Laura Willoughby MBE is the founder of Club Soda, a UK based on-line support group for people who just don’t want to drink alcohol. Laura has a background in campaigning and is also the CEO of Move Your Money, a website dedicated to advising people where they can make their money work for a more equitable and sustainable future. She has a background in campaigning and working in the public sector. Personally, I’m thrilled that she is applying her formidable talents to raising awareness of our alcohol problem by creating Club Soda. The alcohol free revolution is happening….
1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
I don’t think there was one rock bottom – my dad died in 2005 from an excess of cider and I know I am my fathers daughter. Despite my panic at the time and knowing I needed to sort my drinking it got worse before it got better. A job that I did not enjoy tipped me over the edge and I knew that would not change until I sorted my drinking.
2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
I drank tonnes of water (I was amazed at how much my body craved it) and I felt tired a lot. So I rewarded myself with sleep. It really helped I quit with my partner at the time. It made the first 30 days much easier. At the end of 3 months the tiredness gave way to amazing amounts of energy, which was handy as I volunteered on the 2012 games. I could never have managed the volunteering if I had still been drinking. I felt like an athlete.
3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
I am a campaigner by background – I am motivated by causes and wanting to make things happen. Alcohol robbed me of the energy to physically, emotionally and mentally engage with that. Now I am firing on all cylinders there is no stopping me. I feel dangerous. I would not have had the confidence to fight the banking system as CEO Move your Money if I had still been drinking. After 6 months my brain began to snap back into action – you need a clear head to get under the skin of complex issues and make the case for consumers, but its something I really enjoy and so pleased I can do it again.
4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
You can’t do politics well if you are tired and I was making myself unhappy because I felt ineffective, not doing anything that mattered. It was a vicious circle of demotivating job and drinking too much and I wish I had snapped out of it sooner. I feel I wasted 5 years and I am gutted.
5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
You can be addicted to not drinking – but at times of stress, excitement or sadness I still crave something to make me feel different, to consume something to create a feeling. Its part of the way society has wired us. Sometimes chocolate is not enough and that is the time I need to be the strongest.I am scared of trying a drink and so don’t want to go there. I have fallen in love for the first time and I don’t want to fuck it up.
6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I could not have set up Club Soda without quitting. I have a long list of half-baked ideas that I want to make happen, but this one was my strongest desire. I could see there was a gap for something to help people take a self-guided journey to change their drinking – like there is for running a marathon, losing weight or even quitting sugar.
The language of recovery and identification as an alcoholic was always difficult for me and I know I am not alone. So Club Soda is about helping people set their own goal, whether it is to cut down, stop for a bit, quit or stick. We don’t want to tell you what to do, just help. 1 in 5 people in the UK want to change their drinking but most would not use the word alcoholic and there is as stigma about engaging with health services and AA. So we use different language and by creating a community that can support each other, those that could ultimately benefit from services designed for dependent drinkers can get confidence from peers to go along.
We have sent 12 months trying to refine the offer and where we sit alongside more traditional providers and I think we have got it right (existing players in this space clearly think so and that has been great validation for us), but we are still learning all the time. All feedback is welcome.
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
I don’t really have any. If people ask why I don’t drink I says “its because I was so good at it I wanted to give everyone else a chance” – we surprise people the most when they realise that we are not anti-alcohol and we are pro-pub. It changes the conversation instantly and our members like it.
8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Those hours in the day you wish you had – they were hidden behind that bottle of red wine 😉