Learning to let things go…Week 1 of ‘The Retreat’

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It’s 1pm, I’ve just finished work for the day. It’s a new project, a new client, and I’m just finding my feet; but that’s me done for today. I’m sat at my desk, the August afternoon sunshine is bright and deliciously warm through the window. Outside, children are playing, a lawnmower sounds in a nearby garden. Clouds – a combination of fluffy white meringues and darker, more ominous grey forms, both threatening rain – drift past. Washing hangs on the line, blowing gently in the same breeze that rocks the plum tree and causes a few thirsty leaves from the oak across the way to drift gently, silently to earth.

I am calm, I am quietly planning the rest of my day. This in itself has come as something of a daily surprise, as usually at 1pm I am mentally exhausted, unable to keep my eyes open and desperate for a nanna-nap.

It’s so difficult to try and explain how different this past week has been – a week without the lure of either social media or alcohol – and how much I feel as though seven short days have started to change me. I’m not known for being particularly superstitious but I will confess that I am frightened to death that too much early crowing may, indeed, throw the proverbial spanner in the works; so, for the time being, I will share what I have learned so far.

Learning to breathe

As ridiculous as it may sound, I have learned to breathe. You might indeed consider this a quite ludicrous statement and, a couple of weeks ago, I would have been inclined to agree. However, daily meditation, and a daily session of at-home-yoga with the amazing Adriene on YouTube have taught me not just how to breathe properly, but how badly I breathed before. Why? Anxiety. Major causes of anxiety: social media (friends bickering, the dramas, the bitching, the one-upmanship, the upshitting, Brexit, more Brexit, trolls, Brexit, ignorant numpties, Brexit), wine, not enough sleep. Reasons for not enough sleep: social media, wine.

Never, ever underestimate the power of breathing properly. It’s incredible. Also, yoga with Adriene. That’s incredible too. I am learning to love downward dog and plank, honest.

I really like sleep.

I mean, REALLY like sleep. No more the 2am winehound dragging out the last few sips of wine whilst scrawling through the various dramas on social media, I have been tucked up in my bed by 11pm with a book. I have (mostly) slept brilliantly and been up and raring to go early rather than dragging my sorry arse out of bed at the last possible opportunity. I even got up at daft o’clock on a Saturday morning to go on an eighteen mile stroll with a pal, and I wasn’t crying for a sleep come midday. In fact, I had an amazing time and I cannot wait to go again.

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Saturday 9am, Loch Ard. It’s been a while since I saw 9am anywhere on a Saturday

My dreams, I should add here, have been mental. Who needs alcohol when you can control meteor showers using the power of your mind, have blazing arguments with everyone you know, dismantle an escalator, give birth to twins on a Ryanair flight, divorce a man you never married, deal drugs to Prince William and set fire to a china shop? Note: Any amateur psychologists might want to stay quiet about any dream analysis they are thinking of conducting, thanks-all-the-same.

Evenings and weekends are much longer without wine and/or social media

Genius, huh? It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you’re not involving yourself in someone else’s drama, arguing with trolls, verifying someone else’s well-intentioned ‘facts’ or getting upset about politics. It’s even better without wine because you can:

a) watch things on TV and actually remember them, therefore possibly even learning something.

b) not worry about spilling anything on pyjamas / laptop / duvet / floor

c) eat chocolate / gooey desserts without guilt because you’ve saved valuable calories you’d have wasted on wine.

d) Be able to get up early the following morning with a spring in your step and no mascara on your chin ready to have another fantastic (and amazingly long) day doing all the things*

*you may also end up clearing out kitchen cupboards, de-filthing children’s bedrooms, pruning roses and ironing. You have been warned.

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Tea. Is fab.

I’ve not been unhappy in a week

I know, right? Oh, there have undoubtedly been minor frustrations, arguments, headaches, grouchiness (hi there, week-early period!) and the odd wobble of nerves; but nothing at all like I have become used to over the years and considered quite normal. This, of course, is probably a combination of things – giving up social media and alcohol has meant that I’ve been sleeping much better, doing more interesting things, drinking a lot more water, eating more healthily and doing a lot more exercise – including yoga – and I think the cumulative effects of these have led to me massively reducing my stress-load and being able to handle life’s little wobbles a lot more calmly and effectively.

My relationship with alcohol definitely needed to change

I’m going to say it here, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s taken far too long for me to come to this (some might say startlingly obvious) conclusion:

You might not consider yourself as having a ‘drink problem’. Like me, you probably don’t need to drink every night, or drink vast quantities, or drink at odd times of the day or to ‘settle your nerves’. You might not (you probably won’t) have the shakes, the black-outs, red face. You won’t be clutching a paper bag in the park or eyeing up the cooking sherry.¬† Forget the old cliches – the cliched image of the drink-addled jakey sitting in a park is what the drinks industry, and their various hangers-on (advertisers, marketers, PR bods etc) want you to think of as someone with a ‘problem’.

It’s not about what you drink, or how much you drink. It’s about how that drink makes you feel, whether you feel artificially happier, bolder, stronger with it; whether you feel unhappy, angry, guilty or anxious during or after it (not to be confused with a raging hangover). It’s whether it is stealing your joy.

Here’s one for the women (not exclusively, but certainly predominantly). Take a look at social media. How many times do you read ‘HURRAH FOR GIN!’ or ‘IT’S WINE O’CLOCK!’ or ‘PROSECCO TIME!!!!!!’. It’s normal to drink. It’s normal to blame / thank your day by having a drink. Bad day – wine. Good day – wine. Naughty kids? Commiserate with gin. Good kids? Celebrate with gin. How many people do you know post almost constantly about being spangled/shit-faced or joke that they need a drink? How many people seem happy to promote a particular type of alcohol with their personality as though it is the most vital part their personality? Why do we do this? Do we realise what effect we might inadvertently be having on someone who might be desperately looking to cut down or stop drinking as we advertise the glory of being at one with the bottle of joy, as we glamorise it into something luxurious we deserve? Can you imagine if the same glamour, the same coolness, was still applied to having a cigarette? “Ooooh, it’s Berkley Menthol Time!!!!!, time to indulge in increasing my chances of developing cancer, what a crazy kid I am!”

Anyway, that’s an aside. That’s just something to think about when you’re next scrolling through social media. That’s why I have chosen to take a few weeks away from social media. What I actually want to say is this:

If you do actually worry about how much you drink, you’ve got a problem with alcohol. Problems can be fixed.

That’s what I have started to learn this week. I stood at a crossroads with an off-licence in one direction and the hills in the other.

This week, at least, I chose the hills. And, my god, they were glorious.

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