A Special Guest Blog 'Becoming teetotal' by Lysha Holmes

I had my first alcoholic drink when I was about 15 at our school do when my friend Heidi & I shared a bottle of Thunderbirds before we got to the disco. Unsurprisingly, by the time we staggered there, I was paralytic and passed out on the sofas. I don't remember anything other than waking up at my friends house the next day and my legs aching - her mum called it 'legless' and I knew from an early age that alcohol could make you feel lousy.

I didn't really drink much after that other than the odd vodka and orange until about age 18 when all my pals went to Uni. I then experimented with lots of awful alcopops such as bluebols, martini, and the like - plenty of fun, nights of dancing, kissing, probably embarrassing myself and all part and parcel I think of becoming an adult and learning your limits.

In 1997, on the infamous Matthew Street in Liverpool, after an afternoon of drinking one cheap wine too many on an empty stomach, followed by a hotdog and onions- don't forget the onions .. I spewed up all over myself. I swore I would never get that drunk again - and I didn't until August 2016.

Throughout my 20s I pursued a career in recruitment- a sector notorious for party- ing hard with booze and drugs. I am the rarity in that I have never taken a hard drug so I stuck to what I knew best and progressed up the glamour stakes, preferring the stereotypical champagne parties (but without the charlie).

You learn to party hard til the early hours and then get up at 6am to work a 12 hour day. It hardens you up. You have to be able to hold your own and until I decided to start my family aged 30, I was a regular social drinker every Thursday and Friday with colleagues and then a Saturday with friends. I never drank at home or mid week so looking back, it all felt really controlled and safe.

Once I had my family, I naturally gave up alcohol during pregnancy and then breastfed both children for 12 months so in effect, didn't drink for 4 years. I never missed the booze. I was very intolerant to anyone drinking around me during my abstinence though .. the smell, the lariness of it, the apparent inconsideration for anyone not drinking. I would sometimes find myself a pariah socially for wanting to put the children first. I remember one episode with some friends (no longer I hasten to add) who chastised me for leaving their house early on a Good Friday to put the kids to bed - " no, stay all night and party" and thinking how outrageous they were.

Inevitably, as the children got older, alcohol consumption crept up again. It would only be a "friday wine o'clock" drink. Sat evening out with friends. Glass of wine over Sunday lunch.

But then slowly slowly.... that Friday "wine o'clock" would become Thursday.... lets celebrate a good day with a glass. I've had a rubbish day, let's drown our sorrows. And before you know it, you have had 4 units on every weekday night and that's before the inevitable Friday binge.

I was also actually 'creating' an appetite by having a drink. I was genuinely not hungry so would have a glass of wine to make myself peckish. And then I wondered why I was always a few pounds heavier than I 'should be' considering I am very active. This latter habit formed around 5 years ago and I now feel so cross with myself at the way I convinced my brain this was normal.

You don't really notice it. It just happens. And because it's what everyone around you does, you never stop to think about it. The constant feeling of lethargy. The fact you can't bounce out of bed anymore. That you never feel rested. That the weight slowly creeps on despite a seemingly healthy lifestyle. You look in the mirror and notice the saggy eye bags are getting worse despite the expensive eye creams and touche éclat.

And that was life for most of our late 30s to early 40s. The conflict began when the kids were around when we drank. We believed they weren't aware we were drinking but they must've been. Friends staying over so no-one had to be the sober one to drive home. Waking on a Sunday to enough bottles to fill the recycling bin in one go. No shame. Just the norm.

And I knew it had got out of hand mid August 2016. We rented a cottage for our family of 5 and for a week we planned to chill in our self catered haven. For the two adults, we took a bottle of gin, a case of ale, 2 bottles of Prosecco and 2 bottles of red wine. Enough to last the week away? It was all gone by the second night.

Now this is where i cast the first doubt on my lifestyle. This was an excessive amount for 2 adults to drink in 48 hours when in charge of 2 minors. So over the days that followed, I tried hard not to drink but then I realised I was addicted to the thrill of the alcohol .. the light headed feeling, the loss of inhibitions, the relaxed state of mind it allows you. The need to create my appetite ....

But by this point, I recognised that these were symptoms of addiction. I couldn't actually cope without that one drink a night. When we got back from our holiday, I tried not to drink for a week or so afterwards but then the Bank Holiday weekend of August beckoned. There was a physical withdrawal and I noticed myself being ratty with the kids for no reason. I felt ashamed and knew that a change was ahead but was too afraid to try and do something proactively.

We went out to celebrate Bank Holiday Sunday at our favourite restaurant. Prosecco to start, wine with dinner, cocktails in the bar. I got home and felt awful, my body felt bloated and alien. I stepped out of the taxi and just knew I was going to be sick so quickly said bye to the babysitter and raced upstairs to our bedroom. I tried lying down but had the 'spinning room' feeling (not experienced since my teens!) which made me 10 times worse! I made a dash for the en suite loo and that is where I spent the next 3 hours vomiting. 3 hours of my life regretting the booze. 3 hours of fear as my head felt like it was going to explode. 3 hours of promising myself this would NEVER happen again.

I woke the next day feeling dreadful but actually also full of hope that I was going to conquer my alcohol dependency.

The first few days were easy as I was so repulsed by the smell or thought of alcohol it was never going to tempt me.

My first big hurdle was going to a local music festival in our town- attended by thousands of tourists and also all of our friends. I made everyone aware I wasn't drinking and then accidentally made myself “chief child watcher” and spent a miserable weekend mainly alone whilst everyone else wandered off, apparently carefree and pissed.

I struggled through those first few weeks, avoiding social engagements and deliberately not having booze in the house.

I would have the “odd” glass when out for someone’s birthday but whereas the old Lysha would have had a bottle in a night, this new version struggled to consume one glass all night......

By Christmas, we were away on an all inclusive holiday. You would assume that this was hard and too tempting. Not as bad as you think.... I filled my days with aqua aerobics, walks on the beach, reading books. Anything not around the bar. At night time I would get sparkling water with fruit in- soon to be my saviour drink of choice as you stick it in a wine glass so those drinking don't actually even notice its a soft drink you have.

Over the coming weeks, a life changing event would be the deciding point on my pursuit of sobriety: my separation from my husband after 17 years together.

For my own sanity, I am not discussing that in this blog as it is very private but right from the start, I knew that drinking alcohol would be a catastrophic journey into a downward spiral towards alcohol dependency again. Even as my brain was processing the changes that were happening quickly, telling the children, him moving out: subconsciously my inner voice knew NOT to turn to booze. And so from that point I knew I couldn't be a drinker again.

And yet I felt like a social pariah: like my choice NOT to drink was the stigma. As oppose to the seemingly normal status quo that every single person I know and love has allowed to become their fall back.

I would make excuses for not drinking- driving to meals and saying i had an early start. I would fumble around for why I was maybe only having the one (which I would nurse for an hour and never finish).

As the weeks passed from my announcement about my marriage separation, I knew that the occasional loneliness and sadness could be replaced by a gin but I was so fearful of where that would lead to that I physically had to prepare myself before embarking on any social engagement where others would be drinking.

It reminded me of when I gave up cigarettes in 2001. Back then everyone could smoke pretty much anywhere. My entire social circle smoked and me making a conscious decision to stop is still one of my accomplishments in life: from 20-40 ciggies a day to zero- cold turkey. No props or replacement therapies. And I have remained a non smoker since that day.

But it takes will power. You literally have to put MIND over matter - I do NOT want to smoke again. I WILL NOT smoke again.

And so I knew I had it in me to stop the emotional attachment that I had unintentionally formed with alcohol.

I announced I was teetotal formally to my social group at the start of July 2017. And because all of my friends and family a) knew about my sober months previously and b) my separation, every single person has been supportive on me as I enter the next stage of my life.

It's funny as since I have stopped drinking, I am calmer, I get less anxious. I rarely get grumpy now. I have lost weight and bloating on my face. I have huge bursts of energy during the day. I never get lethargic ever now. I am happy. I can still party til the wee hours- I did that last weekend on a girlie trip away- 5 other ladies all drinking all evening - I was joining in with their fun til the early hours, But they got the benefit of the sober early riser who cleaned up and made them all brunch!

Too many mornings and days wasted in a grumpy, tired, hungover state. Weekends listless not wanting to do much or just topping up with hair of the dog. Not now, no more. Life is too precious and my time is now spent fulfilling goals and relaxing without the need to poison my body.

Single, healthy, sober. In control. I am in control of who I am, how I behave, my re- sponses to others, my future. In my opinion, alcohol strips you of all of that control.

I don't judge anyone who drinks, never. But I would encourage anyone reading this to really think about their relationship with alcohol. Do you really NEED that drink. What about a run or a chamomile tea to chill out instead?

I am happy to chat to anyone about their own journey or if you want advice.

Good luck, Lysha

Edited by Sober Fish

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