Well, those three days seemed to fly past – despite endless hours travelling around Leeds in this heat!
But one of the good things about travelling is the time it provides to sit and think. It was on one such journey that I recently stumbled upon a new Twitter account belonging to “The Sober Angel”.
Turns out Joanne (THE Sober Angel herself) is a hugely determined, charismatic and passionate woman, who is not only thriving in sobriety, but is committed to helping others do the same.
Naturally, I thought she’d be the ideal fit for my “She Recovers: Three Days. Three Stories. Three Women” idea (I’m selfish, like that)… so I got in touch.
You see, we all have a story. All very different, yet ultimately very much the same. I was immediately struck by Joanne’s effervescent style, approach and desire to help others.
And here’s the rub: when we read stories like Joanne’s we can see the similarities to our own and, if we wish, we can take the bits that resonate with us.
We dismiss the wisdom of others at our peril.
I can say that talking to Joanne, on the most gorgeous sunny day at 5-Ways, was an absolute pleasure and I urge you to read on and see what she, and The Sober Angel has to offer.
Joanne – you’re a proper, awesome “sobersista”, and I’m so grateful for your time and energy in putting this together. Oh, and your new website totally rocks – thank you! Really.
Dear Readers: enjoy.
Joanne, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…
I’m Joanne, I live in Staffordshire UK, I am 40 something years old and I live happily & solidly sober. I have never been more content in life than I am right now.
What brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking story”… care to elaborate?
Of course! I was drinking way too much, I got tired of the painful abstinence then drinking then abstinence then drinking (and the self-sabotage that come with it) and I needed to take back control.
Looking back, I was drinking too much for probably 10+ years before I quit. I’d started drinking socially in my teens as did all my friends, I had many a great night out drinking and although I had a few regrets I never got into trouble with it, so I saw it as normal social behaviour. Where I feel I crossed the line is when in my early 30s I would buy wine to drink at home with a meal.
By the time I reached my late 30s, I was regularly drinking in the house. Around that time, I became single so the wine in the house continued … only now I was drinking alone. It bothered me that wine was probably becoming a far too regular habit, but I convinced myself I was in control of it by abstaining from it for short periods. Also, isn’t that what most women of my age did? Social media by then was gathering pace of us posting pictures of having a great time with alcohol in our hands.
The longest I did without alcohol was 3 months which convinced me (almost) that I couldn’t possibly be addicted as I’d walked away from it just like that for what seemed at the time like a long period. It’s quite hilarious now that when I look back I rewarded myself each week by buying a ‘pricey’ bottle of wine to store until the abstinence was done. The reality was I hadn’t walked away from it as I knew that whatever time of abstinence I’d set for myself I would “be going back to normal” at the end of it.
I would count the sober days off proving my point that I was in control of it but soon after I took my first glass I’d be back in the same frequent drinking routine which meant most nights I would soothe the stress of the day with wine. In most conversations about having wine at home, I described having a glass but, I was finishing the bottle and when that got to most nights I really knew that booze was controlling me.
What was your drinking like at the point you decided to quit?
In a word… miserable! I got to the point where I was lying to myself about the amount I was drinking and kept justifying my consumption based on the thought that surely most women drink at home and I was no different.
The reality was I had become dependent on it to calm me and the more I worried about things (and worried about how much I was drinking) the more I drank. The last weeks before I quit I’d got to the point where I’d open the wine at home as soon as I got in from work before I’d even taken my coat off!
… and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?
I’d thought about quitting booze after my 40th Birthday, this seemed a good mental milestone “life begins at….” and all that…. but it came and went, and I was still drinking.
In May 2013 and now aged 42 I went on my first cruise, of course, I’d booked ‘All Inclusive’. Holidays for me were always somewhere hot where I could have a poolside beer in the sun and this holiday was no different. I’d always conditioned myself not to drink before midday on holiday as only alcoholics drank at breakfast and after 12 was for ‘normal’ folk like me?
Anyway, I had a great time, however having got off the cruise after a week of indulgence I felt really dizzy, nauseous and couldn’t walk far without a feeling that I was going to fall over. I totally blamed ‘cruise legs’ and was convinced that I would soon feel ok again once I’d been back on dry land. I didn’t, and the dizziness continued throughout that summer, but I found that when I drank, the dizziness subsided so any excuse to carry on drinking I took it.
Having visited the doctor on a few occasions hoping for a simple ‘pill cure’, I had to start listening to what I didn’t want to hear and that was that I had got severe anxiety which was causing the dizziness and hey …. what’s one of the biggest contributors to anxiety? alcohol of course. My ‘All Inclusive’ cruise had been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Although the alcohol seemingly calmed my anxiety it was, in fact, making it much worse.
We’re intrigued… you mentioned that you don’t necessarily see yourself as being in recovery? How so? And if so, how come we’re having this natter?
When I first started to ‘Google’ “am I drinking too much?” “how much is too much?” etc (I’m sure many of us do that!) I kept seeing references to alcohol support services and many of the words they used did not resonate with me especially the words ‘alcoholic’ and ‘recovery’. I perceived an alcoholic as someone who was visibly addicted to alcohol, hiding drinks, perhaps lost a job or friends or even someone sober with a previous drinking history who you had to lock up the drinks cupboard when they were around.
These poor people then living a life in a state of ‘recovery’ until their dying day even if they remained sober for 40 years! I know this opinion goes against the grain of many peoples thinking so I don’t expect everyone to agree however I just knew how I felt and that was that I never wanted to be labelled as an alcoholic and once I had got sober (I didn’t know how on earth I was going to do that at that point) but I then didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with a label of ‘in recovery’ attached to me.
I liken it to a broken-down car, when it’s on the recovery truck you don’t leave it there to fix, you take it off, give it some TLC and send it on its way! When it’s back on the road it’s no longer in recovery!
I will say however that without a shadow of a doubt there is a ‘process of change’ to go through when we stop drinking. We learn new skills, we learn to trust ourselves again and we start to live authentically without alcohol to distort the view.
Over the last 5 sober years throughout my research into the sober world, I have discovered that there are many more people who are in the same position as I was i.e. addicted to alcohol but fearful of being labelled.
You’ve obviously had dealings with the medical profession going back a way… inferring that your GP didn’t necessarily consider your drinking in their care for you… what do you think about that? What were your experiences?
I only ever spoke about my dizziness (anxiety) to my GP, I never felt able to say that I was drinking too much. I guess I was scared that they would refer me medically and I just wasn’t able to accept that as an option. I’d got myself in this mess and wanted to try and get myself out of it.
Looking back, I should have discussed my feelings about my drinking with my regular GP because I know that she could have helped if I’d have just been honest. I was so proud when I went back to her around 6 months sober and insisted my sobriety was recorded on my notes!
She asked how I’d done it and I told her about the work I had done on my mindset and she was interested in what I had to say. Lesson learned is to be honest with yourself how much you drink and then ask for help.
So, you stopped (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?
I immersed myself into the online sober world.
I discovered female sober bloggers, and this opened a parallel world I didn’t know existed. There were women out there who were of a similar age to me who had quit the alcohol and claimed to be enjoying it! I couldn’t see me ever enjoying sobriety, but I kept on reading. I bought and read many many books on sobriety with “Jason Vale … Kick the Drink Easily” being the one that I credit for shifting my mindset hugely.
In a nutshell, I didn’t stop reading about positive sobriety and hanging out online with women I aspired to be like. I describe myself as a ‘lurker’ because I never interacted with these people I just silently sat at the sidelines absorbing all the great advice and kept myself focusing on the hope that one day I would be sober and happy about it like these people were. Any time I craved for a drink I always told myself “sleep on it” and low and behold the next day I was sober and so glad I did.
Not drinking alcohol can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?
I’ve lost count of the times that people have said to me “you weren’t that bad, were you? were you an alcoholic?”.
At first that made me a little defensive almost diluting the story of how awful it really was. I now just tell them straight, “yes I was really bad, and it needed to change”. This usually follows with a silent pause when they ask me how much was drinking. I have recognised that this can be them questioning their own drinking levels.
My close circle of friends and parents were cool about it, they just accepted it because they saw just how determined I was, even though in the early days I would say I’d quit in a determined voice to keep convincing myself that this was for good.
Once I decided I wanted to help other women quit drinking I must admit I did have those thoughts of “what will people at work think?” but that I now realise is just me getting in my own way. A good lesson I tell myself daily “don’t concern yourself with what other people think”.
Were you successful from day one? Any relapses (etc)? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?
Hell no, I tried and failed many times but looking back I don’t think I changed my mindset each time like I did when I finally succeeded.
In the run up to finally doing it I attempted to quit in Dec 2012 and lasted 2 weeks, then again, I promised myself I’d “Go Sober for October” in 2013 and by 4th October I was drinking wine again feeling like a failure. When I decided to quit on 16th November 2013 I got myself ‘tooled-up’ with a supply of books to read and confided in a good friend that this had to be forever now because quitting and starting again was destroying my belief in my self-worth. I made a mug with my sober date on it at a pottery class (for my new tipple, tea of course!) and I booked a cruise that sailed my exact 12-month sobriety date.
I needed to feel in control and the only way to do that was to anchor my vision & not drink no matter what came up to challenge me.
Thankfully it worked that time and although it was ‘like wading through toffee’ at times I never looked back.
You’ve been sober for 4 years now… (whoop whoop)… are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking has afforded? What are they? Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?
Almost 5 now! The benefits are immeasurable, I could bore you with how much my life has changed for me, but I will spare you the self-indulgent detail! Instead, I will sum up that the benefits of quitting drinking are that I am in control of my life, I make decisions that are more inline with my authentic self rather than trying to please people with what I think I should be and that creates my happiness.
As for advice, I would summarise this:
- Don’t concern yourself with what other people think
- Don’t concern yourself with what other people drink
- Seek out sober support – that could be online, a support group, a good book, a sober accountability coach or whatever feels good to you.
- Always remember there is someone on your side. You might be surprised how strong you are when you surround yourself with the right people & environment.
So… (drum roll) The Sober Angel – what’s THAT all about?
I felt my calling!… it has nothing to do with the spiritual side of angels, but I know I wanted to help and guide others from a place of alcohol misery to sober happiness. I do this through personal development & coaching and working on changing the mindset. Coaching works by looking into the future and realising and valuing our strength within rather than looking into our past and drinking history. I created thesoberangel.com which offers lots of free inspiration as well as the option of paid sober accountability coaching. I love coaching because I believe we all have it within us to change we just don’t always see it.
Although I only coach women there is still lots of useful information on the website that men are more than welcome to use too.
OK… the “female sobriety scene” is pretty active & intense… How do you feel about that? Who has been inspirational for you? How so?
Lotta Dann aka “Mrs D” was and still is by far the inspirational sober lady that I am in awe of. I’d love to meet her one day to say thanks because without discovering her blog I believe I would be still drinking. Lotta just knows the right things to say in her posts, she speaks with such raw honesty and gave me hope that I could enjoy sobriety one day… she was so right!
The Sober Angel – what’s in it for people who may be interested in getting involved?
On the website, I provide lots of free inspiration and I speak authentically and honestly as someone who has been in the quicksand of drinking and managed to climb out. I also have a free inspirational Facebook group called The Sober Angel – Club.
Sober Accountability packages are available but are optional and I am also looking to do some Sober Inspiration Workshops soon in the UK.
I’d love to do some worldwide workshops when I’m more established in the online sober world.
So, if women are looking to change their relationship with alcohol by kicking it away completely or by taking a proper break from it (6 weeks or more) then I can help them with that. I never use the words addiction, alcoholic or recovery so it is an alternative to the traditional avenue of quitting alcohol.
My strapline is “Inspiring women to live and love life alcohol free”
Interestingly, there’s not so much help for us blokes in this arena… what do you think that is?
I’m not sure. I’ve stuck with women because that’s what I know however I feel there is a market for coaching mindset in the male arena too. It’s something I would love to explore in the future.
Based on what you are doing – what could we do to address this? If you think we should…
Coaching and personal development tools are both so powerful in moving mindset to a better place for both men and women. Perhaps some collaboration in the pipeline…?!
Getting there now, Joanne… if anyone wants to get involved with TSA – what should they do, and what should they expect?
Visit the website www.thesoberangel.com and feel free to read and use the resources. If you are female and have been thinking about stopping drinking, then visit my free Facebook group the Sober Angel – Club. I also have a limited number of free introductory coaching calls available via the website as well as a FREE an uncomplicated “10-Step guide to Living Alcohol Free“ available to download.
I was told this week that I have a “natural energy that draws people in” come and see and let me know if it’s true?!
And finally… what’s next for you, for JOANNE?
To help as many people as I can to step away from the alcohol that’s causing them unhappiness. I set out to help one person which I have surpassed and now I am passionate to find many more.
One final word from me, no matter how much misery alcohol has caused you or others you CAN quit…… and wait for it….. actually enjoy life better without it.
Our interviewee, Joanne Walters, The Sober Angel.
The Sober Angel inspires and supports to women who want to love and live life alcohol-free. Joanne is herself empowered by living an alcohol-free life and her “why” is supporting women to be happy in a life without the reliance of alcohol.
You can check out The Sober Angel website here.