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Why Sober Cheerleading Works (And Why I'm Gutted That it Does)

06/08/2014 16:57 BST | Updated 06/10/2014 10:59 BST

You want me to do what?

There's this popular myth purported that when you get sober all your character defects just disappear. A person becomes flawless overnight. It reminds me of the belief people hold that if they reach a certain dress size life will be wonderful.

I used to believe the dress size one. When I was drinking I was a very different shape and at times definitely a lot heavier. I used to think that if I was very thin life would be better.

Then I got sick, I went down to 50% of my original body weight. I was so thin I wore children's clothes.

It didn't change my life at all. The only thing that happened was my clothes got smaller. (Incidentally I hated being thin. Hated it. I still associate it with being ill. I deliberately never go below a size 10.)

My body shape changed when I got sober long-term. My face changed. My hair and clothes also. Sometimes I still don't fully recognise myself. My personality changed too. But not because I stopped drinking. Because I discovered new tools to live my life with.

My history with being disabled and being sober aren't related. They don't tie in with each other at all. But I can't separate them completely because they made me who I am today, right now.

I always assumed that what made me so solid in my own recovery was that I was self-taught. I mean it took years to get it right. It was an unbelievably slow process and I got it wrong a lot. It cost me time, so much time, and l'd lost so much of that already. So much that I couldn't really think about it without feeling the grief of the lost years. But I'll never have to redo any of it. And I'll never question my own security and stability. It will never go away because I gave it to myself.

You can't buy that.

Or so I thought?

I make no secret of the fact that I don't like addiction counsellors. The methods they work from are totally outdated. They are obsessed with dragging up the past instead of focusing on the present. They take months to implement processes that should take hours. But most of all I dislike them because an addiction counsellor is a role undertaken by people who leave rehab and don't know what to do with their lives. Hiding in the addiction industry is a massive indicator that a person does not know how to build a fully-rounded life in the real world. And a person who conducts their lives in this manner sadly cannot show others how to be successfully sober. Even if they are very nice people indeed. And they usually are. Truly.

I don't like life coaches either. But unlike addiction counsellor's I really wanted to like life coaches. None of the ones I met were self-taught. So none of their knowledge was genuine. And when I would ask questions I could see the panic in their eyes (I still do). If I questioned the root of their beliefs it would turn out they didn't have any. They were just parroting information they'd learned on a course. That sort of information never stands up to scrutiny. I found that very disappointing. It just reinforced my belief that recovery on any level has to be self taught to be lasting.

Have you heard of a sober coach? They are possibly my biggest nightmare. It's like an addiction counsellor and a life coach got together and made a Frankenstein monster of themselves. A navel-gazing, past focusing, touchy feely, let's-feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway, positive affirmation filled, absolute knoblord. Sober coaching has done what I hitherto thought was impossible. It manages to be less effective than both addiction counselling and life coaching combined when it comes to Alcohol Abuse.

I think by now, having seen these folk and their Frankenstein hybrids, you can imagine my horror when people would email and ask me to teach them how I got sober. I always refused. As far as I was concerned blogging gave enough general answers, the rest could be done alone. Some left it that that-but some were really persistent so to shut them up, and to prove it was doomed to failure? I gave it a go.

And it bloody worked.

I'd meet up with them in person or sit with them on Skype once a week, show them the core skills I taught myself. They'd go off do all the work and that was it. Problem solved.

I was very embarrassed about it being successful. Because I really enjoy being right. It's truly one of my favourite things. Being right. Wearing pretty dresses and eating chocolate buttons. That's how I like my life to be.

Naturally I didn't tell anyone. But the people I worked with bloody well did. And when their mates emailed me asking to do the same and so on so forth I was well and truly buggered. So I gave up my protestations that all of sobriety had to be self-taught in order to work. I figured out which bits I could explain - and which bits definitely had to be discovered alone - and I came up with a package I could use. I decided the most accurate term for it was Sober Cheerleading. Because that's all it is really. Just having someone in your corner who knows all the moves to the routine you want to learn, and can make you feel nice whilst you learn them. Plus I quite fancy the thought of getting to be a cheerleader at the age of 34. I don't have an outfit though... yet...

I've been doing it now for about two years. And I never wanted to tell anyone. Not because it doesn't work because, (mortifyingly) it still does. Not overnight. And not without genuine commitment from the person wanting to change their drinking habits. But then let's face it - the people I work with had to basically break down the f*cking door to get me to do it with them, so maybe they were always going to succeed regardless.

I still maintain that the tools have to be self-implemented to work long term. And that nobody should hire a sober cheerleader for more than six months. I think no sober cheerleader should work with more than a handful of people at a time. It's not a full time job. It can't be. So many of the skills can only work if they are used out in the real world. They have to constantly evolve. Full time addiction workers don't live in the real world. They also have a vested interest in keeping the addiction industry turning a profit.

Why am I writing this? Because I've been accused of being a hypocrite by insisting I keep this part of my life private. And whilst I do have many character defects being sober didn't magically cure me of? I honestly never thought hypocrisy was one of them.

I hope it's not. I'm sad if I am a hypocrite after all. I just never mentioned it because I disliked the fact that I was wrong about all aspects of sobriety needing to be self taught-and I was worried people thought I wanted money from them. I don't. I run the websites for free and I won't ever make money from them. Ever.

I make my living as a presenter. That's my career. I do charge for my sober cheerleading because it does take up enough time now that I have to turn other work down to stay committed to it. Plus when I initially didn't charge for it? People didn't take the tools seriously. And fair enough. I spent thousands on learning the brain exercises that got me out of my wheelchair. I still call them my luxury items I don't leave the house without. Would I have invested in them if they'd been free of charge? Would I have put the time and effort into making sure they were a success for me?

Probably not.

So. There we have it. Sober cheerleading works. And I'm gutted about it quite frankly. But at least now I've told you I definitely am not a hypocrite. So that's nice.

If you've also been sober a very long time through self-taught methods it took you years to perfect? I think you should seriously consider being a sober cheerleader yourself. It is lovely watching people's lives change. And because from a selfish perspective I now have a waiting list so long I'll struggle to see anyone new for far longer than they will wait to work with me. I could really do with a little help over here. Obviously never pass yourself off as qualified in any field that you aren't. Never try and provide medical or psychological guidance. Just give them your tools and see what they can do with them.

(Still gutted l was wrong though. Just in case I haven't made that clear.)