Sober October

Sober October seemed like a really good idea at the time. I love a challenge and if I’m raising money for one of my faveourite charities, (Macmillan Cancer Support), along the way, then everyone’s a winner. I knew it’d be tough. I like a drink. Nope, actually, I LOVE a drink. I hadn’t realised to what extent alcohol has played a massive part in my life until this point, now that it’s temporarily prohibited.

Let me just pause to address something before I go on. I realise that not drinking alcohol for a month to some people sounds ridiculous. To some, it’s not a problem, it’s not a challenge as it’s not a part of their life, or if it is, it’s on a take it or leave it basis. Also, to all the Mums out there who have given up alcohol and lots of other things, for 9 months (or longer in some cases) yeah, I get why you might think I’m harping on about nothing. However, I’ve never grown a tiny human inside me and so that immense motivation to stop has never been there. I hope the rest of the blog will put into context why this is a big thing for me. 

It was on a 6 hour road trip with a friend that I started talking for the first time about alcohol and the part it has played in my life. I started drinking at a young age. By the time I was 15, my Dad was buying me Archers on the weekend and I would drink a liter of the stuff, with lemonade, over the Friday and Saturday nights. My Dad, who is a big drinker, believed that by giving me access to alcohol, in a safe environment, took the mystery out of it and therefore I wouldn’t end up rebelling and getting off my head in a field with a bunch of pubescent boys. (Little did he know, that actually happened too, despite drinking at home with my parents…sorry Dad).

When I hit the legal drinking age of 18, I went straight to University where I spent 3 years drunk. I was always the main instigator of drinking to excess, earning me the title “Alcohol Pimp”. After Uni, I moved to Dublin which has even more of a drinking culture than England. At 26, my Mum died and the drinking increased. It’s never really been an issue, or at least not one that I recognised. I loved a boy once who is the only person who has ever called it out as a problem. I just put it down to him being a boring bastard and carried on getting shit faced. The drinking and my behaviour as a result, massively contributed to the breakdown of our relationship. That is something I have only just realised and it makes me sad.

I never felt like I was good at much, but consuming alcohol has always been something I’m excellent at. I’m 5 foot 3 inches and I can put it away with the big boys. I’m fun when I drink and I’m fantastic at holding it together and in British culture, a girl who can drink and stay relatively classy is generally a hot commodity. Or at least it was when I was younger, now…. I’m not so sure.

This week, I’ve had good and bad days. On the bad day, I wanted to drink, to take the sting out of it. On the good day, I wanted to drink to celebrate. When I’m lonely, I go to the pub, when I’m socialising with friends, I go to the pub. When I’m bored at home on my own, I drink. When it’s a birthday or christmas, someone’s work leaving do, a wedding, a funeral, a christening, a Friday, a Monday, a fucking god awful Tuesday, there is always an occasion to drink, always a reason. I asked my friend, (tongue in cheek but with an undertone of concern) “Do you think I’m an alcoholic?” She didn’t even look up before responding without hesitation “Nah, you’re just British.”

I can’t remember the last time I saw my Dad and we didn’t drink. In fact, I’m not sure it’s ever happened. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Is it normal? Well yeah, for me it’s completely normal. I guess the question that has emerged through this experience is if my relationship with alcohol is healthy or not? Clearly it hasn’t been if it led me to lose a love. How, when and why I drink is going to be a much more conscious decision in the future. I know I have more reflection to do about the part it plays in my relationships with people too.

What started as an opportunity to raise money for a charity that does amazing work supporting people facing cancer has turned into a personal journey of self reflection and discovery. That may sound a bit pretentious but it’s true.

If you’d like to sponsor me, I’d be eternally grateful:

https://www.gosober.org.uk/users/laura-graham-2

 

Humans

I’ve always been happy in my own company. As a kid, my next door neighbour would knock for me to come out and play and I’d often say no because I was happy enough dicking about on my own. At uni, some of the girls in my halls of residence thought I was odd because I’d take myself off to watch TV on my own while they were all in a room together watching the same show. I just liked the space.

Recently though, after quite a lot of isolation, I realised I’m lonely. It’s a new experience for me and one I’m not massively comfortable with. I wrote The L Word thinking that everyone would think I’m a complete weirdo and so I was shocked by the response. It turns out that LOTS of people feel the same way and people aren’t just lonely because they are physically alone, they are lonely in marriages, in families, in groups of friends, in jobs, in life in general. Loneliness is a very real thing which seems ridiculous on paper given that we live in an age where we are “connected” 24/7 via that little square thing we carry around with us.

So what have I been doing about my loneliness? Well, quite a lot actually:

Work – I mentioned I travel a lot for work. Well, travel has slowed down which means I’m working from home. I love my flat but I get cabin fever. To combat that, I’ve been leaving the house (shock horror) and working from cafes/bars. My neighbour also works from home so sometimes the two of us will go and sit in a coffee shop and work together. She’s hilarious and it’s nice to have such fun energy around. Also, while working alone in a bar one lunch time I ended up talking to a lad who is opening a co working space for people exactly like me which is 5 minutes from my house. So, long term, the work isolation problem is pretty much solved.

Volunteering – You all know I am (in the words of my sister), “a fucking do-gooder” and LOVE volunteering…. well I’ve been doing more of that. As well as all the normal Lewis Foundation and Age UK stuff, I recently stumbled across a fantastic website, Nene Collective, who were looking for writers. Oh Hey! I’m over here! So I met a bunch of cool as fuck women and I’ve hung out with them a couple of times. Also, the lad from the co work space was looking for people to help out with the building project in preparation for opening. Given I’m doing Sober October, (which is a whole other blog post), it’s been a bloody godsend to don the painting gear and be distracted in the evenings. Turns out the co work lad also knows lots of lovely people – winner.

Saying Yes – I’m up for anything (steady!) and I’m pretty good at making the effort to see people and go places but there are times when I might over think situations and end up not doing something. For example with the Nene Collective group – I was anxious to meet new people and almost completely cancelled. But, I put my big girl pants on and did something that was a little scary. Within seconds the anxiety disappeared as I realised they were all just like me.

I arranged a street party back in August for my road and in September some of the neighbours wanted to do drinks. It was a Friday, I was tired and I was going to be out with three couples. I wasn’t sure if it’d be fun 7th wheeling and again, almost bailed. It was loads of fun, in fact too much fun. The kind of fun that ends up with me hugging the toilet bowl all night. Despite the hangover, it was worth it.

I went out one evening to have a quiet drink (on my own) and to write letters for From Me to You Letters. I like a pub setting, having humans around me as well as a glass of wine on the go is perfect. A couple of lads walked in who I know of on a surface level from a different pub in the town (yes, I do go to pubs a lot and no, I’m not sure if it’s a problem…) Anyway, normally I would say hi and go back to what I was doing. Instead I was brave and asked if they wanted to sit with me. One pub led to another and it was 3:00am by the time I got home.

So yeah, I’ve been putting myself out there and things are slowly but surely shifting. It’s amazing how one action creates another and it snowballs. I’m not saying I don’t still feel lonely, of course I do.  BUT I definitely feel less so because I’m building up a network of people, of meaningful connections with humans that I like, in the town that I live. You can’t say fairer than that.

The L Word

Right, I’ve got a confession to make, I’ve been a bit naughty. So you know how I’m this self proclaimed “positivity blogger” and life is fucking amazing and we should all be grateful for every second, even the shit times? Well, that’s not all true. Not right now anyway. Life isn’t always amazing and sometimes I want the shit times to just fuck right off.

I went to the seaside for bank holiday weekend with my sister and my two nieces. The weather was amazing, I got tan lines and swam in the sea. For the end of summer in notoriously rainy Blighty, that was an out and out win. I did have a lovely time, don’t get me wrong, what’s not to love about ice cream and sand between your toes? I posted photos on my blog and personal instagram accounts of what a great time we were having but what I didn’t post was the melt down I had where I sobbed and snotted on my sister’s shoulder. In fact I haven’t posted about the last 4 meltdowns I’ve had. Why is that? Why am I so quick to tell everyone about what I’ve come through and not so quick to explain what I’m going through? Well, I guess I’m just human after all. No one really wants to admit when things are difficult.

I’m not even really that sure what I’m miserable about. On paper, life is perfect. I have a decent job, my own house and car, no debts (except my mortgage), I travel the world, I write, I volunteer, I have amazing friends and family, I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want. I have so many things to be grateful for. I literally feel like a brat for even writing this post. That’s the thing about mental ill health, there is no rhyme and reason to it.

The main thing I can think of which is causing this melancholy is loneliness.

I just deleted that line twice. Literally admitting I feel lonely is giving me anxiety, like I’m the biggest loser ever. I’m 34, how can I be lonely? No one my age is lonely. Loneliness is only a thing for old people, right? I guess not if I feel it.

I’ve lived alone for 3 years in a town I didn’t go to school/college in. I have no family here and just a couple of good friends in the town who I hardly see because I travel for work so much. The rest of my friends are spread across the UK and abroad. 95% of them are married with children and I’m single so I travel alone, I come home to an empty house, I eat dinner alone, I watch TV alone, I wake up alone (well….not always, wink wink!)

A lot of my time is spent in my own head. One of my married-with-two-kids friends commented on how she wants my life, like it’s somehow easier or better than hers. It probably is easier to some extent, I can’t imagine how hard being a Mum is, but it’s not easier in a lot of ways. When I have bad news, I have no one to give me a hug and tell me it’ll be ok. When I have a problem, I have no one to talk it out with. When I’m sat in a hotel room in Norwich on a Thursday evening, bored out of my brain, I have no one to laugh with about how scabby the room is. Yes, I could pick up the phone but it’s not the same as an actual human being being there. And this isn’t about having a partner or not, this is just general social isolation.

***Takes a little break to demolish bag of popcorn in hopes of immediate cure***

Right, so moany self pity part done, I guess I should talk about how to fix the problem before I well and truly lose my positivity label. Well, writing this post has helped. Acknowledging and working through to the realization of loneliness as “a thing” is a good start. The next thing is to probably leave the house seeing as I’ve been on my own all day. Ugh can’t be bothered to do that. After that, I’m not sure and actually, that’s ok.

Blog-iversary

A year ago I fucked up an entire wall in my spare room, brainstorming what I could do to make the world a slightly better place. The only thing I could think of (that I might be any good at) was writing. So, I took a punt. I just figured that even if one person, out of the 7.5 billion people on this planet, could be positively impacted by something I wrote, then it’d be worth doing. So a year ago TODAY I posted my introduction and I set my stall out: About – Why am I even here?

I didn’t know what I was doing (I still don’t). I didn’t know if anyone would read what I wrote or even if I had anything worth saying. With the encouragement of two wonderful friends, Pia and Mark, I set about posting my thoughts for the world to see.

I’ve been reflecting on what’s happened over the last year and where that brainstorm has taken me and it’s pretty cool:

25th August 16

  • Introductory blog posted

September 16

December 16

  • Interview for Age UK Annual Review and Your Time magazine published about my experience volunteering

January 17

  • Contacted The Lewis Foundation about volunteering opportunities (I now regularly volunteer for them)
  • Contacted Macmillan about writing a guest blog (I’m now working on blog number 6)

February 17

March 17

  • Travelled to India for 3 weeks (I am now writing a book about my experience)

April 17

  • Nominated for a Spirit of Age Award for the volunteering I do for Age UK (I didn’t win but to be nominated was ridiculously amazing)

May 17

  • Contacted The Happy Newspaper about writing an article for them
  • Attended Eden Project’s Community Camp
  • Sent initial letters to neighbours about a street party
  • Helped create a Wonderwall of messages of support in Manchester with Emily Coxhead following the Manchester terrorist attacks

June 17

July 17

August 17

  • Street party takes place and is filmed by Eden Project
  • Facebook Live interview with Ife Thomas about coping with grief and depression

Aside from the above, in the past year, I’ve written 32 blog posts for my website, volunteered, built up an online community, travelled to 8 countries and countless cities across the UK and managed (somehow) to hold down a full time job and maintain friendships. When I look at it like that, it’s no wonder I’m tired all the time!

The things listed above might all seem very small in isolation but it’s really proven to me how every action, no matter how small, can have a ripple effect that spreads far and wide. For example, If I hadn’t contacted the Lewis Foundation, I wouldn’t have learnt about and attended Eden’s community camp, where I wouldn’t have been inspired to arrange a “Big Lunch” (which bought 60 of my neighbours together). I wouldn’t have met my neighbour, Ife, who then invited me to talk on her facebook live broadcast about grief (which 500 people have now seen). That one action, wanting to volunteer for The Lewis Foundation, has had a positive impact on my life and other people’s, and that’s just based on what I can quantify. There are loads of connections and threads that have linked everything I’ve done with It’s Character Building. Some of which, I can clearly see the impact of, some of which, I may never know about.

Now I’m not writing this as a “Look at me, aren’t I a fucking hero” post. It’s more just as proof that we CAN all make a difference to the world. So much has been happening lately that makes us feel like the world has gone crazy but I want you to know that you aren’t helpless. Everything you’re doing is important and is shaping your life and the lives of those around you. It’s having profound and far reaching ripple effect that you may never know about.

It’s also reminded me to step back and take stock every now and then. I can’t believe what I’ve achieved in the last year. My words have reached thousands of people across 32 countries. I would never have believed that was possible 12 months ago. Have a think about what you’ve achieved this last year. It will be extraordinary, I promise you.

I’m not sure where the next 12 months will take me but I’m glad I started this positivity journey and I want to thank everyone who has been involved. Thank you for the lovely messages, the support, the likes, the shares, the inspiration, the motivation, all of it. While it’s not always been easy, it’s definitely been worth it. Here’s to Year 2 🙂

I Don’t Have Time

Hello lovely people! I’ve been a bit quiet lately because I’ve literally been all over the place… 3 countries and over 1000 miles travelled in the last week for work and fun. That said, I’ve been too tired to write. *sad face However, I did write a little something for do-it.org which is the most fantastic website […]