How to be okay with being alone

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“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal.

Being alone doesn’t mean you are lonely. 

Most of us are constantly surrounded by people, whether you live in an urban environment or if you’re in a relationship, work at a social company, or exist in the digital world of social media.

But sometimes we crave time away from everyone, or we may end up in a situation where we are involuntarily spending a lot more time on our own – whether that’s because of a breakup or moving to a new city.

It is imperative to learn how to enjoy your own company because like it or not, you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life.

When you start to feel lonely, it can help to think about all the things you can do with no one else around. You can talk to yourself, you can watch a sad movie and sob your heart out, you can dance in the kitchen naked, you can be as messy and as gross as you like and no one will be there to judge you!

Get to know yourself

Psychologist and author Wayne Dyer says, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” You might find out that you like yourself a lot. If not, you’ll know why, and by being alone, you give yourself the opportunity to work on it.

How can you really know yourself if you have never really spent time with yourself?

How can you know how YOU will react to something, how YOU would spend your day, how YOU would process a big decision without the influence and perspective of someone else?

Do things YOU love doing

Go for a surf, practice yoga, take a long walk, go camping alone, swim in the ocean or cook a delicious meal.

Traveling and exploring by yourself, for instance, is one of the best things you can do alone and can be the most rewarding for personal growth. You’re put into situations where you cannot rely on anyone else and you may find yourself out of your comfort zone, or experiencing things you thought you never would without anyone else’s support or opinion or mood to influence your experience.

Solitude is also the best time to get things done. You can be the most productive on your own with no distractions, so if you have a project you’ve been wanting to start on, or an idea brewing in the back of your mind, being alone is the perfect time to work on it!

Have a creative project

Creativity is often found in the mists of solitude.

Ideas for creative personal projects include:

  • writing music;
  • planting a veggie garden;
  • building furniture;
  • knitting or crocheting a throw or scarf;
  • making scented candles;
  • drawing;
  • painting;
  • scrapbooking.

It’s okay to be reflective and even sad when alone

It is often a perfect time to be alone when you’re in a mood, as we tend to get irritated and take out how we’re feeling on others.

An article on Lifehacker, Why Bad Moods are Good For You, explains that bad moods are actually an essential part of the normal range of moods we regularly experience.

“We should recognise they are normal, and even a useful and adaptive part of being human, helping us cope with many everyday situations and challenges. Psychologists who study how our feelings and behaviours have evolved over time maintain all our affective states (such as moods and emotions) have a useful role: they alert us to states of the world we need to respond to.”

Reflection is vital for us to be able learn from the past. If we don’t reflect on something negative that happened, we can’t know how to change it, and if we don’t reflect on something great that happened, we are not as satisfied or as grateful as we probably should be. Reflection also allows you to welcome new ideas and thoughts and is critical for self-improvement.

Take a break from social media

Social media often feeds us this world where everyone is living a ‘perfect’ life, constantly having fun, going out, being social and traveling the world. It’s amazing to be inspired and motivated by these beautiful photos and posts, but it can have you comparing your life to everyone else’s. You may suffer from serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when you see your friends constantly socialising, but the reality is they need their down time too. You can’t say yes to everything and be surrounded by people 24/7, or you won’t have time to reflect, adjust and grow.

Give yourself transition time

Whether you have just had a break up and separated from an ex, moved into a new place by yourself, moved to a new city, a new job or you have come home from a big, life changing adventure, you need to give yourself time to adjust to a new environment, and allow yourself time to grieve the loss of a past time.

Acknowledge the times you crave your own space

Try to be more aware of the times you are getting irritated with someone or a situation, as this could be a sign you just need to be with you for a little while. Plan something to do alone, whether that is just going out for a walk or sitting in a park reading a good book. It could simply be taking a bath and locking the world out for a bit of breathing space. Acknowledging this feeling of wanting some ‘you’ time is vital to be able to step back from a situation and gain some perspective.

How I stopped my wine o’clock habit

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On 1 January 2017, I started an alcohol-free month. It was on the back of a classic ‘new year, new you’ moment (cliché, I know), but there’s something so neat and appealing about a bright, shiny new year. There’s also the bonus of New Year’s Eve, so you can go out with a bang.

I’ve done Dry July the past few years with various degrees of success (last year needed a reset to Dry August). I’ve always admired those strong-willed people who have a month off the booze in sunny February or October. I can cope when we’re knee deep in winter but balk at the thought of giving up alcohol in a nice month.

It’s pretty easy to get into the habit of drinking. I had a general plan for AFDs (alcohol-free days) Monday to Thursday, but too frequently that was pulling back to Wednesday, maybe Tuesday on a bad day. The routine of walk in the door; keys down; glass out and pour is very easy to slip into and so easily sustained when it’s an almost daily ritual with your partner. It just becomes a part of your routine.

What goes hand in hand with frequency is quantity. A couple of glasses at wine o’clock  most nights adds up pretty quickly, right? Throw in a sneaky bubbly on Friday after work and a Saturday night binge sesh, and say ‘hello’ to a couple of empty bottles of Adelaide Hills pinot gris by Sunday.

I was pretty good at knowing how much I could drink and stay under the limit for driving. Sometimes I’d plan my strategy in advance – would I drink up in the first hour and then wait it out? Or would I drink over a few hours and hang in there? It’s an imprecise science at the best of times and obviously impacted by the wine goggles you’re wearing when you’re in the moment.

One of the bonuses of being a successful grown-up is the capacity to afford good quality alcohol. Drinking well adds to the air of sophistication and makes you think you’re a wine aficionado, rather than just someone who drinks too much. I was starting to invest quite a few dollars of my hard earned cash in alcohol and would reason that I work hard, so I deserve to let my hair down every now and again.

The interesting thing about drinking is how enjoyable it is in the moment and how shit it is the next morning. I was starting to find that my capacity to drink was pretty good so I could hold my grog with the best of them. With increasing regularity, though, I’d lose my capacity to bounce back and I’d suffer the next day blues with a fuzzy head and blocked nose. I reasoned it might be those nasty preservatives in the wine so I took up organic varieties for a while. Surprise, surprise, this didn’t seem to help.

Women in their 40s and 50s are among the biggest binge drinkers around and are fast catching up to men in terms of problem drinking. Teenagers are taking the rap for the mild-mannered mums who are putting away eight or more glasses per week. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey was released on 1 June this year and showed that for the first time ever, women in their fifties do more high-risk drinking than 18-24 year-olds.

What’s that all about? Are we managing our stressful lives with alcohol? Is it the modern day version of a Bex and a lie-down? What I know is that I needed to interrupt the very comfy pattern I was in.

I’ve never been too good at moderation. I’m the type that will open a bag of lollies or chips and eat the whole lot. The call of an open packet of anything in the cupboard has always been too tempting for me. But for all my shocking lack of moderation, I’m really good at going cold turkey. There’s something I enjoy about the denial, something about the challenge of giving things up that spurs me on.

So here I am over five months later with nary a drop of alcohol past my lips. When I started in January I didn’t really have an end date. Having come this far I’m thinking I will definitely go six months and then see what I think. My biggest fear is that I’ll have one drink and slip straight back into old habits. Just having the fear tells me I might need to go on a bit longer.

There’s been a positive impact on my partner, too, as we no longer egg each other on and enable each other’s drinking. I’ve done Dry July on my own in the past and have found it hard when my partner didn’t do it. Doing it together has helped both of us break bad habits and he’s so proud of how strong I have been.

I hadn’t noticed before how much time I spent thinking and reading about alcohol until my inbox started overflowing with unopened emails from various merchants and wineries. I subscribed to wine clubs and had a steady supply arriving straight to my door without me even having to think about it. My last call from my Vinomofo guy ended with a polite decline and an interesting chat about that time he gave up alcohol for 364 days. He’s calling me back later in the year to see how I’m going.

You don’t realise how much our social occasions involve alcohol until you’re not drinking. I’ve been through family birthdays (including mine), knock off drinks, work events, parties, long haul flights, overseas holidays, free alcohol in the Qantas club (yes, I even withstood free alcohol!). I’ve sat there with my sparkling water or my cup of tea and felt okay about it. I do have an honest suspicion, though, that I’m a lot more interesting when I’ve had a few.

It might not be surprising to know that when everyone is drinking and you’re stone cold sober, it is quickly revealed how uninteresting drunk people are. I’ve been making lots of observations of my unsuspecting drinking subjects in the wild. I reckon three drinks is the turning point. The point where the drinker’s face starts to contort a bit, the words slur a bit, the speech volume goes up a bit and the assertiveness goes up a notch towards aggression. It’s an ugly transformation to witness. Yet somehow in this scenario, everyone tells me I’m the boring one. If only they could see themselves. If only we could see ourselves we would know we are just the same.

I know that the cold turkey approach is not for everyone. If you want some help to reset your relationship with alcohol, head over to hellosundaymorning.org to access to their online supports and community.

Article by Hello Sunday Morning supporter Kathryn Jordan. Kathryn blogs at How to be Fifty

The top six questions about drinking and health answered

From alcohol’s effect on fertility, to how long your liver takes to recover

Gastroenterologist Professor Weltman, helps us answer specific health questions asked by our community on Daybreak.

 

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1. How long does it take for your liver to start to recover once you stop or cut down drinking?

Professor Weltman, Head of the Gastroenterology and Hepatology department at Nepean Hospital, NSW, says the recovery is variable as it depends on the individual.

“Alcohol does not work the same on everyone, so to start off with, it is best to give it 6–12 months before you’re able to see what kind of reversibility is there.”

Consensus in clinical research suggests that the liver is the only organ in the body that is able to regenerate by replacing damaged tissue with new cells, but it depends on the length of time the individual has been drinking and each individual is entirely different. Complications can develop after 5–10 years, though it more commonly takes 20–30 years.

Complications of liver disease occur when regeneration is either incomplete or prevented by progressive development of scar tissue within the liver. This happens when a damaging agent like alcohol continues to attack the liver and prevents complete regeneration. Once scar tissue has developed it is very difficult to reverse that process.

2. What impact does alcohol have on fertility for males?

It’s an inconvenient truth that heavy alcohol use reduces men’s fertility; it can cause impotence, reduce libido and affect sperm quality.

A recent study of couples undergoing assisted reproductive treatment looked at male and female alcohol consumption in the year prior to treatment, as well as during treatment. It found both male and female alcohol consumption decreased the chance of a healthy baby and increased the risk of miscarriage.

Although the scientific evidence about how low to moderate drinking affects a man’s fertility isn’t clear, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that men abide by the safe drinking guidelines and women don’t drink at all during this period.

3. What impact does alcohol have on fertility for females?

For women, heavy drinking also affects fertility, increasing the length of time it takes to get pregnant and reducing the chances of having a healthy baby.

The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines also say that:

  • For healthy women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
  • Heavy drinking before pregnancy is also known to affect women’s health. Women who consume large amounts of alcohol (seven or more drinks a week or more than three drinks on one occasion) are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods and take longer to get pregnant.
  • For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

4. What are the effects of alcohol on the brain?

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says the short term effects of drinking alcohol can include: difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times and impaired memory. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops. On the other hand, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain deficits that persist well after he or she stops consuming alcohol.

“We do know that heavy drinking may have extensive and far–reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple ‘slips’ in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions.”

A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol affects the brain, including:

  • How much and how often a person drinks;
  • The age at which he or she first began drinking, and how long he or she has been drinking;
  • The person’s age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history;
  • Whether he or she is at risk as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure; and
  • His or her general health status.

5. What does alcohol do to your body after the age of 40?

Professor Weltman says alcohol does not really affect people differently at any age other than babies. It is more the fact that if people have been drinking heavily since they were young, they therefore are more likely to develop the consequences.

“Drinking heavily for a long period of time can cause people to have liver damage, fibrosis scarring, pancreas damage and damage to the brain, like an early cognitive disfunction that is similar to dementia.

“Your coordination can become unsteady and the heart’s rhythm can have disturbances as well as weakening of the heart muscle. Men specifically can develop testicular atrophy, enlarged breasts and reduced sexual function.

“Women can develop osteoporosis, bone loss and muscle loss. It is common for women to see nerve ending problems and damage where they loose sensation in hands and feet.”

6. What are the side effects of medications like Antabuse/Disulfiram, Campral/Acamprosate?

Professor Weltman says Disulfiram only has side effects when mixed with alcohol.

“The concept of the drug stems back from the 1960s: you either don’t take the drug or don’t drink, because when mixed, the reaction with alcohol causes people to become very unwell.

“Campral doesn’t have any side effects and works as a stimulater for the nerve transmitters in the brain to instead reduce the desire to drink.”

According to NPS MedicineWise, these medications are suitable as a long-term treatment for patients with alcohol dependance and should only be used in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Pharmacotherapy is generally used for people with more severe behaviours. In Australia, there are three drugs currently approved − oral Naltrexone, Acamprosate and Disulfiram. NSP Medicine Wise have a different view on the side affects of the drugs, outlined below:

Naltrexone is recommended for patients aiming to cut down their alcohol intake who do not have severe liver disease or an ongoing need for opioids.

EFFECTS: Headache, nausea, lethargy and dysphoria.

Acamprosate is recommended for those who have achieved and wish to maintain abstinence.

EFFECTS: The most common adverse event is transient diarrhoea.

Disulfiram is no longer considered first-line treatment due to difficulties with compliance and toxicity.

EFFECTS: Drinking alcohol within two weeks of taking disulfiram results in the accumulation of acetaldehyde in the blood. This causes unpleasant effects such as sweating, headache, dyspnoea, flushing, sympathetic overactivity, palpitations, nausea and vomiting.

* To find the right treatment for you, speak to your GP and head to the site for more information on medication-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence.


Hello Sunday Morning is a movement towards a better drinking culture. Our vision is a world where drinking is an individual choice, not a cultural expectation. How do you feel about your relationship with alcohol?

Download Daybreak, for iOS or Android to change your drinking habits today. Alternatively, join our online community of over 100,000 like-minded individuals.

Ten tips to help you understand your drinking limit

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How many drinks are too many, and where do you draw the line? Chris Raine and the Hello Sunday Morning health coaches talk us through tips on how to not go overboard.

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Many of us have been there at some point in our lives.

The night/s when you took it too far, had one drink too many and crossed your line. You may have lost control of your inhibitions and jeopardised a relationship, got into a fight, said things you didn’t mean or did something you would never have done without the alcohol.

It may seem excusable when we’re young; when we don’t have as many responsibilities and the consequences aren’t as great. But when we’re older and have a job where people are relying on us, or we’re in a committed relationship, the repercussions can be much more serious.

It may have taken you that one time to learn your limit, or, depending on your relationship with alcohol, you may still be looking. For some, it’s not as easy as just growing out of it. Different things work for different people and whether you refer to them as rules, guidelines, strategies or experiments, it’s important to try a few techniques to see what works for you.

Chris Raine, Hello Sunday Morning’s CEO and founder, says learning what works for you is key to knowing when you should take it easy on the booze.

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“If you’re not one to say, ‘two drinks is my limit’, (which you can do when you’re driving, but it’s hard particularly if you get into shouts or something like that), it’s good to have other rules that work for you.

“So, for me, it’s not about how many drinks I have, it’s just things like having a glass of water before I drink when I arrive somewhere or doing my best to make sure if I’m drinking I have also exercised and had a good sleep. If I haven’t and I end up drinking a lot then I know those things are tied in together.”

Alcohol is biphasic, so when you first start drinking it’s a stimulant and as soon as you stop drinking, the depressant effects kick in. You may be able to have one drink and it metabolises, but if you have 4-5 drinks and you stop drinking, it can be a steep hill downwards.

“Because alcohol is a drug, it’s hard for people to realise when they probably shouldn’t have another drink. It makes you feel good and that’s how it works on our brain. You just want to keep being stimulated and alert and perform in a certain social situation, but as soon as you stop consuming the drug it goes down.” 

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Liv, a 23-year-old drama student who also works part-time, says that she does not have a limit because it’s not that easy to find one. In part, this is due to it being socially acceptable to drink too much, so no one calls you up on it.

“I guess you could say I don’t have a limit. I basically go out to get wasted. I’ll buy a bottle of spirits and mostly I’ll just free-pour until I lose count.”

Liv says she is not happy with her current relationship with alcohol, and in the past, she has woken up regretting the night before.

“I do things that I regret so often, I feel disgusting about it and I guess I repulse myself, so my coping mechanism is just not thinking about it and trying not to see that person again or that group of people again.”

Liv started drinking mixed drinks when she was 16 and when she was 18 she started drinking straight from the bottle.

“It’s not something I’ve addressed because you always think binge drinking and alcohol dependence are problems that 40-year-olds have and it seems acceptable when you’re 23. You can write it off as ‘going out’. 

“If I’m at a family dinner I won’t get wasted, I’ll just have one or two glasses of wine. But I see that as a difference, between drinking for pleasure when you’re eating, or at a party when you’re drinking until you’re having fun.”

Liv admits that she definitely has fun, but she would like to be able to stop when she needs to.

“When do you stop? You get drunk and you forget to have a limit, and you keep ordering more and more drinks.

“In order to [stop] I know I need to make a few changes in my life, like a healthier relationship, better friends, maybe move away from my current living environment.”

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Stopping at ‘the buzz’

Good Therapy Organisation says when we can learn to stop at the “buzz,” we are well on our way to having our relationship with alcohol fully in check.

“For most people, three or four drinks make them feel tipsy or buzzed. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, yet the initial effects of alcohol in these amounts are more stimulating and euphoric feeling. People tend not to get into serious trouble from these amounts, but since the initial effects feel good, many people continue to drink past these amounts, assuming more alcohol equates to more good. It does not. It takes time for alcohol to work itself into your system, so people don’t realise how drunk they are getting, and in larger amounts alcohol has a depressing effect. The alcohol you drink today can make you feel depressed days and weeks later, and these small amounts can contribute to depressive feelings over time.”

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How to deal with slip-ups 

Chris Raine says his approach is to ask yourself, “what did I learn from it?” and “why did I do it?”

“I’d love to say that after doing this for seven years I’ve found perfect peace with myself, but I haven’t. If there are times when I’ve woken up hungover, sometimes I’m cool with that, sometimes it was worth it. But it if is just an average Friday or Saturday night and I wake up after having not really achieved anything and I’ve kind of just wanted to finish the week on Friday and feeling stressed, I need to think of the things I ought to change in my week. There is a responsibility that I’ve let myself down a little bit.

“You need to be honest with yourself, but you also have to be curious and understand in order to take the right action.

“The more I drink in my life, the less I’m really happy with it.” 

How to talk about your emotions

A guide for men

We interview Mr. Perfect about the generational shift around male communication and why having a society that’s open to emotional freedom for men is so important. 

You’re told to suck it up, to be strong, to not cry because crying is for wimps.

Men don’t often open up about how they are really feeling to friends and family. Showing emotion and vulnerability has long been stigmatised as a sign of weakness. It is the stereotype of the heroic male represented in popular culture as fearless, resourceful, stoic and usually facing adversity alone. These characters tell us a lot about what is considered to be ideal male behaviour within our society.

Men should be allowed to be whoever they want to be.

Daphne Rose Kingma, author of The Men We Never Knew, has said:

“We’ve dismissed men as the feelingless gender — we’ve given up on them. Because of the way boys are socialised, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.”

Men are more than likely to express emotions in places where they feel safe and it is deemed acceptable by society, like a sports event. You’ll see hugging, passionate shouting, even tears of joy after a win. But you may not see other men hugging or tearing up in another circumstance, because they don’t feel as comfortable or as open to do so. It is often the same case when alcohol is involved. Men seem to open up after (many) drinks, they can speak honestly from their heart and it’s okay because they ‘were drunk and have an excuse’.

But men shouldn’t have to have an excuse to lean back on for speaking their truth.

As Psychology Today says, “men who deviate from the traditional masculine norm by being emotionally expressive and talking about their fears are often judged as being poorly adjusted.”

When upset, women are more likely to express their feelings directly, and to seek the support of friends and family, whereas men might hide their emotions or withdraw. The problem is that withdrawing is very dangerous and can lead to serious mental health repercussions.

The restriction of emotional expression in many men’s lives can lead to:

  • A greater sense of isolation;
  • Less support being available from loved ones;
  • Health issues, due to carrying chronic tension in the body and other bad coping strategies;
  • Relationship difficulties due to an inability to resolve emotional conflicts and/or a perceived lack of ability to be intimate;
  • Psychological problems such as depression, insomnia and anxiety.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men aged 14–44 years old.

Yet, as a young woman in 2017, I think the toughest of all men are those who stand up for what they believe is right, even in the face of other men. Men who show their emotions and ask for help when they need it, and who open their heart to vulnerability.

I’m not the only one.

Mr. Perfect, founded by Terry Cornick, is a grassroots mental health support network with a vision to transform men’s mental health by making it a comfortable discussion for all. It is a sarcastic nod to the male approach to mental health.

Mr. Perfect is a metaphor for what the world expects us to be. It is the mask we wear.

Mr. Perfect started as an non-profit organisation to try and start these conversations that were lacking in male societies. As well as corporate talks, a blog and a few other projects, Terry also runs a monthly Meet Up in Sydney where anyone can come for an informal social barbecue, have a chance to speak to other people in the same boat, and listen to talks from doctors, psychologists and other organisations. The Meet Ups are inclusive to anyone whether it be successful men, fathers to be, students or older guys.

“I often speak to doctors who say they feel very hopeless and do not know what to do when men come in with mental health concerns. They either give you a pamphlet for an organisation or a prescription for medication.”

“If it’s not clinical, you’re not told about it.”

Terry says there is such a stigma around getting help because we have been conditioned to believe that seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a ‘shrink’ means you’re ‘damaged’.

“Not only that, but there’s also the age-old thing of being masculine and being a man, and we all propagate that: both men and women. We assume this is what we need to be and people think,

“Your wife’s allowed to show that emotion so that’s fine, but a guy just cant do it.”

“Whether it be tiny set backs or big set backs, you were expected to come home after being a robot for eight hours at work and not talk about anything and just get on with it. You would also excuse traits and behaviours in your mates and just brush it off as, ‘Oh, that’s just [Jimmy] acting out,’ and you laugh about it and that’s the end of it. There was never scratching below that surface.”

Mr. Perfect aims to normalise that conversation.

“Once guys start and open up just a little bit, there’s no stopping them. Often times they won’t stop and they will talk so much they will apologise to me for telling their story because they have probably not told anyone that for five years, or only their doctor.”

So, for someone to just say, “I know what you’re talking about mate,” or, “you’re not alone,” that’s the first step.

“My dad was alcohol dependent, and my perception of that growing up was thinking he was just an asshole. He was told he would die if he kept drinking 20 years ago, and when he kept drinking, that was it for me. I was never once told or ever thought, until I started getting help myself, that maybe something was going on in his head that caused him to drink. I can’t really put my finger on it and I’ll probably never know why, but alcohol is the best way for people to do that, to block it out temporarily.”

Terry says he has friends who will use alcohol as their crutch, so if they have a really bad day at work or they’re in a bad mood, their first reaction is to go have a pint. Then that leads to four pints, which leads to staying out until midnight and then onto a club, and before you know it, the next day they’re in a world of pain physically and mentally.

“When I used to not talk about things, I would have a big night and end up in an argument with my wife. That was painful to wake up the next day and go, ‘I think we argued, I don’t know what about but I know there was shouting’.

“So, where did that come from? That doesn’t come from me being a bad person. It probably comes from me being insecure and not being able to talk about my anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, whatever it was, while I was sober. It was just easier to do it while I was drunk and blame someone else.”

A generational movement is brewing

With Mr. Perfect, One Wave Fluro Fridays, Livin’, and many more small, start-up mental health organisations, people are starting to break down the stigma around talking about mental health issues.

Terry says there’s a real need for all these ideas and these contemporary initiatives are the best starting point.

“There are big government groups advocating ‘awareness’, but it’s hard to know what the money is really going to. There are a lot of smaller groups, starting from very low funds who are personally trying to change things. It’s positive but it’s so difficult with no backing and we now need support from those types of authorities and the government.”

How can you help?

Terry says that the most important thing is to have a good support network of friends.

“It’s just about listening and saying, ‘I went through that as well and I’m still here, so you’re doing well just by talking about it’. If you don’t have anyone to bounce these ideas off, it can very quickly go from a very small problem in your head to the biggest problem possible.

“When I’m going though a tough time, I text some of my mates and say, ‘Just letting you know mate, if I don’t get back to you tonight it’s because I’m just having a bit of a cloudy spell’. I’ve completely normalised it and instead of shying away they will text me and say ‘here if you need, give me a buzz now, reach out, I’m here, I’ll drop everything’.”

If I see someone suffering, I’ll just send them a text and say, ‘Mate, I’ve noticed you weren’t yourself tonight. Is everything okay?’ And sometimes that can open a can of worms but at least you’ve started that.

Being an alcoholic made me a better mother

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Before you get defensive about how awful that sounds, let me explain a few things. If you have followed my previous stories you will know that my drinking career didn’t start until I was divorced and about 25 years old. I spent my high school years as an outspoken, probably annoying, high school Jesus freak. That passion followed me to college, and naturally reflected Evangel University. I loved my four years at Evangel and still maintain incredible friendships. You have to sign a covenant to attend a faith-based school, which I did — no sex, alcohol or dancing, and I stayed true to that. Though I wish I tested the waters a little bit; but don’t tell anybody, I could get fined (Evangel joke).

I digress.

I think Tenley was maybe two or three when I decided I would start drinking. I drank Moscato , the sweetest kind you could find. I never felt odd, or buzzed and in hindsight that should have been an indication of tolerance, but if you are surrounded by drinkers, active drinkers , everyone’s truth is a little distorted.

Tenley at two years old.

The last three years have been a whirlwind. I hit the lowest of lows. Imagine seeing a grown woman clinging to her pillow in a nightgown, with fuzzy socks on and a missing tooth. That is who I was, walking through the doors as an inpatient. Luckily I have been able to have a pretty kick-ass, stellar recovery process that has been tiresome but so worthy.

You’re probably asking how being an alcoholic made me a better mother. There are few key reasons that all sort of tie in with the theory of ‘desirable disadvantages’.

I was a very loving and kind mother. Most women naturally fill that role. But then I began to fill my nights with drinking and the nights turned into days which turned into months and, before I knew it, everything was unraveling.

Tenley has always been a child of bright curiosity and she radiates joy wherever she flutters. I was tired, irritable, half-assing my way through a job I loved but couldn’t find any additional strength for. I was disengaged, always planning my next stop for alcohol and/or planning to have care on the weekends I did have her, because ‘it’s normal to drink with friends’. Her joyful mother became sad, tired and uninterested.

That is one of the hardest truths I will ever have to swallow. To admit that when it came down to Tenley or alcohol, I would have chosen alcohol. It took me years to figure out why and what that meant and I accept that it isn’t a choice. Once you are at that point, you are a passenger on the train.

The last year and a half of sobriety have been the hardest moments in my life. I was broken, poor, unhealthy, starting my career over again. But I got creative. I saved everything I could, learned to budget correctly, attended night classes and rode the bus two hours every morning (a consequence of an OWI/DUI).

The first year of my change, I white-knuckled it all — I was happy to be alive, but did not yet appreciate what that entailed. I found myself jealous of my old life prior to sobriety but when I really put forth the effort that this deserved , my whole life shifted.

I believe the statement above with every fibre in my being. One of the hardest things for any parent to do is admit they failed their children.

And I did it. I failed Tenley. I wasn’t the mother she deserved or needed or asked for. I scared and worried my daughter and the shame kept me spiralling out of control. I didn’t want to accept that I had done this to her as I love Tenley more than anything. When I am drinking I am not choosing to not be the best mother, I cannot choose. I see so many excellent parents weighted with defeat. I see the stress, the sagging shoulders and bloodshot eyes.

YOU CAN GET BETTER. YOU CAN BE BETTER. YOUR CHILD WILL RESPECT YOUR FIGHT, AND LOVE YOU FIERCELY FOR IT.

Tenley at age eight.

Tenley and I are closer than ever, we talk openly about my past and my choices. She isn’t walking forward with a mum that hides or shames horrible behaviour or consequences or alcoholism, she is walking forward with my recovery, hand in hand with me. She is learning to overcome the worst case scenario and be the best version of herself she can.

Your children are your biggest fans, they love unconditionally and will forgive you in a heartbeat (but do not take advantage of a soft heart, they become adults who remember). They want you to be YOU and if that means taking time to go to rehab, DO IT, if that means changing jobs, DO IT, if that means getting medication to help curb chemical imbalances, DO IT. Your children are watching you fall, but more importantly, watching you stand back up and dust your knees and shoulders off, before grabbing them too, brushing the dirt from their knees, walking forward together because you are worth it and it is never too late. Ever.

I now have better relationships. It took me a long time to understand the ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’ concept. I need someone who loves me as is and can share that love with a smaller version of me. Tenley is watching me in a relationship with a recovering drinker who put sobriety first. Thankfully, my partner emits so many qualities that I would want for her to experience. She sees love practiced and given without condition, she sees a disagreement become a solution and finally she sees me valuing myself first and knowing that I can’t be a partner or mother if I am drinking.

Tenley at six — the week I was able to see her after 57 days of treatment, meetings and rehab.

I am financially stable. Drinking took a LOT of money from me, but also taught me how to plan a budget when my one source of debt was rejected. She watches me budget, and I now think about where my money is going.

I have a supportive job. I was able to be candid about my drinking past, and that makes me better prepared if I begin to feel stressed or anxious. In the past, drinking on the job became very easy and it usually does for most addicts. It’s not purposeful, it’s to survive at that point. When you stop drinking you shake, you crave, your body does everything it can to get you temporary relief. I shared my past openly with my boss in the first interview, because for me, it’s life or death. I don’t suggest that you share intimate details of your life if they aren’t necessary but for this position I needed to be candid and was respected for it.

Here is the takeaway. I am a better mother now because I have fought hard to be one again. My moments with Tenley are an adventure that strayed off track for a few years. I am a better mother because I value the little moments, even the bad moments, because when you are accepting of death, you become very much alive if you are given a second chance. Joy is more joyful, silence is more warming, love is bigger and louder.

This isn’t to say I live without pain. Fifty percent of my time is spent without my little radiant pixie and it’s in those times that I find myself sinking into that dark hole of loneliness and hurt, wondering how I made it through the past few years. It’s simple, I made it because I wasn’t feeling anything: my goal was to not feel. But my god, does the joy feel joyful.

Parents , if anything sticks with you , please let it be this: continue to fight for what is good and true. You are giving your children an incredible gift and that is showing them when you fail, there is a chance to do it right.

If you find yourself in a similar situation and are feeling alone, you are not. Tenley and I are rooting for you, hand in hand.

The five best ways to talk to mum about her drinking

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We spoke to Talitha Cummins about stigma and the best approaches to opening up a conversation

“Such is the strength of denial when it comes to drinking … that a child talking to their parent may not even hit home.” — Talitha Cummins

Generally, mums are known to talk a lot. They call for a chat about anything: to tell you a trivial incident that happened at the shops; to remind you to pay your health insurance bill; or pester you to take back a stored box of clothes in your old room. But because mums are so used to helping others and putting themselves last, it can be hard to turn it around and open up a conversation with mum about how she may be drinking.

At Hello Sunday Morning, we refer to the mums in the Daybreak communityas ‘supermums’; they’re superheroes in our eyes. But the thing is, that’s a pretty high standard to live up to, and it can come with a lot of pressure. So far, Hello Sunday Morning has supported 80,000 women on their journey to change their relationship with alcohol. Our statistics show 56 per cent of female members on Daybreak have children, and of those mothers, 7.4 per cent have over six drinks daily or almost daily.

We spoke with mother, Australian journalist and Hello Sunday Morning ambassador, Talitha Cummins, about why there is a stigma attached to mums who drink and why it’s so hard for mothers to accept that they may need help to change their relationship with alcohol:

“We’re very good at drinking but we’re not very good at acknowledging the problems that come with it. There’s a tendency for people to sweep this issue under the mat because it’s a little bit too confronting. Research shows that women in their late 30s and early 40s have caught up to men on the drinking front for a number of reasons, like women entering the workforce and equality. I also think there’s an extra layer of stress on women who do a lot of the work looking after the children as well as working full time and that adds another layer of pressure. Alcohol is used to relieve that pressure. Too much of relying on that to relieve the pressure creates a problem.”

Talitha described herself as the definition of a high-functioning drinker, a category that we find often gets overlooked by GPs and social groups because they break the traditional stereotypes of alcohol dependency: a bedraggled man carrying a paper bag with hard liquor around the street.

“I would get up in the morning and go for a run no matter how much I’d had the night before. If I could get up and go for that run and turn up to my hair and makeup and present well, than I thought the alcohol wasn’t having an effect on me. I’d still be able to work all day and it wasn’t until I got home that night that I’d start drinking again. So on the face of it, I was still doing my job, perhaps not to the best of my ability, but it wasn’t a problem until it was. Things became unmanageable for me.”

Talitha thought she was the only one who knew that her drinking was getting out of hand. It took an intervention from her Chief Of Staff at work who sat her down and asked her if she was okay, for her to allow herself to accept the situation.

“I think I was just at the right point and I said ‘no’ and I just crumbled. I was ready for someone to reach out and say anything to me because I was just so sick and tired of going through this whole thing of drinking, feeling shame and guilt and drinking to make myself feel better.”

Talitha says it is so difficult to talk to a parent about their drinking because in a lot of instances, they won’t accept they have an issue themselves.

“I spoke to a parent this week whose daughter won’t speak to them because of their drinking. But this person is still in complete denial about the problem and wants to stop drinking, but not even being told by their child that there’s an issue makes them see that they need help.”

So, how do you begin the conversation with your mum about her relationship with alcohol?

There are many ways you could approach the topic, and the best for you may vary depending on your relationship with your mum. Talitha recommends a loving approach.

“I know there can be a lot of fall out from things that may have happened with the parents drinking, but approaching lovingly from a good place and making sure they understand that you’re there to support them is a good start to then let them know that you also think they need to seek help.”

You could also try opening up yourself and sharing something about your experience, such as:

“I have been thinking a lot about my relationship to alcohol lately. I have realised that it has been really valuable for me to reflect on it.”

Saying something personal demonstrates to the other person that you are comfortable (or maybe uncomfortable, but open to) being vulnerable around them.

In her TED talk, Dr. Brene Brown discusses the power of vulnerability. It is exceptionally difficult to let yourself be vulnerable in front of others.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,” says Dr. Brown. Letting ourselves be vulnerable.

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” Which, many have argued, is sort of the point of everything. We are wired to connect to other people, it’s one of the things that has enabled humans to be so successful as a species and it is a powerful tool for the healing process.

But what if mum doesn’t see an issue and gets defensive?

It may be a good idea to be prepared for this reaction, as drinking carries with it a lot of negative stigma from our society and is linked with feelings such as shame and guilt. Which is ironic, as the social pressure and expectation to drink alcohol is massive.

Talitha points out that confrontation is often avoided because of the expectations that you should be able to handle your drinking.

“None of my friends actually confronted me about it, despite them seeing some of the things that I was doing. It’s awkward not only for the person who is drinking, but for the friends as well; they don’t know what to say, so there’s this embarrassment around it on both sides.”

People can become enraged at a suggestion that they may be drinking too much and deny that they need help. You may find a breakthrough and the person will acknowledge their drinking, but they may deny addressing it, saying something like: “I can stop anytime I want to” or, “Everyone drinks to unwind sometimes.”

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Washington Post article written by Sara Amato, shares her story of struggle when confronting her mum about her relationship with alcohol and the positive opportunity she got out of the experience.

“Over the years, I tried to talk with her about her alcoholism, but she never wanted to hear it. It forced me to come to terms with the fact I couldn’t change her and that it didn’t need to weigh me down. She refused to recognise she had a problem and actively denied it whenever I brought it up. I could pour her wine out, but she’d still find ways to drink. If she wasn’t willing to change then it couldn’t be my problem anymore.

Her drinking forced me to be more cautious. It wasn’t until after college that I started drinking socially. I thought that if I drank anything, I would turn into her. But the more she denied she had a problem, the more it dawned on me that I wasn’t her. I had developed more self-awareness and control than she had ever shown me. But that realisation didn’t happen overnight. There was never any therapy sessions or group programs, there was only time. Most importantly, I realised that talking about these issues and getting help isn’t shameful, because [drinking] isn’t a one-person [issue]: It affects everyone. I know that now at 27, but when I was 16? No, I was really stubborn. It took me a long time to realise that letting people in doesn’t make you weak. And you should never feel alone when dealing with a loved one’s addiction. Because you’re not.”

Here are a few tips to help you take the blame off yourself

Firstly, you need to acknowledge the issue. You may be in denial to protect your parent or hide the issue. Admitting that your parent needs support, even if they won’t, is the first step in taking control.

Don’t blame yourself and be aware of your emotions. Accepting and acknowledging helps you put things in perspective. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for your parents drinking too much and that you cannot cause it or stop it, only they can. Recognising how a parent’s drinking makes you feel can help you from burying your feelings and pretending that everything’s fine.

Learn healthy coping strategies. When we grow up around people who turn to alcohol or other unhealthy ways of dealing with problems, they become our example. It may be a good idea to find some role models who can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and ways of making good decisions.

Find support. Talk to people that may have gone through a similar thing and find support through Hello Sunday Morning or other support programs.


“To people out there who are in the midst of a drinking issue, life can get better. I was in such a low place too and I never thought that I would find the allusive happiness. But with a lot of hard work, you can get there. There is hope.” — Talitha Cummins

Hello Sunday Morning is a movement towards a better drinking culture. Our vision is a world where drinking is an individual choice, not a cultural expectation.
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