Why Jenny's wishing you a very merry ... but sober, Christmas
This 46-year-old Crossgar woman used to drink a bottle of wine every night but now she's happily organising Belfast's first alcohol-free festive party
Tis the season to be merry, and embracing the Christmas festivities for the first time in her adult life without booze is newly invigorated life coach Jenny Grainger.
Jenny (46), from Crossgar, is facing her first "dry" Christmas since she started to drink alcohol at the age of just 14.
The local mum of one who runs the company Freshstart Coaching with her partner Eoin Scolard gave up drinking back in May.
Admitting to a "mild" addiction, Jenny – who is mum to Georgia (18) – says she was working her way through a bottle of wine every night of the week for years before deciding that she wanted to kick the habit for good.
And now with the festive party season kicking off, Jenny is so determined to have fun without her usual cocktail of tipples that she is organising Belfast's first alcohol-free Christmas party night.
Billed as Belfast's first ever Alternative Christmas Party, it is being staged in Flow Studios in the Cathedral Quarter, with the aim of showing that it is possible to have a great night out during the festive season – without booze or drugs.
It won't be cocktails, champagne, or mulled wine getting everybody into the party mood, but instead Jenny has arranged for a short positive de-stresser in the form of a Laughter Yoga session to kick proceedings off.
This will be followed by dance music from the Pulsing Penguin.
Jenny says: "There is a great buzz building about the party already. I've just been so fed up with the challenge of how and where to socialise that does not revolve around alcohol that my partner Eoin and I decided to organise the alternative Christmas party.
"Alcohol-free parties are really popular in Dublin where we used to live and, since moving back home two years ago, I've been quite shocked to find that there is nothing like it here.
"I'm sure there are a lot more people out there like us who want to have a good time without drink, so we are hoping that people will embrace it and enjoy."
Growing up in our society, where alcohol is very much at the heart of socialising, Jenny had her first drink when she was 14 and says she has relied on alcohol to relax and have fun ever since.
She worked as a producer in the BBC for a number of years before retraining as a life coach several yearsago. Her decision to stop drinking came about earlier this year when she started to reap the benefits of the 5:2 fasting diet.
In May she surprised herself by going without drink for the first four days during a trip to New York to celebrate her daughter's 18th birthday which proved to be her turning point.
It dawned on her then that she didn't need alcohol to relax and have fun and so she made the fairly drastic decision never to touch another drop again.
She says: "I had been thinking about stopping drinking for awhile before we went to New York but I was scared to say the words 'I'm never going to have alcohol again'.
"I started to watch it all – how much I was drinking and why I was drinking.
"I had started the 5:2 fasting diet which for two days a week you are only allowed 500 calories, so I had to cut alcohol out on those two days and it made me realise I can do perfectly well without it.
"I was like a lot of middle-aged, middle-class women for whom it was very normal to have a glass of wine with their dinner.
"One was never enough for me though. I was one of those drinkers who once I had a glass of wine, I had to have another and before I knew it, the bottle was finished.
"I opened a bottle of wine every night of the week and that was very normal for me.
"I wasn't a binge drinker but I would have given myself permission to have a little bit more at the weekends and maybe a gin and tonic or two or a Mojito cocktail which I just loved.
"I was never an aggressive or obstructive drunk. I just drank to chill out and I have to confess I did look forward to it.
"If there wasn't a bottle of wine in the house I would have gotten twitchy."
Before leaving for New York Jenny says someone had given her Jason Vale's book – Kick the Drink Easily – which she read during the flight to the US.
It made her question all the more why she was drinking, and she was also struck by how it emphasised the social conditioning associated with drinking and how alcohol has become a natural part of celebrating.
She adds: "The first thing everybody does when celebrating is crack open a bottle of champagne.
"Jason Vale deals with this in the book. He mentioned Paul Gascoigne, (below), and his highs and lows with alcohol and how the week after he came out and told the world he had an addiction, he was awarded man-of-the-match and was handed a bottle of champagne.
"When we went to New York I suddenly realised on our fourth day there that I hadn't touched a drink.
"It was a celebratory trip for my daughter's 18th, which made it even stranger that I hadn't drunk anything, and I just thought 'so much for our society and celebrating with alcohol, I don't need it' and I just decided to stop drinking."
Even though it had become part of her daily routine for more years than she can remember, Jenny says she has been shocked at how easy she found it to cut alcohol out of her life.
"Part of it was understanding why you drink and working out what you think it does for you.
"For me it was a little bit of boredom in the evenings and thinking I needed it to relax."
It is only with hindsight that she realises stopping drinking was a natural progression for her since she had changed so many other aspects of her lifestyle for the better in the last few years.
Having suffered from severe stress in the past she had retrained to become a lifestyle coach to try and reduce the daily pressure she was feeling.
She was a single parent and five years ago met and fell in love with her new partner Eoin Scolard who by pure coincidence also happened to be a life coach with his own practice in Dublin.
She says: "I became my own boss, making my own decisions, so I wasn't stressed any more.
"A couple of years ago I had stopped smoking and started to exercise a lot. I'm in a great relationship and Eoin and I grow most of our own fruit and vegetables – so nutritionally our lifestyle is very strong.
"I had made so many healthy lifestyle changes that drinking just didn't seem to fit with how I was living."
Since stopping drinking Jenny has been reaping the benefits in renewed energy and rediscovering her creative side, not to mention enjoying a healthier bank balance.
No more hangovers mean that she feels mentally sharper every day and she doesn't miss the groggy wake-up feeling her nightly wine habit induced.
"I spent last night making a mosaic on the kitchen wall," she says.
"The boredom which made me reach for the wine didn't really exist. I have found lots of things to do that I enjoy and I have more energy to do them.
"I've lost 22 inches across my body, one and a half stone in weight, and dropped two dress sizes. I know the fasting programme has helped but I'm convinced a lot of it is down to cutting out drinking. Alcohol is very calorific.
"The biggest thing for me is not having the highs and lows that alcohol brings any more.
"Regardless of whether you think you have a hangover or not you are more sluggish and there is a real pay off in having more mental energy and being clear headed.
"I actually feel more confident when I am out socially without drinking which is weird.
"I reckon I save about £100 a month from not buying wine anymore."
Socialising hasn't been a problem either despite the fact that Jenny likes to party and is used to indulging at Christmas.
Traditionally she did a big booze shop, as well as a special food shop, to see her over the holidays which included many drinks she wouldn't normally buy such as champagne, Bailies and cocktails.
Her confidence in her ability to enjoy herself without booze was boosted recently when she went to her first wedding and stayed sober.
She recalls: "It was a real Irish wedding that went on for three days. I told everybody in advance that I wouldn't be drinking so that nobody made a big deal about it, and it was great."
Christmas this year will be very different for her but she doesn't intend to miss out on any fun just because she is celebrating without booze.
"On Christmas morning I would have started with a Buck's Fizz at breakfast and then it was one little treat after another all day.
"I drank things I normally wouldn't drink, and this year I am going to save a fortune on not buying any booze.
"We are going to Paris to spend Christmas with my sister and her family and none of them are boozers, and there isn't the same boozing culture in France, so that will make it easier.
"Over there drinking is about enjoying the taste of the wine, not about getting hammered.
"I've had to be quite inventive about coming up with nice tasty alternatives to drink. We bought a juicer and I've been making some quite nice 'mocktails' with fresh fruit juice and maybe a splash of sparkling water and I've made some alcohol free Mojitos with ginger beer.
"People think they need drink to relax and have a good time or to fit in.
"I'm not evangelical about it at all. If people want to drink then go for it, but without it you do have a much better quality of life and you can have a really good night out without booze and no hangover the next morning.
"Hopefully our alternative Christmas party will help show people they can do it."
Steps to giving alcohol a miss
If you want to have some cheer this Christmas without a drink, then follow Jenny's advice on alternatives, or else just avoid the tempting parties
1 Get very clear with yourself about all the benefits of NOT drinking. You aren't giving up anything other than an unhealthy habit which poisons your body. You are going to have so much more energy over the Christmas holidays because you won't have the highs and lows which alcohol brings.
2 Have plenty of really tasty alternatives available at home and bring them with you if you are going to other peoples' houses.
3 Learn how to make delicious mocktails and mulled apple juice (above).
4 Save the money you would normally spend on alcohol and plan a special treat for the New Year.
5 Ask your friends and family to support you in advance of social occasions so they don't put pressure on you to take a drink if you don't want to. Explain why you want to do this. If they love you, they will help you.
6 Remind yourself that you did not need to drink alcohol to relax and have a good time when you were a child.
7 Read Jason Vale's book – Kick the Drink Easily.
8 Plan a treat for the morning after which you would not be able to enjoy if you had a hangover (left).
9 Avoid social events which you know are going to be heavily fuelled by alcohol and where you might be put under a lot of pressure to drink alcohol.
10 Give yourself lots of positive encouragement every morning you wake up without a hangover!
11 Ask yourself what it is that you think alcohol does for you in the first place and see if you can find alternatives – ie: if you think it relaxes you, learn another more healthy way to relax like meditation or yoga.
12 Have a couple of Life Coaching sessions with Jenny Grainger (www.freshstartcoaching.co.uk) before Christmas to make sure you have the right mind-set and motivation to set yourself up to succeed.
... and if you do over-indulge
Belfast nutritionist Jane McClenaghan of Vital Nutrition gives her top tips for hangover relief
1 Keep well hydrated. Alternate each alcoholic drink with water, to reduce that horrible dehydrated foggy head feeling. Top up with water the morning after, making sure you are getting your daily quota of one and a half litres a day.
2 Choose liver-friendly foods like garlic, green tea or broccoli to give your liver a little support.
3 Step away from the Ulster fry. If you wake up feeling groggy and grumpy, a green smoothie would be the best option. If that doesn't take your fancy, have a bowl of porridge or a couple of scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast instead.
4 Don't drink on an empty stomach. Eating little and often will help maintain balanced blood sugar levels and slow down the absorption rate of the alcohol you are drinking. Choose healthy snacks from the buffet like nuts, olives, vegetable crudités and dips.
5 Booze depletes vitamin C, so start your day with some fresh fruit and consider taking a vitamin C supplement throughout the party season.
For more details about Jenny's Alternative Christmas Party go to facebook/Pulsingpenguins