Stop Counting Start Living

The Sanctuary Six Week Programme which I founded nearly ten years ago is unique in many ways. One of these is that after the programme is completed, counting days is not part of living a life without alcohol. If you constantly add up days of sobriety, plainly that shows that you are still thinking about the old bad habit. Most mainstream services and organisations encourage people who were dependent on something to keep counting.


Once you have stopped drinking or using other drugs, I believe we should start to fill the void it left by replacing it with many new healthy habits, reconnecting with the authentic person you were before this dreadful cycle of not only self harm but the ripple effect it has of harming others. It no longer defines us, we don’t need to keep making reference to it, the constant reminder of the past.

Clients take up new interests, become involved often in quite radical exercise regimes because the flip side of our determination to drink, is that we have an amazing ability to use it for gain and good. We also make new friends, form new relationships with those who were never affected by this illness. Reinvention and a feeling of being liberated is the message.

Of course there is much reflection on how much time we wasted, but in many ways addiction, if you recover, can be a gift. It has shown us how dark and frightening life can be by using, when we stop and the switch is flipped then the effort to be the best we can be is even more exhilarating! We have more time, money and  energy to have a positive life without having to revisit the past on a daily basis.

I have no idea how many days I have been sober, but in my sixth decade am way too busy with life in the present to dwell on life in the past, and making the most of every moment.

Pat’s Testimonial

I loved the buzz I got from alcohol the first time I tasted it age 15.  By 16 I would sometimes pop to the local shop and buy a bottle of Pomagne, which I would down immediately.  This escalated to drinking heavily every night in pubs and getting myself in some tremendously traumatic situations, still only aged 16/17.   

However for the next 30 plus years alcohol was not a problem for me.  Don’t get me wrong I have never been able to have just 1 drink, but I drank infrequently.  I might have a bottle of Vodka New Years Eve and no more alcohol until Summer.  I felt sorry for people who needed a regular drink to escape reality.

Approximately 8 years ago work became stressful and I started to have a bottle of White Wine on a Friday night.  I enjoyed it and gradually it became Friday and Saturday night, then Sunday too.  About 3.5 years ago my drinking escalated to nightly.  At the start of the Pandemic I swapped White Wine for Red, ideally 14.5% volume.  

I tried challenges and coaches to help me stop drinking but nothing worked. I had a couple of 10 day spells without Alcohol and one 22 day spell but I would always tell myself just 1 (bottle) would not hurt, I deserved it – and off I would go again. 

By the time I heard about Harrogate Sanctuary I had drunk virtually every night for the past 15 months. Over recent months alcohol had dominated my thoughts, it felt like I could only get through the day by looking forward to drinking at night.  I had developed reverse tolerance which meant I got more drunk with the same amount of alcohol which I saw as a sign that my liver wasn’t coping.  I was convinced I was killing myself and felt deeply ashamed.  I was so tired and depressed and I knew I just had to stop drinking but that I needed additional help to do this.  

I reached out to Sarah and found her to be responsive, down to earth, relateable and immensely knowledgeable about Alcohol and it’s effects.  She was non-judgemental and immediately seemed to understand me and what I needed.  Although Sarah offers a CBT approach she was Human and real.  

After meeting Sarah for an initial informal Consultation over Zoom I knew I was going to stop drinking.  5 days later I stopped and I haven’t drunk since.  The support, understanding and motivation Sarah provided me with over the next 6 weeks, via Zoom and e mail was invaluable – I could not have done it without her. 

I feel so much happier, I don’t feel ashamed anymore, I’m living life again.  I have learnt stopping drinking is just the start, rebuilding your life is what takes you forward.  Sarah helped me with both these things and if you want to stop drinking and rebuild your life I would highly recommend you get in touch with her via Harrogate Sanctuary, as she made the world of difference for me.


Alcoholism – Are We All in This Together?

Alcoholism is a huge spectrum. Those of us who became late stage, needing a drink to function in the day, are regarded as the true alcoholic. Not a badge to wear with honour perhaps but trust me to drag yourself out of that place is beyond remarkable, and stay here, in the moment, not thinking about drinking, and opening up to so many opportunities that are available to us as extremely resourceful, resilient, and brave people. So, if necessary, I will use that label.

Then there are the regular drinkers, some have an ingrained habit, drinking daily, often habitually at that ridiculous quippish ‘wine time’ or worse ‘me time’, or on some evenings the full-on bingers who often go out with the intention of getting drunk. The big difference between these three categories, us alkies are up for telling our tale, in venues, on social media because very often we have lost everything, and prior to beating it, had zero reason for facing reality. We though, have had a fresh start.

The regulars are a completely different story. They are terrified of being labelled alcoholic, having in their eyes, everything to lose. Family, friends, jobs, respectability, status. No one suspects when someone is living in a lovely house, driving a posh car and shopping at Waitrose that there is a chance of alcoholism. But it IS! This group represents many of my clients. Average age, 47.5 years, professional, well presented and still highly functioning not dragging themselves, yet, through the day with a quick snifter, but most definitely craving the first one at 6 o’clock. Average intake, two bottles of wine a day, 140 units a week.

The Bingers, party animals, are open about getting wrecked on a Saturday night, having a hair of the dog on Sunday. It’s also a Badge of Honour. Keeping up, out drinking, out dancing, living it large. They can drink at least 70 units in one session.

The point I am trying to make is that unless we all come out of the closet with our drinking, there is never going to be any change made with the way this is presented to us on TV, in the shops or online within the workplace with friends and foes.  If we were all in it together, we would be able to state our condition publicly without any consequences just as every other condition, mental illness sexual preference, physical disability, shape, or size because it would mean that we would all get the better of Big Alcohol and governments, who control us with this crap.

When brave women like Dame Deborah told her story about bowel cancer, it opened up a tsunami of others to discuss this once stigmatised embarrassing problem and she propelled people to let all that ‘what will people think’ stuff go, and saved so many lives. There is so much power in numbers.

What is the worst that can happen if you tell? Do you really think that the hypocrites who may indicate that they will report you, and yes I have heard this first hand from clients whose doctors have suggested this, and when they do it is outright hypocrisy, 37% of my clients on average annually are from the medical profession. Similarly with employers, many have plenty of skeletons in their cupboard. It is so unfair, that no matter what your condition these days, you are given a pat on the back for being honest, this is the only bloody taboo that is left, and it is KILLING US! With alcoholism we DO NOT CHOOSE TO DRINK, we are ill and need it to function albeit in a fog.

We are supposed to accept all sorts these days in the workplace and society at large, so why can’t people who hold their hands up and say they have this illness be treated with the same compassion?

I had cancer at one of the worst times in my life, my husband had been diagnosed almost simultaneously with heart failure, but I stayed clean and shall probably be in remission for the rest of my days, but if I contracted the big C again, and died, would anyone ever say I deserved it, no surprise etc? Course they wouldn’t.

Can those of us who have managed to overcome this see that by staying quiet and good about it will only keep exacerbating the problem, as we can see following the pandemic, deaths from alcohol misuse are on the up, we need a massive bomb to go off with this otherwise there will never be an end to it.

If we are all in it together it’s about time we told our stories, not anonymously but in the open, and be extremely proud if we have recovered or if we just want some appropriate care for the third biggest killer in the western world.

Jane’s Testimonial

I contacted Harrogate Sanctuary in the middle of the night as I had hit rock bottom with my drinking, and I was feeling both physically and mentally exhausted.  On average I was drinking two bottle of wine a night, seven nights a week.  Every morning I would wake up and say to myself I would not consume any wine that night.  However, by the afternoon I had deluded myself and so “one more night isn’t going to hurt” became a never ending cycle which I could not break.  With this came shame the next morning that I had given in yet again to alcohol.

Sarah contacted me the very next morning, and after an insightful ice breaker meeting I booked a start date for  the Six Week programme began.  She was the first person I have been truly honest with about my drinking and the effect it was having on family life.  She showed real empathy and was not judgemental in the least.  By opening up to Sarah it felt a huge weight had been taken from my shoulders.  She gave me practical ways to deal with the alcohol cravings so I would not give in to alcohol and she was always on the end of the phone if I needed her.

Sarah is passionate about helping women who need help with their drinking habits. She has a wealth of knowledge on how alcohol is so devastating for you and your family.  No matter what I asked her she always had the answer for me.  She has become a friend rather than a counsellor and I will be forever grateful to her.

 I have tried every kind of counselling and therapy out there to help me with my alcohol consumption and was pleading for help from my GP as I could see I was in a spiral of self-destruction.  None of them could help me!  Sarah did, and still does on our maintenance programme, a safety net in these early days of sobriety, which is such a bonus.

I am in a much better place both mentally and physically without alcohol.  I no longer get to that time in the night where I see wine as a reward, quite the opposite, as I am more productive, which means I worry less about the things I have not got done on my “To Do” list.  I sleep like a baby every night and my physical exercise has improved as I now have the energy to get out there and do my daily 10,000 steps if not more, and there is no more procrastination.

I highly recommend Sarah for anyone who are struggling with alcohol.  She has been my saviour.


Thinking Drinking, Even When Asleep

When we are habitual drinkers, habitual being the operative word, whether we plan to drink daily, every other day or weekends only, the rest of the day is spent thinking about our drinking. This also can happen even in our sleep. We are all very aware of the 3ish wake up, parched, not consciously wanting a drink, but in fact are brains are craving it, especially when we are in a constant topping up mode, and stumbling to the bathroom dreading the morning light.

But we also have dreams, and these are full of anxiety situations, and often we dream about the fallout from our drinking. The ugly juice never leaves us alone. Even when we stop, in the early days there are vivid ones, of being drunk. I remember waking up crying convinced that I had hidden some bottles in my wellies, and did go downstairs to check. I can laugh now, but at the time I was terrified that the whole bloody cycle had started again.

Habitual drinking seems fairly harmless, it has been normalised to drink a bottle of wine a night, after all it’s ‘only’ 3 glasses of the bucket variety , the tolerance allows it at this plateau stage. The constant pecking of shall I or shan’t I, no I won’t yes I will, (but it will be only one) is exhausting, and we long to turn off this perpetual thought pattern. Not everyone wants to go sober, but I am sure that lots would like to not have this droning on and have some peace from the whole merry-go-round. Alcohol occupies us.

A Husband’s Story

I’ve never written anything like this, nor have I been on a journey like this before.

So where do I start?

I’ve known for many years that my wife has a problem with alcohol, but it’s only in the last 12-18 months that I’ve realised the extent of the issue.

I’ve gone from love to hatred of my wife and everything in between during that time.  There have been lots of lies deception and false promises.  Whilst she’s sought help, it’s been purely because I begged her to,  and not because she’s admitted the problem.

But what about me?  What about our kids?  Where’s the help for them?

There’s very little information on the internet, helplines, NHS or mainstream agencies.  The focus is always on the alcoholic; nothing for the ‘victims’, those that truly suffer the fallout of alcohol misuse.

I’m well educated, switched-on, modern kind of guy…but I simply didn’t have the tools, knowledge or mental strength to deal with an alcoholic, abusive wife.  On the recommendation of a friend, I approached Sarah at Harrogate Sanctuary.  Whilst my journey has resulted in divorce, I recognise that everyone’s outcome will be different.  For me, there was no going back.

As a ‘victim’ of an alcoholic, I’ve been through pretty much every emotion imaginable.  It’s tiring, draining, you have anger, self-doubt, fear and uncertainty.

You question:

  • Is it my fault?
  • Have I allowed this to happen?
  • What do I do when my wife falls off the wagon?
  • Why do I feel like this?
  • When did it all start?
  • Why did it all start?

I spent an incredibly rewarding, informative and educational 6-weeks with Sarah, who has helped me understand these emotions and questions.  Some very difficult decisions have been made during our time,  but speaking to Sarah has allowed me clarity of thought and understanding.

Being colloquial, I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on my worst enemy.  There is no shame in asking for help, and Harrogate Sanctuary has been absolutely brilliant.

Sobriety & Emotional Hygiene

We have all been zealous in our quest to stay as safe as we can during and after the pandemic, all the different companies that deal in cleaning products and santizers have jumped on this band wagon.

But what of our mental health hygiene? There are no lotions or potions that will kill 99.9% of harmful toxins with that. Of course there is a very quick fix with a bottle of herb infused disinfectant, not so with our brains. When we stop drinking there is a real impasse, a plateau of… is this it? Unless we are aware that the contentment party has only just started with stopping drinking we will stay on a very difficult plateau, that does not allow us to reward ourselves with the dopamine hit that was such a trickster with booze. The most important lesson is to keep our expectations manageable. The doomsville tribe will always tell us that once an addict, always an addict, referring to us always having alcohol in our sights as our weapon of choice. Given our enthusiasm for the bad stuff, we can also reboot and use that incredible determination for doing ourselves a whole heap of good, and I show clients how to flip this switch.

It does take patience, time, and a great deal of digging deep. The Sanctuary works with the background noise, the chatter we all had and tried so hard to shut up by harming ourselves, with the realisation that we all need to resolve this self doubt, fear and unworthiness to become intoxicated with who we are rather than comparing ourselves to others and ignoring that we were bloody fabulous in the first place.

I don’t offer a quick fix, but I do offer an understanding of why we became so entrapped in the first place.