Welcome to The (Not) Drinking Diary Series. Today I’m chatting to Mandy; one of the hosts of new podcast Love Sober.
Mandy’s an instagram friend and her podcast, which she co-hosts with friend Love Sober, launches May 17th!
In her own words, Mandy is: Co-host of the LoveSober podcast, with Kate (@love.sober) launches 17th May 2018 – Instagram blogger and writer, mental health awareness and soberlife activist.
Mandy share’s her story bravely below, read on for Mandy’s not drinking diary …
Location: Between La Rochelle and Bordeaux (by the sea), France
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself …
I have lived in France for the last 12 years, but I grew up in the UK, East Anglia, the West Country, London and Brighton, Then the north of France and now here by the sea – I am not very good at staying still!
I am constantly striving to learn about myself, other people and promote kindness, openness and acceptance, we’re all different, flawed but beautiful and I try to remember that. My day job is teaching at a university and professional skills coaching, which I am currently developing the coaching side to include NLP training and confidence coaching in public speaking.
I am also beginning to plan the first LoveSober wellness retreat – watch this space! Personally I feel very passionate about developing an open dialogue for mental health, recovery, trauma and crisis and if my story can help then so be it. I feel very fortunate to be asking myself what do I want to do, and I am taking time to analyse how I can contribute and make a difference, yet still make a living. I have had a lot of ideas buzzing in my head for many years, which I have more confidence to explore since giving up drinking! For the moment my focus is our podcast, it’s a lot more technically challenging than we had first thought! But I absolutely love it! I love having that conversation, it helps me in my own brain and hopefully can help those sober-curious, sober-struggling or sober out and proud on their journey.
My other day job is mother to two bilingual kids, 11 and 9. I am married and have a cat called Lottie.
2.Tell me a little bit of your drinking story …
I had tried alcohol as a child and a few times at 10/11 but I started drinking recreationally when I was 14 there wasn’t much to do where I grew up, well thinking back there were other options but in the bubble I surrounded myself with I didn’t see any, I had been very into contemporary dance and theatre up until that point, but my option at that age was to audition for the county dance group, and I lacked confidence, so I quit, and drinking, partying and friends became my major focus for the next 10 years I didn’t have any other hobbies.
I often wonder what came first the anxious, depressive tendencies which lead me to partying, or the partying which left me with depression and anxiety, I tend to think it is the former. Most of my friends had very hard home lives, I didn’t (though retrospectively I now understand that there have been mental health problems in both my parents families) as a teenager I used to feel so guilty that I felt so bad about myself with the happy home life I did. My friends and I found each other, and lost ourselves in music festivals, substances, and rebellion, we had easy access to the 90’s free party scene, and due to friends and older siblings “in the business” it was easy for us to get wasted and I honestly never questioned our lives as abnormal, I thought that’s just what all teenagers were doing. I had two very traumatic experiences aged 18&19 which I boxed away into the back of my brain, and carried on being a hedonist. I went to university and when I split up with my boyfriend of 2 years at age 21, a lot of the past few years of trauma started to come to the surface and this was the first time I can pinpoint that I started using alcohol to numb pain, it became my go to medicine, I used to go to the shop buy a bottle of red drink it and cry.
In 2002 I met my now husband and we decided to have a year off drink in 2005 as I had got pretty overweight and unhappy, and this year was magical, we spent our weekends going for walks exploring farms for fresh produce and lazing in bed and we truly fell in love, this year gave me the taste for sobriety. We were so healthy and full of ideas that we decided to move to France and have a family, I had my daughter in 2006 and son in 2008. Parenthood threw up a lot of emotions for me, all the pain and trauma that I hadn’t dealt with manifested itself in fear for my kids, I was worried constantly, and so my drinking started to take back its form of medication, I was also one of the first of my friends to have kids, so when I came back to the UK, I returned to my party ways, I was completely lost, fatigued, overwhelmed and frantic. How could I be a good parent? How could I protect them? My parents had loved me and yet I had put myself in such dangerous positions, how could I stop that happening to my kids? So I drank to numb myself, I partied to try to find myself and I spent a lot of the time feeling very alone. My solution was to go back to work, and I found myself in a prestigious University and really succeeding in my career my students loved me, I had English colleagues, I found myself coming back to myself, but the old me, the me without responsibilities, so I’d stay for after work drinks, I’d wear heels and then run home to get the kids, I’d go out on Friday nights and spend Saturday hungover, but I was deeply unhappy, all I wanted to be was a good mum, but I was too frightened of the love I felt and the responsibility it held.
This all came to a head in 2013 when I had a huge panic attack after a heavy summer of partying and festivals, and all the pressure I had at work since a promotion, I was putting up a front, but I was completely broken inside, I went to see my doctor and was told I was in clinical burnout, I was put on anti-depressants and started Cognitive behavioural therapy.
3. What led you to think differently about drinking?
Well I was developing a problem, I was borderline, I wasn’t drinking all day, in the morning or smuggling vodka to work, but I was certainly drinking for the wrong reasons, I was drinking every night, often dangerously, often to black out and every time I wanted to stop I found an excuse not to, I wanted to stop, but couldn’t which is why I knew I had to.
4. How would you describe your relationship with alcohol now?
I think we’re at peace, I live with a French man, a wine drinker, with a pretty impressive wine cellar of fine wines, everyone I know drinks, so it is something that surrounds my life, but isn’t my life. So I amhappy about that, I have good friends
around me who accept the situation, some friends didn’t, and unfortunately sometimes you have to break some ties to move forward, that has been hard, but I feel ok about it now, it’s their problem not mine (this is huge from a serial people pleaser!).
I am happy that I can be another option for my kids to see, that I never have a hangover and that it has made some people think about their behaviour too. Though I can’t handle it if people get too drunk, that makes my anxiety go crazy.
5. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since your approach to alcohol shifted?
Keeping my sober mind. I was sober for a year between 2014-2015 and because my drinking at that time was so linked with depression and anxiety issues, when I had worked through a lot in cognitive behavioural therapy I thought I was fixed, I spent two years with the philosophy that I could change my drinking habits, but once a binger always a binger. I wanted so much to be “normal” as that meant my past did not define me any longer that I tried to moderate. I would drink until my insomnia was so bad that I had to stop, I would then take 3-4 months off and go back to it.
I knew in my heart though that I was better sober, I loved that sober year so much, so 17/08/2017 I said enough is enough and I am now committed to life time sobriety.
6.What lessons have you learnt about life (and yourself) since your relationship with alcohol has changed?
That I was a broken person, that I needed
self-love, protection and care, that drinking was like a plaster/band aid trying to cover a wound t
hat never got the chance to heal. That moving on takes courage and strength, and I have so much more belief in myself now.
Being sober makes you proud of yourself which is a brilliant basis to build/rebuild/change/develop and grow who you are. You should also NQTD (if you want to be sober once, you will always want to be sober, so don’t jeopardise your happiness to live a half-life, just so you can fit in!)
7. What benefits of cutting down on alcohol or stopping drinking have you experience
Loads, weight loss, sparkly eyes, better skin and much more control over my mental health, and much more confidence in myself.
I am still quite unwell, migraines, insomnia, stress but I feel better at coping and especially at saying no to people, when I need to rest, be alone and take some time for self-care, I just say no, which is a huge change for me. I still go to therapy and take anti-depressants, but I am 10,000 better than I was.
8. Are there any resources that have helped you to cut down or stop drinking?
Soberistas saved me at the beginning I searched “Do I have a problem with alcohol?” on the 27/12/2013 and found soberistas, I started blogging there, and had so much support, found so many people just like me, who wanted to stop, who didn’t see themselves as alcoholics, that wouldn’t go to AA but were finding it very hard to stop.
Now I use Instagram the most, and Club Soda for events. I have met some really interesting people and I knew that was key to sticking to my sobriety was to build my sober community “my tribe”. Doing the LoveSober podcast with Kate has been a really wonderful experience, we share the same passion, and ethos on Sobriety and being able to share that and thinking of ways we could help is hugely inspirational for me I feel very proud.
There is lots of interesting things happening in the US: Hip Sobriety, Home Podcast, Laura Mckowen, She Recovers, The Edit Podcast. But I will be eternally grateful to Laura Rocca and the Soberistas community. This summer I read Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl, which gave me the conviction to speak out about my mental health and not to feel ashamed, as I think there are massive links between depression/anxiety and problem drinking, so I thank her for writing such a brave book.
9. How do you start your day? Do you have a morning routine?
Hmm this is on my project list for 2018, as I’d like to do yoga, but I have been injured for a year.
I try to get up if I wake up before my alarm, have a cup of tea and watch the BBC world service, it nourishes my brain, and then it’s getting everyone off to school and work, though we leave ourselves at least an hour now, so no stress.
10. Do you have any rituals you always make time for?
Well in my old house, I would always put the kids to bed whilst running a bath, to know that that was my treat waiting for me (not wine) and listen to radio 4 or 6music.
Now I try for no screens after 10pm, a herbal tea, read for 30 – 60 mins and take melatonin before bed. I have insomnia so sleep is still a work in progress…
11. What’s your favourite thing to do (hangover free & not drinking) at the weekend?
Cook – especially cakes.
12. When it comes to your own personal development, what is one thing that you’re working on or learning right now?
To relax, meditate (L’s note: I wrote more about meditation here), trust myself and others and let go, I have ridiculously tense shoulders!
13. What is the one thing you’re obsessed with at the moment that’s making your life better?
Trying to switch the negative to positive.
14.Any go-to people we should follow for inspiration? (Health, Fitness, Life, Travel you name it!)
On Instagram – there are so many that inspire me, make me laugh and have become friends on this sober journey, it is really a very rich experience to connect and has helped me develop on this personal journey:
@laurievmcallister @soberandalive @blackoutbelle @soberkolony @iamtamzin @soberupbuttercup @theunruffledpodcast @lucysheriden @sobermoonnz @jlbfdr @recoveryisthenewblack @_ownselfbetrue @reluctantteetotaller @alextalbot_healthyxxl @dry.times @unexpectedjoyof @drybeclub @pauliekeiz @mind_body_glow @adonnrowley @to50andbeyond @tammisalas @sondra_unruffled @healthy_discoveries @bryonygordon
and a very special group of sobersisters the wonderful @jilliebean_az @dammit_janet_67 @muttonattacks @dianaunlu @missrobynlynn2 @mytruthstartshere @kristen.keeping.sober @teetotaling and special thanks and love to @sobercurlsnoel and so many more…
If you like to cook @lizzieloveshealthy @cookbycolor @frommysoultobowl and drinks @shrbdrinks @realkombucha @karma.kombucha @seedlipdrinks @nirvanabeerco and @yogiteaeurope
15. And finally, thinking differently about your relationship with alcohol can be challenging and isolating, is there any advice you turned to or do you have any words of wisdom for people reading this?
Don’t give up on yourself, you’re worth more, connect
with the sober community, whether on Facebook, Instagram or in real life, find what works for you, these are people that understand, won’t judge will lift you up when you falter, and celebrate when you succeed, these are your people, they don’t need to know all the details to get it, and get you.
Getting sober and staying sober is not easy, but the more you focus on what you gain and not what you lose the easier you will find it, all you lose is a drink, all you gain is the whole of your life every morning, when you wake up and feel proud of yourself you are stepping closer to true happiness and further away from pain x