Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The positives I will take from the pandemic

In Hong Kong we are now in our ninth week of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Since around 20th January schools and universities have been closed.  At the same time the government shut down all non-essential government offices. Many businesses closed their offices with employees working from home. Children’s playgrounds, museums, theatres, gyms and other leisure facilities closed.  Concerts, music festivals and sporting events, including the infamous Hong Kong Sevens, were cancelled.

Nowadays, it is rare to see people leave their homes without wearing face masks and if we do we will receive evil looks and even abuse on the street.  Many offices, bars, clubs and restaurants will not allow us to enter until we have had our temperature checked.  Hand sanitizer is readily available for us to use in banks, shops, offices, residential buildings, even on public transport, although pretty much all of us have our own supply to hand at all times. Buildings have strategically placed sanitized mats outside them for us to wipe our feet on before entering.  Lift buttons are covered with plastic film, which are sanitized throughout the day.   On top of this, we are constantly washing our hands.  There is an ever-present scent of bleach and Dettol permeating the city. 
Me in a face mask

Hong Kong has experienced a pandemic before with SARS and its legacy has remained etched into the core of society here. As a result everyone was poised to leap into action the moment news of the Covid-19 outbreak hit the news and being a collectivist society people have worked together for the greater good, regardless of the personal sacrifices they have had to make.  Despite keeping our border with China open throughout, Hong Kong successfully managed the outbreak and we went from being a high risk area that people were fleeing from, to a sanctuary people wanted to return to as the pandemic took hold elsewhere.  The inevitable outcome being that just when it looked as though our restrictions could ease up and life could return to some form of ‘normal’, a significant number of cases have been imported into the territory and we are experiencing additional stringent measures to maintain control. 

While we have been living with this since January, the situation around the world and especially in Europe and the US, has literally exploded in the past week.  It has been really quite frightening to watch the snail-paced reaction of Western countries, who had plenty of warning that this was heading their way.  Why weren’t they following the lead of Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and Taiwan who implemented very strict measures from the moment the first infections were diagnosed and had been able to keep on top of the situation?

I have felt incredibly worried about the unclear advice given by governments – and I refer specifically to the UK government as that is the one I follow on a daily basis – and how seemingly unprepared they have been.  I have been overwhelmed with anxiety watching the UK lay out their initial strategy of herd immunity without clearly spelling out the vital importance of the older population self-isolating – and making them understand what that actually means.  I have looked on in dismay at the news footage of panic buying, which we experienced here, but that the UK has taken to an entirely new level.  I have been alarmed at the scenes of vast crowds heading to the beaches and parks over the weekend, completely disregarding the advice to socially distance.  I have felt ashamed of the few who have thought of no one except for themselves or simply haven’t yet grasped the potential impact of this pandemic. I have watched the government delay enforcing containment measures, while watching the UK infection and death rates rise each day and I have felt sick with worry for my friends and family who are experiencing this first hand.

However, despite the intense worry and utter uncertainty, this pandemic has also shone a spotlight on a number of things that I'd never really taken the time to consider before.

1. Nothing is certain

Before the pandemic struck, I felt that I had my life fairly well mapped out and I felt relatively secure. Suddenly the rug has been ripped from under my feet and since January I have been battling with the ‘What ifs?’, that had always been there because I am a natural born worrier, but they are no longer muted in a cupboard – they are screaming at me from the top of their lungs 24/7.  What if we lose our jobs? What if we can’t afford to relocate back to England? What if we can’t find work back in England? What if our tenants stop paying their rent? What if? What if? What if?

The first thing I did in January, before clearing the supermarket shelves of loo roll (joke!), was to look at our monthly income and outgoings.  I identified where we could make savings and negotiated those savings.  I found out the cost of relocation and how quickly it could be arranged.  I looked to see if we could find somewhere cheaper to live in Hong Kong. The list goes on… I realise now that this was my way of trying to regain control of a situation that really is beyond my control.  I guess other people resorted to clearing supermarket shelves and stocking up on loo roll as an alternative approach to taking back some control.

As things started going crazy in Europe, this quote from Aron Moss, a rabbi from Sydney, Australia popped up on one of the social media channels, “It is not that we have lost our sense of certainty. We have lost our illusion of certainty. We never had it to begin with. This could be majorly unsettling, or amazingly liberating…. Close your eyes and feel the uncertainty, make peace with it, let yourself be taken by it. Embrace your cluelessness.”

I have had plenty of time to mull over this in the past week or so and I have found it quite comforting.  It simply reinforces the importance of living in the present and being grateful for what we have now in this moment in time.

2. Gaining pleasure from the simple things

Something I had never appreciated until the pandemic took hold was that it is apparent now that many of us are only a couple of pay slips away from being up shit creek.  If salaries and commissions dry up and jobs are lost, there are very few of us who have the luxury of significant savings to keep us afloat for long.  Overnight we have had to cut out all unnecessary spending and just focus on what we need.  I have been forced to wake up to the fact that we really don’t need very much and it has emphasized just how wasteful we have been with our hard earned cash. 

I have discovered that I can get an enormous amount of pleasure from the simple things – taking a hike with a friend, finding the ingredients for a recipe at the wet market, cooking a meal, beating David at cards, reading a book, singing (when no one is around to hear me), writing.  With the schools here being closed, my life has been slowed down and I have been able to identify some really simple things I can do, that I thoroughly enjoy that cost very little money.  It really is the ordinary things that can bring us an immense amount of happiness.

3. Never taking family or friends for granted

Whenever crisis hits, I lean heavily on my family and my friends to get me through and Covid-19 is probably the biggest crisis most of us have had to face so far in our lives.  Since the virus took a grip of Europe I have been in daily contact with my parents, my brothers and their families, my cousins and my closest friends.  This is the first time that all of us have simultaneously been hit by an event, which will undoubtedly alter the course of all of our lives forever.  There is something very comforting knowing that we are all going through this together.  Over the past week I have spent a lot of time reconnecting with all the people I love the most in my life over WhatsApp, Facetime and Zoom and it has opened my eyes to just how much I take these important relationships for granted.  Nothing lifts the spirits faster than a good catch up with an old mate or a family member and right now I have plenty of time on my hands to do this.

I know that I am super lucky to have such a close-knit family and I feel secure in the knowledge that if we lost everything, one of them would take us under their wing and prop us up until we could get our lives back on course again.  Likewise, I know that David and I would do the same for any of them.  Being able to share our worries with each other and to reassure one another has been a life saver recently.

These are scary times and none of us know what is going to happen next.  However, positives can be drawn from the most challenging of times.  Today, I have money in my bank account.  My family, my friends and I are well.  I have a roof over my head.  I have food in the fridge.  I have chocolate in the cupboard.  Right now, everything is fine and who knows what tomorrow will bring.  Let’s just: keep focusing on what’s happening now and worry about the future later; try to find happiness in the simple things in life; and check in with one another regularly to make sure we are all getting the support we need.  This will pass.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Thank you, over and out...

Today is my first soberversary - the first of many more to come.  Happy soberversary to me!  To mark this very special day I've made a little video to say thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past year.  There have been so many of you who have made a difference to this, at times difficult, transition from a drinker to a non-drinker.  Some of you have left kind messages on my blog; some have written supportive posts on my social media feeds; others have taken the time to write heart-felt emails; some have spurred me on with encouraging comments said to my face.  Most importantly, the biggest difference you made was in accepting me as a non-drinker in this drinking world and I know this didn't feel comfortable for some of you at the start. I know without a shadow of doubt that if any or you had done this before me, I would have felt very uneasy about it!  I hope you can see now that as a drinker or a non-drinker, I am still the same person but just a far happier, more positive, less moody and more confident one without alcohol in my life.  Thank you everyone and enjoy my video - I felt a bit choked up at the end, which is why it ended a little abruptly!

So that's one year of no drinking done and I am so excited for what lies ahead... here's to a sober 2019!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Sobriety - the best Christmas present ever!

2018 will be my first ever sober Christmas as an adult and so far, so good.  As I checked my reflection in the mirror last night before I went out to dinner with friends, I felt slightly overcome with emotions.  I actually admired the person who was looking back at me, rather than zooming in on her flaws.  I looked and felt glowing and happy, healthy and slim - I hardly recognised myself.  All my hard work at changing my drinking habits, altering my self-image and focusing on leading a healthier life style had paid off and the end result was staring back at me in the mirror.  I took a picture so I could remember this feeling - it was a weirdly empowering moment.
This is the girl I always wanted to be

So the big question now is - will I ever drink again?  At the start of 2018 I stated that I would give up for the year, but in the back of my mind I wondered if I would actually even want to start drinking again after 12 months of abstaining.  As the year has progressed and slowly, slowly the illusion of what alcohol added to my life has been shattered, I know that I have no desire to return to my old life.  It seems to me that alcohol is the ultimate ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, with the majority of us engaged in an unspoken contract to wilfully disbelieve or ignore what deep down we know to be true.  We all get swept along by this fantasy because as humans we are motivated by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain and at the outset it appears that alcohol can deliver on both counts.  However, as you build a tolerance to it, you need more and more to increase the pleasure and numb the pain and before you know it you are dependent.  I know now that I've wasted too much time with my head buried in the sand, slowly breaking myself by believing alcohol added value to my life.

The drinking illusion, which bit by bit has been destroyed over the past 12 months, is as follows:

1. I do not need alcohol to relax

Having cultivated a habit over 30 years whereby drinking a glass or five of wine on a Friday and Saturday night was associated with relaxation, it was going to take time to change my perception.  For the first 6 months of sobriety I substituted alcohol for cake and chocolate and this helped mark the end of the working week and time to relax.  Over time it struck me that relaxation is actually a state of mind, and going for a foot massage, getting a manicure, doing a yoga class, getting stuck into a great book, writing a blog or simply hanging out with good mates and having a giggle is all I need to relax.

2. I do not need alcohol to give me confidence

I have never in my life felt more confident than I do now.  I can see that alcohol delivered false confidence whereby I would invariably say or do something to embarrass myself and then spend the next day(s) wallowing in a pool of shame and self-loathing.  Over the years alcohol stole my confidence and my self-respect.  Now that alcohol has left my system I have found a confidence I never believed I was capable of feeling and I will happily put myself into situations that previously would have felt totally out of my reach.

3. I do not need alcohol to make me feel better about being me

When I discovered the magical powers of Diamond White and Strongbow as a 17 year old, I felt I had stumbled across the elixir of life.  Cider deadened my feelings of not being enough and made me feel OK about myself momentarily.  I blindly carried on self-medicating with increasingly sophisticated tipples throughout my grown-up life.  When I quit drinking, I felt very vulnerable at first but at around 4 months sober, I noticed a huge shift in my mental health.  The nasty voices in my head shut up and I genuinely started to like myself.  Alcohol never made me feel as good about myself as I do today, almost 12 months alcohol-free.

4. I do not need alcohol to stand out and be noticed

Alcohol definitely helped me stand out and be noticed but primarily for the wrong reasons.  I feel far less insignificant  now and I know I stand out far more as I exude an aura of calm and confidence that I have never had previously.  I think people are more drawn to me as a result, I'm certainly much nicer, happier, more interesting, less bitter and less bitchy company than I ever was before.

5. I do not need alcohol to prop me up when times are tough

Over the years I have turned to alcohol to help me cope with difficult situations, from relationship break-ups and health scares, to bereavements and miscarriages.  In August something shit happened to David and I and it was the only time in the whole of 2018, when I thought how nice it would be to drink so I didn't have to think about what had happened.  However, by facing the situation head on I discovered that I was able to process it relatively quickly and avoid dwelling on it.  If I were still drinking, I'd still be fixated on this now but instead I've put it to bed and moved on. 

6. I do not need alcohol to help me celebrate

Alcohol has always been at my side through the good times and I have many happy memories of celebrating with a glass of something in my hand.  However, there were also times when the booze took control and I ended up celebrating a lot harder than I intended and woke up the next day filled with the fear.  This year I have partied and celebrated hard without my old friend alcohol.  Although it felt very awkward at first and I banished myself to the periphery of the shenanigans, things have improved dramatically as the year has progressed.  Now, going to a party and not drinking feels normal and I feel as comfortable joining in with the fun with a fresh lime and soda in my hand, as I would have done previously with a glass of bubbles.  The added bonus is that I will leave at the right time and wake up without a hangover.

For 30 years, I was captivated by alcohol and the web of lies it cleverly wove.  Now I know it lied to me and the truth is that alcohol is a powerful poison and a highly addictive drug.  I know that some people will feel uncomfortable reading these words - I know I would have done before I stopped drinking.  These changes I have experienced over the last 12 months are proof that this is the truth. Sobriety truly is the best Christmas present I could ever have given myself.  I sincerely hope that someone reading my blog will be able to relate to how I used to feel and my story will give them the confidence to give themself the gift of sobriety.

I really hope you find this useful and if you want to ask me any questions about my experience of getting sober, please do post a comment or privately message me at

Saturday, 15 December 2018

How have I changed since quitting drinking?

I've almost reached the end of my first sober year and  I am so grateful that I woke up to the fact that alcohol was no longer adding value to my life and instead was eroding my self-belief, confidence and happiness. I am thankful that I found the courage to acknowledge and address this and I am glad that I believed that my life could be better.  Since January, hope has been my wing-man.

Over the past year, I feel I have emerged from a slightly fragile and brittle shell and slowly, slowly I have evolved into someone strong, self-assured and courageous.  I had had glimpses of that person over the years but alcohol had muted her by welcoming in self-doubt, fear and shame.  Now, for the first time in my whole life, I can honestly say I am content to be me, I am proud to be me and I like myself.  That's quite a statement from someone who has spent so much time not feeling good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, slim enough, witty enough - you name it enough.  Quitting drinking has allowed me to tap into the person that already existed beneath the layers of insecurities and self-loathing, which were continually being added to by alcohol.

As a result, the main differences I have noticed in myself today versus a year ago are as follow:


I have always been adept at over-thinking situations and catastrophising but since stopping drinking my busy mind has calmed down and I no longer  jump to the most negative conclusion and paint the bleakest picture (I wrote about this change in this blog).  Nowadays I rarely dwell on stuff and I am far more likely to put a positive spin on situations and as a result I feel excited about life rather than anxious about what might be, but very probably won't be.


This year I have worked hard at being kinder to myself and altering my damaging self-talk.  This has been made so much easier without the cruel chitter-chatter that would fill my head, especially when I was hungover.  I discuss the power of positive words in this blog and explain how by altering my internal monologue I have been able to focus on my positive qualities and finally feel accepting of myself as I am.  The end result being that I feel confident, self-assured and fulfilled.


Disposing with the crutch that has propped me up has been a challenge in a world infused with alcohol, but one that I have confronted and conquered.  It took a lot of courage to admit that my relationship with alcohol was becoming toxic (see my goodbye to alcohol blog where I bared my soul) and bravery to do something about it.  Once I had managed to tap into these emotions, other things that had appeared impossible suddenly seemed very possible.  These days my response to invitations to try out new experiences will invariably be met with 'why not' rather than refusals.  Now, I am also much more likely to put myself into uncomfortable, unfamiliar situations with the attitude that I have nothing to lose but everything to gain by giving it a go.  Life is far more exciting with bravery as a companion rather than fear.

2018 has changed me into a girl who wears sequins!

None of the changes I have experienced in 2018 have happened in an instance.  They have all been very gradual and were hardly noticeable for a while.  However, as time has passed, they have become more and more evident and now I can see how they are impacting every aspect of my life.  The person who I have evolved into was always hiding away inside but I just needed to alter my habits and thought patterns to coax her out.  I am so excited that I will be entering 2019 as the person I always hoped I could be.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Is it possible to dance sober?

Back at the start of January I wrote my ‘goodbye letter to alcohol’ which laid out my reasons for stopping drinking and highlighted the things I was most afraid of without alcohol by my side. I was scared my husband wouldn't want to be married to a teetotal wife; I was afraid my friends would find me boring; I was fearful I'd never have the confidence to dance on a table or belt out karaoke again; and I was scared no one would choose to hang out with me.  However over the past 10 months I have realised that David and my marriage runs far deeper than a vat of Merlot.  In fact through banishing alcohol, I have also banished my destructive mood swings, leading to a far more harmonious partnership.  As I've made this transition to a sober existence I have also become aware of  just how incredibly supportive and solid my friendship group is - booze or no booze, they're still there.  I was also quite taken aback by just how little time it took for me to feel brave enough to wail down a karaoke microphone without a bottle in the other hand.  However, dancing... well, I'd just written off dancing as something that was firmly relegated to my pissed up past.

In Catherine Gray's 'The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober', she describes the moment when, after becoming sober, she finally stopped caring about what other people thought about her dancing and she was 'able to leap around the dance floors with wild abandon'.  I remember reading it and thinking that would never be me.  I had never in my life danced without alcohol obliterating my inhibitions and I didn't think that I was capable of starting in my mid-forties.  Nevertheless, this past weekend I had a major sober epiphany.  On Friday night I attended Clockenflap, Hong Kong's annual music festival, and I was watching an Aussie DJ duo called Peking Duk who were just brilliant.  Before I knew it, I was leaping around like no one was watching and loving every moment of it.  The music was amazing, the atmosphere was brilliant, I was totally in the mood and the music got me.  I quickly realised that no one was looking at me dancing or judging me, and it was easy to let go and dance like a crazy lady.  I loved it.  That night I danced 16,000 steps according to my fitness tracker!

Once I'd broken my dancing duck, so to speak, there was no stopping me!  The following night I went to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club Regatta Ball and danced a further 18,000 steps, then the following night I was back at Clockenflap and rounded off my weekend by smashing the 20,000 dance step mark!  The high I felt this weekend having conquered one of my biggest sober barriers was quite exhilarating.  Now I know that there is nothing enjoyable that I did under the influence of alcohol that is not entirely possible, and unequivocally better, without it.

OK, so dancing sober may not seem like such a biggie to anyone who can throw some shapes on the dance floor, but when you have the grace and dance moves of a baby elephant, then this is a milestone.  Quitting drinking and feeling comfortable in my skin as a non-drinker has taken time, but ten months down the line, I feel I can hand on heart say that I have finally got there. None of my preconceived fears about not drinking have been realised and nowadays I simply see alcohol as the dragging anchor that was preventing me from moving forward with my life.  Now I have cut myself free, I am hurtling towards endless possibilities.  Brace yourself dance floors of Hong Kong... I've found my dancing shoes!

I really hope you find this useful and if you want to ask me any questions about my experience of getting sober, please do post a comment or privately message me at

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Why sober socialising rocks

The start of November marks ten full months of being alcohol-free. I haven’t blogged much recently mainly because not drinking has become so normal for me now that it is harder to find interesting topics to write about. However, the other night I was out to dinner with some people I was meeting for the first time and I was sitting beside a gentleman who was not drinking for medical reasons. Surprisingly he didn’t ask me the standard intrusive questions about why I was choosing not to drink (probably because he knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of them), however he did say to me: “Don’t you feel sad that when you arrive at a party now, you know that this is as good as it is going to get when you aren’t drinking?” Basically implying that if you are a non-drinker there is no possibility of your night improving from the moment you walk into the party. What a depressing thought – was my immediate reaction!

I thought back to all the nights out I have had this year as a non-drinker and I realised that I totally disagreed with his sentiment. Regardless of whether you are drinking or not drinking, you are going to have nights when you are totally up for having a raucous night with friends and other times when you simply aren’t in the right frame of mind. There will be times when the company you are with are all gelling and the party just spontaneously erupts over the course of the evening and you will be boosted along on that wave. On the flip side there are times when the party never gets going or it just fizzles out because people are tired, or preoccupied with stress or just in a grump. As a drinker and as a non-drinker, I have experienced both parties where my mood and energy levels have elevated over the course of the evening and those where it’s just not happening.

My first sober hen party

Admittedly, it has taken time to get used to sober socialising - I didn’t quit drinking and immediately transition into a comfortable booze-free party goer. I have had to learn how to do it and understand which situations I can cope with and which I can’t. I know the kind of gatherings that work for alcohol-free me and those that don’t. Parties in bars or restaurants where it is easy to talk to people work, whereas those where I am crammed into a packed, noisy bar full of drunk people, absolutely don’t. I enjoy meeting new people but I find parties where I know a good group of people preferable to deal with than those where I only know a small handful. I have never been very good at working a roomful of strangers and I used to rely heavily on the false confidence given to me by alcohol to prop me up in those kinds of situations. There have been a couple of times this year where I have been brave and I’ve forced myself along to parties where I haven’t known many people but I end up feeling desperately self-conscious and uncomfortable, so I would rather avoid them now if I can. Most importantly, I only truly enjoy sober socialising if I know I have an escape route. I have to know how I can extract myself and get home when the booze truly kicks in and people start repeating themselves, saying things they would never say sober or just stop making sense. The drinkers don’t want me around at that point as much as I absolutely don’t want to be around them to witness it, so it’s a win-win for everyone if I have a getaway plan.

Before I stopped drinking for a sustained period of time I might have agreed with the notion that as a non-drinker there is no possibility of your night getting better from that first moment when you walk into the party. However, having become quite the expert at sober socialising, I now find it easier and easier to relax and be part of the crowd without a glass of wine in my hand. I can hand on heart say that partying sober is no different to partying with booze except that you are: guaranteed not to make an idiot of yourself; you will remember everything; you will leave at the right time; and you will wake up feeling clear headed with no shame or regrets. What’s not to love about that!

I really hope you find this useful and if you want to ask me any questions about my experience of getting sober, please do post a comment or privately message me at

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

My guide to getting sober

I have recently been approached by a couple of friends who have asked for my advice on giving up alcohol.  Now that I have completed 3/4 of the year without having drunk a single drop of alcohol, I feel fairly well qualified to outline what I believe has been the key to my success.  Here is my guide based on my experience:

1) Be determined

You need to be 100% committed to stopping drinking as this is not going to be easy.  You will be going against what has become society's norm and at the outset this could make you feel isolated and excluded.  You are going to have to get used to a new kind of normal - one where you don't unwind, de-stress, celebrate, commiserate, relieve boredom, numb pain etc. with a glass or ten of your favourite tipple.

Work out why you want to make this change and try to keep focused on the end goal.  My many reasons for deciding to quit are outlined in this blog.  In short, drinking was making me feel increasingly anxious, fearful, incapable and overwhelmed with self-loathing and shame.   I wanted to start liking myself again and to feel confident and robust.  Throughout this year, if I've felt even a minute craving for a drink, I have reminded myself about just how shit I used to feel and just how fabulous I feel now.  There is no way I want to go back to the me I was this time last year.  So think about what you want to get out of going sober and focus on the long term gains.

2) Change your perception about alcohol

During my first few months of sobriety, I voraciously read endless 'quit lit'.  There were four books that were complete game changers for me in terms of changing my perception of alcohol and toppling it from the pedestal I had placed it on for my entire adult life.

  • The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley:  This is an autobiography written by an old work colleague and as we had both been indoctrinated in the same advertising agency binge drinking culture, it was very relatable.   It is beautifully honest and revealing, combining witty anecdotes with insightful research and offers great tips and advice for those looking to make the change to a sober life.
  • Kick the Drink... Easily! by Jason Vale:  This book was a complete eye-opener for me.  Vale takes a look at how we are conditioned to accept that alcohol is a normal substance, despite the fact that it is a highly addictive drug and the major cause of many of our social problems and health issues.  By helping you change the way you see alcohol, he makes it easy to enjoy the process of quitting drinking.
  • This Naked Mind:  Control Alcohol by Annie Grace:  This book is a slightly more high brow version of Vale's 'Kick the Drink'.  In short Grace investigates how millions of people worry about the affect drinking has on their health but are unwilling to change due to the stigma associated with alcoholism and recovery.  She shatters the illusion that drinking less will be boring, hard and involve significant lifestyle changes.
  • The Unexpected Joy of being Sober by Catherine Gray:  This is another honest and very well-written memoir of a young woman's experience of getting sober, portraying her journey in a really positive light with some easy to follow and well researched advice for anyone seeking to lead a sober lifestyle.

3) Be positive

It is vital to keep positive to stop yourself falling back into drinking.  Think about the language you are using.  As I explained in this earlier blog the words we use are extremely important.  For example, I haven't once allowed myself to think or say out loud sentences like - "I'm going to try to stop drinking" or "I probably won't drink" - I've unwaveringly stuck to assertive language like - "I'm going to stop drinking", "I'm not going to drink" and "I don't drink".  Words matter and the words we choose can either lift us up or drag us down.

Make sure you are consistently looking forward to the positive outcomes of stopping drinking - and I can guarantee, there will be many. If you are only concentrating on what you think you could be missing, you will only miss out on what you would be gaining.   Quitting drinking will enhance your life rather than diminish it.

4) Be prepared

When you have been one of the instigators and prime participators in drunken debauchery, you might find yourself coming up against resistance from your former drinking buddies and vulnerable to peer pressure.  You need to think about what you are going to tell people and how you are going to deflect the compulsion to drink.  If you aren't properly armed, it is desperately easy to fall back to your default position and you will be back to square one.

This time last year I gave up drinking for seven weeks and I didn't feel robust enough to defend my decision to stop drinking.  Instead I chose to tell people that I was on a pre-Christmas weight loss regime and this managed to fend off the pressure to drink.  In contrast, at the start of this year I decided to announce from the outset that I was stopping drinking for a year.  Apart from the initial haranguing and general consternation, this has worked well as once I announced my resolve, I felt far more compelled to stick to it.  In addition, it has short cut the need for repeated conversations about why I'm not partaking.

For me, I found it easiest to keep a fairly low profile during the first couple of months of getting sober and keeping myself out of temptation's way.  I discovered other ways to occupy myself rather than hanging out in bars.  For example I threw myself into yoga and hiking, I read a lot, I watched films and I ate a lot of cake and chocolate!  For the times when I was compelled to go out, then I always made sure I had an escape plan up my sleeve if things got tough.

5) Be patient

The old adage goes 'good things come to those who wait' and over the course of this year I can vouch for the fact that this is undeniably true.  Back in April I wrote this blog that talked about the changes I had experienced during my first four months of sobriety including: feeling happy; looking less bloated; reduced cellulite; glowing skin; healthier hair; and an improved ability to tan (weird but scientifically proven!).  After six months I looked back on the things I had managed to achieve since being alcohol-free and you can find those in these two blogs.  Now a further three months down the line I have started to put my energy into cutting out the chocolate and cake, eating healthily and getting fit.  I have dropped a dress size in the past two months and feel bursting with energy and confidence as a result.

This is how sober me rolls on a Friday night!

Quitting drinking will deliver so much but don't expect everything to happen immediately.  Have a little patience and you will soon start to reap the rewards.

6) Be realistic

Finally, be realistic about your expectations of what an alcohol-free life will look like.  Being sober doesn't wave a magic wand and make your problems disappear.  Life is still going to throw curve balls  your way that you are going to need to tackle.  At first, you may well find it tough dealing with life without your good old trusty crutch, alcohol.  Everything can appear in sharp focus and a little scary without booze blurring the edges.  You may also find that you are going to have to face up to some issues that you might have suppressed for many years with alcohol.  I know I did and my therapy has been writing my blog to process those emotions.  Just be prepared for this and find ways to get support through this.  There are some really supportive and completely non-judgemental closed Facebook groups such as Club Soda Together, One Year No Beer and Women Who Don't Drink, which I have found incredibly helpful when I have been struggling.

There is definitely a lot more I could add to this blog but it will end up being the longest blog ever so this is my starter for ten guide.  Basically by getting sober your life will not be the same as it was before, but trust me, it will be so much better.

I really hope you find this useful and if you want to ask me any questions about my experience of getting sober, please do post a comment or privately message me at

Monday, 17 September 2018

The joy of rediscovering an old interest

I know I have mentioned this in previous blogs but since giving up alcohol, I have been surprised at how much more time I have on my hands.  Whereas before I would go out drinking until late on a Friday and Saturday and then struggle with debilitating hangovers, which sucked the life out of me for at least 24 hours, I am now almost always in bed before midnight (and much earlier on a school night) and up by 7am.  My new normal is feeling energised, with a desire to fill my days, rather than festering on a sofa gorging carbs and feeling lethargic.  Over the past eight alcohol-free months I have increased my hiking, yoga and swimming, read prolifically, dedicated more time to sailing and diving and spent more time writing.

However, recently I have been feeling a little low and I started to consider whether I could find a new interest that would fill my time, keep my brain occupied and give my mental health a boost.  Thinking back to my childhood, when going out drinking was not my primary hobby, I remembered how much I had loved singing and being part of a choir.  My mother sings in the prestigious London Concert Choir and has suggested for a while that I should join a choir.  So, finally listening to my mother's advice - see mum, I do sometimes listen - I started researching choirs in Hong Kong.

Through some online searches, I found a choir called the Cecilian Singers, that looked as though they sang the type of choral music I enjoyed singing, and didn't look too amateur (i.e. you had to get through an audition), or too professional (i.e. the ability to sight read was a nice to have, rather than obligatory).  I contacted the choir, who were just about to start rehearsing for their Christmas concert and I was invited to come in for an audition.  So, last Monday after some half-hearted vocal warm-up exercises at home, I went along for my audition with trembling hands and flashbacks to completely terrifying and tearful choir auditions at school overseen by our quite demonic choir mistress.  Fortunately, the audition was much easier than previous choir auditions and I got through and I am now part of the Cecilian Singers choir.  After my audition I stayed on for our first rehearsal.  Most people who know me, know that I love Christmas, so legitimately singing Christmas music in September was my idea of heaven!

There were two things I took from the first rehearsal, the first was that the other choir members were very friendly and welcoming and the second was that I left the rehearsal with the same sort of buzz I get from working out.  I started looking into this and I discovered that firstly research shows that singing in large groups is a great social bonding activity and secondly research has found that  singing releases positive neurochemicals such as β-endorphin, dopamine and serotonin.  So, I am hoping that through being part of the choir I will meet new like-minded people and keep my mind filled with feel-good endorphins.  Aboveall, it is really quite exciting to have relit the flame of an old interest that fell by the wayside for a long time as 'socialising' took over.

For those of you based in Hong Kong who like listening to Christmas choral music, our Christmas concert will take place at St. John's Cathedral in Central on the evening of Wednesday 5th December.  I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea but let me know if you are interested in coming along and I will let you know how you can buy tickets nearer the time.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

How to crack my sugar addiction

Slowly, slowly the grey drizzly clouds have passed and the sunshine has started to reappear - both metaphorically and literally.  The last couple of weeks have been tough.  When I'm feeling low, I tend to catastrophise over everything and it can be quite hard to lift myself out of that dark place.  At times like that I rely heavily on: exercise; trying to keep my mind busy by losing myself in a good book or listening to music; and confiding to friends about how I feel.  Fortunately this combination seems to have done the trick this time and I'm feeling much stronger emotionally.  Thank you to everyone who has sent me kind messages or called, given me a shoulder to cry on and who has tolerated my Eeyore-like state - you have been a great support and I do appreciate you all being there.

This has also helped me to kick-start the next phase of project 'Get Sober'.  When I first decided to stop drinking I thought the weight would literally drop off me as I wasn't drinking.  However, I didn't account for the fact that I would replace the sugar from alcohol with sugar from cake and chocolate.  I followed the advice of other people in my sober support groups who recommended concentrating on giving up alcohol first and addressing the sugary food issue later.  While I haven't put on weight in the past 8 months, I definitely haven't lost any.  So, now that I am confident that I am in control of being a non-drinker, it's time to focus my energy on getting my eating and sugar consumption under control.

To help me get started I have signed up with a personal trainer who has been involved in helping  various members of Club Soda - the mindful drinking movement that I participate in - to get fit and healthy.  Last week was the start of my new healthier regime which has meant sticking to 1,590 calories a day, logging all my meals on My Fitness Pal and following an exercise plan.  I am now committed to doing three gym work outs a week, along with my regular hiking and swimming.  My plan is to apply the same strategies to getting fit and healthy as I did to getting sober, by: being focused and consistent; having a positive mindset; being accountable; being patient i.e. not expecting immediate results; and being kind to myself if things don't go completely to plan.

Hiking selfie at Mount High West today
I have four months until the end of the year and I'm hoping that by the time Christmas comes around I will have cracked my sugar habit and developed a consistent healthy eating and exercise regime that I can stick to long term.  I feel confident that if I can master not drinking, I can gain control over my eating in the next few months.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

How to make it easier to recognise and address problem drinking

This week the BBC showed a documentary called 'Drinkers Like Me', in which the TV presenter Adrian Chiles explores his relationship with alcohol.  In the words of the BBC, Chiles wants 'to find out why he and many others don't think they are addicted to alcohol, despite finding it almost impossible to enjoy life without it'.  I actually found it pretty depressing viewing as it did almost nothing to investigate the potential for living a happy life without booze, but it did successfully highlight some of the issues I have been reflecting on since I have become sober.  Primarily, it helped to clarify some of the ways we could make it easier for people, who may have an inkling that their alcohol consumption is slightly problematic, to acknowledge and address the issue.

Redefine the term alcoholic 

Throughout the documentary people were stressing that they couldn't be alcoholics because they weren't getting into fights, waking up in shop doorways, vomiting or drinking Sambuca first thing in the morning.  They were all clinging to the fact that because their drinking habits weren't as extreme as more hard core drinkers, they were OK.  This is something I battled with myself before I got sober.  However, I have realised that alcohol addiction has many shades of grey - we don't need to be drinking vodka from a coffee cup at breakfast time to have a problem with alcohol.

I think more should be done to educate people on what 'alcoholic' actually means.  If you look up 'alcoholism' in the dictionary, it defines it as 'addiction to the consumption of alcoholic drink; alcohol dependency' , and if you look up 'alcoholic' the definition given is 'someone who regularly drinks too much alcohol and has difficulty stopping'.  Well, I was definitely dependent on alcohol to help me navigate life: to make me happy, to help me relax, to give me confidence, to help me celebrate, to enable me to bond with people, and to drown my sorrows.  If I hadn't been dependent it wouldn't have been so hard to get used to living a sober life. I also used to drink twice a week and I regularly failed to find my off switch.  That would make me an alcoholic.

Just because we aren't as bad as the most extreme cases, doesn't mean there isn't a problem that needs to be addressed.  If there was more clarity around the signs that indicate we are developing a problematic relationship with alcohol, it would be easier for people to act on it.

Remove the stigma attached to quitting drinking

In the documentary Chiles points out that alcohol is 'the only drug you have to apologise for not taking'.  Tell me about it Mr Chiles!  Over the past eight months I have lost count of the times I have been blatantly interrogated and judged for my decision to go sober.  Ironically, those of us who have quit drinking are the ones who don't actually have an alcohol problem any more!

Last week, The Lancet published research called 'Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016'.  This large new global study has confirmed previous research which has shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The research found that moderate drinking may protect against heart disease but found that the risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs these protections.

This research has been publicised globally and it is being heralded as 'the most important study ever conducted on the subject'.  It is time we faced up to the real dangers of alcohol and applaud rather than ostracise non-drinkers.

Highlight the positives of sober socialising

Throughout the documentary we are introduced to people who admit to finding it impossible to enjoy life without alcohol and Chiles really struggles with the idea of moving away from the allure of the social side of drinking.  Alcohol is so ingrained in our culture that it is the accompaniment to pretty much everything.  However, what does it say about us if we can only enjoy ourselves with a drink in our hand?

Over the past eight months I have experienced sober birthday parties, formal dinners, casual dinners, work events, karaoke, wedding anniversaries etc.  I can honestly say I have had just as much fun as I would have had if I had been drinking, but with the added bonus of remembering everything, not making an idiot of myself and waking up hangover free.  Additionally, I haven't wasted the next day in bed or on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and fretting about what I may have said or done.

Going against the crowd and quitting drinking is tough and at times quite isolating.  It takes bravery, determination and a very strong-will to stand up to the criticism and judgement and set yourself outside the group.  However, that doesn't mean you can't still go out and join in the fun - enjoyable sober socialising is 100% possible.
Sober socialising - just me drinking water by a barrel of wine!

Despite the fact that Adrian Chiles didn't look into living a sober lifestyle, it is really encouraging that documentaries such as this are being commissioned and people are being challenged to reflect on their drinking habits.  I am sure that eventually non-drinkers will become part of the mainstream and we will look back on our drinking culture with consternation.  We just have a bit of a way to go still.

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Monday, 27 August 2018

Six things to do when sobriety becomes tough

Over the past couple of weeks I've felt a bit flat and moody.  I think the pink cloud - the euphoric feeling of being sober - has well and truly passed and made way for a slightly grey English drizzle.  I'm getting pissed off with going out and explaining to strangers why I decided to get sober and then listening to them telling me exactly why they don't think they have a drink problem. I DON'T CARE but maybe they should ask themselves why they are telling me this! I'm completely over being lectured that I should just moderate my alcohol consumption by people who are necking double whiskeys like water and not picking up on the irony of the situation.  I'm over being asked when I'm going to start drinking again... I'M NOT.  But most of all, I'm fucked off that when life throws me a curve ball now, I have no way of dulling the pain and numbing myself to what's going on.

Don't get me wrong, I have a fabulous life and I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities I have and the amazing husband, friends and family I have around me.  I am #blessed!  However, recently something rather scary and horrible has happened and I am finding it hard to deal with the fact that I have to face this head on and I can't/won't just reach for the bottle.  Right now, I would like nothing more than to drown myself in wine rather than listen to the over dramatic voices in my head that are unrelenting fearmongerers, who have taken to waking me up at 3am.  It would be a great release to be able to bury my head in the booze and block out the noise.  However, I have no intention of starting drinking again as I know that it will provide nothing more than a temporary reprieve and the repercussions will make everything so much harder to cope with.

So here is what I am attempting to do to deal with the fact that the pink clouds have passed and I have to face up to reality without a booze crutch.

1)  Writing down how I feel

Just by bashing these words out onto my blog is helping me to process my emotions and make me feel a bit better about life.  Throughout my teens and twenties I kept diaries that I used for this purpose, but somewhere along the line I stopped.  It is a great emotional release, rather therapeutic and a good way to organise my chaotic thought processes.

2) Talking about how I feel

Today, I realised that I couldn't bottle up how I was feeling any longer and I vomited out what has been bothering me to my husband and later to a friend.  It didn't necessarily come out as I would have liked it to have done. In retrospect I probably should have written it all down first, then once my emotions were a little more ordered, I could have discussed things more logically.  However, just getting my worries out in the open has helped.

3) Taking exercise

In the past week I have been exercising like crazy in an attempt to access some feel good hormones and keep myself busy. Undoubtedly the hiking, swimming and circuits have given me a bit of a lift so I will carry on throwing myself into exercise to keep improving my mental state.

4) Setting aside time to meditate

OK, so I haven't done this yet but I do know that when life gets tricky and the worrywarts invade my head, then setting aside twenty minutes a day for a guided meditation definitely helps.  So, I'm going to start focusing on this again now.

5) Keeping myself busy 

To try to distract myself from the negative thoughts that could potentially trigger me to start drinking again I've been keeping myself busy by cooking.  My husband is loving this as he is coming home to nice healthy home cooked food. The only downside is that when I run out of meals to cook I end up baking unhealthy stuff like chocolate brownies, resulting in me eating my own body weight in delicious gooey brownies.

6) Pampering myself

And finally, there is absolutely no harm in setting aside a bit of 'me' time.  With the money I save through not drinking, I can afford to treat myself every now and then to a relaxing foot massage, manicure or facial. So rather than heading to a bar, a good calming distraction is a nice long foot massage.
Having a footie...

Going against the grain and becoming a non-drinker has its ups and downs.  While the ups definitely outweigh the downs, that doesn't mean that there aren't times when I find it difficult.  I am in the midst of a down at the moment and I hope that in time it will pass and I can start to feel more positive about life.  In the meantime, for those close to me, please bear with me.  I am struggling so please be a bit gentle with me for a while.

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Tuesday, 7 August 2018

My top ten alcohol-free drinks

I was recently contacted by a member of my family who told me that she is planning to stop drinking alcohol for at least a year and asked  "but what do you drink instead? I get so bored of water!".  After seven months of sobriety, it didn't take me long to put together a long list of suggestions.  The world is definitely geared up for non-drinkers nowadays, with more alcohol-free drinks options being introduced the whole time.  The UK leads the way over Hong Kong but I have found great alternatives to booze in both countries, so here are my top ten alcohol-free drinks in no particular order.

1.  Becks Blue 

Beer was rarely my drink of choice unless I was watching rugby and couldn't be arsed to fight my way to the bar very often.  However, one of my favourite booze-free tipples has turned out to be alcohol-free beer.  I've sampled quite a few including: Erdinger Alkohol Frei and Bitberger Drive (wheat beers); Bintang 0.0%, Free Damm, San Miguel 0.0% , Amstel Free, Becks Blue (lagers); and Vetlins (pilsner).  My favourite is definitely Becks Blue, which tastes just like regular Becks (in my opinion anyway).  Unfortunately I haven't managed to find this in Hong Kong yet but hopefully one day I can get it there too.  This has been my go to drink in the UK this summer.

2. Crodino

One of my favourite drinks for the past few years has been Aperol Spritz, and Crodino, made by the Campari Group, is a great alcohol-free alternative.  The first time I tasted Crodino I was so convinced that I was actually drinking an Aperol Spritz that I had to check and double check that I hadn't accidently picked up someone's Aperol. Unfortunately it hasn't been very easy to track down Crodino in Hong Kong (in the UK you can order it on Amazon), however I am fortunate enough to have an awesome Italian friend who personally imports it for me when she goes back home to Italy.

3. San Pellegrino Chinotto

I stumbled across Chinotto by accident at Stazione Novella, our favourite bar in Hong Kong.  Apparently Chinotto has been around since the 1950s and is made from the extracts of Chinotto oranges.  I like it because it is bitter/sweet and a really unusual flavour.  

4.  Sanbitter

In my opinion, the Italians know how to cater for the non-drinker in style.  Sanbitter is similar to Campari and I like it with lots of ice, a slice of orange and a splash of soda water.  It is quite bitter but really refreshing and a delicious aperitif.  I have found this, or a similar product, for sale in Il Bel Paese in Hong Kong.  

5. M&S Sparkling Summer Cup Mocktail

I have always loved Pimms.  Throughout my life in England it was the marker that summer had finally arrived, so there is a certain amount of nostalgia attached to the drink.  As such, I was overjoyed when I bought a four pack of M&S Sparkling Summer Cup Mocktail to discover it tasted exactly like Pimms.  Having found this I literally stripped M&S's shelves of the product and lived off it for about a month so now I'm a bit sick of it.  However, by next summer I'll be ready to reintroduce this into my booze-free repertoire!

6. Stowford Press 0.5%

Going to school in the West Country, cider was my starter drink and it has always been one of my go to drinks, despite its high calorie count.  I have tried Sainsbury's Low Alcohol Cider, which is slightly sweeter than I like but still very cider-y rather than apple-juicy and refreshing.  Stowford Press is better still and only 81 calories per bottle versus around 140 calories for regular cider.

7. Kopparberg Mixed Fruit Cider (alcohol free)

I've also enjoyed Kopparberg's fruity ciders, particularly in a pub beer garden or at a barbecue in the summer.  Therefore I was so happy to see that Kopparberg make alcohol free versions of a few of their fruity ciders.  Poured over a lot of ice, Kopparberg mixed fruit ciders are super refreshing.  They are easy to come by in supermarkets in the UK but I haven't managed to find them in Hong Kong yet.

8. Sainsbury's Alcohol Free Sparkling Wine

As someone who was firmly on the Prosecco-drinking band wagon, I have been keen to find a substitute.  However, finding an alternative has proved challenging.  In Hong Kong I found The Bees Knees Alcohol Free Sparkling Wine at CitySuper but was really disappointed as I felt it tasted more like a pear cider than a sparkling wine.  Back in the UK I bought a bottle of Nosecco - alcohol-free prosecco - to try.  However, before I could get my hands on it, my family went on a prosecco bender and, failing to read the Nosecco label, polished off the entire bottle before realising it was alcohol-free.  They reported back that it was revolting (despite not leaving a drop of it for me) so I haven't bought another bottle to sample.  I did buy some Alcohol Free Sparkling Wine from Sainsbury's, which is OK but a bit Asti Spumante tasting.  It might improve with a few drops of Angostura Bitters to take away some of the sweetness.  While I definitely haven't found an adequate prosecco alternative, at least you can blend in at a celebration when you are drinking something like this.  Oh, and it is less than a quarter of the price of a bottle of prosecco.

9. Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Aromatised Low Alcohol* Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

I have tried and tried but I just can't find a really good low alcohol* or de-alcoholised* red, white or rose wine.  I have sampled a few, including Eisberg, but all of them have a bit of a sweet grape juice flavour to them.  However, what I have discovered is that when you mix Sainsbury's Low Alcohol Cab Sav with lemonade, some orange slices and ice, it makes a fairly authentic and very yummy sangria.  I have shared my non-alcoholic sangria with various drinkers this summer who were surprised at how good it was.  Alternatively, if you pour this wine over ice and tell yourself it's a refreshing fruity drink rather than a red wine, it makes quite a tasty aperitif. 

10. Kombucha 

Apparently fermented foods are a big thing right now so Kombucha, a fermented tea drink, must be bang on trend.  There has been a lot of talk about Kombucha on the Facebook sober groups and I have to admit to being rather sceptical - fermented tea sounds disgusting.  However, I saw Kombucha in M&S a couple of weeks ago and picked up a couple of cans to sample it.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised how good it was.  Also, although I haven't tried these yet, Jonny Wilkinson has just launched his own Kombucha drinks brand which you can buy in Sainsbury's.

Apart from the drinks I've highlighted above, my alcohol-free drinks of choice are mocktails and many of the Hong Kong mixologists are creating the most amazing non-alcoholic cocktails - maybe I'll write a blog about the best bars for mocktails in Hong Kong, I'll enjoy doing that research!

These days, there are so many great alcohol-free and low alcohol* options that non-drinkers are spoilt for choice.  For those living in the UK, Canada or USA, you can sample and buy lots of alcohol-free drinks from the Dry Drinker website, or find out about other booze-free options by visiting Club Soda.

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* UK drinks labelling is really confusing.  As it stands, the rules in force across the UK (Regulation 42 and Schedule 8 of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996) uses the following terms “alcohol-free”, “non-alcoholic”, “dealcoholised” and “low alcohol”.
  • ”‘Low alcohol” refers to products between 0.5% and 1.2% ABV.
  • “Dealcoholised” refers to products that are 0.5% ABV or less.
  • “Alcohol-free” refers to products that are 0.05% ABV or less.
  • “Non-alcoholic” refers to products with 0% ABV, but cannot be used for products that are usually alcoholic, such as beer or wine.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Can friendships carry on when you give up drinking?

As time has gone on I have started to adapt to my alcohol free way of life and living without pickling myself in booze has become normal.  When I set out on this new path, there were frequent situations that provoked waves of anxiety but nowadays, these are few and far between.  Having said that, I have spent much of this year feeling slightly anxious about coming back to Europe for the summer and facing my friends in England and Greece, who had not yet encountered sober me.  Since the start, I have seen this as the last major challenge facing me.

My primary criteria for forging friendships over the years has been based on whether people are fun, naughty, loyal, supportive, a touch quirky or crazy (preferably without a formal psychotic diagnosis) and a drinker.  I wanted to fill my life with boisterous party people who didn't take life too seriously but would be by my side when I needed them and vice versa.  The last thing I was looking for were sensible friends who sat in the corner sipping water and judging me as I made a twat of myself in blackout mode. So instead I recruited allies who also failed to find their 'off' switch and were willing to let loose and then call me the next day trying to piece together the events of the night before.  I did a pretty good job of this too!  Needless to say, it never crossed my mind to consider what would happen in the seemingly impossible event that I gave up drinking.  As such, I was fearful that some of my oldest friends would feel uncomfortable with non-drinking me hanging around when they wanted to revel.

Drunken memories with some of my fabulous friends

Fortunately this hasn't been the case and everyone has done a great job of disguising their disappointment that I'm now teetotal.  Almost all of them have been incredibly supportive, buying in alcohol-free drinks for me or taking me to bars with good mocktail options, but otherwise carrying on as if nothing has changed.

It has been undeniably reassuring and a great testament to the strength of these relationships, that although they may have been formed over countless pints of cider, glasses of wine, bottles of vodka and shots of sambuca, the friendships continue to flow even though the booze has ebbed.  The truth is that we have been there for each other through so many life experiences - from heartbreak to love, engagements to marriages, pregnancies and miscarriages to babies, and family dramas to bereavements - that alcohol is merely an ancilliary, it's not the glue that keeps us together.

It has been enlightening to discover that it seems fairly irrelevant that I have stopped drinking and besides, between us all we have enough tales of silly boozy antics to keep us entertained for the remainder of our lives anyway, we really don't need to create any more together!  However, I am more than happy to sit on the sidelines and observe, in a non-judgy way, if they want to carry on.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

3 steps to developing a non-drinking habit

Over the past month I have been away from Hong Kong in Europe and it struck me a couple of weeks ago that not drinking has now become second nature to me.  A week ago my husband and I were in Greece celebrating my friends' 10th Wedding Anniversary and we had an action packed itinerary of events to attend, along with a large group of their friends who had flown in from around the world. Despite not knowing the majority of the group, I had a really great time meeting lots of new people and being one of the only non-drinkers really didn't faze me.

This got me thinking back to my first booze-free holiday to the Philippines earlier this year to celebrate a friend's 40th birthday.  Looking back at my blog I highlighted how I felt very self-conscious about not drinking and withdrew from the crowd the moment the booze started flowing.  I believed I'd lost part of my identity and I wasn't entirely comfortable with the new sensible, calm, less extrovert character that was emerging.  In Greece, I noticed that not drinking felt entirely normal.  I didn't feel apologetic or embarrassed about the fact that I wasn't partaking and I wasn't paranoid that I was being judged for my choices.  It's clear that I've started to care a lot less about what people may be thinking and I've adjusted to the calmer version of me.  Most nights I was out until around 1am and, with the exception of one night, I didn't feel I had to skulk off when the party got into full swing.  It struck me that not drinking has become a new habit.

Alcohol-free beer - my new normal

I was interested to find out a bit more about how habits are formed so I started to read up on the topic.  Here are the basic steps to developing a new habit:

Stage one:  Initiation

Research shows that in order to initiate a new habit it is vital that you are sufficiently motivated.  For me, by the start of this year, I was so ready to quit drinking and to dispose of all the negativity that accompanied my drinking that I was 100% motivated to give it my best possible shot.

The same research goes on to explain that 'within psychology, ‘habits’ are defined as actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance'. For me, this has meant developing a new action (e.g. drinking non-alcoholic drinks) in response to contextual cues (e.g. being in a bar or in a restaurant).  This seemed quite alien at first, after all, over the past 30 years, there have been very, very few times that I have gone into a bar or out to dinner and ordered anything other than booze.

Stage two:  Learning

University College of London research explains that 'in order to form a habit, an action must be performed repeatedly in a consistent context. This repetition creates a mental association between the context (cue) and the action (behaviour) which means that when the cue is encountered the behaviour is performed automatically.'  Therefore, the key to ensuring my non-drinking habit has stuck has been to keep repeating the ordering and drinking of non-alcoholic drinks when I'm out in bars and restaurants and not to deviate from this new path.

Stage three:  Automaticity

Research shows that 'it takes 66 days (up to 10 weeks) on average to form a new habit after the first time the new action is performed, but this can vary from person to person and for different actions.'  For me, I would say it has taken me longer than 10 weeks for this habit to become 'normal' but I have noticed that in the past month ordering alcohol just doesn't cross my mind any more.

Changing behaviour initially requires considerable cognitive effort but, if you do keep up the action until a habit is formed, it will eventually become second nature. By tomorrow, I will have completed seven months without alcohol and it is apparent that non-drinking has become a habit and going into a bar or restaurant and ordering a glass of wine would feel quite abnormal for me now.  Creating this new habit has not been plain sailing, but I am happy that I have finally reached this point after all my hard work.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

What no one told you about sober holidays

A couple of days ago, I arrived on Paros, one of the Greek Cyclades Islands and one of my favourite places in the world.  It is also the primary source of my binge drinking.  I spent the summer of 1991 and 1992 working here as a 19 and 20 year old, numbing my insecurities and low self-esteem with cheap beer, wine, ouzo and dubious shots.  I have since returned here many more times over the years but those are the standout summers, as they were my first real taste of freedom, adventure and independence and are filled with laughter, lust, love and drama.  I look back on those booze soaked memories with great fondness (and the odd cringe).   However, they couldn't be more different from this time - my first experience of holidaying in Paros as a non-drinker.

You arrive feeling great

The journey to Paros is a bit of a ball ache, although it is a lot more straight forward these days than it was when I first came here.  You can't fly direct from England so you need to fly to Athens, Santorini or Mykonos and then get a ferry.  My previous trips here would often involve a drink or two at the airport, on the plane and on the ferry and arriving on the island looking and feeling pretty tired and ropey after a long journey.  However, this time round, having avoided the potential temptation of any booze, I arrived on the island feeling just fine despite a 16 hour journey.

You get up early effortlessly

Every other holiday I have spent on Paros has been all about the night.  As the sun set, I would come to life and my friends and I would pass the night crawling (sometimes quite literally) from one bar to the next, pursuing or being pursued by men, gossipping and resolving all the problems in the world!  The mornings were something we rarely encountered unless we had drunk our way through to sunrise or if we were unfortunate enough to have secured a job making breakfast (which I had one summer).  This time round though, I have seen the sun rise every morning and not because I haven't yet made it to bed.  I have discovered that early mornings really are the most beautiful time of the day and I love the tranquillity and anticipation of what lies ahead.
Getting up early with the cats and the fishermen

Your days are long and packed

When you are waking up at sun rise and not suffering from a vicious hangover, the days are long and asking to be filled rather than wasted.  So far, I have been up early hiking every day - much to the amusement of my friend who's hotel I'm staying in, who has known me for the past 27 years.  Seeing my girlfriend (and former fellow barfly) and I clad in gym kit at 8am and raring to go, reduced him to near hysteria accompanied by cries of "What's happened?  I cannot believe this!"
Early morning hike

Getting back from hiking we enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the village, where we invariably catch up with old friends who are passing by, followed by a walk to the beach for a spot of sunbathing, reading and swimming and we haven't even got to lunch time yet! 

In the past my day wouldn't start until lunch time which didn't leave much time for anything other than a carb-packed lunch to feed the hangover and a couple of hours snoozing on the beach before the night time revelry kicked into action again.

You can eat without guilt

As a drinker, I was aware that I was ingesting a significant number of extra calories on holiday - not just via the alcohol I was imbibing but also through the unhealthy food my body craved post-drinking.  This meant that I was constantly trapped in a cycle of drinking too much, eating unhealthily, feeling guilty and repeat.  I rarely went out for a meal and enjoyed the experience, as inside I was castigating myself for my excessive calorie consumption.

This time though things are different.  By eliminating alcohol from my life I have got rid of all the calories attached to the drinks and the carb-laden hangover food.  In addition, because I am no longer sloth-like in the mornings, I am able to get up and exercise and burn calories.  This means that I relish going out for meals now and enjoying the heavenly Greek food, guilt-free.

You recharge

During my first two summers working on Paros I drank every night without fail and after two to three months I'd returned to England feeling very low and completely knackered but unable to sleep.  Even on more recent holidays, I drank most nights, stayed out late and rarely returned home feeling well rested.  This holiday is going to be different.  Although I am happy to stay out late talking rubbish with my friends, because I'm not drinking alcohol, I'm sleeping really deeply. In addition, because I'm up and out and doing things early in the morning, I have plenty of time for an afternoon nap later in the day.  
Beach snoozing

In the past holidaying was all about over-indulging, letting loose and partying.  It never occurred to me that holidays could actually be far more enjoyable and action-packed without chucking vast quantities of alcohol down your throat.  No one told me that I would actually do more, spend better quality time with my friends and feel brighter, happier and more energised without a drink glued to my hand.  I'm so glad I have finally stumbled on this great discovery.