When I was young it was all about ‘hitting the sauce’. For clarification when I say “hitting the sauce”, I’m not referring to sparring with table condiments, ‘hitting the sauce’ is how I used to refer to getting drunk!

Me on the "sauce" in Mexico when I was in my mid 20s

I was a drinker for many years but I wouldn’t have at any point considered myself an alcoholic. Looking back however I did have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Over the years I accrued my share of hangovers, regrettable incidents and a repertoire of stories to tell. For the majority I would say it was middle lane drinking, nothing outrageous or excessive, there were times though, without realising it at the time, I was actually drinking to cheer myself up.

Alcohol played its part in many facets of my life, from my teens through to my late thirties. Alcohol was there to help me celebrate, commiserate, relax and more besides. That’s what we do right? It was certainly how I was led to believe it. Alcohol was the go to for most of life’s ups and downs.

It was life’s downs which opened the door to regular drinking. I would drink when I was unhappy, this really took a hold when my marriage was unravelling, subsequently getting divorced and the death of my father, which came out of the blue after a short but heroic battle with pancreatic cancer.

After my divorce I just couldn’t shake off the feeling of being totally underwhelmed with life, I felt every which way I turned I was stuck. I was trying to juggle running a business, being a single dad and come to terms with this new situation I found myself in, living in a foreign country with no family network around (although I do have to say I had some amazing friends who helped me no end). The thing is, I felt like everything I had been working towards and building over the past 20 years had been for nothing. I was living in rented accommodation, working out of a bedroom and having to watch the pennies! I felt like I was a student again. It was pretty demoralising and knocked my confidence.

One day visiting one of my brothers we had a heart to heart

and I told him how I was feeling. He planted a seed in my head which was the beginning of transforming my life. He explained how in his own life he had set goals, short term, mid term and long term goals, which allowed him to progress in the right direction, see how is he was doing working towards his goals and feel good about achieving his goals along the way.

This was a revelation for me, I too in the past had worked towards something, these weren’t framed as goals, I’d just set my mind on something and worked towards it in stages. It was a eureka moment for me, I realised I felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of my long term goals I was unable to start. Quite simply I hadn’t considered breaking it down into smaller goals i.e short and mid-term goals to enable me to get there.
So with a new found momentum, I started to open my mind to the idea of working towards goals. They were bite size manageable goals which started to make me feel better about myself and the future.

With this new found goal orientated ideology when I saw an ad on my social media timeline for OYNB it made me think. I didn’t sign up straight away, I did however read a couple of testimonials and in those testimonials there were elements I could recognise in my own life around my relationship with alcohol.

After a while of mulling this idea over I decided to sign up to a 90 day challenge. If I could do that, it would be a good goal to have achieved. I’ll not lie once I started, it wasn’t easy to begin with! To break the habits which had been there, ingrained in my daily routine for years, but the tips and daily emails kept me going. I was stringing booze free days together in numbers I had not done since I was a teenager.

Within a relatively short period I started to notice how by removing alcohol from my life I was actually sleeping so much better.

My boys and I just before I went off to run the Bordeaux Half Marathon
My boys and I just before I went off to run the Bordeaux Half Marathon

I had never realised how alcohol had been interrupting my sleep. Often I would wake up in the middle of the night with palpitations and feeling anxious, I assumed it was because I was stressed out, not that it was those beers I’d drunk at the end of the day to ‘unwind’ that were waking me up in this state.

Alcohol stops people from getting into the deep restorative sleep we need to be at our best both mentally and physically. Since alcohol was no longer in my system I was sleeping so much better and waking up feeling energised, full of motivation and happier.
Another thing I learnt about whilst on my 90 day challenge was Mindfulness. At first glance it seemed like it may be a bit too happy clappy for me. However if OYNB were talking about it, there must be some value in it so I decided what heck. I had some spare audio book credits and decided to download Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. By happy coincidence this particular author is one of the forefathers of Mindfulness so I was getting the lo-down from an expert in the field.

I started practicing mindfulness as part of my morning routine. I was waking up a little earlier to do some exercise and I decided I could pop an extra 5 minutes on to meditate. I loved just sitting outside in the morning after having had a workout and listening to the birds and the wind rustling in the trees. It felt really nice and I soon started spending more time meditating and bought additional books to learn more.

I started out practicing Mindfulness just because I enjoyed feeling relaxed and calm but as my practice developed with time I started to be aware of how I felt both physically and mentally. All of a sudden I had lights popping on all over the show where I was connecting dots to see where I could improve my overall well being in other areas of my life.

For example not spending time scrolling through Facebook which generally made me feel negative or sad.

Another one was not playing Candy Crush, which although addictive and mind numbing, it never made me feel like I was achieving anything. By cutting activities like this out of my life I was freeing up more and more time to use on doing things which made me feel happy and engaged in life.

With this new found time I was able to train for a half marathon (whilst raising money for Pancreatic Cancer), learn French, grow the business, take online courses to get additional qualifications or obtain new skills and basically start learning about different subjects which I was discovering and interested me.

One of these new interests was positive psychology. This is where the game really starts levelling up. As I have mentioned before when I was drinking I was underwhelmed with life, feeling less than positive about myself and life in general. It’s no wonder I felt like this as regular alcohol consumption interferes with chemicals in the brain that are vital for good mental health. So while we might feel relaxed after a drink, in the long run alcohol has an impact on mental health and can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, and make stress harder to deal with.

I was already feeling way better about myself and life in general, mindfulness had taught me to be grateful and appreciate so much, including those downs life sometimes throws our way. Sounds mad right? Before, when I was feeling sad, I’d open a beer, now I am appreciating those challenges! I appreciated them as they gave me learning on how to overcome them, booze just masked the problem for anther day.

Me with my Arete Way Coaching qualification in positive coaching
Me with my Arete Way Coaching qualification in positive coaching

It may sound cliché but there must be something in that saying ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’.

Positive psychology is about shifting our over all well being up the positive scale. So for me when I was drinking if I’d been asked to grade where I was on a sliding scale of 1-10. 1 being not happy and 10 being totally happy I would have been hard pressed to have said a number any higher than 5.

After taking a break form alcohol I was already moving up the scale, no longer having booze interrupt my sleep, leaving me feeling anxious, lethargic and washed out, it was inevitable I was going to be naturally moving up the scale. However you can squeeze some extra happiness into your life using some of positive psychologies techniques (interventions) to make you feel happier.

My top 3 are, random acts of kindness, a gratitude journal and finding flow in activities.

Random acts of kindness: Just doing something nice and unexpected can give you a real sense of warmth inside and what’s more it makes the person on the receiving end feel good too. Research shows that person who was on the receiving end of an act of kindness is then primed to go on and do something nice for someone else. As such, it is a never ending cycle.

Gratitude journal: Every day I write down in my journal 3 things I am grateful for. I also do this with the family around the table at the end of the day. By looking back at our day and highlighting those good things actually means we train our brain to look out for more good things in our day which results in us feeling more positive about our lives and being happier.

Flow: Flow is another area of positive psychology. Flow is when we are totally absorbed in an activity and loose track of time. The activity needs to be slightly challenging, give a sense of feedback so we can see or feel we are achieving something.
Finding activities which can induce a flow state are proven to improve our overall well being and positivity. These activities vary from person to person but for me I find flow when running, writing, working on a design, painting (even decorating gets me into flow) and being outside in nature.

by changing my relationship with alcohol I have as a natural by product removed a silent saboteur in my life.

I have literally swapped feeling underwhelmed with my life, suffering form anxiety and fatigue and a sense of being trapped in a rut with no direction for genuine gratitude for every day. I’m full of energy and my overall well being has gone from a 5 (at a push) to a consistent 7.5/8 on the happiness scale and I’m looking forward to the future. I’m no longer stuck, I am whizzing along and enjoying the ride.

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