Exclusive interview with Laura Willoughby MBE, Founder of Club Soda
Alcohol consumption is a common theme that is discussed among people coming for coaching. On one hand people talk about really wanting to cut down but on the other hand find it difficult to start never mind sticking to a less alcohol-infused life. One client loves meeting her friends after work but also dreads it because she knows it’ll inevitably end up with them drinking a bottle of wine each.
In my late 20’s and early 30’s whilst working in a recruitment role in the City, I’d often go out drinking in the week after work. There’d always be an excuse; end of commission drinks, team drinks, birthday drinks etc. It was a sales culture where drinking was encouraged. After these drinks, I’d often end up waking up at the end of the train line having fallen asleep and missing my stop. Then having to pay for a taxi to get me home, then realising I’d left my jacket on the train and having to go and buy a new suit.
It became very expensive and I started to feel ashamed of my behaviour. Not to mention the hangovers!
Since retraining to be a coach seven years ago, I’ve cut down on my drinking a lot. To start with I made a rule that if I had a coaching client the next day, then I wouldn’t drink the night before. I had found a career I enjoyed and was proud of, and with it came a new found respect for myself and for others, which meant cutting down on the booze.
Last year I came across Laura Willoughby (MBE) who is the founder of Club Soda. Club Soda provides on-line support and workshops to help people make behavioural changes to support them to change their drinking habits.
Read my interview with her, below.
What made you start up Club Soda?
I gave up drinking 3 years ago. My drinking got heavier in my 30’s when I was in a job I wasn’t enjoying. It was easy to leave early and meet friends for a drink. I realised that I had to knock it on the head. In my experience it is common for women not to have an off switch, they don’t drink everyday but when they do there is no cut off. So quitting was best option for me.
I found that there was help out there but for people whose lives were chaotic and who weren’t working and could attend drop in services run by charities. But there was nothing out there focusing on behavioural change and making a positive life style change.
At Club Soda, we’re tongue in cheek and we try out different things to reduce the stigma about alcoholism and help people to cut down, quit or be on more control of their drinking. It’s a different set of circumstances to drinking a bottle of gin in the morning because you’ve got the shakes.
I’ve found that women generally want to quit and men want to cut down due to them having more social pressures. People come from different circumstances, some have alcoholic parents. I had an alcoholic father. People want support and not to necessarily go through a 12 step programme. Club Soda is about people achieving their own goals.
Why not go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
AA has been around for 70 years and offers some important things especially the coming together of people to share their experiences and to support one another. That’s why we do Club Soda workshops and events.
What are the main reasons people join?
People come to set their goals. Mainly their goals centre around feeling healthier and fitter or to save money. If you’ve got any goal in your life and you’re drinking too much you won’t achieve those goals. Alcohol affects memory amongst many other things. Health and fitness goals can change your drinking. Alcohol can knock you off all sorts of goals and drinking can become a self -destruct mechanism.
In terms of work, some people see how far they can function the next day. You may need to deal with your job before you deal with your drinking or deal with your drinking then with your job. All the things in your life that you need to sort out, the order is yours.
Why is it such a stigma not to drink?
It’s changing. One quarter of under 25-year-olds don’t drink any more. They’re more health conscious and money conscious. However everything in our culture revolves around drinking, if you go to in media and tech companies, it’s always "come for a beer". We’re not very creative when it comes to our social engagements, for example when you go to a party and the hosts say; we didn’t get any non- alcoholic drinks because we didn’t have the budget. But really what they could have done was buy two less bottles of wine. It’s in our language. It’s culturally embedded. In order to justify our own behaviour we compare ourselves to others, so when you go to the pub and tell people that you’re not drinking it shines a light on their own drinking habits. It’s a complicated substance, socially and politically. If a friend was giving up smoking, you wouldn’t say, “Go on have a cigarette”, but we don’t think twice about saying “Go on have a drink”.
People can get defensive about drinking, you’ll hear people say, “I should give up” or “I want to give up”. It’s like having that cream cake; we all know how it makes us feel the next day. So it's a cost/benefit/risk analysis. We all know people with drink problem and how they justify their drinking.
What about couples?
The battles people have are very similar. A woman who came to our last workshop told us that her and her husband had a lovely routine, enjoying having a glass of wine together in the evening. She justified her drinking as something that brought them together. My advice was to ask her husband how he could support her to achieve her goal. Maybe it was something he wanted to achieve too. People often layer up the excuses on to another person.
It can be difficult for couples if your partner drinks a lot. It’s about communication and learning how to support each other. There are lots of barriers but you don’t have to give up your social life; you could just go home a little earlier. It’s funny that you remember the lovely times when we were a little bit pissed but you don’t tend to remember the hangovers. So you think the good times won’t come again but it’s up to you to make it happen.
I’ve just come across Sober Raving. Do you see attitudes changing towards drinking?
Attitudes are changing. People are becoming more interested in having an experience rather a night in a pub. For example going to Secret Cinema or Morning Gloryville, you can share those experiences on social media. Taking picture of yourself in pub with beer is not so interesting. People are making different decisions on what to spend their money on. Your drinking can change depending what stage of your life you’re at. I drank less in my 20’s and built up in my 30’s. When children come along a glass of wine is the treat. Either way, there is always an excuse to drink. For example people say, I don’t drink and drive, so I drink at home.
What are 3 pieces of advice would you give to those who want to cut down on their drinking?
Don’t be afraid to go into a bar and make the bar staff work hard for your drink choice. Get them to make you a delicious mocktail. Be a demanding consumer. I take my own drinks into pubs; I love my elderflower cordial and fizzy water and chilled tea. If you have a local, ask them to get your favourite drink in for you. It’s easy to drink something you don’t like if it’s alcoholic but not so easy when it doesn’t contain alcohol.
Write down all the things that make you feel happy, so it reduces the time when you crave a drink. Buy posh chocolates, beautiful bath essence and all the things you love, get these supplies in before you start cutting down or quitting. Do yoga or anything to reduce the time between having the thought of wanting a drink and doing something else instead. Stock up on nice cordials. Plan it! We’ve launched our “Month off the Booze” programme for a dry October. MOB is purposely for 40 days giving you time to helping plan and prepare, with structure and support to make your alcohol-free month a success.
Use the adage of HALT. When you think you fancy a drink it may be that you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Begin to notice the times when you want a drink, is it because you’re bored, lonely, angry, hungry? Alcohol comes with every emotion.
How does life compare now to before when you used to drink?
I feel like I’m 20 years younger, I now have energy to talk to people, I enjoy the small interactions on the tube or at the till in the shop. My interactions are so much richer and I have so much more energy. When you take alcohol out of the equation you start to see how much of your life was planned around alcohol.
I recently did a talk on "Why Sober Women run the world (and how you can be one of them)", if you look at the most powerful women in the world, they tend to keep off the booze. I don’t think I would have done even a quarter of the things I’ve done since giving up drinking and my ambitions have changed.
Thanks to Laura for her interesting and inclusive approach to cutting down/quitting drinking.
Coaching can help support you to achieve your goals whilst changing those ingrained habits that keep you from moving forward. Contact me for a conversation about coaching.