How did you quit drinking? And why would you want to?

If you live in Sydney, like I do, you hear a lot of noise about being health conscious. The growing popularity of events like dry July (or dry January, depending on where you live) and an ever increasing number of people wearing active-wear ALL THE TIME could lead you to think that everyone has gone health mad and left fun behind in favour of gluten-free-vegan-no-alcohol lifestyles. However, there are people who have genuine reasons to quit drinking altogether, or for a set amount of time. Early 2016, I was particularly unhappy. I felt trapped in a job I hated, my mental health was not great and things seemed to be getting steadily worse. I would go out for work drinks on a Friday night and end up leaving early – always in tears, always feeling incredibly anxious and self-critical. I had always had a few drinks (ok – maybe a few more) when I socialised but all of a sudden it started to make me feel very negative and I wondered if it might be why I was feeling bad. I was diagnosed with depression and my partner was convinced that diet and exercise were the key to regaining control over my mental health. At first I thought he was being a patronising asshole, until another part of me thought, “what have you got to lose?” I don’t in any way think that diet and exercise are interchangeable for anti-depressants, but I was a long way from healthy and thought it could be a good place to start. So the reason I did it was desperation and pretty bad health, but it could also be from a desire to save money, or even just to prove to yourself that you can do it.

What I didn’t fully appreciate was just how much of my life involved alcohol. And completely changing your life is quite hard. Invitations for social events didn’t dry up with my desire to drink less. Things which were already in the calendar like birthdays and camping trips were hard to get around, at the end of a bad day I still wanted a wine. But the hardest part was my inner voice – telling me that I wasn’t interesting enough to chat to people without having had a drink and that I was spoiling things for other people by not drinking and having fun with them. So if you’re thinking of quitting, I’ll warn you – it’s not easy. But I do think it’s worth it. And because I’ve already done it (for six months! No mean feat for someone who loved a drink as much as me) I can give you some tips on how I managed it.

  • Find alternatives to relax – I guarantee you will have a shitty day at some point while you’re doing this and your response will be to have a drink. Don’t. There are actually other things that people enjoy doing and which raise endorphins, making you feel better in the short term without the headache the next day. Mine was lighting all the candles in my room and reading a book. Yours might be going for a run, going shopping, a quick trip to the beach after work, baking cookies or phoning a friend or relative who always cheers you up.
  • Tell your friends – you don’t have to tell everyone but I recommend having a few strategic allies who know why you’re doing this and how important it is to you. That way when point number 1 is just not working the way you want, you have someone who will (hopefully) be happy to grab a non-alcoholic drink with you over some food and talk about your shitty day.
  • Plan some early morning activities – one of the best things about not getting hella drunk every Friday and Saturday is that you regain your weekends. Make the most of this new found time by organising some day trips, or going to an early morning gym class (worth it for how smug you’ll feel the rest of the day), or having breakfast with a friend.
  • Have a decoy in hand when you do socialise – if you feel you can handle the pressure of going out with people who are going to be drinking a fair bit then I would advise having this. Having something in your hand that could pass for a cocktail, gin & tonic or vodka & coke will avoid questions like “why aren’t you drinking?” or well-meaning comments like “go on, just have one” which, in my experience, just add more peer pressure than is necessary.
  • Remember why you’re doing it. This will come in handy when you feel like giving up.
  • Try all the hobbies you’ve always wanted to try. Before I did this, about 95% of my social life was centered on alcohol. If you’re like me you will now have a lot of free time. Don’t waste it staring at your Facebook feed and feeling miserable that you’re missing out. Sign up for all the things you’ve always wanted to do – you could try SUP Ball, Oztag, kayaking, life drawing or rock climbing. Or all of them.
  • Have a set end date – I didn’t have one, I just wanted to stop drinking until I felt ‘better’. Rookie error. Having an end point in mind or a fixed goal will help you keep going and keep you focussed.

As you can see, these are all pretty ‘expect the worst’. Which I actually think is a good way to go about it, hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You might learn something about yourself, realise that you don’t need to drink as much as you might have thought, or have your life changed forever. Whatever the outcome, I think that challenging norms is always a valuable experience.

Why do we make believe?

I just listened to an incredible compilation of TED Talks on… gaming and playing. It talked about the benefits for development, social interaction, even survival. It was incredibly interesting and got me thinking.

What I liked most was that one of the speakers, a lady named Jane Mcgonigal (a gamer, who also does a lot of research into gaming), had gone through a difficult period in her life while recovering from a serious head injury and had come up with a fun way to rest up and get better. It’s called Super Better. The idea is that you create an identity (she was Jane the Concussion Slayer) and you recruit allies (close friends and family) to play this game towards getting better. In it you can ‘power up’ by doing therapeutic things like stroking your dog or going for a short walk and you have to avoid the ‘bad guys’ at all costs (for her that was alcohol, bright lights, anything that would prolong her healing). So you make your healing/ achieving your goal into a game.

You can use this for anything – losing weight, fighting anxiety, or depression, working towards a goal. The reason this works so well is that people were found to be more resilient in a game context – more likely to stay in character and not give in to the ‘bad guys’.

I wanted to write about this because I thought it was so awesome. I love the idea that an essential part of our development, and beyond, is based on whether we spend enough hours mucking around with friends. I know people who spend hours playing video games, others who make anything into a game (the example which always makes me smile is the game they play when getting into the lift at work), for all those people there are more again who play sports every day and more again who bravely enter an unknown realm to engage in a conquest for hours on end while playing Dungeons and Dragons. It’s this non-denominational thing that everyone is capable of doing as long as they’re not told to ‘just grow up’ too often. And I love the idea of adults, stressed out by having to pay their mortgage and kids and all the other stuff that happens when you grow up, feeling a little bit later every time the whole family gets down on the floor to play with lego.

It also made me think of ways that people are able to succeed in their lives. Sure, there are people who’s dogged determination is enough to get them where they need to be but for most of us, slip ups are inevitable. Life is hard and achieving anything worthwhile is even more so. I’m definitely going to be thinking of ways to integrate this new way of playing/ succeeding at goals into my own life. If nothing else, it’s another way to look more positively at something which may seem incredibly hard otherwise.

 

 

What does waste not, want not mean today?

When I was a little girl, I didn’t understand that expression – waste not, want not. I guess the concept of waste hadn’t really been explained to me and I had never wanted for anything. I knew that some people were worse off, I’d seen them, but I didn’t think that was anything to do with me. I had never questioned why they had less. It wasn’t until I was older, had studied a degree in International Relations and became actively interested in social and environmental policy that I started to realise just how much our actions can affect others. ‘Waste not, want not’ is something I now think about almost constantly.  I see the waste, and excessive consumerism which surrounds us, and which is inescapable in our everyday lives, as a foreshadowing of our planet as the desolate Wall-E rubbish pile. We’ve been taught to believe that more things equal a better economy and higher status, however all more things produce for sure, is a slowly decaying Earth. I don’t think it has to be this way.

I think the main reason this has happened is that we have grown up hooked on advertising and consumerism. We are so used to being told what to buy, when to feel hungry, how to look, how to act, that we no longer question it. All we do is continue to buy. Our society has actually shifted to a point where we value things above all else. Don’t have the latest iPhone, the nicest car, the newest Nikes? Who even are you? Status is now integrally linked to the things you have, rather than the person you are.

All of this has a huge toll on us and on the planet. More factories to produce our beloved things means more pollution. Making more beloved things (especially those made of plastic) means more oil and mining. And where do these things go? Once we chuck something in the bin – whether it’s a plastic bag, a battery, or a piece of unloved clothing, we stop thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean it stops existing. Tonnes of waste is produced by every country, every year, and it goes to landfill, or ends up in our water. The toxins which leak out of batteries, phones and laptops don’t stop there. The plastic that ends up in our oceans kills marine life, destroys our beaches and poisons us. Food waste comes hand in hand with this, but for the sake of this argument, I’m going to stick with things.

And I could go on and on about our consumerist ‘throwaway’ society. How we now place the value of convenience above that of sustaining and protecting our own home. But you only need to look outside to see the damage – litter everywhere, a huge change in climate, and structural inequality which is further brought about by the big businesses which control our lives. There is decay everywhere and the people on top keep getting richer while we suffer.

So, what can we do?

Making fewer things is better for everyone – industry can continue without us having to buy a new phone every year. Our capitalist doctrine tells us that companies are good – they make money, they provide jobs, the economy grows. However, when I look around the world today I don’t see any evidence of that. I see the rich growing richer at our expense, and at our planet’s expense. Small companies may be good – they directly improve the local economy with employment, a sense of growth and pride, and direct income to people in the community. But big multi nationals? They offshore everything to save themselves money (meaning the local community don’t get those jobs that they were promised), they increase their prices across the board, they cut costs wherever they can (meaning crappier products for us), and they often price local competitors out of the market. And it’s these companies that we are supporting every time we buy a new Apple product, or designer clothes, or cheap furniture. Which we buy – in hoards. And then chuck away when a newer version comes out.

I’m not saying technology is bad, nor that we shouldn’t have the quality of life that we have today, but somewhere along the way we really messed up. Big business runs everything – and advertising is unavoidable, so people continue to buy more and want more. And what’s worse, is how many people are in need when every day, we throw things away without a second thought.

We are wasting, and we are wanting.

But there are solutions. For every person who says that they don’t want to use re-usable bags and cycle to work when the big businesses are still polluting left, right, and centre, I say, big business needs us. You can start by buying local, directing your own money away from big business – and supporting your own economy. At least there you will have a voice. A small, local business is so much more likely to listen to its customers than a huge multi-national. Being an active member of your local community has so many more benefits than just the environment.

Step away from single use anything. Plastic bags, coffee cups, takeaway containers. Unless it can be reused, or recycled, steer clear of it. Don’t put convenience above the fate of the planet. If it means you don’t have a coffee one morning because you forgot your reusable cup at home, it’s not the end of the world. Continuing to discard plastic and dispose of waste the way we currently do, will be.

Buy to last. My aunt tells me that she can’t afford to buy cheap things and I’ve never heard a truer saying. We don’t need a wardrobe which is bursting at the seams, or 10 pairs of shoes, or a laptop and an iPad AND an iPhone – we need fewer, better quality products. Make do with less and when you do buy something new – invest in something which will last you a long time.  If we all started buying good quality products, we wouldn’t have to buy new each and every time. This is not what big business wants from us. They sell us sub-par products, which are built to break, because the quicker a product breaks down, the sooner they can get more of your money for a new one. If the table you buy is a solid wood product made by a local carpenter, it can be resold when you no longer need or want it. That chipboard Ikea table? It will go on the rubbish heap. The same goes for clothes, crockery, accessories. In Sydney, where I live, there are so many car boot sales, and clothes swaps, people use the internet to Buy, Swap and Sell second hand items. This is great start but we need more it. If you can’t find one nearby, then suggest it to your friends, or people in your wider community. You would be amazed what you can find and who you might meet.

We are killing our planet. Whichever way you look at it, we are destroying the most beautiful gift we have been given – life on planet Earth. We started off with a planet which could provide for all of our needs. We had enough food, water, shelter and space. Now we are poisoning our oceans, our people, our food, our water. The Earth can only be so resilient – 8 billion people to feed is a lot and we’re not helping in the least bit. So help it! No one’s asking you to be an eco-warrior. Just to really think about your carbon footprint and what small, sustainable changes you can make in your life and promote within your community to reduce waste.

 

Related reading: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Related viewing: ABC’s War on Waste

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth & An Inconvenient Sequel

What does it all mean?

It’s hard to write an introduction when I’m not quite sure what I’m introducing. Is it an introduction to this blog? An introduction to me? Or something else entirely – some new way of thinking that you’ll suddenly develop from reading what I have to say. Maybe it’s all of the above.

I’m writing a blog because, hopefully, I have something to say. At the moment it’s less one important thing, and more like a huge number of thoughts, feelings and ideas which desperately need an outlet.  I think that writing is what helps me order, organise, and make sense of my thoughts. If I don’t do this then I end up with this jumble of word vomit and opposing opinions whenever anyone asks me an innocent question; inevitably I say the wrong thing and then ruminate on it for days to come. I’ve noticed that this doesn’t happen as much when I’ve already written something on the subject. My thoughts are ordered, they make sense, I may even be able to make a valid or persuasive argument.

The reason that I think this may be worth publishing online and sharing with you is the hope that, with practise and dedication on my part, it may turn into something more than just a jumble of thoughts. It may turn into one of those blogs that always has a great angle, or summary of the way everyone is feeling when something big happens, something like Wait, But Why?, or The Oatmeal. Of course, the more likely scenario is that it won’t. There are 7 billion people out there, which is a hell of a lot of competition, in anything.

So for me, this is the start of a journey. It may be the first of many blogs for me, or it may be the one which helps me to realise that I don’t have the dedication or interest for blogging, and that there are other pursuits out there for me. Which makes it sound like an activity in personal reflection which, in a way, I suppose it is.

Either way, this has been an interesting time in my life and I think that somewhere in my mind there is something that is worthwhile reading, if I can just get it out of my head and onto paper, or a screen.

So, I formally introduce you to the online version of my thought map, my mind puzzle, my online space for self-reflection, as well as thoughts, feelings and considerations about the world around us. I hope you will find it interesting, insightful, helpful even.