It’s Sober October and the trend to not drinking alcohol is growing, tell us a little about your own journey which led you to become a sober coach.
I had been a lifelong heavy drinker starting at the age of 11. Throughout my life I suffered from anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and I always lived in fear. I worked hard and had several successful careers, but the daily stresses of work, marriage, a growing family, and general day-to-day life led me to escape my feelings into a bottle, bag, or reckless behaviour. I trained myself over a lifetime to run away from how I felt. Unfortunately, the insidious nature of addiction is that it is progressive. When I was 42, I created a company that was so successful it made me a multi-millionaire, while I was a functioning alcoholic. Giving someone like me (who was very ill) an opportunity to indulge himself in every possible way, meant that I made very bad choices. My addiction took a grip over my life and then the consequences truly arrived. The next 10 years were a blur of pain and chaos. After trying for 14 years to get sober, I finally succeeded with the help of others and decided that I would dedicate my life to helping those who still suffer.
How much demand is there for sober coaches now? Globally and here in the GCC?
The role of the sober coach has grown in popularity in recent years. The late Bob Timmins is thought of as the original sober companion (https://www.latimes.com) and Brad Pitt famously used a Sober Coach to support his recovery.
There is now a greater acceptance that individuals need long-term support when embarking on a recovery journey, which is of course a very personal and private journey. The notion of going to a rehab for 28 days and then emerging ‘healed’ is over simplifying recovery. Working confidentially with a Sober Coach or Sober Companion who has real, lived experience, enables those embarking on recovery to be supported 24x7 with a dedicated and tailored recovery plan in place.
I believe that I am the first dedicated professional Sober Coach in the UAE.
How do you become a sober coach?
“You don’t have to be an addict, but it does help”. In the UK, the Government recognises LERO’s (Lived Experience Recovery Organisation’s) which are groups and individuals who dedicate their time to helping addicts and alcoholics, when they are in recovery themselves. I think that we can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to help others, having been on that recovery journey ourselves. Empathy focussed education and training are prerequisites I would suggest for anyone wanting to become a sober coach. There are many training organisations that will enable you to become a Life Coach or other professional Coach and then you can upskill to have additional knowledge and expertise in recovery.
Sober Coaching is a specialist area and volunteering or working in recovery organisations would really assist someone who wanted to dedicate themselves to Sober Coaching.
Why are people choosing to give up alcohol or go sober?
I think there are so many more people who are Sober Curious these days. Education giving rise to individual’s knowledge about the physical and mental health benefits in being abstinent has increased over recent years. People generally want to be healthier these days. There are so many non-alcoholic beverages available these days too, with huge growth predicted in a global business that is already turning over US $1.25 Tn per year.
When it comes to problematic drinking what are the key signs to look out for that you/someone has a problem with alcohol?
Firstly, any realisation must come from the individual themselves. My wife could not get through to me when I was in active addiction, it was only when I realised that I needed help, did my recovery begin. We can begin by looking at the consequences of our drinking. Are we losing time at work, damaging relationships or stopping activities that we used to like doing because of our drinking. Are we having blackouts, memory loss, or worse still, more health issues, work issues and ultimately secrecy, dishonesty and isolation. If you have tried to stop and find you can stop for a while, but not stay stopped, this could be a very strong indicator that your drinking has gone beyond the tipping point.
How do you get around “social drinking” and the pressure that can come with this?
The vast majority of drinkers are social drinkers of course. They do not have issues with how often they drink, or how much. Binge drinking, pre-drinks before going out and being amongst heavy drinking friends, might indicate to you that you are not on the same drinking journey as them, especially if you feel uncomfortable. We are our own barometer here unless we live in denial of course.
What would you say to anyone who says you’re boring if you don’t drink alcohol?
I would remind myself of what is the definition of a friend. Would a true friend say this to me, question me or worse, try to make me feel bad? I would ignore that comment. In recovery we quickly recognise that “we need to change our playgrounds and playmates”. If going on a sober journey means moving away from my friends who are big drinkers, then so be it. You might find that once you stop drinking, you have very little in common with them.
What top 3 tips can you share for anyone wishing to stop drinking or drink less?
Make a commitment (in a contract with yourself) to cut back or halt with a start date written down. Find a sober buddy if you can so that you have accountability and are not doing it alone. Therefore, Sober October or Dry January are great times to begin. Be careful not to cut back and then overindulge because “you’ve earned it” and end up drinking more or binging. Finally, if you stop abruptly while you are alcohol dependent (you might not know you are dependent), then your body can suffer severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms within the first 72 hours. This could include seizures if you are severely alcohol dependent. You must seek urgent medical attention if you suffer any symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
If you are worried about your drinking, then it might be a good time to try to stop, especially if cutting down hasn’t worked for you. If you try to stop and you find you can’t, seek out help from the doctor, or other professional organisations. Talking always helps, whatever the issue. I would always say “connect to other like-minded individuals” as doing anything on your own is so much harder than doing it together. Go online, seek out information, find the rooms of AA, or connect with me and we can talk through any concerns you might have. There is no shame in asking for help.
How can people get in contact if they’d like to speak to you?
I am always available for a zoom chat for free, either from the individual or from family or friends who are worried about someone close.