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!
Curbing binge drinking when you’re over 40
The NIAAA defines a binge drinker as someone who consumes more than five standard drinks in one sitting. If every Australian was asked to put their hand up if they know someone who has had this many drinks on a weekend (or if they do themselves), it would probably look like a national Mexican wave.
When we think about binge drinking, often we imagine teenagers or young adults downing pints of beer or spirits, and getting into tricky situations, having to go to hospital, making regrettable decisions and generally being pretty messy. One thing that might surprise you is that, statistically, some groups of older adults are alongside their younger counterparts in being classified as ‘binge drinkers’.
Binge drinking is something that many older adults might be in the habit of doing, either at home with their partners, or while out with friends. Think about barbecues, dinner parties, long lunches … situations where there is lots of alcohol available, no real limits on time, and surrounded by others who are drinking similar quantities.
Drinking to celebrate or ‘cut loose’
Often in these situations it is expected that people will be drinking to get drunk, and drunken behaviour is either tolerated or celebrated – maybe it is part of a bonding experience or a way to relax. Often it is something that we don’t really think of as being unusual or problematic if it is all around us and everyone is doing the same thing. Sometimes it is only when we start to experience the harms of binge drinking, like health issues, mood issues the following day, or consequences from decisions made when drinking, that we might consider making changes.
Binge drinking amongst older adults has been in the spotlight lately, most notably for the fact that as we get older, our bodies respond differently to alcohol and so drinking to excess can have much more significant effects than when we were younger. In addition to this, there are all the other risks that arise when we are drinking to excess. Things like falling over, risky behaviour, drink driving or even getting involved in altercations. Adults who are binge drinking might describe feeling really ashamed about some of the situations they find themselves in, saying things like;
‘I should know better, I’m an adult!’, or ‘I can’t believe I got so bad, I’m really embarrassed’.
As adults we like to feel in control and often have lots of responsibilities and so it can be frightening to find ourselves in situations where we can’t remember what happened, or being told that we behaved in a certain way because of alcohol.
The health effects of binging
Doctors will often advise those over 50 to moderate their alcohol consumption, with an increased risk of all types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disease seen in high-risk drinkers over this age. For us, we see a lot of Daybreak members making the decision to step away from binge drinking around this age. This is due to a number of reasons, including health, mood, and also a desire to socialise in a more moderate and balanced way. Many people actually find that when they cut back on their drinking, social occasions are a lot more manageable (fewer hangovers and consequences) and they will be able to focus on interacting with friends and loved ones, rather than drinking to excess.
If you think you’re at risk of binge drinking, or you fit into the category of someone who is drinking in excess regularly, here are some ideas to start to make changes:
Monitor your drinking for a week – just keep track of how much you drink by taking note on your phone. Consider how much you’d 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 implementing some replacement behaviours – like soda water or even low-alcohol beer or wine, to see if this will help to reduce the amount you are consuming in a session. Even a few glasses of soda water with lime is going to help your body to process alcohol if you are drinking. Often we tend to binge when those around us are drinking heavily, there are no limitations, and we are drinking on an empty stomach, so see if you can address these issues.
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 this can be the biggest challenge – saying no to that extra drink and needing to explain that you are cutting back, and why. Try experimenting with this and some possible reasons you may have for cutting back, including health, or even saying ‘I’m taking a break for a while, to see what it’s like without alcohol’.
Talk to those around you about creating goals– for reducing the amount you are drinking. Discuss with them how much is ‘enough’ and what kind of relationship with alcohol you might like to form. Maybe your partner or friends are also noticing the cumulative effects of alcohol on their bodies and mood. Perhaps consciously changing the drinking culture in your home might help turn things around and give you a boost.
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).
Ensure that if you are going to a party or social event, that you have eaten – or are going to eat something to balance the effect of alcohol on your stomach. Many people will experience gastrointestinal issues as a result of drinking on an empty stomach, this means that the alcohol impacts us more quickly, as well as irritating the stomach lining and leading to further health issues.
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
5 steps to breaking your ‘after work drink’ habit
It’s a routine thousands of people get stuck in: come home from a stressful day at work or with the kids, kick the shoes off, undo the belt and poor a glass of wine or crack open a beer. Sure, this is a nice way to relax and mark the end of a day, however, when that one drink turns into a bottle, things can start to get out of control.
If this is you, don’t worry – you are not alone. Statistics from our Daybreak mobile program show that nearly half of our members drink after work.
Most of our members (90%) have tried cutting back, however, few experienced any long-term success in changing their relationship with alcohol. These numbers show us that it is HARD to break the routine once we have developed a dependence on alcohol to unwind at the end of the day.
So how do I stop drinking when I get home?
1. Identify the need
There are a few techniques we recommend to our members who are trying and break this habit. The first one is understanding what the need for the alcohol is at the time. In this case, the drink would fill the need of wanting to switch off from ‘work/mum mode’ and relax into the evening. When we recognise and understand why we are drinking, it can help us realise that there are alternative, healthier ways to relax.
2. Swapping out the alcohol
For some, a drink after work is a way to mark the end of the day. So this could still be done with swapping an alcoholic drink to a non-alcoholic drink. We have had feedback from members in our community who recommend having a selection of tasty alcohol-free drinks at home ready to go. Daybreak Members have also shared with us a great tip – pour your alcohol-free drink into a nice glass, so that way you feel like it is more special!
Alcohol-free drink ideas:
Soda water with lime
Apple Cider Vinegar and tonic
Seedlip and tonic
Homemade ginger beer
3. Finding an alternative activity
If you know you get home at 5:30/6pm and pour yourself a drink, you could try something different at that exact time instead. A good idea could be to go for a walk, as moving your body after sitting at a desk all day can help you feel physically and mentally better and more clear minded. If you find you don’t have the energy for any physical activities, you could run yourself a bath or find a quiet place at home and listen to a guided meditation for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you’re a creative person, you could start a creative project to work on after work like sewing or making something crafty. Our members have found it can be helpful to try a few of these different activities to see what works best.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for support
There are a lot of people in the same boat as you! Online communities like Daybreak are a great way to have support at your fingertips. You could also follow blogs you like, and read up on Hello Sunday Morning’s blogs and social media posts, as they are created to inspire you with some great ideas to help you change your relationship with alcohol.
5. Be compassionate with yourself
It is not going to be an easy routine to break, so be kind to yourself, and give yourself credit for trying! It might help to set small goals like, “I am only going to have a drink after work three nights a week, and the other nights I’ll go to a fitness class or read my book on the couch.”
If you become overwhelmed by strong urges when you get home from a hard day and all you want to do is pick up that wine glass, it may help to try this exercise one of our Daybreak health coaches shares with people who need support:
Think of the ocean, the urge is a huge wave, you know it’s big and it’s strong but it will subside if you hang in there. The waves/urges will become smaller and you will become stronger, and in time the waves become even smaller and further apart and far more manageable to deal with.
Online communities can help support you through hard times
In Australia, high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorders are considered a concerning public health issue. People are just not getting the help and support they need.
It can be hard to admit having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol to ourselves, let alone to our social groups who may have a strong focus on drinking every time they get together. People need a space where a community can help them change and provide support and guidance when their partners, friends or families might not be able to.
Closing the gap
Through our research and experience with Hello Sunday Morning over the last eight years, we have found a significant gap exists in alcohol treatment. Currently, 40 million people globally and 360,000 Australians who want alcohol treatment fall outside the capacity of the health system.
People who are drinking at risky levels are not seeking the help they need; this is due to a number of things, such as:
Long waiting lists and limited services
Stigmatisation in our culture
High cost of treatment
Why are online communities helpful?
Our latest research shows getting involved in an online forum can support long-term behaviour change in individuals wishing to change the way they drink. This is because it is rare and extremely hard for someone who is looking at quitting or cutting back their alcohol consumption to go through it alone.
The journey of change is challenging and for most people, it is not as easy as just ‘not drinking’. People have relapses and setbacks, lose motivation or use alcohol to cope with something difficult that arises – the list goes on. It is vital to have at least one person who you can turn to for non-judgemental support when you need it and this is exactly what online forums can provide.
They can also hold a safe space which is anonymous (if you don’t want to announce to the world that you’re no longer drinking), accessible (you can chat to people going through a similar change at anytime), and are more affordable treatment options.
Community and connection – a basic human need
Engagement with the online community and peer support is a key ingredient in the successful behaviour change of Hello Sunday Morning and Daybreak members.
Peer-to-peer communities (people posting to a group of people in the same online space) are described as one of the most ‘transformational features of the internet’.
These online spaces allow people with multiple barriers (living in a remote areas, difficult working hours etc) to connect and create supportive communities. Many people who have difficult relationships with alcohol are often also feeling isolated in their lives – being able to create meaningful connections with people who are working towards the same goals as them can be incredibly powerful. Peer support can often be just as effective, or more so, than professional support, as it provides a social outlet as well as a space to grow therapeutically.
Sharing where you’re at
Narrative expression, or being able to post and write how you’re feeling or whether you need help, has demonstrated psychological benefits for people because it allows reflection, connection, and meaning-making.
One of the key processes in narrating our experiences is ‘externalising’, which is the process of getting thoughts out and into words, and finding ways of communicating how we’re feeling; this can be hugely important in bringing us to a sense of clarity and understanding.
When we looked at analytics of blog posts on our Hello Sunday Morning legacy platform, we saw that members typically begin with descriptions of their drinking practices. Often, this changes over time to reflect their efforts and their aspirations, turning in a more positive direction.
Being part of a supportive web-based community, as well as having the opportunity to reflect on past experiences, may help give people the resources needed to create lasting behaviour change.
People helping people
We also found online community members shifted from being self-focused to reflecting on the role of alcohol in society and developing a desire to support others.
This makes a lot of sense – part of the recovery process can be going from a person who does not have much knowledge or experience, to someone who has a lot of knowledge that they can use to support others.
Within the Daybreak community, we have members who have been active for several months, and who have moved from ‘newbies’ to more established and recognised people in the community. Just like in a sporting team, workplace or small town, the longer we stay in the group the stronger our connections become. Over time, we tend to shift our focus from ourselves and our own needs, and start to consider the needs of the community and its members.
Face-to-face treatment vs. online coaching
What is health coaching?
It may seem like a lot of people are becoming ‘life coaches’ or a ‘health coaches’ these days. This may be due to the stimulation and choice offered by our western society. This can sometimes leave us feeling confused about our purpose or “off-track”.
Coaches all specialise in different areas to help people get back on the path to achieving their lifestyle goals. These goals could be around personal relationships, career, body image and weight issues, physical health or mental health.
Coaching is based on a one-on-one conversation that follows certain principles and uses skills to encourage people to explore their current situation. It also helps people to look at aspects of their lives that may be in need of some TLC and inspires them to come up with ideas for creating positive change.
Often coaches first find out where the change is needed (in our case, alcohol use) and why it is important to the person. From there a coach helps them explore what’s stopping them from succeeding and together they brainstorm possible strategies to overcome these obstacles. This helps the coach and person develop a plan to move forward.
Health coaches can also give support with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, stress management and relationship issues – however, if these issues are significantly affecting members they may also recommend face to face treatment with a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Health coaches for alcohol use
Our coaches work on our mobile program, Daybreak, to help people to overcome conditions that have resulted from lifestyle choices. After establishing why the person is reaching out for extra support, the health coach asks them to share a bit about how long it has been an issue. They then explore what kinds of triggers there are, for example, negative emotions, stress, social situations. Once the coach has worked out what role alcohol is playing, they can start to look at ways to manage this.
Generally if the coach and the member can find ways to meet the needs that are currently being met by alcohol, then usually the urges become reduced.
The needs could be around stress management, relaxation or lowering inhibitions.
The needs could be around stress management, relaxation or lowering inhibitions.
Everyone is different
The main thing to understand when it comes to changing a relationship with alcohol is that different strategies work for different people.
Thousands of people with an alcohol dependency have really benefited from a program where they can attend in-person group meetings or have one-on-one support to help them on their journey of change. Others have changed the way they drink by visiting a psychologist/counsellor to help them unpack the issues underlying the reason that they are drinking in the first place. This could be due to mental health struggles like depression or anxiety, past experiences, PTSD and a vast array of physiological issues that may trigger a desire to drink to excess.
Is online coaching effective?
Online coaching also has its benefits and works for certain people who can’t necessarily access face-to-face therapy. This could be due to where they live if they are in remote communities, financial situations or other reasons. Online coaching offers a space where people can access help and support whenever they need it without having to book in an appointment or be put on a waiting list.
If you’re a busy mother with three kids and working full time, you might not have the opportunity to take yourself to a few meetings a week. Online treatment like Daybreak provides people with access all day everyday to support from a community of people in the same situation and the option to chat to health coaches if they need one-on-one advice.
Through Daybreak, we have also found that the safety of anonymity online and the anonymity of the health coaches helps people open up faster and be more honest about their situation and their drinking.
To read more about Daybreak, and find out how our online treatment works, or download the app to chat to a health coach, visit https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/daybreak/
How inner child issues relate to alcohol use
We have all heard about the idea of the ‘inner child’ – but what does it mean, and how does it relate to alcohol use?
Some theories of psychology refer to the inner child as a part of us that exists inside our adult selves. Theories differ, but broadly the idea is that we all have a part of us that is quite vulnerable, playful, emotional and intuitive. A part that emerges in certain situations, often in times of loss or high emotion.
This can be a useful way to view our reactions or responses to things. For example, if we are having an unusually strong emotional reaction to something, or are feeling especially vulnerable, we might consider that our inner child is being triggered and is in need of some comforting.
How does the ‘inner child’ relate to my drinking?
Often, situations that were painful for us as children (being left alone or being bullied) might trigger the inner child within us and remind us of old wounds. Consider a person who experienced the loss of a parent in childhood. This loss would have been painful and confusing for them. As adults, future experiences of loss for those people might also bring up those feelings of loneliness, fear and abandonment.
The Internal Family Systems therapy framework can help us understand our strong emotional responses to things. This can also be helpful understanding a connection with alcohol use.
Here are some ways that these two can relate:
If we find ourselves experiencing things which are frightening or make us feel vulnerable. This could be related to relationship issues, failure, or criticism. When we feel like this we might try to dampen down those vulnerable emotions with alcohol to try and restore a sense of calm. Alcohol can also make the inner child emotions even more intense. We can find ourselves feeling heightened emotions after a few drinks, so we can quickly become overwhelmed.
Our ‘walls’ that normally keep our emotions within manageable ranges can get knocked down with alcohol (and not always in a good way). There are well established links in the literature between difficult experiences in childhood and alcohol use. This is mainly because alcohol is often used as a strategy for managing difficult emotions.
So how can we look after our inner child, without the use of alcohol?
Alcohol, as we know, can often makes things worse. It also doesn’t really give us what we need, so here are a few alternate options:
Consider what you need when you are feeling vulnerable – Is your ‘inner child’ in need of comforting, or in need of some fun? What kinds of things might help to manage the emotional pain or distress you are feeling? Finding healthy, adult ways to care for that vulnerable part of yourself can be a huge step in the right direction. You could catch up with friends for a games night, or snuggle up in bed with a pet. Try to find ways to get what you need in that moment, without necessarily turning to alcohol as the first option.
Self Care – Things like a hot shower, playing with pets or sitting down with a book. These are all ways of putting yourself in a positive and comforted emotional state, so that you are more likely to feel safe and content.
Support – Often the ‘inner child’ is in need of comfort, and that can be provided by a phone call to a friend, visit to a counsellor or a family member. Having someone who is able to offer a listening ear and guidance can be invaluable when we are in a vulnerable state.
Healthy Adult – One way to support the ‘inner child’ is to strengthen your ‘healthy adult’. Consider what the capable, adult part of you might do to manage the situation or problem. For example, if the inner child is distressed at a partner’s coldness or lack of attention, the healthy adult part might understand that it is necessary to have a conversation with this partner. The healthy adult will discuss what is happening in the relationship. Although the inner child part may want to avoid that conversation and hide away, we know that sometimes difficult conversations are necessary and useful.
DBT therapy and how it helps inner child issues
One effective therapeutic technique to support the inner child is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). This approach focuses on emotional regulation and distress tolerance, and can be incredibly helpful in dealing with strong emotions. The idea is that if we have a set of tools that can help to soothe us in times of distress, we will generally be much better off. We will be more able to handle stressful situations like relationship problems, grief or loneliness.
A lot of the DBT techniques seem like common sense, but essentially they work to create a ‘toolbox’ for an individual to use when they are having a difficult time.
DBT is great to use with the ‘inner child’ because it can really help with strong emotions and models healthy adult ways of coping with them. It can help when we recognise situations where we have become overwhelmed with emotion and acted impulsively or harmfully. For example, drinking too much or getting into an argument. We can then look at other ways we could have dealt with the situation (for example, calling a friend or going for a run).
The inner child is a helpful framework for understanding some of the things that might trigger alcohol use. For many people, recognising that we all possess a vulnerable and emotional part that can be triggered at certain times, is a useful way of being able to predict and manage challenging emotional moments.
Remember, strong emotions are part of being human. This is particularly if you have a lot of things that you value in your life. It would be unusual not to have strong emotions about family, friendships and the things you really care about. It is how we manage these strong emotions that really matters. The good news is that there are many different and sustainable ways of doing this and a lot of resources to help you should you need it.
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.
Dear friends, this is why I am not drinking
You are all wonderful and I am so glad to have you in my life. However, there is just one problem – I need to stop drinking for a while, and I am having a hard time explaining it to you. So, I have put together some expected questions and responses that might make this a bit easier:
Why aren’t you drinking?! What’s going on?
I am not drinking because the negatives of drinking are outweighing the positives. Negatives (weight gain, low energy, anxiety hangovers, spending money, risky situations, lack of motivation) versus positives (relaxing and unwinding, socialising, feeling glamorous, tasty beer). Most people go through this decision at some point in their life and decide to either cut back or stop for a while, as the negatives are outweighing the positives.
Is this forever? Are you ever going to be able to have fun again?
This is not forever but it is something I am trying for a while. In the meantime, there are lots of other things that I enjoy – and lots of them are much more manageable than drinking (for example, exercise, hobbies, meals out and sober dancing).
Are you going to judge me if we go out together and I’m still drinking?
Definitely not! This is a personal decision and I would be insane if I suddenly decided that everyone in my life needs to stop drinking or change their relationship with alcohol.
Generally, a person decides to stop drinking for a while when it is no longer working for them and they want to try something different – which is the case for me. However, I know that for a lot of people, alcohol is not an issue, and it is something that they enjoy and can have in their lives permanently.
So, you have some issues with alcohol. Does that mean you are an alcoholic?
You don’t have to define yourself as ‘alcoholic’ to want to change your relationship with alcohol. All you need is to identify that alcohol is affecting your life or you are finding that your life is better without it. Depending on your genetics, personality, and everything else going on in your life, some people are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, and particularly when they are stressed. We all have an ‘off’ button, and for some people, it works better than for others. For some people, it is possible to have two drinks and stop, while for others it will be much more of a challenge.
It is just like when someone is sensitive to dairy products. They have to be mindful of whether they have these in their diet at all, how they are going to manage their body’s response to them and whether it is worth having them at all.
Okay, I get it. How can I help you do this?
Social support is really important, particularly having people respect the decision not to drink or to drink less. Try suggesting some activities that don’t necessarily involve alcohol, like exercise or coffee, to make things easier for everyone.
This is a really personal, individual decision. So you probably won’t need to do much as a friend, as a lot of the change comes from the person. However, it is good to consider what kind of support you might like from a friend if you were working towards something important.
How stress and anxiety link to drinking
As a health coach for Hello Sunday Morning’s app, Daybreak, I have noticed that anxiety is a really common issue for our members. For some people, it is a chicken or egg scenario – is my drinking a way that I am managing my anxiety, or is my anxiety partly a result of my drinking and all the things that come with it? And, where does stress fit into all of this? Is it the same, or separate to anxiety?
One thing I have noticed is that stress in our lives greatly increases our vulnerability to high-risk drinking, as well as being overwhelmed with strong emotions.
I wondered why that was, and what kind of relationship there was between these three factors. My sense was that if I, as a health coach, had these questions, our members might as well – so I have put together some pointers that my coaching clients have found helpful in exploring the relationship between anxiety, drinking, and stress.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a tricky thing to define but is generally our brain’s way of responding to some kind of threat – whether that is a threat to our safety, our reputation, our relationships or our sense of self. It can be affected by our genetics, our environment, and our personality. Stress is often a precursor to anxiety – stressful situations put us into ‘fight or flight’ mode that helps us to protect ourselves from various types of threat.
Can you be predisposed to anxiety?
There is a lot of evidence that links stressful life events (SLEs) in our early life with issues later in life, including anxiety, depression and, sometimes, substance use. SLEs don’t have to be life or death situations – they can be things like witnessing parental divorce, economic adversity or mental illness. The evidence indicates that experiencing two or more SLEs in early life significantly increased a person’s chances of developing an issue with their mood, such as anxiety or depression.
Of course, if you are a child who is vulnerable to stress, you are probably going to be affected more by something like a divorce or economic hardship– which is where individual factors come in. An anxious or sensitive temperament and stress early on in life can create a ‘perfect storm’ for some issues later on down the track. Not everyone who feels anxious as an adult has been exposed to SLEs, but there is a really strong relationship between SLEs and anxiety or depression. It is good to remember that the active component here is the ‘stress’ – when kids are exposed to ongoing stress in their lives, it impacts how their brains develop and respond to threats in their environment. But more on that later on.
A good thing to remember is that SLEs in adulthood can also create issues with our moods – if we have a number of stressful events with little opportunity for respite, we can find that it is much harder to keep positive. Perhaps we start to feel really anxious after a bad breakup that just keeps going on, or very down and helpless after some chronic stress at work. Our brains don’t deal with ongoing stress well, particularly the kind of stress that we feel we can’t do much about.
Remember – stress often comes first, and if it keeps going, that is when problems can develop. Often when we look back to difficult times in our lives, we can see that a number of different stressors led up to it. What is the science behind this? It sounds too ‘tell me about your childhood’!
Emotions and stress levels
There is a lot of research into SLEs, as well as the actual mechanism that creates this relationship between our exposure to stress, our moods, and our relationships with alcohol. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of heavy duty neuroscience, but essentially:
We know that SLEs can change how our brains develop and even which genes are expressed; in particular, in the dopamine reward pathway which is a major player in high-risk drinking.
Research has found major disruptions in our dopamine signalling (for motivated behaviour and reward seeking) associated with SLEs. The part of our brain that controls this system also affects our stress and anxiety levels. Throughout our lifetime, stress causes us to produce cortisol which helps us to survive and stay alert. However, when these stress responses are activated over and over again, a person can become vulnerable to later problems with anxiety and depression.
One way to think about it is like a button that gets pressed over and over again. At first, it works well, but over time it wears out. Sometimes it will get stuck in the ‘on’ position, and other times it won’t work at all and we’ll need to keep pressing it until it does.
People who have some problems with regulating their emotions as adults will often have had lots of stressful experiences as children, which have caused them to become ‘dysregulated’. The button in their brain that controls anxiety, mood, and even motivation, has been pressed too much and is now worn out. They might need to drink lots of coffee to get going, or they might need to drink a lot of alcohol to calm themselves down.
If there have been many disruptive, challenging or stressful events in your childhood, this may have contributed to you experiencing some issues with anxiety as an adult. If you were an anxious child who experienced a lot of things as stressful, that may also be impacting you now. If you’ve just come through a number of stressors and are finding that your emotions are all over the place, this may also be something to consider.
How does this button fit in with my drinking?
It becomes even trickier as the way that alcohol works is by taking advantage of this ‘worn out’ stress button. People who fit this description may be more susceptible to the ‘pleasure’ pathway that occurs with alcohol.
Exposure to ongoing stress means that our brains produce less dopamine over time, and so we can feel flat and empty – which can cause us to seek out the ‘high’ of alcohol or drugs. Having a sip of alcohol sends excitatory projections to our nucleus accumbens, part of our reward pathway. A complex set of interactions occur which result in that ‘good’ feeling we can get from drinking, and in people who are vulnerable, it can be a really intense and rewarding experience.
In particular, if you are an anxious person who is under stress, you may be existing in a state of mild discomfort. It is not a comfortable feeling to be on edge or tense, and alcohol is something that significantly shifts that, really quickly. We become conditioned to believe that this is perhaps the only way to take away the discomfort, or relive the stress we are feeling – and so drinking becomes more and more of a coping strategy, particularly when we are having a difficult time in our lives and are stressed, burnt out or unhappy.
Perhaps at the beginning it is about having pleasure and getting enjoyment, and later on it may become about taking away unpleasant emotions and discomfort from not having the alcohol – which is a good indicator that a problem is starting to develop, and some support is needed.
But where does this leave me?
This may sound really bleak, but don’t worry! The good news is that being aware of this relationship is a big part of the solution. Daybreak members who have identified this link between stress, anxiety, and drinking, have found some of the following strategies really helpful:
• Talk to a counsellor or coach about what kinds of things are generally stressful for you like relationship problems, criticism, failure or rejection. Understanding your triggers means that they are no longer triggers, but rather situations which can be handled with care and understanding.
• Finding other ways to ‘self-soothe’. Things like relaxation and exercise are effective ways of lowering physiological arousal and increasing your production of dopamine. Importantly, they also give us a sense of control over our mood state, which is really important for our wellbeing.
• Find ways to reduce stress in your life. If your stress button has been ‘worn out’ by life events, it may be necessary to find ways to deal with stress differently, whether that involves a change in your self-care, seeking support from friends and family to help lighten the load, or problem solving ways to address sources of ongoing stress.
• Make a list of trigger situations and a plan to deal with each of these. For example, if you know that you are likely to feel depleted and exhausted after work, make a plan to go for a walk with a friend, or schedule some other self-soothing activity that will be effective in lowering your arousal.
During these times that we are under stress in our adult lives, we need to be even more careful with things like alcohol and ensure that we are looking after ourselves and keeping stress to a minimum. This might involve getting some counselling to help deal with the source of strong emotions, or even to help to resolve current stresses in our relationships, work life or friendships.