The Alcohol 'Problem' Podcast

In conversation with Chelsey Flood

April 19, 2021 Dr James Morris / Chelsey Flood Season 1 Episode 6
The Alcohol 'Problem' Podcast
In conversation with Chelsey Flood
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode I talk to Chelsey (CJ) Flood, a novelist, lecturer, and the creator of Beautiful Hangover, a blog/community about alcohol and recovery.

Chelsey talks about how alcohol came into her life, how it became problematic, the role of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in her recovery and coping strategies she has found post-alcohol. We discuss the pros and cons of peer support, abstinence vs moderation goals, how alcohol problems can develop, how we became aware of our problem drinking and other recovery reflections.

Chelsey has two books authored as C.J Flood, Infinite Sky and Nightwanderers published by Simon and Schuster, and you can find her writing about sobriety/drinking at www.chelseyflood.com/beautiful-hangover.

James Morris:

So thanks so much for joining me, Chelsey, could you start just by telling me a bit about your story? You know, how you started drinking? And what kind of happened thereafter?

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, of course. So I started drinking very early, when I was 11, which I now feel is alarmingly early. But at the time, I was just thrilled about it. And it's interesting, you say, how did you how did drinking come into your life, and I realised, I don't know how it came into my life. And I think that's part of the problem that drink has always been for me, which is that it was just omnipresent. And the adults around me really enjoyed a drink. And so I couldn't wait to join in, I think. And yeah, like I said, At the start, it was just really good fun. And it was a cause for adventure. And I loved the way it made me feel. I just had a great time. And I was very silly. And I was very in the present. And I was able to be centre stage in my life. And I thought that was just really thrilling. So that was when I was 11. And then I guess, after that, because it had been so exciting. I wanted to replicate it. And then there was a period where I remember having a bit of a reputation with my friend's parents as being a bit of a bad influence, which I did find quite upsetting at the time, because I had been a very good girl. But also I had this new exciting thing, and I wanted to show people and introduce people and I didn't think it was bad in any way. I just thought it was fun. And and then I suppose it quite quickly turned to more obviously problematic binge drinking on the park. I think a lot of kids in the UK do that. So again, it felt very normal. And I also find it difficult to say when I realised it was a problem, because I didn't for a long time, but a very small part of me did. And when I looked through my notebooks, I've always kept notebooks as a writer that's been a constant in my life, really. And when I look through them, I am often talking about needing to give up drinking, needing to drink less being horribly hungover and recognising that this isn't really a good way to spend my time and I should be doing other things. When I was in my teens, there's a lot of me talking about how my life has gone off the rails, and I need to get it back on the rails. But I suppose I didn't really know how to. And I actually quit drinking when I was 33. So there was a long time of me realising and not realising that it was a problem. And there was a lot of me trying to get a handle on it. So trying to control my drinking, trying to drink just the right amount to be fun, and be able to access the full technicolour of my personality, which I didn't feel able to do when I was sober, but not to go into blackout or not to end up somewhere that I wouldn't have chosen to go or not to have the problems. So I was constantly trying to get that right. And I was always swearing off one drink, you know, like, Oh my god, I can't drink jack daniels, because that's just really, jack daniels makes me so crazy, or you know, Jen, or whatever it was, and then I wouldn't be allowed to drink that anymore. But I would never recognise this pattern until I went to aa when I was 33. And that's when I started to learn about drinking and alcoholism as they call it there. And my education around it really began because I've somehow managed to completely swerve knowing anything at all about alcohol, which I think is quite fascinating. I had a very stark lack of understanding around anything to do with alcohol, which was really confusing to start to recognise. And I suppose that's why I've become very interested in this area and where I've started a whole blog about it, because it was like, I had to completely reinvent myself to quit drinking. And I hadn't really expected that when I when I rocked up to AA quite casually in a way that time. I mean, I didn't even know I was going for myself, I partly thought I was just going for my partner because I recognised he had a drink problem. So I suppose the message that's coming across here is that I actually found it all very confusing. And I find it quite difficult still five years after getting sober to completely clearly talk about it. And I'm also really aware that the drinking we would be in disagreement with this sober me. So I'm putting on with hindsight, why am I drinking was a problem, whereas for many years, I would have just said I love to drink.

James Morris:

Yeah, there's so much I can relate to in that, you know, there's this this idea of what they call the drinkers dilemma, you know, drinkers or heavy drinkers have, you know, very aware of the positives, they know why they like alcohol and drinking and all the benefits, but they also at least on some level tend to be aware of the downside and that maybe it's problematic in some way or will become so if if that kind of pattern of drinking goes on. And then of course, that's perhaps tied to the you know, the idea of cognitive dissonance when you have two conflicting beliefs, you know, we we need to kind of eliminate one so that we own you know, we just have one idea in our heads that is consistent with our behaviour. So, we don't want to sort of believe that alcohol is both good and bad. We just kind of Want to believe that it's one or the other?

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, it's quite sweet really, isn't it? I think that also the bad things that happen when we're drinking tend to stay secret or between you and one other person. And so that sort of gets to stay uncovered. Whereas the good things that happen are happening out in the lights in public. And so we're kind of we cultivate that in each other, like, I want to see my problem drinker friends, in the early stages of their drinking night, because there are loads of fun, but, you know, take one of them home, and you might, you might have a completely different situation on your hands. But yeah, that's the sort of the underbelly isn't of the drinking world.

James Morris:

And when you said you kind of first went to a you said it was more because you felt you were kind of scoping it out because of your partner's drinking, but but there was something where you were perhaps thinking about it in terms of your own alcohol use as well?

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, I had read a few books by them about people getting sober. So I was started starting to be very interested in that narrative. And so I'd read about a few women who start to get sober. And I think I just found that quite appealing. So I think part of it was like my natural curiosity. And the writer, part of me, and part of it was that little bit of me that did realise it was a problem, and it had been for years. And then a big part of it was the fact I was trying to help my boyfriend at the time, who I could really see the problem in him. And to be realistic, his drinking was much more problematic than mine. So that made sense as well. It wasn't only denial, but when I went to that first day meeting, it was a very powerful experience, because I heard someone who was actually fortunately quite similar to me, and that they were, you know, not a really low bottom, as they say, problematically, I guess, alcoholic, but someone who was just just a little bit of an alcoholic, and hadn't lost anything, that concrete but her health, her health, suffered her mental health and suffered her relationships and suffered, but she hadn't lost a job. She hadn't been to prison, she hadn't lost a driving licence. And so I was like, Oh, that's a bit like me. So I actually was really able to hear that I too, could get sober if I wanted, even though I didn't really believe I was an alcoholic at all. And I didn't think my drinking was that bad. But also, I did cry in that meeting, because there was a big part that really did pass through to me, because I remembered in that meeting, I suppose just all of the times that I had been in a similar position to this, which is, with a hand over sick of the choices I was making, and actually with yet another problem drinker boyfriend, because I had a few of those over the years. Well, yeah,

James Morris:

I relate to that in terms of AA, because I've been to AA, maybe on and off for a year or so after I'd stopped drinking. I'd met a friend who went to AA, and he kind of said, well, I run this kind of agnostic group, just come along and I sort of thought, well, why not to be interesting, even though I kind of felt that I, you know, I'd been I hadn't drunk for several years at that point. But it was, you know, I did find it really valuable, just in terms of the identification with other people, you know, even though I, you know, I was always uncomfortable with with the idea of describing myself as alcoholic or the kind of disease model as such, there's definitely, you know, the, the kind of emotional and openness of it can be very touching. And you can see, I think, why that I could see why that that kind of spirituality side of it, you know, is very important for many people. And I felt like I could relate to that.

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, same here, and not so keen on spirituality for a long time, although that did start to be something that has enriched my life in in some way that makes no sense, even to me. But the vulnerability that people show that and the attempt at emotional honesty was really, for me exhilarating, having come from a background where you didn't really talk about your feelings, and AA really helped me start to be able to do that. And I just found it fascinating in those early days, I felt like a real tourist but I just was super interested to see what was going on then.

James Morris:

Talking about feelings is such a big thing. We we know that affect regulation, or kind of dealing with anxiety or low mood is such a huge driver of problem drinking. And, you know, my view is most issues like anxiety or depression or mental health issues, however you want to describe them are, you know, related to difficulties that often get internalised or they're kind of within us somehow. And the best response to that is being able to talk about and process it in a way in which allows you to be emotional about it. And I think that is a key part of AA or peer support or kind of therapy or whatever is just a mechanism for allowing exploration of those things that might be driving problem drinking, would you kind of agree with that?

Chelsey Flood:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think it takes I know, it takes an awful lot of practice to get the hang of doing that. And for me, AA gave me that forum to learn how to do that. And then I was able to roll it out into the rest of my life. And I still feel like I'm only learning how to do that, I still find it hard to get that right in my professional life, I think. But I do want to be a human at work, I don't want to just have to pretend that I don't have any needs or requirements, just because I'm a professional person. So maybe that's tricky for a lot of us. But for me, AA was a really safe place where I could learn to do that. And it's definitely enhanced my relationships. As a result, I've also been to therapy and other things to learn about about that as well. A lot of reading and a lot of talking with friends.

James Morris:

Yeah. And I think, you know, that is one of the huge strengths about it, I think is the idea that is identification with others is encouraged, isn't it? So you know, the idea is that you don't give other members advice or criticise anything that they've done. And I think that is, you know, certainly I before I ever spoke openly in a meeting, I heard other people doing so and being encouraged and supported. So, you know, maybe it's certainly the evidence points to brought more broadly, it's a social network whose goal is around supporting others to stop drinking and replaces, you know, maybe social networks that that were the opposite. They were about drinking, but it's not just about that, either, as it is about you might say that, certainly for me, drinking was about escapism, and you know, maybe to a degree running away from difficult feelings or problems. And whereas AI might be more seen as a way of facing up to them and exploring them.

Unknown:

Yeah, exactly. So I think when when it works well for people, and everyone has a different knot to untangle, I suppose when they arrive at AA, but when it's worked well for people it does, it does really well. And I've seen many, many people whose lives have been changed very positively. And they've been able to uncover a more useful and content side of themselves and just develop a life that really suits them a lot, a lot better. And alcohol just has no real part in that. And for a lot of people alcohol is just neutralised so they don't mind being around other people drinking, they don't mind even going to a pub or anything like that. So it is it is very, you know, it does it does work in it. It does do a lot of good.

James Morris:

Yeah, I think even though it's famously quite hard to research, there is now a decent body of evidence that shows absolutely it does work, but perhaps not more not less than other mutual aid or peer support groups, and perhaps not more not less than other treatment approaches. So I think it is partly about people finding kind of what fits for them. And once they're at that stage where they they themselves are ready to kind of make some kind of change or or look at their drinking, then you know, there's a saying in AA, isn't there, 'it works if you work it' here. I think we can apply that to most other approaches.

Chelsey Flood:

So I have mixed feelings about whether something else would have worked for me in place of AI, I feel it would have. But I do wonder as well if the fear a bit of a negative thing about AI that keeps people going back because they're afraid that if they don't stay in the middle of AI, they'll drink again, I do wonder if that was part of what allowed me to stop drinking.

James Morris:

What do you mean by that?

Unknown:

Well, I don't know if I would have been able to stop drinking if I had only been focusing on I don't know, if I didn't have the fear that if I stopped going to aa I might drink I don't know if I would have been able to quit drinking, I can't ever know for sure, I suppose. But a little while after I'd quit drinking. And it had become a bit more felt a bit more normal to be sober, say 18 months or so I found out about some of the things like one of the big things was the Tempest movement, or I don't know what it's called completely, but it's the woman who wrote quit like a woman and she set up her sobriety club thing that you pay for and you get sober there. And they you know, like they, you maybe do therapy and go to yoga and it's like hip, young women. And I thought, oh God, and I've been coming to AA, and it's like so much less cool. And it is literally in church basements often. And I felt a bit jealous that I hadn't gotten sober in a slightly cooler way. But at the same time, that process of learning humility because of AA, and I didn't need to learn humility within myself, like my, my self esteem was at an all time low, but at the same time learning to listen to the people, no matter what they look like or where they came from, I think was actually really valuable. And so I'm really glad that I got that from AA.

James Morris:

That's so interesting, both in terms of you know, whether fear was a kind of positive force for you, you know, the fear that the idea that if you don't keep coming to AA, then yeah, again, I guess that's back to the sort of subjectivity or individual differences in you know, for some people fear might create to much anxiety that it has the opposite effect. And for other people, it is a really, you know, a useful motivational force. That's really interesting, but so is what's now kind of described often described as positive sobriety or new sobriety, you know, I think on the whole is really positive, because it probably does appeal to a whole new group, particularly younger drinkers who probably never would have gone to AA. And certainly, I do remember younger drinkers, perhaps who I kind of relate to a bit more in a meeting saying, Well, I don't know if this is really the right place for me, because I'm more of a binge drinker. You know, I just get drunk on the weekends and leads to problems.

Chelsey Flood:

I know what you mean about that. And we do have, because I do still go to AA sometimes. And we do have a young persons meeting that really seems to help with that people finding it hard to identify because they haven't gone to the depths that some other people in AA have gone to with their drinking. So I think that's a really positive move. But I do remember as well, while I was getting sober in aa having to fight a lot of the stuff that I didn't agree with. And I do feel like that was probably a waste of my energy. Although I guess it also came it fed into my blog, and I wrote through that period. So I suppose I've got a lot of writing practice out of it. But I do remember having to fight a lot about certain things in the big book, I got fed up of the lack of representation in the big book. And I wasn't very into the Christian overtones, even though the idea is that you can have a high power of any variety that it's still the language of Christian language. So that can be quite off putting, and I feel like that having to battle around all of that stuff is it has taken necessary energy. And I do still find that a bit frustrating as well as kind of saying that AA is fantastic at the same time. So I do get why people would just swerve that. But I also find it a problem having come from a for people to make money out of getting other people sober. So I sometimes feel like you see a lot of the new sobriety movements, and they're kind of business models, and they're you basically using everything from a, but just taking out a few of the really old things and then charging for it. And sometimes I think is that cool? I'm not sure if that's if that's good or not?

James Morris:

Yeah, I think there was the whole thing about Google banning kind of rehab advertisement, you know in the States, obviously, the sort of rehab culture is, is much bigger over there. And essentially, a lot of the rehabs are just in people spending lots of money on a residential setting where they're basically just running 12, step programmes, or whatever. And often, you know, for the profit of someone owning the rehab company. So yeah, there's a huge whole set of questions. And, of course, one of the fantastic things about AA and other peer supports is that, you know, there isn't that kind of capitalism creep, as you might call it. But yeah, I think there's a big variety in meetings. And also the idea that, you know, you kind of take what you like from it, and leave the rest. But, you know, some meetings on even based around the steps, I don't think, you know, they're just very much more loosely run in the sense that you're there because you have a desire to stop drinking. And you should follow the principles in terms of not challenging other people and so on. But you might not explicitly work through the steps or there might not be much focus on deciding on your own higher power. But, you know, a lot of this relates to what I discussed with Wendy, in the in the spirituality episode, where when they I think articulated really well how the experience of recovery and understanding of those meanings is so personal, so individualised and should be encouraged to be so you know, whatever you interpret your higher power to be is absolutely fine. And and I think that's really important. Because, you know, I think it's all those things that we discussed earlier, they're not necessarily they don't rely on some of the the kind of a lot of the stuff that's in the in the big book, which as again, as Wendy described is from a time when, you know, it was written to reflect a much more religious period in time. And part of its success has been to allow people to draw on it in a way that makes sense in terms of their own experiences, even though that might be very far removed from how it was originally written.

Chelsey Flood:

I think that's really true. And I think that AA was created to serve a particular kind of drinker. And the kind of drinking that goes to air now is a much broader sort. So you'll get someone like me who's quite far from a really serious in inverted commas rock bottom, and you'll also get someone who's been living in their car for the last three months, and you'll get, you know, you'll just get all different types of people and it can work for everyone because the 12 steps for me is just to kind of recipe for transformation if you follow it. And in some ways, I think that the 12 steps provides everything that you might not have gotten growing up for whatever reason. So it sort of creates a safe space for you to learn to talk about your feelings for you to discover what you actually like and maybe to explore your spirit Politics, I think that can be a really life enhancing thing, whatever that means to a person. And they can kind of give you all of that. So if you if you are lucky, like I was you, I just had a really good experience with that.

James Morris:

Yeah, I think I absolutely agree with all of that. I think it's as again, as I discussed with Wendy and, you know, talk about a lot is this just this, the idea of alcoholism or alcoholism as disease, I think sets quite a high threshold, or at least, you know, the expectation, or a lot of the stereotypical beliefs is that you kind of have to hit a rock bottom, you know, which I just don't agree with, I think, you know, lots of people recover from alcohol problems without even identifying themselves as having had a problem. They were just much less severe and people managing their drinking or cutting down a bit is, you know, arguably a form of recovery as well. So I suppose that's my main reservation about AA is you know, that it certainly hasn't deliberately constructed alcohol problems as a severe idea of alcohol problems. And, you know, I think the first article I read of yours kind of framed it as the idea of an almost alcoholic and talked about the continuum or Shades of Grey, I think that's so important as, you know, certainly a group in terms of, you know, numbers of people in the population who may, at some point, develop more serious alcohol problems that that might lead them to saying, alright, do an Alcoholics Anonymous or disease model is going to work for them, but many of them won't ever relate to or perhaps get to that stage, but may still experience problems. So it's trying to unpick it in terms of there's a sort of tension between the strict idea of well, it's not a strict idea, because again, as Wendy says, it's, it's still a folk sense. But as soon as you say, alcoholic, you know, does create a dichotomy or an idea of problem drinking is severe and separate. Whereas I think, as we both agree that there are so many shades of grey, and we both relate to that, in some ways, having both used and benefited from a, we still perhaps don't identify with that rock bottom narrative in the way that it may be more classically portrayed or seen,

Unknown:

Well we graduated, didn't we James, which is what you're not supposed to, you're not supposed to graduate from AA. And I laugh at this, because this is what I say to my AA friends. And actually, it makes them feel quite uncomfortable, because they do think you know, some of my friends, not all of them at all. But some would worry as I stopped going to AA because so many people do leave a and then relapse, and then they come back in four years. And they say they've been on this four year relapse. But for me, and maybe that is because of you know, like I sort of ambled into aa rather than crawling into a as the narrative can go sometimes, maybe that's why I've been able to graduate. And I don't know also, even I'm starting to think like, oh God, am I getting a bit too sure of myself in my sobriety. But I don't know, I think one of the other interesting things that you said just then as well, which I've thought about a lot is this idea of the understanding of the word alcoholic outside the rooms of AA, you've introduced me to this idea of the folk understanding of something. So maybe like the folk understanding of alcoholic, that caused me a lot of problems, because then after I'd ident, you know, I identified as an alcoholic in order to stop drinking. So I'd learned that I just needed a desire to stop drinking. And that was all I needed to be able to use, ah, stop drinking. So I was I Oh, brilliant. And then I had to sort of start telling my friends because it'd become this big thing that I was doing, but then they would all be like, but you're not an alcoholic. And of course, they were meaning by that word as sort of really chronic, at the end of the line, alcoholic drinking in the morning kind of thing. But actually, it was really confusing for me because I was sort of torn between the different meanings of this word alcoholic. And that's another way in which a was not that helpful to make. So I had to sort of really battle to identify as being an alcoholic. And then I learned that the word alcoholic isn't even in use really anymore outside of AA, or just on the sort of street. And that is really problematic, which I know is something that you're really aware of. And, and I find that just really infuriating in some ways, and just a real shame. And I wish the AI would just update it materials in some way. But that seems impossible. For some reason.

James Morris:

Yeah, certainly something I've thought about before is, you know, is there a way that AA could perhaps broaden or make an attempt to broadening the idea of the alcoholism concept? And, you know, I, you know, I've often had these debates about, you know, in terms of stigma that that certain people argue, you know, we should just de stigmatise the term alcoholic, but you know, I don't think that that's possible for a range of reasons. You know, in the stigma literature, they kind of maybe call it revaluing, but the evidence seems to point or kind of experts in this kind of stigma. Researchers seem to think that once once a term has such a heavily stigmatised status, it's very hard to kind of shift that. So my view is trying to promote a more of a continuum understanding or spectrum idea of alcohol use and problems. Which, which the idea of alcoholism just inherently can't do per se. So that's a really tricky one. So yeah, I think, you know, I'd never encouraged or never discourage anyone from self identifying with it if they felt that worked for them. But in terms of the just a much broader narrative that it you know, if you say alcohol problem for many people I think alcoholism will just bring to mind and with that all the stereotypes about severe rock bottom, Park bench type drinkers and so on. And I think that that was the kind of strength of the Adrian Charles documentary, which is purportedly created this, Adrian, Charles, effectively, people coming forward and asking for help, or downloading apps and so on. So it's just you're trying to understand the nuance of alcohol problems, you know, recognise that AA can have a really valuable role for lots of people. But I think, again, positive sobriety is a reflection of how it may be how there's lots of people where they kind of want another way to explore and identify and understand their drinking. And, you know, I think that's exactly as he said, there's so many positives, you can still draw on through a engagement, you know, he said, he said about the kind of humility and I think that's fantastic, as well. But yeah, I mean, you know, in your writing, I think you do try and unpick some of those, those complications don't new and I suppose it is also just through having conversations with people that we may be a better able to explore the nuance nature of it and kind of break down those stereotypes and stigma.

Chelsey Flood:

Someone I spoke to recently put it in a really interesting way, when I was talking about getting sober, and how it was just much more of a comprehensive life change than I had really recognised at the time. And she said, Well, it's actually changing cultures, isn't it? And I thought that was an incredible way of putting it. And I think that's really accurate. And I think that's why it takes it can be such a difficult transition. Because you know, whichever way you get sober, you're starting to relate to yourself and other people in the world in a completely different way. If you are now, going from having loved and sort of worshipped alcohol, and prioritised it and had friends who also love it to, you know, not engaging with it at all that completely cutting it out of your life, I mean, it is quite a dramatic, it's quite a dramatic thing to do. And I know that you're really interested in the idea of control drinking, and the idea, I don't know what you think about moderation management. But it doesn't have to be all or nothing. But for me at that time, I wasn't really aware of that narrative. And I do believe that for me, I needed to go completely abstinent at that time. And that the idea for a long time of control drinking was quite scary to me, because I just, I'd had to get my head around the fact of not drinking at all. And that had been this huge thing. So then the idea that maybe I could drink a little bit was, was quite confusing, but I'm now understanding much more that there are different approaches. And maybe it doesn't have to be so much like the idea of changing cultures as it is with that black and white idea of sort of complete abstinence versus quite a lot of drunkenness.

James Morris:

Yeah, I mean, in terms of moderation management, I think, you know, it's fairly well established or fairly available in terms of face to face meetings in the States, but practically non existent in the UK in terms of face to face meetings. But I do understand there's now some obviously, after the pandemic, online based meetings more in the kind of European time zones and so on, but I did I wasn't I was contacted a long time ago by someone who was trying to get some mm moderation management meetings going and I kind of tried to help get them going. But they never really seem to reach a critical mass. But for a period of certainly, I don't know, about six months, I went with a fairly small group of people whose goal was moderation, including myself, I think at that point, I'd I didn't drink for eight years. And then, you know, for the last 10 years I have drunk in moderation. And I think maybe at that point, I was a couple of years in and I did find them useful, just in many ways in the same way that I found a useful, though certainly people were, you know, it wasn't my position to judge but where you can't almost can't help but question perhaps they'd be more suitable for abstinence. But that's that's the ongoing debate, isn't it is that there's no hard and fast test, but people who want to change their drinking and want to try control drinking or moderation shouldn't be discouraged from trying to change their drinking. And in fact, the evidence does show that lots of people who start off with a controlled drinking goal end up with an abstinence goal and and succeeding at abstinence and saying, you know, I tried it, but it didn't work. I suppose the complicating factor is more, again, just that broader population, those people who perhaps won't ever see themselves as having enough of a problem to need to go to a peer support group, or conversely, you know, like harm reduction, people just feeling that they don't want abstinence or they don't feel they can achieve abstinence, but that doesn't mean you just drink as much as you can, you know, there's still huge benefits from literally controlling your drinking. And the idea of control the term control drinking, I don't like it, because I don't really relate to that. I'm just someone who who drinks, you know, for sort of mild social enhancement or to complement a meal, but it's not. If I felt like I had to control my drinking, I'd think it was a problem, and therefore, I wouldn't want to drink at all, I think I'd want abstinence.

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, that's unfortunate, it's that it's gotten the name of control drinking, because that does immediately suggest to the person who's not really sure about it, that it's someone you know, it's like me before I found a, where I was trying to control my drinking. And that meant that I was just very occasionally having a blackout, because I totally lost control of my drinking, and very often, really quite rigidly controlling my drinking in this in a slightly weird and unpleasant and not enjoyable way. So I used to do this thing where I just used to pour out tiny little bits of wine for myself, and then put the wine bottle back in the fridge to try and just make it last longer. And that was, you know, that's when I was starting to recognise this is a bit strange what I'm doing. And so yeah, that's a shame because that is that word control doesn't seem to be the most inviting or appealing does it or even just like describe what it is you're talking about getting from the way that you didn't now

James Morris:

Yeah, sort of a paradox that control drinking is argued as a valid form of recovery, but in the way it sounds, it just doesn't really kind of sound like that. So some people, you know, describe it as non abstinent based recovery or reduce drinking goals, and Katy Witkiewitz in America has done some really good studies. And she argues that recovery shouldn't be measured by use of the substance or not for a whole range of reasons. But and has actually shown that some people experience who might traditionally be viewed as, as not successfully recovering because not in a successful recovery period, because they're having some episodes of heavy drinking, but actually, there are other outcomes, their mental well being or social functioning, etc, are just as good as the other people that have achieved abstinence.

Chelsey Flood:

yeah, that's a really good point as well, because I was thinking about how about the people who managed to abstain, but they don't reach any contentment, necessarily, or they don't learn about how to deal with their issues or talk about their feelings. And so they I know, a few people who managed to not drink. And that's usually for periods rather than arrive at that completely, but it might be for over a year, but they have to be in a sort of self imposed prison, because the only way they can manage it is by keeping things really small. And basically, yeah, just it's not quite worked to be something livable. It's just hiding, but they are abstinent.

James Morris:

Yeah, I think they might kind of call that white knuckling in the meetings. Yeah. And I think that's so important. Because, you know, again, thinking about myself that I stopped drinking, before I addressed any of the issues that I think were behind my kind of problematic drinking. And you know, it's great, it was good that I stopped drinking, because it was having, you know, negative physical and psychological effects. But yeah, it was a long period of psychotherapy that I think really helped me unpick the issues that were behind my drinking and kind of have taken away the the motivation to drink destructively that I used to have. So yeah, I was gonna ask you about that what, you know, you mentioned the culture and kind of access and just drinking alcohol at such a young age that that was almost kind of normal and liberating. But are there any other particular things that you think about in terms of what attracted you to drinking? And what has changed that has enabled you to being happy without alcohol if you like?

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, I suppose it's, there's so many things, but I look back and feel sad that I didn't know how interesting life was, when I was a kid. For some reason, I got the idea that the only thing that was to do that was fun was drink, or take drugs. And I was just in place, and I found my way into a group where that seemed true. You know, like, that was my perception. And it was true, and I just feel what shame that is, and was, and so I still now I'm having to relearn some of those things. Like how do you have fun without drinking, because that was true for me for so long. And I came to understand fun as being a certain a certain thing that's quite, I guess, you know, like a lot of different feelings all at the same time, a lot of kind of giddiness and hilarity and wildness and unpredictability. And now I'm learning about how to, I don't know if fun is even the right word. I don't know if that's a problem, but like how to enjoy myself without drinking. And it turns out, there's so many ways and it's of course, now it seems to me very strange that I didn't realise that. And also, it turns out that for me, when I'm not drinking, I actually don't like those involved. moments that are wild and unpredictable, and noisy, and anything goes. And actually, I am a very conscientious, gentle sort of person. And perhaps that didn't feel as welcome. When I was growing up, I wasn't really shown that that was an OK way to be. So I felt I had to be different. And, you know, there's been such an explosion of understanding around neurodiversity, and different temperaments and different sensitivities. So I guess the Susan Cain book, quiet was a really big thing for me learning about being an introvert, and the fact that being an introvert doesn't mean you can't be a leader, for instance. And I suppose this is, again, why I say that I had so much to learn in the process of getting sober about myself and about different ways of being in the world, and just about what I had come to believe. And that's ongoing. Like I say, you know, I now do lots of different things. I've recently started doing watercolour painting. And by that, I mean, I've done one watercolour painting, but I really enjoyed it. And, you know, listening to music and doing a painting, or I spend a hell of a lot of time just having conversations with my friends now. And it turns out, you don't need to have a drink to have an interesting conversation with your friend, not at all. And it's much better if you don't, because you remember everything. And I've also had the experience of going out for drinks with my lovely conscientious friends who do still drink and seeing them turn into these completely different people. And actually, for me, now, in this new sensibility that I have, I don't enjoy that as much. And it makes me want to go home when people start getting rowdy. So yeah, for me, it has been such a huge shift. And a massive part of that has been just learning to say what I'm thinking. So for so many years, I just wouldn't really share what I was thinking, I found it incredibly difficult to tell people the truth or tell myself the truth, probably. And that's why I love to drink because it just allowed me to just say stuff. And and now I've had to really work on just saying stuff in spite of being sober all the time. Because saying stuff is how you join in and saying stuff is how you create a life and have an interesting time. So of course, if you don't know how to say stuff is quite an obstacle. And do you mean by saying stuff? Do

James Morris:

You mean just interacting socially, rather than, you know, having something that you want to tell someone that you might fear that they they're not going to like what you say

Unknown:

No, I mean, literally saying things. So just, you know, sharing how you feel, and what you believe about things. And you know, risking being boring as well, because that used to be a really big fear of mine. Now, I'm incredibly boring and much happier about it. But just I just mean, I mean, I maybe will now mention as well that I did recently get a diagnosis of autism. So perhaps some of those things were harder for me, because I yeah, I don't know, maybe experience the world slightly differently. But for me, just saying anything, felt incredibly risky, because I was so worried about making a mistake. And often what I would say would be deemed weird, because I would have maybe misjudged the situation, or I find it incredibly difficult to have a filter. So I can I have to work overtime to be appropriate sometimes. Because I am naturally a chronic oversharer, which you would notice if you've read my blog, and that has over the years made people be uncomfortable sometimes, or I've kind of picked up on that. So I think as a kid, that drove me deeper inside myself, and made me have a fear of not only speaking up about different, difficult and challenging things, but literally just saying stuff that I was thinking. And so drinking was, of course, a huge reprieve for me, because I didn't have to worry. But then of course, I got myself into trouble because I said literally everything that was going through my head, and people find that really fun. But when you wake up the next day, and remember some flashbacks of weird stuff, you've said, it's quite upsetting.

James Morris:

So interesting. And when you said I'm an oversharer, I felt, if you don't mind me saying, I felt that well, it's not that you're an oversharer, it's just that you're a very open person. And for some people that might be threatening or uncomfortable. And that could be for a whole range of reasons, possibly, because, you know, on some level, perhaps they'd like to be able to share more or be more open about their own stuff. And, you know, don't feel able to do that. But definitely I relate to that, that that alcohol used to give me a feeling that I could just let go of something that I needed to let go of, and I you know, I can't really still to this day, put an exact name or idea on what it was, but it was something that I wanted to let go. So I think that that description is really, really powerful. And when you say alcohol, you know, as a source of you know, the way you viewed it as a way of having fun again, I relate to that, but when I look back on it, I do struggle with was it really having fun or was it letting go of something that I felt I needed to let go of and see you know, the two become conflated and yeah, and then so much of it is about the expectancies that you know, we if you want to let go then drinking environments are the environments in which you can do that. And then Even when I stopped drinking, I would still actually go out and still kind of let go and be like, well, I don't actually need alcohol to be a bit extroverted or be a bit wild, or you know, that kind of stuff. Yeah,

Unknown:

Yeah, I had that experience too. And for me, unfortunately, I'm pretty much never in the mood to get to that point. And that's what I'll call used to do for me is that it used to just get me in the mood to socialise because I am such an introvert. And also now I'm identifying as autistic, or, you know, I've got this diagnosis there. So it makes sense how much I do enjoy solitude a little bit more. But I also when I've been forced to have a good time, so it's someone's wedding or a birthday party, so I have to go cuz I want to be a good friend. And then I will have a fantastic time, and I'll be able to dance. And I will have chats with strangers. And I'll be, it'll be all the highlights of what I've got from drinking without any of the negatives. And then I really do feel like I've broken the code to living because I just think, wow, you know, you can do this stuff sober. And I wonder as well, I used to think that I needed the other people around drinking to get to that point. But over time, I've realised that that's not even true. Like, if everyone wasn't drinking, I believe that we could still get to that point, you just sort of I think it's about being able to tolerate social awkwardness. And I was unable to tolerate social awkwardness, and everyone in my family was unable to tolerate social awkwardness, too. And so we all relied on drink. And actually, if you can just tolerate sort of 20 minutes of social awkwardness while people get into the groove of each other, you can everyone can have a nice time.

James Morris:

I think that's so powerful. And I think, you know, the the idea of an uncomfortable silence, you know, certainly, you know, in a therapeutic intervention or even in just in personal interactions, if you're if you're discussing something, you know, a moment silence can be really important to allow people to reflect on what the other person said, or just what they've said or how they're feeling. But yeah, again, it seems to be just socially conditioned that if you have a silence, it has to be uncomfortable. It's labelled as uncomfortable.

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, I've had to train myself to accept silences. And especially in teaching, actually, because it's really important that you don't just answer your own questions as a teacher. And it can be a real newbie mistake that you ask a question. And then you immediately like, Oh, my God, it's awkward silence, and then you just answer it. So you know, you're kind of getting in the way of everyone. And I think it's just the same in conversations as well. People need a little minute to process things. And if you can learn to tolerate that little silence, more interesting things happen. And as with everything else, you become more tolerant of that little silence.

James Morris:

So I think we'd probably both agree that we've kind of moved from a place where alcohol was fulfilling something, albeit kind of problematically to a place where we're learning to live in a way where we're not using or not needing alcohol to fulfil that, that role?

Unknown:

Yeah, I suppose as I have accept myself for who I really am for that quieter, more boring sort of person. I don't know. I mean, it's really not true at all that I'm more boring, but more measured, maybe. And as I accept myself for being that person, and start to also acknowledge that I do need things I do have certain needs, or I, you know, I can't just always function at a really high level, no matter what the circumstances, as I accept that life is just so much more bearable, so I just don't need to drink. So I guess I used to drink a lot to fit into other people's ideas of a good time, or to tolerate maybe personalities that I found quite difficult, or whatever the case, and then I and then I would just once I drank, man, I'd accidentally just drink too much and round out go again, and a little ride but so partly just making my life suit and fit me better, has been a huge part of that. And then also, I guess, through AA, I did learn to meditate. And I've learned the power of reading positive little things. So it might be a spiritual book, or it might be a recovery book, or it might be a philosophical book. But I guess the power of just reading some wisdom, some human wisdom about what life is and what we're here to do, which of course is different for all of us. But that helps me a lot. And then also, I don't really, I honestly don't have at all a meditation practice, I never was able to develop one. But what I did get from learning that and really trying hard to develop one for lots of years in AI was how effective mindfulness can be for me. So if I just try and breathe and stop focusing and giving all my attention to my thoughts and just sort of be a little bit more in my body, wherever that wherever my body happens to be preferably outside somewhere beautiful, but it will also work wherever my body happens to be that had really helped me so I guess it's just been learning coping mechanisms really, for my quite anxious disposition. And I tend to get anxious a lot. And I have social anxiety a lot. I get really nervous about meeting new people, I get nervous about teaching and the reason is because I've cared so much so it all comes from quite a good place, but it makes it quite difficult for me to be in my body. And and I can see so clearly now that's why I relied so much on drink. And so actually I've had to do a hell of a lot of work around all of that just to be okay, you know, to go around having a fairly ordinary life and not drinking, you know.

James Morris:

I think as you're describing, learning to understand who you are, and know how you act in different situations, but also your expectancies. And you know, being kind to yourself, I think they're all such powerful things and demonstrate how recovery often is a kind of process of transition into a sort of new cell for social identity, where, you know, just our self view, how we understand ourselves, and how we expect to behave or what we think we might want to enjoy just kind of shifts. And, you know, in some ways, it is just about awareness, isn't it to going back to what you're saying at the start, I really related to a lot of that, in terms of looking back on when I was drinking heavily, the thought processes that I had, or beliefs that I had is really hard to understand how I could think those things like now I'd drink a lot, and I would be quite ill from it after, I would just see that as just perfectly normal thing to do. And that the only negative consequence was feeling rough, you know, that there was no other long term implications for me, there was nothing else to question about that is just quite a bizarre. Yeah, you know, I find it hard to relate to that. So I think developing awareness of ourselves in the drivers of all these kinds of behaviours, so that we can kind of get into a place where we don't need to kind of use things in what might become a problematic way.

Chelsey Flood:

Yeah, 100%, right.

James Morris:

I mean, writing about alcohol is by no means your full time occupation, but do you think you'll do any more

Unknown:

Well, I am working on a book. So I'm trying to mine my blog, and then I'm going to put those into a book. And my main aim for that is I just want to pass on what what I received, because the books that I read by women a little bit like me, who got sober really did change my life. And and I guess I want to add to, to that, and then I'm endlessly fascinated by this topic. So I will certainly write about it. And really, my, what I really write is novels. And alcohol has always played a little part in my novels, but it was that was my drinking mind that was bringing little bits of that in. And so I am really interested now in writing more about the part that alcohol plays in people's problems, but without them realising because I just think I also think denial in particular, is is such a fascinating concept. And it's such a great, I guess, it's a really great literary device as well. So yeah, I think I'm always going to be fascinated in this subject. But increasingly, I'm more interested in those reasons of why we drank and I find it really fascinating that people like me live in these little enclaves, you know, I was created by my environment, and there's a lot of other people like me, and you know, I've stayed in touch with a lot of them. And I find it quite interesting this idea of, like, you talked about the awareness and how it doesn't reach everywhere. And actually, that made me feel quite insane when I was first getting sober because it was like no one would ever validate that I'd ever even had a problem and I was like, Oh my god, this is so weird. So yeah, I still have loads to say and write about

James Morris:

And if people want to read your blog, it's is the beautiful hangover. Is that the main place?

Unknown:

Yeah, so it's actually on my writer website, which is Chelsea flood.com.

James Morris:

Great. Well, thanks so much, Chelsea. That's been a fantastic and really, really interesting conversation.

Chelsey Flood:

It was so much fun. I really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much for asking me and and just for for asking such interesting questions. I really enjoyed it.

Early drinking to a problem
Finding Alcoholics Anonymous
Would something else have 'worked'?
AA and its meanings
'Graduating' AA?
Moderation?
Relearning 'fun'
Social anxiety, an autism diagnosis and coping mechanisms