Reaching 50, aware that I had spent most of my adult years under the influence, at varying degrees, stopping and starting, peaking and troughing, losing so much emotionally, and financially, I needed to find an answer, and by pure serendipity, I found Harrogate Sanctuary.
It is so difficult to describe the Sanctuary Six Week Programme. There is nothing else like it, and believe me, I have tried so many times to stop drinking. Notice I use the word Stop, not Giving Up. Sarah does have a unique way of switching off any positive thoughts about alcohol, it definitely can take time, for sure there was a white knuckle period, but the availability to talk with her at times that worked around my schedule, write to her and meet up online, were always a safety net. There was zero clock watching, weirdly I found it all so relaxing and genuine. Only the first phone call for me was anxiety ridden.
There were no comparisons, no one telling me that I would be doomed if I slipped, and the most important thing for me was complete trust and confidentiality. I am not special but have a reasonably high profile job in the media, had no desire to return to rehab, which I had done twice before, and certainly couldn’t get the AA ethos, as one of the rehabs I went to used The 12 Step Programme and it did nothing to help me.
I had partied, been the life and soul, and as my thirties came around, less and less did I feel comfortable about being in the spotlight, it was as if I was becoming the evening’s entertainment for those I socialised with. Gradually I started to make mistakes, felt embarrassed although I hid it well, in the end my drinking became a solo act. At home, one bottle a night became two. The rehabs I went to certainly dried me out, but never got to the root of my desire for booze. The first lockdown played right into my hands.
Sarah coaxed me to tell her about a very private and extremely painful trauma, that I had buried for over 29 years. I trusted her enough to spill the beans, and that was the key to my new alcohol-free lifestyle, often glorious, sometimes tough, but now I understand how I tick, can manage any urges or wistful thoughts that a glass or two wouldn’t hurt.
I continue with a maintenance programme with the Sanctuary, which has little to do with alcohol and more to do with my wellbeing. Sarah is a fixer and covers many aspects of mental health.
She will not accept that she saves anyone, only that she gives us the tools to mend ourselves, it is a remarkable gift. She has taught me that the drinking was not because I was born to be alcoholic, dependent, whatever word you like to use, but almost forensically examining my past showed me that I did have a future that I could face without damaging myself or anyone else for that matter.
I used to drink too much, worry too much, project too much, and because of alcohol, almost every thought I had was pickled with negativity. It was extreme self-destruction, that harmed others, to wake up in the morning, and know you have not hurt anyone is a magical feeling. In my work, naturally confidentiality has always been key, but the more empowered The Sanctuary women become the more they are now beginning to start the BIG conversation in real time, about what was once a very toxic issue for them. Without stigma or tambourine bashing, they have overcome the fear around talking openly about their reasons for not drinking to excess anymore, and I hope as they do, that they will in turn encourage others who find themselves in the same concerned and fearful position to be able to do the same, casting aside any shame or guilt. For after all, it was never a choice that we became so dependent on such a well marketed and dangerous, legal drug. Wine is dressed up so adeptly as being very acceptable, affordable and a quick, effective way to relax. It is also completely normalised, for many of us, it was never considered ‘proper’ drinking until the wheels fell off, With the added easy edge, that it needs no prescription, just a grocery shop and a fridge. Of course it is not the first time that we have been seduced. Gin was the craze in the first half of the 18th century, the Absinthe movement in the latter part of the 19th Century, and more recently, Mother’s little helper Valium washed down with Gin and Dubonnet in the 60s was a favourite mix for middle class Mums. My Mother was a victim of this over prescribed prescriptive drug, trusting advice that it would make all the tragedy and angst in her life disappear, sadly the reverse was the case. So many clients are prescribed Anti-depressants, Citralopram, Prozac, wash them down with a cheeky little number, ignoring the fact that their drinking totally negated the effects of the other legal drug they were taking. It is not the fault of them or the GPs, admitting that we drink too much to ourselves and others is far too painful because of the stigma that surrounds it. So, in many ways history is repeating itself. But this is a modern problem, faced by modern women, who wanted it all, and for the most part got it, except for the indisputable fact, that biologically we just are not equipped to drink like men. In everything else of course, we beat them hands down! This BIG conversation will only start with us. Like minded women, from different backgrounds, who have had enough of the self-destruct button. Without being preachy or evangelical, by playing our wellness and clarity forward, we can make a change. We do not have a rule book, or belong to a cult, but we are very obviously, savvy, intelligent, articulate women who have now got control and choice. Methods at the Sanctuary are not mainstream, I have no time for the depressing thought that I will be burdened with a lifetime of regret. The gold standards of care that are in place today, are antiquated and inconvenient for many. What I would love all women who are concerned about their drinking, is to campaign for at the very least gender specific care, and at best combine that with age specific care. To be told once you have decided to cork it, there should be immediate and appropriate therapy in place that maintains your determination to make this change. If you broke your leg, your GP doesn’t fix it you’re referred to a specialist. Only when the problem has become desperate, mopping up the outcome of misuse costs the UK at least 37 billion a year, surely that money would be better spent in prevention that does not come across as weakness of the client, the opposite, it so courageous. There is no value with ineffective care, waste of time and money. Because of the drip feed with drinking, rarely do we count the financial cost of it. We did the stats at the Sanctuary. Last year the average saving per client, was £4674.00 per annum, and that did not include, any wild online shopping, guilt purchases or taxi fares. We must be proactive, vocal and concise in the inappropriate way our once problem is handled. We need to speak with the powers that be, MPs, local Councils, to all services either private or public who would are involved in change. We should join forces pool our resources, one small group will not have enough leverage, but given the amount of online help out there, surely it would make sense for those groups, sites and forums to get involved in real time. We need to make bars and clubs give balance to the drinks on offer, and we need too to tackle our supermarkets and get them to address this balance also. We are the consumers and there is strength in numbers.
We have to banish the taboo, there is none with sexuality or smoking, so why the hell are we still frightened of talking about once drinking too much? It’s insane, and the best definition of insanity provided by Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to change. We have all been there! We live in the 21st century not the dark ages.
To coin a saying that did the rounds with COVID, we all are in this together, but not outwardly, in reality, doing anything about it. Sending messages across the internet, staying anonymous simply is not going to stop this escalating epidemic, we have all find a way of joining forces and taking this to those in power and make them listen.
I am 57 years old and have been a heavy drinker for many years. Up until my menopause, I was highly functioning, admittedly in complete denial of the problem, and selectively ignored any reference to my habit.
Sarah has explained to me the type of plateau I was on, then I started to slide down the other side of my personal mountain. I felt hormonal, anxious, and afraid of what I saw a chapter of my life in which I would start to disappear, old, haggard, and alone.
Then lockdown. Like many others, I was furloughed, and had more time and opportunity to drink, given the stage I was at, it was almost like a warped gift rather than a disadvantage or a worry about isolation, I had isolated myself already with wine. By the time the first lockdown was lifted, I had replaced food with wine for both lunch and dinner. One evening in July last year, I had a blackout and fell down the stairs. When I came round, I knew I had to call for an ambulance, there was blood everywhere from a head injury. The paramedics were compassionate and thorough, that all changed when I arrived at A & E.
Carrying a shedload of shame, guilt and fear and shocked into sobering up, I was then bundled onto a trolley, left for an hour, seen by a nurse then wheeled into to a room with a tub in it, was roughly stripped and put into tepid water. I had not been examined but was told I had to have my hair washed to get rid of the blood. As I watched the water turn red, I saw clumps of hair swirling around in the water, matted because the blood had dried as I must have lain at the bottom of the stairs for a while. Not strands, handfuls. My personal hygiene had not been good I saw no point, but I had always had thick long hair, one of the only parts of me that I could admire, my body had shrunk, almost skeletal, this event was my last part of complete breakdown of self respect, and I cried for the first time for many years.
Back in the hospital bay, I was then given the statutory tests, heart, BP, bloods, put on a drip and left again, my head was still bleeding, but the wound had been covered. Time was vague then, but eventually I did have my head looked at by a doctor I think, a CT scan was arranged, where thankfully there was no serious injury.
I was transferred to a small ward, women only, I found out all were there because of alcohol problems and consequences they were all over 50. I was asked to get into the bed. The others were laying still, quiet, detached. It was very eerie, I wanted to say hello, to engage I suppose, somehow that didn’t seem appropriate. My balance was extremely poor and needed assistance. Left again with another drip, I asked for a glass of water. I waited more than an hour for that. Eventually a doctor came and asked me questions about my drinking, and assessed whether I was a fall risk, I was, and he would arrange for a mental health worker to visit me.
During the rest of the night, I wanted to go to the lavatory, was told they would put me in waterproof pants, so to stay still, I simply could not go through that humiliation, and wanted to get out of bed. I did make it to the toilets, hanging onto the rail at the side of the corridor, with two nurses, one in front and one behind. I constantly apologised for wasting their time.
The next morning, I had a talk with one of the mental health team, there was no advice, no mention of how to handle my drinking, or which came first, the drinking or my issues that I drank upon. He ticked boxes. After this very cursory meeting, I was then told that a Physio would visit to address my imbalance and whether I was fit to walk unaided, climb stairs, my house has lots of steps, with a view to me being discharged. That exercise consisted of again a nurse behind me, the Physio in front of me, and I managed with real difficulty to climb two steps. That was it.
I also then summoned up the courage to talk to the others. They were in different stages of alcohol dependence, one was very late stage. They had tried to stop, three had been here before, two were extremely disadvantaged, had no transport, no internet, and old broken phones. One had had a very good job, until her world fell apart, and was now so shut down that having gone through instruction to seek help she had tried, but could not succeed, and had now given up, she said she was only in hospital because someone had found her collapsed in backwater of the town. She had wanted to be left.
I was told by the next doctor the obvious, I had to stop drinking. I asked if I could have a detox plan, that was not possible, no course of tranquilisers so that I didn’t have a dangerous withdrawal, but only that I should taper off the alcohol. One sip of this toxic substance that had been my crutch for so long, would never be enough, I told him this, he shrugged, and told me that was the only option. I cried again, if that was going to be the only way to stop I was doomed.
I asked him about support from the mental health team, he said he had nothing to do with that, but they probably would be in touch. Then I was discharged, given my crumpled clothes, and told to go home and the discharge team would visit the following day. I had thankfully got my bag with me, and able to afford a taxi home.
I lived alone, in a fairly hazardous house for someone who had been through a head injury, and yes, it was self-inflicted, but not intentional, I felt judged and even more of a hopeless case than ever. I was a drunk, middle aged write off. That was the impression I got, and I guess I deserved it. I sat down, and then started to have intentional thoughts of ending everything. I was useless and worthless. This may sound like a pity party, but I truly didn’t see any other way out.
I was shaking, couldn’t walk without having items to hang onto, struggled to do anything but get a plastic beaker of water. I hallucinated, I was too frightened to go up the stairs, get a toothbrush or toothpaste, which was never offered to me in hospital, just a dirty, smelly piece of broken humankind. I don’t live in squalor, I am not disadvantaged or deprived, to the outside world, I wore the mask of a middle class, middle-aged woman, with a good job, nice house and chattels, never needy, always quick to ask how others were. No matter what social strata we are on, the outcome of being hooked on alcohol is the same, pride certainly has got in the way with me, when I experienced this, I had no pride or respect left for myself.
The next day the discharge nurses arrived. They were efficient and brusque. They did get my toothbrush & toothpaste, along with some soap and a towel, told me I could wash in the kitchen sink, looked at my downstairs cloakroom, decided that for now the seat was too low for my limited mobility, ripped the toilet seat off, and installed a plastic temporary steel framed contraption over the pan, and told me to sleep on the sofa for the time being. They watched me trying to walk, unaided, two steps at best, and got a walking stick out of their car, and told me that would help. I asked again about the severe withdrawals I was having and was told to call my GP.
This is a précised version of the event, but the disjointed, unempathetic way I was treated and those other women, will stay with me. I wanted to stop drinking so badly but given what I had experienced felt that I would simply end up a statistic.
I did call my GP, as the withdrawal hadn’t killed me in the 48 hours from my last drink, he would not allow a prescription, nor a home visit, lockdown had ended, I was given a number to call, for alcohol problems, and the number of AA. With the addition of an offer of anti-depressants. There was no encouragement for both my decision or willingness to seek help. I am not entitled to more than anyone else, but reassuring words when I had summoned up the courage to call would have been something. I then assumed that whoever I rang would make me feel as though I was wasting their time.
I am now alcohol free, once I told my family about the depths I had sunk to, I was overwhelmed with the look of relief on their faces, and in turn the help they gave me. My sister knew about Sarah, and then organised an ice breaker meeting with her, and although it has been very tough to face my fear, with unlimited time during the six weeks and more with Harrogate Sanctuary, I have realised that I lost the right to choose with alcohol, that I am not a bad person, but with any alcohol inside me, a very sick one. I was lucky, once I had fessed up, I did have support and financial help to access care that would work for me. It haunts me daily the lack of immediate intervention within the system, and how those other women could ever get out of their hell.
I have got honest, I have regained my confidence, I have told friends, I have got my self-respect back.
This is a long read, and maybe not the way it is for others when admitted into hospital, perhaps they have accessed aftercare, in that ward on one of the darkest nights of my life, every other woman in there looked as scared.
I shall reveal my true identity a little further down the road, but for now, I am not as frightened of revealing that I had a drink problem, as I am of the repercussions of describing my experience with the NHS. I do have the greatest respect and sympathy for what all the staff have gone through with COVID, but I think very few of us wanted to be a burden to them or highlight any failings. Please can we start to feel able to address this with kindness and as Sarah says, remove the taboo status that surrounds it.
When I first stepped off this wine oiled hamster wheel, others were surprised or even a bit sceptical — but over time, many friends and strangers (mostly women) quietly started to reach out, letting me know they were inspired and had followed suit, or asked me how it was done.
How? For me, it started with a genuine desire for change. Then a very intricate search for a method that made sense to me. I did not want group therapy, I didn’t want to share intially my habit with others, but I did want to find someone who was on the same page, except without the daily intake of alcohol, and a skilled one to one approach that was suitable for my lifestyle, the only name that seemed to keep coming up trumps was Harrogate Sanctuary. After the ice breaker meeting online with Sarah, I was convinced that her very personal, understanding and empathetic nature was a good fit. Over six weeks, she taught me how to rewire and reboot. There were no scripts or rules, the programme was tailored to me. We worked together for over six months in the end, and still have a light maintenance programme going on, she keeps me on track, but has allowed me to see that I am not damaged or a slave to wine or what others may think of me for being alcohol free.
She taught me about making commitments to myself rather than trying to please people, which I had done for over 45 years. This was made stronger by telling others rather than allowing them to assume, or making up stories about health kicks and so on. Then persistence, dredging up a belief I could do it, staying focused on the positives.
Sarah also feels it is critical to maintain being busy, even through these awful last few months. I needed forms of joy and abandon in my life to stave off becoming bored and resentful.
Sarah’s programme is goal driven, that suited me as well.
She reminded me that change was a long process and to do it properly you need to have both a reason and the ability.
I had both, she told me — others who wanted to stop drinking weren’t nearly so lucky or priviledged. I had choices — so what kind of life did I want to choose?
Her advice to consider how drinking fits into life goals, along with being aware of alcohol’s relationship to stress.
I found like so many others, that alcohol is an ingrained coping mechanism and so can feel very necessary in order to deal with stress or help wind down after a challenging day. Swapping that for writing daily to Sarah, became my new coping mechanism, and always journal for my own wellbeing these days.
Writing down why I drank, why I no longer wanted to and what it was like dealing with stress and anxiety without an artificial crutch became extraordinarily useful.
I cannot recommend this wonderful, logical, and no nonsense approach enough.
This is one of the best blogs I have read, to describe the lack of care for one of the biggest triggers of mental illness, alcohol. As someone replied to a tweet of mine recently, ‘I think it’s largely because almost everyone uses it and society doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s a problem for many, many people… it’s hidden in plain sight.’
We know that people’s mental health is suffering during the pandemic and is likely to worsen during this second winter lockdown, and also that many of us are consuming more alcohol than usual.
The trouble is that alcohol presents itself as an immediate (but short-term) solution to feeling anxious, low mood, winding down from a stressful day, difficulty falling asleep, and moving on time when it hang heavily on our hands. Lockdown may add relationship and financial stresses, and significantly reduces our access to other options for destressing.
However, the short-term fix that alcohol provides starts to become the problem as tolerance develops and we need to drink more to have the same effect. Once that happens alcohol starts to cause or add to the problems we were trying to solve (feeling anxious, low mood, poor sleep etc).
So, the same symptom may be either a cause or a consequence. For instance, symptoms of depression or anxiety may increase our alcohol use, which then is likely to worsen our mental state, worsening anxiety and depression symptoms, and fuelling further alcohol use which people may regard as treating their anxiety or depression.
Similar vulnerability factors (genetics, adverse childhood experience, social inequalities, stress, life events and personality traits) may be common to both mental ill-health and alcohol use disorders. For example, higher levels of impulsivity are seen both in alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder and likely contribute to their high co-occurrence.
But while stigma around mental ill-health is thankfully starting to reduce, the same cannot be said for people with alcohol use disorders, where it remains frequently dismissed as a ‘lifestyle choice’, a ‘lack of willpower’ or a form of ‘moral weakness’.
People who become physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol often feel a huge sense of shame, and self-stigma, which adds to their already low mood, and sense of hopelessness, and is a significant barrier to seeking appropriate help.
Sadly, most health professionals are not trained in what should be the simple act of assessing levels of alcohol consumption or offering brief interventions, which have a strong evidence base for effectiveness.
Other factors also have an impact: confusion over alcohol units; the increase in alcohol strength and portion size in recent years; the alcohol industry’s sub-standard labelling; and advertising which implies that no event is complete without alcohol (have you tried finding a birthday card without an alcohol reference of late?). All this results in a potent cocktail of social norms of high alcohol consumption combined with ignorance of its harms, which can drive people further down the road to mental ill-health and risk of suicide.
The health and social care act changes of 2012, resulted in addiction services taken out of NHS commissioning, and subject to frequent re-tendering and budget cuts. This has disproportionally affected people with co-occurring alcohol dependence and a mental health disorder.
Many addiction services no longer have competencies in-house to deal with co-morbid mental ill-health, and mental health services frequently refuse to work with people who have a comorbid alcohol use disorder, such that patients wanting help with the depression that they see as causing them to use alcohol, are often told they can’t be helped until they are alcohol-free. People in truly desperate states are bounced between addiction and mental health services, with many often falling through the gap.
So what can be done?
We all need to be more aware of what we drink, and why, and at a population level increase our alcohol health literacy
We need to be aware and challenge the alcohol and advertising industries’ attempts to encourage alcohol as the only narrative in our social world
We need to encourage conversations about alcohol use as we now seem better able to do about mental ill-health
We need health professionals to recognise alcohol as a modifiable risk factor for so many mental (and physical) health disorders and have the competence to manage it
We need mental health services to reclaim alcohol use disorders as primarily a disease of the mind, and genuinely embrace person centred care
We need government to commit to the resources required to redress the balance of 10 years of funding cuts
This may seem like a lot that needs to be done, which it is, but the most effective thing we can all do is make small but sustained changes to our own alcohol awareness and behaviours.
It has taken me too long to write this blog, for the relevance and importance of the connection between wine time and depression is so key.
More and more I hear from clients of how they are treated by GPs with regard to their mental health, and primarily, their drug of choice, alcohol, which is a gateway to so much more, is broken before the conversation can begin. I am very fortunate in having a great general practitioner, caring and compassionate, and most importantly, a good listener. However I am in the minority. Before anyone starts about how much pressure GPs are under, we all are, which is why so many seek solace in a bottle or two. It is not to have fun with, it is to self medicate, having drawn a complete blank with their professional health expert, their first port of call, their hope.
There is a script that seems to be followed to the letter. It goes something like this. ‘Doctor I am very anxious and depressed, probably drinking a bit too much’, nervously giggling which translates into shameful embarrassment. Asked how much is imbibed, the lie is told, and that is just above safe guidelines, with the odd binge now and again. Then asked if they are depressed, there is an immediate admission of that, often ‘Yes, deeply, and so anxious, work, family, you know….’ Three options are offered, the go to anti depressants, which will take apparently weeks to take effect, and you can potentially suffer awful side effects, including more anxiety and depression, beta blockers, along with ADs these won’t work effectively either given the drinking that’s going on, and possibly CBT, with a therapist who is up to their eyes in it, months of waiting, and when you get to see them, few specialise in alcohol or other drugs, another script. GPs also have alcohol problems, some of them, and I have seen many. So they do leave judgement at the door, although often my clients tell me they have had a sniffy sort of look followed by, ‘cut down, you know it makes sense’. Doh, we are not stupid, we are at the end of a very long tether, wanting some sort of clear and kind plan to help.
So that has taken the ten minutes, off you go, with your new prescription, and get on the merry-go-round of most likely anti depressants, which could be another lifetime of despair.
Hoping for the best, because most people that I see do have that attitude, they don’t feel like victims, they start the course, along with celebrating that they at last may have an answer to the low mood, with a bottle of white.
Now it becomes extremely dark. Anxiety ramps up, tiredness, worse than before sets in, and the drinking increases. There is an awful pattern of guilt and frustration because we have always been taught that doctors know better than we do. Well, newsflash, they don’t with this. They haven’t got a clue what to do with us, they are not trained and they have no empathy unless they have been in the same place as we once were.
There is a major epidemic now, more than ever before of stigma and taboo. There are more and more suicides and lost families because of the non joining up of dots with drinking too much and mental health. No amount of shiny leaflets and platitudes can replace some honest and quality care. What is potentially a fixable mental health issue, then becomes something so much darker, more dangerous and potentially life threatening, when what was needed was some truly empathetic care and general non stigmatised attitudes.
More and more in the media we hear of tragic loss because of complex mental health crisises, many of which could have been nipped in the bud if they had been handled appropriately in the first place.
It makes me incredibly angry, and more and more fired up in my desire to break this last taboo, and most especially for women. 64% of my clients this year were on anti depressants, having stopped drinking, only 12% remain on them. We just want an open and honest approach to this without all the fear, and a simple change of attitude will do that.
Every other potentially life-threatening illness receives specialist care. As each patient will present with a unique set of diagnostic problems, the treatment will be altered for their best outcome.
For the most part, there is blanket coverage with alcohol misuse, dependence or fully blown alcoholism. Every client I have seen has their own story about attempting to get to grips with their own problem. Most have already tried mainstream agencies, and some have gone to AA. The results have been not only poor, but incredibly demoralising for them. A professional client also pointed out that she not only felt at ease with our modern approach, but I had also been thoroughly vetted, CRB check along with my reputation, could that be said for anyone she spoke to at a meeting of strangers at an AA meeting in such a vulnerable state?
The first admission of needing help is a huge deal. It can take weeks, months even, to pluck up the courage to stop sailing down the river of denial and decide to do something about it. So, they brace themselves to confess. The next step, from a GP is to get them some help. From where? Often mainstream agencies who naturally are doing their best with the script they have. As a leading light in the GP circles told me on twitter, there is simply nowhere that is ‘Specialist’ to help. Then they have another soul searching, heart wrenching decision to make, exposure to a room full of strangers to admit they have a problem with alcohol and that they are powerless. When women are in an anxious state does anyone really consider that lowering their self-esteem more is helpful? They probably have never felt so shameful in their lives. AA for example, may be a huge organization but how effective is it? So antiquated, founded for men, have we not got a duty of care to the modern woman who can actually think for herself? How can anyone seriously commit currently to a life time of meetings to stay sober? Given the rise of the problem during the last year, if AA was able to address this epidemic, then the numbers would be falling, right?
We really do need a new approach. As much as I have been asked to use my expertise in other age groups and demographics, I have refused simply because the best skill that I have above all others, is that I totally empathise with my clients, and vice versa. Which means that their outcomes are incredibly successful.
A man talking about his fall from grace with booze has different ramifications than those of women. A 22-year-old co-dependent, with other drugs along with the gateway one generally, alcohol, has little in common with a Mother of 3 who drinks wine.
The cost will be far too high I hear the cry! The costs involved in the treatment I offer are very effective. I give my clients the opportunity to stay well, and my fee is less than the amount that they would have spent on booze in the first place. Win win, they spend on their wellness, and I can continue to help.
I have no idea why anyone would really need to spend 6-8 weeks incarcerated in a Rehab, using either private or public money, vast amounts of it. Being cut off from the real world is surely going to be a problem when they go back to it. I have a client who tried it three times, her words, ‘It was like being on an 18-30s holiday’. She was 57 at the time. Coupled with the fact that as soon as they are released, alcohol is everywhere, no one must score it on a street corner.
Then there are the box tickers. Whilst a client is trying to bear their soul, with a very intimate subject, forms are filled in and if they don’t match then, tough. Generic, and often very patronizing, my women are often highly skilled and incredibly articulate. Nor do we throw people away just because they might have the odd blip. It happens.
The powers that be, who seem to be so opposed to change need to start to join up some dots. I now have established an 86% recovery rate, which is both rewarding for the client first and foremost, and importantly very cost effective. The best part is that is it so very simple. Or perhaps that is the problem, that there are no vast swathes of trustees, directors, committees and think tanks involved to see what is glaringly obvious to me and my clients.
If you are a middle aged or mature woman, and have run out of options for appropriate care, finding it more and more difficult to avoid self medication during lockdown, Harrogate Sanctuary has solutions, we talk, we have ice breaker meetings, we communicate rapidly and empathetically. It is a very personal service, and you have nothing to lose by picking up the phone.
When your self-control leaves something to be desired, so does your productivity, there was a study in America some time ago when the question was asked, where does self-control come in your list of strengths? It took bottom slot.
When it comes to self-control, it is so easy to focus on your failures that your successes tend to pale in comparison. And why shouldn’t they? Self-control is an effort that’s intended to help achieve a goal. Failing to control yourself is just that—a failure. If you’re trying to avoid knocking back that cheeky bottle of Pinot on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because you want to lose a few pounds or prove you have control, and you succeed Monday and Tuesday nights only to succumb to temptation on Wednesday by doubling up on a binge, your failure outweighs your success. You’ve taken two steps forward and four steps back. Here, at the Sanctuary, we work on self-control because no one should have to be engaged in a life sentence of feeling first of all that not drinking is somehow missing out, or that they are weak and abnormal because they don’t use alcohol as some kind of cure all.
Since self-control is something we could all use a little help with, I went back to the data to uncover the kinds of things that emotionally intelligent people do to keep themselves productive and in control. They consciously apply these twelve behaviours because they know they work. Some are obvious, others counter-intuitive, but all will help you minimise those awful failures to boost your productivity.
They Forgive Themselves.
A vicious cycle of failing to control oneself followed by feeling intense self-hatred and disgust is common in attempts at self-control. These emotions typically lead to over-indulging in the offending behaviour. When you slip up, it is critical that you forgive yourself and move on. Don’t ignore how the mistake makes you feel; just don’t wallow in it. Instead, shift your attention to what you’re going to do to improve yourself in the future.
Failure can erode your self-confidence and make it hard to believe you’ll achieve a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve something that isn’t easy. Emotionally intelligent people know that success lies in their ability to rise in the face of failure, and they can’t do this when they’re living in the past. Anything worth achieving is going to require you to take some risks, and you can’t allow failure to stop you from believing in your ability to succeed. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens, and your past becomes your present, preventing you from moving forward.
Don’t Say ‘Yes’ Unless You Really Want To.
Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty that you have saying NO, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression, all of which erode self-control. Saying no is indeed a major self-control challenge for many people. “No” is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases like “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfil them. Just remind yourself that saying no is an act of self-control now that will increase your future self-control by preventing the negative effects of over commitment.
Don’t Seek Perfection.
Emotionally stability which will come from passing on the vino will allow women/people not set perfection as their target because they know it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of moving forward excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.
Focus On Solutions.
Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems that you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions which hinder self-control. When you focus on the actions you’ll take to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Emotionally intelligent people won’t dwell on problems because they know they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.
Avoid Asking “What If?”
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, which are detrimental to self-control. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend taking action and staying productive (staying productive also happens to calm you down and keep you focused). Productive people know that asking “what if? Will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go. Of course, scenario planning is a necessary and effective strategic planning technique. The key distinction here is to recognize the difference between worry and strategic thinking.
Positive thoughts help you exercise self-control by focusing your brain’s attention onto the rewards you will receive for your effort. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, self-control is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, self-control is a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, or will happen, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the past and look to the future. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative, so that you don’t lose focus.
File this one in the counter-intuitive category, especially if you’re having trouble controlling you’re eating. Your brain burns heavily into your stores of glucose when attempting to exert self-control. If your blood sugar is low, you are far more likely to succumb to destructive impulses. Sugary foods spike your sugar levels quickly and leave you drained and vulnerable to impulsive behaviour shortly thereafter. Eating something that provides a slow burn for your body, such as whole grain rice or meat, will give you a longer window of self-control. So, if you’re having trouble keeping yourself out of the company sweetie tin when you’re hungry, make sure you eat something else if you want to have a fighting chance.
I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and maintaining your focus and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present, which are a major productivity killer. Being busy often makes you feel as if you must sacrifice sleep to stay productive, but sleep deprivation diminishes your productivity so much throughout the day that you’re better off sleeping.
When you’re tired, your brain’s ability to absorb glucose is greatly diminished. This makes it difficult to control the impulses that derail your focus. What’s more, without enough sleep you are more likely to crave sugary snacks to compensate for low glucose levels. So, if you’re trying to exert self-control over your eating, getting a good night’s sleep—every night—is one of the best moves you can make.
Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. If you’re having trouble resisting the impulse to walk over to the office next door to let somebody have it, just keep on walking. You should have the impulse under control by the time you get back.
Meditation actually trains your brain to become a self-control machine. Even simple techniques like mindfulness, which involves taking as little as five minutes a day to focus on nothing more than your breathing and your senses, improves your self-awareness and your brain’s ability to resist destructive impulses. Buddhist monks appear calm and in control for a reason. Give it a try.
Ride the Wave/Crave.
Desire and distraction have the tendency to ebb and flow like the tide. When the impulse you need to control is strong, waiting out this wave of desire is usually enough to keep yourself in control. When you feel as if you must give in, the rule of thumb here is to wait at least 10 minutes before succumbing to temptation. You’ll often find that the great wave of desire is now little more than a ripple that you have the power to step right over.
Squash Negative Self-Talk.
A big final step in exercising self-control involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.
You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labelling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.
Putting These Strategies to Work.
The important thing to remember is you have to give these strategies the opportunity to work. This means recognizing the moments where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving in to impulse, taking a look at these strategies and giving them a go before you give in.
This Christmas I was not only AF, but I wasn’t a dry drunk. I completed the 6 week programme at the beginning of December 2020. Every Christmas I have said “things will be different next year” and this year they are. I cannot thank Sarah enough for that, neither could my boys, my husband, my parents and the rest of my family.
I cannot put my finger on what has worked for me. I think it may take some time to reflect on that, certainly having unpicked my triggers from the past which was vital for me was a key to it. 6 weeks of no alcohol has given me immense clarity but I think the daily contact, knowing when it is all going wrong and I feel intensely overwhelmed, that Sarah is there to off load to, and respond in such an understanding, non-judgemental, knowledgeable way, very truthful and honest (my god she can be honest!!!), has supported me in a way words cannot describe.
The major changes I have come away with is the perspective of “drinking is something I used to do and I don’t do anymore, no big deal”. A behaviour that I obsessed over, was constantly trying to analyse, find answers to, excuse, change etc etc are now so trivial. I have managed 6 months AF before. The difference this time is that it barley occupies my thoughts. Before I constantly analysed it, my own and other peoples drinking. Others can do as they please and me, well, I can’t think of a reason I would want to drink.
At the beginning, I was sceptical and doubtful that Sarah’s programme would work for me. I did not think it was possible I would be at this point today. I had contacted her nearly two years ago but decided her programme was too expensive. The reality is, I spent twice the cost in booze over that time and how can you put a price on living, really living a well and fulfilled life.
Although alcohol may have drowned some tough feelings for me, it also made the good ones, the ones that we live for disappear too. I knew life was made harder by my drinking, but I couldn’t find the power to stop on my own. I lived in fear. Fear of carrying on, and fear of how life would be if I stopped. I couldn’t cease on my own, I had tried so many times and every time I failed it just intensified my feelings of worthlessness.
In reality, the world around me is a wonderful place. Tough at times, but then easy is pretty dull right!! I am now seeing the joy that is there. I know it is not possible to feel fully joyous and happy all the time. It is the difficult feelings that come in-between I will continue to learn how to accept and manage better. Now I am well, I know that this and so many other things are possible.
Sarah must have had hundreds even thousands of clients, and somehow she has made me feel special.
If you are a woman, who is miserable from drinking alcohol, have been sucked into this black hole that so many women have been victim of, I cannot urge you enough to contact Sarah. A wonderful life is within reach. I wish all who are reading this well on your journeys, it’s really not as tough as we think it’s going to be.
Happy New Year Sarah, you have given me the opportunity to have a new start.
Nearly two-thirds of women in wealthy areas drink more than the three units a day limit (James Glossop)
WEALTHY women living in Britain’s most exclusive postcodes are far more likely to have an alcohol problem than those residing in more modest addresses.
New research has found that females in places such as Knightsbridge in London, Esher in Surrey and Merchiston in Edinburgh are more than twice as likely as the national average to drink too much and suffer from mental illness or depression.
Households in these enclaves are among the richest in the country with many residents living in multimillion-pound homes and often earning six-figure sums.
Nearly two-thirds of the women in these areas drink more than the recommended limit of three units a day — higher than any other social type, according to an analysis of the country’s health and habits broken down by postcode area.
About 6.5% of men and women in these areas also suffer from anxiety and nerves, compared with a national average of 2.9%. The only social type with a higher propensity to mental illness or depression are those living in highrise flats, elderly people in social housing and young renters.
“Women in these [expensive] areas have lavish lifestyles, but without the need to work, and they are extremely socially active. It is the classic group of ladies who lunch,” said Patrick Tate, director of analytics at CACI, the firm which carried out the research.
The data will add to growing concerns among health officials about middle-class drinking, seen as a “silent epidemic” that can pose as many health problems as binge drinking.
The research has also uncovered a “footballers’ wives” effect. Four in 10 women in leafy suburbs such as Totteridge in north London, Heswall in the Wirral and Hale Barns in Altrincham, all areas that have become synonymous with wealthy footballers and their partners, drink more than three units of alcohol a day compared with 28.9% nationally.
Men in these exclusive neighbourhoods are also more likely than the national average to drink too much, but the trend is less marked than for their wives and girlfriends.
“Research has shown that middle-class drinkers may be disadvantaged by their advantage — in other words, aspects of their lifestyle which are known to promote health such as low-fat diets and exercise are able to mask symptoms related to alcohol problems,” said Lyn Brierley-Jones, research fellow at the University of Sunderland’s department of pharmacy, health and wellbeing.
Esher in Surrey is one of the affluent areas where some women drink too much (Alex Segre)
Glynis Jones, a retired academic from Nottingham, typifies the growing problem of women with relatively lavish lifestyles who have serious drinking habits. For years Jones, 62, led what she describes as a “functioning lifestyle” with a successful career, but at times she was consuming up to 10 bottles of wine a week.
“When I married for the second time my husband, who is since deceased, was fairly wealthy and we would holiday abroad regularly all over Europe. The children were out of the frame and I was not short of money. Even though I was retired, I could always go to the off-licence and buy several bottles of wine,” Jones said.
“I never went to work drunk, I never missed work . . . but I never had a sober evening and at the weekends I would drink all day.”
Jones has now been sober for three months after finding help through the HarrogateSanctuary, an organization that specializes in gender and age specific care for alcohol dependence. Sarah Turner who is the founder of the Sanctuary, campaigns tirelessly for tailored care. “The work I do was the result of having been through the most desperate struggle myself to find appropriate treatment, and failing miserably “ says Sarah. She has been hailed as a One Woman Army by Eric Appleby CEO of Alcohol Concern, and Andrew Langford of the British Liver Trust.
Brierley-Jones said Jones’s attitude was not unusual. “Our research showed a common perception among some middle-class groups that regularly drinking at home, particularly wine, is safe and sensible.”
“These home drinkers don’t see their drinking pattern as problematic, but evidence suggests that such regular drinking will lead to significant health problems later in life.” she said.