Personal reflections on freedom and alcohol

An open cage represents freedom and alcohol on Hello Sunday Morning

How context frames the things we rely on

It’s been three months now of my first ever prolonged alcohol-free experience, so I’ve decided to write down some thoughts about it. The following reflections are not from someone with a dependence, nor from a party animal or binge drinker. It is not a personal alcohol problem that has triggered this alcohol-free experience, but a simple medical treatment. You might think, “well, what’s the big deal then?” — but these three months without a drop of alcohol have made me question how we draw the line on what we call dependence.

Why is it a big deal?

Being a teenager — an average one, I believe — I was avid to break free from adult rules that decided what I could and couldn’t do. Being a not-yet-adult was so confining! Not being able to work and earn your own money, needing permission to go out with friends, not being allowed to drink or smoke (although, of course, most of us did these long before the legal age). Even though I had relatively liberal parents compared to my friends back then, those limitations were everywhere, and it bothered me that I couldn’t decide when I felt responsible enough to do or try certain things. I think a lot about freedom since those teenage times. I praise it, chase it, and even avoid some commitments. The ability to do what I please at any time and make my own decisions is precious to me.

Teenage-hood is arguably the most socially busy time of our lives, and that’s the time when we are finally allowed to drink. It is not a coincidence that social life goes so hand in hand with alcohol and tobacco, the two hugely advertised drugs that mark our breaking free from our repressed childhoods. No more allowing adults to make decisions for us on how to have fun! Besides, it’s from adults that we’d learned to associate alcohol with friends and fun.

The irony is that, although we become free to choose alcohol or cigarettes when we reach the age of independence (which most of us do, as with anything that has been denied to us previously), choosing drugs as social enablers actually leads many of us to the complete opposite of freedom.

“Anyone can see that a child is not free when he desires milk, nor the drunken man when he says things which he later regrets.” — Rudolf Steiner

I love Steiner’s quote as it illustrates very well how, when we are under the effects of alcohol, even at a moderately tipsy level, we lose control of our will. Free will is the capacity to act and decide independently, without influences. As you might guess, being so paranoid about my freedom, I have always been a bit uncomfortable about losing my free will. I believe that’s one of the reasons why I’ve never drunk too much alcohol. Being tipsy is already distressing for me, besides associating it with sickness, which I believe is one of the most terrible natural opponents of freedom.

Still, I’ve never had anything against alcohol itself. I do enjoy a fresh bitter ale at a sunny terrace, and lately, since living in Australia, I love a glass of Shiraz with a tasty local dinner. And I carry the pride of tequila in my veins as a good Mexican, so for over 11 years living abroad, I’ve been pouring my sweet roots to friends from different places around the world, teaching them how a good tequila shouldn’t be drunk as a shot, but rather slowly, tasting it!

A better understanding

For over nine months now, I’ve been listening, reading and following stories, news, and theories about drinking. Funnily enough, my four months of alcohol-free experience comes at a time when empathising with people who want to drink less is part of my daily life. I’ll give you a bit of background on this.

Less than a year ago, my boyfriend and I moved to Australia: the second-ranked of OECD countries on (pure) alcohol consumption per capita, as ranked by the World Health Organization in 2015. Quite a shocking fact when you’ve lived in Finland, thinking that no other country could beat them!

We lived for over a year in Vietnam in between Finland and Australia, where we were fascinated by always having a fridge full of beer at the office (it was an Australian company). The interesting part was not that we had those beers at work, but that it remained full! There was no need to refill with beer very often. Fridays came, when we had a small get-together at the office, and we foreigners were almost always the only ones with beers in our hands. This isn’t to say that Vietnamese wouldn’t ever drink, but local guys would rather play games, ride their scooters back home safely (or relatively safely), and avoid having their wives angry at them. The women, meanwhile, would take care of their figure by avoiding the calories from alcoholic drinks.

When we moved to Sydney, I was already looking forward to becoming a freelancer working on ethical projects. I didn’t want to work any longer for large enterprises where design was a mere tool to increase profit. I had long awaited the opportunity to use my skills for a cause to make this world a better place. Freedom and inspiration were going to be my drivers from now on. After about a month in beautiful Sydney I was dealing with my lack of leadership and contacts to turn my saving-the-world ideas into a living; then, serendipity hit me, and I joined the inspiring team of Hello Sunday Morning, a small charity with a mission to help people change their relationships with alcohol.

The thing that drove me to Hello Sunday Morning was the organisation’s mindset around alcohol and drug consumption. It conveyed a very positive view where openness, motivation, and support were the tools to help people free themselves from habit. The aim was to use state of the art psychology and technology to help people change their habits to healthier ones.

I’ve been learning a lot since becoming part of the team. Listening to my colleagues’ knowledge, plus interviewing very diverse people from our focus groups and reading about addiction, habits, and behaviour change has been renovating my view of alcohol in society.

I didn’t ever suspect that helping people rise above dependence would be my way to make this world a better place. I didn’t ever consider alcohol as something to worry or care much about. I would often avoid drunk people, even family or friends, and sometimes blamed them for not “controlling” themselves. I would ignorantly assume that people with addictions didn’t want nor appreciated help or concern. We tend to generalise, and I had been doing so for many years. When I was still of a young age, wondering about the reasoning behind those strange things adults did, I would see my dad now and then behave in an odd and embarrassing way after a meet up with his friends, and I would only feel pity, shame — and, a few times, even disgust. I had learned to relate alcohol to grumpy, annoying and careless behaviour. In a way, as Ellen J. Langer explains it in her book Mindfulness, I had a limited view of alcohol dependence during my youth and didn’t consider all the different reasons behind alcohol consumption, nor the possibilities to improve things. The truth is, all of us can do a lot to help people free themselves from dependence and habits, and even prevent it to a certain point. We can all do this with a bit of behaviour change.

From my early views about alcohol, you may assume I would reject it and avoid drinking myself, but that was not so. I was always free to choose what I would see as the non-stupid, non-annoying way, of course. But going out with friends to have fun is rarely an alcohol-free situation, and wherever there’s alcohol, especially when you’re young, there’s a good amount of social pressure to drink to a point where you start to lose that sense of free will.

I have indeed chosen stupidity many times. Once or twice as a teenager I drove a bit tipsy, noticing I had drunk more than I meant when my calculations for driving through a narrow space were not good enough (and later lying to a trustful parent who lent me the car). Luckily for me, a small car scratch was as far as it went. I have never drunk to the point that I lost memory of it, nor have I experienced those terrible hangovers one will often hear about from friends. But we don’t usually realise when freedom disappears. Freedom to enjoy a social life with or without alcohol, to decide whether drinking or not when under pressure, to choose when to have the last drink.

We usually understand alcohol dependence as the point when a person cannot stop drinking on a daily or almost daily basis. But on a normal outing with friends, a simple dinner with your partner, or a Christmas festivity, are we really free from depending on alcohol to feel like we fit in or have fun?

Because I currently don’t have the freedom to choose to have a drink, I realise how easy it is to enjoy life without falling to the pressure of having one. Perhaps I will appreciate that freedom of choice even more after I am allowed to drink again, and may understand better the reason behind choosing to have a beer or a glass of wine instead of water and lime. I will probably savour whatever I pick with more delight and decide based on taste and what makes me feel good.

Originally posted on Hello Sunday Morning’s Medium page by our wonderful Design Lead, Brenda.

How to celebrate

celebrate

Most of us celebrate the many big events in our lives: religious holidays such as Christmas and Ramadan; personal commemorations like birthdays and anniversaries; and generally abstract state-sanctioned celebrations such as New Year’s Day. However, we tend to plow through life at such a pace that we seldom take the time to celebrate the most important thing: life.

200-2.gif

Increasingly we only celebrate when there’s a “good reason” to, and in doing so we forget that traditions, ceremonies and celebrations are a significant part of human connection and important for our overall wellbeing and optimistic outlook on life. In the name of progress, our cultures have stopped rejoicing over everyday occurrences like sunrises and important seasonal events like harvest time. So while we’ve become very good at planting the seeds these days, we need to start reaping the crops again. 

How to celebrate and create optimism

Research on positive psychology by Hasassah Littman-Ovadia, has shown that when we are able to look forward to something worth celebrating, no matter how big or small, we really do feel more optimistic. The things to look forward to and celebrate could be anything: a promotion at work; cooking a successful meal for a loved one; a beautiful, sunny day after a week of rain; or good news from a family member.

Here are five good reasons to celebrate more often:

  1. Helps us stay in the present
  2. Builds self-respect
  3. Feeds our basic human need for self-love and self-acceptance
  4. Positive magnification
  5. Makes it easier to self-promote

Any celebration, whether it be big or small, or important to others or not, is really about taking a step back and noticing the good things in your life. It can also be a reminder of our talents and abilities, skills and persistence. Drawing on those things can motivate us to keep working toward our goalsAccording to social psychology researcher Fred Bryant, when we stop to savour the good stuff, we buffer ourselves against the bad and build resilience

Celebrating makes you grateful

200w-1.gif
“Have an attitude of gratitude” 

A study on how gratitude impacts our wellbeing was conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons, the founding editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology. The study split several hundred people into three different groups, all of whom were instructed to keep daily journals. One of the groups was required to write about the day without labelling the events ‘good’ or ‘bad’, another wrote about negative things that had happened, and the final group was told to make a daily list of things they felt grateful for.

The gratitude journal group had significantly higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. They also experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more consistently and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

You don’t need to drink to celebrate

When we explored the relationship between celebrating and alcohol, we narrowed the glue between the two down to three things:

  1. Reward
  2. Relief
  3. Reconnection

We perceive alcohol as a product that causes happiness or satisfaction, even for just a small amount of time, and as consumers we’re bombarded with an overwhelming amount of marketing that tells us you need to drink to have fun, relax and feel good.

Celebrating the everyday, sans hangover

200.gif

We often move from one thing to the next without really giving the time to transition onto the next thing, let alone celebrate our achievements.

Here are some tips to help you celebrate the everyday:

Notice the moment. What is it you feel proud of? What’s working for you?

Take time to reflect on achievements in life, regardless of what other people think of those achievements.  

Allow yourself to be proud of achievements. If you have worked hard for something, let yourself be rewarded. 

Pause and set the moment apart by stepping out of your routine for just a few minutes.

Time to take action

Treat yo self. Buy fresh flowers for your home for no good reason or play loud music and dance around the house just because you can. Take yourself out to that movie you have wanted to see for a while or invite friends over for tea and homemade goodies.

Make little speeches and toasts to yourself, to friends, family and loved ones when something good happens, or when you would like to acknowledge a person or an event.

How to enjoy a hangover-free Christmas

giphy-1

The silly season is rapidly approaching, and for many, this means work Christmas parties, celebrations with friends, family gatherings and indulgence in food, gifts and all things jolly. As your social calendar fills up, here are some tips on how to avoid filling your glass too deep along with it.

We understand Christmas can be a stressful time, especially if you’re trying to drink less. Many of our celebrations involve drinking (often to excessive amounts) as part of the holiday spirit, and it is hard not to feel a pressure to conform to these expectations.

It’s important to have a few backup solutions to surviving a sober Christmas, and listing some advantages of taking it easy with the booze will help with your motivation. Think of how much you’ll save by not splashing out on those expensive bottles of champagne! And how nice it would be to minimise the chances of drunken confrontation with the in-laws, or saying something inappropriate to grandma over copious gingerbread cookies.

We have gathered some of the best advice around to help you continue your positive relationship with alcohol this Christmas.

To enjoy an alcohol-light Christmas, you need to have a plan

giphy

Be selective about the events you attend

Remember that you don’t have to go to every event; if there are certain celebrations that you know will make it really hard for you to feel good about your drinking goal, maybe consider skipping them. Attend the ones that will not focus so much on drinking to have a good time.

BYO drinks

Take your favourite non alcoholic drinks to the party with you, like a bottle of soda and a lime or a few ginger beers. This way you’re not missing out on drinking altogether and it may be a smart tactic to stop people asking you if you want a drink every five minutes.

Plan activities that don’t involve sitting around drinking

Organise a friendly game of backyard cricket, ice skating or DIY holiday card making. Watch a Christmas movie or print off lyrics for carols and have a classic, festive sing-a-long.

Have a reason and get real

Be assertive with your decision to not drink and come prepared to talk about why you have chosen not to. Some people are genuinely interested, and who knows, it may even inspire them to think about their own relationship with alcohol.  

Come up with an exit strategy

If it all just gets too much and people are giving you a hard time about not drinking, or everyone’s too smashed to have a slur free conversation, just get out of there. Most of the time they will hardly remember you leaving anyway. Just give the hosts a call at a reasonable hour in the morning to thank them and explain why you felt like you needed to leave.

Focus on the love

Find the joy in spending quality time with those you love, doing the things you love!

giphy

 

Alcohol and meeting the parents

Meeting the family of your significant other is an important part of being in a relationship. That said, it is almost universally agreed that the experience can be nerve-racking. In this week’s animation we explore the experience and the roles that alcohol may play in it.

But while moderating the night before seems like an easy win on paper, it takes a lot more to make your desired first impression. We’ve put together a checklist of things to consider before you meet the parents – or any other stressful social engagement.

How to conquer meeting the parents:

Attitude

You got this!
Let’s be honest: appearances do count.

Go in with a positive and open attitude. As memorable former leader of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, once stated, “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

Contemporary research into positive attitudes suggests that almost everything is best approached in this way, not barring meeting your partner’s parents. So even though it may be tempting, try not to dwell on things that could go wrong. Think instead of all the things that could go right! With this frame in mind, you are more likely to be relaxed and be yourself.

Appearance

No matter how superficial it seems, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves that appearances and first impressions do count. From what you wear to how you hold conversation, all of these things are open to scrutiny. What’s more, these impressions take only seconds to form. But luckily, getting in a good first impression isn’t too onerous:

  • Usually, you should dress simple and conservative for the occasion, but it may be worth asking your partner about the level of formality their family usually dines in. At the end of the day, do make sure you feel comfortable as this ease will shine.
  • Remember to bring a gift. You needn’t go overboard but it is a nice gesture, and chocolate is always appreciated.  
  • Mind your manners. While dinner table etiquette is generally not as archaic as it used to be, it doesn’t hurt to be polite. Please and thank you!
  • Stay off your phone. Clearly this is also basic dinner table etiquette, but given the difficulty of this task we thought it could do with its own bullet point.

Intention

Think about what you will drink before and during the big meeting
Plan your drinking ahead of time.

Why are you meeting your partner’s family? Of course, you want them to like you, but perhaps consider it in terms of trying to actually get to know them. Your other half has spent most their life around these folks; what are they like? You are spending time with someone you care about and their family, so while it is natural to be nervous, it could ultimately end up being an enjoyable experience. So do what you would normally do during a dinner or social gathering with people you care about; offer to help out; feed the conversation; and enjoy the food. Simply put, plan to be a good house guest.

Perspective

Finally, put things into perspective. Just like the point above, think about why you are there in the first place. In fact, try framing it as though you are finally getting the chance to meet the family. Relax. Don’t overthink it. Do it for them!

Drinking

Will you be drinking? You may be feeling tempted to use the booze to help with nerves. But did you know that alcohol can actually aggravate symptoms of anxiety? Ultimately, you are the expert on your own drinking. Whether you are having a couple of drinks or none, pick your limit and stick to it. Discuss your plan with your partner so that you are both in the know.

Considered all of the above? Yes? Then go forth, greet with confidence and do it for them!

Why brunch is the best way to connect with people

Maintaining friendships is difficult when you change your relationship with alcohol. But while socialising feels like it’s built around alcohol, it doesn’t need to be.

Brunch is a rising epidemic. From the humble weekly hangout through to birthdays and weddings, brunch is the answer to all and everything. But when your pals are faithful pub patrons, how do you convince them to switch from Saturday night drinks to Sunday morning brunch?

How to catch up with friends without alcohol

Remind them of the power of food as a uniting force.

Humans have been socialising over meals for most of our history. Believe it or not, brunch itself has been around for at least 100 years. However, its form today is nothing short of celestial as food has matured into much more than simple sustenance.

Brunch and catching up with friends without alcohol with Hello Sunday Morning
Are your mates at brunch, too?

Variety

Brunch is eggs, brunch is burritos and brunch is cake. No other meal compares in variety. Plus, because you are squeezing two meals into one, you can eat all of this without the guilt. Would you like ice cream with your pancakes, bacon and eggs? We say, why not?

Oh, excuse me! Can I get some vegan maple syrup?
… with my deconstructed bacon dust?

Brunch pleases everyone

This is the one meal where the vegetarian options might outdo the carnivorous ones. Mums can bring their babies (both human and canine welcome) and while we don’t condemn infants in inns, the practice is typically frowned upon. Don’t like dressing up? Active wear is on trend. Single and looking? Cafés are the ideal sanctuary to survey other humans over your steaming latte. Brunch is for the people!

Connection

Succeeded only by therapy in terms of value for your emotional well-being, brunch time is an essential component of a healthy life (and healthy Instagram feed).

Lifelong friendships have long been carved in between swathes of smashed avo and vibrant free range yolks. The conversation you have with a mate at the pub, bellowing and gesticulating over noise in that crowded echo chamber, just doesn’t compare. For social connection, brunch is the clear winner. Succeeded only by therapy in terms of value for your emotional well-being, brunch time is an essential component of a healthy life (and healthy Instagram feed).

Hello Sunday Morning and meaningful friendships without alcohol over brunch
To me, it’s the most meaningful time of the week

The brunch boom

Where the pub reigned for most of Australian history, brunch venues are taking up residence. They allow us to meet like-minded people in open settings, and provide a place for cultivation of identity and examination of meaning.

You don’t need to give up your social life when you change your relationship with alcohol. Invite your friends to say Hello Sunday Morning over brunch.

How to balance alcohol and travel

Grog and Travel have long gone together about as naturally as the other G&T. From beachside beers in Thailand to crowded pub crawls in Prague, alcohol makes an appearance in almost every holiday plan. And to some degree, throwing back a few beers at the hostel bar really can seem like the perfect formula for bonding with fellow travellers. But when drinking becomes the focal point of your travel activities, it can quickly feel like you aren’t making the most of your time away. Not to mention the hangovers, all the more agonising when you have to wake up for that early morning hike.

The challenge of saying Hello Sunday Morning as a booze traveler
I just wanna go out … Just one, maybe? Just one?

Tips to cut back as a booze traveler

This week we challenge you to review your travel drinking habits in our latest animation. Making the decision to take it easy with alcohol during your travels, or even taking a break altogether, can be really difficult, but it may well lead you to discovering the perfect Sunday morning. So we’re here to help you make the choice, maximising both time and money to spend on incredible travel experiences.

This is an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone

Say Hello Sunday Morning as a booze traveller even if it means going to another art gallery
Another gallery … I don’t get it. Do I need a drink, to get it?

Try new activities and seek new horizons. Watching the daybreak from a mountain top, hiking through the rainforest or making the most of local museums are just a few examples of rewarding alcohol-free activities to try out.

Focus on learning about regional cuisines

I mean, who doesn’t travel with the intention of eating your weight in local cuisine these days? Just take it up a level!

And while you’re at it, why not get a taster of local non-alcoholic drinks. You could even make your way through a list of national soft drinks. One of our greatest senses is taste. Dive in the deep end and explore the palates of the locals, which comes with the unparalleled opportunity to bond with friends and meet new people. I mean, who doesn’t travel with the intention of eating your weight in local cuisine these days? Just take it up a level!

Tuesday, I swear I ate every pizza in the city. Hello Sunday Morning booze traveler
Why couldn’t I find a good pizza? Didn’t these guys invent it?

Prepare for the day

It may seem obvious, but it’s surprisingly difficult to do. Trust us. A great life-hack for feeling great at the end of a huge day exploring, or, you know, melting away on the beach, is to keep snacks and trusty ol’ H2O in your back pocket. It’ll keep you hydrated and is well known to curb your hankering for a brew or six.

Consider for a minute why we travel in the first place. Be it to relax, learn new things or meet interesting people, alcohol is not really necessary for any of these things.

Bring it back to the present and see how much you can squeeze out of your holiday. Say Hello/Hola/Ni Hao to Sunday morning.