Men’s Week – ‘Deep Breath. Here Goes …’ by Neil Shearer

Men’s Week – ‘Deep Breath. Here Goes …’ by Neil Shearer

I’m not really one for sharing personal stories but hey, here I am, declaring my achievements to my friends and random strangers on the internet!!

I recently achieved over 800 days sober; my last alcoholic drink was consumed on 5 November 2016. I could never have imagined getting this point when I started this journey; after all, it had been many years since I managed any kind of break between drinking sessions.

I’d always been a big drinker, and you can probably substitute the word ‘big’ for ‘problem’ in that sentence. There were many times that I drank to black-out stage, couldn’t remember getting home, or spent nights secretly drinking spirits at home while my family were asleep.

I was always the first to encourage social drinking and mostly enjoyed it however, it slowly got to the point where I wasn’t doing it for fun; I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.  

I’d known for some time that my drinking wasn’t ‘normal’ but continued to tell myself I wasn’t an alcoholic. Alcohol was starting to have a negative impact on nearly every aspect of my life and something needed to change before it got any worse.

I’ve heard many people’s stories describing ‘rock bottom’ and I was lucky that it never got that far. The biggest issue for me was that, because I work at home, I started drinking earlier and earlier in the day and often in secret.

The last time I drank alcohol I was working at my computer at home. I’m a photographer so often spend time editing into the small hours while my wife and children slept. The evening started with me pouring a rum and coke .. then another … and another….

At about 3am, I’d finished the whole bottle. My wife woke to hear me stumbling around, barely able to talk and guided me to bed.

The next day, I woke up with a pounding head, dry mouth, and absolutely no recollection of why my wife was so pissed off at me, or how I’d got to bed. She confronted me and I made excuses, but knew the game was up.  

I broke down and admitted everything. The secret drinking had been going on for longer than I cared to remember. My wife had caught me out before but I’d sworn it wasn’t a problem, citing ‘it was a tough time of year’. Really, it was just another excuse.

I knew I had a problem. I was an alcoholic who needed to act before I lost everything. 

I decided to call my doctor and ask for help. It was the first time I’d ever said ‘I have a drinking problem’ and I felt so ashamed. But the doctor was brilliant and arranged an appointment 3 weeks later with a substance abuse clinic in Manchester. It was my first positive step forward. 

The first three weeks before the appointment were the hardest. I know it’s a cliché, but it really was a matter of taking one day at a time. My wife was amazing; she was always there for me to talk to when I REALLY wanted a drink and was more supportive than I ever could’ve hoped for.

When the appointment finally arrived, I strode in full of positivity. I proudly announced that I had been sober for three whole weeks and was kind of expecting a ‘well done’ or ‘wow! Three whole weeks! Go you!’, but there was nothing. The only advice I was given was that abstinence was the only option for me.

The support worker had been sober for eighteen years and made me feel that my three weeks weren’t so impressive. I felt panic rise up inside me when I realised sobriety was forever; I’d thought he’d just be advise me to take a break from drinking and I’d be ‘cured’.

I never saw another counsellor again and never joined any support groups. I simply wasn’t ready to talk to any more strangers about my personal life.

Sobriety hasn’t been easy at times but in some ways, it hasn’t been as hard as I expected either. I’ve survived three Christmases, weddings, parties and even a weekend in Amsterdam! No-one has ever judged me, and all my friends and family have been so supportive and for that, I’d like to thank them.

I will never judge anyone else for drinking and this is not meant to be a preachy story, but for one of the first times in my life, I am actually genuinely proud of something I’ve accomplished and will strive every day to continue.

I’m in the best shape of my life, I sleep better (despite my children’s best efforts), my mental health has dramatically improved and I’ve got more money. There really is no downside for me. 

So that’s me, that’s my story. I genuinely believe that if I can do it, so then so can you.

*****************************************

Written by Neil, edited by Sober Fish

Instagram – @neilshearer_photography

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How to Survive a Sober Christmas by Sober Fish

How to Survive a Sober Christmas by Sober Fish

So you’ve taken the plunge and decided that Christmas 2018 will be a hangover-free, guilt-free, joyous occasion, but you have no idea how you’re going to crack it?

Here are some of my top tips to help you wake up in 2019 happy and poison free

– Stop romanticising. You’re choosing sobriety for a reason. Alcohol is NOT your friend.

– Drive everywhere

– Find some nice recipes and cook for yourself and your loved ones. Cooking takes time and effort .. you won’t have time to drink

– Avoid obvious boozefests if you’re newly sober .. if you were on a diet, you wouldn’t hang out in a bakery would ya?

– PLAN what drinks you’re going to drink. I remember clunking numerous bottles of alcohol free options round to friends houses and getting off my head on sugar. Do whatever it takes 🎄

– Listen to podcasts/webinars regarding alcohol and addiction .. it really helped me in the early days .. I’ve listed ones I feature on below

– Eat lots and stop feeling guilty. One thing at a time my friends 😘

– Do some kind of exercise every day; it’s good for your mind, body and soul. On Christmas Day last year, I inadvertently joined the fancy dress park run .. and I wasn’t running or in fancy dress 🤣

– Tell people you’re not drinking. If you’re shy, lie! Antibiotics is always a good one … unless you’re still using that excuse a year later …

– Request people don’t buy you alcohol either as a present or in a bar

– Try, where possible, not to go to an event for a prolonged period of time if you know you’re going to struggle, and always plan your exit strategy

– Don’t feel guilt for saying no. You need to look after you at this crucial time.

– A Sober Christmas is about connection; connect with your loved ones and enjoy their company rather than having a row and throwing the turkey at them …. errrr no I didn’t 🤣

– Above all, ENJOY YOURSELF! When you were 5, you weren’t pissed (I hope) and you had the best Christmas ever .. you can do it again .. promise! 🎅🏼

To watch my Club Soda Webinar recorded in April 2018, click here

To listen to my Recovery Elevator Podcast recorded in July 2017, click here

RE 125: Focus on the Action and Not the Results

To watch my Club Soda Webinar recorded on Sunday 9 December 2018, click here

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Guest Blog – ‘Alcohol and Mental Hell’ by Courtney

Guest Blog – ‘Alcohol and Mental Hell’ by Courtney

Have you noticed that the words ‘alcohol’ and ‘anxiety’ both have seven letters in them? This means when you write them out, one under the other, they are pretty much the same length on the page. To me, this is a symbolic way of how aligned and in-tune alcohol and anxiety are with each other.

My story began as many do. I drank to have fun with friends, in social settings mostly. However, as time went on, I started to drink more at home, away from those friends. I started to use alcohol to deal with stressful days at work and to cope with a recently diagnosed health issue. If I couldn’t solve my problems right away, alcohol always helped to take those worries away instantly. So you see, anxiety fueled that fiery desire to drink.

As the night went on and the fire slowly started to extinguish, the anxiety came back but it would be worse than before. I would wake up unable to take a full breath trying to control the shakiness in my body and brain. I would have loved nothing more than to feel at peace but nothing seemed to help except my anxiety medication and of course, starting another drinking escapade.

Some mornings I woke up so anxious that drinking that bottle of champagne at 10am made complete and total sense. It took me back to a ‘normal’ level. How could I start my Saturday feeling like I couldn’t function due to crippling anxiety?

I was actually ok with this at first. I didn’t seem to see a problem with how I was treating my body and my mind. In a world where brunch has become its own culture, I didn’t think much about it.

It took me about a year to realize I could not sustain this type of lifestyle.  Once I decided that I needed to make a change, I was constantly at battle with myself. I continued to drink in the same fashion, but I started to feel something boiling inside me, telling me that it was wrong. This not only shot up my anxiety levels, it also took a toll on my self-esteem. I felt like I had lost all control because sheer willpower just wasn’t cutting it. Was I different somehow? Was there something inside of me, a part of who I was, that just couldn’t simply quit?

Ultimately, low self-esteem led to depression. I felt so ugly in pictures and staring at myself in the mirror after a night of drinking. My face was constantly bloated, my eyes had lost their luster and my body constantly felt tired. I felt sad that I wasn’t able to take control of my life. I was disappointing my family and my amazing husband who had to witness it all. And speaking of my sweet husband, he became the brunt of all my pent up frustration and anger. Not only did alcohol make me anxious and depressed, it made me angry! Every tiny thing that I couldn’t seem to control would build up and ultimately make me explode. I slammed cabinet doors, yelled at my husband for no reason and beat myself up mentally over and over. If you ever want to know what mental hell feels like, take up drinking.

Finally, in April 2018, I took my last sip of alcohol. It was very scary at first because I had tried many times before but failed. This time, I armored myself with an arsenal of sobriety books and Instagram pages. I looked up to those people who had given up alcohol and kept it out of their lives. I finally wanted to fight for my life.

When I first gave up alcohol, I was still anxious but this time, it was for different reasons. I was anxious to fail. I was scared that I would give in quickly and would fall back into the same routine. I was also a bit mad. Why could everyone else seem to drink and I couldn’t? I felt a bit left out.

It wasn’t until I started changing my mindset on alcohol that everything changed. Once I started to see it as the poison it was, I didn’t want it anymore. I started to see alcohol as an invasive drug that makes you feel and look gross (and many other horrible things).

Alcohol was no longer serving me; it no longer did me any favors. I started to see a sober life as the only way of living. I finally felt freedom and that sort of freedom knocks anxiety and depression on its ass.

Since I have given up alcohol, I have experienced so many emotions I didn’t even know existed. My brain has been on a magic carpet ride (minus Aladdin). I feel so incredibly happy to live with freedom, I feel sad to see others who think they need it to be happy, and I feel so much love from the people around me but most importantly from myself.

Sure, I still get anxious and depressed from time to time, but who doesn’t? We are only human! However, the level and severity of those feelings has subsided so much. For anyone curious about a sober life, I suggest you give it a shot. I think it’s the best thing you could possibly do for yourself, and your brain.

Written by Courtney, edited by Sober Fish

Blog: www.rightsideupblog.com

Instagram: @cdubb0926

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Guest Blog ‘How I traded vodka shots for another shot at life’ by Kelly

Guest Blog ‘How I traded vodka shots for another shot at life’ by Kelly

Hello, my name is Kelly, I’m 25 years old, and every day I’m grateful that I stopped drinking when I was young.

My heavy drinking was between age 19 and 23 and it took until I was at least 6 months sober to realise I’d been trapped in someone else’s mind and body.

There’s sometimes a misconception that you only have to get sober if you’ve been an alcoholic for your whole life but here’s the thing guys … I caught control of my disease when I turned 24.

I didn’t know that I would be done with drinking for good at 24 years old. Maybe it was because I hadn’t got a drink driving conviction yet? Or hadn’t totalled my brand new first car? Or completely lost my mind? Or lost all respect from my family, friends and co-workers?

On 1st March 2017, I went out with a few friends drinking. We started at about noon with mimosas, then scorpion bowls (an alcoholic concoction containing fruit juice multiple types of rum, vodka, gin, and Grenadine) then on to a local city bar. I don’t remember anything from this night except my last pickle back shot (a shot of whiskey chased by a pickle).

Thankfully, I woke up at home the next morning and went downstairs. My car was there, untouched, so I guessed that I must’ve driven it home. My mom then told me exactly what had happened. It turned out that I had tried to drive my car home from the bar. My friend tried in vain to get me out from behind the wheel and we ended up fighting. My parents were then called and had to come to the bar to save me. My mom drove my car home and apparently my dad took me home in his car, where I proceeded to pee myself and found it hysterical.

That night, I lost respect from so many people but guess what? I still didn’t think I had a problem; I just thought I’d had a super rough night once again.

On 2nd March 2017, my mom decided to take me to rehab at Butler Hospital to stay as an inpatient for one week. She told me that if I didn’t go, the locks would be changed to our house and my belongings would be left outside for me to move out.

That morning, I walked over to the liquor store and bought a pint of Jack Daniels. I was on the phone to my friend Kelly, telling her how drunk I was going to be when I arrived at the rehab centre. I told her ‘It’s not like I can’t stop; I just like drinking! I don’t want to stop!’

But as soon as I arrived at the hospital, I sobered up. I realised that this was my last chance to make amends with myself, my parents, my close friends and especially my brother with whom I was once so very close.

The people around me at rehab were so inspiring and helped me transition mentally towards sober living. It wasn’t until I was sitting in group meetings with much older people that I realised how blessed I was to be given this opportunity at such a young age. I was, and still am, completely non-judgmental and so was everyone else. I lowered my guards, opened my ears, stopped defending my actions, and made the decision that I didn’t want to drink anymore.

I finally realised that the pain I was causing to myself and everyone around me wasn’t worth it. Nothing good was going to come out of my life if I didn’t take responsibility for myself. I realized when I was alone in the hospital that people don’t wait around forever, no matter how much they love you and working towards this new goal was extremely empowering. I was excited to work on my journey as a sober young woman, for myself and everyone else.

Dating sober is a different ball game for sure. I didn’t really start dating again until I was about 6 months sober. I had to learn how to date again, without pre-gaming and showing up annihilated. I remember thinking ‘do people actually meet up sober?’ That must be SO awkward. What am I even supposed to talk about if I’m not wasted?

Alcohol was always a great security blanket for me. Dating sober was like learning how to walk again. I definitely had to make sure that I took time to get myself right first. You really can’t love anyone else until you love yourself; I very much understand that in a new perspective.

Now that I have rediscovered myself, I’m able to meet people and tell my story. At first, I felt ashamed and like I had nothing to offer anyone but now I’m so proud and have higher standards for both myself and in someone I’m dating.

My family relationships have been given a chance to rebuild as I lost a lot of respect when I was drinking. My grandparents love to hear my progress stories and look forward to seeing me and hearing about my sober life. I feel much more included than I have in years.

Before I got sober, I would drink a water bottle full of Smirnoff before I faced the stress of a family who hated me because of my drinking problem. Now, I get excited to see my family and talk to everyone freely because I don’t reek like booze. It takes away a large amount of my social anxiety for sure. Not needing to hide everything is such a great feeling!

I cope on my own in a much healthier way now. Instead of buying alcohol to mask my good day, bad day, sad day, work day, I meditate instead. I write, I exercise and I go for hikes. I find the outdoors and fresh air is great in recovery. It might sound silly, but reflecting on all of my days sober so far helps me cope with many things.

I don’t think about drinking again because it would destroy all of my hard work which has got to me where I am today. Writing my story down and looking at pictures also helps me immensely. I’m so grateful to all of my best friends who stuck by my side through many chapters of my life and I’m glad I made it possible for them to see the person I’m capable of being. I love them all more than they’ll ever understand.

I’m so grateful to be alive and to be able to tell my story. I feel like I am finally myself again after being in the dark for so long.

Recovery is so worth it. If my story gets to one person that needs to read it, my work here is complete ❤️

Written by Kelly, edited by Sober Fish

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Guest blog ‘The Tricks of the Mind’ by Ann-Marie

Guest blog ‘The Tricks of the Mind’ by Ann-Marie

My story is probably similar to a lot of people that struggle with addiction; I was tricked by my own mind.

I thought that I could moderate, but deep down, I knew that alcohol was destroying me physically, mentally and spiritually.

I’d always had a troubled relationship with alcohol, but there was something about it that I couldn’t leave behind. Booze was my trusted companion. I felt more alive when under the influence; more lovable, more desirable, more like the person I wanted to be. I was a binge drinker. I lived for ‘going hard’ at the weekends but as the drinking continued, so did the consequences. Blurred nights, lost phones and wallets, dodgy house parties in even dodgier neighbourhoods, mounting debt, crashing cars, lying, stealing, ruining relationships, hurting people.

Hurting myself.

I began to question my relationship with alcohol in 2016, after more than ten years of self destruction. With the help of my partner and my counsellor, I started making sustaining broken periods of sobriety here and there.

However, in the summer of 2017, after nearly 6 months sober, I tricked myself once more.

Alcohol had been out of the picture for long enough at that point for those around me to think that I didn’t have a problem. My drinking started out small. A bottle of beer here, a pint there. Then slowly my binge episodes racked up.

On 12 November 2017, I went on a horrific binge that very nearly cost me my relationship. It was the final straw. I had truly surrendered to the power of alcohol.

I asked for help, checked myself into an inpatient programme and spent my Christmas in hospital. It was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. I attended AA meetings, connected with sober people online, listened to podcasts, read books, meditated and expressed gratitude for what I had.

Today, I am nearly ten months sober. I have been on an alcohol free holiday with my loving partner, who stood by my side at my worst. I’ve made new friends in sobriety and have been able to listen and offer advice to friends who want to live a sober life. I have set up a meet up group for women in Dublin (see link below) who are looking for friends in recovery. I am developing better relationships with my partner, family and friends.

Things aren’t always rosy but I am much more content than I ever was before, especially during the depths of my addiction.

I hope my story resonates with others.

Here’s a phrase I embrace every day

‘The opposite of addiction is community and togetherness’

Believe me, it’s true ❤️

Written by Ann-Marie, edited by Sober Fish

DUBLIN MEET UP

https://www.meetup.com/Dublin-Women-s-Recovery-Group

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CLICK HERE TO BUY ‘THE SOBER DIARIES’ BY CLAIRE POOLEY

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