Change one thing. That was the life advice offered up by the unlikely guru of my twenties in the form of a Kiss FM DJ. Back then it made sense in many ways – dump an unhealthy relationship, look for a new and exciting job, move to a different flat, town, country, or get your hair cut into a bonkers new style.
That advice stayed with me through life, and despite the landscape changing, the change one thing rule Bam Bam spoke of still resonates.
Back in August 2018 I decided to give up alcohol. It came after a slow but steady stream of mornings after the night before filled with self loathing and regret. The final low point however wasn’t after a crazy night of debauchery or partying, it was after an evening having my parents over for a meal, in which I drank a few glasses of wine, despite not really wanting them. It was that final straw of irony which made me question why I was drinking out of habit rather than choice. The weeks and months that followed helped me to pull apart my relationship with alcohol and understand why I had lived through decades of self harming, never questioning an action that repeatedly made me feel ill both physically and mentally.
In the early days of sobriety, it was hard to get through social events without the prop of a drink in hand, but the benefits were clear instantaneously. Early mornings bouncing out of bed full of energy after insanely good nights sleep are an easy trade in for the first awkward parties, dinner dates and meals.
Unlearning all you know about socialising and retraining your brain to hold it’s own socially, sober, takes a while. So plenty of distraction is needed to get you through that phase.
As a result, any non-alcohol related fun has to fill the gaps; which for me meant running, and lots of it. It also threw into the mix kick boxing, and yoga, all of which let off steam, boosted my endorphins and energy levels, and made me feel pretty damn good.
So my initial goal was never ‘get fit’, but by making one decision, a pretty kick ass side effect followed.
In the midst of all this non-boozing and exercising, the other fairly obvious replacement came – drinks. If you aren’t downing wine, prosecco, pints of beer or cider, what are you going to pop in your hand at the end of a long tough week to celebrate Fri-yay? To toast the good news or to cool you down in the garden with friends?
There are a shed load of booze alternatives these days, if like me, that’s your bag. Ironically, despite the crazy calorific content in wine and beer, drinking your daily allowance of calories in a couple of soft drinks seems such a waste. Perhaps the sweetness in some of the drinks makes you aware of the sugar content, but it certainly didn’t take long for me to be scrutinising the backs of the drinks and questioning whether I’d just prefer a glass of water. I would steer well clear of anything full of sugar and look for the refreshing and the tasty without all of the additives.
It’s quite hilarious really, after two decades of loading up on whatever was on happy hour without question.
Months in, as my waistline shrunk and my fitness improved from all the knock on changes following quitting drinking, and I realise I’ve totally turned around my mindset about what I’m eating too. It wasn’t a conscious choice, a crossroad or a declaration of change, it just kind of happened.
Since being back at work (another subsequent life change that strangely followed my decision to quit drinking), our midweek meals have become 90% vegetarian. They feature fish at least twice a week and a huge amount of grains, salad and vegetables. It’s not unusual for us to be eating high protein lower carb options and have cut out processed foods almost altogether.
I’ve become a big fan of soya milk, started snacking on nuts and have leaned towards the vegetarian option so often I wonder if I need to label myself a flexitarian? I still eat meat, but only if I really want it, which as it turns out, isn’t as often as I thought.
I suppose it’s again, a more mindful approach to your body, what it needs to be healthier and to fulfill it’s potential. Simply, trying to help your body out rather than fighting against it.
Looking after my physical health has been a huge leap towards better self care, but mentally, has my approach changed?
In the last 11 months I’ve been more in tune with my own needs than ever. I have completed a course of counselling to help me deal with my past and my approach to dealing with social situations and relationships, and I understand my achilles heel better than I ever have. I now feel more equipped to understand my own insecurities and lend myself a hand if my anxieties flare up by the familiar triggers I’ve perhaps dampened down in other ways in the past. Often with dire consequences of emotional outbursts and drink fuelled tears.
Practising a bit of meditation and gratitude is now something I recognise as a positive investment of time, rather than something I’d snigger at the hippies for doing. Having an open mind and a don’t knock it til you try it attitude has paid dividends.
I dress in the clothes that I love, which make me feel happy, and yet if I need to, I’ll snuggle up in the laziest of clobber and indulge in rest days on my own or early nights snuggled in bed by 8pm. I dress for my mood and have fun with it.
I have actively arranged to see the people I need in my life, and politely declined invitations which don’t bring joy to my life, or that of my family.
I am passionate about the environment with a new found zealous, and I am committed to being able to influence positive change around me. I make time to read, to write, and turn ideas and projects into reality. I have can do attitude.
I feel brand new.
With a newfound understanding of what is important to me, I feel a deeper love for those in my life, because through all of this, I have made peace with my past, and most of all, myself.
I have learnt that it’s okay to like who I am.
Quitting drinking was never supposed to be about all of these things, but if you change just one big thing, whatever that needs to be for you, the rest really can follow.