Quitting alcohol made me a better mum (and that was just the start)
Gayle Macdonald gave up alcohol a year ago because it had gradually become the most important thing in her life. As a Brit living in Spain she is very much swimming against a tide of overindulgence but quitting alcohol made her a better mum and improved her life on so many levels. We are so grateful to Gayle for telling Voice of Calm all about it.
I spend a lot of time in my head, I am a worrier and an over thinker. I used alcohol to numb it all out, to drown the sorrows, to quieten the chatter and to hush the little voice that was always putting me down.
“You’re not good enough”
“Your kids think you’re a rubbish mum”
“You haven’t got what it takes”
“You might as well have another glass of wine because you’re not going to achieve anything anyway”
It didn’t start like that.
Drinking was fun
Drinking was a way to let go, to socialize and come out of myself. Gradually, though it stopped being fun and during the last five years of my drinking I would use it for everything. A typical day would see me cracking open a beer after the school run to begin my role as mum. I would drink all afternoon, through dinner, homework, playtime, bath time, bedtime and then of course I needed some ‘me time’. I would always fall into bed feeling rubbish, exhausted and ashamed.
The next morning I would wake up feeling exactly the same way and so the cycle would continue. Friday nights and weekends were an excuse to drink even more and I have been known on many occasion to start drinking at 11am on a Saturday.
I hated those days. I was bored, depressed and so ashamed. Days of non stop drinking would often end in arguments. After one heavy Friday evening I was so drunk, so pissed off, so tired that I got in the car to leave. Trouble was, I had my youngest son with me.
My rock bottom
His crying shocked me into turning off the ignition and I will be forever grateful that I didn’t drive the car that night. As you can imagine the pain, heartache and the guilt was so overwhelming that I turned to the one thing I knew would stop it all – more alcohol.
And that was my turning point although it took me a few more months to finally stop. I needed to quit alcohol if I was going to be a better mum – the mum my sons deserved.
My husband agreed that we couldn’t carry on like this. Our lives were just one big cycle of wake up, feel shit, drink, go to bed and repeat. The night was the worst. That voice would just be there constantly: unforgiving; telling me I was a crap parent; that I wouldn’t be able to stop or better myself; that I would let myself down – again.
But I didn’t let myself down. I did stop. And you know what? That voice stopped almost immediately.
Quitting alcohol has been one revelation after another
Having such an active mind I thought that alcohol was the only way to escape, to retreat and cope. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. My husband and I both stopped drinking a year ago. As I look back now I can see just how damaging alcohol is.
Alcohol makes you retreat into your own bubble. It stops you from noticing life. Your world becomes small as you go deeper and deeper into the void of the mind.
It has taken a lot of work but gradually I am coming out of my head and into the real world. I do still worry and go through scenarios that may or may not happen, planning my responses to imaginary conflicts or conversations. I still spend a lot of time in my head: writing emails; blog posts; planning my days etc. But it isn’t half as draining as it used to be. I used get so lost in there that I never actually got round to doing most of the things I planned. Having failed again I would have a drink to ease the guilt.
I learnt to use my mind rather than numb it
While the negative self talk stopped within weeks of quitting alcohol, I was still shocked at how much chaos there was still going on in my head. No longer able to blur it all with alcohol I had to find another solution. The weird thing is, the solution turned out to be learning to use my mind to actually listen instead of trying to squash it all below the surface.
It wasn’t easy but slowly I started to notice what I was worrying or thinking about. Instead of just running away or hiding from it, I started to face it and do something about it. Instead of lying in bed planning my morning routine, I would get up and actually do it. Rather than worrying about my bank balance and being scared to call the bank, I would make the call.
The small act of becoming aware and actually doing somethingabout the problem brought such relief and joy. I had no idea!
Meditation has been a revelation
Using my mind for me, instead of against me, has been a revelation. The simple act of stopping for a minute, listening and noticing has been huge in quietening my mind as well as encouraging me to get out of it as well – I mean in a taking action, not getting wasted!
Meditation takes practice, dedication and focus. It is hard in the beginning but as I have found, the benefits are wonderful. I have found a more positive, healthy way to deal with my crazy mind and, being naturally lazy I love it that I can lie down, listen to some chilled guided meditation and really just be in the moment and not worry about anything for 30 minutes or so.
This meditation practice is now part of my self care routine. I find that I need it, I really do, otherwise I return to over thinking, being grumpy and there is the danger that I will retreat into my own head too much. I am suddenly so much calmer and at ease with myself – there is still a lot of work to do but I no longer lurch from one extreme emotion to the next or blow everything out of proportion.
Quitting alcohol made me a better mum
Sure, shit still happens but I am acquiring the tools and skills to be able to deal with it more effectively. It might sound boring but there is nothing nicer than having the clarity and focus to be genuinely aware of what is going on, to act responsibly, to take time out to think of other people, not just myself.
I used be to be very selfish and entitled. Everything was about me.
I need to get this done … I need to relax … what about me, me, me!
Of course, it’s never just about me – I have a family and while I never neglected my boys, there were plenty of times when I wouldn’t give them the attention they needed. I would rush through homework and bedtime reading, making all the right noises but not really paying attention. I have a teenager so if there’s ever a time when this mum needs a clear head, it’s now!
From mindless mess to mindful mum
I see mindfulness also as a way of checking in with myself, something that I hardly ever did until quitting alcohol. I would rush through the days, ignoring how I was feeling and just soldier on regardless with yet more wine or beer to carry me through. If I felt tired, I would sit down and have some ‘me time’ with a glass of wine. When daunted by a task or a deadline, I would drink to prepare. If I was hungry, a can of Cruzcampo would sort me out. I never actually stopped for a minute to listen to my body or take the time to find out what was really going on with me.
But by stopping, noticing, being mindful, I started to slow down which is a huge deal for me. I still do most things fast, I think fast, I walk fast and I write fast. However, by being aware of this I am learning to slow down. This is an ongoing process, one which I will always need to work on but when I see things getting out of control or running away with me I stop and try to slow the heck down. I take a minute and breathe.
Walks with the dogs are no longer rushed so I can get back to my beer. Games with the kids are real. I appreciate the little things and I like to get on their level and experiment.
I am so grateful for my family, my home and now, yoga!
All of this takes practice of course, it’s about learning and trying out new techniques. It took me a whole ten months to discover yoga and when I tried it for the first time, I was blown away! My morning yoga routine is a way to be mindful, concentrate on my breathing, be aware of my body and my emotions and get some movement in, which has been so important in this whole journey.
No more sitting on the sofa, obsessing, worrying, imbibing and stuffing my face. No wonder I was such a mess! Since quitting alcohol my mess has been replaced with a sense of peace, calm and awareness.
This awareness brings gratitude and joy. I truly am grateful for my family, for living in such a beautiful place where I can get outside in nature and appreciate the world around me. I am grateful for this opportunity to slow down, to take a minute and to look after myself. By slowing down, looking after myself and being genuinely aware of the people and the world around me, I am a much calmer person, a much better mum and while chaos happens from time to time, it is no longer the natural state of living.