Courageous conversations without a drink in your hand
This week we have a guest blog from Nicole, a courageous and intelligent woman who was diagnosed with bowel cancer and took action action to regain as much control of her life as possible, including changing her relationship with alcohol, which was not easy … for others.
I had terminal cancer, a glass of Pimm’s and nothing to say.
As I watched a slice of lemon bob around in front of me, I contemplated making a toast.
My family were gathered around a long table at a restaurant on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. Did we look like a happy family? Skipping out of work together for an afternoon drink on a crisp autumn weekday? Or did our forlorn faces betray our devastation? And most pressingly, in that moment, were we really about to cheers to all of this?
I had spent three days with the knowledge that I was dying from bowel cancer. My family had flown in and driven over and gathered close. We had cuddled and cried. We had gazed into oblivion and tried to comprehend what life looked like now. And then, inevitably, eventually, our minds had turned to what we should do next.
Sure, doctors. And hospitals. And treatment. Fighting for life.
But what did we do now, today? On this sunny afternoon?
“We could drive around some wineries and hang out and drink some wine, I guess?”
It made just as much sense as anything else that we could have done in the wake of such destructive news.
And so, we did. Off we went.
It was a peculiar thing to do. Wasn’t it? To tour some wineries and have a long lunch. Were we commemorating this moment, this news, this learning that I had two years left? Were we celebrating life? Were we boldly standing in the face of a cancer diagnosis, resolute? Or were we just doing what we would have always done?
As the wine went down and our spirits went up, I was quietly relieved. This was a dose of normality. It felt familiar. As my inhibitions receded, I felt more comfortable acknowledging the trauma that lay ahead of us. Talking about it and processing it. Glass in hand, glass half full, I had some conversations that I really needed to have.
* * *
I was living a balanced, healthy life when I was diagnosed with cancer. I exercised. I was breast feeding my eight-month-old son, so I was very conscious of what I put in my body – but then, I always had been. I would have that special glass (or three) of wine. The occasional block of chocolate. The sporadic serve of French fries. But overwhelmingly, I ate a balanced diet, high in fibre, fruit, vegetables and protein, and low in meat. And yet, I had found myself with stage IV cancer as a 32-year-old. Bowel cancer. A cancer that research has clearly linked to lifestyle factors.
There was no avoiding the question: had I done this to myself? Research told me that it was possible. Alcohol is a carcinogen. There is no denying that. So is processed meat. The World Health Organisation has determined that even red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans. I began to contemplate the choices I had made and the choices I would make, in the wake of my diagnosis.
My chemotherapy regime, which I kicked off a couple of days after our day of wine-enabled dialogue, was toxic in so many ways. I was asked to fill myself with poison each fortnight, again and again. My doctors told me to keep going for as long as I could possibly go: the chemo was my only chance at extending my prognosis. It made me feel miserable and sick. It made my head spin and my hands shake. It made my body feel like it was not my own. It was intoxicating in all of the wrong ways – for all of the right reasons.
I stopped drinking. I felt like I had to, but I also wanted to. Because yes, I wanted to hit pause on the carcinogens. But more than this: I wanted to regain control over the way that my body functioned. I followed the research and did everything I possibly could to make survival my reality. I took up an intense exercise regime, diligently reported to every chemo appointment and ate a clean, meat-free, alcohol-free diet.
I didn’t feel amazing. I didn’t feel compelled to spruik the benefits. I didn’t love it. I would have preferred a glass of wine over the endless glasses of sparkling water. But it felt right, for my fight. For me.
* * *
Terminal cancer is an impossibly difficult thing to discuss. Be it with intimate friends or casual acquaintances. And even when you don’t intend to mention it, cancer oozes into the conversation. Leeches on to a meaningful connection. Lurking there, stubbornly. Mostly, saying very little, yet all the while, invalidating a whole lot.
I was spending month after month almost completely absorbed in my cancer. Fighting my fight. But around me, life continued. The same, but different. When I did come up for air, it was to a dance card full of awkward cancer conversations.
Yes, I looked fairly well.
No, my treatment was not over.
Yes, I may still die.
My clean-eating, water-drinking self soon learnt that cancer was even more difficult to contemplate while sober. Each time I declined a drink, I winced: how did they see me? Poor sad cancer patient? Mourning the passing of a carefree cheers? Or worse, judgementally tisk-tisking their chardonnay?
As I navigated a road that was choked of abundant, free-flowing engagement, I contemplated a simple truth: alcohol makes conversations easier. Particularly, those tongue-tied, alien conversations in which nobody can claim to be fluent. I was missing the nonchalant connection that alcohol offered. The security blanket that it afforded.
But the more times I carried a glass of water to the depths of my new normal, the better I got at it. And the more I realised that I needed to learn how to tackle the largest of life’s problems without a snuggly blanket of gin. Or effervescent Aperol spritz. I learnt how to speak about cancer, with cancer, around cancer, without a veil. I learnt from others and I learnt from myself.
Slowly, I became comfortable in owning my choice to do my cancer fight – my life – my own way. That is, until I decided to drink again.
* * *
I was given a one-per-cent chance of surviving my terminal diagnosis. It was a percentage that I demanded to know and generally, felt vindicated in fighting for, by my own rules. And in mid-2019, after over two years of waging my delicate rebellion, at least 40 rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries, and countless hospital admissions, I am in remission. Cancer free. For now.
It was a moment that I chose to celebrate with family and a bottle of champagne. Not because it was the only way to celebrate such a milestone. But because I had earned the choice to. And as I have recovered from surgeries and stepped down from intense treatments, I have continued to drink on occasion – when my health has permitted, if I have felt inclined.
Yet, just as I had feared the perceptions of my sobriety, I have been acutely aware of opinions on my drinking. Would I be viewed as thoughtless? Ungrateful? Or worse – reckless?
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. And this year, my own awareness is drawn not to what caused my cancer, or how to treat it; but instead, how we best navigate cancer conversations. Because awareness is lifesaving. And talking is healthy.
My life is a gift. Trite, but true. My cancer has delivered dreamy highs and distressing lows – and I have encountered and responded to iterations of both, sometimes with a drink, and other times without. I have no idea what caused my cancer, but I am accountable for my actions now, irrespective of what happened then.
I continue to undergo treatment and will do for the foreseeable future. I continue to review my lifestyle choices for improvement and balance. Every choice deserves a rethink. And most importantly, I continue to learn how to have life’s hardest conversations, without the support of alcohol.
* * *
Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is an annual initiative of Bowel Cancer Australia, running throughout the month of June (1 – 30), to raise public awareness of a disease that claims the lives of 103 Australians every week. To find out more or to donate visit bowelcanceraustralia.org/bowel-cancer-awareness-month
To find out more about bowel cancer and Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, visit bowelcanceraustralia.org.
For a confidential conversation with a Bowel Care Nurse, contact the free Bowel Cancer Australia Helpline 1800 555 494 during business hours.
30 ideas on how to give up alcohol, from people who have given up alcohol!
Here at Hello Sunday Morning we know what a huge question ‘should I give up alcohol’? can be to even put out to the universe. It’s not easy to give up something that’s incorporated into your daily dinner, salubrious socialising, or relaxation routine. We know how hard it is for our community and our Daybreak members to give up alcohol, but we also know the huge benefits that come from a life with less or no booze; weight loss, mental clarity, no hangovers, peace of mind and much more time to focus on your goals, just to mention a few. And guess what?! Our Daybreak community is so supportive, encouraging and resourceful they are constantly offering suggestions on getting over the first few hurdles in giving up alcohol and in staying sober.
Whether you’re a bookworm, audiophile, couch potato or app aficionado, below is a comprehensive list of resources on getting sober for everyone seeking help in giving up alcohol.
Books about giving up alcohol recommended by our community
- Alcohol Explained by William Porter
This book explains how alcohol affects human beings on a chemical, physiological and psychological level, from those first drinks right up to chronic alcoholism. The book provides a logical, easy to follow explanation of the phenomenon and detailed instructions on how to beat it.
- The Naked Mind by Annie Grace
Annie Grace presents the psychological and neurological components of alcohol use based on the latest science, and reveals the cultural, social, and industry factors that support alcohol dependence in all of us. Packed with surprising insight into the reasons we drink, this book will open your eyes to the startling role of alcohol in our culture, and how the stigma of alcoholism and recovery keeps people from getting the help they need.
- Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
Sarah often blacked out after a night drinking, waking up with a blank space where four hours should have been. Mornings became detective work on her own life. What did I say last night? How did I meet that guy? She apologised for things she couldn’t remember doing, as though she were cleaning up after an evil twin. Her tale will resonate with anyone who has been forced to reinvent or struggled in the face of necessary change. It’s about giving up the thing you cherish most – but getting yourself back in return.
- The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley
Like many women, Clare Pooley found the juggle of a stressful career and family life a struggle, so she left her successful role as a managing partner in one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies to look after her family. She knew the change wouldn’t be easy, but she never expected to find herself an overweight, depressed, middle-aged mother of three who was drinking more than a bottle of wine a day and spending her evenings Googling ‘am I an alcoholic?’
- Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
Caroline Knapp was a successful woman with her own apartment, a steady boyfriend and a career in newspaper journalism. Beneath her polished veneer was a person so broken and insecure she drank herself into a stupor every night. This is her account of her twenty-year love affair with alcohol.
Craig Beck was a successful and functioning professional man in spite of a ‘two bottles of wine a night’ drinking habit. For 20 years, he struggled with problem drinking, all the time refusing to label himself an alcoholic because he did not think he met the stereotypical image that the word portrayed. All these ‘willpower’ based attempts to stop drinking, failed. Slowly he discovered the truth about alcohol dependence and, one by one, all the lies he had previously believed started to fall apart.
- A Girl Walks Out of A Bar by Lisa Smith
Lisa Smith was a bright young lawyer at a prestigious law firm in NYC when alcoholism and drug dependence took over her life. What was once a way she escaped her insecurity and negativity as a teenager became a means of coping with the anxiety and stress of an impossible workload. The book is a candid portrait of alcoholism through the lens of gritty New York realism. Beneath the façade of success lies the reality of dependence.
- Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
The New York Times Bestseller tells the story of Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers.
- Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
Each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Hollis once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, or ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.
- Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else? A Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding Why You Drink and Knowing How to Take a Break by Rachel Hart
If you’ve ever struggled with drinking too much and want to learn how to take a break without feeling like you’re missing out on life, look no further. Rachel wrote Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else? to share with people the tools she uses with her private clients and to show people that you can answer this question without labels or shame.
- Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett
In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.
- The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living by Russ Harris
A guide to ACT – the revolutionary mindfulness-based program for reducing stress, overcoming fear, and finding fulfilment. Popular ideas about happiness are misleading, inaccurate, and directly contribute to the current epidemic of stress, anxiety & depression. In this empowering book, Dr Harris provides the means to escape the happiness trap.
- Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington
Drawing on research, expert interviews, and personal narrative, Sober Curious is a radical takedown of the myths that keep so many of us drinking. Inspiring, timely, and blame-free, Sober Curious is both conversation starter and handbook – essential information that empowers listeners to transform their relationship with alcohol so they can lead their most fulfilling lives. It’s available as a book and audiobook.
Further to his book above, Craig is a self-proclaimed ‘stop drinking expert’ and ‘quit drinking coach’ and offers Youtube videos, a bootcamp and personal coaching for those looking to give up alcohol.
Kevin Griffin is a Buddhist author, teacher, and leader in the mindful recovery movement. Kevin teaches internationally in Buddhist centres, treatment centres, professional conferences, and academic settings. He specialises in helping people in recovery to connect with meditation and a progressive understanding of the 12 Steps. He offers retreats, videos, books and other resources to help people give up alcohol.
Podcasts recommended by Daybreakers and the Hello Sunday Morning community
- Home with Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker (soundcloud)
This podcast takes up the big questions of life through the lens of addiction recovery. Each week, it explores a new discussion about hearts, relationships, life, love and the universe at large.
“The Temper explores life through the lens of sobriety, addiction, and recovery—with an unapologetically intersectional feminist approach.We acknowledge that whatever we struggle with has fundamentally changed the way we exist in the world. That’s often alcohol, but is just as likely to be food, smoking, social media, overspending—all the things we do to numb ourselves.”
- The Bubble Hour hosted by Jean M
The Bubble Hour seeks to inform, educate and help people identify with the stories they hear, the conversations and interviews with people who are just like they are, and let people know they aren’t alone. Nobody can take the first tentative steps towards sobriety without first getting past denial, but even once they are past denial the stigma surrounding alcoholism is so strong that people are reluctant to seek help. The Bubble Hour would like to change that stigma.
Tara Brach’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world. The result is a distinctive voice in Western Buddhism, one that offers a wise and caring approach to freeing ourselves and society from suffering.
- On being with Krista Tippett
A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Our Daybreakers particularly like this episode with John O’Donohue.
Documentaries, TV series and Movies to help you give up alcohol
- Risky Drinking, a documentary by HBO, available on Youtube
Produced by HBO Documentary Films (2015) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (USA), Risky Drinking is a no-holds-barred look at the drinking epidemic, through the intimate stories of four people whose drinking dramatically affects their relationships.
- Drugged: High on Alcohol – a documentary
In the ‘High on Alcohol’ special edition of ‘Drugged’, viewers were presented with a story that was both a tragedy and a cautionary tale. Ryan, a 28-year-old, drank three pints of vodka a day. Ryan turned to alcohol when his father, who was dependent on alcohol, passed away four years ago.
- Drinking to Oblivion – Louis Theroux
Louis Theroux heads to Europe’s largest liver transplant centre where he sees the physical side effects of alcoholism and learns about the challenges doctors, patients and patients’ families face, in trying to treat it.
Apps to help you give up alcohol, stay sober, or for other support
Recovery Elevator sobriety counter app and the private community offer a safe, informative place, for those who wish to quit drinking. Many find solace and comfort in our cohesive community. They also offer a podcast and sober travel group trips!
Launched at Parliament House, Canberra, the Penda App aims to break the cycle of domestic and family violence (DFV) by combining much-needed financial, personal safety and legal information with nationwide referrals. If you are experiencing DVF please contact 1800RESPECT (Australia) for support.
Daisy is an app developed by 1800RESPECT to connect people experiencing violence or abuse to services in their local area. Daisy can be downloaded for free from iTunes or Google Play. Once the app is on your phone, you can use it to search for support services in your local area without them showing up in your browser history.
Calm is an app for meditation and mindfulness. It has over 100 guided meditations to help you manage anxiety, lower stress and sleep better. For beginners through to intermediate and advanced users.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a complete list of ‘alcohol-free’ resources without mentioning our own app! Daybreak is an online program that helps you change your relationship with alcohol through a supportive community, habit-change experiments, and one-on-one chat with health coaches. We’re really proud of Daybreak and love the feedback we get from our members about how life changing and supportive our app and community are.
Music to be sober to
- Alcohol Free (AF) playlists
Find a playlist on your favourite music streaming service, or create your own list of alcohol-free and inspiring songs to keep you motivated, like this one from Hollis Bertsch on Spotify.
- Self-love playlists
If you need to dance around the house in your underwear, sing in the shower, or lip synch to karaoke in the car, find a playlist like this one from Deannelove77 on Spotify to love yourself a little more.
If this list is missing something or you want to add your vote for one of the above, please leave a comment below!
The moment that made me decide to stop drinking: a mother’s story
I decided to stop drinking and have my last drink on 28th December 2018. Although I was not an everyday drinker, I was what some may call a ‘problem drinker’ – I would binge drink.
I am a 55-year-old single mum of an 18 year-old. When I broke up with my partner in March 2003, I decided that I would make sure my daughter was brought up in a loving and secure home; I was present for her ALWAYS!
Growing up I didn’t realise until I had my own child, how neglected I was from the love of my mother who is an alcoholic and now has been diagnosed with dementia. I didn’t want this for my daughter; I wanted to be a strong role model for her.
I didn’t drink all the time but in recent years I would have a couple of wines three or four times a week, and this became more and more over time. I would isolate myself at home, prefer to drink alone and watch Netflix rather than go out and socialise. If I did socialise I would leave early so I could go home and have a drink. I was always worried about how I would get home or who would be there to look out for me if I had too much to drink, so I would prefer to be behind closed doors; that way I felt safe.
One terrible incident that came into my mind was getting home from a work’s Christmas party a few years ago. I cannot remember getting home and I was so sick for 3–4 days afterwards, I never wanted to touch a drink again. But I did!
I was beginning not to enjoy my drinking as much as I used to; I would feel ashamed, self-loathing and just hate myself for sitting at home drinking alone. I would wake up and go to work feeling heady, foggy and so tired and grumpy. I would be so disappointed in myself for even having the two glasses of wine the previous night! I would torment myself each day, saying ‘I won’t drink after work, blah blah’, but would always end up having a couple of glasses, sometimes the whole bottle. This cycle went on for months.
The light-bulb moment when I realised that I needed to make a change with my drinking, was the day after Boxing Day 2018. I was sitting at home with my bottle of wine, relaxing after a busy Christmas. I hadn’t really had much to drink over the Chrissy period as I was mainly the designated driver, so that night I remember drinking the whole bottle of wine. My daughter was out with her friends. They were at a club and I knew she would probably have a few drinks herself, so before I went to bed, I put a bottle of water, some Panadol and her eye mask by her bed.
The next day when she got up, she said ‘I love you so much Mum, you are so cute leaving the water etc. by my bed’ – I couldn’t remember doing it. I felt so ashamed and disgusted with myself because I couldn’t remember putting the water etc. by her bed. This was the moment I knew I had to stop drinking; it wasn’t making me happy; it wasn’t making my life better; it was holding me back and making me feel isolated. I didn’t want to sit at home anymore; I didn’t want the alcohol to rule my life; I didn’t want to end up like my mother. I was sick of the torment in my head about my drinking; I was sick of wasting so much of my time on alcohol.
I felt desperate; I didn’t want to live like that anymore, drinking to get confidence before I went out, drinking alone and at times having blackouts. I remember a few years ago I stopped drinking for a few months with the help of ‘Hello Sunday Morning’, so I got straight back onto the site and saw an app called ‘DayBreak’. This is what has helped me get through the past three months. The community is so supportive, very positive and doesn’t have a negative thing to say even if you have a down day; they pick you up and understand where you are coming from. There are so many people out there that want to stop drinking, and this app is amazing.
I’m still not drinking and what I have noticed is that I am more alert, focussed, happy and, believe it or not, much more confident. I am happy to be out and about; I have put my heart and soul into my health and fitness, and I feel amazing. I still take each day as it comes but have worked out that alcohol is not for me right now.
I don’t know if I will ever drink again, but at this stage I really need to keep on HSM and the Daybreak app to help me keep going. I know I am a better person within myself, without alcohol.
The best reason to give up alcohol: a personal journey
This week, we have a guest post from our mates at Sober in the Country, curated by Shanna Whan.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience of beating their alcohol addiction.
In my case, there was this tiny, seemingly inconsequential moment – the kind that happens thousands of times a day – that proved the catalyst for change. It was nothing I could have planned or set up. I could never have foreseen what would make the difference.
I had tried AA meetings, tried quitting drinking for a month here or three months there, tried drinking only on weekends, or drinking by an ever-shifting set of rules that was designed to give me the illusion of control but only left me exhausted and defeated.
My husband, Chris, had landed a new job that included a lovely house on acreage. I was always a country girl in an urban world, so my bag was packed before the ink had dried on his contract. We were only about a month into our new arrangement and still in awe of our good fortune.
Sitting on the front verandah of our beautiful new house on a warm October afternoon, our 18-month-old daughter was playing on the lawn in front of us. I was drinking a glass of white wine – my second or third for the afternoon – when she waddled up to me and stretched her hand toward my wine glass.
‘Tah?’ she said.
In an instant I saw my daughter – not 18 months old now – but eight years old, then 10, then 13, then 17, then an adult, then a parent herself.
I saw her growing and as she did, learning what the glass meant. Learning that after a couple, Mum would become boisterous and funny, after another one or two, quieter, with eyes that were slower to focus, speech that would slow down, imperceptibly at first, just the odd word here and there.
She would learn that awful dread feeling when she saw her mother’s glass being filled. The feeling of knowing what was to unfold over the next few hours and being powerless to stop it. She would learn the shame of despising a parent you love because of their weakness. The inability to respect them as you hear them slurring and repeating themselves, or see them stumbling and holding themselves up on the furniture. The fury at their vehement denial of a problem.
It was October 31, 2009 and that was it. That was the moment.
The day after
The next afternoon when Chris got home, I went to the gym. It was not so much about a healthy lifestyle change as it was about breaking a pattern. If I was at home at the pre-dinner hour, I didn’t trust myself to stick to my promise.
Every day for the next three weeks I went to the gym at 5 o’clock. Then one day, I didn’t. The spell was broken. My days of opening a bottle of wine when Chris got home from work, were over.
There was Christmas to get through, but by then I was two months in. The longer it was since my last drink, the more determined I was not to cave. I didn’t want to have to start the counter again from Day 1, and because I had made this promise to my daughter, I felt that if I didn’t make it work this time, I would never be able to kick it. It felt like life and death to me.
Onwards and upwards
My decision to quit drinking coincided with my first semester of a Graduate Certificate I had enrolled in at university, as a mature-aged student.
I had been a bright kid at school: I was dux of my primary school and went to a selective high school and on to university before wasting my 20s and early 30s in a self-destructive haze of mediocre jobs and a lack of direction.
The time that I reclaimed through sobriety I put into study, and was rewarded with four High Distinctions from four subjects. The certificate I received at the end of that course represents to me a point in my life so significant and poignant, a point where I chose a life of quality and dignity over one of careless disregard for myself, and by extension, my family. That piece of paper signifies a return to self-love and self-respect. I am so proud of it.
One of the things I have come to understand as a recovered alcoholic (I use ‘recovered’ rather than the term ‘recovering’, because I know there will be no going back for me) is that your choice becomes an inspiration for others.
Struggling with alcohol can feel very shameful and lonely, but once you are sober you learn that many, many people fret about their levels of drinking.
When I meet people and they learn that I don’t drink, they are often curious about my reasons. I try to be open about my past, although it depends on the company – I am not always immune to worrying about what others will think.
When people learn I have overcome alcoholism, more often that not, they will say something along the lines of ‘I really need to look at how much I drink’ or ‘I wish I could be as strong as you’.
If I ever lost sight of how important my sober life is to me now, I am occasionally reminded by a nightmare that is always the same scenario.
In these dreams, which I have maybe two or three times a year, I am at a party and I start drinking again after all the years sober. The devastation at having broken my promise to myself is palpable, and when I wake up I am always weak with relief to find that it is not real. These nightmares serve as a powerful reminder of what I would lose if I ever went back to drinking.
In the years since October 31, 2009, I feel like I have started living my life instead of reacting to it. I have found courage because I have stopped feeling like a fraud. I am more organised and more disciplined in every area.
My life of drinking was characterised by ‘I can’t be bothered …’ but now things are very different.
My home and career are as I have designed them, and I am devoted to my little family. Studying is still a big part of my life. Instead of using alcohol to ‘turn the volume down’ every night, I spend my evenings charting new intellectual territory.
We have horses and go riding as a family. I have the energy to experiment with new recipes when I cook. I do ‘tourist’ things in neighbouring towns. I plan holidays, I save money, I buy thoughtful gifts for people, I keep my home clean and uncluttered.
In short, these days I can be bothered.
But beneath all the shouts of ‘Cheers!’ and ‘Taxi!!’ there is a level of shame and concern for many people about the levels at which they drink.
For anyone wanting to embark on a life of sobriety, but who fears what that involves, you should be reassured. Waiting ‘on the other side’ is a life of peace and freedom from craving, of fulfilment and quiet pride, and of endless time to achieve all those things you’ve always wanted.
I gave up drinking for a year, and it was easier than I thought
The last time I drank alcohol was 1 year and 1 month ago.
Why was it so easy to give up drinking?
I can honestly say that there was no decision made to ‘stop drinking’. I simply didn’t have an urge to drink in the months that followed that last drink, and before I knew it, a year had past. Had I told myself back then ‘I’m not drinking for a year’, I probably would have been more likely to do the opposite. Instead, I stayed open to the possibility that I may have a drink if I wanted one in the moment. But I haven’t … yet.
When I reflect back on the last year and even the year before that, where I only drank alcohol on a couple of occasions, I see that in this time I had spent most of my weekends on courses learning about how we as human beings run our minds, about how we engage in thinking patterns, and completing my training in human development. Could it be that I have replaced my nights out with this new passion for understanding human behaviour? It seems so.
What I can see now is the more I learn about people and myself, the more I can see the distraction alcohol can provide from ‘reality’. I now no longer need to be distracted, as I am able to understand the impact that our thoughts can have, and the freedom that comes with that. I feel that we are often confusing our ‘constructed thoughts’ with what is real, and too often that results in giving ourselves a hard time.
Setting ourselves up for failure
When we tell ourselves we ‘shouldn’t’ or ‘must not’ do something, we are often more likely to engage in exactly that behaviour. And then if we do ‘fail’ in the goals we’ve set for ourselves, we struggle, judge ourselves, beat ourselves up over this. We feel disappointed or even angry in ourselves for this ‘failure’. We can spend hours, days, weeks feeling this way and as a result, keep repeating unhealthy patterns.
Be kinder to yourself
The less we impose rules on ourselves, the less we beat ourselves up over things, the more likely we are to live as the healthy human beings we want to be! The mind, and how we talk to ourselves, is often the cause of unhealthy cycles, more so than that glass of wine, piece of chocolate, big weekender or shopping spree!
So, can you give yourself a break, be kinder to yourself in those times where you were previously hard on yourself over something? What would that look like for you?
I made a choice in every moment over the last year not to drink alcohol, just as there may be a choice in another moment where I do drink. I am not resisting either as a possibility and I don’t burden myself with unhelpful thoughts anymore around what I ‘should’ be doing in any area of my life. Doing so would keep me stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.
It’s not always easy to break these habitual patterns, but it is very possible with patience and, if necessary, help from others. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, so I encourage anyone reading this to reach out for help if you are struggling yourself. You are never alone!
What I’ve learned halfway into my ‘three months without alcohol’ challenge
In its earlier days, Hello Sunday Morning encouraged people to “do an HSM challenge” – a period of three, six or 12 months completely without alcohol. I recently started working as Head of Marketing with HSM and decided to get into character by giving this a go for the first quarter of this year. I chose the easy-peasy three-month entry-level point, and at the halfway point of just six weeks, this is what I have found …
So, what happens when you give up the booze?
I imagine it depends on how large booze looms in your life before you jam the cork back in the bottle. In my case, I suspected that my drinking was on the wrong side of the bell-curve, although not to a reckless or unhealthy extent – but maybe I’ve been deluding myself. One time in my 40s I reviewed the previous year and realised that my casual drinking had become habitual, to the point where there probably hadn’t been a single 24-hour period in that 12 months when I wouldn’t have blown over 0.05 in a breathalyser at some stage.
I cooled it a bit on that realisation, but through my 50s I’d still drink nearly daily, although I started to leave a few alcohol-free days in the working week. My drinking left me functional and I had no problems with it domestically (I have a wife who matches me drink for drink). It was normal when compared against my circle of friends, and it was also normal when compared with what I remember of my parents’ drinking.
I like to drink. I don’t like being at the point where I slur my words (and that is quite a low threshold for me), but I certainly enjoy heading in that direction. On normal evenings, when I was working the next day, I would share a bottle of wine with my wife, and often get some way into a second. On weekends, it would be two bottles between us on both Friday and Saturday. I’m not a great one for following expert advice on health, but even I could work out that I was consuming up to 35 standard drinks per week, compared to the 14 that is recommended as a safe limit.
So what prompted me to give it up?
Well, I noticed that I functioned better on those days following an alcohol-free day. In particular, I slept very much better. On nights that I drank, I would go to sleep readily, but often wake up after midnight with a racing mind and anxious thoughts. Sometimes this would be accompanied by a hard-beating heart, and a return to sleep was always a few hours away (usually just minutes before the alarm clock went off). It left me feeling like crap the following day, even when there was no detectable hangover. On alcohol-free nights, I would usually sleep right through, and if I did awaken in the night, I could easily fall asleep again.
On working weeks that I went alcohol free, it was clear to me that my alertness, focus and general intellect improved as the week wore on, and I began to wonder if, perhaps, a late-40s career plateau had been partly self-inflicted.
Finally, I recently began to wake up in the mornings with distinctly tender feelings in the kidneys, which would pass after a couple of hours. On days following an alcohol-free night this never happened.
So this year I’ve decided to do a Hello Sunday Morning 3-month challenge: no booze at all until April. I’m now at the six-week midpoint and I’ve noticed some positive things, but I’ve also noticed a few downsides, so here they are in summary:
Upsides of going without alcohol
Sleep. The first and most unmistakable benefit is a great night’s sleep. This kicked in after the first 48 hours, but it also seems to be improving over the six weeks. Not only is the sleep deep and unbroken, but the quality of dreams also seems to have improved: they’ve been more detailed, linger in the memory for longer with an almost cinematic quality to them, and for some reason often feature Her Majesty the Queen (although I realise this last phenomenon may not be universal).
General well-being. You know how your car feels after you’ve just given it a 15,000 km service? You can’t put your finger on it, but everything seems tighter, more responsive and just works better? That’s how I felt at the two week mark, and it hasn’t fallen off yet. I know I would pay a lot of money for a vitamin supplement that had this effect.
Energy and focus. There’s been a small but definite improvement in my work performance, particularly in my ability to concentrate, organise and generally be ‘present’ during meetings. The effect carries over when I get home. Just the other night, I ate my dinner and then carried on painting a spare bedroom from where I’d left off over the weekend. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d opened a bottle of wine first. However, it doesn’t last long into the night, and I’ve been going to bed earlier than usual since starting this dry spell.
Mood. I’m told we all conduct a continuous dialogue with ourselves in our heads during waking hours. Over the past couple of decades, my dialogue has tended towards the unhelpful and self-critical, particularly at 2:00 am when I’m trying to get back to sleep. I think it’s had a corrosive effect on my self-confidence over that time, because I can feel confidence returning during this period.
Downsides to going without alcohol
Something’s missing. I’d got into the habit of coming home, starting the cooking and opening a bottle of wine each day. For the first few weeks I felt uneasy during the 5:00–7:00 pm window – like I’d forgotten to do something important. A glass in hand was a prop for the post working-day chit-chat with my wife, and it felt odd without the wine. It’s also noticeable that our conversation doesn’t flow or digress onto tangents in quite the same way.
Twinges. Every now and then, quite out of the blue, I get a pang of regret that I won’t be opening a bottle of shiraz tonight. It passes.
NA substitutes. During the first few weeks we tried some of the non-alcoholic options that are available, with mixed results. To my surprise, the non-alcoholic beers were pretty good. It’s obvious at first sip that Cooper’s Birell is non-alcoholic, but if you accept it for what it is, then it’s a very pleasant thirst-quenching lager-style drink. Carlton Zero actually does taste like a nicely hoppy-flavoured beer, but tends to bloat a bit. Other than the beers, there don’t seem to be any ersatz products that have the same satisfying depth of flavour of a wine or spirit. The NA wines were pretty dire; the whites were too sweet, and the reds were flat, like a bottle that has been left open for a couple of weeks. We also tried the non-alcoholic distilled botanicals which are promoted as an alternative to gin. For the life of me, I couldn’t detect the connection. One of them tasted like water that had recently been used to boil peas, and the taste of all of them was too weak to survive a mixer. (However, my wife really likes the Brunswick Aces with tonic water.)
Adverts. I’m realising now just how powerful adverts for booze are. They ambush you with a desire when you’re going dry, and either the industry has recently doubled its advertising spend, or the ads have always been all over the place. Product placement also works well on me. I’ve never been much of a spirit drinker before, but the sight of a couple of fingers of golden scotch being poured in a Netflix series gets me thinking “Mmmm – whiskey …” The cues are everywhere!
People’s reactions. This is quite a complex one, and I might expand on this at the three month mark. Most people don’t give a damn if you’re not drinking, and that’s great. However, some people take it as passive-aggressive criticism of their own drinking, or as a dismissal of their culture, almost a form of apostasy. I’m building a repertoire of responses beyond “mind your own business”, and I’ll give them a test run for the remainder of the 3-month trial.
Which brings me to contemplation of my return to boozing in April. On the one hand, I’ve got my eye on the exact bottle of shiraz for opening on 1 April. But on the other hand …
The last couple of weeks have been quite easy as I settle into new habits while still noticing the benefits, and I’m tempted to stretch this out to a 6-month HSM challenge period. I remember once reading an interview with Mel Gibson (okay, not the best choice of role model, perhaps – but this was about 20 years ago) who was talking about the benefits of staying off the grog. He said the real benefits don’t kick in until 6 months, but that most people simply don’t have the patience to last that long.
That’s got me curious …
Some Harm Minimisation Life-hacks for the Christmas Period
For all its positives, Christmas can be a challenging time when we are trying to focus on our health – those parties, heavy food and socialising can mean we are low on sleep, eating to excess and without the usual structures that keep us functioning well. Often we’re torn between wanting to enjoy life to its fullest, and also wanting to enjoy great physical and mental health.
In addition, we don’t really want to be ‘that person’ who refuses dessert or avoids social situations because of our health – things like family and work events are important for a number of reasons, including catching up with relatives, celebrating the end of another year, and making plans for the year to come.
So, how to have it all? Recent research into wellbeing and ‘protective health behaviour’ has good news for us – which you may have already suspected. In a nutshell, it is not the juice-fasting, two-session-a-day gym fiends who enjoy the highest levels of wellbeing, but rather those who demonstrate regular and consistent health behaviours – the plodders rather than the sprinters.
With alcohol, one of the ideas that fits well with this framework is that of ‘harm minimisation’ – finding ways to keep ourselves healthy and functioning well, even if we are in the midst of holiday festivities. With this in mind, here are some realistic tips for an enjoyable holiday period.
AF Days – we know that a lot of harm from alcohol use comes from drinking in high volumes, and frequently. In fact, a lot of the issues that arise around holidays (e.g. fatigue, weight gain, low energy and low mood) can be due to regular and excessive alcohol consumption. If you are intending to have one or two drinks over the holidays, it might be helpful to plan a certain number of alcohol-free days. This gives you the opportunity to catch up on good quality sleep, recover physically and engage in some restorative activities, like exercise and reflection. It can also give an opportunity to experience some of those holiday activities without alcohol, and to reflect on the role of alcohol in your life. For many people, this is a great opportunity to do things differently, and stock up on energy to get active, or start to prepare for the year ahead.
Self-Care – it sounds obvious, but often alcohol can be a form of self-care – particularly when we are in the midst of holiday activity and tired out from preparing for family events or trips away. For many people, self-care really entails having some control over how they spend their time – e.g. taking an hour out to have a nap, or a coffee with a friend, or heading to the movies alone. Giving ourselves some space to recover and recharge can mean that we are less likely to use alcohol to relax – and we may be more present and appreciative of the things around us, and enjoy things like the opportunity to sleep in or spend time with family.
Self-Monitoring – a large amount of the behaviour change- and wellbeing literature supports the practice of self-monitoring for (1) raising our awareness of the behaviour and (2) providing us with insight into ‘risky’ situations and triggers.
For many people, using apps to record their food intake and exercise helps them to be more aware of their consumption, and set a bit of an internal calculator around what they consume. The same goes for alcohol. If we are able to set ourselves some realistic goals for the holiday period, and keep a rough track of what we are eating and drinking, it can help us to stay on track – or a lot closer to the track than if we were not paying attention. Goal-setting theory proposes that, by setting a goal, we are likely to get closer to the goal than if we had never set it. Just having the goal – whether that is to keep below a certain number of calories or drinks, or to exercise a certain number of times per week – is a really good first step, as well as considering how we might work that goal into our plans over the holidays (e.g. bring walking shoes on a trip, or bring some alcohol-free wine to Christmas dinner).
Replacements – this is the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ section of the tips. As noted, most of our issues over the holidays come from our love of excess. We love to eat Christmas food, and the feelings of celebration and freedom can result in us over-indulging in food and drink, and then regretting the consequences. Just being aware of this is part of the battle, and knowing that for most things there are moderate replacements that can reduce some of the harm that we’d otherwise be experiencing. Some ideas are here and also:
- Champagne – AF sparkling wine, or Champagne with sparkling mineral water
- Cocktails – AF cocktails (recipes here), Seedlip (AF gin replacement), Altina (AF spirit replacement), Brunswick Aces (AF gin replacement), Kombucha with sparkling water
- Beer – AF beer (Carlton Zero), Kombucha
- Wine – Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon (AF wine).
Alternatively, here are some cocktail ideas from our archives:
- Cranberry juice, blood orange juice, lime, soda, and fruit pieces.
- Quarter of a glass of apple juice, fill up the rest with Indian tonic water, throw in a couple of mint leaves
- Soda, lime, and bitters
- Soda water, a spoon of maple syrup, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cayenne
- Lemonade, pineapple juice and a splash of lime cordial
- Ginger beer, ice and lots of mint leaves.
Remember, the aim of any of these kinds of changes is that we want them to be sustainable – we want them to be valid alternatives to how we are currently doing things. Exploring what works for you might be a matter of reflecting on what went well for you last year, and what didn’t go so well, and how you might like to do things differently this year.
It is likely that even a couple of small changes (e.g. a few AF days, some self-monitoring and having some replacement drinks in the fridge if needed) will have an impact on your physical and mental functioning over this period.
It can be a tricky balance between enjoying the festivities and also looking after ourselves physically and mentally, and we don’t always get it right! This is fine – remember, harm minimisation is about being realistic about human behaviour and acknowledging that sometimes we may over-indulge – and the important thing is that we can recognise this and plan around it. This looks different for everybody. For some people, regular exercise isn’t important, but they need eight hours of sleep or else mayhem ensues. For others, focusing on their diet means that everything else works like clockwork. Considering your own wellbeing and health goals might be useful in the lead-up to this holiday period, so that you can enjoy the whole experience and head into the new year in good physical and mental health.
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
6 of the most popular member posts from Hello Sunday Morning
We wanted to share a few of the most loved blog posts from Hello Sunday Morning’s old online platform.
One of the best things about online communities is that they create a space for people to share anonymously and connect with others they can relate to or learn from.
These six posts are written by Hello Sunday Morning community members at all different stages of their journey to a better relationship with alcohol. The reflection process is a really important part of behaviour change as it allows us to look back on how far we have come and how we got there or what worked and what did not work for us. It is not an easy journey, and the posts below reflect that. However, for those of you who have come out the other end – it is well worth the effort.
Some things I love about my situation these days:
I get to work early every day, instead of a few minutes late. Waking is so much easier.
I ran a mile this weekend and I swam some!
I DON’T NEED COFFEE ANYMORE. SO I DON’T DRINK IT.
I’m much less prone to eat garbage junk food.
Driving with a clear head is truly relaxing.
I hope you’re well. Message me anytime you need encouragement, no matter who you are.
Not happy with myself today. Don’t know why but thoroughly cheesed off. Not hormones or anything I can put my finger on but would really rather not be with me. Of course escapism is no longer an option. Feeling sad.
1) I was asked to purchase some valium for one of my straightlaced lawyer friends, one of the last I’d ever expect to ask me for drugs. Go figure. It is for her courtroom anxiety. Normally I hate playing drug middleman (and I tried to dissuade her to no avail) but since it is a one-off and she is my friend, I decided to do it this one time. Also decided to purchase three pills for myself, for when I wean myself off alcohol again and I suffer the inevitable insomnia/anxiety of withdrawal. Yes, I’m already planning for my inevitable discontinuation of drinking. I’ve had a considerable output in my painting, and the alcohol is helping loosen me up in this regard, but I know alcohol is not a necessary condition for me to be creative. It is not who I am, and one day it will mean nothing to me. I know it.
2) I really wished to purchase hard liquor today, but knew my mum would freak out if she saw the empty bottles, and it is oh-so-stressful to have to hide and dispose of the empties in the company dumpster. So I’m sticking with beer. Subsequently, I’m not as drunk as I’d usually get at this time.
3) I contacted a friend on Facebook who admitted he was an alcoholic a few days ago and we had a great discussion (he is the only one of two brave souls on Facebook who I know have publicly admitted to having a drinking problem, explicitly or implicitly). He used to drink twenty cans of Wild Turkey Rare a night. I remember my meetups with him as filled with heavy drinking and public urination in liquor store car parks (we met online, as I used to meet most of my friends in my late teens and early twenties). In fact, he was the first one to tell me about rolling the old Coopers bottles on the ground trick. Anyway, he had to go to the psych ward. Now he is getting alcohol counselling and I am glad he is getting help. I even recommended this site to him, so maybe he will check it out. Who knows.
Sleep and control
Going well, all on track, hope you are all doing well.
I LOVE sleeping now! I know I have banged on about this before but I really haven’t slept so well since before I had kids! It’s a much better escape than alcohol although you can’t achieve that escape unless you have some peace and life doesn’t always allow that. I don’t hate alcohol or what it does, I just want to have complete control over it. That’s what this is about for me I think – learning to live HAPPILY without it and learning to master it at all times.
Really must stop with the ice cream/frozen yoghurt thing. That is this week’s focus. Go well soberites!
Have had a great 2 weeks abstaining so far and I am proud of my efforts. Have been more than rewarded for my “sacrifice” by feeling the best emotionally I have in years. I can’t remember how long it’s been that I’ve felt so stable and in control of myself. My husband has also commented that he is proud of me and is liking this “new” side of me. This is great, as my previous boozing has caused lot of discord between us in the past as he hates seeing me drunk.
I have to confess that I did have two glasses of wine last night though, which is against the rules, but I don’t count this as a slip up. It was in good company, it was only two drinks (not 2.5 bottles at home listening to miserable music), over a nice meal and I felt in complete control. I also was so excited to be able to just jump in my car and go home when I wanted, and be able to drop my mates off too. For the first time ever, I have driven friends home on a night out!
The aim of my HSM is to learn how to enjoy alcohol and to behave like this all the time, so I will continue on abstaining from this point. My crunch time in the past has always been at the two week mark, so I’m mindful that this is where it’s going to get hard and when the thoughts of “oh it’s ok, just have 1, you’ve proved it to yourself enough now”. It feels like I need to completely limit it to make sure I don’t tip over the edge and start rationalising in my head that it’s ok and wind up back in that awful place again.
I think if my friends were hitting the booze hard that it would have been hard for me to say no – I am confident that I wouldn’t have had more but it did highlight to me that I am not as strong yet as I am aiming to be.
So for the rest of this month it will be zero. I don’t want to revise my HSM to start again or to be about controlled drinking, because I know that the whole point of Hello Sunday Morning is to put some distance between yourself and alcohol so you can see the difference. I have been wondering whether I need to start again or not, or add an extra two weeks onto the end. This seems a bit like scary alcoholic rationalising thoughts territory to me. Thoughts??
(It didn’t make my temperature go up in the morning so I think all good for basal temp chart tracking!)
Some things I have noticed so far:
My skin is looking better, my belly and tummy are tightening up and most importantly I feel like I am starting to like myself again. The first week I had a few headachy type symptoms and some funny dreams (probably related to stress that I used to cover up with booze).
What are some improvements that other people have noticed – around the first few weeks?
I had a drink for the first time in 92 days
I’ll put that hashtag in front of any post involving moderate drinking, so those who don’t want to read about it can skip over the post. I won’t be offended if anyone chooses to do just that, as each of us needs to do what’s best for themselves.
I was at my women’s club meeting last night. I hadn’t realised we were having a catered dinner…and wine was being served. I had decided to have some wine to see how I would handle it. I had thought about trying a drink at home a couple of days ago, but I’ll be honest: I was too nervous to, and never did.
I decided to give the wine a try at the meeting because: I wouldn’t be drinking alone, which is one of my major problems/triggers. b. I had to drive home—for all of my issues with alcohol, I am a staunch anti-drinking and driving, and would not consume more than a glass and do it early on so it’d be out of the system before I drove. c. The wine choices were white and rose. My vices are red wine and champagne; I dislike the rest and won’t binge on them.
So I poured myself half a glass of white merlot (a rose). It was an enlightening experience. I had to resist the urge to gulp it down, surprising considering that I really dislike rose. I had to force myself to take small sips and pace myself. Was it because it’s been more than three months since I had any alcohol? Was it because it was hot as hell in the room and the wine was chilled? Or was it something darker and more addictive in me that just got awakened?
I had several glasses of seltzer after finishing the wine. Now the seltzer, I pounded down. I then tried a second half-glass with plenty of ice and a glass of seltzer to go with it.
This serving I didn’t feel as driven to gulp…if anything, this time around I noticed the taste more and that it wasn’t all that appealing. I actually spent more time drinking and refilling my seltzer glass and letting the wine just sit there. About half-way through the second half-glass of wine, I started feeling the affects of the alcohol: I wasn’t drunk by any means, but I could feel it starting to hit me. Three months without drinking will definitely decrease one’s tolerance. So I called it quits on the wine and kept on the seltzer for the rest of the meeting. Fortunately, I wasn’t going anywhere for a couple of hours, so by the time I had to head home, I felt normal again.
When I got home, I didn’t have any cravings to keep drinking, which was a very good thing. I exercised, had a snack of Chinese food, and called it a night. I did wake up dehydrated today, but that was due to late Chinese food. I don’t know what this means for me. The fact that I was able to stop, as well as not having cravings for more after stopping, is promising indeed. At the same time, my initial desire to just slam that first half-glass of wine after tasting it disturbed me.
If you’re inspired to share your journey with people going through a similar change, we encourage you to download our online program Daybreak and post to the community!
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.
Today I choose to not drink; with Osher Günsberg
We chat to Osher Günsberg, one of Australia’s most recognised TV hosts, about how he learned to change his relationship with alcohol by taking it one day at a time.
Osher shares that he lives a great life now and can choose how he spends each day. This wasn’t the case eight years ago.
“There was a time when I could tell you exactly how my day would end. I no longer had a choice. I look at the way I lived when I was still drinking and I guess now what I get to do is live a life in contrary action to that.”
“Making the choice to not drink everyday, allowed me to redefine who I was as a man.”
Osher started to realise how embedded alcohol was in our culture and how socially acceptable it was to use it as a way to self-medicate. For Osher, it was managing his nerves and anxiety.
“It’s in every piece of pop culture, ‘Oh I need a drink, I had a shit of a day’. Everyone’s fine with it and for some people that’s okay, but for me I had started to use it to be able to function. The amount that I needed to feel okay eventually become unmanageable and I needed it to stop.”
When Osher had this realisation he reached out to a sober friend to ask how he managed to quit drinking.
“He told me he went to meetings and I asked him if I could come to one of those meetings with him, and he said sure.
I always thought sobriety was sad people drinking bad coffee on plastic chairs under a church. I didn’t know that sobriety could look like this guy who was fit, healthy and talented.”
You have to make the decisionOsher wrote down in a Journal the day he decided to start his journey towards an alcohol-free life:
“I won’t have a drink until I can have a healthy relationship with alcohol.”
He admitted that it was too much at first to say ‘that’s it, I’m never drinking again’; he had to trick himself.
“I remember at one point, one of the people helping me through it said all you have to do is just get to 10 o’clock tonight when your head hits the pillow without having a drink and you’ll be fine. So I got to 10 o’clock that night and put my head on the pillow and went, ‘well, there you go, I did it. It was hard, but I did it.’ The next day was just a tiny bit easier and the next day a tiny bit easier than that.”
“Sometimes it got smaller and I made the decision not to drink that hour.”
You need support
Within six weeks or so the possibility was evident to Osher that perhaps he could never have a drink again. However, by then he was okay with that. Osher said it wasn’t until he started to explore the reasons why he was drinking that it became easier not to. He went to meetings, worked with a therapist doing CBT, and explored other things and new people to inspire him. As well as finding meaningful work to do.
“There’s a big difference between being sober and not drinking.
Not drinking is – ‘I’m gritting my teeth and carving my fingernails into the desk here just to get through this shitty day and wishing that I could have a drink.’ Being sober is – ‘I’m okay with living life the way it is and I’m okay with the ups and downs.’
There’s a big difference with learning the skills and management strategies from your own emotions to get through those difficult times without turning to alcohol.”
One day at a time
Osher says the most important thing when changing your behaviour is to break it down and just get through that time.
“Sometimes it might be like, ‘I’m not going to have a drink before lunch. Then you get to lunch and say, ‘I’m not going to have a drink before dinner and you grit your teeth after sunset and say, ‘you know what? I’m going to go to bed today without having a drink’. Sometimes you make that choice not once a day, but ten times a day.”
“If you’re no longer making choices in your life because of your drinking I would say to you – what are you doing to yourself? To your family? And to your own happiness?”
Feature image by Who Magazine
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.
You’ve decided to quit drinking, now what?
Moderation may not be for you, so when you decide you want out, what next?
The cons have started to outweigh the pros when it comes to your drinking habits or you may just be sick of being hungover and not doing the things you love. Maybe you’ve realised that the way you are drinking is leading you down a dangerous path health-wise or you could be jeopardising your relationships with others or yourself.
It is not an overnight decision
Quitting drinking for most people isn’t something they just wake up one morning and say “Okay, I’m going to quit” and that’s that. When you have been doing something for a long time, it becomes a learned behaviour and this is not an easy thing to change. That’s why it is imperative that people seek as much support as they can to help them with this process.
For many people working to change their relationship with alcohol, it is more of a journey and the path is not always clear. It might come with setbacks and ups and downs, but at the end of the day, it is always a positive decision.
When you first decide that you want to change, it is helpful to set out some intentions and visions of what you want your new life to look like. If you think about it, changing your relationship with alcohol is actually a lifestyle change. Your social life may change, you might change the people you surround yourself with, you may change your routine or hobbies.
Ask yourself: What do I want my relationship with alcohol to look like?
Do you want to be able to say no comfortably?
Do you want to be able to talk about why you’ve decided to quit drinking?
Do you want to stop drinking so you can focus on other areas of your life? What are those areas? Family, relationship, career?
What do you do with your spare time?
Often when you cut back or stop drinking altogether, you can find that there is a whole lot of spare time available. It is incredible how long the days can be if you are not recovering from, or using alcohol. For some this is a welcome change and all the things they had previously wished they had time for – like fitness, sober social activities or study – suddenly become doable. For others, however, there can be a bit of a void, and the evenings or weekends can tend to drag on.
Here are some tips for those who have stopped drinking and are asking themselves ‘now what?’
Consider what role alcohol was playing for you. Was it an opportunity to socialise, or to relax? Generally if you can identify what kinds of needs were being met, you can then find ways of achieving this without alcohol.
Take Jeff for example:
Jeff found that going to play poker and trivia were lifesavers when he moved to a new town. He didn’t have many friends and loved the social environment. However, he also found himself drinking most nights of the week and ending up with bad hangovers which affected his performance at work. After considering it for a while, Jeff started playing social basketball a couple of nights a week and only went to trivia every fortnight. At trivia he limited himself to light beer. This way he could get his social fix without necessarily putting himself around alcohol every night.
Anna found that her nightly glass of wine was a good way to switch off from the day and unwind. It was part of her nightly ritual of making dinner and bathing the kids and she found it hard to stop at one or two. After a while Anna decided that she couldn’t continue on the same path. She found that doing some self-care activities before the nightly rush (such as having a bath and putting on her favourite music while preparing dinner) gave her the opportunity to relax and unwind. It allowed her this downtime without having to tolerate the effects of alcohol the next day.
It will also be helpful to consider what kinds of needs you have at the moment which are currently unmet. These could be things like health or personal growth, things that have not been addressed because you didn’t have the time or capacity to focus on them in the past.
The time after you stop or cut back from drinking can be one of major personal growth. It can be really good to reflect on how you’d like things to change in terms of your relationship with alcohol and with your life in general.
Set goals and monitor your drinking
How much would you like to be drinking and how much would be reasonable for you to aim for? Consider the situations in which you might be wanting to drink less and the situations where no change is needed. Try this for a week and keep track of how much you drink by taking note on your phone. This will help you realise what kind of role alcohol currently plays in your life and will help you reframe what you want your new relationship with alcohol to look like. For example: ‘At the end of the month I would like to be able to just have 3 beers when I’m out with mates.’
Try a few replacement behaviours
When you are at an event, practice ordering drinks like soda water with fresh lime or a mocktail. That way when Dry July finishes, you will feel more comfortable turning to non-alcoholic drinks and this will help you to stick to your moderation/mindful goals. If you have a habit of getting home from work and pouring yourself an alcoholic drink, try running a bath instead or going for a walk with a friend/partner/dog.
Take note of the ‘culture’ in your friendship group
Is it around getting drunk together, and if so, what might you like to change about this? Sometimes the biggest challenge can be saying no to that extra drink and needing to explain that you are cutting back, and why. It will be easy to have Dry July as an excuse, but it may prove to be more difficult explaining to friends why you are not drinking like you used to in the long run. Try experimenting with this and some possible reasons you may have for cutting back. This could be around health, or even saying, ‘I’m taking a break for a while, to see what it’s like without alcohol’.
Look at past situations
Consider situations where you generally don’t drink as much, and look at what helps in that situation. Is it knowing you have a limit (e.g. driving), or is it situations where you’ve eaten beforehand, or are with people you know aren’t big drinkers? See if you can use these existing situations to inform future plans. Similarly, consider the situations where you tend to drink heavily – what is happening there? Is there an expectation that you’ll drink, and a situation that supports this (e.g. staying overnight, unlimited alcohol)?
For long term change, you have to be ready
The reality is that until you are ready to change, you will probably not stop drinking, particularly if it is serving a purpose or there has become a dependency.
If you find you need extra support to help you change, check out Hello Sunday Mornings’ mobile behaviour change program, Daybreak.
I stopped drinking to love myself all over again
I have been drinking since time immemorial; so much so, I can’t pinpoint an exact time in life where I didn’t indulge in alcohol to get through the day. What I did not realise is that I relied on booze to escape my pain, the kind that has no cure. Although I must admit, it got me far.
Ever since my mother passed away, everything seemed surreal. Considering the fact we had a tough childhood, barely making ends meet, it was our mother that got us through the toughest of times. The sacrifices she had to make, slowly and eventually, sucked the life out of her. I guess it is this guilt that eats me alive, seeing how when I finally stood on my feet, there was little I could do to comfort her as she took her last breath.
Now you know what caused me to lose myself to alcohol, you must understand it did me more harm than good
I could always rely on booze to drown my pain and sorrows, but it never allowed me to recover. By recovery, I refer to a state of happiness. What is even more saddening is I have a caring husband, with two adorable children and yet I feel sorrow. No matter how hard I try, my past seems to haunt me. What I have realised is that alcohol adds fuel to fire, making my life more miserable, although things were not as bad as they seemed.
The biggest drawback of alcohol consumption is that you lose your self-esteem. You pity yourself while your confidence wavers.
The purpose of sharing all this is so that others realise they are not alone. I wish for them to change their ways, for a healthier and prosperous future. Everything may seem well and good in the beginning. Eventually, there will come a time when it will be difficult to function without alcohol.
The affects of an alcohol dependancy
Since I was finding it difficult to deal with my addiction, I thought it necessary to do a bit of homework to find the motivation I needed to get myself sober and stay that way. Believe it or not, it worked! I got over alcohol for good and now I feel a lot more confident, happy and efficient. For this reason, I thought it necessary to share my experience.
The list of problems caused by alcohol can go on and on, with the most prominent of them being lack of happiness, satisfaction, and self-esteem. Even though you may get rid of your drinking habit, your problems will not disappear into thin air. However, it will give you the breathing space you need to think with clarity, thus eradicating the chance of making terrible mistakes that could affect you and your family.
At the same time, you will learn new things about yourself
It will take some time before you reach your true potential where your self-esteem gives you the ability and confidence to build relationships with people that matter.
Eliminating alcohol from my life has done wonders for me. I feel positive, doing whatever it takes to serve as a role model for my family, to show them they can aim high and be happy, instead of punishing themselves for not being the person they want to be. I’ve also put a limit on caffeine consumption and have made significant changes to my eating habits to boost productivity.
As absurd as it may seem, small steps lead to big things, and that is a fact. Also, don’t shy away from seeking professional help. The idea here is to grab whatever opportunity comes your way and make the most of it rather than complain about everything. This requires courage and self-belief, which is not all that difficult to gain.
No matter what problem you are dealing with, just know this, you are not alone. Alcohol never was, and never will be the answer to your problems. If you are willing to take a leap of faith, by taking small steps, you will never find the need to depend on alcohol again.
If you do need support to change, check out Hello Sunday Morning’s behaviour change mobile program Daybreak.
Blog written by Hello Sunday Morning supporter, Jenny.
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.
One year on – reflections from a Daybreak member
I am a married mother of two children. I live in a beautiful house in a nice neighbourhood. To anyone outside, I seemed to have it all.
Nine years ago, I held my father’s hand while he took his last breaths as he passed away from alcoholic cirrhosis. I never thought it was possible for people to die from alcohol abuse and, honestly, I was angry that he let it get to that point. I never thought I would be headed down the same road.
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. I started drinking on weekends, progressed to weekdays and then it became a regular daily occurrence. Some days were worse than others, where I drank so much I would completely black out and not remember what I had said or done the day before. Some mornings after I had too much to drink the night before, I’d vow to myself I’d never drink again. That lasted for a day or two and then I would promise myself that the next time I would just have a few glasses instead of a few bottles of wine. I kept this going for a few years. If I didn’t drink the night before, I’d make up for lost time the day after.
I got to a point where one bottle of wine per day was normal and I would have two other bottles on standby. Then two bottles became my new normal and I started drinking earlier in the day, hiding my bottles so that my husband couldn’t see that I had started drinking before noon. I used any and every excuse to drink. Good day, bad day, weekend, celebrations, you name it, I’d have come up with a reason why drinking was acceptable on any given day.
My entire life was starting to crumble. My relationships with friends and family were suffering. I wasn’t truly present for my two children, and my marriage was on the verge of divorce. I said and did hurtful things, some of which I didn’t even remember doing. I was ashamed of myself but the more I tried to control myself and try to moderate my drinking, the more I failed and eventually got to a point where I considered ending my life. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I had a drinking problem. I knew I had a problem because drinking at 8:30 am is not normal, but I couldn’t say it out loud and the thought of never drinking again scared the hell out of me.
I went online and found Hello Sunday Morning and an online app called Daybreak. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t want to go to AA meetings or any other type of support group because it terrified me. As clichéd as it sounds, admitting you have a problem is the first step. I logged onto Daybreak and for a while just lurked on the app, reading posts from other people who were having the same problems that I was having. I tried and failed a few more times but on 25 September 2016 I finally decided to get onto the app and stick to my commitment to stop.
What I found on this app was support and understanding like I didn’t know existed, from strangers all over the world. Strangers who encouraged and held each other up and who were all suffering in the same battle. Some had been there longer than I was and it gave me hope to stick to it. People on Daybreak gave me tricks and tips on how to get through the toughest battle I had ever had to fight in my life. It was absolutely mind-blowing to witness the pure honesty and goodness of these people. It is truly like a gathering of the best humans in the world all in the same place, and support was there any time of day or night.
I chose not to go to AA and similar meetings because they did not resonate with me at all. I personally find AA to be outdated and somewhat religious, so it just wasn’t for me. Daybreak and the people who supported me have saved my life. I don’t know where I would be had I not had their support.
Sobriety has changed my entire life. My relationships with family and friends, my marriage, all of it changed for the better. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, but incrementally every aspect of my life got better and old wounds started to heal.
I am and will forever be grateful for Daybreak and all the wonderful people that are on the app for their support. If anyone is questioning themselves about their drinking or realises that they have a problem, Daybreak is such a great place to start. Support, understanding and compassion and most of all, no judgement. People that are going through the same journey understand how difficult this can be.
From the bottom of my heart to all of you at Daybreak and Hello Sunday Morning, thank you for saving my life.
Love and strength,
To find out more and to download Daybreak, an app by Hello Sunday Morning, visit hellosundaymorning.org/daybreak
My first AA meeting – the value of sharing
I sat in on an open AA meeting one Wednesday afternoon.
I work in health promotion and wanted to experience for myself what an AA meeting is really like. I wanted to question my assumptions from popular culture and stigma.
It was one of those beautiful blue days where you cannot spot a cloud in the sky. A day where the last place you want to be is in the middle of a big city. The air was filled with humidity and my clothes were sticking to me, almost in an irritating way.
The sliding doors to the community meeting room were open. The fans were on, gently blowing the posters scattered about the walls. Posters for the 12 Steps, yoga and meditation retreats, domestic violence support services and homeless shelters. These were pinned up like offerings of hope to those who previously saw themselves as hopeless. A large notice board in the middle of the sliding doors offered privacy from the street.
There were about twenty people at the meeting. Everyone seated facing the front where the person who ran the meeting and a few sponsors sat. What struck me at first was the diversity of the group. A young woman with her toddler sat opposite me. The child spluttered throughout the meeting with a chesty cough and wriggled around on her big plastic chair.
An elderly lady sat next to me and smiled warmly when we caught a glance. There was a mix of male and female, young and old. Some had been coming to AA meetings for years, others just a few months. The people in the room where just like you and I. Some with great families and careers, others with no family left and a life that has not been so kind to them.
AA meetings are not just about remaining anonymous
They are also about being present for those in the group and the community around you.
The first man to share was sitting across from me. He was wearing a colourful Hawaiian shirt. But the expression on his face did not suggest that his life had been a holiday. The man opened his reflections by introducing himself. “Hi, my name is Dave* and I am an alcoholic”. The first step of the 12 Steps at an AA meeting involves admitting to yourself that you have no power over your ‘disease’. You hand over your vulnerability to a higher power and admit defeat.
The meeting was on a chapter in the book that everyone was to discuss, around the theme of not being too hard on yourself. Dave began by explaining his daily struggle with crippling anxiety. He shared with us how he hates himself for getting into this state of mind. How he panics when he cannot see a solution or an out to how he is feeling. This destructive cycle means Dave cannot hold down a stable job and ends up screwing up every job interview he has had, as he talks himself down and focuses on everything that is wrong with him and the company and the people holding the job interview.
“A community that cares”
“I suffered from feelings of guilt and loneliness as a result of my alcoholism. Drinking was causing a serious problem when my children came home to find me unconscious. I joined this community to learn how to control my drinking and restore balance to my life.
“I was stuck in a vicious cycle of binge drinking, blacking out, and losing my memory. One of my biggest fears was that I would fail, but it’s not a test. It’s just about getting you to think about drinking. Meeting other members and getting support has been invaluable.
Sharing is caring
When Dave started to choke up while telling his story with tears running down his cheeks. I looked around the room. The compassion on the face of each and every person in that room was obvious. It was as if invisible hands was reaching out to hold onto Dave. To squeeze his hand and tell him that that they are there for him. When others began to share their reflections on the reading listeners would often nod their head to themselves or clap in a gesture of agreement and understanding. The speaker could take as long as they wanted and there was no judgment from anywhere in this space. This unfortunately is a special treat for many people going through recovery from an alcohol or drug dependency.
Every person who shared their triumphs and their rock bottoms on that day were open and vulnerable. But I didn’t leave the meeting feeling hopeless for the members. Everyone finished their ‘sharing’ on a positive thought. Such as:
“But I know I’ll be okay, because I didn’t reach for the bottle this time.”
Or, “I’m slowly seeing that I need to deal with this struggle with meditation and these meetings and staying away from those who are making this hard for me.”
You are probably wondering what I shared at my first AA meeting
When it came time for my turn to speak I simply said that I wouldn’t be sharing today and that was more than okay. There was no pressure to tell your story. There was no discrimination from the group because you weren’t comfortable opening up. For this I felt truly honored to be able to listen to these incredible stories of strength.
It’s so easy to brush off a comment about how people who are alcohol dependant should just “stop” drinking or using drugs, and their lives will turn around. The men and women in this meeting drank as a therapy and an escape from other underlying issues. Many stories were complex and emotionally scarring that we can only begin to comprehend. They turned to alcohol because for some reason they were not able to get the help they needed early enough. That is what saddened me the most as I stepped out of the room that afternoon.
Support is imperative for recovery, and support comes from community. Unfortunately with the stigma present in our society and our current healthcare system around people who abuse these substances, we do not provide the people who need it most with a community that they deserve.
What other support is available for people?
For those who feel that something like an AA meeting is too confronting to share their deepest fears and darkest experiences with complete strangers, or people who live in remote areas, or have kids and responsibilities that keep them from finding the time to attending these meetings as often as they need, a physical meeting may not be suitable.
Daybreak is an alcohol support group app created from years of experience by the Hello Sunday Morning team. It is a great alternative that provides an anonymous space, with a supportive community of people going through different stages of their own journey to recovery.
Our community says…
“I’m on day 78
I only drank once after 5 days of joining and haven’t drunk since. I absolutely know I couldn’t have done that without this forum.”
“The best thing that’s happened to me
This app and my public commitment to stop drinking stopped me from opening the fridge door. It’s Sunday morning. I’m camped by a a lake. I’m snuggled up in bed with a clear head. And there is a thank you coursing through my heart.”
“Overwhelmed at the support
Drinking has such a stigma attached to it, that it’s hard to know who to talk to. There’s a lot of judgement out there. So it is wonderful to hear other people’s stories.”
* Stories are provided with permission of members and are anonymous to protect privacy.
Our community is an alternative to AA meetings. Free download from the app stores »
Stop Your Hangovers in 2 Weeks. Guaranteed.
Surprise yourself with these benefits of the program »
Get a response within minutes of sharing your alcohol craving.
Develop new habits that replace your urge to open the fridge.
Our clinical team talks members through alcohol urges.
Free download from the app stores »
Meet our alcohol coaches
Briony Leo has been working in alcohol health since 2009 and has been registered as a psychologist since 2011. Her work currently involves helping people to understand and change their relationship with alcohol, and to meet their health and wellbeing goals. Her special areas of interest are counseling and using technology to support mental health and wellbeing, as well as improving overall health and functioning. She has completed further training in Neurofeedback, Schema Therapy and EMDR.
Dr. Jess Moore has also been working in alcohol health since 2009. She has worked with clients presenting with a range of concerns and has worked in various settings including schools, universities, prisons, hospitals and non-government organisations. Part of her current work involves helping people to understand their relationship with alcohol and how to go about making changes to help them reach their goals. Jess earned her PhD in clinical psychology from The University of New South Wales. She worked on the development and evaluation of a telemental health Behavioural Parent Training intervention. She has since managed a randomised controlled trial on the feasibility and outcomes of Internet delivery of transdiagnostic Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy for adolescent anxiety and depression, at Macquarie University, and manages a number of other trials of internet-based treatments.
Daybreak is appropriate for most people who are wanting to change their relationship with alcohol. If a person is in significant distress, such as experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm, we encourage them to seek more intensive and face to face support. Although the community is supportive, evidence shows that if people are in significant distress, supportive communities are not effective. More structured and targeted support is necessary.
I danced sober in the dark on a Monday night with 100 other people
We have turned July into our dancing month, where we will explore different forms of creative expression to music and encourage you to do the same, as dancing can provide an outlet for a lot of built up baggage. Hello Sunday Morning is inviting you to come along on our journey to experiment with the boogie and increase your groove.
It was sweaty, it was loud, it was electric, and the best part of all? It was Monday night.
We walked into a completely pitch-black room; the walls and floor were vibrating with beats from the speakers and DJ in the corner. When our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, dimly lit by a few community hall EXIT signs, we were just able to make out the silhouettes of the dancers all around us.
For the next hour, we found ourselves slowly losing all inhibitions and moving parts of our bodies that have not moved for a long time. Hips were swinging, butts were bouncing and clapping, laughter and yahoos were made out over the blasting of music from old school swing music to classic ’90s hits from Destiny’s Child.
What is this magical dance universe, you may ask?
No Lights No Lycra started in Australia and has grown to provide this community experience in countries all over the world. Check out your area to find your nearest NLNL:
“The dance night grew through word of mouth and within a few months the hall was full of people who shared the same yearning for a dimly lit space to dance as freely as they do in their living rooms.”
Who says you need alcohol to dance?
The darkness at No Lights No Lycra helps you forget about that self-consciousness that stops most of us from expressing ourselves fully. Naturally, you may feel a little tense at the start as we are so used to worrying what other people might think of us. But give it 10 minutes and you’ll notice the endorphins crawling over your skin and words belting out of your mouth as you sing along and crawl out of your protective social shell to move in ways you never knew you could.
There’s no other feeling like it, a smile was glued on my face, a stitch prevalent in my rib cage and my legs ached until the next day.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Would I recommend to a friend? Absolutely.
Do I think dancing will cure the world? One Monday night at a time.
Have you got a list of things you’d like to try? If you want to share an experience with us that inspires others to start doing the things they have always wanted to do, we would love to hear about it! Email your story with photos (if you have them) to firstname.lastname@example.org