In our new series 'Reformed Characters® – Conversations around Sobriety & Mindful Drinking', we will be meeting people from all walks of life who have changed their relationships with drinking. From blackouts to hangxiety and everything in between, we'll be discussing the challenges and possibilities that sobriety and mindful drinking bring along.
This week we meet with Hayley – a 35 year old musician and psychologist from Birmingham, and founder of Sober Wellness Coaching.
Thanks for joining us and being part of this Hayley – could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi all! My name is Hayley and I'm a psychologist turned sober wellness coach based in Birmingham.
What was your starting point in deciding that you wanted to take a break from alcohol?
It's hard for me to pinpoint a starting point, I had been trying to moderate drinking for years and years in my 20's, it was never because I wanted to stop drinking but because I wanted to drink less. In my view (back then), the only people who stopped drinking were alcoholics.
And how did that change?
Something changed for me when my half sister and a uni friend in their late 20’s both got in touch and said they had stopped drinking alcohol. They were normal drinkers and not alcoholics. It was the first time I had heard of normal drinkers quitting alcohol and it planted the seed. I started to think about how that might look in my life… At this point I had been drinking every weekend, feeling completely miserable and trapped.
How did you go about making that leap?
I think I tried to do a quit drinking challenge – although I managed it, not much changed for a while after that. It was actually after I started meditating and reading about Buddhist meditation principles that I become more self-aware, creating space in my life for reflection.
I would plan my Friday nights in advance, I would think about what my reasons for drinking might be, I would make myself a nice drink, in a nice glass – so it felt grown up and mature. I would plan to watch a film which I was really looking forward to, even if it meant paying extra for it – so I felt like I could really look forward to it.
I started going indoor climbing every Saturday morning and made sure a mate would come with me. I knew that if I drank I wouldn’t be able to go, and I would be missing out on something I had really started to enjoy.
How might your weekends have looked before, and how do they look now?
I was studying for my PHD and working part-time in a music shop, Friday nights we would finish and go straight to the pub. We would stay until it closed, midnight maybe, then go to a mates house until late – and then do the same thing on Saturday.
I felt like a zombie and felt guilty. I always thought my Mum would be devastated if she knew how I was living. All I wanted was to be able to wake up with the sunrise.
What would you say the challenges are of choosing to drink less, and how do you see that evolving?
I think the biggest challenge is the social expectations, we are surrounded by such a binge drinking culture. Having the courage to be the one who’s different is really hard – you’re afraid of what other people might say, your friends and family. Thinking, I’m not going to have any friends, I’m not going to have a life, I'm going to lose my identity. The worry that you are going to offend somebody by not drinking. Why should anybody care about what you do with your own body, your own career, your own life goals?!
I see it evolving in a really positive way, non-alcoholic, low alcohol, drinks like yours which will change peoples perceptions, make them more aware. I think we will see a generational sweep like sugar – it doesn’t have to be because you have a 'problem' with alcohol, it’s because you want to do it for your health, physical and mental.
What are the Top 5 things you've gained from cutting back/giving up on booze?
#1: Confidence (which was not expected). I had drank to gain confidence, and I realised it was actually doing the opposite for me. I’ve gained confidence from being sober. That clarity and confidence – I’m actually listening to what people are saying to me rather than worrying about what is in my glass.
#2: Quality friendships. I had a lot of drinking friends and hang around in big groups. Now I’m being a proud introvert, I have fewer friends but they are of a much better quality. I’ve kept all my best friends and the people closest to me, but it’s greater connections.
#3: A connection with myself. I can trust myself, whereas I just didn’t before.
#4: My health
What would your advice be to someone else who may be reading this article hungover, wishing that they could get out of that binge drinking cycle?
First of all – have compassion for yourself, be kind to yourself. It’s so much easier to make changes and positive choices if you are kinder to yourself. Some other advice, try as hard as it is – to get your self-reflection in, give yourself some silence during the day. For me that was a game changer. You need to listen in to what your body needs – what you want, and what your body needs are two different things.
Tough love: If you don’t act differently you will never see any changes. If you need help just ask for help, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.
What are your plans for your own sobriety and life goals moving forwards?
I never say never and don’t know what the future will hold… I'm currently 4 years alcohol free and can’t see how alcohol would add anything to my life now – my life is so much better without it.
Hayley – thanks so much for sharing your story with us. Anything else you'd like to add?