Veronica Valli beams at me when I tell her I haven’t had an alcoholic drink in over four years.
That’s refreshing, because it’s the sort of confession that usually makes people assume that I’m weird, boring or a screaming alcoholic.
A sober coach, and a leader and pioneer in the field of alcohol recovery for almost two decades, Veronica Valli is former clinical psychotherapist who is evangelical about the joys of a booze-free life. She thinks I’m simply part of seismic change happening in society.
‘There is a quiet revolution taking place,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Sobriety has come out of the closet and into the daylight.
‘Two decades ago, when I first stopped drinking, it was a dirty secret, not something you ever shouted about. A person’s struggle with alcohol was very private and was on a need-to-know basis.
‘But in the last five years, coinciding with the popularity of Instagram, more and more people are sharing their sobriety stories.
‘We are not seeing “rock-bottom alcoholics” who look like they have no choice but to quit. Instead, we are seeing people who do not look on the outside like they have a problem with alcohol but nevertheless are making the choice to quit drinking.’
Author of books Why You Drink and How to Stop, Get Sober Get Free, and her newest book Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol, Veronica co-hosts the renowned Soberful Podcast with Chip Somers, Russell Brand’s former ‘sober coach’ (now advising the UK government on drug rehabilitation).
Veronica however focusses on helping women not only recover from alcohol but also to transform their lives. She teaches that alcohol is not the problem — it’s only a symptom of a deeper underlying issue. She helps women dig deep, embrace change, and ‘become who they are meant to be’.
‘I return people to themselves,’ she says.
We chatted with Veronica about her take on happiness – and why ditching alcohol might be a key part of the puzzle.
So why are we quitting drinking in droves?
Because people are beginning to see that alcohol is not necessary to fun, excitement, belonging, connection, relaxation, rewards, and romance. A mini sober revolution is taking place.
How do you know if you have a problem with alcohol?
People who have an alcohol problem do four things: they drink, they think about drinking, they think about not drinking, and they recover from drinking. It’s constantly having that argument with yourself about whether to have a drink.
People who have that conversation in their head about alcohol usually have a problem with alcohol.
But doesn’t everyone worry that they drink too much?
No, people who don’t have issues with alcohol rarely think about it. My husband drinks maybe two drinks a month. It would never occur to him, for example, to do dry January.
The red flag is that if you think about drinking more than you think about sandwiches. How often do most people typically think about sandwiches? Twice a week? Three or four times? Never?
Every so often you may think, I fancy a sandwich — and you buy a sandwich. You eat your sandwich, and you enjoy it. Then the next day you might have a salad. Later in the week you might have another sandwich or maybe not. A sandwich is something you enjoy from time to time but don’t give much thought to.
When someone has an appropriate relationship with alcohol, they really don’t give it any thought.
So, if you suspect you have a problem with alcohol what do you do?
Start by asking questions, getting curious. Most drinkers ask themselves the wrong questions. Instead of asking: Is my drinking bad enough to stop? We need to ask – does drinking make my life better? Ask yourself – What is alcohol costing me?
Yes, alcohol is expensive. I am not talking about money. Although it is an interesting exercise to add up how much money you spend on alcohol. Not just the money you spend on buying it but also cab fares, take-out food, lost items, missed opportunities, and so on. I think you will find the total a real eye opener.
What are the other costs to drinking too much?
Think about the cost on your time. How many hours a week do you spend drinking and recovering from drinking. We can always make more money, but we can never get time back.
But the cost I am really talking about is the unseen price we pay: Alcohol is a depressant, and if you drink regularly you are going to start feeling depressed.
There is also the cost to our integrity when we become someone we don’t recognize, someone we wouldn’t want our children or our parents to see, as well as the cost to the people who have to clean up after us — our families, our co-workers, our children. All of these things add up to a price we pay every time we abuse alcohol.
What’s your cost? Ask yourself – is it worth it?
If you decide you want to give up, what the first thing you should do?
Learning to live without alcohol is really like learning any new skill: at the beginning it feels hard, it’s unfamiliar, and like we are not getting anywhere, but if we persist then we will get more competent, things will feel more natural.
When we feel fully connected with all parts of ourselves then the only thing, we want to do are those that are enriching, rewarding, and fully aligned with who we really are. But you do need to the inner work.
Instead of asking: Is my drinking bad enough to stop? We need to ask – does drinking make my life better?
The secret is… it’s not about the alcohol. It’s about dealing with our feelings.
When we use alcohol to take the edge off of how we feel or to fit in or be liked, then we sacrifice a little bit of our authenticity. And it is the erosion of this part of us that causes pain. And that is why we often drink more than we want to.
Quitting drinking will help us learn emotional mastery and feel fully connected to ourselves – which will make us feel happier in the long run.
So, if we do decide we want to try giving up alcohol, where should we start?
Start exercising. All the research reveals that the complex chemicals the brain and body release when we exercise purposefully are designed not just to lift our mood, but to help us feel less lonely and more connected, sleep better, have less pain, and develop a sense of love and connection toward our fellow humans. That’s pretty much all the things that most of us use alcohol for. It’s not a straight swap but it’s a good start.
When we stop drinking, we are given the opportunity to appraise how far we have drifted from our purpose and consciously move toward what is authentic for us.
At this point we have two choices: we can carry on ignoring the parts of our lives that aren’t working and just drift, not going where we want to go, or we can stare them right in the eye, pick up the reins, and steer our life in the right direction.
There’s really only one choice. There are no excuses here. It is not too late, you are not too old, and too much has not happened. There is no better place to start than where you are right now.
The future is unwritten. You can either be the author of your own script or an extra in someone else’s.
How do we do that?
We access our extraordinariness. The average drinker loses about 20% of their bandwidth to alcohol. When we are drinking more than we want to, we sacrifice a significant amount of bandwidth to our relationship with alcohol. When we still have say, 80%, we have our jobs/careers, we can go to college, pay our rent, and have a holiday or two. But what we can’t do is fully grow into the people we are capable of being.
Imagine who you would be or what you could do with that magic 20% back. The reason that extra 20% is magic is because that is where our growth is. It’s where our extraordinariness is.
That’s sounds fantastic. Where do we start?
The first step to belonging to yourself again and reconnecting with who you really are is to stop drinking. Do whatever is necessary to make that happen.
Then treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Give yourself time and space to rebuild your life, your self-esteem, and your self-worth. Begin to take small actions that feel honest and true to you.
You are building self-awareness, taking time to pause and reflect and get curious about why you feel a certain way.
Start making your insides and your outsides match, so you can show up in the world as you really are and not how you think the world wants you to be.
When you belong to yourself, you don’t want to run away from yourself anymore, and that is the best feeling in the world.
The five pillars of a soberful life
Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol by Veronica Valli (Sounds True, £14.99) is out now.
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