Category Archives: alcohol-free

One Year without booze- now there’s a surprise!

On the 31st August last year I went for a meal to my favourite restaurant. I knew the next day I was starting a new life without booze so this was my no holds barred goodbye to booze feast. It felt like my last supper or maybe more like the last meal for an inmate on Death Row. It had all the hallmarks of some strange self created ritual. Waiters brining me a succession of favourite drinks; Czech lager to start, white wine with the starter, red wine with the main, dessert wine, liquors. It was my last night and nothing was going to stop me. I went home and drank gin and tonic until midnight. I half wanted to make myself sick, to wake up with an horrendous hangover to have that abiding memory, to stir my resolve for future times when I might weaken. But no, a month of constant drinking had increased my tolerance levels. I felt fine the next day. At the time I just wanted to enjoy my last day with drink. Looking back I can see I was indeed making a ritual of it, a rite of passage, an identifiable marker between one phase of my life and another. Having created that day of overindulgence and expense my new life of sobriety had to work. and it did; for today marks a full year without booze. I’m surprised that I have able to do it and I’m also proud as anyone who has done this should be. It was the right thing for me, but it has come at a cost. Crucially, I must add, a cost well worth paying.

Kinder Scout- Fond memories from being there in March and heading back there soon-nothing to do with the post but I love the Peak District!

Sure, pubs and restaurants just have not had the same allure since I gave up and that is a loss as I loved pubs.. I remember doing my counselling course back in 1990 and in one group exercise we had to revisit loss in our lives. It involved visualisation and we were all instructed to start our journey of loss through our lives from a place of warmth, comfort and safety. We started there and we ended up there. After the session we shared our “safe” places. For most it was either a family home or somewhere they had been with their family. My place where I felt most comfortable? – an English country pub with a log fire and beer. Says it all really but it made a few of my fellow students smile. Now I avoid pubs and a sadness for me is the realisation that much of my love of pubs was not the cosy surroundings or friends, it was the beer. Pubs were places I drank and I could drink there with an abandon I never could have at home. Some good times, some wasted times.

Even now I sometimes miss the experience of going for a walk and enjoying a cold beer sitting by a river or village green, so yes, I did enjoy a drink sometimes.

Then I remember how I needed a drink at other times; to overcome some social anxiety, to fit in, to feel normal.

Then there were the times when I hated drinking but I did it anyway- feeling lost, heavy with dysphoria, drinking to block or obliterate, torn in two hating it but watching myself pour another one.

So I happily exchanged the occasional enjoyment of booze for being able to rid myself of the need and hate it often brought me. It became an easy and obvious transaction. In many ways my life was on the line. Probably it was the best deal I ever made; but a deal is a deal and a deal involves parting with something. That’s the thing that needs facing and confronting.

Who needs a drink when you can walk in places like this

If I have a message for anyone who has got to the place where they know in their hearts that moderation will not work for them and alcohol is having too many negative impacts on their life; it’s this. You will be giving up more than a drug, you’ll be giving up lots of associations. We live in societies where alcohol is woven into the fabric of our social, cultural and psychological lives. When the physical craving is gone the other cravings and pressures will still be there. That’s when you need to remind yourself of why you are doing this. Get through that and you start to see the many advantages; health, sleep, relationships, productivity, financial – the list goes on. Never take those for granted. And be prepared for a battle.

So one year, great. I am pleased but it’s tempered by a realisation that I could have done a lot more with my life if I had stopped earlier. As I have said before, this blog has been key to me doing a year successfully. People sharing stories, the positive, the negative, ups and downs, things that have worked, traps to be aware of- all of this has helped me. I’ll also add that I’m quite competitive so there was no way I wanted to come on here and say I’ve had a drink. I like to win, fairly of course and so far in this “game” I feel like I’m 2 sets to love up. Games can change in an instant so as I go into year two, I’ll enjoy the feeling of winning at the moment but I won’t let down my guard.

Again for those in the early stages of going alcohol free; it’s a very individual experience but with many commonalities; you have decided it’s worth it, my advice is to plan for it, make a proper commitment to doing it, prepare for it, get support, always remind yourself why you’re doing it and what benefits you’ll get and strengthen your resolve. There will be times when you’ll want to abandon this challenge but you can get through those tough times and you’ll be stronger each time you do. On these blogs are stories like mine; people who didn’t think they could ever give up booze who are proving they can. Ordinary folk with extraordinary support. If we can do it with support so can anyone, so can you.

I shall celebrate today with AF sparkly wine and an Everleaf and tonic. I’ll also be able to carry on and meet some friends and play table tennis afterwards. No muggy feeling, no wasted day, no hangover. It’s great being sober! Life is fuller, richer.

No brainer really!

Jim X

Nearly a Year- But Sorry, no thanks to the “Give up the Booze” evangelists

In two days time it will be one whole year since I stopped drinking alcohol. I was always looking forward to that anniversary and planning the big, one year anniversary post and yet here I am, on the cusp and I haven’t got a clue what I am going to say- I’ll probably do something on what I personally have learned over this last year in the faint hope that others may find something useful in that to help them as they attempt to move away from alcohol. But I’m not at that point- yet- a couple more days should do it and I do feel incredibly proud of myself in achieving what will be something I never really thought I could do. Support, of course, is crucial but I wanted to say something today about something that perversely I have not found supportive; and that is the evangelical tone of many of those who write books on giving up alcohol.

Like everyone in the position of contemplating giving up alcohol I read some of the books aimed at kick starting a new life free of booze. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty that is good within those books but they are written ultimately to sell, to make money for the authors and to do that you need an unequivocal voice. That voice, that message is usually, “alcohol is a dangerous toxic drug, we have been manipulated into wanting it and it’s no fault of ours if we get hooked.” For me that was a real turn off. I drank because I liked it. Yes it’s a drug, but that’s the whole point of it. If I’m thirsty I drink water. I drank alcohol because i wanted the effect it gave me. Being a drug it then becomes hard to moderate especially in a culture where it is so freely and cheaply available, but that’s not alcohol’s fault, lay that one on society, business and government.

The evangelicals try to make out that developing a problem with alcohol is not a failure of individuals and again I don’t agree. I tried many times to moderate and despite some success I realised that when I did drink I often drank far too much- because I’m like that. Many of my friends do know how to enjoy alcohol moderately but I am not one of them. If I could drink moderately I would not have given up alcohol. It’s that simple. So my pride in giving up is tempered by a sadness that I couldn’t get to a point where alcohol was just a small pleasure in my life and not the dominating presence it became. But I am OK with that. I do not need to demonise drink in order to be OK with not drinking. As time has gone on I’m getting to like not drinking but the truth is it would be nice to think I could have the odd glass of champagne at a wedding or a glass of wine with a meal. That won’t happen because I’ve worked hard at giving up and I’m not a moderation type person.

The evangelicals talking about toxins and all the rest really have missed the point that humans have always imbibed toxic substances to alter consciousness. Alcohol, weed, peyote, tobacco, you name it we humans have tried it. Even in the Amazon rainforest they lick the backs of certain frogs to get a psychedelic hit. It’s universal but the thing that marks traditional cultures is that taking such substances was always associated with ritual which meant taking such drugs was limited and done in a revered, constrained manner. The problem with alcohol in our societies is that it’s been made into this readily available commodity that we are encouraged to drink at parties, weddings, celebrations, work dos, days out, days in, meals out, meals in, when cooking, when watching films, when friends come round, when meeting friends , new job, leave job, BBQs, when stressed, when relaxing, basically all the bloody time. That is why it becomes hard to moderate and bloody hard to give up.

So there we have it the evangelicals didn’t do it for me with thier black and white thinking. The support for me, as I have said before, has come from fellow bloggers both on line and sometimes in private off -post communications. The messy, confused, contradictory world of blogging showing that giving up is a struggle, that people do miss their booze sometimes but carry on because it is the best way forward for them. Acknowledging that we miss the crutch of alcohol sometimes but also knowing that mutual support from fellow bloggers is a much more consistent and longer lasting support than any drink could ever be.

So the evangelical “Give up the Booze” writers carry on. You have helped many people I know and you don’t sell books by saying giving up booze is complex, full of grey and with contradictory feelings. You sell those books by giving a nice, clear, missionary style message that’s full of can do and ” see the beast for what he is.” But it’s not for me. Give me the messy, anguished, nuanced and human world of the blogger any day. Nearly there.

Rant over. Jim X

Call That a Diet Jim!

Let’s start with the good news – I’ve lost 3.5 lbs! The less good news – 4 days ago I’d lost 4.5lbs. I know, I know don’t weigh yourself everyday . I can’t help it- it’s just the way I am. Ah, that’s it. It’s the way I am so my diet needs to take that into account. Let me revisit my bold proclamation last week:

“So phase one is basically eat healthily, one big meal a day and cut out the snacks and crap- and zero added sugar. I won’t of course forget to exercise. Right, I’ve gone on long enough in this post so I shall stop there and start day three of my new diet plan.”

The Devil finds many ways to tempt poor old Jim

So spoke Jim- Bollocks and bullshit diet I should have called it. ZERO SUGAR- ah that should mean NO sweet things like ice cream, cakes etc, shouldn’t it. Well in my little chart/spreadsheet I recorded many an instance of sugar related eating; cheesecake on two days, cheesecake plus custard on another, Ice cream last night. I could go on….

And yet I’m not despondent. Overall I’ve lost some weight and my main objective was to switch to a cereal less breakfast of fruit and yoghurt every day with a minimal lunch and lots of exercise. Those things I achieved but the one big meal often turned into two normal three course meals rolled into one. But slowly does it. This is not like giving up the booze, this is a gradual realignment with food and eating habits, not an all or nothing exercise. I know that in the morning I can deal with only having a small amount of food, it’s the evenings when I like to eat, hence having my main meal then. This week I shall maintain the good changes and target this need to reward myself by eating sugar based desserts. I’ve cut out chocolate and snacks so this targeting of one specific area seems doable. I will substitute fruit and /or bake my own low sugar healthy alternatives.The proof will definitely be in the pudding .

Cutting down the carbs whilst eating good whole foods in sensible portions is my long term aim. I strongly believe that the other two elements which are easy to incorporate into any eating plan and which help one lose weight without even having to diet at all are:

1 Stop eating once you are full. I had it instilled in me that you had to finish what was on your plate. Rubbish. When you’re full-stop eating . Put the rest in your recycling. It’s OK. It’s not a sin to discard food you don’t need. After a while you will naturally adjust your portion sizes.

2 Eat mindfully and slowly. It takes twenty minutes for your brain to register that you are full from when you start eating, so give your body the chance to register the food you’ve eaten. Slow eating means you are more likely to notice being full and can stop. Eating mindfully (not watching telly at same time) helps you focus on the food, it’s flavours and slows down the process. Enjoy the food, not woof it down. That is especially aimed at me!

All I need to do now is follow my own advice!

Jim X

Nearly One Year Booze Free! Time for a New Challenge

It is strange to think that by the end of this month I will have been alcohol free for one whole year. My friends and family can’t believe it, I can’t really believe it and yet it’s the reality. It’s happened. Jim the old boozer, the lover of pubs and real ales, attendee at beer festivals, wine tasting, distillery visits, that Jim has gone and been replaced by a slightly melancholic man who still doesn’t always know if he has done the right thing. I have what some therapist would call a conflict split; a thought sometimes that I should be able to enjoy a drink and its associated pleasures up against the opposing thoughts that I’m far better off without it and could never be a moderate drinker, and who wants to be a slave to that drug anyway.

It is a split, and it is hard, and it isn’t the black and white that many writers of giving up booze like to portray it as. We can get all evangelical about giving up booze, and I’ve done that many times, but the fact is it’s something that many of us used to enjoy and the social, cultural and psychological pressures and associations are always there, lurking. But the fact that I stuck to it for a year tells me that I had the right reasons and motivations to make such a substantial change in my life. Bottom line, I miss it sometimes, not often, but I’m glad I did it and I shall continue. For me the cost analysis comes down in favour of quitting. There are grey areas sure enough but for me it was the right decision and I’m so glad I took that decision and stuck to it.

Now that the end of the first year is approaching I find myself looking at another even harder challenge; food. Booze was fairly straight forward. I couldn’t moderate my booze intake very well so it was either carry on and spend the rest of my life feeling hungover, in poor health, contemplating an early death and feeling guilt, shame and a sense of wasted opportunity or give up completely. Easy. No plan needed. You stop drinking and carry on not drinking.

Food as we know is different. We can’t stop eating. We have to do the equivalent of moderation. You have to make daily choices and for the last year I’ve thought to myself, “you’ve given up the booze, don’t deny yourself foods that you like otherwise you’ll turn into some miserable, cranky, old, sour faced bastard.” So I’ve been eating what I liked when I liked. Result- despite not drinking- weight gain.

So I have thought if I can show resolve and discipline with drink maybe I can now do the same with food. Giving up booze was all about timing, motivation and reasons. I think I now have those reasons in regard to weight loss. Good solid, sensible reasons, such as :

1 I want to look gorgeous

2 I want to be admired

3 I want to look younger

4 I want to be coveted

Forget what nutritionist say, these are the real reasons to lose weight, oh and to be able to get some decent clothes at long last. I jest of course but let’s be honest, those reasons I list do inhabit a murky area of our subconscious so let’s just acknowledge them alongside the benefits to our blood pressure, heart attack prevention, so on and so forth. Armed with these sound motivations I am going to set about losing some weight and get myself fit.

Having been overweight for most of my adult life I am quite intrigued what a slimmed down Jim might look like and feel like. Just as I have had to reevaluate my identity as no longer a drinker, I can do the same with my identity as “chubby bloke”. Will a physical change make me feel differently about myself? It’s fascinating. Yes of course there are sound health reasons for losing weight but I want to experience a bit of vanity as well and why not. Losing weight, just like giving up booze is also crucially about us as individuals proving to ourselves that we have some control over our lives, our bodies, our emotional well being and if we can change these things why not other areas of our lives. Like opening a benign Pandora’s box I guess!

I’m not sure any of this weight loss stuff will be of any interest to anyone but as it’s part of my voyage (Ive come to hate the word journey) so I’ll write about it anyway. Writing about stopping the booze helped me so maybe this will help too.

My first phase will involve a table and a chart (I am a lover of charts and spreadsheets) where I will record various elements of my new regime. I am an evening eater so fruit and full fat yoghurt for breakfast and a very light lunch work for me and then a healthy substantial evening meal but cutting out snacks afterwards. So phase one is basically eat healthily, one big meal a day and cut out the snacks and crap- and zero added sugar. I won’t of course forget to exercise. Right, I’ve gone on long enough in this post so I shall stop there and start day three of my new diet plan. Stay safe everyone.

Jim X

For Me It Finally all comes down to Identity

Let’s try and cut to the chase. I’m 11 months without a drink. There is no physiological need for me to drink, any physical dependency is long gone, but I’ve had urges, oh yes. Like many others I’ve had to reflect on all of this. There were lots of reasons I had for giving up (see crap graphic that proves my art teacher was correct when he told me NOT to pursue art at school), health, hangovers, impact on others, blah, blah, blah. But, like others giving up wasn’t a one way street. I was not some down and out drunk. I drank too much on occasion, I took it to excess sometimes, but…. I enjoyed it, I loved it, the drinking in company, different wines with different foods, getting slightly tipsy, switching off for a while, losing the anxious straightjacket for a few hours, I was a drinker, an unapologetic, “you only live once, you boring bastard,” drinker.

Now when I get the urge it’s when I’m with family or friends, pubs, restaurants, BBQs, where the norm, the expectation is that everyone will drink. At those points, despite the growing AF drink selection, I am an outsider. The UK is a drink based culture and I am now the outsider, constantly reminded of that every time there’s a meet up in a pub, house, anywhere.That gap between what I’m trying to be and what the social expectation is, that is what creates the unease. That’s what is fuelling the urges, the thoughts of why not go back to something I loved.

How did my son end up becoming a graphic designer?

I knew the “something I loved” was no longer good for me and I took the decision to part with it and yet the pressures, enticements and yearning remained. That’s when it hit me. This is no longer a battle with alcohol. 11 months without, I’ve won that battle. No, for me this is now about who I am and how I identify myself, that’s where the tension comes from, I am convinced of it. For 50 years I developed the identity of a drinker. I was known for it. People told stories about my drinking, my drunken exploits. IT WAS WHO I WAS. My drinking defined me and wherever I went,I went with a drink in hand. Booze and me melded into one seamless identity. We went to places we felt comfortable; pubs, restaurants. I hosted social events so i could be Jim the Drinker. I had an identity and, good or bad, it was a consistent identity and we all need one of those.

Now. After 11 months I realise that smashing that identity is at the heart of my sometimes malaise. I have ceased to be the same Jim to many people. I don’t like sitting in pubs anymore. Many of the things that helped define me have gone. I have been stripped naked and it feels raw at times.

This growing realisation about identity being the crucial element in my current position in relation to alcohol is important for me. It’s helping me understand why the separaration has been painful at times. I didn’t fully appreciate how difficult giving up my identity would be. When I had the urge to have a few pints with my son and a few others, it wasn’t the drink calling me, it was my old identity. Give me the props of my old identity; pub, drink, silly conversation and for a moment I’d be back to the old me. The safety and warmth of a distorted identity. I was missing being me.

Wait a minute I thought. Does that need reframing? Was I missing the old me or had I simply not worked at creating a new me.

Eureka!

This seems to be the issue for me at least. I gave up an identity, failed to see the enormity of that, and did not take the time to build a new one. In the absence of a new secure identity I understandably felt drawn to the comfort of the old one.

So now after 11 months it is finally time to say goodbye to the old identity of Jim the drinker. It served its purpose, it was good while it lasted but it had to go. No more regrets. It had to go and I’m glad its gone. My task is to now build a new identity and be secure and happy in that. No more looking back. It feels like a time of grieving has come to an end and a time for renewal has begun. Maybe a time to feel both glad and proud to be sober? Brave enough to finally ditch one identity and embrace another.

JIM X

Dissecting My Unexpected Craving

On the 31st August I will have been sober for a year. Those initial cravings for alcohol are long gone but deep rooted compulsions and drivers sometimes surface unexpectedly. I find this both interesting and disturbing and I can see, in those moments, why people start drinking again. Over the weekend I experienced these feelings and it threw me as it felt like I had just set out on my sober journey. I’m going to try and unpick the thoughts and feelings I experienced, dissect them if you like, to try and help me and maybe others understand what can sometimes make us return to drinking even after months and years of abstinence. It’s individual to me but may resonate with others.

My son and his girlfriend were visiting and staying with my ex who I get on well with and who lives in the same village. On the Saturday we had a socially distanced meal in her garden accompanied by much drinking. I was on my AF beers and the afternoon went well initially with just a few pangs of wishing I could join in as the party of 6 drinkers (my partner was also not drinking) sampled a variety of wines and beers. Being sober I was aware that I was experiencing that feeling of being an outsider. There were shared experiences going on but I wasn’t part of them. The sampling of wines, the slight change in mood, the change in conversational gears. Rather than going with the alcohol flow I had to watch and note how the tempo, content and language was changing. I tried to match that, but doing it sober felt contrived. As the afternoon wore on I felt slightly resentful that me doing my “not drinking” thing was preventing me having some of the experiences I had previously enjoyed, including getting slightly tipsy with my boys. The thoughts started coming in,”Why are you denying yourself, this is the sort of situation you used to love, sitting outside in the sun, eating and drinking, getting tipsy and enjoying the loosening of social and linguistic conventions as the alcohol kicks in. Go on Jim enjoy yourself.”

The truth was that I was not enjoying myself, I was focusing on what I didn’t have, what I had denied myself. There was also anxiety lurking in the shadows but more of that later. We then played some games. Finally we had a different focus and I really enjoyed that. Looking back I realise that as a non drinker I’m often dealing with situations that are drinker focused. Sitting round a table eating and drinking for hours as the conversations become sloppy and incoherent is not what I choose to do anymore so suddenly having to do that, naturally made me feel both an outsider and uncomfortable. Luckily the near 11 months of sobriety got me through as did the realisation that I had been a different drinker to most of the others now sitting around the table. I would have got carried away. Moderation would have disappeared. I would have got drunk and maybe that realisation was also affecting my mood; the reminder that I had stopped drinking because drinking had stopped being fun,both for me and the people near me; it was fucking me up. Maybe I was just resentful that they could drink in a way I couldn’t.

I know all this feels like I am massively overthinking things but by understanding the torrent of thoughts and feelings I want only one thing; to strengthen my resolve, to not take the easy way of going back to how I used to be.

Anyway, back to Saturday. We eventually go for a walk and they want to go to the local pub. Decision time. No way do I want to sit outside a pub drinking more liquid and spending more hours watching people get pissed. I took my leave and went back home and prepared seating for when my sons and girlfriends, ex and her husband came round after the pub. They arrived. My youngest son was now noticeably drunk. A new feeling emerged, oh I recognise this one – it’s guilt. Was my pattern of drinking somehow responsible for the way both my sons drank. They certainly can put it away. The youngest one is keen on sports but when he does drink it’s often to excess; just like his dad. It was sad watching him drink.

The next day my youngest son and girlfriend left and my other son and girlfriend called on me and we went for a walk again with my ex. Of course we ended up at a pub. No contact tracing, no queueing system at the bar, it was shocking. My son was the only one really drinking as he never drives. “Just ” the 3 pints for him but again I had the feelings of wanting to be able to enjoy a pint with him but realising it would end up with another day wasted if I did. I felt strangely sad as we sat there in the sun by the river. Why? Maybe it was the realisation that I do not really want to go to pubs anymore. They had lost their allure, especially now in Covid era. For years pubs were my favourite places. I loved pubs. I have books listing the best pubs in England, I have spent some of the best times of my life in pubs. But it was the booze mainly, if I’m honest, that’s why I loved pubs. Take away the booze and their appeal has gone. Like delayed grief it really hit me that something that was a big part of my life was gone, but in order to maintain socialising I was being reminded of my grief by revisiting the source of that grief. I just wanted to get away from there.

If I’m truly going to understand the desire to drink that I experienced sitting by the river I have to delve yet a little deeper. Sitting there with my ex wife, my son and his girlfriend I felt strangely awkward, uptight, removed. I found myself thinking about what I was going to say, as if I were detached but trying to be part of the group. What should have been easy going conversation felt constructed for me and constricted. I know this is part of a long held feeling that I’m not a natural group person. My career, the things I enjoy have been based around me being in control or playing a clearly defined role. Therapist, teacher, acting, performing; those are safe places for me, they are my comfort zones. The other slightly removed, detached , with me leading the dance, that’s where I thrive. Chit chat and social conversations leave me feeling awkward. Intimacy makes me feel awkward. Not in very close friendships or a few relationships but generally. That’s where the drink used to come into it’s own. The anxiety and self doubt in those situations would eveaporate, dissapate as soon as the drink hit the back of my throat. I would tangibly feel a loosening up and a relaxation that was often missing in my body and soul. It was wonderful. But of course it came a cost and did nothing more than cover up the symptoms. Like so many others have said, take away the drink and you have to sit with and confront many uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

We left the pub, walked home and I said goodbye to my son and his girlfriend. I hadn’t seen both sons together since March and what should have been a happy time was contaminated for me, not them, by drink and the resurfacing of uncomfrtable truths. A time to connect and do things had instead turned into hours of mainly drinking. It would be easy to throw in the towel and just join back in with the whole culture of drinking. I’d connect better with my sons, not feel awkward and I’d enjoy pubs again but that’s not what I want. I want to show my sons that we could have a great time if we got together and “did” things; visited somewhere, played, cycled. I’m writing this on a Tuesday morning without having experienced a hangover yesterday and I am so glad of that. My sons may come to their own conclusions and decisions about drinking. I am sure years of seeing me and their mum and my friends drinking so much has rubbed off on them. My quiet hope is that now, seeing me sober, the same may happen in reverse.

My “little” job going forward is to dig into the black hole of anxiety and self doubt that made drinking such a relief and release in the first place.

It’s long overdue.

Jim X

Kombucha! Koming at Yer!

Yes I know it’s trendy and and seen as yet another middle class “must have” but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or should be dismissed. On that basis we’d have to say goodbye to yoga, almond milk and blogging. No I’m going to put potential ridicule to one side and embrace the fact that I am a Kombucha convert. Now, I’ve come to Kombucha the long way, having heard of it years ago but never really having enough interest to find out more let alone brew the stuff. Going sober and reading numerous Sunday supplement articles changed that.

After years of experimenting with various gins (way before gin became the go to drink it seems to have become today) and various mixers, I was a keen sampler of distinctive drinks. Alcohol carries taste and the range of great drinks you can create is limitless and fairly easy. But after 40 odd years of making and shaking I give up the alcohol. Suddenly making an interesting complex drink became a challenge. I tried the exorbitantly priced “spirit” alternatives of which my favourite is everleaf. It’s a complex non alcoholic base for mixers but costs £18 for just 50cl – in other words more than most gins, working out at a staggering £36 per litre. Then I looked again at Kombucha. It ticked a lot of boxes; it was made by brewing, it was simple tea transformed by fermentation into something quite unlike tea, the process reminded me of when I used to make my own wine and beer, it involved a magical process with new magical elements such as SCOBYs, it had limitless possibilities in terms of flavourings, it was relatively easy to set up and get the equipment and it was cheap. Importantly it was something I could create myself and learn to make better and better as time went on. Yep, Kombucha ticked a lot of boxes and humble Jim could be transformed from the saddo that doesn’t drink alcohol any more into …. The Alchemist, The Kombucha King, The Creator of Magical Elixirs.

https://happykombucha.co.uk/pages/how-to-make-kombucha

Without delay I ordered my SCOBY(look it up if you want to know more), my glass jars and stoppered bottles and finally I was ready for brewing! Now, brewing and fermentation when making Kombucha does produce some alcohol but most of this becomes transformed in the process and if there is any alcohol it’s around 0.5% the same as some of the “AF” beers I drink and ripe bananas. For me, with a keen nose and brain for alcohol I have honestly not sensed any in all the Kombucha I have made. I do realise that for some though this could be an issue.

Moving on- I’ve now completed two brews and have to say I have fallen in love with Kombucha. Like a lot of fermented foods, its full of the healthy bacteria your gut needs and I’ve been drinking small amounts everyday to get my body used to the influx of goodness. It really is a magical drink. The secondary fermentation in bottles gives rise to a natural carbonation and there’s something really wonderful about pouring out this frothy drink that started life as a humble drink of tea. Then there’s the taste- well never having tried Kombucha before it’s fantastic to experience a wholly new taste, tart, fruity hard to describe. What’s great is you can brew it for longer or shorter and this will affect the acidity and sweetness- in other words each time you brew you are creating a drink that’s truly unique and which costs pennies. Once you are up and running the SCOBYs grow and can be used for the next batch and you are left with tea bags and sugar as your only costs.

Oh, one more small cost, the flavourings. Ah the flavourings. This is what makes me most excited. When you bottle your Kombucha you can add flavourings and this is when things really open up. Basically use your imagination. I’ve already experimented with things like chillis and ginger and then on the sweet side with strawberries, grapes and cherries. My favourites so far? Well the strawberry Kombucha is delicious and I also flavoured one bottle with just cut up root ginger. That’s quickly become my morning staple.

Enough! You can tell I love the stuff. I love the alchemy of it and the acquiring of knowledge around it. Like bread making, it’s simple but you need to work at it to get it just as it should be. Us non alcohol drinkers deserve a rich array of drinks which we can enjoy and for what it’s worth I’m putting Kombucha out there as something well worth a try. You can buy it ready made, but come on, where’s the fun in that!

Jim X

The Bloody, Sodding Liebster Award

Winning this coveted award is, without doubt, one of the greatest achievements in my already glittering career and life . Let me start by thanking the nuns at the maternity hospital who delivered me on that sunny day back in….- Oh sorry-what? No, that can’t be. What are you saying? I’ve not actually won yet? You’re kidding! Only a nominee? Ridiculous. And I have to do various tasks? It’s an affront. But, for the sake of those that nominated me I shall complete the process with an open heart,and with the attitude that such an award deserves.

Here are the so-called Rules

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you, and provide a link to their blog.
    • As the clear favourite to win this Oscar of the blogging world, I’d like to point out that I was nominated by not just one BUT TWO bloggers- Anne at nomorebeard and Claire at ditchingthewhininghabit. Thanks guys- they’ll be payback believe me
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you.
    • Claire took the trouble to write these, Anne just lazily reused them
  • Share 11 facts about yourself.
    • Believe them they will be true
  • Nominate 5-11 other bloggers.
    • fat chance- I want less not more competition
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions.
    • Sorry but I have washing up that needs doing
  • Notify your nominees once you have uploaded your post.
    • Ha!

Answers to Claire’s/ Anne’s questions:

  1. If you could have had any job/career what would it have been?  At the age of 11 I went to a chocolate factory with my school and up to the age of thirty I dreamed of being chief chocolate taster at Cadbury’s . Sadly it wasn’t to be. I had to settle on just being a UN ambassador and bringing world peace to troubled regions of the world.
  2. If you were stranded on a desert island what three items would you choose to have with you?  My Liebster Award , a mirror and a rubber chicken
  3. What the thing you like most about yourself? My inexhaustable humility
  4. If you could relive one day again, exactly as it was before, what day would it be and why? the day fairly recently when I was first nominated for the Liebster Award. My life changed forever on that momentous day.
  5. If you could only see one more band/singer live, who would it be? The Wurzles singing their classic hit- I’ve got a brand new combine harvester
  6. What is your biggest achievement in your life so far? Winning the Liebster Award
  7. What’s your favourite way to relax (keep it clean please!)? Cleaning
  8. You can have a superpower for a year. Which one would you choose? The power to defeat all known viruses and to go back in time and kiss Susan, the prettiest girl in my primary class.
  9. What’s your favourite time of day and why? That lovely 24hr spell between midnight and midnight. No other part of the day quite lives up to this.
  10. What are you most afraid of?  losing my reading glasses
  11. What are your ‘words to live by?’ “sausages used to be meatier in the 1960s” and “do you have any other AF beers besides Becks Blue”

11Facts about Me:

  1. I identify as male most of the time
  2. I wear size 9 shoes
  3. I have white hair
  4. I used to have a flat mate that drank more than me
  5. I have been married 3 times
  6. I have been divorced three times
  7. Marriage is a tricky business
  8. Divorce is expensive
  9. Im getting older with each year
  10. I hate writing lists
  11. I like it when lists end

My nominees :

  • Please God, this has to end somewhere or everyone will eventually be a nominee!

In reality of course these awards are superfluous. Who needs them? All these sobriety blogs have different and distinctive voices. They all contribute to a thriving community that provides amazing support and encouragement to others dealing with related issues. In my book they are all already winners. I thank you.

Jim X

Now’s surely not the time to consider giving up the booze Jim- Oh yes it is!

It’s already a cliche, but it’s true- we are living in strange times. But also counter-intuitive times. I’ve now had people with anxiety and depression telling me they feel oddly more relaxed and better than before the Corona crisis, isolated people saying how comforting it is to not be the only ones isolated, indeed the crisis has led some to be more connected than ever before. Strange times indeed.

That got me thinking about alcohol. I haven’t spoken much about this subject since the outbreak of the virus because it didn’t seem of much consequence, I was wrong. This is the perfect time to talk about alcohol and in a rare moment of Jim giving advice I would say to anyone reading this considering giving up alcohol- do it and do it now- it’s the perfect opportunity.

Steady on Jim. People are drinking at this time and for many it’s a welcome relief, a source of comfort and pleasure, only a sadistic bastard would advise people to give up at this time of most need. What’s wrong with you, show a little compassion man.

Yes, it does seem counter intuitive but hear me out. If I were still drinking, this lock down for me would be open season for binge drinking. It would be like being on holiday; no major work commitments, unstructured days, minimal driving and no censorial judgements. It’s lock down! Wear your dressing gown all day, binge on box sets, eat chocolate and ooh look its midday let’s have a G and T. I would be knocking it back slow and steady, spending days in what I would have considered hazy, disconnected bliss. Except it wouldn’t be bliss for long. I’d start feeling rough in the mornings, guilt would creep in as would post drinking anxiety. I would get grumpy and take out my self revulsion on my partner. In short I would quickly become a mess.

So clearly this is directed not at the glass of wine a day brigade but the serious drinkers, the ones who find it hard to stop in the absence of normal restrictions. Drinkers like me (I’m now happily 7 months sober by the way). So here’s the thing. Why is now the perfect time to stop?

Reason 1 If you don’t stop it will be easy to find yourself in holiday mode and your drinking issue could easily spiral into a serious drinking problem as outline above.

Reason 2 If , like me, your drinking is conditioned to a large extent by social events this is the perfect opportunity to stop because those social triggers have ceased to exist. No pubs to negotiate or restaurants to sit in watching others knock back the wine. No family BBQs or big birthdays. No Easter get togethers or beach picnics. Some of the key anxiety producing events for people trying to stop drinking have vanished. Even if you wanted them they do not exist for the moment. So sieze that opportunity. It’s like having a head start. My first two months of sobriety were spent dealing with these social triggers and having to summon up massive amounts of will power to get me through. It seriously does get easier after the first two months so this lock down situation is like being in rehab without the £1000 a week price tag. So you can see, you would be mad NOT to use this opportunity to give up drinking if you have been seriously considering it.

Reason 3 The BIG one! This is the one that could be the difference between life and death. Seriously. Alcohol is bad for our immune system. Fact. Don’t just listen to me I’m not a doctor, but listen to these guys:

Alcohol and the Immune System

Dipak Sarkar, Ph.D., D.Phil., M. Katherine Jung, Ph.D., and  H. Joe Wang, Ph.D.

“Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia. In recent decades, this association has been expanded to a greater likelihood of acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS), sepsis, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), and certain cancers; a higher incidence of postoperative complications; and slower and less complete recovery from infection and physical trauma, including poor wound healing.”

The word sobering comes to mind! Let’s have some more:

“There are a number of ways alcohol impairs your immune system, making you more likely to get sick.  First, it’s important to know that the microbes living in your intestines, your gut’s microbiome, plays an important role in fighting diseases. This happens in many ways that we’re just beginning to understand. When you drink a lot of alcohol, it has many negative effects on your digestive system. It damages the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb many nutrients. It also severely disturbs your gut’s microbiome, significantly altering the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. Alcohol affects the way health gut microbes interact with the immune system. Alcohol also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood. These rogue bacteria can cause inflammation in the liver and may lead to liver damage.  Alcohol doesn’t just affect the function of the digestive tract. It also affects the respiratory system. Excessive drinking may impair the function of immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system, leading to increased risk for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Because the immunity of the mucus is impaired in both the lungs and digestive tract, any disease can become more severe.” (Recovery Ways)

It’s there in black and white. It’s not controversial. Try this – https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/why-drinking-too-much-may-cause-lung-disease-070714.html It’s established and known science. With this current virus there are no drugs that can cure if, no vaccine as yet. The medical interventions are there to support the body as it fights the virus. The only thing that will defeat the virus is our own body’s immune system. Our body becomes our life saving drug store. Would you take the one thing that could potentially save your life and weaken it, damage it and make it less effective? No, of course not, but that’s exactly what you will be doing if you drink alcohol, (let’s say excessively), during this crisis. Your immune system is damaged by alcohol so if you want to give your immune system the best chance of beating this virus, stop drinking. I’m against being directed what to do but these are indeed strange times. We are told to stay in. I follow that advice because it could keep me alive. If you have a problem with drink like I had, here’s my advice; stop drinking, it’s the perfect opportunity and it could save your life.

Oh and if you do decide to stop right now, follow some of the sober blogs I follow. You’ll get the support and encouragement you need and you’ll hopefully see that giving up isn’t about denial, it’s about opportunity and freedom. Post Corona you’ll be glad you did it.

Stay safe. Jim X

Fact- Being Sober Doesn’t Improve Common Sense

This is a tough one. A laying bare of the soul, an admission of fallibility. Six months sober and there are many pros; improved sleep, lower blood pressure, clearer head in the morning, you know the list. I had also hoped being sober would also improve my powers of common sense, help me make sensible decisions, make other men envious of my day to day problem solving capabilities but alas I have to confess that that has not been the case. To put it bluntly I still do very stupid things that would indicate to some people that my brain has failed to make the necessary synaptic connections necessary for daily survival.

Knowing this blogging community is so caring as well as sharing, I will expose my recent example of crass naivety, stupidity, lack of common sense or whatever you choose to all it. I know you will be kind not cruel.

I’m on holiday in the Peak District and I chose yesterday to go walking up Kinder Scout, which is the highest point in the peaks.I’m a Londoner now living in a flat area of the UK and not used to hill walking. My first proper walk therefore was to walk the most difficult of hill walks in the Peak District. You can already see where this is going!

I have a guide book that says don’t attempt this by yourself(I did), take a whistle in case you get lost (I didn’t) and don’t attempt to go off course to reach the high point marker(I did). It also said if inexperienced don’t try the walk in winter as the weather can really turn (I ignored that).At the car parking I secretly scoffed at other walkers with their poles (it’s not Everest I smirked to myself, and left mine in the car.)

I set off and within 200 yards realised I’d already gone wrong going the wrong way on this circular walk. Oh well I thought I won’t turn back I’ll just read the guidance backwards, silly old Jim. Let’s cut to the chase. First part of the walk was great, lovely scenery, a few houses, sheep. This is easy. I then had to climb a path and as I ascended it all changed. There was snow and ice on the ground, the temperature dropped and there was no longer a recognisable path. There were one or two walkers however and some rocky outcrops mentioned in the guide so it was all ok.

Then it changed again, hail started coming down, there were peat bogs, it was getting colder and there was nothing that looked like a path. I ended up walking across snowy drifts and falling over. My feet disappeared into peat bogs and the other walkers were nowhere to be seen. That’s ok, I thought, I’ll use google maps. Great idea Jim, you’re on a barren hill side miles from anywhere and expect a signal?

At this point I wanted to cry and be cuddled by a mother figure. I wanted to escape into mindless eating of my sandwiches. Who, I thought, is going to fix this. Then out of the snow I saw a walker. He said I needed to go down hill about 100 yards and I’d find the path. I did , but lost it again soon after. I realised that I’m rubbish at hill walking. I fell again and kept walking into rocky blind alleys. I found a waterfall. That was in the guide book. I started to walk up the waterfall thinking the rocks in the stream were the path. A young couple came along and started shouting at me. They had that look on their faces that suggested concern and maybe incredulity. The look said,”what the fuck are you doing!” But they said, “get out of there, it’s dangerous” and then told me where to pick up the path. I carried on and again, over heathland, the path disappeared. I had a map that had I looked at would have shown me that going back down to the river would bring me to where I had parked my car. But of course I didn’t bother with the map. Instead I walked over another hill and when I could get google maps realised I’d gone an additional 3 miles out of my way and had to do the last 2 miles walking on narrow country roads.

My 6 mile 3 hour walk had turned into a 10 mile 5 hour walk. I had exhibited mind blowing stupidity and a complete lack of common sense. Before I reached my car I saw a pub. I was not tempted. If I can be this stupid without a drink I thought, what would I have been like with a few inside me.

Hopefully, yesterday was a lesson or two learnt. On the positives, I got lots of exercise, I’m alive and the scenery was heavenly!

Here are some pics from my walk of shame! Jim x

Be kind in your comments. My self esteem has taken a battering!

Before the walk
This is easy!
Ooh that’s interesting so the weather changes as you go higher?
Snow, wasn’t expecting that!
Where are all the people and houses
Ok it’s lovely but where’s the path!
I reach the summit but I wonder why the sky is that colour?
I try walking up a stream- frantic walkers tell me that’s not the way
Help! It’s snowing and I’m lost!
At last! Signs I’m heading in the right direction