On Willpower

“Why can’t I just stop?” is a question a lot of people ask.

Alcohol is a highly addictive substance, and habit is a powerful driver. I found that giving that addictive voice (you know the one, the one that says “you’ve been doing so well, I’m sure you can have a drink now, it won’t get messy like it did last time,”) a name and identity of its own, was very helpful. Your drinking voice is not you. You can tell this because it doesn’t want what’s best for you, it just wants you to drink. Belle Robertson (“Tired of Thinking about Drinking”) calls her drinking voice “Wolfie”. Mine is named after a horrible bullying classmate at school. Once it had a name and an identity, I could recognise when it was my drinking voice talking and I could ignore it more easily.

I also found that because alcohol is a highly addictive substance, it’s very difficult if not impossible to “just stop”. Willpower is a finite resource. It gets used up in hundreds of tiny little ways from the second your alarm goes off to the second your head hits the pillow at night. So by the time the witching hour came around, I found willpower was running very low and habit, “I’ve finished work for the day, time for a glass of wine”, was running very high.

So I had to reinforce willpower with scaffolding. I signed up for the year-long course from This Naked Mind. I changed my routine, I set new habits. On working from home days, I’d mark the end of the working day with fifteen minutes of meditation, or going for a walk, or reading some quit lit, or listening to a sober podcast, and then I’d have a non-alcoholic drink in one of the fancy glasses. On days I was working in the office, I changed my commute so I caught a different bus that doesn’t stop outside the supermarket “oh, I’ll just pop in for wine.” I got groceries delivered so there was always food and drinks in.

For me it helps that I live on my own, so I control what comes into my home. I don’t drink, so I don’t buy alcohol. I make sure the fridge is fully stocked with alcohol-free drinks so I’m not tempted to go “nothing to drink, going to nip to the shop for wine.” My partner is incredibly supportive and his fridge is always well-stocked with alcohol-free drinks as well.

I built up a sober toolkit and some stuff I still use, some stuff I only used in the first year. I recognise my triggers (clothes shopping. I hate clothes shopping. I find it stressful) and I plan in advance how I will deal with that. If I felt I was struggling again, I would go into the toolkit and start using more supports.

For me, it’s about reinforcing neural pathways, about constantly doing the thing sober so that becomes the habit, and the old neural pathways, the “I should be doing this with a glass in my hand” falls away. It’s about breaking old habits and forming new ones, so the new ones are stronger than the old ones. It’s about not relying on willpower not to drink, it’s about making it as easy as possible not to drink, so the “not drinking” habit is at the forefront of your mind when you do the thing.

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On treats

When I stopped drinking, I found, not surprisingly, that I was saving a fair bit of cash. £10 a bottle doesn’t half add up.

I repurposed some of that money for an “alcohol-free drinks” budget category, and some to a “sober rewards” budget category to mark milestones.

I bought myself treats. Little ones, like a gold star badge from doodles by Ben for day one, a monthly delivery of the fancy chocolates because why not, but my ultimate goal was a new sewing machine, and a couple of weeks after my one year anniversary, the nice DPD man brought me this, without even once grumbling about having to carry it up the stairs.

The box of my Janome Memory Craft 9450

I have not been anywhere near as extravagant in the last seven months, but I firmly believe that treats, rewards, distractions, whatever you want to call them, are important. I still get the fancy chocolates delivered. I make sure that I have a fridge that’s well stocked with drinks I like. There are days when learning how to live without pouring alcohol over everything is hard, dammit, and if you do a hard thing you deserve a reward. So buy the fancy chocolates. Have a bath with candles and music and a book. Sack off the cooking and slummock on the sofa in front of David Attenborough and a meal you had delivered. Explore the non-alcoholic drinks space and the interesting stuff that’s happening there. Experiment. Enjoy. Have fun.

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On special occasions

When I tried moderating, “only on special occasions” was one of the things I tried, and it’s amazing how quickly Tuesday becomes a special occasion.

For me, not drinking is the easy, lazy option. There’s no bargaining with “is this a special occasion, can I have a drink?” because I’ve already decided I’m not drinking. The occasion becomes special by virtue of what it is, not whether I can drink at it.

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On Gratitude

Well, 19 months sober today. Well done me. And it’s Christmas Eve, so I thought I’d list some things I’m grateful for.

  • Making the decision to stop in the first place.
  • How easy the whole process has been.
  • Stopping when I did. I am sure that if I had kept drinking at the level I did, I would be quite ill by now. I would certainly be poorer and more unhappy.
  • My dad, who, when I announced I wasn’t drinking any more, pivoted seamlessly to buying my favourite kombucha by the case.
  • Having the courage, after last year’s work Christmas party, to tell the organiser that the alcohol-free options were a bit shit and could we have some better ones next time please? (I was a bit more polite than that). There was a marked improvement in the drinks available at the summer party.
  • Club Soda, and the ever-increasing availability of alcohol-free drinks in the supermarket.
  • I’ve never had to negotiate anyone saying “oh, just one, go on, it’s Christmas!” or impertinent questions about why I stopped.
  • The money I’ve saved.
  • Last but not least, my patient and long-suffering partner, who has put up with me working stuff out as I’ve learned how to live without pouring alcohol on my problems, ranting about shitty alcohol-free drink options, and keeps the fridge stocked with Lucky Saint.

If this is your first alcohol-free Christmas, I’m sending you strength and hope, and if anyone asks why you’re not drinking, look them dead in the eye and tell them you’re doing Dry July.


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Dry January

Yes, I know, it’s the 18th December, but I found my Dry January worked better when I went into it with A Plan. Plans are good. It stopped Dry January being a grim trudge through 30 days of “how long until I can have a drink?” and saw it become an honest reassessment of my relationship with alcohol.

I signed up to The Alcohol Experiment from This Naked Mind and committed to doing the work for 30 days. TNM is about flipping the narrative – it’s not what you’re giving up, but what you gain by being sober. It’s a mindset change.

If that seems a bit much, then Alcohol Change’s 10 Tips for a Successful Dry January are a good place to start. I would suggest (because I can never resist fiddling with things), adding in a few of the things listed below (not all of them, you’d never get anything else done, and I don’t want you shouting at me that you’ve run out of clean pants on the tenth).

Quit lit:

“This Naked Mind” Annie Grace

“Alcohol Explained” William Porter

“The Unexpected Joy of being Sober” and “Sunshine Warm Sober” both by Catherine Gray

“Quit Like a Woman” Holly Whittaker

“Drinking: A Love Story” Caroline Knapp

“Tired of Thinking About Drinking” Belle Robertson (she also does daily emails and a podcast. I am not really a podcast person but the emails are good).

“Sober is the New Black: A Then and Now Account of Life Beyond Booze” Rachel Black

“We Are the Luckiest” and “Push off From Here” Laura McKowen

“Sober Diaries” Clare Pooley

“Glorious Rock Bottom” Bryony Gordon

Podcasts (I keep thinking I would like to be the sort of person who listens to podcasts. I have finally admitted I am not a podcast person and deleted all my podcasts, but when I was trying to be a podcast person, I listened to these).

This Naked Mind

The Recovery Elevator

Sobriety Uncensored

Tracker apps:

I Am Sober (daily pledge, badges for milestones, tracks how much you’ve saved in units, calories and money, and there’s a community, but I’ve never used the community. The calorie tracker is not front and centre, you have to go looking for it, if that would be an issue for you).

Easy Quit Drinking (different badges for milestones, a health tracker that tells you when such and such a risk has reduced based on your time stopped, tracks money, calories, drinks not drunk. The calorie tracker is on the front page of the app. Has a little object-matching game for you to play with to beat an urge. The ads on the free version can be a bit much, make sure your volume is turned off!)

Try Dry from the charity Alcohol Change. Badges for milestones, you can set your own goal (eg sober October, or dry for X days), tracks units, calories and money saved. The calorie tracker is on the front page of the app. Has links to blog posts and similar on the Alcohol Change website. Very yellow.

emails and newsletters

Recovering” by Holly Whitaker

Love Story” by Laura McKowen

Tired of Thinking About Drinking” by Belle Robertson

Make sure you have some nice alcohol-free drinks in. I like a high-end kombucha, and alcohol-free beers don’t have me craving alcoholic beers, but your mileage may vary so be mindful there. These shrubs are amazing (I mix them with tonic water). You could experiment with mocktails, or herbal teas.

You may find your sugar cravings go off the charts (dark chocolate truffles worked for me). You may find that on Friday night you have a severe case of the fuckits when it comes to dinner. There’s nothing wrong with lying on the sofa eating crisps in front of a David Attenborough documentary or seven. The only thing that matters for 31 days is that you don’t drink.

You don’t have to do everything I’ve suggested, January is only 31 days long after all, but I found learning to live alcohol-free required trying different things, keeping what worked, ditching things that didn’t.

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572 Days

573 days ago, I was in the queue in Marks and Spencer’s, clutching a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace. My drinking had always been “more than the NHS guidelines,” with a half laugh and a wave of the hand, but during the pandemic what had been “a glass or two most nights” became a glass every night, became two glasses every night, became “fuck it, might as well finish the bottle,” every night.

I think we can all agree that even if the NHS guidelines are overly cautious, a bottle of wine a night is disastrous levels of consumption.

I did This Naked Mind‘s guided Dry January in January 2022, and then had grand ideas about moderating. Moderating was exhausting, and it got harder and harder the more I tried.

Making up rules, finding ways to break the rules, getting depressed because I couldn’t follow the rules, thinking up new rules, breaking those too…

These are all things I tried, might have been successful for a while, but ultimately failed at:

  1. No drinking at home. So I went out to dinner every night for a week, spent loads of money and put on weight.
  2. Only drinking on special occasions. It’s amazing how quickly “Tuesday” becomes a special occasion.
  3. Setting a budget per month. I bought it in the supermarket, it’s “groceries” even though the only thing I bought was wine and Pringles.
  4. Only drinking with food. I’d start snacking while I cooked, so I could open the wine. Or I’d buy crisps so I could drink while watching a film.

I ultimately decided that, being basically lazy, moderating was just too much like hard work and it was going to be easier to bash it on the head completely. Shortly afterwards, I got an email from This Naked Mind, advertising their year-long course, The PATH. I knew I didn’t want a life of permanent recovery, chairs-in-a-circle, powerlessness-over-alcohol, “hello-my-name-is-Rosamundi-and-I-am-an-alcoholic”. I am very glad AA exists and that it works for some people, but I spent ten years of my life as a lay member of a religious order, that’s quite enough offering of my life to a higher power, thank you. Someone said “you can make this doorknob your higher power!” in all seriousness and I gave them an appalled stare and started muttering about heresy.

I wanted a life of freedom, where I no more thought about drinking wine than I’d think about drinking petrol, and that’s what This Naked Mind offers. So I signed up to the course, and pulled the money together for it, and bought the bottle of Crémant d’Alsace as a last hurrah before the course started.

Hello, my name is Rosamundi. I used to drink too much.


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An evening when it’s bad to be alive…

As a Middlesex cricket club member, I had priority entry to the men’s Cricket World Cup ballot, and I got four tickets to the final.

I’ve never been at a cricket game like it.

At one point during the NZ innings, Himself turned to me and went “this is quite a boring game, isn’t it?” and then England came out to bat.

And the required rate started climbing and the run rate started dropping, but the runs required off balls remaining was still being steadily chipped away, and we thought “maybe?” because hope springs eternal and it’s not the despair, I can take the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand, but then we needed 12 runs an over but then Trent Boult stepped on the rope with the ball in his hand which is a six and then that deflection (or maybe it was the other way round) and at one point I can’t decide what to do with my hands so I’m alternately waving my hands about and hugging myself and biting my knuckles and sinking my nails into my knees and we’re on our feet and screaming, one great, incoherent howl from 29,000 throats because win or lose, we’re so close and we might just and there’s a great, despairing dive for the crease but the wicket flashes red and it’s a tie.

And we hold our breath. “What now?”

Everyone in the ground reaches for their phones to google “super over”.

I’m sure I heard dad say a Bad Word and I think mum was praying.

As Norman Nicholson put it in “Old Man at a Cricket Match”:

“An evening when it’s bad to be alive,
And the swifts squealing.”

And Ben Stokes, ten minutes after it should have been all over, comes staggering down the steps from the Pavilion, grass stains all down the front of his shirt and bat in hand, to do it all again, and 29,000 people hold their breath.

And then someone gives the ball to Jofra Archer and he bowls a wide, and his shoulders drop, and 29,000 people hold their breath.

And it’s somehow, impossibly, ridiculously, a tie again, but we’ve won and Jofra Archer is flat on his back on the pitch as the rest of the team wheel away, yelling, into the lengthening shadows, and someone in a black shirt is on his knees and we’re screaming and there’s fireworks against a bright blue sky.

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Losing my religion, V2

The original post on my reflections on leaving the religious Order I thought I’d joined for all my life was lost when I tried to be too clever by half, and clicked a couple of buttons when I wasn’t quite sure what they did. So, yeah, don’t do that, kids. Or, if you do, back everything up first.

This is partly an attempt to recreate that original post, because I can’t say how I got here without starting from there, but mostly some reflections on where I am, some months later.

(Some background, for those who don’t know – I joined the lay branch of the Order of Preachers. I wasn’t a nun or a Sister, lay members of the Order do not make the vows of poverty, chastity or obedience, but live out their vocation to preach the Gospel “in the world”. Lay members of the Order can marry, or not, they have secular jobs, and do not live in community).

One of the ways I lived out my calling was going to Spurgeon College, the Baptist training college in south London, to talk to a class of Baptist and Pentecostal Ministers-in-training about being a Catholic in general and a Lay Dominican in particular. And you can’t talk about being a Catholic without talking about Mary, and transubstantiation, and the rosary and intercession of the Saints, and prayer for the dead, and you especially can’t talk about being a Dominican without talking about these things. These are things which Protestants, especially some Baptists and Pentecostals, find tricky. So I was going over my notes for the talk I was due to give later in the year, and by the time I’d finished, I knew I was not in a position where I could defend any of it with any sincerity. Oh, I could say the words. I could probably say them now. I still maintain that my finest hour on Twitter was when I explained Purgatory in under 140 characters. But the words mean nothing if there isn’t sincerity behind them, if you don’t believe with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind that veritas, the truth of God, is behind every word you are saying.

And then the next morning, my alarm went off in time for Keen People Early Mass with Extra Latin, and I sat down at the sewing machine instead.

Do I regret my time in the Order? Absolutely not. Could I have stayed? Possibly, for a little while longer, but, looking back, my doubts had been growing for a long time, and that afternoon going through my notes was the end of one journey, and the beginning of the next. It would certainly have been easier to stay, at least in the short term, but in staying, I would have done myself, and the Order, a grave disservice.

It’s been odd, making the change from religious to secular. There was a time of grieving, because it was a huge part of my life for a long time, and it was, I think, rather like losing a friend after a long illness. But this too shall pass – I realised late yesterday, with something of a jolt, that the Solemnity of St Dominic had passed with barely a wistful thought.

But in some ways, there’s been barely a change. As someone said, shortly after I announced I was leaving “you’re still you,” and I think she’s right. In essentials, I am still me, for better or worse. I still have a “to be read” pile which will see me to the grave, but instead of a heavy theological slant to the pile, my next books are a biography of Agrippina the Roman Empress, a history of opium, and a book about the history of Europe. To be fair, these would always have made it into the pile, but they are no longer rubbing shoulders with the Divine Office, the Summa Theologica, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a Study Bible you could brain a burglar with. I still walk miles, I still value solitude and silence, and I appear to have taken up paddleboarding.

Will I return to the Church? I don’t know. I thought I’d made vows for all my life, but that didn’t go to plan, did it? But at the moment, I can’t say that “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God,” and here I am. Still seeking after truth, I hope, but not currently able to find it in the Catholic Church.

As for this blog? Watch this space.

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