We caught up with Club Soda member Ali, who has now been alcohol-free for 13 months, about her journey and the work that she has put in to get where she is now.
So you’ve been alcohol-free for just over a year now?
Yes, 13 months.
What was it that made you decide to change your drinking?
It had got really awful, to be honest, and I wasn’t drinking for enjoyment, I was drinking out of compulsion – so I decided I had to stop.
When you first decided to stop, how did you find it at the start?
It was really difficult. It’s super hard anyway, but my partner was still drinking regularly, so when she came in and was drinking beer or wine it was right in my face – so it was really hard not to give in and I had to focus on doing something else, or I’d have to go somewhere else or literally sit on my hands.
Were you quite firm in your decision or did you have any stop and start moments?
Well, it had taken me around 6 months to get the point of actually deciding to quit. I’d known since my early 20s that it wasn’t good for me and I’d stopped for 3 months back then and it was great, but then I started working in a pub and went back to drinking again, and pretty much lost a decade. Then I did a home detox supported by my GP and stopped for 3 months in my 30s which again felt great, but I was very much on my own with it again and I couldn’t make it stick then either.
So another decade passed and I knew in all that time I should quit but I just wanted to drink “normally” – whatever that is – and also didn’t want to tell my partner how much I was actually drinking ‘cos that was quite terrifying. I eventually joined Club Soda in September 2016 and again I was terrified because I had to face up to what I was doing – I had to do something and I didn’t know how to. I knew I couldn’t cut down because I’m just not built like that, but also I knew the dangers of just stopping. So I did the 8-week mindful drinking course, learned loads, but then stopped, started, stopped, started for months because in that initial stopping, managing that compulsion to drink was so difficult. If I made it to a week it was awesome, and the longest I did at that time was about 3 weeks.
It kind of went in stop-start cycles, but then what finally gave me the kick up the arse was realising that all these people I’d met on the group were just really putting in the hard work and that’s how they were succeeding. So that was what finally made me properly stop in April 2017.
So seeing and hearing from other people, who were similar to you, being successful in their journey was what eventually made it click for you?
Yeah, that was instrumental because whenever I’d done it before I’d been on my own. And the people in the group were people I respected and they’d done it. There was that community element where you can identify with various bits and pieces people were saying, and then just living – just getting on with life and not drinking like a twat all the time.
So how would you describe the differences between your first 6 months, second 6 months and where you are now?
Well, just to break it down a bit more than that, the first three months was just getting to where I’d been before, so even just the first day after that first 3 months was quite amazing because I’d beaten what I’d done years ago. But I also knew from the really early days that this time was it. Things don’t click by themselves, you make them click – I knew I had the determination to do it but it was finally not wanting to go back ever again that did it. So those first 6 months were awesome. Some days early on I couldn’t make the days pass quickly enough because I wanted to be a good distance from where I’d started, so making it to 6 months was just brilliant and it was really affirming that process of “yes you’ve got this, just keep doing what you’re doing.”
While this was happening I was in the throes of being made redundant which was really shitty and a really torturous and drawn out process, and if there was ever anything that would have made me drink in the past, it was that. But I didn’t. I didn’t crack, and that was really important in proving I could do it, and I’d be able to do longer term. And getting to nine months was even more awesome because you practically are at a year then, you can almost feel it.
Actually getting to a year was weirdly stressful and whilst I’d been telling my mum, and my partner knew what I was doing, I was really concerned about it being marked as a big thing – because to me, obviously it was a massive thing and whenever I said to my mum something like “3 months today” there was sort of a tumbleweed moment.
But since going past a year it’s like being on cruise control, you’ve just got to keep going, keep doing what you’re doing, and trust in yourself – and I don’t really pay much attention now to the days. I guess it’s just part of who I am now, that’s what’s shifted in that time.
The 6 months before you actually stopped drinking were crucial to this too – when you stopped and started – as it was just as crucial to your success in terms of the whole picture of your journey, because even though you stopped plenty of times, you also kept going plenty of times and your commitment was growing. How do you look back at that part?
Yeah, that’s where I learned everything, that’s where I learned how to do it and where I saw how everyone else and how the long-term people in the group were doing it and still going about their lives. That really is the foundation of it, seeing what I really needed to do, and it is just about keeping on going. Getting to 3 weeks and then getting sh*t faced really sucks, but I never saw it as a failure and never beat myself up about it like sometimes people do – there’s no point and it doesn’t help anything.
I’ve never been one for beating myself up. I guess because reflection is a key part of my job, that’s what I do, I reflect about everything, so it was kind of “what happened, what was good, what went wrong, and what can you do about it” – so very practical. It was being able to keep going that was so important in that time, to look at what had happened, and why, and think about what to do next time, and get back on it, because I was so desperate to make that change. I wasn’t able to start again right away in lots of cases, and it might have taken me a week or so to get back on it, but each time I had more determination, and more tools in my box.
And in all that, seeing other people being able to live happily without booze in their lives was really important to me. It gave me hope.
What would your advice be to someone who is going through that phase currently?
Just keep going. It doesn’t matter what you do or how badly you fall off or how spectacularly, just stop again as soon as you can, and look at what happened – and as hard as it may be, just keep going, because it will get better.
You touched on reflection earlier and it being a part of your job, have you got any advice about reflection and how it could help someone through the process?
You’ve got to look at what happened but do it uncritically. You’re not looking for rights and wrongs: write it out if you have to, how you started the day, how you were feeling, when things started to get weird, what was the order of events, when did you go off the rails, what were you feeling at all these stages, what were you thinking, what and who was around you, and then start to really unpick all of that stuff, because if you can’t see what you’re in, then you can’t do anything about it. You have to recognise what’s going on around you, that’s the key part of reflection I guess.
And through that observation, then you can look at what happened and what you can start to do about it, and not everything you do will work, so you have to keep examining and keep making those changes. You’re not trying to rationalise what happened, just look at it like an open timeline and put arrows in for where bits happened. But also don’t criticise yourself, it’s not part of the process, it’s not about beating yourself up it’s about making improvements and looking at things developmentally because you want to make things better.
It’s a big project, so look at things as they are quite plainly and then what you can do to improve them. And the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you can start to move that reflection from being something you do after the event, to something you can do as you’re going along, so drinking stops being the inevitable outcome of a bad day, or shitty experience. You can start to make adjustments as you go.
So what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned over this whole journey/process?
I’ve learned shit loads actually, it’s been a really, really eye-opening process. It’s weird because I drank a lot over my adult life so I’ve not actually spent a lot of time looking at myself. So it was like sleepwalking for 20 odd years and then all of a sudden realising that you’re awake, you’re alive and life has kind of – not so much passed you by – but it’s happening and you want to be plugged into everything that’s possible to do. Things from before, like thinking I was shy, have changed – I’m still quite introverted but I’m not as shy as I’d have said I was.
And it’s the confidence that stopping drinking has given me back you know? I feel like I’m OK, I’m doing alright, I get on well with people, and I’m not the person that I was made to feel I was by various people, which kind of fuelled my drinking. Feeling OK, feeling I’m alright doing what I do is massively freeing so that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned about me. But I suppose also its the depths of resilience that I have, I’ve always had a lot but its kind of shown me that I could do (almost) anything, and that’s hugely motivating, and the stuff I’ve got back as result of stopping drinking is too much to lose now.
I teach for a living and that feeling of being so switched on every day is amazing. I’m really seeing how that comes through in my work – cos I got a new job while I was being made redundant – and in my personal life, and how people respond to me, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s like I’ve become the person I was always pretending to be, but now I’m not an imposter anymore – I am actually that person.
The mindful drinking scene has grown quite a lot, particularly in the last year, do you think we still have a way to go in terms of social perceptions? Is there anything that you’d like to see change?
The scene has changed loads which is brilliant but there’s far too much general ignorance about stopping or cutting down your drinking and people either think it’s something to be ashamed of or something to be laughed at – even people you wouldn’t expect it from like people who are supposed to be serving you drinks on a night out, who then laugh at you for asking for an alcohol free beer. It’s shit and there are loads that people could generally do to pick up more knowledge about it and not see it as some kind of a weird fad – because I don’t think it is a weird fad, any more than stopping smoking is a weird fad or thinking smoking is bad is a weird fad. So yeah, I’d like people to be a lot more clued up about things.