The Club Soda podcast

Sunshine Warm Sober: Catherine Gray on sustaining long-term change

July 08, 2021 Club Soda Season 2 Episode 37
The Club Soda podcast
Sunshine Warm Sober: Catherine Gray on sustaining long-term change
Show Notes Transcript

Sunshine Warm Sober is the latest book from acclaimed author Catherine Gray. Catherine's first book The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober was a roaring success, and we know you're going to love reading her new one.

Catherine Gray is an award-winning writer and editor. She has worked for magazines such as Cosmopolitan, GLAMOUR and Fabulous, for nearly a decade. Catherine loves writing about psychology, travel, social trends and fascinating people. Assignments have included interviewing the people behind-the-cameras on Planet Earth II, running a B&B for 24 hours, anonymously reviewing European hotels, and talking 35 men into posing naked for a testicular cancer charity. She’s a contributing editor at TLL magazine and has organised and interviewed covers such as Joe Wicks, Binky Felstead and Holly Willoughby. Her first book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober was published in December 2017. It combines memoir details of how Catherine quit alcohol in 2013, along with listicles, illuminating interviews with top experts, and cultural comment.

Catherine has been sober for over 7 years now. While her first book explores the early stages of change and the learning along the way, this one provides guidance on long-term change. Sunshine Warm Sober: Unexpected Joy That Lasts is all about what comes next. She notes that many people can manager shorter stints of sobriety, but that many find the longterm change the struggle. This book inspires hope for a brighter future, where alcohol isn't centre stage. Catherine shares her own experiences and learnings, this is a refreshing and honest read. She encourages the reader to think beyond quitting drinking and look at the big stuff. What do we want life to look like? What boundaries do we need to set? If you are seeking longterm change and a life without alcohol, this book is a great tool to have in your kit.

Buy Sunshine Warm Sober from Amazon UK / Amazon US / Amazon Canada / Amazon Australia.

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Dru Jaeger  0:00  
Hey, how you doing? Welcome to the Club Soda podcast. I'm Dru Jaeger. Club Soda is all about helping you live well by being more mindful about drinking. So if you want to choose better alcohol free drinks, make connections or discover how to change. This podcast is for you. And if you want even more good stuff, come and find us at Jordan Club If you've read any quit lit, it's pretty likely that Catherine Gray's book, the unexpected joy of being sober, was near the top of your reading list. Her first book was a Sunday Times bestseller. And it's a really honest look at the ups and downs of quitting drinking. And Katherine's got a new book out, which she's here with us to talk all about. So, welcome Catherine to Club Soda podcast. Thanks for having me, Joe. And so really excitingly, oh, your book, your original book, the unexpected joy of being sober, I think is one of the books that gets talked about most in the Club Soda community. So it's really exciting. I think that you've got a new book out, and congratulations on it. Could you just give us a brief intro? Just tell us a bit about your new book and where it came from? What's it about?

Catherine Gray  1:09  
Yeah, sure. So the new book is kind of a sequel to the unexpected joy of being sober. And I never intended to write it, I kind of thought that the unexpected joy of being sober was it. That was the bulk of what I was going to learn about alcohol and sobriety. And you know, being a semi functional at total adult, I wouldn't say fully exempt. And then that was really naive of me, because in the first four years, I did learn, learn a heck of a lot. But I've learned just as much. And probably some of the deepest stuff in the past four years, because I'm Coming up on eight years now. So and I found that I couldn't stop talking about people who follow me on social media may have noticed about alcohol and sobriety. So it wasn't something that I stopped having things to say about and wanting to learn about. So it just sort of happened. The sequel? And yeah, but I think that's it now. That's it? Yeah, I think I think I'm done. I want to move on to other topics and just write some fiction. Yeah, it's, it's, it's what you learn in long term recovery that sums it up? Yeah.

Dru Jaeger  2:29  
Brilliant. We'll come on to talk about that. And the new book, but I think, you know, in the Club, Soda community, we've got all sorts of people, all sorts of stages in their journey of change and changing a different ways people cutting down and taking breaks, stopping for good, a whole spectrum of different stages as well. So I think it would probably be really useful for those who haven't read the original book, the unexpected joy of being sober. So this is an impossible question. Could you give us a really super quick recap of what do you think are the really essential things for people to know when they're right at the beginning of this journey of change from from your own experience? What What did you learn right at the very start, as you were, as you were tackling the subject of changing your drinking,

Catherine Gray  3:13  
I'll try my best. I would say one of the top things to learn to remember, first of all, is not to get too caught up in labels, and whether you think the labels apply to you. Because that that, I think, because when I quit drinking in 2013, it was not the landscape that we have now. I'm pretty sure Club Soda didn't exist yet. It was very much you only quit drinking, if you're, you know, you identify as an alcoholic. And you. And that's a terribly sad thing that you're now going to be sober, which is why I wrote the book in the first place, because I was like, wow, I'm so much happier. So people need to know that. And, and so I think the resisting the label, and also not feeling that the label applied to me, maybe kept me drinking for three or four years beyond what I really should have. Because it was so black and white, and drinker or sober person, and now everything's become blurred in a good way. And all of these people are going sober, just because it's a positive lifestyle choice. And they're crowing about it. And they're being supported socially, which is just so beautiful to see. And such a massive change from 2013. So I would say don't get too caught up in the labels. All you need to really think about is which way of life are you happier in? Try both choose the one that you're happier and it's as simple as that.

Dru Jaeger  4:50  
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's right. You know, people do get very, you talk about this in your latest book as well. People get big get hung up on that word alcoholic and actually can use it As a defence, you know, at least I'm not an morning, exactly, I my problem isn't serious enough for me to deal with, even though it's causing me significant difficulty, you know, sometimes physical harm, you know, at least I'm not an alcoholic. So, you know, I'm just gonna park it over there is something to not deal with. So I really appreciate that kind of, yeah, that flexibility around language as you say it not being a barrier, if there's a problem, do something about it, don't worry about what it's called.

Catherine Gray  5:29  
Yeah. And also, I would say that, to recognise that moderation is not the norm. And actually, moderation is rare. I can count on one hand, the number of people I know who can successfully moderate and do so regularly, you know, who will go out and have one or two drinks, but people just don't do that. And that's because when you start drinking, I mean, drink responsibly as a misnomer. When you drink, you become irresponsible. It's just the nature of alcohol, it lowers your inhibitions, it makes you take riskier decisions than you would do when you're sober. So it's something that once you die, you're more likely to have a few of, you know, in my case, five or six. So I would say if the people who are cutting down if they're finding really difficult to moderate, then recognise that it's really fiercely difficult thing to do. It's not actually something that the vast majority of us do. The average Brit actually drinks 26 units a week, which is not moderation, it's you know, because recommended cut off is 14. So, recognise that it's fiendishly difficult.

Dru Jaeger  6:44  
It's one of the things that I say to people, you know, in Club Soda, we do support people, you know, however, they decided that they want to change all of the things I do say to people about moderation is that your, your intention to have a couple of drinks is a really easy intention to have, until you've had a couple of drinks.

Catherine Gray  6:59  
Exactly. It's, the irony is none is easier than one. Because one erodes the ability to say no to to and to practically decimates the ability to say no to three. And there are people out there that can say no, but I really they really are in the minority. So yeah, just being aware of that, because I think we are sold this myth and misconception that moderation is very easy, and we're failing if we can't do it.

Dru Jaeger  7:32  
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I think as well, I mean, that whole language of failure, I think, is really unhelpful. Anyway, because you know, and I think as you you know, you reflect in your experience of being somebody who attempted to moderate. And, you know, it's the we keep trying, right, whether we are going alcohol free, or whether we're moderating, however it is that we're changing. There's something that motivates us to keep going and to keep trying. And all of those experiences of not getting it right, are really valuable, because we can learn something about ourselves and that process, you know, wherever it is that we turn to.

Catherine Gray  8:10  
Yeah, absolutely. And I tried every tactic going to try and moderate and it would work for a while, and it was slide out of my grass. And I recognise then, yeah, three or four years just trying to hang on to alcohol, trying to keep it in my in my life. Because I'd been sold this notion that being sober was terribly sad. So I really resisted that with all my might. And now of course, I know the truth is quite the opposite.

Dru Jaeger  8:40  
Yeah. Which feels like a nice segue to your to your latest book, which has got a really a curious title to ask you about, which is sunshine, warm, sober, unexpected joy that lasts. Can you tell us a bit about where that title and where it comes from?

Catherine Gray  8:53  
Yeah, it sounds a bit Gilmore Girls. So, I mean, my original subtitle, but it got scrapped. Unfortunately, it was a repurposed to stone cold, sober propaganda. And I think it was seen as too radical. But that's what it basically is. It's inverting Stone Cold sober, which is something that I had, I don't know, hundreds of times when I was growing up, and I'm sure if your listeners are British, then they probably have to. And it's, it's just not true. So I flipped it. on its head. Yeah.

Dru Jaeger  9:30  
So So tell us that. Tell us a bit about what the because this is the other thing, I think as well, when we when we talk about changing our drinking, whether we're cutting down or whether we're stopping all of our language is really negative, isn't it? It's about it's about restriction, and it's about reduction, and it's about losing something. But actually one of the things which I love about your latest book and as your original book is that you you talk really positively about the benefits of change. So what what sort of, can you tell us give us a flavour Watch this sunshine warm sober is like in your life. What does that what does it look and feel like?

Catherine Gray  10:06  
I mean, it feels it feels amazing. And just going back to something you just touched on. So I think it's really interesting point is we are raised to be drinkers by default. So therefore when when the drinking is goes, we feel deprived rather than emancipated. Right? Because it's almost like it's another food group. And if we don't drink, then we're missing something. But actually, that is just our society. That's not all societies for a start. And it's an addition, it's not something that has been chipped away from you. So when you see it like that, and I think what will be really interesting is to regard how the language changes as the volume of non drinkers grows. Because Do you remember when you used to have to? I don't know, how would you use that in the when online dating first started, and it wasn't even apps it was just, you know, on websites, you had to describe yourself as a nonsmoker, you had to take a nonsmoker. And now it would be the other way round, you would tick smoker because smokers are in the minority, it's it's flipped. And as as the non drinking becomes more and more common, which we already know that 29% of millennials apparently don't drink. And as it becomes more like half and half, it may be that you don't describe yourself as the non drinker or teetotal or sober, that people will identify themselves as drinking because it is quite strange when you think about it, that we identify ourselves by the absence of something by something we do not do. I also don't think I don't do trapeze but as a non trapeze. You know, it's just, it's, it's quite odd when you think about it, but just how we've been conditioned to think about it. So I mean, the way that I think about being sunshine, warm, sober now is just, I feel like I'm not being dragged down by something like my drinking really had just become like another job. I would get home from work when I was drinking and then start the top of the drinking. And then the next day just limped my way through the working day, because I was firing on half cylinders, if that. And just life was so difficult. I was so tired all the time. I felt nausea. It's a lot of the time craved carbs, you know, just had to eat cheesy brown things. And also smokes because smoking and drinking often go hand in hand. So, I mean, it's very hard to sum it all up, as you know, but just everything about my life is better. I literally can't think of anything that isn't better from quitting drinking. And the only thing that I still can't do his karaoke.

Dru Jaeger  13:04  
And that's okay. I love sober carry, okay, but you need you need good you need you need go to tracks. I think that's the thing you need, you need confidence that you're going to be able to knock a bit of Mariah Carey out of the park. Just need to cultivate a go to track. My favourite.

Catherine Gray  13:24  
To be fair, I don't think when I was drunk, I enjoyed karaoke. So I'm not that kind of I don't love singing apart from when I'm on my own, because I literally could, you know, kill people. If I was an evil superhero. That would probably be the way I would kill people. And so you might be testing. And yeah, it just wasn't my comfort zone kind of standing up in front of group of people, even if I knew them very well. So I used to get even more drunk to do it. So it's no great loss for me, but I'm glad that I brought that you can fill up Mariah

Dru Jaeger  13:58  
isn't that isn't so much the case. Actually, you know, I know that Laura and my co founder and Club Soda talks about this a lot in the context of sober socialising, you know, the number of parties that she stayed out that she wasn't enjoying, but that she got drunk so that she could tolerate it, you know, isn't there something about and you write about this in, in your latest book, about recognising that not drinking, being sober is our natural state, that's who we are all the time. And, and that, you know, these situations that we force ourselves into, by being drunk, you know, as he may be things that we don't love. You know, there's something about, you know, discovering who you are, who you are, and becoming comfortable with who you are, which is really part of this, this journey, this longer term, journey of change, you know, once I've dealt with the drinking and the specific issues around habits and everything else, actually, who am I underneath it or what's going on for me?

Catherine Gray  14:58  
Yeah, it is just about getting back to your real self and what you actually like doing. And I think that so many introverts drink their way into being extroverts, because they think that that's, that's the most likeable version of them. And then when they quit, they discover that they've run around right back to that kind of 13 year old who, who feels awkward at parties and has to relearn how to socialise and that was definitely the case for me. And now I just, I love that about myself, I'm not really that comfortable in big groups, and that's okay. And so, so I'll go and normally leave after a bit. And that's okay. And people understand that now. And they don't expect me to stay to the bitter end anymore. When I first quit, everyone's like, what you're leaving, it's midnight, you normally stay till three, what's wrong. And now they're like, Okay, see you later. And that's fine. I connect with people much more intimately and have much more of a laugh with people one on one, and that's just how I am. And you know, there's nothing wrong with that. It's, it's, it's lovely.

Dru Jaeger  16:08  
So in your in your latest book, so for those who, those who are thinking about picking it up, you this is really about years, 567 a little bit of year right for you of this of this journey of being sober. And I really liked this thing that you say in the book, you say staying sober. From year four on became, dare I say it easy, but the less obvious yet more profound work began. And I wonder, could you give us a an insight into some of the things that you discovered? about yourself some of that some of that work for you in years? years? Five, six, and seven, what's been important to you in keeping going on this journey of change?

Catherine Gray  16:45  
Yeah, sure. Because what happens after you complete three years, so but is your chances of going back drop really quite dramatically to only 14%, which is amazing, right? But that's not zero. So I think my my, if I could sum it up, my task over the past four years, has been making myself feel as safe as possible, as I can, from myself from alcohol from the whole drink pushing pressure around it. And also from thinking that can lead to drinking. So so that's probably one of the main themes in the book is the mental ruts that we get into that can lead back to drinking, eventually might take months and months, but it may eventually lead there. And those for me are things like people pleasing, not asking for what I need, not setting boundaries. And also I had a lot of work to do around my childhood stuff. And because, sorry, this banging because there's the chart topping predilection for addiction is childhood stuff. So it's a high number of traumatic experiences in childhood. And when people hear trauma, they they think, oh, that's not me, you know, my childhood was, yeah, it was definitely mixed. But it wasn't traumatic. So people are often surprised to learn what traumatic episodes look like and, and that they probably do have quite a high number of them. So if you, if you have more than six, what they call adverse childhood experiences, then you are seven times more likely to become addicted later in life. So yeah, I mean, a lot of the work I've done over the past four years has been deeper and more profound, and sometimes less fun, just as important, but there is lots of fun bits in the book, too. It's just that Yeah, you've really have to dig deep and it felt like so when you when you first learn to dive, you can only go to 18 metres. And then when you get really, really good, really good and you become a dive Master, you can go to 30 metres. So it felt like that. It's awkward and you had to do a lot more prep and learn a lot more. But you get to go deeper as a result. And yeah, now I just feel completely as safe as I can. That I'll never go back. So it's it's a lovely way to feel.

Dru Jaeger  19:23  
Yeah, absolutely. You've got this really nice phrase as well. in your, in your, in your story about the hooked fish. I'll let people kind of discover that for themselves when they get on Facebook about being not fixed or finished. I think that's I think that's another really lovely attitude to have is you know, particularly if you've if you're somebody right now he's wrestling with drinking, trying to work out how to change how stock you know how to get past or week you know, all have that kind of very early days stuff. Alcohol is the big issue. You know, it feels like the big thing that you are wrestling with a need to deal with. But then as you get some way through this journey, there is this moment of realisation Isn't that where you go Actually, the reason I'm drinking I was drinking before is really incidental to alcohol, you know, alcohol was, was was a solution to all of these problems. Now I'm faced with doing this work of dealing with the things which drove me to drinking in the first place. And so I think that kind of attitude of, I'm not fixed or finished, I'm still a work in progress. I've still got stuff to do. But I'm in a different place. Now. I think it was a really helpful attitude to have.

Catherine Gray  20:27  
Yeah, definitely. And I think I mean, over the past year or so a lot of people who may have joined Club Soda, who probably classified themselves as social drinkers, before lockdown will have discovered that they're not social drinkers, after all, because the socialising was illegal, and yet they drank more. And so they're probably grappling with the realisation that they're more of an anxious drinker. And I think anxiety and also boredom, but I didn't really, really identify with the board. And that is part of the reason why a lot of people drink, but then it's important also to recognise the interplay, rather than just put it all on the person. So your anxiety made you drink. We also live in an ultra pressurised culture that presumes that we're going to grow up to be drinkers and literally gives, you know, parents put alcohol in our hands, and, in my case, very young, to teach teenagers how to drink. So we it's it's an interplay of those two things. Yes, anxiety and introversion and things like that. And also, extraversion interestingly, which blows the idea of an active addictive personality out for water do predispose you to becoming hooked on alcohol, or other substances. But we also live in this society where it's thrown at us at every opportunity, you know, even at play dates and things like that. And it's very addictive. So it's, it's both of those things combined. It's both. It's both our mental state and the society we live in.

Dru Jaeger  21:59  
Yeah, absolutely. So in the in the book, you you're entering into your eighth year. sober, so so so tell us a little bit about that. what's what's what does your future look like? Do you think from this point?

Catherine Gray  22:13  
Yeah. So it's a bit confused. I found it hard to get my head around this myself. I'm in my eight year, but I will be eight years in September. So I've completed eight years, eight years, and then I'm then I'm in my ninth year. Just that right.

Dru Jaeger  22:35  
Turn one at the end of your first year of being.

Catherine Gray  22:38  
So I'm glad you've compared That's right. So yeah, it's I mean, it is I, I loved it, and I'm never gonna go back. So it's, it's a, it's a way of life for me. And it Well, everyone should know this, that it just gets easier and easier and easier as you go on. And even when you're clobbered, like a couple of weeks ago, we lost a member of my family, even when you're knocked sideways by grief, you, you've now have all these other coping strategies to pick up all these other tools that you pick up. And it literally didn't even occur to me to have a drink when that happened. And I never would have could have imagined in my wildest dreams that that would be the case, because it was just my automatic go to coping strategy, soothing mechanism. But it's just a case of rewiring and rewriting your habits and pointing yourself towards things that don't aren't alcohol. Which, but it's so savage in the beginning, it really is. And I really feel for people who are in early recovery, because it is very, very difficult. But I'm here to tell you that it's worth it. And yeah.

Dru Jaeger  23:57  
I just just another thing that you wrote, you wrote in the book, which I loved, you say I have a big, beautiful life to lead, even though on the surface is actually pretty simple and modest. We're allowed to move beyond our addictions, to enjoy our newfound wild and precious freedom. I think that is such a beautiful sentiment.

Catherine Gray  24:14  
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I think I think that it's important not to I mean, for instance, this is a good parallel with the childhood trauma therapy. I did that for six months, I think, quite intensively and then I stopped because I think you can get in a bit of a whirlpool where you're just going around and around and around the same issues and not allowing yourself to castable into the next waters. That's not a perfect metaphor, but we'll just go with it. So it we should be allowed to advance beyond that and leave it behind. Once we've done the work, so I think it's important to be allowed to move on

Dru Jaeger  24:59  
Yeah. Absolutely. So as we say your new book is out now, just to remind people tell people about the title of book where where they can find it.

Catherine Gray  25:09  
Yeah, so it's sunshine, warm, sober, and it's from all good bookshops and if they're in the States or internationally, then I know that Blackwell's and Book Depository do free international shipping, because depending on where they are, they might have to wait for the book. So stick to official channels so that's a bit of a cheat, legal cheat to my

Dru Jaeger  25:35  
people and if people want to connect with you online, where can they find you?

Catherine Gray  25:40  
On Instagram is where I do most of my chatting because I don't like Twitter's cut off. I'm a bit of a waffler. So it's Instagram at unexpected joy off.

Dru Jaeger  25:50  
Brilliant. I'm Katherine, thank you ever so much for joining us. Thanks for having me.

Unknown Speaker  26:16  
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