26 May 2017

Lotta Dann: life after alcohol

From Afternoons, 1:35 pm on 26 May 2017
Lotta Dann

Lotta Dann Photo: RNZ

Lotta Dann describes herself as a frantic, sugar-bingeing, internet-loving, recovering-alcoholic housewife.

Her first book Mrs D is Going Without detailed her battle with drinking, and how cutting down didn't cut it. The book is based on her very honest blog about the highs and lows of learning to live without alcohol.

She now runs the blog Living Sober and has just released a second book, Mrs D is Going Within, on her efforts to rebuild her emotional life after years of masking her feelings with booze.

Dann's first few sober years were a time of elation, she says. But gradually she realised she had no coping strategies for tough times other than alcohol.

“I found [being] sober got ordinary. I was really struggling to deal with tricky stuff that came along and I needed to do some more work.”

She says early on it was a different story – the benefits of a booze-free life, and the positive feeling that went with it carried her through.

“It comes in stages; your sleep can improve quite quickly, you can have a pink cloud phase. After a few months you really just feel elated, literally elated.

“It’s hard work early battling through sobriety, finding your way through, just beating cravings and stuff, but slowly and surely you realise it’s actually possible to live a really good, full, fun life and not drink ever – I mean, who knew?”

That’s not, of course, how advertising, film and television depicts life, she says. Life is better with a drink is the message.

“It’s not a glamorous fun thing. It’s furtive, it’s destructive, it’s miserable, it’s often quite lonely. All the images we see on the TV, unless it’s a particular story about someone who’s at rock bottom, don’t show that.

“Everybody’s earned it right? Beer o’clock is 5 o’clock, wine o’ clock... that’s what it is, that’s how I grew up, that’s the world we live in. And I’m just so happy to have stepped out of that.”

Dann says her first few social events newly-sober came as a surprise.

“I was surprised to learn that not everyone was getting hammered all the time. I’d go to parties and events and think everyone was on one, like I was. Once I quit, I found actually no, there are people loitering around the edges taking it quite easy. Now I hang with them and I have the most lovely conversations towards the end of an evening or a wedding now.”

That was a big change, she says.

“I’d be the one on the dance floor or sleeping in the bushes, quite frankly. Now I’m sitting in the corner having a lovely little connection with someone who isn’t drunk.”

Yet three or so years into her non-drinking life, she found herself struggling with some “difficult stuff”.

“I wasn’t being carried by those positive feelings anymore and tough stuff kept on happening, people I loved died, I had tricky relationships and I just wasn’t really coping, I was struggling quite badly. I was woefully ill-equipped to deal with stuff.”

But Dann was no ‘Eat Pray Love’ kind of woman, she says.

“Everyone was banging on about mindfulness and … gratitude and I was like 'Whatever! Monks on mountaintops, that’s not or me – boring!'

“And I got to this place where I was really stuck and I said finally 'OK, fine. I’m going to learn about this stuff'.”

She set about researching the subject like a “girly swot”, she says.

“Slowly I found the things that worked for me, and I’m not exaggerating to say it has deeply transformed my life.”

A particular book resonated with her: Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

“It was an eight-week plan in the book and I literally got the book and followed the plan for eight weeks. It worked slowly but surely … It’s about the slow accumulation of results and they really work.”

So does the new Dann ever miss that first drink?

“It never was about that one drink with me, I don’t want that one drink, I want 10. I have to very quickly go in my head to that truth – it’s never going to be just one. I’m happy to forego that feeling for the rest of my life because I know where it will lead me.”