Cravings, triggers and weight loss

It’s 76 days since I had alcohol, so what’s changed?

Well I’m definitely lighter. The scales tell me I’ve lost 11 lbs, which I love them for. I can get back into a beloved pair of jeans that last year I’d put in a pile of random purchases or outgrown items that I mourn and then give to charity. But I’ve resurrected them and they’re now back in the wardrobe where they belong.

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Hello, you beauties

I’ve also had to buy some new clothes to fit my booze-free frame and while some people probably jump for the joy at the thought of shopping, I’m not one of them. I hate it and resolutely do 99% of it online so I don’t have to deal with other shoppers, irritating sales assistants and changing rooms. Our dear retired neighbours have set up a collection office in their living room for all my deliveries and I pop round after work to pick up my parcels and have a chat by their roaring fire. So great, I needed to shift a few pounds and if it was all Sauvignon Blanc-related heft then I’m glad to be shot of it.

My eating habits have changed for the better as well. I always knew that wine was chock full of calories so I’d justify drinking it by reducing the amount of food I consumed. Boom! Forego nutrients for a hangover, nice one Kit. It’s amazing what dependence on something can make you rationalise. I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent individual so why would I choose wine over food? It seems crazy now but after a couple of glasses, my appetite would vanish and in my head it made sense to finish the bottle instead of having a meal.

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Better than a burger

We get free breakfast and lunch at work (utterly spoiled, I know) and I would always go for toast and butter in the mornings and, more often than not, the stodgy, comforting option at lunchtime, bypassing the healthy choices to dive straight into the cheese-laden lasagne or legendary curly fries. But since January, I’ve had porridge every morning and made friends with the salad bar because my body isn’t craving carbs in the way it was. And I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself or dieting, I’m just reacting to what my body wants and without alcohol, it wants salad. Who knew?! It also seems to want more chocolate and cake, but you can’t have everything…

So, I’m physically lighter without alcohol, but I’m psychologically lighter as well. I realise how much time I spent thinking about alcohol. Is there enough wine in the fridge? Will I miss my train if I pop into the shop to pick up some wine? Drinking had become habitual. Get home from work, pour a glass of wine. Did I even really want a glass? Not always, but it was what I did and I felt like I deserved it as a reward for a day at work. Really? You need to reward yourself for getting up, going to work and coming home again? Well done Kit, you’re an incredible human being! You did all that by yourself, have a gallon of the finest Sauvignon!

I also justified wine if there was something to celebrate, which meant I turned everyday activities into occasions: It’s Saturday, best have some wine! I’m having a bath, ooh, wine! I’m cooking, come here Mr Sauvignon!

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Who knew?

I could find a reason to drink wine when I did pretty much anything. So what do I do now? Is it all Elderflower cordial and cups of tea? Yes and no. My trusty Torres de-alcoholised Muscat and the perfectly palatable Bitburger 0% lager are playing a role when I want to feel as though I’m still partaking in a ‘proper’ drink, but I’m also drinking more tea and loads of water. I’m not mad keen on squashes and cordials – I’d rather get my sugar from cake – but I’ve found a couple that I quite like. And I tend to put whatever I drink into a wine glass or a proper lager glass (apart from tea because that would be silly) so I still have the sensation of drinking booze.

And I do get cravings. Just yesterday David and I went to visit Claudia in Nottingham because she needed a hug and, quite frankly, we needed one too. We went for lunch at a French bistro we like and I was overwhelmed with the desire for a glass of wine. It’s not because Claudia drives me to drink – it was the jazz, the wonderfully atmospheric trumpet jazz they were playing. It was the lighting, the dark skies and snow falling outside, the delicious hum of fellow diners chatting away, the chalkboard that so beautifully described the Picpoul Sauvignon. It was heady – we could have been in Paris or New York – and the only thing missing for me was a glass of wine.

Don’t panic, reader! I had a Becks Blue. I didn’t succumb and I won’t succumb, but sometimes the desire is very real and it’s interesting to understand what my triggers are. French bistros and jazz apparently…

Another positive of giving up alcohol is the effect it’s had on the people around me. David often now opts for a non-alcoholic beer over a regular one and several people have told me they’re trying to cut down after seeing the change in me, which is brilliant. My mission when doing this challenge was never to become preachy or holier than thou about alcohol. It was only ever to honour Joe’s memory and to raise awareness and support for the prevention of young suicide, but if it also makes people stop and think about their relationship with alcohol, that’s a bonus.

And if you’re really serious about taking a break from the booze, then now is the perfect time. The brilliant writer, Catherine Gray, whose book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober is an honest, painful and hilarious read about her relationship with alcohol, is setting up Sober Spring. From March 20th to June 21st you basically don’t drink alcohol. Simples. 93 days without booze. An entire season. I’m doing it (obvs) and I reckon you could do it too.

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Follow Catherine on Twitter @cathgraywrites and on Instagram @unexpectedjoyof and @cathgraywrites

So you now have two days to drink every drop of alcohol in your house – you’d best get going.

#SoberSpring

#I’mOnlyKiddingYouDon’tHaveTo

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Suicide: the stats are lying to us

One of my worries when I decided to stop drinking was whether I’d become boring without alcohol. As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety, the odd glass (or three) of wine always gave me confidence and brought me out of my introverted self; how will I do that now? Will friends and family want to spend time with me if they’re drinking and I’m not? Will sober Kit be dull-as-shit Kit?

David and I haven’t been out socialising since Joe died. We haven’t travelled (apart from a few peaceful days in Cornwall and Devon), we haven’t been anywhere new or done anything worth talking about. Our lives are centred around our house, the children, talking about Joe, reading and listening to music (David has brought Alexa into our home and while I love the music on demand, she can also be an annoying fucker).

Anyhoo, last night I went to bed at 8.30pm ON A FRIDAY. Me: “Do you know what I’m really looking forward to?” David (despairingly): “It’s going to bed, isn’t it?” Yes sir, that’s right! Friday night and I was looking forward to filling a hot water bottle and snuggling under the duvet – the same way I used to look forward to 20% off 6 bottles of wine at Sainsbury’s.

But aside from the boring arse I’ve become, one of the positives of a booze-free mind is an increased level of focus, which is welcome for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve started a permanent job after years of contracting so need to get my head into a corporate mindset. Write a Personal Development Plan you say? Crikey. My personal development plan for the past few years has been solely concerned with where the next contract is coming from. So quite a shift but, so far, a wholly positive one (plus I get paid for bank holidays again – hurrah!)
  2. I need to have my wits about me to deal with the Exeter and Greater Devon coroner service…

Joel on a boat

My sincere hope is that no-one I know – or don’t know for that matter – ever has to go through the pain, shock and disbelief of losing a child to suicide (but as it’s the biggest killer of young people between the ages of 10 and 34 in the UK, I’m afraid I will).

I had no idea what to expect after two very sombre police officers knocked on our door and delivered the news that no parent should ever have to hear…

I didn’t know how I would cope once the utterly overwhelming shock wore off. I didn’t know how to look after David, who was screaming and punching the walls. And I didn’t know what lay ahead: Connor and Claudia’s grief at losing their little brother; funeral planning; choosing a coffin; talking to the police; vicars and chaplains sitting in my living room offering prayers; countless visitors; flowers; cards…

And an inquest. I had no idea there would be an inquest. Joe took his life; we were in no doubt. But any unnatural death in the UK has to be reported to the coroner and so this new, unfamiliar and unpleasant journey began.

We were told that an inquest is usually held within six months of death, so we had December in our minds. We made statements and we asked questions: Yes, the inquest is held in a public court; Yes, the press can attend and report on whatever they hear; Yes, you can see all the evidence beforehand; No, you don’t have to attend; Yes, the coroner will determine what Joe’s death will be ruled as.

Wait. What it will be ruled as? Joe took his life, so it’ll be ruled as suicide, won’t it? Not necessarily. Because coroners have to apply the criminal standard of proof, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ when determining the cause of death in suicide, many are recorded as undetermined. So, suicide is already the leading cause of death among young people, but not all suicide is even recorded as such. Can you imagine the statistics if all suicide was actually recorded as suicide? It’s shocking, it’s not right and it’s a law that I’ll be helping PAPYRUS campaign to have changed.*

David and the kids (first pic I ever saw!)

It’s now March – nine months since Joe died – and we still don’t have a date for his inquest. The latest we’ve been told is that the coroner is retiring (a fact which surely must have been known for some time?) and her replacement won’t start looking at ‘cases’ until early April. So we’re possibly looking at an inquest date in June to coincide with what have been Joe’s 21st birthday and is also the first anniversary of his death. Great. That will do us all the world of good. A jolly trip down to Exeter to hear details of Joe’s life and illness discussed in a public court. Shall we throw Claudia’s university exams into the mix as well – why not!

Becoming ever more frustrated with the lack of information, I contacted PAPYRUS and received a call from their Chief Executive, Ged Flynn. He was very supportive and sympathetic but explained that this sort of delay is, sadly, very common. Coroner services have had their budgets severely cut in recent years, along with so many other public services, and they do the best they can with the limited resources they have. He also told me of families who have only found out about their loved one’s inquest date by finding it on the coroner’s website, which is unforgivable. And so, we wait.

Dull, boring and sober, but ready to take on the system in memory of Joe.

* You can read more in this Guardian article by PAPYRUS Chairman, Stephen Habgood.

 

Regret, tolerance and porridge

It’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks at work so this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write something that isn’t related to net debt, EBITDA and share prices. Praise the lord. It’s early on Saturday morning, Abigail (cat) and I are in the study. She’s washing after a particularly satisfying chicken breakfast and I’m mainlining tea. This is my favourite time of day, when David and Claudia are sleeping upstairs, the house is quiet, the sun is coming up and, for a short time, life seems calm and manageable.

Most of the time it feels as though losing Joe has sucked all the joy out of life and replaced it with dull, sad, monotony. But on mornings like this, and increasingly at random times throughout the day, a chink of light gets through and I remember there’s much to be grateful for. It’s the simple things that strike me; the things that money can’t buy. Yesterday, I was grateful for the trains that ran on time, my fabulously supportive colleagues, the hug I got from Claudia when I met her at the station, and porridge. You’ve gotta love porridge.

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The difference now is that I stop to appreciate these things instead of bowling through my day at a million miles an hour, head down, always thinking about the next thing, the next thing, the next thing… Now I don’t care what ‘stuff’ I have because I know I’d give it all up in an instant to have Joe back, so it becomes insignificant. (I can almost hear my friends yelling – “I bet you couldn’t give up candles!”)

I’m also more tolerant. On my commute, I used to be quick to get cross with people who invaded my space, had the nerve to sit next to me or played their music too loud. But now I think: ‘I don’t know what you’re going through’. If you saw me on the train, you wouldn’t know I was grieving – except maybe when I’m having a quiet cry – so by the same token, I don’t know what anyone else is going through.

Maybe they’re playing their music loud because they’re trying to block something out, maybe they’re sitting next to me, despite there being lots of empty seats, because they need the silent companionship of a stranger. And maybe they’re sniffing repeatedly because…no! That’s the one thing I still can’t abide – I don’t care what you’re going through, get a tissue!

Still a little way to go on the tolerance thing perhaps…

I wish I could turn back time (cue Cher) to when Joe was here so I could be more tolerant with him. I talk to him all the time, telling him how sorry I am for all the nagging and the arguments. Telling him that if I’d known how much he was suffering, I would have driven to Exeter, manhandled him into the car, brought him home and looked after him for as long as he needed me to. But I can’t, and it breaks my heart every single day.

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I miss Joe. I miss his voice, his laugh, and the perfect ability only he had to wind me up. I miss his joy in messing with my very ordered, slightly OCD brain, by subtly moving something and watching with glee until I noticed it. I miss his crazy mind, so full of ideas and thoughts and questions.

I miss the times we used to spend on our own together, when we weren’t stepmum and stepson, we were just Joe and Kit. We’d watch Masterchef, cook, discuss the universe and yell ‘Fish Skin!’ at each other (don’t ask). I miss hearing him play the flute. I miss his smile, his frown, his unfailing generosity and his joy at spending hours fussing a purring and dribbling Abigail. And I miss his future. I miss seeing what he would have done with his life; all that potential…

I read a tweet from Alison Moyet that really struck me: “People. Stop dying before your time. Don’t opt out. Your world will change its shape so many times. What is bleak today becomes wondrous and stupid and brilliant. All these things. Wait and see.”

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The problem with depression is that it can give you such a warped sense of reality that you just don’t believe this. You don’t believe that life can ever get better. Feeling suicidal is considered a medical emergency. Not a cry for help, an emotion or a feeling – A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Depression kills people, it robs them of their light and their hope. It killed Joe, the brightest of them all, and we have to do everything we can to stop it killing more people, young and old, male and female.

Gosh, I’ve just realised that in a blog about giving up alcohol, I haven’t mentioned it once. I’m 54 days sans booze and feeling pretty good about it. I was given a bottle of wine at work this week and promptly gave it to a colleague, I shared a lift with a drunk person on Wednesday night and felt very smug that I could walk in a straight line, and I helped to deliver a cracking set of financial results at work without the need to self-medicate with Sauvignon Blanc.

As I said, it’s the simple things…

Don’t order the wine!

41 days with no alcohol. Hurrah!

I think I may have finally broken the habit that characterised my relationship with white wine. My stepdaughter, Claudia, was home from uni last weekend and we drove to Reading to meet up with my stepson, Connor, and have a family lunch. Sunday lunches for me would always – without fail – include as many large glasses of Sauvignon as I could justify, but I now realise I was on auto-pilot. I drank wine, it’s what I did. Everyone would expect Kit to go straight to the wine menu, find the New Zealand Sauvignon, complain if there wasn’t one, and then proceed to drink the best part of a bottle.

But now I’m THINKING. So effing simple but something I just hadn’t beunnameden doing where alcohol was concerned. I ordered wine, I bought wine, I drank wine. And now I don’t. I order sparkling water, alcohol free lager or tea. Yup, instead of my usual glass of wine for dessert, I now have tea (pictured, vying for attention with Claudia’s picture-hogging G&T). And I drive home so my partner can rest his eyes and not spend the weekend driving his tipsy girlfriend around when he drives so much during the week.

Do I find it hard? Sure I do. I miss the taste of a good white wine and that lovely fuzzy feeling you get after a glass or two. But I don’t miss the bad sleep, the alcohol-fuelled anxiety and the lethargy. The only time I felt like reaching for a bottle during lunch was when the children (24 and 21, but still children to me) started pestering David and I to get married…

Grief is different without alcohol as well. Oddly, I’m feeling more emotional despite being calmer and less anxious. The calmness is probably down to the fact that my anti-depressants are working more effectively without having to battle for bloodstream space with a very pushy Sauv Blanc, but I had thought giving up the booze might help me control my emotions. Apparently not. I suppose it was a big ask and that my grief wasn’t going to disappear along with my hangovers, but not being able to numb the emptiness, the loss, the regret and the despair with a few drinks is definitely one of the things I miss. Reality, sober, is a bitch.

On the flipside, I’m able to be more present for David, Connor and Claudia who all need sober Kit to help them navigate their grief. A lot of people tell us we’re coping really well but I think we’ve just learned how to keep the mask up for longer at work or when we’re going about our days. What people don’t see is the sadness that envelops us so often. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still able to laugh and joke, but we just need to be together – a lot – talking, hugging, crying and remembering.

Anyhoo, 41 days with no booze and I’m more than a little chuffed with myself.

I’m pretty sure Joe would be too.