Happy on my Birthday

If i’d had the type of birthday I had this weekend even ten years ago I would be feeling miserable, unloved and hard done by right now. For my birthday I went for a walk in the countryside with my partner, I read the paper with football on in the background, had an afternoon nap, received and sent messages, had a takeaway curry, watched some telly and went to bed. No meal out (still a possibility here until lockdown this coming Thursday), no alcohol, no meeting up with friends, no special outing and it probably would have been like this even without the pandemic.

Ten years ago I would have been thinking why was my life so dull, devoid of event, empty. I certainly would have consoled myself with drink; oh yes indeed. I would have used the excuse of my birthday to drink copiously until I felt even worse than I did, fell asleep and lost the next day to a hangover.

Happy birthday to anyone with a birthday in the next 365 days!

So this weekend I had what I would have previously labelled a shit birthday. The strange thing is it wasn’t a shit birthday. It wasn’t great but I had a good day; relaxed, couple of nice presents. It was Ok. I didn’t feel aggrieved or that I was missing out on anything. I was quietly content. I was intrigued- why was I content with a situation that previously would have made me miserable?

One possibility is that I have learned to expect less. Maybe life has become uniformly flat and and my suffering was bourne out of a desire to see life delivering more than it ever could. Expect less, suffer less. In one of my favourite plays, Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge,the lawyer Alfieri tries to understand the tragedy of Eddie’s overpowering passions. He concludes,”Most of the time we settle for half and I like it better.” The message for me? Rein in those passions and desires. You may lose something in the process but you’ll survive. I’m not sure that’s the whole story.

The other possibility which I think applies more is that the things that I felt were important previously simply are not anymore. Was I really having fun down the pub, drinking pints, seeing unpredictable situations emerge, hoping deep down inside for some flirtatious encounter? Enveloping myself in the illusory cloak of being alive . Looking back it all seems like desperate attempts at finding validation, connection, excitement and to deny the existential truth of our mortality. Sorry if that sounds heavy and morbid, it actually is the opposite. If those earlier attempts to find joy, meaning, escape all fell flat what else was there?

I suppose it’s the feeling I have now that one doesn’t have to look so much out as in. If I can look at myself, be by myself and find that Ok, I don’t need to find external elements to give me a sense of contentment. I can then focus on what is around me already. It’s about accepting that we are here for a brief time and that that window of consciousness that we have is incredible and to be cherished not lamented before it’s time is up. It’s the old cliche of being able to be in the here and now, appreciate the people we have in our lives, love others and accept their love and extend our own resources to help others. Doing the small stuff is what often gives me pleasure, so on balance, my birthday was not a washout, it was a day where I could enjoy and appreciate being alive. Maybe I’m just getting old, but here’s the odd thing. I wish in a way I would have been able to look at life a little more this way when I was younger. Chasing illusions, desperate for some peace and some answers. That sounds like regret but it’s not really as you can’t get to your final destination without passing through some dodgy stations. It’s another day today, let’s see what that brings, see what tiny but important impact I can make. Right now it’s time for tea and toast- magic!

Out of Isolation

Having seen some old friends return on here over the last few days I decided I have three ways of treating this blog:

1 Carry on as I have done these last few months- dipping in and out – making the occasional comment and infrequent post

2 Ending the blog on the basis that I have nothing more of real value to say

3 Reengaging with the blog in a new way; with a commitment to reading, commenting and posting on a more regular basis

Option 1 doesn’t really work for me . As in my drinking days I’m an all or nothing type of guy so this option doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it reminds me of previous relationships; one foot in, one foot out.

Option 2 would work in the short term but would feel like abandoning something that has helped me enormously and maybe even helped others in small ways. That’s it then, it has to be Option 3; coming out of blog isolation. I need a proper reengagement; not the manic engagement of my first few months on here but regular posting and reading. Sometimes it takes something simple like someone saying they like reading one’s posts to realise that we do this fundamentally in order to connect. Sure I like to entertain sometimes in my posts, maybe (that means definitely) I also like the feeling of my fragile ego bathed in the warm glow of feedback sometimes. More recently I had to experience a negative response not just to my posts but to me as a person. I think that unnerved me more than I realised . In Transactional Analysis talk it took me back to my Child ego state; once again reexperiencing the criticism of father and brother, believing that maybe I was a fake, that I was a crap person and wanting to lash out like a child. It was a good reminder to self about how fragile we can be despite the insights we gain and how important it is to respond as Adult. It proved to be a valuable lesson. That’s the thing with connection we can’t control how it’s going to go and how it may affect us but it’s better to take that risk than stay isolated.

Well that’s the navel gazing out the way. Isolation in my title also refers to the past couple of weeks where I self isolated following finding out that the friend I spent 6 hours with working in my garden tested positive for coronavirus. We broke concrete, moved pots, spoke a starnge mix of Spanish and English and I was convinced that when he told me two days later that he tested positive that I would soon succumb. That in itself was a strange prospect. Sitting at home waiting for Covid to strike not knowing (I’m in my 60’s) whether you are going to have a few days of feeling a bit rough or being hospitalised and dying or any number of in between states. So there was a certain amount of anxiety. Of course you start scanning your body and “finding” symptoms. I took the tests and bizarrely it came back negative. I could do a whole post about how the track and trace system didn’t bother to contact me despite my friend telling them of our contact, of his boss pressurising him not to say he caught it off other workers, how those other workers continued to go to work despite symptoms because they were on zero hours contracts and couldn’t afford the loss of pay but I won’t. I think most of us know many of the systems in place are not up to the task in hand and that there is a high level of non compliance and restriction fatigue.

I will try and do my bit; I’ve alerted someone to the factory in question , I am joining an NHS panel trying to improve track and trace and I follow the guidelines logical or not.

So a good week overall. I’m alive and Covid free. Work is going well, I’m out of isolation and looking forward to nurturing my slightly neglected blog once again. Oh and I’m still not drinking.

Stay safe all. X

The Urge to Drink – The Urge to Avoid

I had a very interesting experience a few weeks ago that gave me a real, if somewhat unsettling, insight into my own dependency on alcohol.

When I first stopped drinking just over a year ago I found social events like meals extremely challenging. The urge to drink if I sat down for a meal with others was almost overwhelming. Restaurants were things to be avoided. I had tried going to one a few weeks after stopping and far from enjoying a nice meal with friends all I could focus on was their drinks, my misery and a sense of grievance as to why was I having to miss out.

Having friends or family round for meals was also a major abstinence battleground and again my strategy was mainly withdrawal rather than engaging in the fight. The problem there was that if I avoided things I liked, abstinence was going to be pointless. So I tackled the meals out and the meals in. Gradually as I successfully navigated a few meals I could feel the urge to drink lessen. The urge was still there though and I knew that this had to be less about a physical addiction to drink and more an association. Or was it? My urges took on a pattern which I am sure is familiar to other drinkers; meals with friends and family, social events, weekends; all triggering waves of anxiety.

After the first few months I could go days without wanting a drink at all, zero desire and then a trigger event and my cravings would start. The strange thing was that the cravings would ease rather than grow as the particular situation evolved. I knew these cravings were based around anxiety, the need to blot it out, but I mistook the nature of this anxiety. I thought my anxiety was based on my inability to enjoy myself without a drink; could I still have fun, be convivial without the aid of a few glasses of booze inside me? The answer was yes I could and as the months passed so gradually did some of this anxiety dissipate.

Back to a few weeks ago. I was hosting a meal for for four people. I was cooking and I knew that none of the people were big drinkers. As I prepared the food, I could feel the urge to drink creeping up on me. What! Still? I thought to myself. I rode the anxiety, we had the meal and my feelings settled down. Then last week we had four people round including my son and his girfriend. We all knew more coronavirus restrictions were on the way so this was likely to be the last such meal at home for some time. The urge to drink kicked in as I was preparing the food. Two meals on consecutive weekends and two lots of urges to drink. I was really disappointed. I thought I had beaten this thing. I enjoyed being sober and not having to plan my life around the next drink. I was annoyed that I was still experiencing times when I felt I really wanted a drink. That’s when I stopped and really looked at what was really happening. Up to then I’d assumed my anxiety was triggered by wanting a drink because it was a social occasion but this was something more. I have had a year of many social situations where there was a zero urge to drink. I knew I was anxious and that a drink would soften and kill off that anxiety but what was the real cause of it?

Anxiety is often explained as fear without a home but I needed to identify that fear. But not at that moment. Guests were arriving, food had to be prepared, table laid, drinks chilled. Both meals went well and I enjoyed both evenings. I knew I had to revisit what was going on and as I replayed the evenings and my feelings the location of the anxiety I felt started to reveal itself. It was located deep within me, and I think it was a fear of failure , of not being able to produce good food, a good evening for my guests. Would they like the food, would they approve or would the whole evening end up as crashing failure with my being revealed as the flawed individual that I am.

Wow, I was a bit shocked, was this what it’s always been about, drinking to avoid feelings of failure of being something less than others? I knew that tendency had been with me for a long time but felt that I’d successfully overcome it. The reality was that I had probably used alcohol just to mask it and give me a false sense of confidence in some specific situations. My urge to drink was really an urge to avoid that confrontation with the hurt and shame buried deep within me, to mask it. For me giving up the drink has allowed many things to surface and this particular “thing” seems the most significant. Had I not stopped drinking I would have carried on just drinking “to take the edge off” and that worked for me in a way. It blotted out a sense of failure, of not being good enough but it came at a cost. Part of that cost was that my drinking, in itself, became a cause of shame and yet another failure. A failure to control the very thing that was supposed to help. Better have another drink then, and so it continued.

When the current lockdown ends and I can enjoy a meal with others, I shall try and cook that meal reminding myself that my meals are OK, that I have put on good evenings for others in the past, that I’m alright as I am without the need to top myself up with booze. In fact what having meals like that has shown me is that the anxiety decreases as the evidence shows me that I wasn’t a failure. The food was OK, everyone had a good time and I have been able to enjoy that occasion sober. That takes time to sink in. The next time I prepare a meal the same feelings are likely to reemerge and I need to finally confront those uncomfortable feelings, look them in the eye and comfort the young Jim that grew up believing he wasn’t good enough.

Maybe it’s things like these that constitute the real challenges of giving up the booze and I’d be interested to know if others have had similar insights into their own patterns of drinking.

Jim X

The bitter taste of success

I didn’t want it, I didn’t ask for it, I don’t like it, but my buttons have been well and truly pushed. I have, like some other bloggers on here, managed to go alcohol free for just over a year now. I have known for probably 20 years or more that my drinking was problematic. I sometimes drank to excess, I always drank more than was good for me, I planned my days and weeks around drink and it was a constant battle preventing myself drinking even more than I was. I damaged friendships with my drinking, I upset my children on occasions and 3 marriages probably attest to the fact that it had an adverse effect on my relationships. I tried cutting down but I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to stop. I prepared for that, I researched it, I sought the support of bloggers and I set a date. 1st September 2109. I haven’t had a drink since. Has it been easy? No. Have I wobbled? Yes Am I proud? Yes.

So what’s the problem? Well I have been on the end of some strange comments by one person in particular seemingly annoyed that I have so far succeeded in giving up and then even more strangely suggesting that the only reason I have been able to be successful is that I don’t really understand addiction. Presumably the logic runs that true addiction in insurmountable so anyone giving up wasn’t really addicted in the first place. This I find insulting and is the logical refuge of the alcoholic who isn’t ready to let go of their addiction or sees it as somehow on a different scale to everyone else’s.

I certainly can see that addiction or dependency is a scale and some are further along that scale than others but to attack someone’s sobriety by saying you couldn’t have been an addict because it was so easy to give up is essentially saying true addiction can be proved by constant failure. That simply is not the case. Overcoming addiction is tough, it will be tougher the greater the extent of the addiction but anyone who is dependent on alcohol and who manages to stop deserves a pat on the back because it is bloody hard. And people on all points on that scale have successfully given up. They don’t boast but they rightfully are proud.

It’s hard going sober because it’s not just about the alcohol, it’s about how we change with the alcohol, how we socialise, it’s about giving up taking part in something that is woven into the fabric of our culture, resisting the urge to just have that pint or glass of wine with friends, colleagues, lovers. I’m pleased that I gave up alcohol. It was certainly not easy and I’ve never glossed over the struggle. What made a difference was reading about the others who have successfully stopped. Those stories showed me it can be done. There was a peer pressure of not wanting to let people down although most bloggers would never knock someone who did have a slip up.

Maybe one or two people just don’t want to see others succeed. That success can make their own difficulties in stopping seem like failure which of course it isn’t. We each of us have to find our own way of combating this dependency on alcohol and I think that peer support is crucial. To undermine someone’s attempt at stopping by saying your success show a lack of understanding of addiction is contrary to the spirit of mutual support which sustains these blogs. Maybe those that say such things need to look at their own dependency and ask themselves whether they really want to give up or are ready to give up. Addiction can be a powerful friend that some might be too reluctant to part company with. You can’t help somebody that doesn’t want to be helped.

Just for the record. The topic in the above rant has not been the reason I haven’t been on the blog recently. That has been down to a couple of trips in my Campervan and having more work than expected. Now I have got this triggered response out the way I’m hoping I can reengage with my blog and calmly reflect on an interesting experience I had a couple of weeks ago.

Jim X

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

Hi My Name’s Jim, I eat too much!

I just want to get this post out of the way so I’ve decided that I’m going to dictate it using voice recognition software. I hate using it but I just need to get this done and finished and out there. 

So, as you can guess, my diet is officially, like Monty Python’s parrot, completely dead. It’s expired, it’s lifeless, dead as the proverbial dodo (interesting that I just had to manually correct that last word as dictation software wanted to put dead as the proverbial dildo).

Like the parrot, Jim’s diet is now dead!

I was at a socially distanced outdoor children’s birthday party on Sunday. Of course I wasn’t drinking but I was eating and I was also observing how I ate in comparison to how other people ate. It didn’t take me long to realise why I struggle with diets. It was quite clear that I eat the way I used to drink; excessively with moderation completely thrown out the window. Whilst other people picked up the occasional crisp I was cramming handfuls into my mouth. When the hot sausage rolls appeared most people politely picked up one whereas I, on the other hand, managed about four within the first five minutes of them appearing. I was not eating like other people. I was devouring food. I was not eating to satisfy hunger, it was some anxiety generated, emotionally damaged,bored black hole I was trying to fill. I was suffering from some strange affliction. One could just say I was just being a greedy pig but that doesn’t sound good to me as it smacks of moral weakness, “Eataholic”is more reassuring as it takes responsibility away from me and locates it in a condition over which I have no control but is clearly nonsense.

Then it hit me, I talk too much, when I smoked I smoked too much, when I drank I drank too much, often when I eat I eat too much, I used to do a lot of drama in other words I love the sound of my own voice, I play music and have the need to sing all the time; it’s quite clear I’m orally fixated. Freud would love me, he would say I’m a perfect example of someone who didn’t go through that initial oral phase in a satisfactory manner. I got stuck there and constantly seek comfort and pleasure from all things connected with my mouth. And yes my mother had to stop breastfeeding me quite early and so at last I now know why diets do not work for me. It’s my mother’s fault! She should’ve carried on breastfeeding me then I wouldn’t have had all these problems with smoking, drinking and eating. Simple.

I jest of course. There may be a slight element of truth in what Freud had to say but of course his theory of psychosexual development does not really stand up to scrutiny. What I can say though is that consuming alcohol and food has been my way of coping with a certain level of social anxiety and an inner void, of which I’m increasingly aware. The fact is that on occasion I do eat excessively and diets alone will not work for me, I have to look at the why of my eating?

What this all means is that I have to approach cutting down on food the same way I approached giving up alcohol, I have to dig more into the reasons why I really eat and find a way of managing some of those compulsions. As I said before the option to just quit food isn’t an option so it will be very different to how I tackle booze in that with food it will be about moderation. It will be about stopping certain foods and it will be about monitoring how I eat, when I eat, types of food and the quantities. Crucially though I need to do the work of what emotionally I’m trying to comfort and suppress when I do eat excessively. Maybe that’s been long overdue so now is the time stop blaming my mother and dive into that emotional void.  That should be fun! Wish me luck.

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