As we reach just over halfway of Stress Awareness Month, we have an exclusive interview with the author of the Sober & Scottish Blog, Lauren Mitchell, who in her own words describes her own battles with stress and addiction and how she has managed to overcome and deal with those over the last 3 years in her journey to sobriety.

An NHS Radiographer, Lauren has used fitness and exercise amongst other things to help her cope and de-stress during a worldwide pandemic, where the majority of us can only imagine the harsh reality of working on the front-line.


WHAT WERE THE REASONS AND INSPIRATION FOR YOU IN TERMS OF DITCHING ALCOHOL, DID YOU SET GOALS OR TARGETS TO AIM FOR?

On 20th February 2018, I woke up with the worst hangover, full of ‘the fear’, filled with regret and overwhelmed with shame at the carnage that had occurred the night before. I knew, from that day, my life had to change. I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life. I was inevitably poisoning my body and mentally struggling with the after effects of alcohol.

“I am grateful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.”

I had a love/hate relationship with alcohol and had issues with moderation. One drink was too many but 100 was just never enough. I would drink socially on the weekends until I passed out, ran out of money, lost my purse or was carried home.

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Alcohol has a negative effect on your mental and physical health.

This was the last time I touched a drop of alcohol. I wanted to create better relationships, sharing quality time with my loved ones instead of missing out on memories due to my black-outs. Giving up alcohol was like ‘losing my best friend’ and losing the crutch that I had leant on for so long to help with my social anxieties.

For me, I struggled to believe I had an addiction, and if I did it was a psychological one, believing that I could not possibly have fun, celebrate and / or go on holiday without alcohol. I soon learned that it is ok to question anything that is not serving your life in a positive way, even if society makes you believe otherwise. It took me a while to come to terms with this realisation; I was in control of my own life decisions and how I write my own story. It was life changing in starting the process of becoming the best version of me…for me!


MENTALLY HOW EASY OR HARD WAS IT TO STICK TO THESE GOALS AND WAS THEIR SOMEBODY OR SOMETHING THAT YOU LOOKED TO FOR INSPIRATION?

The beginning was tough, the self-doubt, the depression, the lack of support and understanding from others, the uncertainty of it all. However, support from my loved ones, and my own self-care allowed me to get through each day. Self-care became a huge priority in my life and was a much welcomed transition to self-care rather than self-destruction.

My main inspiration came from reading a couple of different books. Reading helped me to see alcohol in a different light, showing me that I could be in control of alcohol rather than the other way around. I love quotes so I’d often highlight quotes that made me ‘feel’ something and subsequently share them on my blog. Music was also helpful on my journey from artists like Demi Lovato and Lucy Spraggan; who have both experienced their own personal struggles with substance abuse and express their journey through their song writing.

 

My patients also inspired me – whose choice to ‘make memories’ or take part in physical fitness was taken away from them due to illness. A constant reality check that health is wealth and time is precious. The sobriety social media community also had a massive influence on my journey, being able to talk with like-minded people. I’m grateful for the support from my GP, life coach, support group, gym community, friends and family, all of whom gave me the guidance and support I needed to stay focused and achieve my goals.


WORKING IN THE NHS OVER THE LAST 12 MONTHS MUST HAVE BROUGHT NEW PRESSURES AND STRESSES, HOW HAVE YOU COPED WITH THIS?

It goes without saying that this has been one of the most challenging, stressful and unsettling years of my life. Despite this I feel very grateful to be a part of the NHS, leaving the house daily for fresh air and being able to see my colleagues maintained some sort of normality in my household, as my husband is also a key worker.

However, there were periods of frustration and exhaustion when the NHS was pushed to the limit. The ongoing fear of the unknown was consuming; we were all living different versions of this nightmare! My work family, husband, gym community and family zoom quizzes got me through the worst of the pandemic.

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Addiction can lead to mental health and stress related illness.

A self-care focus on my own mental and physical health ensured that I came out the other side of this pandemic strong, resilient and with pride. I’m extremely proud that I have been able to resist any temptation to reach for ‘a glass of wine’ even during the darkest days over the last year. Brighter days are ahead for sure!


HOW HAS FITNESS & EXERCISE HELPED YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY, HAS IT PLAYED A PART IN ESCAPING FROM WORK LIFE?

I was first introduced to functional training 5 years ago and have been a member of my local gym ever since. Fitness can be likened to my journey to sobriety, each day it gets a little easier, each day I love myself a little more. I get the buzz from the endorphins!

“If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.”

When the gyms went into ‘lockdown’ I embraced the home WODS (workout of the day). This was all new to me and I had to quickly adapt but managed to maintain the momentum and novelty, I was managing to train 5 times a week at home! I motivated my husband to join in with partner workouts which enabled us to spend more quality time together too! When lockdown eased last September, I got back to gym training and felt in a positive place mentally, where I could now focus; allowing space and time to work on my physical health.

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Home workouts are quick and can be done anywhere or anytime.

At the turn of the year, we decided to take part in a fitness challenge which involved setting yourself a set of pledges to follow for 66 days – regular fitness, less takeaways, drink +2l water etc. I also began playing closer attention to my nutrition. Thanks to regular exercise and making good nutritional habits, I feel in such a great place now mentally and physically. I have created habits now that I hope will continue to positively impact my life going forward!


WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO OTHERS WHO MAY TODAY BE IN THE POSITION YOU WERE IN ONLY 3 YEARS AGO?

I would say that you cannot make lifestyle changes for anyone except for YOU!

I had tried to change my drinking habits before but only managed 5 months. I wasn’t ready at that time. I was attempting change for everyone else but myself. When that day comes and you find the strength to change for you; I would say that you do not need to do it alone and always ask for help.

It is one of the bravest things you can do, and may often be the hardest part! There is no shame in asking for help or wanting to better your life. There is no guidebook or manual for this, we are all human at the end of the day, but everyone deserves to live their best life!


WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS GOING FORWARD IN TERMS OF YOUR SOBER & SCOTTISH BLOG, IS IT ABOUT INCREASING AWARENESS AND HELPING OTHERS?

There are a few reasons I started my blog. Firstly it was for my own personal support and motivation in continuing my journey – which never ends. I also wanted to show others my ‘scars’ so that others know that they can heal. I want to allow others to show their true authentic, unvarnished selves. I also wanted to attempt to rid the stigma of addiction and the often ‘blame culture’ put on individuals when in fact the addictive substance is indeed the devil in all of this.


Social media can have equally positive and negative effects on our lives. I’ve decided to be open and honest and share my journey. Social media has helped to save my life.

The support I received from friends, family and complete strangers was unbelievable and gave me so much momentum to keep going and also a drive to continue to share my story in an attempt to help others. In the blog I like to share quotes, personal stories and photos as well as quotes that I hope can help someone who needs that helping hand, safe in the knowledge that they are not alone, and it gives them the opportunity to reach out and chat.


OVERALL STRESS EFFECTS PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT WAYS FROM ALL WALKS OF LIE, HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP WHERE YOU WERE, WHERE YOU ARE NOW AND WHERE YOU WILL BE IN 12 MONTHS TIME?

Where I was – I was depressed, lost, sick, psychologically addicted and ashamed.

Where I am – I feel free, worthy, confident, strong, resilient, hopeful, happy and content

Where I will be – Stronger, healthier, wiser, braver, more motivated and thriving. The future excites me!

Lauren can be contacted here if anyone would like to reach out to her, remember it’s ok to not be ok!

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Our thanks to Lauren, for sharing her story and journey with us and taking time out to speak to us. In line with Stress Awareness Month, learn more about the effects stress can have here, learn how Yoga can benefit you and keep an eye out for more articles throughout the month!

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