A Blog by Kate Baily & Mandy Manners www.lovesober.com

Love Sober the Podcast was set up in early 2018 by Kate Baily and Mandy Manners. Love Sober now has a women-only community, a podcast, coaching services and a book (released September 2020) to help mums quit drinking by asking better questions about their wellbeing and support. Their work is to promote and provide Early Intervention and bespoke gender, age and stage-appropriate support which is respectful, trauma and mental-health informed.

Love Sober uses self-care, the science of happiness, positive psychology and coaching techniques to empower women through self-inquiry, focusing on a holistic pathway of recovery. It also seeks to challenge normative drinking messages and celebrate sobriety as a positive life choice for all. Both Kate and Mandy also work with She Recovers as designated coaches - SHE RECOVERS® is an international movement of self-identified women in or seeking recovery from a wide variety of issues, including substance use and eating disorders, other behavioural health issues, trauma, abuse, codependency, cancer, grief, low self-esteem, perfectionism and other life challenges.

Back in 2012/13 we had both visited our GP on a number of occasions, expressing concern about our drinking and had been encouraged to moderate and count units. Our worlds, our peer groups and most worryingly perhaps the medical profession, consistently mirrored back the message ‘You’re not that bad’. In essence, we were repeatedly being given permission to drink, when actually we were looking for permission to stop.

Alcohol has become a culturally accepted way to self-medicate stress in Western society. Of course some people can have just one but many people are struggling with hidden or normalised problematic drinking. Our reality of ‘not that bad’ and according to the NHS (2017) more than 10 million other fellow Brits were drinking to hazardous or harmful levels but would not be classified as dependent on the Alcohol Use Disorder scale. A decade or two of hangovers, low self-esteem, anxiety, hazardous drinking, depression, blackouts and binges was normal. It was in fact Not GOOD enough.

Both of us have seen people lose everything to alcoholism, and although this wasn’t where we were at, we knew we weren’t ‘normal’ either. Both of us found the website (Soberistas) in 2013 - it was aspirational and welcoming and watching videos of the founder, Lucy Rocca, talk about wine o’clock and binge drinking, the messages started to ring true for the first time. In real life groups were very difficult to access as mums with young children – so finding community online was an essential gateway to support.

Kate says “Having never blogged before or really used social media, this was a big stretch but I was desperate. So I wrote about how I thought I had a ‘borderline’ drinking problem, I was a mum with a great marriage, two lovely kids and yet …..’ The next day I awoke to 7 messages saying ‘We hear you’. I quit that morning for a year.” Mandy says, “I had spent the night watching videos of Lucy Rocca telling her story and I was blown away by the similarities, a 90’s ladette whose binge-drinking had carried through to motherhood, I blogged for the first time, declaring that this was day one – It took me another 4 months until I quit, but then I quit for just over a year – connecting almost daily with women online.”

When we found each other online, we identified that both of us had returned to drinking after a year of sobriety and were grappling with the huge question of ‘Why?’ The initial peer-support online had been incredible but what we saw and had experienced, was a gap for continued support for people to not only get sober but stay sober and love sober as a sustainable life choice. We spoke about motherhood, our reactions to language around sobriety and addiction. Kate being a journalist and Mandy a language professor, we realised that finding the right language was key to empower us in our choices around alcohol and sobriety in an authentic way. We also had to learn to self- regulate and manage our mental and emotional health. It was a jigsaw of pieces coming together.

But why is community so key? Because it provides safety, understanding and friendship. Alcohol misuse feels shameful and isolating, so being able to connect with like-minded people share triumphs and pick each other up when we stumble and say ‘Me too’ helps a great deal. It is often said that “connection is the opposite of addiction”. We are beginning to understand in the fields of positive psychology, how important community is to us as a pro-social species. One of the indicators for longevity is strong community outside the family. In a dominant drinking culture, the isolation that comes from being stigmatised , labelled and left out is shaming and detrimental to mental health and wellbeing. Our brains light up when we connect with others and our cardiovascular systems are stronger. Having a sober tribe is, therefore, essential to long term successful and happy sobriety.

With our community Love Sober Life we have a book club, virtual meetings often in our pjs with a cup of tea, we encourage each other to unlearn these heavily constrictive and negative messaging we have received about perfectionism, success and self-care and self-compassion to slow down, look after each other and practice gratitude. In addition to peer support, we also provide a strong input of wellness practices, positive psychology and evidence based tools from our training as life and recovery coaches, deliberately to support people long term.

We talk about a sober revolution (Lucy Rocca - founder of Soberistas) and really this is what is happening. Over the last seven years the ‘sober scene’ has exploded. The AF drinks market is booming and there are communities all over the world and coaching is playing a real part in redefining the support and solutions to help people where they’re at. Something to be mindful of is the increasingly blurred line between informal peer-support and formal modalities to support recovery i.e. treatment, therapy, counselling and coaching.

Stephanie Chivas a habit and addiction specialist, creator of I Change 21 and Women Who Don’t Drink Facebook community suggests “If you want to set up a community, be clear on what the risks are, and then what safeguards can you put in place to manage these risks? If you are not sure take specialist advice. For instance online alcohol support groups, there are risks around withdrawal, (as well as many other things) what do you have in place to educate, signpost and manage if someone posts that they are a daily drinker and are going to stop today? Get clear on what the purpose is of your community, communicate that, take specialist advice, do you need insurance? supervision? training? Experts in your group to help out.”

She Recovers promotes collaboration not competition and we wholeheartedly agree. There is a need for best practice and communities to work together. ICAAD’s work is also so important in linking professionals and the general public to bring the conversation up to date to answer to the nuances of a spectrum of disorder without watering down the essential message - Alcohol can kill.

With Love Sober Podcast we aim to ‘have the chat’. There is something very powerful in spoken conversation. We learned that by telling our stories and talking about warts and all through a sober sense other women could relate to the mum and female experience. Mandy explored her mental health journey, maternal burnout and past trauma which allowed in turn for Kate to revisit her past and see that she too had trauma, and she too had had underlying mental health issues and could self-identify as neurodivergent. We realised that we had both used our nation's favourite drug to self-medicate our lives and experience as mothers and as women and from our feedback we aren’t the only ones.

We look at drinking from a sociological viewpoint as well as from a personal one, to challenge social and cultural messages and norms and values. We linked with Jolene Park, A TEDX speaker, nutritionist and coach in the US who coined the phrase Gray Area drinking - which really summed up what it felt like to be on the spectrum of alcohol use disorder and with the international movement She Recovers who share our values to promote bespoke and holistic pathways of wellness and recovery, early intervention and to be inclusive, diverse gender sensitive and trauma informed.

Through our own recovery processes – Kate through yoga, self-care and studying the Science of Happiness and Mandy through Cognitive behavioural therapy and finding support through social media and telling her story out loud, we were seeing that the findings of thought leaders in neuroscience and evolutionary theory were finding strategies for living well, and that our sober communities were discovering these themselves.. This was consolidated by our training as coaches.

Seven years down the line since our first post on a sober community forum – We are sober coaches, podcast hosts (with over 100K downloads). Our first book – Love Yourself Sober: A Self Care Guide to Alcohol Free Living for Busy Mothers, will be released in September 2020 by Trigger Publishing. We have an amazing group of women we work with in our community. We are participating in events and panels around parenting, mental health, reframing sobriety and calling BS on normative drinking culture and marketing malpractice. That’s why we Love Sober.