Booze Alternative: Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling White

This sparkling alcohol-free drink was one of a selection I picked up at M&S last summer.

Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling White
Fizzero Zero Alcohol Sparkling White.

It doesn’t have quite as much of a ‘fake booze’ taste as other zero alcohol sparkling wines I’ve tried, and so it feels lighter. It has an interesting grape-y medium taste, which is very pleasant.

I’ve not been in the local M&S Food for a while, but this one is well worth picking up again.

Life without alcohol: two years sober

They say the second year of sobriety is a lot more stable than the first. I found this to be true in 2020, even though the world outside was anything but stable.

Christmas coffee mug

I’ve mentioned this a lot, but I cannot reiterate enough how essential my sobriety turned out to be during the pandemic and how lucky I feel that I quit when I did. If I’d still been drinking, I would have seen lockdown as an excuse for what would basically have been a year-long housebound bender. The ‘joke’ memes about day drinking to cope with the situation have been everywhere on social media since last March, and I know I would have taken that attitude as encouragement and come to believe that I ‘needed’ alcohol in order to get through the pandemic. However, I’d been sober for a year when it all kicked off, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I stayed sober in 2020 and I’m still sober now.

I’ve not read as much quit lit this last year (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve read any), largely because I have settled into my sober routine and know the tips and strategies that are working for me. In terms of support, a particular Facebook group and a sobriety thread on a favourite forum have continued to be incredibly helpful.

It’s been a long time since I tried any new booze alternatives, as all of my liquid intake has taken place in my own home this last year and so I just stick to my usual favourites. There are still a few from a long time ago that I haven’t yet logged, however, so I will do a few posts about those in the next few months.

I’m a little apprehensive about the return to normality that we all expect and hope to happen later this year. Lack of socialising has, in many ways, made staying sober a lot easier for me as I’m not spending time around alcohol, other than the quiet couple of beers that Geth has on a weekend night. However, I do feel stable and resolved, so I just need to be careful when things start to open up again.

In general, I feel a lot more positive about today’s soberversary than I did a year ago. I remember it feeling like a bit of an anticlimax, whereas today I just feel sort of quiet and happy about it.

I hope that this time next year, my sense of peace will have continued to grow.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Abba – ‘Thank You For The Music’
Ollie Wride – ‘Back To Life’
Eddi Reader – ‘Auld Lang Syne’
The Beatles – ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’
Traditional – ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’
Cast of The Muppet Christmas Carol – ‘Scrooge’

Three years blogging… and a reflection on some accidental New Year Resolutions

For years, I didn’t start new habits at New Year – or if I did, they never stuck for very long. However, for the last four years in a row, I have chosen something to focus on every year and have stuck with it. My life is a lot better as a result, and so I’m hoping I’ll be able to stick to my main 2021 goal too.

At the start of 2017, I started going to Slimming World. The accountability of the group setting enabled me to lose the five stone that I’d been trying to lose for nearly a decade, and though I’ve not managed to stay at target during the pandemic, I only have a stone to lose again this next year (which is a lot easier than five!). Life at a healthy weight is immeasurably more physically comfortable and something that I will never take for granted. Once Christmas eating is done, I’ll be back on the light meals again – I’m following a calorie-based approach rather than SW now, but I’ll always be thankful for the motivation it gave me.

At the start of 2018, I started this blog. It was always my aim to blog every day and so sometimes, especially during the empty year of 2020, blogging has felt like a bit of a chore. However, the habit of getting my words out into the world has given me confidence to do so in other ways, such as reading at poetry nights and publishing text adventure games. I love having the blog as it just feels so much more ‘mine’ than social media pages.

At the start of 2019, I got sober. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel so, so incredibly grateful that I managed to do this (and get the first difficult year of sobriety out of the way) *before* the pandemic hit – I really believe that things would have gone nowhere good if I’d still been drinking in 2020. It’s still not easy, but life is so much more stable than it was two years ago, and that has been so important over the last few months.

And at the start of 2020, after four and a half years of more sporadic running, I started a daily run streak. The start of a new decade seemed like a good time to do it, and I just wanted to see how long I could keep it up. Again, this was incredibly well-timed in terms of the pandemic, as I discussed yesterday. Whatever life throws at me, and however long it takes for races to come back, I’ll always have my run streak to keep me motivated.

On to 2021, then, and this year the main focus will be to get my house in order (literally). I already made a good start by spending a few weeks in November/December sorting out all the junk that I’d been hoarding upstairs since we moved in, but there’s a lot more to do, and a lot of daily habits that I need to instil. One of the major negative factors for my mental health is that I constantly feel that my house is dirty and untidy, and so I can never fully relax. Making time for my house projects this year, and keeping on top of the upkeep, will hopefully allow me to feel a lot better.

On a personal level, I’m feeling quite hopeful today. Not for 2021 as a whole, but for one day at a time, which is how I’ve managed all my other big life changes over the last few years.

I’m excited about tomorrow.

Lancashire hotpot
Another day, another New Year recipe I made myself for the first time. Lancashire hotpot is all about the crust, and it came out just right.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Deacon Blue – ‘Queen Of The New Year’
Tears For Fears – ‘Shout’
Abba – ‘Happy New Year’
Traditional – ‘The Blaydon Races’
Beach Boys – ‘Sloop John B’

Booze Alternative: Cosy Club Virgin Blood Orange Mojito

When Geth and I were in Leeds for the A-ha gig last November, we ate out at the Cosy Club, a restaurant we hadn’t tried before. I don’t actually remember what I ate, but they did the most fantastic alcohol-free mocktails!

Cosy Club Virgin Blood Orange Mojito
Cosy Club Virgin Blood Orange Mojito.

This mocktail was amazingly minty, reminding me strongly of all the lovely-tasting mojitos I’d had in my drinking days. I was a little wary on first taste, as drinks that are very similar-tasting to their alcoholic versions can be a bit triggering sometimes, but in the event I didn’t miss the alcohol at all. Absolutely delicious and thoroughly recommended.

A bit of a synth day

Just a mile again today…

…as I wanted a relaxed bank holiday Friday after a busy week. Longer runs planned for tomorrow and Sunday.

There are a few synthwave livestreams to which I’m looking forward tonight, so I’ve spent the afternoon with my favourite synthwave playlist on in the background in order to get in the mood. Watching and listening to DJ livestreams from my sofa is the kind of clubbing I appreciate in my older sober hermit days! It’s a beautiful day, so Geth has gone out for a walk to Sainsburys to get us some more liquid supplies (that bottle of alcohol-free fizzy went down a treat last night, so I’m looking forward to having another one).

The lovely weather has also meant that Geth has been able to go out and do his regular garden maintenance. I have meanwhile spread out the new gravel to try and cover the exposed areas of the webbing in the back garden. It seems we could do with another couple of bags, so I reckon a return trip to B&Q is in our near future.

I’ll be doing my usual review posts and running vlogs over the weekend, so the next life update will be Monday. I’m fairly sure nothing out of the ordinary will have happened by then, but you never know 🙂

Running gear
I have found this year that running every day has required a lot of new running gear due to (a) the laundry turnover and (b) the fact that things wear out a lot quicker!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Peter Cetera – ‘Glory Of Love’
Nobuo Uematsu – ‘Zanarkand’
Vera Lynn – ‘We’ll Meet Again’
Sesame Street – ‘Sesame Street Theme’

Booze Alternative: Fritz-Kola

I had this cola alternative when in Brewdog Newcastle to see a local band last August (well, we weren’t really there to see the local band – it was something to do while waiting for a synthwave club night to open – but I digress).

Fritz-Kola
Fritz-Kola.

Brewdog is actually fairly well known for its selection of zero-alcohol and low-alcohol beers. However, I’m not really a beer drinker, and so on this particular night I opted for their poncy cola option instead.

The design of the bottle label is all very exotic and German expressionist, but the contents taste exactly like Diet Coke. I’m not a huge fan of Diet Coke, so this was a bit disappointing. Still, I probably enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed the alcohol-free beer!

parkrun tourism: Portobello

Geth and I managed quite a few new parkruns during our Christmas trip to Edinburgh. We’d only ever previously done the main Edinburgh parkrun at Cramond while visiting Mum and Dad, but this time round we found ourselves with multiple reasons to go further afield. One of these was my desire to mark my first sober Hogmanay with my first ever New Year’s Day parkrun double the following morning – and the main Edinburgh parkrun doesn’t run on New Year’s Day, having done its special event on Christmas Day instead! As such, I had to select two alternative local parkruns for my Edinburgh-based double.

Portobello parkrun
Another pop-up sign. I’m collecting a lot of these photos!

The first of these was Portobello in north Edinburgh. I’d been meaning to do this one for a while but had never got round to it – the lure of Cramond and its lovely flat, scenic course is usually too strong. It turned out to be a nice fast three-lapper round the very pretty Figgate Park. The course isn’t as flat as Cramond, but it’s a lot more shielded from the wind! Geth fell in love with Portobello parkrun and immediately planned to do it regularly during the several weeks that he was (at the time) planning to spend in Edinburgh for work in May. For obvious reasons, that trip won’t be transpiring, but I still hope that we’ll both get to do Portobello parkrun again sooner rather than later.

Filling the space

I did another 10k this morning…

…and managed a similar pace to Saturday, which I was very pleased about! I feel as though my daily training since the start of the year has sped me up in what seems to be a permanent way. I’ll just keep plugging away and see what happens.

I have most definitely filled up the routine extra time afforded by the lockdown now, to the extent that I’m not sure how I’m going to go back to regular life when this is all over. I’ve written before about how it’s going to be a slow process out of lockdown for me – I won’t just be jumping back into a routine of multiple classes and groups and meetups per week, because I think I would find that overwhelming. But the thing is that I’m not sure I ever want to go back to that busy routine. All of the individual things were meant to be fun, but taken together, they made life a bit stressful. As such, I think there are things to which I won’t be returning – things I’m going to have to learn to let go of. I don’t know which things yet. The only thing I know I will definitely be going back to post-lockdown is parkrun – it’s free of charge, it’s helpful for my running improvement, and I love it to death.

In short, my big takeaway from this year is that there’s no point spending time and money on things that cause me stress, just because I feel that it’s something I SHOULD do. As such, I’ve stopped buying all the magazines I’m not getting round to reading, including breaking my decade-plus streak of buying Doctor Who Magazine (that was a wrench… but I’ve just not had time for Who fandom for a good two or three years. I haven’t even watched the most recent series yet, which would have been unthinkable when I was in my twenties). I no longer attend every vintage fair in Newcastle just because it’s on (this is something I discussed in my personal style post the other day). I stopped going to Pilates and dance classes last year – I enjoy those things, but they’re just not a priority for me any more.

Learning to let go is something I’ve always found difficult, and something I discussed a lot in my counselling sessions earlier this year. I am a consummate hoarder, not just of physical possessions but also of memories and identities and personal connections.

(If somebody de-friends me on Facebook, I hold a grudge like you would not believe – because why would we want to lose each other from our collection of contacts? Collections are to be grown, not ‘culled’! We may not have anything in common now, but we did once, and why would you want to move on from that? Why would you want to let go?)

My identity as a Doctor Who fan is one of those things I’m struggling to let go of, hence why I am trying not to think about having broken my magazine-buying streak. My identity as a goth is another. I became goth in my teens, made all my university friends and met my future husband in the goth and rock society, spent my twenties in various states of consciousness at goth clubs and gigs and festivals, and then… I last went to a scene event in August 2018. I only still wear my old goth band t-shirts and hoodies because they’re comfortable. It’s been years since I last listened to the music – I prefer ’80s pop and soundtracks and synthwave now. I got sober, and so I don’t really like spending time in pubs and clubs anymore, and I think it’ll be some time before I can brave a festival again.

‘You do still wear a lot of black, though,’ my counsellor said when I mentioned this to her. I suppose I do – some habits are hard to break, and it’s a practical colour. It’s just… I just don’t feel drawn to that particular aesthetic anymore, and while I’ve still got a lot of friends in the scene, I don’t see myself wanting to go back to the events, and I don’t think I can really call myself ‘goth’ these days, and I’m not sure I want to.

Accepting that fact requires a big shift in thinking, though. Just like accepting that these days I’m a casual Doctor Who viewer at best, and accepting that there are some old acquaintances I’m never going to see or speak to again (and that I probably won’t miss them), and accepting that I really need to chuck out those manky old Ikea cushions I’ve been hanging onto since 2002.

I’ve never yet been capable of making that big shift in thinking. But it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that it’s a necessary process.

I’m videogaming again tonight. In recent months I’ve occasionally felt a bit sheepish about mentioning that every day – like it’s a bit sad to be spending all my time videogaming, even if lockdown does provide me with the perfect excuse. But it’s what makes me happy at the moment, and that’s all that matters.

Newcastle Town Moor
I ran on the Town Moor today for the first time since the final pre-lockdown parkrun. It felt strange, even though I’ve often done solo runs there before. While I was enjoying parkrun touristing in the months before coronavirus happened, I think that I will be back at my home parkrun on the Moor when it’s time for the great parkrun return.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Yasunori Mitsuda – ‘Where It All Began’
Nina Nesbitt – ‘Stay Out’

Quietly springlike

I did a very short-feeling six-mile ‘long run’ this morning…

…and it was a lovely day for it, with bright blue skies and buds on the trees and daffodils everywhere. Spring is most definitely here… not that anyone’s really thinking about it at the moment, understandably. Years ago, Geth and I would probably have celebrated a sunny March Sunday like this with our first beer garden visit of the year. I’ve been avoiding beer gardens for over a year now since getting sober, and anyway they’re all currently closed by government order. Life is very different to what it used to be, especially in the current strange situation.

Instead, we are in the house as usual, working our way through our videogame and boardgame collections. For once, I’m hopeful that I might make a bit of a dent in my gaming backlog this year!

Back to work tomorrow.

Daffodils
Daffodils growing in our garden, looking extra yellow in the sunshine.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Unflinchable Courage’
Duran Duran – ‘I Believe/All I Need To Know’
Take That – ‘The Flood’
Levellers – ‘What A Beautiful Day’

Life without alcohol: one year sober

It’s been a whole year tonight since I had my last drink.

Jesmond Dene in the winter

It’s been such a strange, strange year. It feels like ten days and ten years at the same time. Most days have been difficult in some way. Some have been easy – too easy – and have blindsided me a bit and made me complacent.

I’ve achieved a lot of stuff in my first year of sobriety, though a lot of that was out of sheer manic panic. Some things in my life have become a lot clearer, and others still need a bit of thinking about. I’ve got a plan for the next year ahead, but only a vague one.

I’ve tried a lot of support groups and podcasts and quit lit and meetings and all sorts. Some have been helpful and feel like the right thing for me; others I’m still a bit unsure about. I’m keeping an open mind about everything, though, because this process seems to have so many phases that change all the time.

I’ve also tried a lot of alcohol-free drinks. Some didn’t work for me, but I did find a lot of new favourites that I would never have looked twice at before I quit drinking.

I expected to feel ecstatic at hitting this milestone, but my first sober Christmas period has been a bit rough mentally and so I’m feeling pretty drained at the moment. Still, I remember how nervous I was feeling a year ago, and how impossible sobriety seemed at the time. Things are so much better now. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I (sort of) know where I’m going.

The only thing that has remained constant and strong over the last year is the fact that I never want to drink again. Not ever. Most days I want *a* drink, but I don’t want *to* drink. I want the sweet taste of cider and the ability to forget things for a few hours, but I don’t want to get drunk and out of control, I don’t want to feel suicidal when I’m in a state where I might actually do something about that, and I don’t want to wake up hungover and panicked and full of regret. The two lists go hand-in-hand, and that – so far – has provided me with enough willpower not to pick up.

I won’t be doing monthly sobriety updates anymore, as things have stabilised a bit, but I will keep reviewing booze alternatives and will do another update a year from today. Life is a lot more peaceful than it used to be, and I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve in that respect.