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  • Joanna Dreher

Sobriety is the new black

Anyone else partaking in Dry January? This is day 9 for me and everything going ok. To be honest I have never done a dry January before and I will go into the reasons why I am doing this now later. I am also going dry for February too and who knows beyond that. Any goal setting needs to be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time measured. I believe change is more attainable if you start with small steps - change one thing, once you have that change under your belt and going well, you start to change your mindset about yourself from negative thoughts like ‘I can’t, I’m rubbish, I won’t keep it up’ to ‘Ooh I can’ - which gives us confidence to maybe change something else, effectively piggy backing new positive habits onto our first small steps.


Back to alcohol, I didn’t wake up on New Years Day with a hangover and think I will take a month off - I have been planning this for a few months. My interest in sobriety has been gaining pace in the last year, first through my work with the Amy Winehouse Foundation and also through two close friends who have gone longterm sober for their own reasons and were vocal about the positive effects. My own relationship with alcohol has been mixed - my first career was founded in finance in the City and alcohol was part of that - it was the 80’s and 90’s and much of the culture in the City was based around drinking. My Father - a loving, intelligent man, had prepared me for this culture by introducing me to alcohol in my adolescence - I often had wine with dinner and tried other drinks - he felt that by introducing me to it, I would have a better relationship with it. So when I started working, drinking became part of my life - and to be fair I was pretty good at it - which is an odd thing to say as if being able to stomach a lot of alcohol should somehow give us a badge of honour. So drink I did, in my lunch hour and after work and at the weekends - it had a sense of normality about it - everyone was doing it and it was how connections were made. Being a fairly shy teenager and a self proclaimed introvert, I noticed that alcohol gave me the courage to talk to people, to actually show them who I was and drink allowed me not to feel vulnerable in that situation. All my friends drank, so a good night out always involved alcohol.


Along the way, there were signs that I ignored about my drinking, that voice that I kept pushed down. Firstly there were the stupid things you do when you are drunk, these can be forgivable if they are one off silly things but when they are life changing - like getting into situations that you wouldn’t have when you’re sober, you think that would make you change. It didn’t! I also noted even in my inebriated state that I repeated myself endlessly - why is that? Sorry to say but drunk people are rather boring. I used to be a happy drunk but due to some dysfunctional relationships, I noted that alcohol opened the door to express my anger and disappointment inappropriately without caring for the consequences.


Thankfully in my mid thirties I gave birth to my daughter (obviously I was sober during my pregnancy) and working and being a mum didn’t give me much time for lunchtime and after work shenanigans. I think my daughter turned me away from a progressively, difficult path that I didn’t know how to get off. Then I discovered meditation and my drinking lessened but I didn’t stop completely - unlike a lot of my fellow mediators.

The last 5 years of the last decade have been very challenging, I do not want to go into details here but there have been deaths, redundancies and health issues - I felt like I was firefighting. I noted that I started to drink more again - a bad day? -a gin and tonic - a good day? - a gin and tonic. Its Friday - let's go out. It crept up on me. Being a therapist, reflecting on my relationship with self and others a lot, I noted this but wasn’t in the headspace to do anything about it - until now.


Have you noted how alcohol is so accepted in society? Try and buy a birthday card for someone who is sober - there’s a challenge right there. Drink is ingrained into our culture - other European counties do not have the same attitude to alcohol that the UK has - the Society of Justice branded the UK the addiction capital of Europe in 2013 - with the biggest problem being alcohol abuse. In the years 2017/18 there were over 330,000 hospital admissions due to alcohol consumption. In comparison in 2017 there was just over 14,000 hospital admissions due to illicit drugs. Just reread that and take it in for a minute.


How is it that sleek advertising encouraging us to imbibe a potentially dangerous drug is allowed. Think of cigarette packets and those awful pictures of lungs and fatality warnings - imagine the same on alcohol - pictures of diseased livers and cancers - would that make you think differently? We are made to think that alcohol is our friend - when actually it’s a poison and therefore to be taken seriously.


Of those that have told me stories of their sobriety, the most interesting to me as a therapist are those that proclaim that their mental health has improved, no more anxiety, no more negative voices in the head, less negative reactions to their loved ones. Maybe going sober should be at the top of our self care list. Industries have started to wake up to this new attitude to sobriety - alcohol free drinks are much more palatable and easier to attain - I had a very nice alcohol free beer in Pizza Express the other day and quite honestly I couldn’t taste the difference - I am also frequenting an alcohol free drinks festival in London next weekend.


I don’t know where this two month (or more) stint will take me - but I am very curious about seeing how going sober affects me and I am very happy to reset my relationship with alcohol. I make no judgements about people that drink - how can I? This is my own experiment. Being a mindful drinker is something I maybe interested in but I’m staying openminded about it. I like this statement from American Club Soda Founder Ruby Warrington - “There are many shades of gray when it comes to alcohol addiction,” Warrington says, “and perhaps there can be shades of gray when it comes to sobriety, also.”


I leave you with something my meditation teacher told me about alcohol and those that abuse it - when we worked in groups we would often ‘tune in’ to people to connect to them and sense how they felt. My teacher told me that alcohol allows us to connect to dark places and energies and advised me to tune into someone who had a bad drinking problem - I did and however woo woo that sounds to you - I believe him.


If you would like to read more about changing your attitude to alcohol - I can recommend ‘The Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace - it’s worth reading even if you are not doing dry January or embarking on sobriety - in fact reading it whilst still drinking is recommended. Club Soda can also be found on social media and is a group set up to help those who want to change their relationship to alcohol.


Wishing you all a happy, prosperous and healthy new year.


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