I sell headstones…

Part of my daily work consists of dealing with the bereaved. I sell headstones. No wonder I’m such a cheery soul. You’d have thought that during my 4 years of service this would be something I’ve become ‘conditioned’ to. Only I haven’t. If anything it gets worse. There is nothing wrong with thinking, or talking, about death. In fact, I would say that most people avoid it – almost to the point where we avoid it too much. I’m not sure if it’s a British thing, or just a people thing, but some of us just seem to think we’ll live forever. Hope? Or perhaps it’s just too horrifying to contemplate our own mortality. Bury your head in the sand, pretend it will never happen. Faced with the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve realised, any which way you look at it, it has all become too much for my sensitive soul. I seem to absorb the emotion of others, feel things that don’t belong to me. It’s not MY sadness, my awkwardness, my anger, my grief… so how does it end up becoming mine? Sometimes I love that side of me – the ‘white witch’, the sixth sense, the gut instinct – always one step ahead. I am the person who struggles with huge crowds, has developed an awesome bullshit radar and has learned to cut energy vampires out of my life as quick as they walk in (there is no worse a person than those who try to ride on the back of others ‘goodness’. I hate Fake).

I have become wise. But I have also become sad in the process. I have no idea what to do with all of this emotion of death. It plagues my dreams and I constantly worry about how I will cope. Would cope. I have a lot of precious people in my life, as we all do. What would I do if they weren’t there anymore? It is always on my mind.

The angry, awkward customers are not so bad. I can deal with those. Be annoyed with me because I told you the church rules and it doesn’t fit with your ideal of a headstone. This I can cope with. I know you’re not mad at me (or the church) you’re just mad at death. Fling it, I’ll deflect it. I can cope with that.

Then there are the hopeless ones (in the nicest possible way). Delicate and fragile. Death makes us so. Mostly this seems to be those who have lost a life-long partner, their lives forever intertwined, people who have to relearn life skills at the latter stages of life because they have relied so heavily on someone else to do these tasks for them. Those who don’t know how to pay the bills, drive, shop, cook, clean. They tell me their troubles and I automatically want to help, but this is not my job. And sometimes, I know, the best thing for these people is to very quickly learn how to do all of these things they’ve never been able to do. Tough love, I guess. But hang on… Not my people, not my problem… right?

And then I worry about my Dad as I’m not sure he can make a sandwich [just a side issue. No-one has died].

Then there are those who still cannot utter the words they want to leave on the memorial because they are too consumed with grief. They choke on the words and cry uncontrollably and I wonder, which stage of grief is this? Are they ready to order the headstone? are they thinking straight? are they going to be OK? Only, I pass a tissue and hope they don’t stay too long at the ‘memorial sales desk’, for I’m about on the brink.. and if I burst into tears too then it’s all curtains (pardon the pun) and I really haven’t done a great job. I wait ’til they’ve gone, wipe away my own tears and find my stiff upper lip from wherever it went. Pull yourself together my love.

I see lots of very brave people. Death is heartache. There are many lives taken too soon, but then, what is too soon? It’s all subjective surely? But the show must go on. Where’s that Stiff upper lip?

Then there are my favourites. These are the people who talk fondly, and quite often with some hilarity and mickey taking, of the deceased. These are my favourite… but also the ones who affect me the most. Oh, to be remembered with a laugh and a smile – you can literally see the essence of that person come back to life in the eyes of the loved ones – and this brings a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat more than anything else. “Can we get an etching of a bottle of gin and a pack of Embassy on the stone, as they were the only hobbies he had?” Or “Can we put the dogs names on the stone with him as I think he loved them more than his wife?” OR “Can we leave a space for his Mrs.. something like ‘ AND ‘ER INDOORS’ will do.” This touches me mostly, I guess, as it reminds me of my own family. I hope people take the mickey out of me when I’m gone. The big, tall, ginger, socially awkward weirdo I am. The perfect epitaph.

So, I’ve made the decision to walk away, as I just can’t be forced to comprehend death on a daily basis. My time is up (selling the headstones – the rest I shall leave up to fate) and I’m moving on. Life is for the living and I am not ready to be permanently amongst the dead just yet (and yes, we literally sometimes have dead ‘Boris’ ashes in the office).

What do you do for a living?… “I see dead people.” In the pain of the deceased.

And, on this very cheery note, I shall leave you with some inspiration. One thing being around death has taught me is this – it ain’t no dress rehearsal. Cliche. Truth.

THE DASH

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears,

but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth

and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash.

What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more

and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash,

would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

I dreamed a dream

But what the f#$k does it mean?

I read something the other day about how to get started with creative writing and the article made a point about keeping a pen and paper at the side of your bed, as dreams can be a way of unlocking some ideas for creative writing. Not sure the other half would be best pleased at this (being woken in the middle of the night as I rush to pour all my thoughts on to paper), but thankfully my dreams are so vivid I can still remember them in the morning!!

Don’t get me wrong, as I’m sure this is a good idea for many, but since I stopped drinking (not completely sober but very rarely partake anymore) my dreams have become so wild and unfathomable that I’m not sure they even come into the realms of ‘creative’ anymore… more just really weird! I would love someone (a dream specialist) to sit down and attempt to interpret them.

There is lots going on in life at the moment, exams coming up, new job starts next month, training, the side hustle, the other half’s business.. so my already overactive mind is crazy busy, busy. This dream in particular though – truly Bizarre.

So, the dream begins in a portacabin (as all good dreams do). At the end of the cabin there is a hugely out of place expensive dark wood desk with a grandiose high-backed chair behind it (think Oval Office). The floor is a green carpet of fake grass. The desk is facing the doorway, which I am stood in, waiting. A man comes in behind me, I am expecting him, but nervous all the same. He is wearing a black suit, with a red spotted tie and carrying a brown briefcase. He says nothing as he brushes past but sits down in the chair and opens the briefcase on to the desk. The briefcase is empty. He opens the top drawer of the desk and silently pulls out a piece of orange card, about A5 size. He waves it in the air, then places it in the briefcase in a manner somewhat akin to a magician about to perform a magic trick. He snaps the briefcase shut and winds up the combination locks. He stands, and then he speaks,

“I will be gone some time. Until it’s all passed. And then I shall return. I will keep it safe.”

He stands and as he walks past me to leave, he stops and puts his hand on my shoulder,

“Watch out for the snake, for it grows bigger by the day. It will try to kill you all.”

And then he’s gone.

I run to the swimming pool where the snake is thrashing around in the water. It’s huge. There are other people there, who I don’t know, trying to control it with sticks and fishing nets.

“We need the Goblin!” someone shouts to me, and I rush off to find him.

The Goblin is actually Gollum from Lord of the Rings and (apparently) if he can manage to swallow the snake whole, it will be banished for good.

The snake is now so big it would be impossible to get your hands around it, but somehow it is drawn to the Goblin’s mouth. He sucks it all down whole but I am having a problem with where it’s actually gone as it would’ve filled the stomachs of 10 goblins, never mind one. The lack of scientific/logical explanation is baffling and bothering me. I need to know how it worked…where has the f$%kin snake gone?

Then my son Jack appears by my side, only he’s about 8 again. He holds my hand and tells me not to worry about it. “The snake has gone Mum. That’s all that matters.”

But we are now on a boat, and the waves are crashing over the side. We are struggling to stand straight as it rocks from side to side. There is water coming in everywhere and we need to get off. I grab Jack’s hand and we move to the edge of the deck. I need my backpack but am struggling to get my arms in. I need both arms in so it doesn’t fall off. The zip is open and I’m going to lose stuff out of it. I have to take it off again to zip it up. I check my purse is in there. My purse and my woolly gloves. I put it back on quickly. We are running out of time. Luck is on our side and we are getting closer to the shore. If we get the timing right we can jump off before it sinks. I take a deep breath, my spacial awareness is rubbish and I’m praying I get this right.

“Are you ready?” I shout to Jack, who has a hold of my hand again, he nods, smiling, seemingly unbothered by the trauma. “One, two, three…” and as we are ready to go for the biggest, most mammoth jump of our entire lives, the boat runs aground and we safely do a tiny hop onto the sandy beach below.

My brother appears behind us, after also jumping off the boat (and having lost several stone since last time I saw him). He is wearing skinny black jeans and his Doc Martins like he used to at 17/18. He grins at me, “it’s always easier than you think” he says, and then he runs off into the forest.

How on earth this dream could be the start of a creative writing piece, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t know who or what the snake represents and I’m not sure my brother has really run anywhere since PE at school, let alone into the forest. And the orange card? Who knows?

I lay awake for ages after, trying to analyse it, wondering what it all meant. Then I realised that half the message in the dream was to stop analysing everything.

The mind is a curious place, but my sober mind is even curioser. Screenshot_20181102-103350_Google

 

NAILED IT!! – SOBER EIGHTY (SOBRIETY) CHALLENGE – “JUST THE TONIC” – Complete

Could you stay sober for 80 days???

3 months ago on a holiday in Northumberland, after a few weeks of contemplation and some serious insight into what alcohol was doing to me, I came up with the idea of going sober for 80 days.

When I say “what alcohol was doing to me”, there was no major situation, no collapsing in a heap, no mad night out with an alcohol induced coma, no waking up with a million regrets.. it just hit me steady – like, my casual weekend drinking is making me feel like shit about myself and doing bad things to my body and I am relying on alcohol for far too many things.

Today marks the end of that challenge and I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned and also the changes that have occurred. It’s pretty weird to sit the other side of the fence after spending years and years with an alcoholic beverage in hand.

So here we go;

1. Alcohol is ethanol. Ethanol is poison. Alcohol is therefore a toxic, poisonous substance. Like really, not being dramatic with words, this is actual scientific truth. Actual poison. Worse than that, we drink poison to have a ‘good time’. This irony is totally mind blowing to me.

2. Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking, and the only drug people will try to persuade you to continue to take. No-one would dispute it if you said you were giving up cigarettes, cocaine or heroin.

3. Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Truth bomb.

4. If you go Sober people automatically suspect you may be an alcoholic. Grey area for me. I’ve never been physically dependent, but pyschologically?? – for sure. It’s just a sliding scale from tee total downwards and where you sit on that scale is most often not where you’d like to be. No-one wants to admit they have a problem though.

5. Most people who drink alcohol are dependent on it to some degree. And if you think you’re not, you are probably kidding yourself. See point no.4.

6. Alcohol is that cleverly packaged and marketed and such an intrinsic part of society that we have all been brainwashed to believe;
a. It is necessary to have a good time – life must be so boring sober.. right?
b. It is a reward, hard earned and deserved (who treats themselves with poison? – “mummy needs wine”)

7. We are therefore all sheeples – everyone else does it so it must be ok. I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by people who drink – a lot. I think there is an underlying reason for that.

8. In becoming sober I have found clarity of thought, I have managed to stick to a fitness program. I have more energy, more motivation and I have found my waistline again. My eyes are brighter, my skin is smoother and I genuinely feel a lot happier. I eat better and I could win competitions for sleeping.

9. There is a sober movement out there which I never knew existed. Sober parties and festivals. People enjoying themselves without drink. It is an evolution that is finding a voice, collecting supporters, and steadily growing.

10. I have missed so many things throughout life by being too pissed to be present, too wasted to appreciate the moments. I have spent lots of money, and hidden myself behind alcohol. Days wasted hungover. This makes me sad.

I have gained so much from being sober and lost nothing, apart from that which is better to lose.

So, challenge complete and I am super proud of what I’ve achieved (along with my partner in crime who’s had his own tests over the last 80 days and been awesome support).

What happens now there are no self imposed restrictions? Are we drinkers or are we non-drinkers?

For now, I’m not quite ready to give up on all I’ve attained, not willing to return to old habits. I have life goals, fitness targets, focus – and alcohol will not help me achieve any of these.

It has been a life changing experience.

Could you stay sober for 80 days???

Well done to all the others who joined in our challenge too!! 20180919_081450hangover-photo

The Sober Eighty Challenge – Just the Tonic. Day 74 sober. Deal With It.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being sober. Right now I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there are times when the self-recognition hits you like a big wet fish slap around the face.
This is me.
Being sober makes shit more prominent – the good shit and the bad shit. The bad shit is having to accept the odd, the crap, the ugly sides of your own personality that you now have to sit with as you can no longer avoid them. You cannot drink away any insecurities, anxieties or oddities. You have to actually deal with them. There is nothing to hide behind, no pretence. Some days it’s just fucking raw.
This is me.
So, my daily morning routine consists of a cup of tea, breakfast and a little social media scrolling (I’m normally alone). Today I have woken up in an odd mood courtesy of my sober sleep which is now riddled with dreams and I am still processing. Then I see something in my FB notifications that makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach.
….I’ve received an invite to an ‘event’ – a fitness and yoga workshop.
WTF??? Yes, this is me. Who else would find this a total trauma?
To most people this would be, you know, what a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning. I must obvs go hang with some babes for a couple of hours in my cool and trendy gym gear and get in a good workout and some good stretching… and….
To me: Literal Horror. Panic about who will be there, how many will be there. Panic about how to politely decline. Panic about whether there is an actual need to respond. Finally decide to respond and then panic over what I’ve written in said response. Too much to think about and it’s barely 6.30am. I can’t go ‘cos I’m busy so I don’t know why all the stress and at the end of the day basically no-one will give a shit anyway. Frustrated with self.
The problem is the instant reaction in my head: Have received invite to spend morning with big group of cliquey women and have to pay for the privilege. No way bitches.
*shudders
*pulls imaginary blanket over head
It’s always lovely to receive invites and I must say at this point – it’s not you, it’s me. And I don’t mean offence at the clique. Honest. What makes me think such horrible thoughts!!??
I am essentially an introvert. Most groups look like a clique to me. How it’s taken me 41 years to figure this out I’ll never know. You may have once seen me at the party of the century, hilariously pissed, dancing like there’s nobody watching (and hoping the next day that nobody actually was), spilling wine, falling over, losing shoes, coat, phone and/or handbag (delete as appropriate), partying like I am everyone’s friend and the life and soul. Social butterfly. I’ll talk shit to anyone when I’m drunk.
In real life, there are very few big groups that I ever want to hang out with, especially groups of women. I just don’t belong. I find small talk a huge waste of energy expenditure. Big groups of women make me feel uncomfortable.
This is me.
I have a lot to give, I’m just very selective about who I give it to. I’m also very selective about how.
Energy is my currency… I want to save it and spend it wisely.

There was a time I didn’t like being the odd one out, tried desperately hard to fit in. I believed life was a popularity contest and the more friends you had the more you were winning at life.
Needless to say this is probably why and where my relationship with alcohol began.
Nowadays I don’t feel the need to try to fit in so much. Why should I try to pretend to be someone I’m not? I’ll always be odd. Not antisocial, just…lets say… a little picky?

Embrace it.

I am better in small groups, with other odd friends (sorry, but if you’re my friend there’s a strong likelihood you are) and (after my little mini melt down this morning) I’ll get comfortable with that. The sober me is a little up and down, dealing with my shy, awkward, weird self but at the same time I’m regrouping, rediscovering, remembering, regrounding, reconnecting and that can never be a bad thing.
This is totally fucking me.

Day 36 – The Sober Eighty Challenge – minor meltdown

Just the Tonic.

When I started out on my Sober Eighty Challenge, I had this idea that I would journal ALL my thoughts and feelings throughout the process, even down to how much/what I’m eating and hours spent sleeping. You know, real exciting stuff – a documentation of the ‘get sober’ process so to speak. Ammunition for the future perhaps? Inspiration for others maybe? I thought I would have loads to say, but I have so much going on in my head that I sort of do, but I also sort of don’t at the same time. It’s complicated. I’m not sure which of my feelings to put into words as I keep shuffling the deck of cards in my head.

I sailed through the first few weeks, feeling on top of the world. Check me out, all SHINY and SOBER…[do a happy dance] but I was far too busy to write much as I was filling my time with all the other things I didn’t normally do when I was drinking. Busier than a busy bee. Domestic goddess/fitness fanatic/reader of lots of books/daytripping with the other half. Happy as a pig in shit. Woo hoo! Living my best life, bitches.

…And then the newness wore off and the sober euphoria started to dwindle. And I had nothing of any real interest to say. It just started to feel like normal life. This is good, I guess, but not very exciting from a writing perspective. How inspiring. Went to work, came home. Went to the gym, ate tea. Slept a lot. Rock and roll.

Then this weekend, Friday, Day 33, I left work feeling just a little out of sorts. Perhaps I was a bit tired but I just had this general feeling of apathy…couldn’t be arsed to do anything. Didn’t want to work out, didn’t want to do people, didn’t want to be all jazzy sober happy. I just wanted to go home and curl up on the sofa…with a BIG FAT COLD GLASS OF WINE. And there it was. And I realised straight away, I didn’t even want one glass of wine, I wanted to nail the fucking bottle.

I walked past all the shops in town as fast as my legs would go, feeling miserable and deprived. Got home, locked the doors, made a cup of camomile tea, got in a big bubble bath. Shut the world out. Feeling marginally better, I tried to figure out what had happened. What was the trigger? I wasn’t upset. I hadn’t had a bad day. A friend is having a tough time at home, (but won’t talk about it) – am I that much of a worrying empath that it drives me to drink? I’m happy sober, life is good, why would I think I needed a bottle of wine?

The questions haunted me for a good 24hrs before I realised what was really bothering me. The triggers will become more apparent the more cravings I have, that much I’m sure of. This was my first major battle and there will be plenty more to come. I can deal with them every day for the rest of the 80 days if that’s the way it goes.

But, what happens when the challenge is over, when my 80 days are done and I have no self imposed restrictions? What’s going to stop me from buying, and guzzling, that bottle of wine? Straw? It made me quite sad. And also a little hopeless. Then the other half reminded me (after sensitively picking up on my mood and buying me 2 big bunches of flowers) that we need not be thinking about the end of the challenge just yet, as we are not even half way through. We can deal with the rest when we get there, one day at a time.

By Sunday, my head fart was over. Hello Sunday Morning!! I think I had been starting to forget…maybe what William Porter talks about as Fading Effect Bias; where good memories persist longer than the bad ones and we tend to view events in the past in a more positive light as time passes. The rose tinted glasses. (Or rosé tinted). 🍷Then Sunday morning after waking from my alcohol free proper night’s rest, at 7.30am, with a nice cup of tea and a clear head, I noticed a couple of “live” stories/vids on my Insta feed. One was from the legend Andy at One Year No Beer (which was one of the inspirations for doing my own challenge). He was talking about all the wonderful things you gain from being alcohol free. One of them being TIME. Alcohol is the thief of time. I now have lots of time. Thank you Andy. The other “live” was a bunch of people “living their best lives”, out on a sesh, drunk. The antithesis. It was like seeing both extremes of my life. Side by side. And then I realised the other thing I have gained from being alcohol free, which is FREEDOM. I survived the first major craving and had a great weekend. I am a Warrior. So, for now, the cravings can do one. I am feeling grateful for the small pleasures in life, the sober life. And whilst I realise at times I am swimming against the tides of an ethanol imbibing culture, this is most definitely the best life I have lived in a long time.

Arrested Development

Just the Tonic – Sober Eighty Challenge

In amongst all my alcohol reading and research (I forgot how much I love books), I have read on a few occasions this notion that alcohol stunts your emotional growth.

 “because there is a rule of thumb in psychotherapy, that whatever age you start “using” is the emotional age at which you’re stuck. So, if you first used alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex or whatever it is that you discovered made you instantly “feel better” at age 14, then you will be stuck with the capacity of a 14-year old to deal with difficult emotions.” Charlotte Stapf

Lit. Yaaasss. Psych. [Insert Sarcasm emoji]. FFS, does that mean I have to go through puberty again (late developer)???

So, now I am peeling back the layers of the sober Nicky onion, I have discovered that I’m a peri-menopausal woman with the emotional capacity of a 15-year old! Well, not quite, but there is some truth in it. I have pretty much been drunk since the age of 15. Not 24-7 of course, but I have travelled along that alcoholic roller coaster which involves getting drunk, recovering, drinking some more, recovering a little more and then back to the drinking again. Sometimes vowing never to drink again. Sometimes longer spells between drinking. Sometimes drinking nearly every day (student life gave me the best excuse to drink daily, at any time of day and for peanuts. I was constantly pissed for about a year and a half before I left Uni – another story). Week in, week out. Year by year.

For 26 years.

Not an alcoholic, of course, but I will say that moderation is not a word in my alcohol vocabulary. I have managed dry January several times now (mostly to give my body a break and convince myself I am absolutely not an alcoholic and I don’t have a drinking problem) and I once gave up alcohol for a short period of time after leaving Uni, as I recognised it as a catalyst to the deep depression I was in. I can manage without. I can go days through the week without having a drink (about 3 or 4 as a rule). Just the rest of the time I choose to use it to manage.

On the flip side to periods of sobriety, I have had drinking binges that have thrown me into the other side of oblivion. Catatonic. Nights where I could barely walk and talk. I have fallen over, blacked out, ended up in places I shouldn’t have, put my life at risk with strangers. I have woken with UDI’s, lost my memory (and my purse), made a fool of myself, and felt huge ‘hang your head’ shame. I have been in such an emotional drunk state, I have sat hugging my knees sobbing, deep, gut-wrenching sobs, rocking, feeling helpless, dismayed at the shadow of a person I had become and searching desperately for the person I had left behind.

I have been so hungover that I have been unable to move, or to eat. So hungover that I felt like my face had shrunk and my lips went all weird and tight when I talked. I have lost feeling in my little finger (on several occasions), not been able to hear properly (I have no idea why or how that happened) and suffered the worst anxiety of my entire life.

I think to a certain degree I have been a lot steadier with my consumption as I have got older, but this is in comparison to the above. This might also be a little bit more to do with the fact that we go #outout a lot less. But, on reflection, at an average of 50 units a week on a ‘steady’ week (easier done than you think), I was still drinking too much.

I recognise now that I have used alcohol to self-medicate for many years. Originally, I “used” alcohol to try and be fun and fit in. At 15 I was gawky, gangly tall, flat chested, ginger and shy – all the best qualities for a teenage girl. Alcohol gave me a little confidence boost, made me feel a little wild. It helped me party with the cool kids. I soon learnt that it was also a good way to forget; to numb the pain of a childhood trauma; to erase the emotional scars, to anesthetise the worry and the anxiety, and I’ve been that way ever since. When times are tough, stressful or I have experienced any kind of emotions that I have struggled to get to grips with (and not just the negative ones, there are others I wrestle with too) – alcohol has been my “friend”.

Tough day at work? Hit the bottle.

Feeling a little anxious/insecure/nervous/tired/upset/confused/worried/lonely/depressed? Hit the bottle.

Fight with the boyfriend? Hit several bottles…. You get the picture.

The coping mechanism only works for a while. You can numb the feelings temporarily, living in a little alcohol induced bubble for a while, but the problems don’t disappear, and the emotions are still there when you wake up, only with a foggy mind and a fuzzy head you are even less able to deal with them and they seem ten times worse. It may be a cliché but it’s also a fact.

Some may call my sobriety a bit of a mid-life crisis, as I reassess and try to work it all out. I have been very contemplative since I decided to go sober and I feel that I need to revisit some of the things I used to love doing as a child, to see if they still make me tick and to find out what truly makes my soul happy.  Alcohol replaced time (drinking takes away a lot of time) and time that used to be spent doing the things I loved.

It feels a little strange to be facing the world in its true and raw form daily. When you have anesthetised yourself for so long, you forget you were numbing the good parts at the same time too. Sobriety is bringing with it a strange wide-eyed euphoria, a natural high that no drug can provide. I am finding joy and beauty in the smallest of things and my inner childish hippy is thriving. And we’re only on Day 12.

I am a little nervous but excited about this new Chapter in life, as I learn how to live sober.

Day 10 Sober – Just the Tonic

So I am now on Day 10 of the Sober Eighty challenge and I thought I’d keep you up to speed with progress. I was hoping I’d have some amusing anecdotes or stories to share. Nope. Sorry. Life has been pretty normal. Nothing of interest to really report. I had a couple of pangs for alcohol over the weekend, but they soon disappeared.

I have drunk a non-alcoholic beer

I saved a bit of money.. but spent it on new shoes and clothes

I am sleeping better (sort of as it’s too hot to sleep properly)

I lost just over 1lb in weight

My eyes and skin look brighter

I feel alive and have heaps of energy. I’m getting shit done. With a clear head.

10 days sober

We haven’t encountered our first proper social experience sober yet though and I have heard stories about peer pressure from other people in the challenge group. I mean why on earth would you want to be sober? This view that somehow you’re depriving yourself and “missing out” because you’re not drinking. “It’s a bad time of year to give up, what with the football and the nice weather with everyone sat in beer gardens”..erm why do I need to drink to watch football? Is it really going to enhance the game?? And if I want to enjoy the sunshine, I may go walking, running or get my bike out. And if we really fancy some pub culture, we are more than capable of sitting in a beer garden with an alcohol free product to imbibe! But thank you for your support.

I’m currently reading a lot about alcohol and therefore understanding more completely what it does to our bodies and brains. Now I’m worried if people ask why I’m sober it’s going to be a rather preachy answer.. “because …

alcohol is an addictive toxin packaged into attractive bottles, marketed with billions of dollars/(pounds) of advertising and so deeply ingrained in
popular culture that we can no longer see it for what it really is.” Craig Beck
Yeah that. And that’s just the opening statement.
I don’t want to get preachy. But in the same breath, if someone were telling you they were giving up smoking, you wouldn’t try and force them to have a fag.
But drinking isn’t as bad for you as smoking…
Isn’t it?
Remember the days when smoking adverts were full of cool, trendy, hyp people. Then the adverts eventually got banned, then the warnings appeared on the packets, then it got banned in public places…
Not saying alcohol will be banned in public places (god forbid) but I think there’s a reason we are not regularly given all the facts and that it doesnt come with a warning label. Do you know how many people die of alcohol related disease each year?
But it’s so cool to drink…the gin culture, the prosecco ladies, the cool beer/cider ads. The ingrained belief that we need alcohol to have a good time… we’ve all been brainwashed.
And I was too. For 26 years in my own head believing I needed alcohol to be fun, to have a good time, to make me more interesting, to burst the shy bubble.
Except now I am rebelling against the norm and I think [newsflash] that I am possibly more interesting without a drink than with. And the more I read, the less I feel I want to drink again, like ever.
Now I’m starting to feel like I want to be a part of the Sober Evolution. Do you know there are people organising really cool sober events. Parties. Here, in the UK. People reportedly even have fun at them.
So how’s my challenge going? Not how I expected. I realise now my biggest hurdle has nothing to do with dependancy or addiction, it has to do with society. How other people react to my sobriety.
#sorrynotsorry
If you have issue with my abstinence it says a lot more about you than it does me.
So yes, 10 days in and I’m feeling quite preachy, a little defensive but also rock solid and very, very positive.

SOBER EIGHTY (SOBRIETY) CHALLENGE – “JUST THE TONIC”

Could you stay sober for 80 days?

Most people [I know] will answer this question with a “NO”. I mean, why would you want to? Alcohol is part of life, right?

I wonder if it’s to do with the circles I mix in, or that British social culture seems to revolve around alcohol – beer gardens, cocktail bars, clubs and pubs? We are a nation of Sober Shamers and Alcohol Pushers (myself known to be one of them) and I know very few people who don’t drink at all.

Unless you’re pregnant (“you can still have the odd one, surely…?”) or driving… or maybe allergic or something… then why on Earth would you decide to stay sober?

You’re going to have to have a really, really, good reason. 

So, why am I going Sober for 80 days?

I was going to try and hide behind the whole fitness thing – like, I’m in serious training for an off-road marathon and I want to lose weight, so I can run faster, especially up hills. Whilst this is true, and I think that drinking alcohol does not allow me to reach my full fitness potential, and I am training for a marathon (and curious to see if sobriety makes any difference to my performance), this is not the main reason I am doing this.

Then, I thought I could say I want to abstain for a while because of mental health issues – it exacerbates my anxiety and can make me feel a bit down for a few days after a big session. This is all also true, however not the main reason.

OR, maybe I could drop the truth bomb and say that I have started to feel uncomfortable with my dependency on alcohol.

Am I an alcoholic? No.

Do I feel the need to drink more nights of the week than I don’t? Yes.

Do I struggle with moderation? Yes. I am an “all or nothing” girl. I try to be moderate. Sometimes it works, sometimes I’m drunk.

Can I go long spells without alcohol? Only if it’s dry January, everyone else is doing it, no-one goes out anyway and there is no fear of missing out. Fake sober = no problem.

Have I had a recent, horrendous experience with alcohol creating a knee jerk, “I’m never drinking again” reaction? No….

But… over the years there is an accumulation of secret drinking, pre-drinking, binge drinking, drinking left over wine from the night before whilst cooking breakfast (OK, only on very rare occasions, but still..). There is the obsession with how much I’m drinking, or not drinking, if I’m drinking too fast, can I get to the wine first before someone else finishes the bottle. Quick, fill your glass up. Don’t get too drunk tonight.. OOPS *falls over *falls asleep *falls out of love with self ~ drinks more to get through the guilt. Shopping…when can we get to the pub? Sight-seeing.. when can we get to the pub?  Where is all the alcohol at this party? Then, there’s the blackouts, doing stupid things, saying stupid things, falling over, UDI’s, arguments, deep depression, a rocking sadness. Despair. Shame.

These have all made me question my relationship with alcohol.

OK, so most of these things don’t happen on a regular basis and many of them not for a long time now. I would even go so far to say my current alcohol consumption is pretty average, and with some of the people I know, it’s actually way below par.

Just, for some reason, I’m not comfortable with it being “the norm” anymore.

Maybe, I just got sober curious.

Maybe, I just want to fly without being “high”

Maybe, I want to view the world with a little clarity for a while.

Maybe, I feel the need to rebel against the societal norms.Blog pic

Maybe, (a little bit deep this one) I want to rediscover the person I was before I started to hide behind alcohol, but the grown-up version.

At the end of the day there is a bigger question here, which is why do I feel the need to explain myself? Can I not just be sober and that be an OK thing to do?

Will my sobriety offend you? And if so, why?

Food for thought.

So, the challenge starts on Monday 2nd July – DAY ONE, which takes us to 19th September as DAY EIGHTY.

My average weekly consumption when staying in = around 6 bottles cider and 2-3 bottles of wine over the course of Thurs – Sunday.

PER WEEK that’s going to be a saving of;

£30-£40

50 UNITS (that is the part that shocked me the most – strong cider!)

and about 3,500 calories. 

I will be documenting the highs and lows of being SOBERCHIC here on the Brightside blog and will be setting up a private Facebook group – if required – for a bit of moral support, so let me know if you care to join me on my mission to becoming SOBER AF.

#soberisthenewblack #sobriety #soberchic #justthetonic #eightydayathlete #sobereightychallenge

Do you even Yoga?

Recently I have been hearing a lot about yoga and reading a lot about yoga. Yoga is presenting itself in so many new varieties – the combo classes; beer yoga, aqua yoga, acro yoga, wine yoga, dog yoga, power yoga, pizza yoga and of course the trendy classes; aerial yoga, hot yoga..
Do you even Yoga??
I mean – it’s a growing trend – but I’m not one of those to jump on the bandwagon, “just because”.
I wish I could be like the cool kids.. erm.. perhaps not…
I like to do my research and whichever way you look at it (I would say “or do it” but I’m not sure about some of the combos..) the benefits of yoga are second to none.
“Several studies have found that yoga can help improve cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, balance, and overall quality of life — and it can even reduce stress, anxiety, and pain.” Health.harvard.edu
“More and more people and athletes are participating in yoga based therapies to both recover from and prevent injuries.. Yoga opens up the mind, body and spirit. It literally can heal your body.” Cleveryoga.com
OK, as a runner recovering from injury and a long time sufferer of bouts of depression and anxiety (now mostly managed.. but still), dealing with the bereaved on a daily basis and having a sometimes slightly stressful job..
I need to get me some yoga..
But which class? Even in our sleepy, slightly slow to catch on market town there are several yoga classes and, more importantly to me, yoga teachers to choose from.
After a few months of procrastinating and making excuses, I realised for some reason I just didn’t feel comfortable joining any of the classes. So, I downloaded a few instructions and videos on sun salutations, which I practised at home for a few days before I got bored and gave up my dreams of achieving those oh so perfect bendy “insta” yoga poses (love-hate Instagram) and that was that. Then one day I was sports massaging a client from JDW Fitness, Ellie, who I knew was a keen yogi and a little spiritual being (small in stature, big of heart) and she was telling me how she was taking herself off to India for a month to become a bendy guru (yoga teacher). Wow. I mean, what an adventure!
Ellie returned, fully teacher qualified, and immediately set up some classes to share her newfound knowledge and passion for yoga.
Now, call me a bit of a traditionalist but while doing “research” I realised that while contemporary Western yoga tends to focus on yoga as physical exercise – power yoga, hot yoga, aerial yoga – the history of yoga is actually much broader than physical poses alone. I love that it has a rich philosophical and ethical ethos. I understand how beneficial breathing exercises and meditation can be, and without sitting cross legged and chanting (totally puts me off). This is what I want from a yoga class – am I asking a lot? I don’t want to go there comparing myself to flexibilty of others, or compete to see who can get that perfect pose. My research tells me that the fundamental philosophy of yoga encourages us to be non-judgmental and compassionate to others and ourselves. I want to become attuned to my own individual self, self-aware and accepting. I want to learn new stuff and I also want to be Zen.
I also read that some yoga teachers integrate lessons on important principles, such as kindness, truthfulness, and self-discipline into their classes.
So how did I know this is what Ellie would provide in her classes and this was a good one to choose?
I didn’t. Instinct maybe suggested she would be a good fit, but I just got my backside there and gave it a try.
I love Ellie’s Vinyasa flow classes. They are everything that I was hoping for and more. Challenging, inspiring and relaxing.
I’ve only been twice and weird things happen in Yoga that I totally wasn’t prepared for – which is a whole other blog.
Needless to say, I think it’s filled a hole, something that was missing in my life. My journey with yoga may have just begun, but I know without a shadow of a doubt it’s here to stay.
You can check out Ellie’s Vinyasa Flow classes at the Town Hall in Thirsk every Tuesday night at 8pm.

I am not f#$king Eeyore

It isn’t that I don’t like Eeyore.. I just hate the notion that everyone with mental health issues are branded with the same brush. Gloomy, depressed, morbid and a total party pooper to be around. It’s just not [indignantly] me! I am lively, very intelligent and fun. Just sometimes I struggle and feel a little numb.

Anyway, going back to poor old Eeyore, I never realised that Winnie the Pooh is just an expression of loads of different mental health issues. Winnie himself has OCD and ADHD. Piglet has general anxiety disorder. Owl has dyslexia. Tigger has ADHD. Kanga has social anxiety. Rabbit has OCDs and Eeyore is a big fat depressive. What a bunch of misfits!! Wonder how they all ended up hanging around together??

The moral of the Christopher Robin stories? For me…

We are not alone, life is not perfect, but together we are a great team. Life is full of adventures and made for great friendships.

I am quite vocal and have been a bit braver with my social media posts regarding mental health of late. I have had an overwhelming response, both publicly and privately. It seems I know a lot of beautiful people – and I’m not talking the kind who have perfect hair/make up and their eyebrows “on fleek” – although that may apply to some of them…I mean the beautiful on the inside kind of people… The best ones to know.

We are all aware that exercise can help mental health issues, however, when you’re having a tough time, things like getting to a fitness class can create massive anxiety (and become a huge monumental effort), and depression can leave us feeling a little less than motivated.
So – I thought perhaps something a little less extreme – a walk, a social gathering – get a bit of sunlight and some Vitamin D.
So I created an event.

The first weekend of January I hosted our first ever “Walk and Talk” (5k walk in the woods). This is not a counselling session but a social gathering. The aims;
1. Trying to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues.
2. A chance to blow off some cobwebs, absorb a little Vit D, inhale some fresh country air in them lungs and get moving.

Approximately 40 people turned up despite a few issues getting up the bank due to the icy weather and we had a lovely walk.

Today was the second effort and we had about 25 of the “Suicide Squad” out in the woods – grown ups, children (and on top of that our very well behaved 4 legged friends). It’s not quite as awe inspiring as Mr Jake Tyler (Black Dog Walks) with his 3000 mile run/walk – but every little helps.. we are doing our bit, and for that I’m extremely proud.

Ever been in a car with a claustrophobic, a sufferer of adhd and a depressive? Makes for very interesting conversation 😂
#mentalhealth #itsoktosay #walkandtalk #mind