What do the Shadow Health Secretary and a teenager from Dundee have in common?

This week two stories made a ripple in the news that weren’t related, but I believe share a common message.

On Thursday this week Jon Ashworth MP, Shadow Health Secretary, made an emotional speech about being the child of an alcoholic father. He was speaking in a Parliamentary debate on alcohol harm, and spoke movingly about his parents’ divorce, of being effectively his father’s carer on visits, through to how his father didn’t show up for his wedding.

Ashworth said he was inspired to speak after Liam Byrne MP, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, recently spoke about his experiences of having an alcoholic father. Byrne founded and is Chair of the APPG of Children of Alcoholics. Jon Ashworth’s speech prompted the Health Minister Nicola Blackwood to commit to discussing a strategy to support children of alcoholics. This is Parliament working at its best: personal experience and informed thinking resulting in action that can actually do some good.

Meanwhile, an 18-year-old from Dundee called Chelsea Cameron wrote an open letter to her parents on her blog. Her parents were drug addicts, whom Chelsea lived with until she was 14 years old. The letter is articulate and moving:

“Life is not sunshine and rainbows and thank you for teaching me that life is unfair, people disappoint you and there’s sometimes nothing you can do about that. A lesson well learnt from the both of you.”

I didn’t live with my parents when I was growing up, although I saw both reasonably regularly. I wouldn’t say my father is an alcoholic, but alcohol is a gravitational pull for him, affecting the pattern of many other aspects of his life. When I read the experiences of Ashworth, Byrne and Cameron, I don’t see my own childhood reflected. However, I can recognise some of the sentiment. Alongside a warmth of feeling there can also be a distance, an anger in your teenage years, and ultimately you know deep down that you have to kind of build your own support network, that whatever you do with your life, it’s on your own dime.  As Rancid’s Tim Armstrong wrote about his father in ‘Radio’, “he gave more love to his bottle of wine, so I had to go out and find love of another kind”.

These people all have in common the experience of living with parents with addiction, of course, but they’ve also all channeled their experiences into a different path: Ashworth and Byrne into politics, Tim Armstrong into punk, and Chelsea Cameron is apparently a high-achiever at school. In her words: “Someone else’s choices weren’t going to determine my future.”

I don’t know any of these people, but I applaud them for saying what they did. They, like many sobriety blogs, are stories of imperfect beginnings.  If you can take any messages from these stories, I’d say they are that people are resilient, that things can get better, and that you should never underestimate what others take from the things you do.

Bye January

It has been a month since the wagon rolled into town and I drank my last boozy drink. Today is day 32, so having done a month, it seems a good time to reflect.

Did I expect to get this far? I simultaneously did and didn’t. I had planned to quit for a while, and deep down I knew I was done with booze for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the longest I’ve ever done without alcohol is 33 days, so I wasn’t sure I believed I would do it. I have thoughts which are currently percolating in my brain on why this time is different, and I’ll write about that soon.

What has changed? Not drinking is the end in itself, and if nothing else had happened then I’d be delighted. However, little additional benefits have started to stack up. Allowing for daily variation, I can confidently say I’ve lost 8lbs. I think I’ve saved about £400 that I would have spent either on booze or related activity, mainly takeaways, cabs and buying my lunch instead of making it in the morning. My energy levels are much more stable through the day. I’ve been reading more. I feel better.

I haven’t necessarily had the whooosh of amazingness that I’ve felt before when I’ve tried to stop, and many others report. That’s fine, I do feel like it is taking my body longer to adjust and re-centre itself. I have also given up eating meat and fish (apart from one errant cod fillet three weeks ago), so my digestive system has been like, ‘dude WTF just happened?’.

It hasn’t been as difficult as I’ve found giving up before (as evidenced by the fact that I’m not currently in the pub, having deleted this blog a week after starting it), but there have been blips. I was in the pub earlier this week and, while I wasn’t tempted to actually have a beer, I did feel very conscious that it probably would have been quite good fun to do so. My brain is definitely trying to break habits. Several times at work, around 4pm, I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘beer or wine tonight? A bottle of red would be lovely’. It’s not that I’ve wanted a drink, but it is just the habit my brain is in to think that. Like a little drunken Pavlovian dog.

There are various research studies about how long it takes to change a habit – 21 days, 60 days, 120 days, blah blah. My main focus this month is on carrying on, if I get to the end of February without a drink then I’ll be over half way to 100 days without alcohol. I’m still reading sobriety blogs – they keep me focused and pepped up – and I’ve joined a gym. This month will be more social than last month, I’ve definitely kept my head down in January and tried to build up momentum.

One month down. Long may it continue.

On a plain

I’m on day 25, which is remarkable for me – the second longest I’ve gone without alcohol in c.22 years – but I’ve reached something of a plateau. I think I just want to get over the line of the end of the month. 30 days feels like a psychological landmark.

In a slightly ‘meh’ mindset, it’s a good time to check back into some sobriety blogs and keep the focus up. One story stuck with me, from the blog Stick a fork in me…I’m done. It’s a short anecdote, worth a read, where the author volunteered to leave a (dry) BBQ to get her child a coat, and took the opportunity at home to have a sly glass of wine. A benign act, which actually could be recounted very humorously, but it’s the last line that stood out. Somewhere in her brain, there was a thought running – this probably isn’t the way normal people drink.

It resonated with me, not because of the scenario itself – I don’t have kids, and therefore rarely go to parties without alcohol – but because it’s rooted in day-to-day routine. That fatigue that comes with thinking, ‘shall I have a drink tonight? How can I create a space in this situation where I can get a drink?’ and the lingering voice that says, ‘most people probably don’t think, or drink, like this.’ It’s not a dramatic story involving hospitals, wreckage or broken relationships, just a snapshot of a life that has come to discreetly involve alcohol wherever possible.

People take their cues to change from anywhere, and any event that prompts someone to improve their life is equally as valid as any other. I like thinking about this story. As I get more days under my belt, it’s helpful to remember one’s own moment of thinking, ‘you know what, with the drinking, you need to have a word with yourself.’ Day 25 is undramatic, and all the better for it.

Rave-olution and redemption

Morning Gloryville dancingWhat do sober people do on Saturday mornings? I have’t had booze for 20 days, I feel brighter in the mornings, and full of energy and positivity. So what better way to kick off the weekend than raving?

Today was my first experience of Morning Gloryville. They put on an early morning, sober rave experience – a raveolution –  and have run events in more than 20 cities across the world. Turning up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But it was a lot of fun. Part club, part exercise class, the dance floor was packed from when we arrived (about 10am) to leaving at lunchtime.

They also offered yoga, massages, free glitter face-paint, and non-alcoholic drinks. And people really dress up. Like, a lot. Think Glastonbury with more gym clobber. Some lengthy queues for the glitter and the cloakroom aside, it was brilliant to enjoy a club environment without being pissed/negotiating other pissed people/spending a load of money on more booze. Gloryville is all about good vibes and making positive change in the world, and if that ain’t something to celebrate these days, I don’t know what is.

Gloryville was at the Westbank venue under the Westway, so we figured we would take a walk to the Redemption restaurant in Nothing Hill for lunch. It’s a vegan, alcohol-free bar/restaurant, and they also allow people with glittery faces in. I had a ‘crantini’ (cranberry-based mocktail), a peppermint tea and a Tokyo salad for lunch.

Dancing, fancy lunch, and it was still only early afternoon. Raving in the morning is most definitely For The Win!

Morning Gloryville sign