Stress and Recovery – Guest Blog from Bill Weiss

7 Ways Stress Can Make Recovery More Difficult

Stress is not totally awful as most people assume. In fact, stress is an incredibly important part of our survival as a human species. Before modern industrialization, we were left to our own devices to survive against the wild. The subtle crack of a twig beneath a potential predators foot was enough to incite a stress response in our system to help us survive. This fight-or-flight response is so integral in our makeup as a being that we can see its effects in virtually everything that we do.

The problem?

Modern technology has placed us in a unique situation where our brains are not fully equipped to handle the everyday stressors that we now have. Rather than acknowledging an overflowing inbox as a manageable task, our brains jump into survival mode and produce cortisol so that we have enough stamina to complete the task.

Perhaps a dose of cortisol once a day would provide a healthy boost of energy, as needed. Unfortunately, very few of us have just an overflowing inbox to deal with. Instead, we have stressful tasks, demands, and urgencies all throughout the day. As a result, we are continuously pumped with cortisol, which can break down the body in harmful ways.

For a recovering addict, this can place serious strain on their ability to stay sober. Though this is a normal and common struggle for many recovering addicts, it is totally manageable. As you can imagine, managing stress is an important part of addiction recovery.   Not convinced that you need to manage your stress?

Here are 7 ways that stress can sneakily make an addiction worse:

1. Cortisol can damage brain function.

When the brain is stressed, cortisol levels heighten. When this happens regularly, cortisol can damage the way the brain functions. The hippocampus, the region responsible for emotion regulation, shrinks with chronic stress. This makes it more difficult for a person to control their emotions, which increases cravings and turning to substances to cope.

2. Substances are used to relieve stress.

Certain drugs used to relieve stress, such as alcohol, Valium and Xanax, limit how the central nervous system responds to stress. These substances do this by slowing the nervous system’s response, which then lowers everything from blood pressure and heart rate to body temperature and respiration. When a person is dealing with chronic stress, they may rely more heavily on substances that seem to counteract that stress.

The problem? They do not actually learn how to cope with stress without substances, which increases the risk of being addicted to xanax. Instead of giving in to the substances, or instead of suffering through more unbearable cravings, get your stress under control. Practice healthy habits, such as yoga and meditation, or even long-distance running. Get plenty of sleep, spend time with loved ones, and provide yourself with a creative outlet. Manage your stress, yourself, so that you don’t feel the urge to turn to a substance.

3. Substances change the brain, making it difficult to stop use.

Substance abuse, no matter the duration, significantly alters the chemical balance of the brain. Cocaine, for example, floods the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, signaling to the brain to stop producing more. Though cocaine quickly leaves the body, the signal to the brain lingers for days. The same can be said for Ecstasy and serotonin. With a slowed production of serotonin, the abuser can feel depressed, anxious, and low in energy for days after use. This is where the popular term “Suicide Sunday” was born: based on the effects of the drug on the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Many addicts struggle through this comedown period, leading many to turn back to using. Stress also naturally alters the chemical balance in the brain so that you are left, once again, sluggishly producing neurotransmitters. Many recovering addicts will recognize the feelings of this slump and will crave the substances that can temporarily boost their brains. This makes stress a very dangerous trigger for many recovering addicts.

4. Stress Lowers Impulse Control.

Poor impulse control is very strongly correlated with stress, meaning that the more stressed we are the less impulse control we have. It’s not all in the head, either. Chronic stress, such as rush hour traffic and dance recitals, decreases gray matter in the brain in the regions most associated with stress regulation. When the brain is unable to regulate stress, it is unable to manage other areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex. This area is perhaps the most important of all to the recovering addict because it is where we control our impulses and make complex decisions. By leading a stressful life you are removing your armor against cravings: impulse control.

5. Traumatic events and stress are closely linked.

When children undergo high levels of stress or experience a traumatic event at a young age, they’re more likely to cope with stress through the use of drugs and alcohol. Trauma like abuse, abandonment or neglect can lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Additionally, substance abuse can increase the risk of a traumatic event occurring. Not only can trauma lead to substance use, but substance use can raise the risk of trauma, especially in children and teenagers.

6. Trauma (extreme stress) can lead to alcohol or drug abuse.

Trauma is strongly linked with substance abuse and addiction. The stress disorder PTSD, which is caused by a traumatic event, is especially notorious for being linked with addiction. When people have PTSD, they’re unable to turn off their fight-or-flight response. This can lead to sleeping problems, re-experiencing the event, avoiding certain situations, feeling irritable, feeling anxious, always being on edge, memory lapses and poor self-confidence. Some people with PTSD even find it difficult to experience joy. Often, people with PTSD will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which can not only increase stress but can also get in the way of other treatments and recovery plans.

7. Detox can cause stress.

When a person is trying to recover from addiction, the detox process can trigger a stress response in the body. This almost certainly increases cravings and withdrawal. In order to detox effectively, a combination of strategies should be used. Options for detox include medications to help with side effects or to stabilize mood, behavior therapies, and counseling or support groups.

People who are suffering from addiction and stress will benefit first from understanding the disease model of addiction, and then immense support. Battling stress should not be a traumatic in itself! Instead, seek healthy ways to reduce your stress and don’t be afraid to reach out to your support network. Prevent your stress from making addiction recovery even more difficult than it already is!



Bill Weiss is an advocate of long-term sobriety. As a member of the recovery community, he feels it is important to spread awareness of alcohol and drug misuse. Being personally affected and having family members struggling, it is a personal quest of his to get the facts about substance misuse in the public domain.

getting the sparkle back…

This is my first blogpost for more than a year – not because I “fell off the wagon” but because I have been busy building my alcohol free life – and making it awesome.

I started blogging the day I stopped drinking and used it to track my first year of sobriety – first blogpost was May 2015 so if you want the whole story just click HERE

I hope this new post is reaching some of those kind people who encouraged me through those tough early months – would love to hear from you and anyone else who would like to leave a comment!

One of the best things about sobriety has been the opportunity to help other people via the worldwithoutwine workshops – we run them in Cape Town and Joburg and more than a hundred people have attended – about a third of those people have stopped drinking completely, another third of them have cut down and the rest did not reply to our survey so I have concluded that they are still “in contemplation”.

Contemplation is actually a vital part of the change process – my decade of trying (and failing) to moderate was definitely “contemplation” before I finally accepted that I would have to stop drinking completely.

My biggest learning as I begin my third year of sobriety is that putting down that last alcoholic drink is just the beginning. If you don’t make some serious changes in your life then you end up trying to live your normal life with a big hole in it – where the booze used to be. I certainly went through that phase, feeling depressed – and stuck because I couldn’t even chase away the blues with wine. I used say that I felt as if I had lost more than I had gained – but now I feel the opposite. Now I know that you need to fill that big hole with stuff that’s going to lift you up, connect you with others and broaden your horizons.

I have learned so much about addiction since I got sober so am planning to share some of those learnings, as well as some personal insights, via a weekly blogpost – please follow me if you’d like to get notification when I post.

Never forget that the opposite of addiction is connection.

I leave you with a quote from Mary Karr:-

“When I got sober, I thought giving up was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite”

That’s when the sparkle started for me”.

janet x




10 Reasons to be Dry this December

It’s late November and the traffic is hectic, the shops are heaving, the party invites are flooding in and your relatives are already squabbling over whose turn it is to host the Christmas get-together.  Your head is spinning and your to-do list is getting longer by the day.

Same old, same old – every flippin’ year… but… why not make this year just a bit DIFFERENT?

No I’m not talking about cancelling Christmas but I am talking about a whole new way of coping.  Yes I’m talking about a DRY DECEMBER!

I know it’s crazy, I know it’s “off the wall” but sometimes it feels good to swim against the tide…

So here we go – 10 reasons to be dry this December…

  1. December is a madly busy time – chances are that whatever your profession you will be busy at work, busy socially – and of course busy creating that “perfect Christmas” for your family.  If you give up alcohol for December you can actually claw back a lot of time.  Time usually devoted to planning drinking sessions, drinking and then getting over the drinking.
  2. Everybody does “Dry January” but only the seriously cool people do “Dry December” and then start the new year feeling fantastic – rather than exhausted and poisoned with excess food and alcohol. Always remember that “sober is the new black”.
  3. There is never a perfect time to give up or cut down on alcohol – there will always be a party, a wedding or that “teambuilding” event coming up.  In fact December is just about the most crazy time to take a break from the booze – but maybe crazy is how you roll?
  4. You will reduce your stress as you “take control” – you will sleep better and steam through your “to-do” list and even begin to feel slightly superior to your pals as they struggle with their hangovers…if your friends give you a hard time just tell them you are doing 30 dry days to raise money for Earthchild – maybe they will even join you…
  5. You will have a wonderful excuse for avoiding the dreaded “office party” – “I’m taking a break from alcohol at the moment so think I will give it a miss this year” – let somebody else do the “walk of shame” through the open plan office the morning after the office Christmas party.  You can be sure you will hear about exactly who did what to whom before the day draws to a close.
  6. You won’t have that anxiety in your heart about the amount you are drinking and the nagging thought that you really must do something about it come January – you will be way ahead of the game this year…
  7. Action is the key – “Just Do It” – at least get through those first few days in December “alcohol free” – and if you can’t manage it then maybe you do need to seriously think about addressing your relationship with alcohol.
  8. You will lose weight!  We are surrounded by super-fattening foods during December and after a glass of wine or two we just get stuck in.  Staying sober means you can stay in control of what you are eating and drinking.  As an extra bonus you can opt out of the dieting misery train that we are all supposed to board come January 1st.
  9. A lot of people worry that they cannot enjoy themselves without alcohol – but think about it – what makes a good Christmas?  – being with your family and seeing the joy on the children’s faces as they open their presents – or knocking back the booze?
  10. At the very least a sober Christmas will be an interesting experiment – even if you hate it you will have tried – and who knows – you may even discover a whole new side of yourself…

To help you on your way WorldWithoutWine have launched their “Dry January Challenge” which in fact can also be “Dry December” if you dare – just make a small donation by clicking HERE

In return you will receive a daily motivational e-mail from WorldWithoutWine to keep you on track for 30 days.

We are raising money for the Earthchild Project – just as we did last year –  check out this 5 minute movie we made about how we spent the R30,000 we raised last year..

Thanks for reading!

Janet x

Top Six Benefits of Giving Up Alcohol

Now those Soberversary Celebrations are done have been taking some time to reflect on some of the benefits of giving up the booze…here are my top six:-

  • Finding my purpose – when wine plays such a big part in your life it is easy to drift through the days in a pleasant haze – giving up is a shock to the system – so much so that it creates a kind of “void” and demands a switch of pace.  It also kickstarts energy and creativity – I used mine to build a community via World Without Wine and it’s been hugely rewarding to know that our workshops have helped some people to quit drinking.  Have had to learn about websites, social media and marketing with the help of some pretty awesome people.  (Oli and Mari – thank you for your endless patience!)
  • Having a happy Husband – and I think Son & Girlfriend are pretty damn impressed as well 😉 Friends have been awesome and have supported me all the way – nobody’s dumped me (yet) for being “boring” – in fact some of them have even joined me in the quest for sobriety.  Have also acquired some new pals – my very own “sober buddy” plus those awesome WWW ladies.
  • Losing weight – without dieting!  Having grown up with Twiggy as role model have obviously been on an eternal “diet” – existed almost entirely on cigarettes and white wine throughout my teens and twenties – then switched to healthy eating and exercising a lot but of course knocking back plenty of alcohol on top.  Well would you believe it – dropped the booze and those stubborn kilo’s just melted away.
  • Emotional maturity – after a lifetime of using alcohol to enhance positive emotions and chase away the negative ones am finally managing to live “in the moment”.  Abusing alcohol is like hiding under a massive and comforting cape – remove that “numbing shield” and there is nowhere to hide – I have had to meet challenges head on, feeling raw and exposed but gradually I got my strength back and and am living my life full on.
  • Health has improved – better sleep, more energy.  As a breast cancer “survivor” I live with the possibility of a recurrence – but at least I don’t feel I am tempting fate by consuming vast amounts of wine.
  • Being in control of my life – no more waking up at 2am agonizing over what I may (or may not) have said the night before.  No more wasted mornings staggering around trying to function through the fog of a hangover. True I have sacrificed some highs but also lost the major lows – the depression that follows yet another failure “to moderate”.  Overall I feel calmer, more balanced – and happier..

Sexy Soberversary…

A whole year without alcohol – I did it!

It was certainly tough to begin with – but after about 6 months it got easier as the benefits started coming through – Year 2 here I come!

When I made the momentous decision to quit I tried to envisage my life without alcohol.  I imagined it would be just the same – only a little greyer, quieter and even a bit “boring”.  Little did I know my life was about to change significantly – in the most positive ways possible.

In fact I have been reflecting on the benefits of sobriety but decided there were so many that I would make that my next blog –  watch this space for my “top ten benefits of sobriety”.

So how did I celebrate that first Soberversary? – obviously champagne was out of question although a bottle of Pom Royale was a good start…

In fact I found multiple ways to celebrate:-

  • after a year of sobriety decided it was safe to write my “Goodbye Letter to Alcohol” – had an awesome response on Facebook to this letter – nearly 500 likes and 134 shares! – Son announced that meant it had “gone viral” which (I think) is a good thing – if you missed it then you can find it HERE
  • the lovely Fiona McCosh invited me to model for next year’s Sober and Sexy Calendar –  last year I did a feature on the launch of her 2016 calendar which you can see HERE   – the shoot was fun – you can see a “teaser” in the picture above – if you want to see more then you will just have to buy the calendar 😉  All proceeds to CTDCC (The Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre) and
  • submitted synopsis and sample chapters for my book proposal  – initial reactions from publisher are positive so now I must write another 50,000 words – provisional publication date February 2017.  Publisher not keen on my title which was to be “Living in a World Without Wine” as she said bookshops would place me next to the wine guides :-0.  Am now thinking one word title “SOBER” with subheading – “getting sober and loving your sober life”  but title definitely still work in progress – if you can think of anything better please send me a comment!
  • last but not least we went to fancy restaurant to celebrate in time honoured fashion – charming barman made me a Special Soberversary Mocktail…Talking of Mocktails hope you are enjoying “The Mocktail Series” with Linda and Jorja – love these guys – we had such fun making these videos – if you havn’t seen it then you can catch up with all 5 episodes HERE







on the run…

WorldWithoutWine claims to be a “social network” so we are busy getting social.  Last Sunday some of us got physical and did the Spar 5k walk.  Zaida volunteered to do the admin although may not have realised at the time that this involved going to Philippi township to collect the goodie bags for the group.

It was June the chihuahua’s first visit to a township and she was quite intrigued – in the picture you can see her checking out the bags for dog friendly snacks.  Considering this event was supposed to be a “healthy” one it was surprising to see the amount of sugar filled drinks and snacks in the goodie bag.  They weighed a ton and thanks to everyone generously donating goodie bags to Red Cross Hospital Zaida had to gather them up again to deliver to the hospital.

Even though it had been billed as a “Ladies Walk” Husband announced he would be coming with..

In my mind I was expecting a few hundred people – in fact there were TWENTY FOUR THOUSAND people there so had to park miles away and had to walk about 5k to get the starting point.  Vague arrangements to meet “near MacDonalds” proved impractical as there were thousands of people “near MacDonalds” – all wearing identical t-shirts.  Husband’ mood was deteriorating by the minute and he kept asking me “what is this for?” – sadly could not remember what it was for so just told him to stop moaning.  Amazingly we managed to locate a few WWW ladies and joined the massive queue waiting to start.  After the long walk to get to the starting point – and then the 40 minute wait before we could start was pretty worn out before we began.  Husband perked up briefly when they played Gangnam Style at full volume but as soon as we hit the road he was looking for an escape route and soon legged it back home.  Think the next social event will involve sipping mocktails in a calm and quiet environment.


In other news there are three more workshops scheduled –  one in Cape Town on May 21st – then we are branching out to other locations –  one in Joburg on July 9th and another in Somerset West on 23rd July – more details here

Check out this TED talk from Glennon Doyle Melton who comes up with the analogy of addiction being like a comforting cloak – removing the cloak leaves one feeling raw and exposed – getting worse before it gets better – but it does get better  – love the title of her talk “lessons from the mental hospital” – check it out HERE

Finally to end on a green note a big thank you to Janis Theron who sent in 15 practical ways to save the planet  – link is HERE

Staying on track…

It’s not a sprint – its a marathon.  Giving up drinking is very like dieting – one little lapse and it’s easy to convince yourself you are hopeless and might as well carry on consuming the carbs or the wine or whatever.  One of the great things about the Whatsapp groups which we set up after each workshop is that if someone slips up they share with the group – responses are totally nonjudgemental and encouraging and without exception that person gets right back on track.  One of the ladies in our group likes to “check in” on a daily basis after she has had a lapse -and I am noticing that the periods between her lapses are getting longer and longer 😉  Going from drinking every day to weeks of non-drinking, then one lapse before going back to non-drinking has to be a change for the better – just do the math!

Changing your drinking takes time.  If you insist on satisfying your cravings for that glass of wine immediately then you will never get off the starting block.  Every day you make even a small change, you are one step closer to achieving your goals.  The more days that go by the more likely you are to stick to it for the long term.  My “I’m done drinking” app tells me I have done 322 days without a drink and I can honestly say it is getting easier.  My life has gone from a series of “highs and lows” to a more relaxed feeling of contentment.  The FMO phase is definitely passing and the bouts of irritation are lessening.

Deeply impressed by one of the ladies on our last workshop.  After a lifetime of serious drinking she went cold turkey after workshop three weeks ago. A couple of days ago she flew to Thailand.  Even though her sister was drinking on the plane she didn’t and when the heat first hit her and she was offered an ice-cold beer she just said no!  The trip was an important family reunion – would have been so easy to give in but she stood firm.  Well done you!

We now have a “private Facebook group” for everyone who has been on a workshop.  Have 18 members already and its proving a great way to communicate, share articles and pictures etc..  What did we do before Facebook I wonder?  I do have to smile when Facebook send me a picture from the past for their “memories” feature – invariably I am clutching huge glass of wine!

Am attaching a couple of great articles – the first one is “9 things to tell yourself when you want to have a drink” – it’s really good.  If you are struggling maybe you need to put this list on your phone!  It’s HERE

Secondly a Brit called John Aldridge kindly sent me “100 tips to prevent relapse” that he had collated from various addiction experts.  Its a brilliant list which you can read HERE  – you can follow John on twitter @Rehab4Group

Finally those lovely guys at Fine Music Radio sent me a podcast of my recent interview which you can listen to HERE

Tomorrow it’s coffee morning at Kirstenbosch for WorldWithoutWine people – come and join us at 10am in Moyo if you would like to meet some “graduates” of our workshops…

Sunday 17th April WorldWithoutWine has a team entered for the Spar ladies walk – will report back!

janet x




Workshop 3!

Another Sobriety Workshop done and dusted.  Another awesome group opening their hearts and healing together.  Our community is growing – each workshop resulted in a “Whatsapp Group” so the participants can keep each other on track – so now I am on 3 different groups and my phone never stops emitting those little “chings” to let you know another message has come in!  If someone has fallen off the wagon then we ask them to check in on a daily basis – and it seems to work.  We are also getting together in the flesh – monthly coffee mornings in the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens and we are doing the 5k Spar Walk in a group next month – baseball caps with WWW logo all round!

Did two very different radio interviews last week – started the week with TammyB (pictured) who is from 2OceansVibe radio – an internet radio station which prides itself on “irreverent programming with cutting edge and trending music” – podcast of the interview is HERE –  and for a completely different experience at the end of the week went to Fine Music Radio – their mission is to “provide classical and jazz music as well as presenting cultural and artistic content”.  Interview before me was about contemporary jazz and referred to “colliding pieces of music” – clever interviewer Philip Todres made a nice link in his intro to me about how all sorts of things can “collide” when alcohol has been involved 😉

Sobriety Workshop

We have our regular feature VICKY’S VIEW  by the globetrotting author Vicky Unwin – in SA we love to complain  as we teeter on the edge of “junk status” but Vicky manages to summarise what’s going on elsewhere in the world which certainly brings some perspective!

On a lighter note HERE is a little video clip from our trip to Khayelitsha last month – Soso was one of Earthchild’s first pupils 10 years ago – and now she is one of SA’s first young black yoga teachers!

In other news I have a publisher interested in my book idea “Living in a World Without Wine” – they want synopsis plus first three chapters by end of April – eish!   First section of book will be people’s stories of battling the booze – if you have a story to tell that you would like to be included (anonymously) then please send it to