self-regard that I feel that the decision to go into detox and rehab was done more for the sake of my family that for myself. Ironically, it was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t being selfish. I wanted to die but my family wanted me to live. It took a lot of courage and willpower for me to finally admit that I had a problem, and that it was time for change.
That decision started me on the road to controlling my life again. It gave me a higher sense of personal responsibility and ownership. I agreed to enter a detox and rehab center on June 17, 2018. The idea of entering a detox and rehab centre was terrifying at first. I asked myself, “how did I ever get to this point?” I told myself, “I’m nothing like these other people here, I don’t belong in a place like this.” But I realised on the very first day just how wrong I was.
We all shared an obvious weakness in common. However, we were also defiant, courageous and strong enough to admit we needed help. People like us come from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life, and if you saw us on the street you would not know that we had lost control of our drinking habits.
I came to understand how my choices and behaviours had affected people who’d had the misfortune of crossing paths with the old me. I acknowledged and accepted the chaos and destruction I’d inflicted on others – I had no choice but to. I was finally able to forgive myself for what I had done in the hope that, one day, those that I have harmed can forgive me, even though I may not deserve it.
The new, sober me has learned to love myself and others again
The new, sober me is the strongest version of me I’ve ever known. It was the longest, darkest and hardest battle I had ever fought. Accepting that I needed help allowed me to take back control of my life. It made me feel I was human again, and not an abomination to society. My only regret is not going through treatment sooner…but I also learned it’s never too late to seek help.
Written by Hello Sunday Morning supporter, Kevin Repass
Is wine part of your self-care ritual?
2018 has been the year of self-care. Everywhere we hear about the importance of looking after ourselves, making space for ourselves in the midst of chaos and finding ways to recharge and boost our emotional resources.
Being able to make choices about our personal wellbeing is powerful and can make a huge difference to our quality of life.
It can give us a sense of control and mastery over our lives, which is important when our lives are busy and stressful. There is a growing awareness that our busy lives and multiple commitments (especially for the sandwich generation) have resulted in a generation of people who are stressed, anxious and in desperate need of ‘me’ time, but sadly do not have many options for this.
Alcohol use as self-care
Many use alcohol as a way to unwind and relax after a chaotic, stressful day. On one hand, it is kind of a great self-care tool. It can be physiologically relaxing, has a pleasurable taste and is often consumed when relaxing on the couch with something nice to eat.
On the other hand, it is a somewhat risky self care tool. One that is hard to cap at one or two, largely because it is almost too effective at helping us to unwind. We generally stop at one bubble bath, or one cup of tea a night – but alcohol is a self-care tool that is fairly difficult to shut off, due to its powerful effects on a stressed out brain.
Often, particularly if someone has had a stressful day, they might crave that release. However, at the same time, the release is then followed by a desire to keep the feelings going. Many people also experience this effect with sugar and junk food. The mechanism is similar, but with alcohol it is even more profound, since it is affecting multiple parts of the brain and reward system, as well as switching off the consequential thinking part of our brains.
Making the day after harder
What starts out as a gentle way to recover from a hard day, often becomes something that can make the next day even harder. Someone might find themselves finishing the bottle of wine in the quest to replenish those emotional resources. What follows is poor food choices, poor sleep and lower energy, making it less likely we will have the day we were hoping for.
Many members on Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak app describe this conundrum. The very understandable aim to treat themselves to a drink after a long day (self-care), balanced with the equally important need to look after their health and energy levels. The perennial question: How can I practice self-care in the way that I want, without taking away from my quality of life? I’m trying to relax and recharge after work, but I end up waking up the next day feeling awful and even further away from my wellbeing goals.
Consider the importance of rituals
Many people will describe the pleasure of coming home and pouring a glass of wine and sitting on the couch to relax. Often there are things like sound, smell, taste and even temperature that can inform the ritual and make it something that is repeated. You probably have other rituals that you do daily that have similarly grounding and comforting effects. Whether that is taking a coffee break in the sun, or the process of getting ready to go to bed in the evenings.
Perhaps we can also be a bit critical of the idea of alcohol as a form of self-care
Some questions to ask might be: Is this really helping me to recover from the day? Is this making my life better in the long run? Is this all I need to top up my emotional resources, or are there some other things that will also help?
Rituals often ground us and provide a predictable framework for us to behave. Often this is why people might start to feel relaxed when they get home and have poured a drink, even before they have had a sip. It is not the alcohol itself that is grounding and relaxing – it is the knowledge that they are home and have the next few hours just for them. Many self-care rituals are similar – we benefit both from the activity (listening to our favourite music) as well as the action (knowing that we are doing something for ourselves).
Consider what other kinds of rituals might accompany, or replace alcohol
This might look like creating a new evening ritual of having a shower as soon as you get home, and then going for a walk. Or it might involve pouring that glass of wine, but also pouring a large glass of soda water. It might involve calling a friend or family member for a chat after you put the kids to bed, so that when you get to the couch you are in a good mood. It might involve having that glass of wine, but only after you’ve done a few other things first that have calmed you down and set you up for a good evening.
Often, when we look back on the most difficult or stressful times in our lives, we can see that the rituals that give us a sense of safety and stability have often fallen over. We do need things like this to give our life structure and allow us to feel grounded and safe.
The good news is that if we can find rituals that actually work for us, we are likely to see improvements in our quality of life and wellbeing. If you are finding that alcohol is a big part of your nightly ritual, consider what kinds of small changes you can make to allow room for other things to fill some of those gaps.
Original Article written by Hello Sunday Morning Health Coach Briony and published by Ten Daily
Glass Half Full or No Glass At All
If you find yourself having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, should you just stop altogether? Or should you try to moderate your drinking? Our Daybreak health coach helps you discover the best option for you.
Members on our supportive community app, Daybreak, often debate about whether it is possible for someone to be able to moderate their drinking, or whether this is not going to be possible for them.
Some people believe passionately in abstinence, having learned through repeated relapses and difficulties, that it is not possible for them to moderate their alcohol consumption. Others work towards moderation, finding the balance between using alcohol as a social lubricant, while not becoming too reliant on it to regulate difficult emotions.
The truth of the matter is, it is a bit of both
It may be the case that there are certain groups of people who would be much better off not drinking. This can include people with serious mental illness, a history of trauma or neglect, or ongoing chronic stress. That said, there are people with these profiles who are also able to have reasonable and positive relationships with alcohol. It is just a lot harder to achieve.
There is a relationship between an individual’s response to stress and their reaction to alcohol. This means that the reward and regulation systems of someone who is stressed, anxious, depressed or generally suffering, can become sensitised to alcohol.
Taking the edge off
A glass of wine after a busy work day might feel twice as rewarding to someone who is suffering from anxiety or grief. This could be because they are already feeling in need of comfort and relaxation, even before their stressful day. Our brains quickly learn what kinds of things are effective in taking away pain and replacing it with something more rewarding. Unfortunately, alcohol is one of those things that works as a socially acceptable anaesthetic.
This is often why we might find ourselves drinking more than we would like to during stressful times in our lives. It is also why, when things settle down a bit, we might be interested in pulling back from alcohol a little and focussing on our health and other aspects of our lives.
For people with ongoing mental health difficulties or ongoing stress, this can be a lot harder. Sometimes thing don’t settle down, and alcohol becomes something that is used as habitually as coffee as a way to regulate mood or energy levels.
So how do you know which group you fall into?
If you answer yes to the following questions, it is possible that total abstinence is a safer option for you:
– Have you always struggled to stop drinking after one or two drinks? This might indicate that you struggle with moderating the effects of alcohol, and your reward system has become sensitised to the effects.
– Have you experienced significant stressful or traumatic events in your life, after which you had problems moderating your alcohol use? This might indicate that alcohol has been incorporated into your emotional regulation, and you may benefit from a long or permanent period of abstinence.
– Have people around you commented or expressed concern about your drinking or about not having an ‘off’ button? This might mean that while you don’t necessarily notice the effects of alcohol, those who care about you might be getting concerned about the level of intoxication you are reaching.
If you feel that the above don’t apply to you, and you are more suited to moderation, here are some ideas that might be helpful for you and reduce the risks that come with drinking:
– See if you can reflect on situations in which you consumed more than you intended to, and see if you can identify some things that contributed to the problem. For example, ‘I went out when I was exhausted from work and hadn’t eaten, and drank very quickly’. Another example might be, ‘I had a fight with my partner and knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to go out drinking’. Often, looking back, we are able to see that there were things that we could have done differently.
– Monitor your alcohol usage over the week. Take note of how much you drink each session, and how many drinks that equates to over the week. Set yourself some guidelines for how many drinks you would like to consume each week, and on what days. Consider having some alcohol-free days during the week to allow your body to recover.
– Gauge your limits. If you find that it is hard to stop after two glasses of wine, make sure that you take your time in reaching that amount. This may mean pacing yourself with sparkling water in between drinks, or not opening a bottle until dinner is served. Doing this will help you to keep your blood alcohol content below a certain amount, and give your body the chance to process the alcohol properly.
– Consider who you are drinking with, and what you are drinking. Often we are influenced by those around us in terms of volume and pace of consumption, and we can sometimes find that certain people or situations will reliably end up exceeding our limits. For example, having friends over for dinner, or a celebratory night out with work colleagues. See if you can set expectations early on about how much you can drink, or limit the availability of alcohol like only keeping one bottle of wine in the house.
– Consider the situations where you feel you are relying on alcohol to change your mood, and then avoid drinking in these situations! These are what we would refer to as risky situations, in which we are using alcohol to regulate our emotions. Using alcohol in this way is risky because we can lose the ability to regulate our emotions in other ways. We can also over-use alcohol if the emotions are particularly overwhelming. For example, alcohol might help to temporarily relieve a feeling of anxiety, and so we tend to use a lot of it when we feel a lot of anxiety, but of course, this isn’t effective at all.
Re-learning a relationship with alcohol
Part of the process of learning to moderate is to ‘re-learn’ our relationship with alcohol, and move away from some of the problematic ways we are using it. We could be drinking to feel happy, as a way to escape unpleasant feelings of sadness or anxiety or as a way to numb or avoid painful things in our lives. Try to move towards using it to celebrate special occasions, and add to your experience of pleasure and enjoyment.
Many people enjoy alcohol, and the experience of sharing a bottle of wine or having a beer with friends. Often, members of Daybreak are reluctant to give up the opportunity to do this when the occasion arises, and often they don’t need to. It is just about being aware of how they are using alcohol, and how they can have it as just one part of their life, without it taking over the show.
If you’d like some more information about which is the best approach for you, head over to Hello Sunday Morning to read more about how to change your relationship with alcohol, and be part of a supportive community of people who are working towards the same goal. The Daybreak app also offers Health Coaching for people wanting some more information about how to achieve long lasting and substantial change.
Recognising and breaking toxic cycles
One interesting thing to consider when looking at human behaviour is the idea of the vicious or virtuous cycle. Certain things in our life roll over onto others, and before long we find ourselves in either a positive or negative feedback loop.
How can you recognise this cycle?
Looking at human behaviour, we can see that a lot of really important aspects of our lives can be narrowed down to these feedback loops. The more aware we are of this, the more opportunities we have to shift them towards more positive outcomes.
Within society, some examples of vicious cycles might be:
Eg 1. A company that is struggling to be innovative and forward thinking starts to lose its younger staff because it is not keeping up with the times. This in turn makes it harder for them to recruit new people and become innovative and flexible.
Eg 2. A park is beautiful and scenic, but when it begins to be graffitied and filled with rubbish, people are less likely to keep it clean or avoid littering themselves. This is also known as the ‘broken windows’ phenomenon.
Eg 3. A child who has a difficult temperament and some behaviour problems starts school. At school they have issues with a teacher and other students. Their behaviour problems become worse and he becomes even more difficult to manage.
Some examples of a virtuous cycle might be:
Eg. 1 A business that improves its quality might see an increased level of patronage, leading to more profit and the ability to improve quality even more.
Eg 2. A company that sells sustainable and environmentally friendly products might see an increase in their sales from consumers. They can then scale their production and lower the cost of environmentally friendly products.
Eg. 3 A child who is provided with reading stimulus early on in their lives may be more likely to enjoy and be proficient at reading when they start school. They might even achieve ahead of other students, thus making reading and english a strength for them.
So how do these cycles apply to our relationships with alcohol or our general wellbeing?
Here are some possible examples:
A person who is having relationship issues is spending a lot of time drinking at home. This is affecting their sleep and wellbeing, and resulting in less productivity and clarity during the day. It will also be more likely that they will have a drink in the evening to improve their mood.
A person has gained weight from drinking daily. They try to make good choices in their food, but are under-eating and feeling really hungry and drained at the end of the day. This means they may be more vulnerable to having a drink in the evening as they are craving calories from alcohol.
Someone who is trying to improve their mood by exercising sets an alarm for 6am, but doesn’t get up in time. This could lead them to feel even worse and upset with themselves.
Someone who is experiencing social anxiety might be more likely to drink to excess in social situations. However, this also means that they may be more likely to behave impulsively or do something socially unacceptable – making it likely that they will continue to feel social anxiety and a concern about being judged or criticised!
A person may start exercising daily with a friend as a way to improve their mood and health. They find that it is an effective way of lowering stress, as well as having a social interaction and chance to chat with a friend. This makes it likely that this will become a regular part of their routine.
Someone cuts back on drinking in order to spend more time with their kids in the evening and on the weekends. They find that their mood is better and they are saving money, which they are spending on things that are important to them.
A person may make changes in their diet as a way to lose weight, and find that in addition to weight loss they are experiencing greater energy and clarity during the day, helping them to perform better at work and at home. In turn making it likely that they will continue with their new food choices.
How do we replace the toxic cycle with more positive patterns?
As you can see, these kinds of cycles are fairly straightforward, and the cause and effect are fairly evident. It can be helpful to look at our own virtuous and vicious cycles, to see what kinds of things are playing out in our lives.
Often when we are looking at making changes to our wellbeing and health, we can be strategic about getting into virtuous cycles. We can look at certain things that are likely to keep a useful behaviour going. These can be things like making sure we exercise with friends (much more fun), or that we ensure that we can measure progress and benefit of things like exercise or a change in diet. Our brains love to know when we are making progress and reaching goals, and being able to see things change and progress is really powerful in keeping a virtuous cycle going.
Similarly, if you have noticed that there are some vicious cycles playing out, whether with alcohol or in your general life, see where you might be able to break the feedback loop. Being aware of cause and effect is enormous and often when we are in the middle of things, it can be hard to see this. However a bit of perspective is invaluable.
If you would like to chat some more about making changes to your wellbeing and relationship with alcohol, please feel free to speak with one of Daybreak’s Health Coaches. The coaches are there to give you some advice and support about breaking old cycles and building new ones.
5 steps to breaking your ‘after work drink’ habit
It’s a routine thousands of people get stuck in: come home from a stressful day at work or with the kids, kick the shoes off, undo the belt and poor a glass of wine or crack open a beer. Sure, this is a nice way to relax and mark the end of a day, however, when that one drink turns into a bottle, things can start to get out of control.
If this is you, don’t worry – you are not alone. Statistics from our Daybreak mobile program show that nearly half of our members drink after work.
Most of our members (90%) have tried cutting back, however, few experienced any long-term success in changing their relationship with alcohol. These numbers show us that it is HARD to break the routine once we have developed a dependence on alcohol to unwind at the end of the day.
So how do I stop drinking when I get home?
1. Identify the need
There are a few techniques we recommend to our members who are trying and break this habit. The first one is understanding what the need for the alcohol is at the time. In this case, the drink would fill the need of wanting to switch off from ‘work/mum mode’ and relax into the evening. When we recognise and understand why we are drinking, it can help us realise that there are alternative, healthier ways to relax.
2. Swapping out the alcohol
For some, a drink after work is a way to mark the end of the day. So this could still be done with swapping an alcoholic drink to a non-alcoholic drink. We have had feedback from members in our community who recommend having a selection of tasty alcohol-free drinks at home ready to go. Daybreak Members have also shared with us a great tip – pour your alcohol-free drink into a nice glass, so that way you feel like it is more special!
Alcohol-free drink ideas:
Soda water with lime
Apple Cider Vinegar and tonic
Seedlip and tonic
Homemade ginger beer
3. Finding an alternative activity
If you know you get home at 5:30/6pm and pour yourself a drink, you could try something different at that exact time instead. A good idea could be to go for a walk, as moving your body after sitting at a desk all day can help you feel physically and mentally better and more clear minded. If you find you don’t have the energy for any physical activities, you could run yourself a bath or find a quiet place at home and listen to a guided meditation for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you’re a creative person, you could start a creative project to work on after work like sewing or making something crafty. Our members have found it can be helpful to try a few of these different activities to see what works best.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for support
There are a lot of people in the same boat as you! Online communities like Daybreak are a great way to have support at your fingertips. You could also follow blogs you like, and read up on Hello Sunday Morning’s blogs and social media posts, as they are created to inspire you with some great ideas to help you change your relationship with alcohol.
5. Be compassionate with yourself
It is not going to be an easy routine to break, so be kind to yourself, and give yourself credit for trying! It might help to set small goals like, “I am only going to have a drink after work three nights a week, and the other nights I’ll go to a fitness class or read my book on the couch.”
If you become overwhelmed by strong urges when you get home from a hard day and all you want to do is pick up that wine glass, it may help to try this exercise one of our Daybreak health coaches shares with people who need support:
Think of the ocean, the urge is a huge wave, you know it’s big and it’s strong but it will subside if you hang in there. The waves/urges will become smaller and you will become stronger, and in time the waves become even smaller and further apart and far more manageable to deal with.
What Comes After Dry July?
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of people who are taking part in initiatives like Dry July, Ocsober, FebFast and others. You might say that an increased focus on public health by high profile organisations and sponsored by high profile public figures, is a universally positive thing.
This is because we are rethinking our patterns of consumption. These initiatives also give us the opportunity to break patterns of behaviour that we know to be harmful and occasionally destructive. In addition to this, we are given the opportunity to raise money at the same time – to support just those causes.
Opening up a conversation
Approaches like this are a world away from twenty years ago, when the thought of going for a month without alcohol was derided and mocked. The normalisation and visibility of these campaigns has opened up the conversation about why someone might choose to take a break from alcohol and made it possible for people to openly say that they are choosing to abstain.
There is only one potential issue with approaches like this. From a behavioural perspective, addressing an issue like alcohol consumption by going ‘cold turkey’ might not actually result in lasting changes. When we are considering our relationship with alcohol, we are acknowledging that it is a part of our lives, day-to-day. Stopping for a month may be a good way to get into shape and have a break, but we are not necessarily working on the way that we use alcohol itself.
For some people who do Dry July, their experience of having a month off alcohol will be so positive and profound that they may never drink again. For the majority of people, however, they will return to drinking and likely slip back into old habits and patterns of alcohol use. As a psychologist, I often have clients describing a positive experience doing Dry July. Things like improved mood, weight loss, more energy and money saved, are then undermined by what happens when alcohol is reintroduced.
From a behavioural perspective, it is nearly impossible to change the relationship with something when it is out of your life. You actually need to be coming into contact with it in order to understand how to best manage it!
Many of my clients express frustration about how well they did in Dry July and then the issues they have had with starting to drink again and feeling that nothing has really changed. The big challenge is finding a way to still have alcohol in their lives, while not necessarily using it every day, and in large quantities.
Consider you were going into relationship counselling with your partner. Yes, you would likely benefit from individual sessions. From these sessions you might get some insight into relational patterns and how you are being affected by the relationship problems. However, the real work would be done in the sessions with your partner. This is when your triggers are activated, when you have to struggle and experience in real life some of the issues that have led you to make changes.
It is the same with alcohol. Changing our relationship with alcohol is, essentially, a learning experience. We must re-learn how to use alcohol and how to manage its effect on us. Taking a break and then hoping we have ‘reset’ may not be enough. It is beneficial but is not really a longer term option, particularly if we intend on reintroducing alcohol into our lives again at some point.
So, if you are nearing the end of Dry July, what kinds of things might be helpful to keep up the momentum and observe some lasting changes? Here are some ideas:
– Consider what you might like your relationship with alcohol to look like. What kinds of things did you enjoy about Dry July? Was it the increased energy, better health or financial savings? How might you need to moderate your intake of alcohol to still see these benefits?
– If you are wanting to re-introduce alcohol into your week, consider what kinds of goals you might have. Whether it is four alcohol free days a week, or setting a limit on the amount you drink each day, think about what might be realistic for you.
– Reflect on how much you are currently drinking in a week (eg. 3 standard drinks each day, equalling 21 standard drinks per week), and see if you can set a new goal for yourself. Most of the risks that are associated with alcohol come from drinking daily and in high quantities, so reducing one of those variables is likely to be beneficial.
– Consider what is happening behind the scenes of your alcohol use. Is it being used to manage stress, deal with negative emotions, or temporarily lift your mood? Developing other strategies that can meet these needs may mean that alcohol feels less necessary. For example, having a shower and getting into comfortable clothes at the end of the day might be helpful in ‘closing a chapter’ on the day.
– Be curious about patterns and themes with your alcohol use. Perhaps there are some friends that you are likely to drink to excess around, or certain situations (after work, when alone, when nervous) that alcohol is being over-used. Similarly, perhaps there are some situations where you don’t feel like drinking at all, or at the very least do not struggle with the urge to have another drink.
– Set expectations with those around you. if you are wanting to make some longer-term changes with your alcohol usage, let those who are close to you know what your goals are, and what you might like from them. Even asking a partner not to buy wine on the way home, or organising coffee with friends rather than drinks, can be a useful way to set up situations that will support you to change. This way you’re not in a situation where drinking is expected.
So if you are nearing the end of Dry July – well done! It is a great first step in making a big change in your relationship with alcohol. At this stage you will likely be conscious of a lot of things that might trigger an urge to drink, as well as the strategies that are effective in doing things other than having a drink. Now is a great time to consider what you might like the rest of your year to look like and how you might be able to create lasting change.
Face-to-face treatment vs. online coaching
What is health coaching?
It may seem like a lot of people are becoming ‘life coaches’ or a ‘health coaches’ these days. This may be due to the stimulation and choice offered by our western society. This can sometimes leave us feeling confused about our purpose or “off-track”.
Coaches all specialise in different areas to help people get back on the path to achieving their lifestyle goals. These goals could be around personal relationships, career, body image and weight issues, physical health or mental health.
Coaching is based on a one-on-one conversation that follows certain principles and uses skills to encourage people to explore their current situation. It also helps people to look at aspects of their lives that may be in need of some TLC and inspires them to come up with ideas for creating positive change.
Often coaches first find out where the change is needed (in our case, alcohol use) and why it is important to the person. From there a coach helps them explore what’s stopping them from succeeding and together they brainstorm possible strategies to overcome these obstacles. This helps the coach and person develop a plan to move forward.
Health coaches can also give support with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, stress management and relationship issues – however, if these issues are significantly affecting members they may also recommend face to face treatment with a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Health coaches for alcohol use
Our coaches work on our mobile program, Daybreak, to help people to overcome conditions that have resulted from lifestyle choices. After establishing why the person is reaching out for extra support, the health coach asks them to share a bit about how long it has been an issue. They then explore what kinds of triggers there are, for example, negative emotions, stress, social situations. Once the coach has worked out what role alcohol is playing, they can start to look at ways to manage this.
Generally if the coach and the member can find ways to meet the needs that are currently being met by alcohol, then usually the urges become reduced.
The needs could be around stress management, relaxation or lowering inhibitions.
The needs could be around stress management, relaxation or lowering inhibitions.
Everyone is different
The main thing to understand when it comes to changing a relationship with alcohol is that different strategies work for different people.
Thousands of people with an alcohol dependency have really benefited from a program where they can attend in-person group meetings or have one-on-one support to help them on their journey of change. Others have changed the way they drink by visiting a psychologist/counsellor to help them unpack the issues underlying the reason that they are drinking in the first place. This could be due to mental health struggles like depression or anxiety, past experiences, PTSD and a vast array of physiological issues that may trigger a desire to drink to excess.
Is online coaching effective?
Online coaching also has its benefits and works for certain people who can’t necessarily access face-to-face therapy. This could be due to where they live if they are in remote communities, financial situations or other reasons. Online coaching offers a space where people can access help and support whenever they need it without having to book in an appointment or be put on a waiting list.
If you’re a busy mother with three kids and working full time, you might not have the opportunity to take yourself to a few meetings a week. Online treatment like Daybreak provides people with access all day everyday to support from a community of people in the same situation and the option to chat to health coaches if they need one-on-one advice.
Through Daybreak, we have also found that the safety of anonymity online and the anonymity of the health coaches helps people open up faster and be more honest about their situation and their drinking.
To read more about Daybreak, and find out how our online treatment works, or download the app to chat to a health coach, visit https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/daybreak/
How inner child issues relate to alcohol use
We have all heard about the idea of the ‘inner child’ – but what does it mean, and how does it relate to alcohol use?
Some theories of psychology refer to the inner child as a part of us that exists inside our adult selves. Theories differ, but broadly the idea is that we all have a part of us that is quite vulnerable, playful, emotional and intuitive. A part that emerges in certain situations, often in times of loss or high emotion.
This can be a useful way to view our reactions or responses to things. For example, if we are having an unusually strong emotional reaction to something, or are feeling especially vulnerable, we might consider that our inner child is being triggered and is in need of some comforting.
How does the ‘inner child’ relate to my drinking?
Often, situations that were painful for us as children (being left alone or being bullied) might trigger the inner child within us and remind us of old wounds. Consider a person who experienced the loss of a parent in childhood. This loss would have been painful and confusing for them. As adults, future experiences of loss for those people might also bring up those feelings of loneliness, fear and abandonment.
The Internal Family Systems therapy framework can help us understand our strong emotional responses to things. This can also be helpful understanding a connection with alcohol use.
Here are some ways that these two can relate:
If we find ourselves experiencing things which are frightening or make us feel vulnerable. This could be related to relationship issues, failure, or criticism. When we feel like this we might try to dampen down those vulnerable emotions with alcohol to try and restore a sense of calm. Alcohol can also make the inner child emotions even more intense. We can find ourselves feeling heightened emotions after a few drinks, so we can quickly become overwhelmed.
Our ‘walls’ that normally keep our emotions within manageable ranges can get knocked down with alcohol (and not always in a good way). There are well established links in the literature between difficult experiences in childhood and alcohol use. This is mainly because alcohol is often used as a strategy for managing difficult emotions.
So how can we look after our inner child, without the use of alcohol?
Alcohol, as we know, can often makes things worse. It also doesn’t really give us what we need, so here are a few alternate options:
Consider what you need when you are feeling vulnerable – Is your ‘inner child’ in need of comforting, or in need of some fun? What kinds of things might help to manage the emotional pain or distress you are feeling? Finding healthy, adult ways to care for that vulnerable part of yourself can be a huge step in the right direction. You could catch up with friends for a games night, or snuggle up in bed with a pet. Try to find ways to get what you need in that moment, without necessarily turning to alcohol as the first option.
Self Care – Things like a hot shower, playing with pets or sitting down with a book. These are all ways of putting yourself in a positive and comforted emotional state, so that you are more likely to feel safe and content.
Support – Often the ‘inner child’ is in need of comfort, and that can be provided by a phone call to a friend, visit to a counsellor or a family member. Having someone who is able to offer a listening ear and guidance can be invaluable when we are in a vulnerable state.
Healthy Adult – One way to support the ‘inner child’ is to strengthen your ‘healthy adult’. Consider what the capable, adult part of you might do to manage the situation or problem. For example, if the inner child is distressed at a partner’s coldness or lack of attention, the healthy adult part might understand that it is necessary to have a conversation with this partner. The healthy adult will discuss what is happening in the relationship. Although the inner child part may want to avoid that conversation and hide away, we know that sometimes difficult conversations are necessary and useful.
DBT therapy and how it helps inner child issues
One effective therapeutic technique to support the inner child is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). This approach focuses on emotional regulation and distress tolerance, and can be incredibly helpful in dealing with strong emotions. The idea is that if we have a set of tools that can help to soothe us in times of distress, we will generally be much better off. We will be more able to handle stressful situations like relationship problems, grief or loneliness.
A lot of the DBT techniques seem like common sense, but essentially they work to create a ‘toolbox’ for an individual to use when they are having a difficult time.
DBT is great to use with the ‘inner child’ because it can really help with strong emotions and models healthy adult ways of coping with them. It can help when we recognise situations where we have become overwhelmed with emotion and acted impulsively or harmfully. For example, drinking too much or getting into an argument. We can then look at other ways we could have dealt with the situation (for example, calling a friend or going for a run).
The inner child is a helpful framework for understanding some of the things that might trigger alcohol use. For many people, recognising that we all possess a vulnerable and emotional part that can be triggered at certain times, is a useful way of being able to predict and manage challenging emotional moments.
Remember, strong emotions are part of being human. This is particularly if you have a lot of things that you value in your life. It would be unusual not to have strong emotions about family, friendships and the things you really care about. It is how we manage these strong emotions that really matters. The good news is that there are many different and sustainable ways of doing this and a lot of resources to help you should you need it.
Why yoga and meditation can help change your drinking
One of the aims of a practice like yoga and meditation is to be able to slow down, calm the mind and to feel whatever arises for you.
It is important to have a way to connect back in with yourself, and that may be scary for some people. For those who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, this may seem extremely difficult, as often people drink in order to numb challenging feelings and to escape whatever is happening in their mind or body. It is also very beneficial to have an outlet that allows you to be an observer of your thoughts and feelings, learning not to get so caught up in them.
Mindfulness / consciousness
Often when someone has been drinking regularly for a substantial period of time, they disconnect from their true selves and what their body is telling them. Yoga and meditation is an effective way to start unpacking this, as well as being a relaxing and calming method to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress or depression.
One of the goals of a yoga or meditation practice is to learn the skill to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings and sensations that arise when you are in a challenging yoga posture. These sensations can also come up through mediation and make it very hard to sit with. Working through these sensations and learning to cope with them through breath and staying in the present moment, allows us to have the ability to cope better with situations in our external lives. For example, when we come face-to-face with something that would usually cause us to drink, like a fight with a partner, we can have the awareness that it might be best for us to leave the situation and have some time alone. We can remove ourselves and sit with whatever feelings come up. That way we learn to work through any anger/hurt/sadness/grief and return to the person with a greater sense of calm and clarity of the situation.
Life is all about relationships; relationships with ourselves, with others, with alcohol etc. Relationships really come down to connection and understanding. There is a close relationship between the mind and the body, and yoga and mediation are a way to weave this together.
Yoga Teacher, Vytas Baskauskas, from California, spoke to Yoga Journal about finding sobriety through the 12 step program and a disciplined yoga practice.
“A lot of people come to AA to get sober, and yet they’re still riddled with physical maladies and imbalances… Yoga was challenging, and it opened my mind and my body. It enlivened places that had been dead for so long, and as I worked my body, I found a refuge, some relief from feeling like a prisoner of my own thoughts. When you’re an addict, you often have a hole in your life, and by filling it with the philosophy of yoga, God—whatever you want to call it—that’s a high too. But it’s a high that won’t kill your relationships, hurt your family, or your body.”
Knowing that you have to wake up at 6am to get to a class is a great way to have an excuse to go to bed early or leave an event early and not have too much to drink. If you are out on a Friday night with friends at a bar and there’s an amazing yoga class on tomorrow at your favourite studio – it can help you tune back into what you really need. You may find that having one more means you won’t get there.
Having an alternative way to relax, helps get you into a healthy routine, as you can take yourself to a yin yoga or meditation class to unwind, instead of meeting someone at a pub. Many people start to crave the feelings that are released after yoga or a mediation practice, and these can help to become your ‘therapy’. This is when change starts to happen if you do the work. No one is saying it will be easy, but forming habits like this gradually changes your lifestyle for the better!
In both of these mindful practices, you are taught to be kind to yourself and to remember to honour your limitations. You learn to find your edge with love and acceptance rather than judgment and discouragement. It doesn’t matter what you look like or whether you are ‘flexible enough’ or ‘strong enough’. No one judges you for being ‘bad’ at yoga or meditation, because there is no competition. It is a self-practice and each day is different and may feel different in your own body.
How do I get into mediation?
The Headspace app is a great place to start if you want to get into a regular practice. It offers free, easy and practical, 10 minute sessions to try, but there are loads of other apps and online videos!. You can also look up meditation classes in your local area if you prefer to go to a space to meditate with others.
How do I get into a yoga practice?
Setting yourself goals for a consistent weekly (if not daily) practice, is something that demonstrates a lot of self-discipline. If you have struggled with keeping at things in the past, a good idea may be to buy a membership to a yoga/meditation studio and that way you know you have paid and that might make you go! There are also thousands of apps and online videos to follow.
This yoga sequence from Yoga Journal was created for people who have or have had a dependency, and it has lovely little illustrations and affirmations for you to focus on in each posture. https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/higher-ground
Just set up the computer somewhere you have space to roll out a mat or a towel and make sure you have uninterrupted time to work on your breath and follow the guide. Namaste
What I learnt about drinking cultures when I thought I knew everything
“A world where confidence and identity aren’t measured in standard servings …”
This is a line from our organisational mission at Hello Sunday Morning. It’s a clever way of bringing a serious issue around Australian drinking cultures to light. How many people do you know that drink to boost confidence or would consider drinking as part of their identity? It’s troubling to me; not the drinking, but the ‘how’ and ‘why’ we drink.
I was never a big drinker. I would never dream of pressuring anyone into drinking and was completely comfortable to say ‘no’ if I felt pressured myself. This was simply my ‘normal’ – it was never something I reflected on. Despite this, working at Hello Sunday Morning has taught me so many things about our drinking cultures. This is exactly why I believe each and every one of us has something to learn and reflect on, whether we think we do or not.
I wanted to take the opportunity to outline a few of the key things I’ve learnt as someone who truly thought I had nothing to learn.
1. It is very hard to detach yourself from a cultural norm, especially when you don’t even realise you’re accustomed to one.
When I applied for my role at Hello Sunday Morning one year ago, my first thought was, “Oh man, I guess I have to stop drinking if I want to work here.”
Looking back, of course that was my first thought. Of course I was worried that my friends would think I’m a loser for working with a company they perceived to be against drinking. Of course I struggled with the idea of giving it up completely, even though I didn’t drink that much in the first place. I didn’t realise that thoughts like this were exactly why Hello Sunday Morning existed: to empower people to have whatever relationship with alcohol they wanted, as long as it was the best one for them. I now pick up on all the little cues that it’s something deeply embedded in our society. My friends don’t peer pressure at all and seem comfortable with each other’s decisions, yet I still haven’t managed to go out and say no to alcohol without the classic, “Oh, do you have to drive? That sucks.” I find myself getting the pity card a lot, and this would never have bothered me before when I was still attached to the expectation myself. Only now do I notice these subtle hints, and I find myself slightly offended that it’s such an unreasonable thing for me to simply not feel like drinking tonight. I simply ‘must’ be driving.
Having now been exposed to a vast range of people with different relationships to alcohol, from sobriety and moderation, all the way to weekend binge drinking or dependence, I also empathise with the people who do struggle. These extremely subtle lines from people who don’t think they are saying anything wrong can actually affect someone in a much more complex way. My reason for not drinking may have been because I didn’t feel like it, but you never know what someone’s reason might be. There’s a chance it’s not something they want to be reminded of, and in fact, it could be dangerous to their health to make these assumptions. By detaching myself from the current drinking culture, I now never make an assumption as to why someone isn’t drinking. For me, it is as simple as saying, “Okay, cool,” and moving on with the conversation.
2. When it came down to it, I didn’t really have any good reason to drink. Ever.
When I really looked deep into my drinking and thought about why I did it, the reasons just didn’t seem to measure up to what I thought I knew about myself. Before you start thinking I’m going to preach about sobriety, I’m not. I still drink even after this discovery, but I’ve simply changed my reasons for doing it. On the outside, not much is different. But on the inside, I feel like a new person.
I used to drink to fit in with what everyone else was doing, or because I was at a bar, or because it was happy hour so I may as well take advantage of a $5 glass of wine. But now, I drink because it’s a hot day and I love the taste of a Pimms and ginger ale in the sunshine, or because I’m sharing a cocktail jug with a friend who I haven’t seen in a while and I’m enjoying our time together, or because this wood-fired pizza would really suit a Pinot Noir to match. Changing my reasons for drinking has helped me appreciate the rare occasions I do crave a drink, because now I take the time to think about the reason on each occasion, rather than mindlessly follow through.
Having this realisation has also been great for my wallet. Now, I actually ask myself if there is something I’d rather spend $18 on than a cocktail (usually the answer is yes!). Without even realising it, I’ve stopped ‘going with the flow’ of having multiple alcoholic drinks with friends and I’m usually happy with just the one. I would also certainly not recommend keeping up with your friends by drinking non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night – speaking from the experience of a terrible, sugary, ginger beer hangover last New Year’s Day. Turns out that’s a thing!
3. We. Are. All. Different.
Something I never understood before was just how differently everyone reacts to alcohol. Giving life advice on how somebody should change their relationship with alcohol, based on your own personal experience, is not the smartest idea. There has been a lot of change in the world lately and we’ve learnt to become a lot more accepting and supportive of people who are ‘different’. People are opening up about experiences that others might not understand, and we’re learning how to find communities who are similar to us in these ways. Understanding a relationship with alcohol is no different. Some people are more prone to developing an alcohol dependency, while others have no issue with only having a couple of drinks. Some experience horrible symptoms after only one or two drinks, while others could drink all night and wake up with no hangover. Some experience a hangover as a headache and are fine after a late morning lying in bed, while others experience hangovers as a wave of anxiety and depression that could last for days. The list goes on.
However, in saying this, I’m not only trying to bring to light that people who don’t suffer as much should be more respectful and considerate of those who do. This is a two-way street, where those who struggle can learn to understand that not everybody has the same experiences as them. Sometimes alcohol is not a good idea for one person, but for another, it’s not so harmful and choosing to drink moderately isn’t a shameful thing.
So, if you’re like me, and think you’re pretty comfortable with the way you drink, I’d really encourage you to take a moment just to think about it as deeply as you can. Start getting into the habit of asking yourself, “Why am I really having this drink?” every time you go for a sip. Consider if the reason really comes down to your personal choice or a cultural expectation. Let’s measure our lives in smiles, good times, high fives or sunrises, rather than standard servings.
How your friends help you change
On the road to a better relationship with alcohol, we lean on the people closest to us; our spouses, our mates and our families. When friends help, they get us through the difficult nights, help us move on from our mistakes, and push us not to give up on ourselves. However, if we’re not careful, our support network can also help us make excuses. Having a friend or a family member who is a sort of “partner in crime” can turn defaulting on resolutions into a shared experience, one that somehow feels more permissible than if you did it alone.
The essential takeaway: our support networks have a measurable effect on how we behave. Pursuing relationships with people who have similar goals, helps us achieve our milestones, while other relationships will need work to make sure they function as support and not as obstacles.
Humans are social animals. It’s how we were made. We form close connections because having these relationships make our lives better. Unconsciously, we mirror behaviours practised by the people in our social circle. We base some of our internal definitions of what is okay by looking at how people around us behave. What this means for someone who is trying to change their drinking habits is that the people in your social circle are capable of both helping you or slowing your progress. Communicating effectively about what you need, and how they can best support you, can make the difference between the two.
You can get closer to your goals when your friends help
How can your friends help?
Listen: Sit down with you and have a conversation about what kind of situations can trigger your need to drink. If they know about your triggers, they can back you up and help you cope with them when they occur.
Socialise: Encourage you as you expand your social life with new activities like exercise and events where drinking isn’t the main focus. You can even sweet talk them into accompanying you if you’re nervous to go alone.
Connect: Pursue new people and new experiences, but don’t feel like you have to leave your old mates behind. Ask them to be there for you even if you can’t drink with them.
Three ways your friends help at social events
- Understand that sticking to your goals is important to you, and they should not ask you to drink with them if you’re trying not to.
- Help you find a non-alcoholic drink to have in your hand to avoid awkward questions.
- A good way to hold yourself accountable is to volunteer to be the designated driver for the group. You’ll have additional motivation to stick to your goals, and you will be everyone’s favourite person for getting them home.
We are who we are around
In this day and age, we have a newfound ability to really reflect on who we want to spend our time with. We have access to more communities than we could ever possibly reach out to. What this means for us is that if we want to change who we are and what we do each day, we have the ability to reach out and find people who are doing the same thing. To make connections with people is to be human, and to fear losing these connections is more human still.
Changing what you do with your Saturday nights is scary, because you may lose people who expect you to drink as heavily as they do. The liberating aspect of modern society is that while you may lose some friends who can’t accept your changes, the number of people and communities for you to reach out to is limitless. Your potential to find new people, and new things to do with your Sunday mornings is limitless.
What can you do with this information? Talk to your friends, talk to your spouse. Telling them about your goals with alcohol is good, but telling them about how they can help is better.
Click on this link for more ideas on support https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/daybreak/family-and-friends/
How to survive the holidays
For someone trying to change the way they drink, how to survive the holidays can be a challenging question. Most events like Christmas parties and family get-togethers come part and parcel with drinking. We take leave from work and connect with others; it feels natural to relax and have a few extra drinks. For many Daybreak members, this can result in slipping back into a lifestyle they are wanting to move away from.
Reflecting on past holidays can be a valuable tool
Some good questions to ask yourself might be:
“When my holidays are over, what would I have liked to have done?,” or, “In previous years, what did I wish I had spent more/less time doing?”
Now, looking towards the near future, take a moment to ask, “What would I like to spend my time on?” The holidays are a precious, limited time to be close to the people we love the best. It’s worth taking a few minutes to think about how you want to spend it.
Have a plan to survive the holidays
Having a plan in place before you get to these situations is much easier than trying to make something up on the spot. When speaking to people at Christmas parties and end of year celebrations, you can say something like, “I’m focusing on my health at the moment and have noticed that alcohol is really setting me back in terms of fitness,” or, “I’m not drinking this year, as I want to feel refreshed after the holidays, but please don’t let that stop you.”
Another good strategy to survive the holidays is to have a plan in place for triggers or situations that might compromise your goals. Ask yourself, “What am I going to do if I have an argument with my siblings and feel overwhelmed?” or, “What am I going to tell my parents when they offer me a drink at lunch?”
Sometimes our loved ones are worried that if we aren’t drinking, we might judge them or behave differently. It will be good to emphasise that you don’t expect them not to drink. You are just not drinking at the moment. Not drinking doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Ideas to make the transition easier:
- Have a non-alcoholic drink in hand. The varieties of non-alcoholic beers are increasing and the potential for mocktails is limitless.
- Not drinking doesn’t have to be a subtraction. Explore all the amazing things you can do when you’re not sprawled on the couch. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, start a game of backyard cricket, head down to the beach or pool for a swim or kick around a footy. If you’re in a cold place, organise a day on the slopes or a family talent show inside.
- Or, you could be everyone’s new favourite person by offering to be the designated driver.
Be kind to yourself
Understand that holidays and family get-togethers can be very challenging, particularly if there has been a conflict in the family. Sometimes we can feel anxious or exhausted by being back in the family dynamic, and also without the numbing effects of alcohol. The good news is that often it is alcohol that triggers arguments and disagreements within families, and not drinking will allow you to step away from that and look at things differently. Sometimes alcohol can feel like it is necessary to deal with family, but when we take it away or reduce it, often we find family gatherings are less tedious.
A good way to survive the holidays is to acknowledge that they are a bit of a mixed bag. There will be stressful situations and perhaps a tense conversation or two, but the holidays also come with these bright moments, those moments of connection and celebration that make all the stress worth it. Sticking to your goals on changing your relationship with alcohol drinking might not stop your mum from asking you pointed questions about your love life, or your crazy uncle from airing his political views over dinner, but you may find that you come away with more of those brights moments, because you made choices about how you wanted to spend your time.
To find out more and to download Daybreak, a program by Hello Sunday Morning, visit hellosundaymorning.org/daybreak.