This year I had a pretty awful Christmas. The run up to Christmas was a hectic flurry of trips between Ibiza, London, Dublin and, even more glamorous, Margate which I LOVE. My workload was pretty intense and in the middle of it all I decided to move country from London back to Dublin. This was a knee jerk reaction at the end of a slow-cooker of consideration. Bam, gone, out the door. Brexit. Theresa if you want tips on what a hard brexit looks like shout me.
I was doing great, all was going well and I had momentum until..... the day where the world stops spinning each year -Christmas Day. I stopped, but my mind spun on and with nothing to do it went to a very, very bad place.
The same time last year was when I escaped to India bouncing on to another continent on the 28th. This year I was in Dublin and January felt like an endless walk into an icy grey fog. So I decided to take an adventure and the best part was I wouldn't even have to leave me house to do it. So this January I went into brain management #beastmode. I was so sad, angry and detached and I could either keep falling or start spiralling upwards. I chose that latter making it mission to get better without meds, something I'd never done before. What if all the doctors were wrong and the key to mental stability wasn't pharmies but diet and exercise??? I decided to be my own guinea pig and try things out going vegan AND dry AND sugar free - the holy trinity of hard choices. These lifestyles had been on my radar for a while now. Generally speaking I have an overly abundant idea generating brain so I felt the time had arrived to start downloading some of them into real life. As it stood I was in cycle of being ok, dropping super low, going on meds and being ok again. Whatever I was doing wasn't working for me and if you always do the same things you'll always have the same outcomes.
I didn't make New Years resolutions because I think a year is a pointless amount of time to commit to and it's quite frankly overwhelming like one great big 12oz steak instead of a little bento box of months. I made a January resolution. As it stood on the 29th I wasn't really communicating with anyone and was feeling super low so I didn't have much to lose. It didn't really matter if I was boring or no fun whilst trying this out because let's face it I was boring and no fun when I was just sitting in my room feeling sad.
Let's break down my relationship with my three challenges:
Meat and Diary
I was ok with meat but not a meat lover having lost the taste for steak whilst in India last year(bloody sacred cows). I had an insatiable appetite for burgers for about six months last year but trying one over Christmas kind of turned my stomach. Ahhh chicken - yep fried, popcorn, roast, nugget, burger. Yum. Chicken and I were good. Oh god cheese - nothing more to say really.
Four words - "smack my bitch up". Sugar is my thing and Christmas is like an endless rollover for a sugar addict. I can't keep biscuits in the cupboard because I'll eat every single one. Let's not even talk about chocolate hob-nobs. Uhhh...dipped in tea. Heaven! I love pastries and croissants and jam tarts and star bars and milkshakes and white mice and nougat and belgian chocolates and haribo and mac donalds ice-creams and and and and....I've always got away with it because I've been blessed with a high metabolism so weight wise I look like I eat carrots but I knew it had a grip because I would turn to it for comfort. When I consumed it I could feel the endorphin release like sliding into a warm melted marshmallow bath of bubbles. I had to get my mum to hide all the chocolate bars we had amalgamated over Christmas. They re still hidden, not very well mind you....there's Fererro Rochers on top of the dresser in the kitchen. I've had four of them. Ok.......six.
To start with alcohol is full of sugar. To follow with alcohol also releases endorphins. So far, so good all working our well for me. Sugar + Endorphins = high and happy. I mean life was feeling generally a bit dull but when I had more than two drinks everything felt great. I also suffer anxiety and would crave booze every night to relax those at times quite physical feelings as well as lifting my mood.
By now you should be able to identify two main factors driving my bad habits - anxiety release and mood lift. Because of the benefits to my beareaved state I was stuck in a cycle that I knew wasn't good for me and the only way to step off the track was to go cold turkey.
People have asked how I did it and what my month's been like. Well here's how - I stopped making a big deal out of it. Society gives alcohol so much power, a little bit of liquid in a glass drives a whole industry, a way of life and, for some people, a living hell. I saw an article posted by the Irish Times this week " Dry January is over so now we can try out the world's best bars". Well how about we try out the worlds best bars anyway, it's not like we need to be breathalised to gain access? Is there some sort of boozport check at the entry? We idolise and deify booze and it's really not the be all and the end all, in fact in quite a big way it's the limit all.
I changed my viewpoint. I reframed it and chose to look on giving-up as an experiment, a little adventure into the unknown. As kids we explore, we try, we question. We settle into adulthood and that sense of adventure wanes as we snuggle into our safe and familiar routines. I wanted to explore again, try out new things, decide on what works and what doesn't. Now don't get me wrong, this is what's right for me and I wouldn't want to ever sound preachy but I want to share the things that have delivered me to a far better place than I've been in a couple of years.
My diary entry from the 1st of January is titled "The year of living dangerously" - yep eyeroll, you might be wondering if it's time for me to try a "year of not living dangerously". Now I don't mean being stupid but I thought what if I spent 2017 confronting every single fear I have - all the things my brain tells me to stay away from because DANGER!! What if I did a little experiment and see where that would get me. So January I entered in the danger zone of giving up my crutches - sugar and booze and then I just threw veganism in for added risk.
I thought socialising was going to be weird because I was choosing to not do what is essentially part of my national identity and it wasn't because I had 'problem". No I would not be gwan you'll have anothering or downing "one" for the road, no cheeky pints, no liquid lunches. I wasn't going to stay in and change my social life either. I've met mates for a few pints and been out for boozy dinners but I've been drinking alcohol free beer and enjoying it. I also think just the taste of beer tricked me into being more relaxed. To a large degree it's just a habit and a taste - like switching from Tobacco to vapes only cooler. Something weird happened about three weeks in. I noticed a change in myself where I started to enjoy the socialising more than the drinking, appreciating the people around me, more than what was swilling around in my glass. And nobody pulled out of seeing me or inviting me out because i was boring. Quite the opposite - I've been doing so much more. Climbing mountains, trying out new things, going on days out in the countryside, meditating. Do you know what's boring? Being in a bad mood and wasting a whole day on a hangover. That's boring. Now I'm not being sanctimonious and I actually really like drinking and yeah I probably will waste a whole day on a hangover again but that's not going to be a common occurrence.
The veganism thing kind of evolved out of some documentaries I'd watched. Recommended by my sister Noreen I watched the amazing documentary Food Choices by Michal Siewierski on his three-year journey to expose the truth about our food choices. He's a big advocate of a plant based diet and it was apparent from what I watched that there's a lot of scienfitic evidence to back up veganism as a way to achieve a healthy body and mind. Furthermore, dairy is strongly linked to cancer and there's a lot of that in our family already so I thought I had nothing to lose by giving up all my guilty pleasures. Shortly after I made the big jump in the vegan direction I picked up Ireland's best selling book by "The Happy Pear", Dublin's favorite healthy, smiley lovely guys with great bods. They seemed to be doing something right so I got chopping, mixing, stirring and cooking and I LOVED it. Another amazing woman Rachel Kelly released a book the same month called "The Happy Kitchen:Good Mood Food" (yep there's a whole lot of happy going on which isn't cool in fashion mags or selfies but is super cool in real life) about her journey to mental wellness through food choices. All these brilliant options were coming at me like little arrows shot from a self-cupid and I started to fall in love with food again. Added bonus I got to play with my food and decorate it with flowers and make it look nice which is always important to me. One month in I feel cheated if I buy convenience food and very few restaurant meals are as good as what I cook myself. I've also been enjoying cooking for my family - I guess if you're going to be the "boring one" not drinking then you've got to up your game with some amazing new tricks of the food variety ;) I'm sticking with meat and dairy free but I think I'll still eat fish. That said I was bought salmon for dinner last night and when it came to the crunch I just couldn't go there. I might eat pizza too occasionally but now that I've recalibrated my tastes I'm making more conscious choices about what I'm consuming.
Let's talk about sugar free - Ok so not 100% sugar free but processed sugar free. I've switched to agave and honey and cutting out processed sugar has reduced my sweet tooth. I still crave sugar after meals. It's how I'm wired and I haven't entirely kicked that craving just yet but I've managed to satiate it in a healthier manner. I make my own healthy truffles, usually twenty or so at a time and these do the trick and they just feel quality. I feel happy when I eat sweets that I've made myself, kind of proud that I've become my very own sweet factory, childhood dream achieved(already done the fashion designer thing). I basically use any combination of cocoa, peanut butter, tahini, sesame seed, dates, agave, oatflakes, goji berries, coconut flour, creamed coconut, toasted coconut, lemon zest, ginger, orange zest and just experiment throwing a selection into a blender and tasting until I've reached and exquisite little wonder bomb. It's so easy and fun and each one is different.
3 little steps for Marion, one giant leap for Marion's brain. It's the start of February, I'm kicking my goals and I feel happy, so much so that I'm almost scared of breaking the seal. Yes I went to UCI last night and smacked my bitch up on pic and mix, popcorn and coke but I'm still booze free and I'm feeling pretty laid back about it all. I still have pretty obnoxious anxiety but I feel positive and hopeful after my month of experimentation and I'm ready to take it on as one of my next challenges.
I was at an event with life coach Jean Pierre De Villiers the other week and he said something that stuck with me:
'EVERY THING YOU WANT IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR"
Powerful words to live by don't you think.