val

Valerie is passionate about helping people with alcohol abuse problems and has gone public on her own problems with alcohol appearing on TV and radio. She founded Valeriefarragher.com a support service which provides services in Co. Mayo. She is the author of the book “Come back when you’re sober”. Valerie is the voice of Lifewise and ensures all our content and materials are relevant and interesting for all of our clients.

Posts by val

How to find your deal breaker

Last week, I talked about all the reasons why I found it so difficult to actually stop smoking and drinking and how I needed to find my deal breaker.

In this post, I tell you how I actually found my deal breaker.

 

I wrote down where I spent my time

I wrote down how I spent my time. Sounds simple does n’t it? This is how I found my deal breaker. Get a notebook or use your smart phone to record where you spend your time. If it’s possible take the next 7, 30 or 90 days to track what you are doing.  So many of us think we know what we do on a regular day to day basis. Believe me though, you probably miss big chunks of time that you don’t know about and what you do during those chunks of time.

 

I didn’t realise how much time I was wasting

For example, when I calculated how much time I spent smoking it had a much more significant impact on me than how much harm it was doing to my health. Why? Because I realised that it took me about ten minutes to smoke each fag. I puffed away about 20 a day. That meant I was sitting and smoking for about 3 hours a day.

 

I was wasting three hours every day

What was I doing during those 3 hours? Just sitting there, looking out the window. Wishing I wasn’t doing it. All the energy I was putting into making my family’s and my life better and healthier. However I was taking 3 hours every day to undo or destroy it!

 

I needed money

But here’s the truth about why I stopped smoking. I needed more money. It was that simple. I wanted to get my business off the ground and needed funding.

So one day I was standing in the kitchen. Leaning against the solid fuel stove warming my arse and smoking a cigarette. I asked myself

“where the hell am I going to get the money I need to launch a business.”

I knew the answer would feel uncomfortable as the first thing to go in any financial need is luxuries. Smoking wasn’t a necessity, it was a luxury. If I wanted my business to work and get that money, then the smoking had to stop.

 

Something had to be different

This time I knew something had to be different, and I had to decide how to to do it. I’d already tried the usual ways as I’d mentioned before. Nothing was working, so this time I had to get psychological about it.

 

This was going to be the last cigarette

I knew the cigarette I was smoking was going to be the last one. Even though I had about 15 left in the box. So I stood there and enjoyed every last second. Smoking until my fingers burned. I decided there and then there was going to be no big drama. No fanfare about how great I was for not smoking. I wasn’t going to tell a soul I was stopping. It didn’t matter. Anyway, to be honest, I think I would have only got the rolling eyes look from my hubby anyway lol…

 

I was going to do it, no matter how bad I felt

I just had to decide I was going to do it regardless of how deprived of shit I felt about it.

I walked to the back door and flicked the butt across the yard, watching it fly in the air, then hit the ground, all the while knowing I’d never do that again.

 

Stop thinking about the hard stuff

Then I got a piece of paper and started writing. My whole family was hanging around. Even my mother was visiting us for a few weeks. At that time, she was a smoker so I hadn’t picked the best time. But I had made the decision, so I was going to stick to it. I needed that money.

 

I wrote it all down

I filled the page with words that described the images in my head. The money I was saving by not smoking was going to get spent. A new laptop, software and other bits I needed.

 

My new life existed

I also wrote about what my life is now going to look like as a non-smoker. Playing with my children without being out of breath or having stinky breath. I wrote about my beautiful smelling home with no ashtrays and clean, fresh clothes. I wrote about spending those extra three hours a day gained doing online study and lots of other incredible things that were going to happen.

 

Everything is created twice

Everything is created twice. The chair you sit on to eat at the table was once a thought in someone’s head, the great thing about visualising anything is

“If you can dream it, you can see it. If you can see it, you can do it.”

So I got pictures of my new life on my kitchen noticeboard. It became a vision board. But I hadn’t heard of a vision board at that time though!  I told myself, if I looked at it every day, it would help me remember why I’m doing it. Guess what happened.

 

I’ve never smoked since

I’ve never smoked a cigarette since then. It has been many years now since I smoked. Hopefully, I won’t be ever wanting or needing a cigarette again. I have the technology I need to keep my thriving business going. When I wake in the mornings, I can breathe. My husband’s still in my bed but sure you can’t win ‘them all ha!

 

Find your deal breaker

My deal breaker was both my need to find money and the time I was wasting. Your deal breaker is probably different to mine. The important thing is to find what works for you. So track how you spend your day. Then start writing about the life you would like to have. Finally draw or find some pictures that represent your new life. Keep this somewhere, you’ll see it all the time.

 

PS If you find this difficult you might find our Pros and Cons of drinking course helpful.

Feck the bread situation, I’m nearly out of wine

Feck the bread situation, I’m nearly out of wine.

Well the snow is making life very different at the moment. Our fantastic front line people still turning up for work. The run on bread. The funny cartoon and memes. I so enjoy our crazy Irish humour. Yet  I noticed so many of our jokes are about drink.

The snow gauge made from a bottle of wine.

The ongoing jokes about having all the essential supplies in with a picture of  bottle of wine.

All the snowmen holding a bottle of wine or a beer can.

 

Our drinking culture is everywhere

Despite the fact it’s a drug which kills 3 people every day, we treat drink as part of the craic. It’s a product on the same level as bread. Running out of wine is worse than running out of food. Anyone who does n’t drink is seen as no fun and antisocial. It’s part of the reason why it’s so difficult to cut back on drinking

 

Do you find it difficult to change your drinking?

Have you ever sat down and thought to yourself

“I have to stop doing …

It could be anything from cutting down on how much coffee or alcohol you’re consuming. Or giving up alcohol or cigarettes. Or getting out of a bad relationship that you keep going back to.

 

This is my last one

Are you like most of us?  You say it again and again.

“That’s it!

This is my last time/one”,

 and every time you say you start you hear yourself say,

“That’s it finally I have this,

I don’t care what happens I’m never going back to doing that again”

only to find yourself back there sooner than you did time beforehand!

Yep, that’s the way I was too (sometimes I’m still like that!)

I’m was like most women, always trying to change my poor habits and improve my life…but often only in my head.

I never actually succeeded in the “change my habits” process for years. For example when I tried to stop smoking.

 

I had this crazy internal battle with myself

I was always repeating the same words over an over again year after year

“what’s wrong with me,

why can’t I just do this”

I always thought it was the way I was going about it.

The more grief I got from my husband and children about smoking in the kitchen the more I smoked. The more agitated I became.

I did the usual bouts of stopping on Monday, not smoking till afternoon and then finishing my last cigarette before seven pm.

Telling everyone

“I’m quitting.That was it. No more smoking for me, from Monday on I’m going to be a non smoker”

I’d wash all my ashtrays and put them away.

 

I’d smoke more

About this time I’d start smoking like tobacco was going to be made illegal. My cigarette intake would almost double!

My husband (who’s also an ex-smoker so should have known better!) would start the comments like

”You’re only making it harder for yourself.”

My theory for doing this was

“If I give myself enough of a sickening, I’ll never want to smoke another cigarette again for as long as I live.”

Then on the day, I was to give up I’d always wake with a sore throat, chest and stomach pain. All due to the amount I had smoked over the weekend.

 

I’d spend hours thinking of excuses

I’d then spend hours trying to think of an excuse to stay smoking. They ranged from.

Today is a busy day, I haven’t time to do it”,

“I’ve been asked to Marys party, I’ll stop after that”  to

“My mood is very low, I don’t want to put too much strain on myself”.

To me these  were all very valid reasons. So I could justify staying smoking.

 

Right back to square one

So I’d find myself right back to square one again. Feeling completely frustrated. My cough was getting worse. I was very conscious of the tightness in my chest in the mornings that could eventually turn into cancer. It scared me thinking I would die and have so much of my life undone.

 

I’d already stopped drinking why could I not stop smoking?

So where was I going wrong? I had every reason to stop; I had already quit drinking years beforehand. I had support, nicotine patches, gum, and lots of people I could turn to like the smoker’s helpline.

The Nicorette patches would go on and stay there sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a few hours but eventually come off. The gum I didn’t like and the smokers’ helpline I never phoned. Why? Probably because if I called them, it might mean they would check up on me and then I’d have to lie.

 

What’s  your  reason for change?

The very first thing you have to do before deciding to change any habits is to understand your reasons for changing. Because that helps you stick to your decision.  Yes, I know that on some level you have made a decision. If you are doing something active and thinking about it but until you actually understand your reasons for change, you’re wasting your time. With me I was was trying to give up smoking for health reasons.

 

That was the wrong reason for me

But for me personally, the health reason was the wrong one. It was too far off in the distance- even though I was coughing. I needed something different to help me succeed.

Everybody had different reasons for why they want to change some aspect of their lives. It can be smoking, drinking, weight etc.

The trick to success is to make sure your reasons for changing are big enough for you. That they are your deal breakers. Next week I’ll tell you  how I found my deal breakers and succeeded in giving up smoking.

But here’s one last joke courtesy of @WillLeahy

 

“Ah the irony of a Thursday night in March and all the pubs are closed.

You do realise that this is God’s revenge for that Good Friday drinking malarkey”

 

Till next week.

Ten clever ways to calm down your stressed out brain

Your stressed out brain is screaming. We’ve all been there. You’re at your desk trying desperately to meet your deadlines. But your mind is like a pinball machine and bouncing from one manic thought to another.

Or your seven-year-old just threw up on the carpet while you’re on the phone trying to reorganise mortgage repayments. At the same time. your teenager walks in excited about the (expensive) school trip to Paris. You haven’t even thought about what’s for dinner yet!

Women are great multi-taskers, but bejaysus sometimes it feels like there is a demanding crying baby with two pans and a dirty nappy, screaming and banging around inside our skulls!

 

That bottle of wine looks tempting

Some of us will be aware of the bottle of wine in the fridge. We ride out the clock until an appropriate time to open the seal and have a glass or two to calm down our minds. This isn’t the best of ideas.  Alcohol has better effects and is more enjoyable if drunk when your mood is good and you’re not overstressed.

So what do the “sober” women of Ireland use  when they don’t drink alcohol as a relaxant?

 

Top ten tips

Here are my top ten tips that I’ve used myself (more than once!) to stop myself gaining bald patches or doing prison time for murdering my husband ha!

 

1.Lay off the Coffee

I use to think at desperate times if I drank coffee like a builder (hot and strong) it would help me focus and finish the task at hand. Coffee is great for getting you started in the morning. But drink too much, and all that happens is you get a tired body and overactive brain and heart. A scary situation if you’ve never had heart palpitations before!

 

2.Take ten deep breaths if you’re stressed out

At first, I thought, ya, meditation is trendy, and I love doing it in groups. But I always struggle to do it by myself on a regular basis and stick to a routine.

So I started with just ten deep breaths before breakfast. I slowly did more and more, and now I can’t start working without doing it!

So try taking a minute and just take ten deep breaths when you’re stressed out and you feel like your brain is about to explode.

 

3.Carry a little notebook

As sure as the sky is blue you can count on remembering things or coming up with your best ideas at 4 am. Or while you’re in the middle of cooking dinner. I used to get so annoyed at myself because later when I would try to remember what I was thinking, I’d remember….…nothing.

That would always leave me wrecking my head and trying to backtrack my thought pattern to try and remember what it was. Now, I usually have a notebook nearby. I keep a school copy beside the bed with a few pencils and biros. That way when a thought comes I can write it down and forget about worrying as I know it will be still there in the morning.

It’s the same reason I carry another little notebook in my handbag and glove compartment.

Or if you don’t want to use a notebook try using a note app on your smartphone. There’s lots of free note apps available.

 

4.Share what’s bothering you

“A problem shared is a problem halved”

Talking to some one you know like and trust can be really helpful.

Just be careful who you tell. Because as soon as you tell someone your problems you’re giving them permission to provide feedback and help with a solution.

Do you really want Janice from accounting, who you’ve only met twice, to know you want to tell the boss to shove her documents where the sun don’t shine!

 

5.Use a mindfulness app

I like headspace. This is something you can download onto your smartphone. It has been a lifesaver for me, especially on long car journeys with my family when I sense a disagreement about to erupt. I plug in my earphones and listen, oblivious to the arguing going on. It also teaches my kids to sort out their own arguments.

 

6.Sit on the loo

Listen to your mindfulness app. If that’s not possible stick loo paper in your ears and listen to the sound of your blood pumping around your body.  Count the swooshing sounds and don’t come out until you’ve counted to at least one hundred.

 

7.Use Grandma’s remedies

Horlicks, warm milk, a bowl of warm soup, stew, or potato mash. Anything that is recognised as old-fashioned comfort food. Modern day comfort foods like fast food pizza or chocolates will not help calm your mind. And every time I reach for modern day comfort foods because I’m stressed out I just feel worse afterwards!

Sure I feel rewarded for the few minutes the food is going down. However the ingredients in some modern foods can make you even more hyper and anxious.

 

8.Bake, sew, knit….

Just do something repetitive that needs some concentration. You will find getting your hands into some flour (licking the cooking dough from the spoon or bowl) will change your thought patterns.

Or the clicking of needles can be really soothing. Making something using our hands can really help us to relax and soothes our racing minds. Useful when you’re sitting in the car park waiting to pick up child number two from GAA and worrying whether your elderly Mother took her medication to-day.

 

9.Get up and move

Go for a walk. If you’ve small children put their coats on and pop them in the pram. Or if you’re at work tell your boss you think you’ve left your car lights on.

You’d be amazed how just breathing in the air (cold Irish winter air) can give you something else to think about. I promise you’ll feel great when you get back into the heat!

 

10.Play your favourite playlist

I stumbled on this once, when I was looking for piano music to go with a video. I checked out Spotify and left it playing. It’s my go-to playlist now when  I’m writing. It stops  the ping-ponging in my mind. Once you’ve choosen the type of music you like Spotify will then create suggested playlists for you. I use “Music for concentration” on Spotify. There’s playlists for different moods or you can create your own playlists.

 

Hope you find these tips useful. If alcohol craving is making you stressed out, we have some tips here.

How Valerie got rid of her alcohol craving

When an alcohol craving happens it can be scary. When a trigger hit me either by a smell, sound or something or someone, I would see, the trigger would sometimes start an alcohol craving.

It’s always a weird sensation because I often could taste alcohol in the back of my throat and I can even recall having the sensation of having alcohol in my body, you know that “warm blood” feeling that happens after the first drink.

 

The body reacts and creates an alcohol craving

I realise now that they are just my body’s way of reacting to the thoughts and memories in my head.

Just the very same way it does if someone says “supermacs!” I’ve immediately got the smell of chipper food and the taste of garlic cheese fries in my mouth.

And when I’m losing weight I get bombarded with adverts of food that create triggers and then turn into cravings.

 

Is it a no win situation?

Seems like a no win situation doesn’t it?

Well let me tell you, I may be tackling the food right now but not that long ago I had to tackle the alcohol and then the cigarettes .

 

I can now be around alcohol

However, guess what? I can now be around alcohol without it triggering a major craving.

Now, if it ever does happen, I can “nip it in the bud” fairly fast and get on with my life.

The same applies to the cigarettes. I now can be around people who smoke. I have never once jumped across the bar to drink from the beer taps or grabbed cigarettes from a person’s mouth!

So cravings can go and you can live an alcohol craving free life!

 

There are lots of ways to handle alcohol craving

There are many ways to handle cravings for example

Just sitting with the craving, knowing it cannot harm you and will pass in time can be helpful.

Sounds funny but I found moving the sofa can help. Click here for more details

Lucy’s top tips are also very useful.  Click here for details.

 

Meditation can really help with cravings

Many people find meditation helpful. So we’ve created this free 8 minute  audio meditation to help with any alcohol craving you may have. So make your’re sitting comfortably,  your speaker is on and click here 

Enjoy!

 

Does that time of month send you running for wine?

Does that time of month send you running for ….wine?

Ok ladies, that time of month, it’s a touchy subject, but one I feel needs to be addressed. I also promise not to include anything about women on skateboards, playing water polo, climbing mountains with confidence, or mention anything with wings during this blog!

We have enough challenges in life, enough marketing from food, drink, beauty and healthcare products that are thrown at us. But we women also have hormonal changes going on that can weaken our defences and leave us needing a drink now more than ever!

 

Ovulation will catch you out if you’re not aware

Personally, I always felt that around the time of ovulation was another “hot spot” for me to drink. Many other women also share this complaint with me.  When you look into the biology it’s no wonder. Almost every fortnight we are hit by hormones that change the way we feel. I have women telling me that their periods even alter the strength of their smelling ability. They develop a more sensitive nose to perfumes, cigarettes, traffic fumes and of course…drum role…Alcohol!

This shouldn’t come as a surprise as most of our senses are heightened both  during ovulation and our monthly periods. During ovulation, our skin becomes softer, and apparently we become more attractive to men due to our natural instinct to reproduce.

 

I was always starving and thought it was for burgers and wine!

But another thing many of us find during ovulation is we are often famished with hunger and thirst.  Scientists believe this is our body looking for nutrients and fluid to have a healthy place to carry our baby.

However in the modern world the fantastic guys in the junk food industry have found this out.  They are more than happy to provide us with the three most essential ingredients that women crave during ovulation… Sugar, fat and salt…mix them together and you can have what I refer to as “magic!”

 

“I need a burger, doughnuts and a bottle of wine now..!

The problems start when we mistake our body’s natural cycles and time of month and think we are craving junk food. We then start with the usual emotional beating up of ourselves.

“Oh, I can never control my hunger”

“I’m such a pig”

and my personal favourite

“It’s his fault I’m fat.”

So after we binge on just about anything that isn’t nailed down we feel terrible, negative and want to numb out those feelings of guilt and shame with alcohol. Merry-go-round anyone!

Of course, we are only halfway through the month yet and about 14 days after ovulation the alcohol cravings can come hard and fast due to the fact we have or are about to start our period. We may be feeling uncomfortable, often in pain (and sure a small drink for medicinal purposes never hurt anyone!)

 

More women drink during their period

I have spoken to many many women over the years about this.  I even wrote about it while in rehab, but none of the counsellors came back to me about it.

So when I noticed that I was prone to drinking during my period, I got to wondering if this happens to any other women. The funny thing about the answers I got though were that most women never really thought about it until I asked the question

Where does this leave us, the women who are trying to turn away from all the marketing and advertising so we can eat less junk and drink less alcohol?

 

So here’s the secret and it works for me every time

I plan what I’m going to do during ovulation. I have the coil fitted now so I haven’t had periods for a few years. Ya, I miss them….like a hole in the head!

But, I still have the symptoms that go with a typical female menstrual cycle. So I PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. I know what’s going to occur during ovulation. So I try to make sure I juice for at least a few days straight beforehand to get the vitamins, minerals and fluids into my body that it’s starting to crave.

Then I just try not to binge too much on junk food if I can. But if I do go crazy I know that it will pass, and it’s just my body and mind playing tricks on me.

 

Think about what you need

Also just because I choose not to drink it doesn’t mean that occasionally I wouldn’t be partial to having a few vodkas to numb out the low mood that can come around period time. Again I try to ensure I have a good supply of healthy snack foods handy.  I also might take a Sunday in bed just watching movies or reading. Usually around this time I also crave comfort foods so having stews, broths and warm bread handy help a lot.

So think ahead about what you need during your monthly cycle highs and lows and plan how you are going to manage these days.

 

Editor’s note

If you find your alcohol  cravings are very strong, you might find our course “crave surf” very helpful.

Thomas’s top tips if your partner is drinking too much

Thomas is Valerie’s husband. Here are his top tips if your loved one is drinking too much.

Try to understand why

Don’t question the drinking too much, question the reasons behind it.

 

Seek a middle ground

Never demand “you ‘re drinking too much, you need to quit drinking.” It’s easier to seek a middle ground.

 

Don’t hide or throw away drink

Don’t drive yourself crazy looking for bottles in hiding places.

Don’t bother throwing the drink down the sink. It makes it worse. Trust me.

 

Don’t argue when your partner is drunk

Never argue with your partner  while s/he’s drinking or hung over. Mate, you’re flogging a dead horse if you try.  Just let her/him sleep it off first

 

Not all residential rehabs offer mental health care

Stay away from residential rehabs that offer religion in their care plans.

Stay away from  rehab services  that don’t provide mental health care delivered by mental health professionals. (Editor’s note see “rehab, when is it needed“)

 

Trust your own judgement

Trust your own judgement. You know your partner longer than any doctor or specialist. If it looks like they are trying to convince you to do something, you don’t feel is right for you, then don’t do it.

 

Get help with your children

If necessary have a family member move into the home to watch your  children.

If  there’s no family member available, as a very last resort check out the social services.  Preferably with some one who has recently  used your local social services.  Don’t assume they know what they are doing though. I’ve heard both good and awful stories.

 

Get help at work

Talk to your boss if things get bad.  But only if you know, he/she will be willing to give you time off if needed..

Say it’s a mental health problem, not a drinking problem. Bosses are more sympathetic to you going home to care for your mentally ill partner than your drunk partner!

 

Protect your partner from verbal abuse

Your partner  is not an emotional punching bag.  No matter what arguments ye have don’t allow others to speak to him/her like he/she’s worthless. You know he/ she’s not well.  If  he/she had cancer, you wouldn’t allow family members to insult or upset him/her. Addiction is no different and insults will only make things worse.

 

Don’t change your drinking habits to control your partner

If you usually wouldn’t drink at home then don’t  agree to drink with him/her. You might think  you will change his/her drinking pattern. You won’t.  He/She’s emotionally drinking and getting drunk with her/him won’t fix that!

 

Harm reduction can be useful

Look at harm reduction (reducing the drinking)  as a starting point. He/She gets to address her drinking, which often is an  emotional difficulty.  He/She isn’t forced to quit, and you get to take a breath.Win, win.

AA doesn’t work for everyone. That’s only real in the movies or tv soaps. So don’t force it on him/her.

 

Try to agree what is not ok

Try to come to an agreement about what’s not ok.  Drinking and driving. Drinking and calling you or other people. Drinking and getting on facebook talking about their family life, etc

 

 

Editor’s Note

If you liked this, you might enjoy how Thomas coped with Valerie’s drinking.

If you’re a family member affected by a loved one’s drinking you might find the  links below useful.

The Rise Foundation and Family Support Network provide support for families.

A helpful book called Living with a problem drinker from counsellor Rolande Anderson

Valerie, Thomas and their children tell their story of recovering from alcohol misuse in their book

“Come back when you’re sober”

 

 

 

Top tips to enjoy holiday drinking

Have you ever thought of actually going on that “trip of a lifetime”. The one you’ve been dreaming about since you saw it on a holiday show on TV ? Where you’re lying on a  sun drenched  beach with a Pina Colada in your hand? Or at the ski resort after a long day skiing.  You’re with your group in a log cabin, the fire is roaring, and ye are all sipping hot whiskeys and telling stories. Holiday drinking is so  normal.

Whatever your dream holiday is you can be sure alcohol comes up in your mind on more than one occasion. That’s mainly because alcohol is marketed as relaxing and having fun. Sure isn’t that what a holiday is all about, resting, recharging your batteries, drinking  and reflecting on the beauty of life. Forgot about last’s year’s holiday when the arguments never stopped and  you came back a stone heavier.  All  caused by  a little too much holiday drinking.

 

My suggestions for holiday drinking

If you are worried that you will overdo  holiday drinking then plan, plan, plan. It’s not as easy to plan holiday drinking, but it isn’t impossible.

 

Pick a time

Pick a time  never to drink before (I will never drink before …o clock any day)

 

Clear out the minibar

If staying in a hotel, ask the hotel to clear out alcohol from the minibar before you arrive and not refill with alcohol while you are there.

 

Know your alcohol strength

Make sure to know your alcohol strength of foreign drinks (cocktails, local alcoholic beverages, etc…) This can range from 2% to 40% depending on the drink.

 

Sangria anyone?

Find out if there any nice local  non alcoholic drinks you can enjoy. For example a non alcoholic sangria can be made with black tea and pomegranate juice. (Sounds horrible, but I’m told it’s delicious)

 

Always eat before drinking

Never drink on an empty stomach.  Also try to avoid those peanuts and spicy snacks, they make you thirsty and you drink more.

 

Fill a wine glass with water

Fill a wine glass with ice water.  Sometimes I just like holding the wine glass while out for dinner.  It doesn’t matter to me what’s in it!

 

Jugs of iced water

Make sure to have plenty of jugs of iced water at the dinner table. Keep your water glass topped up so you don’t keep reaching for your wine glass.

 

Plan some active activities

Plan to do some active activities you enjoy, that mean you need a clear head  e.g an early morning walk to the local market. A paddle boat excursion on the sea.

 

Tell your friends

Inform a friend or your entire holiday  group that you don’t intend to get very drunk any night.

 

Have a drink buddy

If you have a friend who also wants to manage their drinking, become “drink buddies” You  agree with each other the maximum number of drinks you will each  have and help each other to stick to  this.

 

Agree plans with your drink buddy

Agree with your “drink buddy” tactics for making sure you each stick to your targets. E.g never accepting free shots if the restaurant offer them. Reminding each other of the drink  calories – find some suggestions that works for each of you.

 

Limit your cash

When leaving your hotel or holiday home only bring enough money for that night. It’s easy to spend on a card when you’ve had alcohol, and you’re on holidays. However, think about the next day. Leave the card behind!

 

For more top tips on reducing alcohol harm, try out our free mini course here.

How my husband coped with my drinking

We never thought we were the divorce type.  However alcohol misuse does crazy stuff to your marriage.  The word DIVORCE comes up a lot.

Let’s get honest here, many marriages fail. They fall apart now more than ever for a variety of different reasons. But when you add an alcohol misuse problem to any marriage you have trouble on your hands.

So when I (Valerie) started drinking to numb my depression, it didn’t take long for cracks (that may have already been there) to burst wide open.

 

Drinking is different for women than men

The consequences are different for women who use alcohol to numb or cope with life. We usually drink in a different way. The ladies choosing to drink more at home, while men tend to be more “pub and pals drinkers.”

If you’re a married or in a long-term relationship and you have children, your drinking becomes a problem earlier. Family members are more likely to speak to you quickly about your alcohol misuse than if you were a man. Why?

 

Main caregivers who drink bring everyone down with them

Well, for us it was because I was the main caregiver to everyone in the house.  My drinking brought me down.  I also  brought everyone else down with me, whether they wanted to or not.

When it came to my husband (Thomas), he came kicking and screaming!

 

Thomas says

“It’s so hard for men to know what to do when it comes to their wives drinking. We’re often torn between;

1) trying to understand why she’s drinking like this

2) trying to make sure the family is ok

3) trying to make sure nobody finds out what’s going in in his home.

The pressure to seek a fix to the drinking problem overwhelms our lives. There’s little or no space for us to catch a breath. Having a wife with a drinking problem was like getting a kick in the stomach every day

Fear consumed me daily

Fear overwhelmed me. Fear of looking weak. Fear of losing my wife and children in an accident. Fear of losing my job because I could n’t concentrate properly.  Fear of answering her calls because I was listening to her drunken voice.  Or even worse fear of losing my mind. Was this going to be how it was for the rest of our married life?

 

There is no manual to follow

No manual explains what do when your wife gets drunk on a regular basis.The self-help books only covered men becoming alcoholics. There was never a mention of the woman drinking. How was I suppose to react to the women I shared my life with. Had I done something or missed something that I was expected to do or see. What in the name of God was happening? So when Valerie started to seek help, I was so relieved because soon it would be all in the past and we could get back to normal.”

 

Getting help for my alcohol misuse just made things worse!

Little did we know that seeking help was going to be the start of more problems. In the beginning, it was ok. I joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Thomas was just happy I had stopped drinking. Four months in, he started to relax and put the whole drinking issue behind him.  He felt confident.  I had found the solution to my drinking problem and it would never return. But it did return and with a vengeance. It came back simply because I was getting help for an alcohol problem when I had a depression problem. It’s a little like giving a cough mixture to a lung cancer patient. It might ease a cough, but the cancer is still growing and spreading.

We didn’t find this out until ten years later.

 

Thomas coped by slowly and silently going insane

“Living with a problem drinker will slowly and quietly drive you crazy. If you’re a man, it will do things to you. It will make you feel and think things that you never thought you were capable of.  It’s the loneliest road you’ll ever travel.

It’s not like you can go to a group and talk it through with other men.  That’s a women’s thing. Women can sit there all night thrashing out whatever it is that’s annoying them. Then they come home feeling all better and heard. It’s not like that for men. We just  take it and get on with it. Well, that’s the way I am.

 

You don’t have time to talk to any one

Anyway, when your wife is drinking a lot you don’t have time to talk to anyone. You’re too busy managing the kids, doing homework, organising dinner. Trying to keep your boss off your back.  Trying to make sure your farm doesn’t run itself into the ground. Sitting in a group talking and listening doesn’t get any of those things done.”

 

Letting go was hard but worth it

When I finally started to get well, it was a slow painful process. I had to start demanding my life back.  Thomas had taken control of everything from the running of our home to money.  It was hard for him to trust me and let go of the control. However the longer I stood up for myself and took back my power the better Thomas’s life got. Soon the pressure of doing too much was taken from him.  Now  he had time to do other things he enjoyed. The fear started to subside.   He cautiously and slowly began to get hopeful about a future for us.

 

Editor’s Note

If you’re a family member affected by a loved one’s alcohol misuse you might find the information below useful.

The Rise Foundation provide support to families.

Living with a problem drinker. a book by counsellor Rolande Anderson.

 

In a future post Thomas will give his top tips for coping with a partner  that drinks too much. Make sure you do not miss it by signing up for our email list here.

I drank to be normal and not feel like a fool

I drank because I was n’t normal

“Dear God, please, make me normal”  I whisper these words while on my knees at the side of my bed. I need to whisper them because if my husband heard me, he would then know, I wasn’t normal. It would explain why I drank the way I did and drove him crazy in the process.

I had this daily ritual for the best part of ten years of my life. Ten years when I drank too much. God bless God, but he never actually answered my prayers and made me normal.

 

What is normal?

I even did all the actions that went along with a determined person asking God to fix them. You know the ones. Squeezing the eyes tight, putting the hands in the prayer position and being on my knees. All the tell tail signs of desperate women trying to gain acceptance in a world were only the “normal” survive. So in trying to feel  normal I drank too much.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but I now have a daily gratitude chat with myself. It includes

Thank God I’m not normal.”

Simply because what is  normal ?

 

How is normal measured?

 So scientists decide to look at studies of “normal” patterns of behaviour. Let’s say for example they want to know how quickly children learn the alphabet. They take a classroom, look from the slowest to the fastest. Then they  take the group in the middle and declare this group the “normal or average”.  This group’s  speed and time is  the average time to learn the alphabet.  All the school programs and curriculum are designed around the average child. (I’ve over simplified this a  lot but you get the picture!)

 

Lovely shiny labels

Mental health is sometimes measured  much the same way.  A some what exaggerated example.  Scientists  take groups of people, going from the “ manic”  to the “ catatonic”.  Then the middle group are defined as the “average or normal” behaviour. The rest get lovely shiny labels. Usually  with some expensive drugs to help them fight their “disease or disability” and change their behaviour to normal.

 

Homosexuality was not normal

Don’t laugh. This type of process was once used to label people who are homosexual as not normal. At one stage, less than 50 years ago,  homosexuality was labelled as a disease in the DSM. The DSM is  the psychiatrists bible of mental health disorders.  So because people who are homosexual are a smaller group they were seen as ” not normal”. They were told they were ill. We still see the awful effects of this to-day with rates of mental health distress higher in men and women who are homosexual

So remember

There’s No Such Thing As Normal

We seek to be normal

You’re probably still thinking -ERM….YES, THERE IS!  And you and I desperately try to fit in there for fear of looking like a fool. So all through your educational, social, family and love life, we seek to be one thing. Normal, and this is where my problems began.

To fit into the norm, many of us must turn our natural talents up or down to suit the social circle we live in. Some of us have gifts in ways that are truly beautiful. But because we live in a world where it’s not good to stand out  we tone them down. It means our actual brightness and brilliance is never exposed. It’s almost  tragic when you realise that you and I are being denied the talents of musicians, artists, playwrights because they are trying to fit into the normal world.

 

I missed the opportunity to enjoy my children

For me, the real pain hit hard. I realised I was so desperate to fit in and be acccepted as a good, “normal” mother that I missed the opportunity to enjoy my children.

I was sticking to rigid  routines and forcing my kids to keep up with “normal” children.  From sleeping through the night, to  toilet training and  reading ability.  The pressure to have our  children “normal”  is disastrous for any mother. We know that children develop at their own pace and speed. By forcing them to fit into the middle normal section of society, we are sending the message to them that they shouldn’t be different.  They are not wonderful as they are.

 

I don’t worry now about how “normal” I am

I’m thankful now. I don’t have to worry (or even care) about how normal I am. I’m blessed with a mind of my own and talents  I have developed over time. Of course, I’m not totally confident inside.  I still have insecurities. I very often have to double check my words before they come from my mouth. I do this as I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone and not everyone thinks and feels the way I do about everything. But this is what makes being human so interesting.

 

A world with no shame

Imagine a world where there was no judgment, shame, norms or rigid  rules about how we should behave. A world where we drank sensibly, purely for pleasure and without harming ourselves?  (Ok we still need good rules about not killing each other and stopping at red traffic lights.) But imagine  a world where love, freedom, and respect were the three most important components to a blissful society. Well, this is how our world is supposed to be. So why isn’t it?

 

We are easier to control if we strive to be normal

Society tries to  keep us in a constant state of normality.  We are easier to control this way. The way I drank  meant I did n’t  have the energy to think and question things around me. Some people would lose out on a great deal of money and power if the whole world started to think for themselves.  What  if everyone walked away from making products and doing things that don’t serve humankind or our planet?  What if we started bringing our  gifts, talents and beautiful selves to the surface. What do you think might happen. Yes, you’re right. Our lives would be incredible.

As the song goes

“Tell me why are we so blind to see, that the ones we hurt are you and me

From, Coolio, Gangsters Paradise.

 

Don’t be afraid of society’s judgement

So be the person, you would want to be if you were not so afraid of society’s judgement. Be a good role model of a person happy with themselves.  So  your children will be grow up to be happy in their own skins and not trying to constantly to fit in.  Be the person you would like to hang out with.

You’ll be more fascinating, fun and dare I say it…One day being just ourselves may be “Normal”