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.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

My top ten achievements during my first 6 months of sobriety

Part Two


Following on from yesterday's blog about my top ten achievements since I stopped drinking, here are the top five things that I've achieved since January.

5. I've been writing children's stories for an English course

I was approached recently by my tutor from my CertTESOL course, about writing some children's stories for an English course.  In the past I would have been too scared to have committed to this, believing I wouldn't be good enough and being concerned about how I would find the time.  With the new found confidence that a sober lifestyle has given me, coupled with the ridiculous amount of time I have now I'm not wasting it rotting on a sofa with a hangover, I have grasped the opportunity with both hands.  I have actually loved writing the stories and found it much easier and more fun than I ever would have thought it would be.

4. I qualified as a PADI Enriched Air diver

Going on my first booze-free holiday back in April, I quickly realised that holidaying when you're not drinking becomes all about the day and filling those days.  With a clear head, I committed to doing my PADI Enriched Air diver qualification and I have done more diving so far this year than I've done since 2002 when I first got my PADI.  I plan on doing so much more diving from now on as I do absolutely love it.


3. I've had one of my research projects from the Trinity DipTESOL published

Last year as part of my Diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language I had to undertake three pieces of research.  This year, I finally plucked up the courage to pitch one of my pieces of research to an academic publication called Modern English Teacher.  I was over the moon when the Editor came back to confirm that they are going to publish my research on 'Effective Strategies for Managing Young Learners’ Behaviour in the ESL Classroom' in the July 2018 edition of the publication.  It's out any minute now and I can't wait to see it.

2. I competed in (and completed!) the Countries of Origin trail run

Back in April, my husband, a good mate of ours  and I competed as a team in the Countries of Origin trail run.  This was no mean feat bearing in mind we had to run (walk in our case!) 30km but also ascend 1,563m (higher than the tallest mountain in the UK) and all in the Hong Kong humidity.  We managed to complete the course and the buzz from surviving the challenge was 100% worth the pain.





1. I'm beginning to learn how to like myself

Since stopping drinking, the mean girl in my head has calmed down and I have learnt to listen to the kinder voice.  Now when the mean girl attempts to pipe up, the kind girl tells her to shut up and she does.  The end result has been that I've started to like myself a lot more.  I have learnt to be proud of my achievements, as well as not beating myself up too much for my failures (e.g. my chocolate addiction!).  My biggest achievement in the past six months has been learning how to be kind to myself and the end result is that I am a genuinely happy and content person as a result.
Before I stopped drinking and after I stopped drinking

The best thing is that it's only been six months since I've stopped drinking and I feel I've already benefited so much from this big change.  I can't wait to see what else I can achieve in 2018 without alcohol holding me back.






Monday, 2 July 2018

My top ten achievements during my first 6 months of sobriety

Part One

Well I've made it through six whole months without letting a single drop of alcohol pass my lips.  I have been surprised at how this radical change to my lifestyle has been much easier than I anticipated and has got even easier as time has passed.  I have probably found it fairly straightforward as by the start of this year I had realised that alcohol was no longer my friend.  I had stopped finding drinking fun and I was ready to find an escape route from my increasingly debilitating hangovers and their accompanying anxiety, fear and shame.  It has been quite surprising how quickly my attitude to drinking has transformed during this time as well.  Now I can see alcohol for what it really is (a poison) and what it really delivers (a load of empty promises), I don't feel I'm missing out by abstaining because my life has got immeasurably better since I stopped.

So to celebrate six months alcohol-free, I thought I'd look at some of the things I've achieved since January.

10.  I've survived numerous alcohol-laden occasions

There are a plethora of events that I associate with drinking including birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries, hen parties, the Hong Kong Sevens and holidays.  I have managed to get through every one of these occasions and more without drinking.  Every time I tick off another kind of event that I have survived and enjoyed booze-free, the easier it has been to face the next.  After six months, I no longer feel fazed about facing any event without drinking alcohol.

9. I sang karaoke at a Chinese banquet sober

Fairly early on in my sobriety I was strong-armed into singing karaoke at a Chinese New Year banquet.  Never in my life did I ever think I would have the guts to stand up and sing in front of a group of strangers without being fortified by booze. While it certainly wasn't the performance of a lifetime, it was great fun and it proved that I don't need alcohol to make people endure my singing.


8.  I sang a mini-gig at a friend's party

I was asked to sing a few songs by a friend's girlfriend at his birthday party as a surprise.  I was lured into doing it with the promise of being accompanied by a very talented professional guitarist and I was comforted by the fact I had coped with sober karaoke in front of a banqueting hall full of people.  Our friend is a massive Oasis fan so the set included a number of classic Oasis tunes and a cameo part for my husband as Liam Gallagher.  We ended up singing six or seven songs and despite the fact that I definitely don't have the X factor, it was really fun and I was buzzing that I got through the set without making a complete nob of myself.


7. I helped friends with the launch of their fashion label

Two close friends have launched a brand new sustainable fashion label called LaMy Dragonfly, and they asked for my help with articulating what the brand is all about.  I really enjoyed discussing the thought process behind the label and thrashing out the messaging. It was good to tap back into my marketing brain and the reward was a front row ticket to their debut runway show which was awesome... my first and last Anna Wintour moment!

6. I've made an effort to take on a more active role sailing

Since I've stopped drinking, I've stopped getting hangovers.  One of the numerous benefits of this has been that when we have gone racing early on Sunday mornings, rather than putting my hand up to be rail bait on board the boat and taking a very limited role in the actual sailing,  I have been doing main sheet - one of the more important roles on board.  We have also had some pretty good results on those races too and the sense of achievement at the end of each race has been really rewarding.  Next stop... Etchells racing in the harbour!

To be continued........  Here.





Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Why binge drinking is not an effective quick fix

I have always suffered from being a chronic worrier.  Even as a child I was overwhelmed with worries, lying awake at night fretting about the house burning down, or being kidnapped or my parents dying or other similarly far-fetched melodramatic situations.  Much of my early childhood was punctuated with the words, "Mummy, I'm worried".  Worrying followed me into my teenage years and started to morph into overthinking.  For most of my life I have fretted over and overthought pretty much everything, from my appearance, my studies and my career, to my family, my friendships, my relationships and my health.  I believe this has contributed to my anxiety, my raised stress levels, my tendency to be over-sensitive and my mood swings. 

Thirteen year old worrier me
This assumption is backed-up in the book 'Women who think too much' by Nolen-Hoeksema, who goes on to discuss how "Women are twice as likely as men to become severely depressed or anxious, and our tendency to overthink appears to be one of the reasons why".  We live in a society where we are constantly seeking out a quick fix for when we are feeling anxious, unhappy, upset, stressed etc. and research has shown that overthinkers are twice as likely as non-overthinkers to binge on alcohol on a regular basis.  Now that I am clear-headed, it is blatantly apparent that up until 2018, one of my quick fixes to a plethora of different emotional ailments has been binge drinking.  Although binge drinking has invariably dulled the problem and provided a momentary escape, it does in fact exacerbate the problem.  Nolen-Hoeksema, stresses that "alcohol may actually narrow [overthinkers] attention on their worries" and research by Steele & Josephs talks about alcohol myopia whereby alcohol actually heightens awareness and perception of worries and magnifies them so they become bigger and worse than before.  Therefore for the past couple of decades I have been in a slowly descending vortex of worrying, overthinking, self-medicating with alcohol, worrying, overthinking, self-medicating with alcohol and so on.

Self-medicating!

When I look at it like this, it is hardly surprising that my mental health has improved so dramatically over the past six months since I have removed alcohol from the equation.  Before I stopped drinking, I had what Buddhists have referred to as 'monkey mind' - an unsettled, restless, confused mind filled with fretting monkeys clamouring for attention and pointing out all the negative consequences of just about everything.  Now that alcohol has been extracted, my head has quietened and calmed and I am capable of thinking far more rationally.  Of course, I still worry about things - I am a natural born worrier - but I can now apply logic and gain a more balanced perspective.

It has taken me far too many years to realise that alcohol is not the answer to any of my problems and it is in fact the foundation of many of them.  Over the past few months I have been stunned by just how much my life has changed for the better since I gave up drinking and equally how my allegiance to the bottle has been completely shattered along the way.  The positivity, confidence and fortitude that I feel on an almost daily basis now far outweighs the desire to drink ever again.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Ten reasons why I love alcohol-free weekends

I started writing a blog today but the words just weren't flowing so I thought I'd try making a vlog instead all about my weekend and why I love alcohol-free weekends.

Take a look at my latest vlog about my alcohol-free weekend...




In short the reasons why I love my alcohol-free weekends are:

  1. I'm not debilitated by hangovers
  2. I have so much more time to do things when I'm not feeling hungover and rubbish
  3. I am so much more productive and capable of doing things
  4. I don't keep putting off the rubbish chores
  5. I am able to properly catch up on sleep and rest before the week ahead
  6. I am happy and pleasant to be around
  7. I enjoy watching my friends get drunk and not being one of the chief participants
  8. I love waking up early and reading in bed with a cuppa - this may be an age thing!
  9. I feel great all the time so the world is my oyster
  10. Did I mention that I DON'T GET HANGOVERS!!
Watch my vlog where I ramble around these points....

Saturday, 16 June 2018

How do you know when it's time to stop drinking alcohol?

Since I have stopped drinking, it has been fascinating to see the different effect it has had on my friends, family and people I meet.  

The curious - but why don't you drink?

People are very curious as to my motivation for stopping drinking - maybe silently wondering if I was downing vodka with my morning coffee and squirrelling away cans of Special Brew?  However, I also sense that some people are probing or looking for some guidance as to how I knew when enough was enough with my drinking.

Sometimes I suggest people read my 'Goodbye to alcohol letter' that talks about the deterioration of my relationship with drinking and summarises why it was time to stop.  But generally I explain that alcohol was no longer making me feel good, instead it was making me feel depressed and anxious and since I have stopped drinking my mental health has completely changed for the better.  Some people have responded by saying "Oh, please don't tell me you feel amazing now!" - to which my response is "But I do!" - and I mean it.

The supporters - maybe I could stop too...

A lot of people comment on how great I look now and say that I'm a good advertisement for quitting - adding "maybe I should give up too".  I don't say this in a boastful way - I think it's more a reflection of just how shit I had started to look and feel before I stopped.  When I look back at pictures of me from this time last year I feel sad for the me who was wrestling with considerable inner turmoil, whereas now I see a healthy, happy and positive person.

Me one year ago vs. me now
Other people are unbelievably encouraging and frequently tell me how they admire the choice I've made and follow my journey with interest.  I'm sure that some of them will join the sober revolution too in due course.

The justifiers - I drink because...

One of the other things I have noticed when I'm out socialising is that nine times out of ten, someone will come up to me and justify their drinking in some way, as if I am judging them (I promise I'm not) and they need to explain themselves.  They will tell me how they have cut down on their drinking recently or that they don't drink every day or that they aren't drinking a particular drink.  I suppose my stopping drinking has placed the spotlight on their relationship with alcohol and maybe they are worried about what they see.  Or perhaps now that one of the primary binge drinkers has stopped drinking, they feel slightly more conspicuous at the front of the pack.  I know I used to feel quite uncomfortable when any of my drinking buddies quit for a while.

So, how do you know when it's time to stop drinking?


Regardless of whether people are curious as to why I've stopped drinking, supportive of my choice or justifying their own drinking, maybe some of them are experiencing the same underlying anguish that gnawed away at me for a long time.  The feeling that perhaps you are alcohol dependent or an alcoholic or a problem drinker and your life is starting to be affected negatively by alcohol. But then you undertake one of those online 'Are you an alcoholic?' tests and the results are inconclusive.

Since stopping drinking I have read endless academic research and books on alcohol dependency.  I have discovered that problem drinking comes in many different guises and doesn't just fit into the stereotype of the drunk swigging Special Brew for breakfast.  The danger signs can be much less obvious.  They can be as subtle as persistent feelings of guilt after drinking or relying on a few glasses of wine to unwind each night.

Research has shown that 'there is physical dependency - the need to have alcohol to get through day-to-day life physically. Then there is psychological dependency when someone needs alcohol to cope with the everyday issues of life'. In addition 'there is a tipping point after which problem drinkers can no longer moderate their drinking'.  I believe I am fortunate enough to have caught my drinking before I reached the tipping point and before I developed a physical dependency and this has made it relatively easy for me to quit. 

If you are questioning your relationship with alcohol, then it is probably time you started to evaluate your drinking seriously.  It is important to know that being addicted or dependent on alcohol is not black or white, there are so many shades of grey.  Now as I approach 6 months alcohol free, I realise just how negatively my alcohol consumption was affecting every aspect of my life - so much more than I ever realised or had been prepared to admit.  I am so grateful I had the strength and resolve to go against the social norm and stop drinking before I passed over the tipping point and developed a physical dependency.   I believe I am one of the lucky ones who escaped in the nick of time.

Friday, 8 June 2018

The reasons why we should use positive words

For over five months now I've been alcohol-free - the longest I've gone without a drink since I first threw myself into boozing at around seventeen. I am sure one of the reasons why I have successfully managed to abstain for so long this time, has been down to my positive approach to quitting and my resolute determination.  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" or "I'm not going to drink".  By eliminating words that introduce an element of doubt, I've been able to stick to my decision.  It's really helped me to understand the power of the words we choose and the direct impact they can have on our attitude and behaviour.

In Diane Setterfield's debut novel, 'The Thirteenth Tale' , she beautifully articulates: “There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”  She highlights how words can also be manipulated to deliver negative consequences and very often we are the authors of the toxic words that burden us with negativity, self-loathing, guilt and shame.

I recently went on holiday with a gorgeous female friend of mine.  She is a very successful business woman, kind, generous, witty and great fun to be around.  She is slim, curvy, sexy and feminine and looks a lot younger than her forty-something years.  Yet, despite all of these amazing attributes she spent a great deal of the holiday berating herself for eating, highlighting to us parts of her body she is unhappy with and declaring her intention to quit eating various foods.  The words she was using to describe herself were incredibly cruel and self-destructive and it was clear that she was making herself feel utterly miserable obsessing over her negative body image.  It was very uncomfortable listening to her as it mirrored the way in which I have been speaking to myself for decades, up until very recently. 

The issue of damaging self-talk and body loathing is certainly not limited to my friend and me - it is global. Taryn Brumfitt, the Founder of the Body Image Movement, a movement to inspire women to change the way they feel and think about their bodies, states how women "have many remarkable qualities but sadly we are often anchored down by negative thoughts that ‘sideline’ us from being all that we can be."  

Since reaping the rewards of using positive language to stay alcohol-free, coupled with the dulling of the mean girl voices that had been running wild in my head for years, I have found it much easier to adjust my internal dialogue to a far kinder one.  Without alcohol feeding the darker parts of my consciousness, I am able to focus on my positive qualities - many of which extend beyond my physical appearance.  I quite literally feel at peace with myself for the first time since I was around ten years old.  Quitting drinking and its ripple effect continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.  It has reinforced just how much words matter and how the words we choose can either lift us up or drag us down.  I'm no longer prepared to be that mean girl to myself, I finally want to make amends for all the cruel words I've used to hurt myself and hold myself back year after year after year.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

My top tips for sober socialising

I'm well into my first alcohol-free year and while a lot of the time I feel like I've mastered this new lifestyle, there are other times when I feel a little unsteady and insecure.  Although I haven't once been tempted to drink, there are certain situations that trigger my feelings of anxiety, discomfort and awkwardness.  These are all social situations as I attempt to remain part of my friendship group and try to keep my life carrying on, as much as possible, as before.

In the past week there have been three different situations that have triggered these feelings - all of which I have tried to learn something from.
Alcohol-free socialising

Socialising with close friends

Earlier this week there was a public holiday in Hong Kong so we went away for a long weekend in Bali with close friends.  One night everyone wanted to go drinking at a place which was a 45 minute taxi ride from where we were staying. I didn't want to disrupt plans or stand-out as the pain in the arse non-drinker, however I felt anxious about this all day.  I realised that the source of my anxiety was that I didn’t have an escape route, I was tied to the group because of the expense and potential danger of travelling alone in a taxi back to our villa.

It was the first time I’ve become aware of just how important it is for me to have an easy escape route once friends get their drinking heads on and I need to be able to slope off before we reach 'wheels falling off‘ time.  I know just how selfish people can become under the influence of alcohol as I was one of the worst!  For example, one New Year's Eve I was partying with my best friend who was heavily pregnant and I had promised her that we would leave when she had had enough.  When she eventually came up to me to say she was ready to go home I told her not to be so selfish, berated her about why our night had to end prematurely just because she was pregnant and then carried on partying.  She still brings this up with me today.  So, I guess I'm frightened of being trapped with people like me, who once they start drinking, don't want to stop until they're annihilated.

In the end, it was fine as everyone wanted to leave before things got out of hand but I wasn't able to relax or enjoy myself until I was back in that taxi heading home.

Lesson number one:  always have an escape route


Partying with strangers
One of our friends is leaving Hong Kong and had invited my husband and I to his leaving party.  My husband couldn't make it but I wanted to say goodbye and it was a party on a tram which was going to be a new experience for me.  I was very conscious that this was going to be a challenging evening because I only knew two of the guys attending the party but I decided to be brave - besides I had an easy escape route if things became too difficult.  

I spent the first half of the party sitting quietly on my own, sipping my Coke Zero and observing everything that was going on around me.  What was interesting was that I was quite at ease observing and blending into the background, up until the point that the host came up to me to apologise for the fact that I didn't know many people and I was all on my own.  Then I started spiralling into paranoia that I have turned into a boring, anti-social misfit now that I don't drink and everyone was judging me.  I started to resent the fact that my Coke Zero wasn't making me feel comfortable enough to make small talk with strangers.  Fortunately, some good friends joined the tram party half-way through and these feelings evaporated and I ended up having a really fun night.

Lesson number two: make sure you always have a few allies on-board to hold your hand


Brunching with friends and strangers
Yesterday I went to a brunch with a group of women, half who I know, half who I've never met.  I had a really lovely time and met some really smart, interesting, strong, feisty women - my favourite kind of ladies.  However, I did feel I was much more of a listener than a contributor and I wasn't holding court in the way I might have done if I had been drinking.  I had flashbacks to my awkward teenage years when we would meet up after school with boys from the local boys school and my confident friends would chat away effortlessly with them, while I sat awkwardly twiddling my hair wishing I could find something interesting to say.

It made me realise now that alcohol has been stripped from my life, I really am quite a shy, self-conscious person until I get to know and feel comfortable with people.  The real me is that awkward teenager and booze was just providing me with the bravado I lacked with strangers.  I felt quite exposed without my wine security blanket but I know that coming to terms with the fact that I am not the person I thought I was is just part of this process.

Lesson number three:  learn to accept that you are a slightly different person without alcohol


I sometimes have to remind myself that I am only a few months into changing habits and behaviours that I have been practising for thirty years.  It is not always going to be plain sailing.  The key to keeping on track is to remain aware of how situations make me feel, learning from uncomfortable experiences and putting in place strategies that will protect me from feeling insecure and anxious the next time.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Three reasons why people are secretive about their sobriety

Recently I was out with a group of people, some who I knew and some who I didn't, when one of my friends mentioned my blog.  Naturally I was asked what I blog about so I explained that I currently blog about being alcohol-free.  This sparked a lively discussion about our different relationships with booze.  The next day I received a message from one of the women in the group to say that she too is a non-drinker and has been for two years but is very secretive about it.  Whereas I have made the choice to go completely public about quitting drinking, I completely understand why a large proportion of non-drinkers choose to fly under the radar or remain hidden.
A mockcock


Drinking is the cultural norm

In 'Kick the Drink.... Easily' by Jason Vale, he states that alcohol 'is the only drug in the world where, when you stop taking it, you are seen as having a problem'.  In addition he highlights how alcohol  'remains the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking'.  In this NewStatesman article by Hannah Smith about her experience of quitting drinking, she highlights how 'our society venerates an addictive substance, and then pillories you if there’s even a hint you may have become addicted to it.'  She summarises that when she gave up drinking she was made to feel ashamed of her sobriety.

In this paper printed in The Lancet, twenty drugs were scored on criteria related to overall harm and alcohol scored as the most harmful drug, with an overall harm score of 72. Heroin came in second with a harm score of 55, and crack cocaine scored third with a score of 54. Despite the fact that there is endless research into the dangers of alcohol, there is still the risk that you will be judged and treated as the one with the issue when you decide not to partake.  For many of us that can feel desperately awkward and unjust, so it is often simpler to invent a plethora of excuses as to why we're not drinking (e.g. I'm driving / I'm on antibiotics / I've got a big day at work tomorrow etc.) rather than revealing the truth.

But why don't you drink?

Since I have quit drinking, I have been quite surprised to be on the receiving end of countless interrogations to understand exactly why I have chosen to stop drinking.  I often feel as though the prober is licking their lips in anticipation of tales of waking up in a pile of my own vomit in a police cell with no recollection of how I got there or necking a bottle of vodka for breakfast to be able to face the day ahead.  I'm sorry to disappoint!

In 'This Naked Mind' by Annie Grace she discusses how she's been shocked by the invasive questions she's received, stating 'You wouldn’t ask someone who turned down a glass of milk, “Are you pregnant?” “Are you lactose intolerant?” or “Did you struggle with milk?”'.  In Hannah Smith's NewStatesman article she elaborates that 'drinking alcohol is basically expected in certain situations and if you aren't partaking, people are going to ask you why. saying, "I'm good tonight" isn't enough. People will demand reasons in a surprisingly pushy way.'

In short, having to explain why you are a non-drinker can feel really intrusive and alienating.  Maybe the non-drinker has a medical condition they don't want to discuss with you, maybe they have lost control of their drinking and are doing their best to take back their life, maybe they're pregnant but don't want the world to know yet, maybe they just don't like drinking.  Whatever the reason, it can be really embarrassing (and somewhat ironic) to be put on the spot and forced to elaborate on why we aren't partaking in one of the most addictive and harmful drugs.

Move away from the sober one

Alcohol is a social lubricant.  Annie Grace discusses how 'we’ve been conditioned to drink our entire lives. We’re told alcohol calms and relaxes us, gives us courage, gets us through parties and work events, and makes us happy'.  It is true that alcohol can bring down people's barriers. loosening them up and giving them some common ground to stand on, so when you are the only one abstaining, people can make you feel excluded.  I've noticed that a couple of my friends are absolutely fine with me being alcohol-free up until a certain point in the night where they clearly find my sobriety uncomfortable and they actively avoid me, leaving me feeling like the unpopular kid at school observing them from the periphery.  I do find that hurtful as I'm still the same person, I'm just not f**ked up on booze.

Annie Grace states how 'It is much harder to go against the grain, skipping the drink...than it is to be swept along in our drinking culture. That is courage. Drinking because everyone else is doing it or because you are worried about being left out is not.'   However, it feels awkward and at times lonely standing out from the herd and being the social outcast.

It would help both drinkers and non-drinkers alike if there was more empathy, tact and acceptance around those who choose not to drink. By avoiding making assumptions and asking difficult and intrusive questions you will make it a lot easier for the non-drinker who is probably very awkward about standing out from the crowd with their choice.  Welcome them into the group and don't feel afraid of their sobriety.  The likelihood is that they have done some pretty embarrassing things themselves fuelled by alcohol so they are in no position to judge you and how you behave under the influence.  Finally, if more non-drinkers felt comfortable enough to come out of the closet, it would make it easier for others to go against the grain and embark on an alcohol free life.

If you're interested in finding out more about this then watch Clare Pooley's fabulous Ted Talk on 'Making Sober Less Shameful'.  

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

How to cope with being alcohol-free when your partner is a drinker

One of the topics that rears its head quite frequently in the soberverse is how you cope with being alcohol-free when your partner is still a drinker and how you sustain your relationship when one of you has made a significant life choice that the other hasn't.  It was certainly one of my major concerns when I decided I was ready to quit indefinitely.  One of the things that drew my husband David and I together was our love of partying, getting drunk, being the last to leave a party and hanging out on boats (with drinks in our hands). Our entire 13 year relationship up until 2018 had pretty much centred around events and gatherings laced with booze.  Since I've stopped drinking, I have been very conscious of the fact that David didn't make this choice (in fact he wasn't even consulted - sorry David) and it would be unreasonable to expect him to adopt the same approach as me. To be honest, his drinking rarely bothers me and it is only on the odd occasion when he stumbles home hammered in the early hours on a school night that I throw my toys out of the pram.

Sober partying
A couple of weekends ago David was on a stag do and when he got back he told me how my non-drinking had been one of the topics of conversation over the dinner table.  The boys had been curious as to how he was managing with having a sober wife as they felt that it could put a strain on our marriage. I presume because this wasn't what David had signed up to, as he's unwittingly traded in the party girl he married with someone who is ecstatic to be in bed with a book and a hot chocolate by 9.30pm.  I suppose there was also a concern that with me no longer partying like before, I'd put the handbrake on his partying.

I decided to do a bit of research into whether marriages were placed under strain when one half quits drinking... big, big mistake!  Several research papers including this one have found that couples with different drinking patterns are more likely to divorce than couples with similar drinking patterns. Nooooo!  So I followed this up by asking David about how he's finding life married to a non-drinker.

I'm really glad I did ask him as it did raise a couple of things that we hadn't discussed and I hadn't really given much thought to.  David explained how it doesn't bother him that I don't drink and he likes the fact that I am a much happier, less angry person.  However, he does feel that I no longer want to go out with him and do the things that he likes doing, like going to pubs and late night bars. He explained how he would love it if we could still go out together like we used to and I realise that he is right and we should.  We're in a partnership and there does need to be a bit of compromise on both sides to make sure this new dynamic works.

At over four months alcohol-free, I am experiencing an internal shift.  Whereas the early days were about staying calm and retreating slightly to stop myself slipping down the boozing path again, I now feel such a strong internal resolve that I am starting to entertain the idea of hanging out in bars and clubs more.  In fact I was at a hen party a couple of weeks ago where I was in a bar very happily sipping mocktails with the girls until late.  So, I know that there is nothing to stop me doing the same with David.

A happy marriage needs to be an equal partnership where both parties support each other in whatever way they can.  Just as David needs to respect and support my alcohol-free lifestyle, I need to respect that he is still going to want to go out drinking and partying with our mates like before and I shouldn't try to alter that - and I wouldn't.  The key to ensuring this is a success for both of us is to keep communicating, keep being sensitive to each other's needs and remaining flexible as we navigate this new way of life together.
Sober rugby



Sunday, 29 April 2018

Six reasons to stick to an alcohol-free lifestyle

Patience is a virtue, a virtue that I've lacked for most of my life.  I am ridiculously impatient.  When I leave a voicemail or send an email or Whatsapp, I expect an immediate response.  When I see something I like, I have to buy it straight away.  When I'm on a diet, I want instant results.  When I'm standing in a queue, I'll start getting anxious if another queue moves faster than mine.  Basically, I'm terrible at waiting and my appetite for instant gratification is insatiable.

When I've stopped drinking in the past, I've tended to make it through dry January or sober October by counting the days until I can finally be reunited with the bottle again.  I will have noticed an uplift in my mood but the positives never kicked in quickly enough to compensate for the sacrifice of 'fun' and 'inclusion' and I would pick up a glass or six again.  On the few occasions I've quit the booze for a couple of months, in addition to the uplift in my mood, I will have noticed my skin start to glow and my weight dip, but nothing ever happened fast enough to stop my drinking in it's tracks.  This year though, I have flicked the switch in my head to 'non-drinker' mode and by default I have acquired some patience.  The changes I have experienced have been both surprising and astounding and they continue to creep up on me all the time.

Happy head
The first major change was to my mental health.  Within a couple of weeks I felt less anxious and calmer.  I went through an irrationally angry stage for a while, but thankfully, that passed.  By around day 100, I realised the vicious negative chatter in my head had been quelled and that has had the biggest impact on me to date.  I feel as though I am radiating happiness and positivity.  Without my gloomy internal running commentary I am far more accepting of me, realising I am enough, I am worthy and I am fine just as I am.

The physical changes have taken longer to manifest but week by week I am seeing the differences in me without alcohol.
Changing for the better...


Puff and it's gone
After around six weeks I started to see that my face was noticeably slimmer.  Four months down the line and I can see that my thighs and stomach are much less chubby and puffy. While the scales have actually gone up slightly recently, I am without doubt slimmer - people comment on it all the time now.  Alcohol is proven to cause bloating as it is an inflammatory substance which can result in the body swelling.  In addition alcohol dehydrates and the body's reaction to dehydration is to retain water.  Without booze, I've simply deflated!

Vanishing cellulite 
I am one of the many unfortunate women who is afflicted by cellulite and the cellulite on my bum and legs has been the bane of my life for as long as I can remember.  Now, I wish I could say that after four months of sobriety all my cellulite has vanished into thin air, but I can't.  However, in the past couple of weeks it has notably reduced.  While alcohol doesn't cause cellulite, it does make it worse by constricting the blood vessels in the skin.  I certainly feel more confident around the pool and in communal changing rooms with my slightly less dimpled thighs and bum!

Glowing skin
Drinking deprives the skin of vital vitamins and nutrients and after about a month of being alcohol-free I started to look at my reflection and see a younger, glowing face looking back at me.  From around the six week mark, friends started to comment on how well I was looking and this has continued.  People who haven't seen me for a few months are quite taken aback with how different and healthy I look.  Without stripping my skin of the things it needs, it is flourishing.

Hair today
My hair has never been happy in Hong Kong.  In the humidity, it has always become hideously frizzy and two years ago, it became horribly brittle, snapping off and becoming worryingly thin.  In fact, the reason why I cut my hair short was because it looked so straggly and unhealthy long.  In the last three weeks, I have realised that despite the humidity it is no longer frizzing like it used to.  In fact, it's looking shinier, thicker and healthier than it's looked in years.  Alcohol is a diuretic and a lack of body fluid causes dry and brittle hair making it prone to breakage.  In addition alcohol can deplete the body of zinc and iron, which are two key minerals for healthy hair.  I could have saved myself an absolute fortune by simply giving up drinking sooner, rather than spending money on hair treatments and blow drys!

Tan-tastic
One of the most surprising physical changes has been my skin's ability to tan.  I went on holiday to the Philippines over Easter and despite spending very little time working on a tan, I came home looking really brown (for me).  Since returning to Hong Kong, I have managed to maintain the tan well.  During my time living in Asia I have found it quite hard to tan, typically turning an unattractive reddish brown.  This year, I'm a really nice golden brown.  I looked this up to see if this had anything to do with being sober and remarkably, research has shown that the body metabolises alcohol into a compound called acetaldehyde which can cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun's UV rays.  Who knew that boozing was partly responsible for my pale English skin?

Giving up drinking has unquestionably been the best thing I've ever done for me.  In retrospect, I wish I had had the patience to push on through past a month or two in the past to experience all these benefits.  Chatting to sober people on the Facebook Club Soda groups, who are far further into their alcohol-free lives than me, they attest to the fact that the positive changes just keep on coming if you have the patience to stick to your resolve.  So as far as no drinking goes, I will remain patient so I can carry on this illuminating journey.