Club Soda founder Laura Willoughby talks to Austalian mindset coach Elaine Benson about why she decided she didn’t want to be a hungover parent, how she helped herself through the process of stopping, how she gave up drinking on Christmas Day, and things she discovered along the way.
Elaine told us her story of drinking, being a parent, and how she gave up drinking on Christmas Day:
After years of living in London and then Ireland (I’m from Cork), I moved to Australia. It started with a year of backpacking, and ten years later here I am. I became a citizen on St. Patrick’s Day three years ago. Things have changed quite a bit while I’ve been here here. I have a son now, he’s three, I’m a single parent.
I had my son in October 2016. For many years prior I had been questioning my drinking. It was social drinking, most Friday and Saturday nights with friends or glasses of wine at home, nothing that would be considered major. But it was having a detrimental effect on my health, and my mental health in particular. I have endometriosis, and suffer with depression and anxiety also, so alcohol wasn’t helping with any of that.
“I grew up in a culture where drinking was very much normalised. We were drinking weekly from a very young age, so I feel like I haven’t lived in my adult life without drinking”
While I was pregnant I was sober for nine months, and after he was born I began drinking again. I noticed how hard it was to parent when hungover, I suppose having him was a bit of an awakening. I grew up in a culture where drinking was very much normalised. We were drinking weekly from a very young age, so I feel like I haven’t lived in my adult life without drinking. My eyes opened when I had my son and I realised that I didn’t want that for him. I wanted to evolve and move on from those old habits I’d had for years, to break free. When I was hungover with him I couldn’t wait to hand him over to my ex partner, I couldn’t be present with him.
Becoming a mum
I had my first glass of wine two weeks after he was born. I actually felt sick straight away, it was as though my body was saying ‘no! What is this!?’. You slip back into it pretty quickly, you get them into bed and have a glass of wine in front of the telly. Maybe once every couple of months you have a night out with friends, but you go completely mad and you don’t have the opportunity to recover because of broken sleep. You have to parent the next day, so there’s no rest period. I think of it as grey area drinking, because I wasn’t drinking vodka from a water bottle in the morning, but that couple of glasses of wine a night was having a detrimental effect. I wasn’t ‘an alcoholic’ because the way I was drinking was so normalised. It’s treated like ‘well, what’s the problem?’.
“I was hungover… I was just saying to the universe ‘please just make this stop and I promise I’ll never drink again”
I’d been thinking about it for a while, years really. I’d been going through a separation, it was an extremely difficult time at home. My endometriosis was also very bad, I spent a lot of time in bed, and if I was hungover I’d be in bed even longer. I wasn’t being present with my son, I was in a bad cycle.
Giving up drinking on Christmas Day
There was a tipping point for me. I had a particularly big night out for my work Christmas party a year ago. Two days later we travelled five hours up the coast for our Christmas holiday. It was about 35 degrees, there was lots of traffic and I was hungover, as was my ex. I had a panic attack in the car, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop crying and shaking and my son was just sitting there watching. I thought ‘I did this, this is self inflicted’. So when we eventually got to the holiday house, I sat in the bedroom by myself, trying to calm down. I was just saying to the universe ‘please just make this stop and I promise I’ll never drink again’. I had a glass of wine on Christmas day. That was my last drink. This year marks one year off the booze.
I was just saying to the universe ‘please just make this stop and I promise I’ll never drink again’. I had a glass of wine on Christmas day. That was my last drink.
Finding a support network
I didn’t make a goal, I just said to myself ‘I’m not drinking anymore’. About two months of no booze I was having some cravings, so I decided to join some Facebook groups. I wanted to be surrounded by other people who were on the same journey as me. A few months after that, I set up Soberhood. It was a blog where I documented my journey, where I tried to normalise not drinking, and to keep myself accountable. Now I use it to try and raise awareness and show people that there’s another way.
I listened to some quit lit books and it gave me the tools I needed. I thought about how to replace my evening wine, I enjoyed alcohol-free drinks or some nice food or a bit of chocolate. Another important thing was that I replaced going out with things like meditation and yoga. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the way things were. Right now I’m one week away from my first full year sober, and I still get cravings. It’s still a challenge, but the benefits outweigh those cravings.
Parenting without being hungover
Children are like sponges, they pick up on everything. My partner and I were just casual drinkers like a lot of parents, in the drinking hangover cycle. But that was such a stressful environment for him to be in, and you could see that showing in his behaviour. Now I can see my calmness and happiness reflected in him. I’m able to be there for him and be with him when he has a meltdown.
“As a parent, I am a lot calmer and more able to cope with tantrums. I am more present, more playful, and he is a lot happier”
As a parent, I am a lot calmer and more able to cope with tantrums. I am more present, more playful, and he is a lot happier. It’s challenging being a parent, and I’m not perfect by any means. I still mess up all the time, but the recovery when I do is much quicker. I’m able to see that I’m just doing my best. I couldn’t do that when I was in that cycle of drinking and being hungover. You can only parent from your own level of awareness. The love and acceptance that you want to give to your child, you have to give that to yourself first. Not drinking was a big act of self love. I want to be a model for him, show him how relationships should work, how to deal with stress, how to deal with difficult emotions, without reaching for the drink.
“Alcohol was stunting my emotional growth for many many years. I finally feel like things are moving”
If you’d told me at the start of the year to write down the ways that I might grow or the things I might accomplish, I’d have been selling myself short. I feel like alcohol was stunting my emotional growth for many many years. I finally feel like things are moving, I’m having all these realisations about who I am. I’m more aware of how things sit with me. It helps you to evolve as a person emotionally and spiritually. Having that space and time to actually invest in yourself.
Showing self compassion
It has been a really tough year, becoming a single parent, moving into my own apartment, supporting myself. And quitting drinking on top of all that. My family are my main support network and are in Ireland. There have been many times where I’ve been sad and lonely and tired and exhausted. There have been lots of times where I thought I wanted to have a drink. But I’m able to stop myself because I just don’t want to feel hungover. I know from 20 plus years of experience of numbing things with drink that it doesn’t work, it just delays pain. I’m learning now that when I feel like that I need to sit with it and investigate it a bit, where is this sadness or loneliness coming from? Maybe I just need a nap, or to eat, or do something instead of reaching for a drink.
It takes time, and it takes choosing the different option instead of the drinking option. You have to be compassionate with yourself. If you slip up and you have a drink, just get back on the waggon. What you’re trying to do is be nice to yourself. Treat yourself better, be more compassionate with yourself instead of choosing the destruction. You’re building that muscle of choosing the empathy for yourself. Meditation is a massive part of my journey, I do it daily. I can notice an emotion rise up, but I can decide how to respond to that and just take it for what it is.
Reaping the rewards
My endometriosis has improved. I’m in a lot less pain, I’m a lot less inflamed. Eodmetriosis is when the lining of your womb grows outside of your womb. It’s extremely painful. I’m also on a drug to help prevent the growth of that. I’m in less pain that I was. I exercise a lot more now also, which is great. And I’m able to do that because I’m not hungover. It’s a domino effect. I really do believe that because I have stopped drinking all these other areas of my life have improved. My mental and physical health, the exercise. I love reading. I love learning about the human condition. I’ve been able to spend more time doing nice things and learning more, which is great.
One little thing, I’ve started dressing my bed. I never used to make it, and I actually took pride in that. I just started making it. You just start taking better caer of yourself, you start to parent yourself.
I recommend listening to some quit lit. I like to listen on Audible, but I also bought books and read them a few times. Your book How To Be A Mindful Drinker is amazing. Join some Facebook groups, start to surround yourself with people who are in the same boat as you. Apps can be good, I Am Sober, or one where you can count the days and the money or time you save. You can treat yourself with the money, but watching the days add up is really great, and hitting those milestones. Have a list of reason as to why you’re doing it. For me it’s that life is less stressful and painful without being hungover and dealing with the depression and anger that come from that.
For my son, I just want to be the person and Mom I want to be. I couldn’t be that when I was drinking. I’ll never forget how far I’ve come.
You can find out more about Elaine on Instagram and on her website. If you’d like to read more about sober parenting, check out our guest blog by Marcus Barnes about becoming a parent, mental health, and alcohol.