The Derry book club that focuses on alcohol: ‘The Sober Coach’ sets up new support initiative

A book club that explores alcohol and people’s relationship with it has been set up by Derry woman Joanne Nash.

Joanne, a sobriety counsellor, is also known as ‘The Sober Coach’ and supports and guides others in their journey as they look at and reduce their alcohol consumption.

Coaching is a ‘different method’ to counselling, in that it is more ‘forward focused’ and is something Joanne has personally benefited from in recent years.

Joanne told the ‘Journal’: “Counselling would be more, maybe digging into the past a bit and working around issues and I would have done a lot of that myself.

Joanne Nash - 'The Sober Coach.'

“With coaching, I found it helped me more as it’s very forward focused and goal orientated - you work with someone one-on one - and with their goals.

“It’s person centred; they wouldn’t come to me and I’d say: ‘You better stop drinking’. It’ll be more about looking at and finding a way to reduce drinking and/or whatever the person wants to do.

“I found in my own journey, I would have stopped and then decided I was grand and I’d just have a wee drink at the weekend, but then I kept ending up in the same place. Coaching is about starting where you are, looking at where you want to be and working towards that.”

Joanne first came across coaching as she made decisions about her own drinking and saw how it was impacting on her life and her health.

She outlined how her level of drinking was not what some people would describe as ‘full blown alcoholism,’ but was in more of what she described as, that ‘grey area’. While Joanne wouldn’t drink alcohol all week, she ‘would have done a lot of binge drinking’ at the weekends.

“It was making me feel terrible,” she said.

“ I was having really bad hangovers. I thought: “I need to do something about this. I was doing the ‘dry’ months and that helped me get started with it. Around 2018 I knew I don’t do moderation. I’m not a ‘one or two person.’ I was grand during the week, but drank a lot at the weekend. I wanted to do something about it. I would have worked with life coaches before and have a great love of personal development and learning. The coaching that focuses on helping people with alcohol is very big in America and even in England but we never really had it here.”

Joanne underwent her own coaching online, as it wasn’t available here face-to-face.

As she navigated through her own journey towards less alcohol and a healthier lifestyle, she knew she also wanted to bring the method to others.

Joanne, who worked in IT for many years, recently left her job to focus on sobriety coaching full time.

“I do think it’s really needed here, especially after the pandemic, when people’s drinking got worse,” she explained.

“I wanted to give people options for getting help. I didn’t identify as an alcoholic so thought a lot of the groups weren’t for me. But I did have an issue with my drinking.”

Joanne outlined how alcohol is so ‘normalised’ in society it is seen as ‘different’ and unusual when you don’t want to drink.

“Because it’s normalised, people think it’s ok. But after I started ‘The Sober Coach,’ people were messaging me telling me how they were worried about their own drinking.

“I help people one on one, but I wanted to also bring in the book club, as some people are afraid to say that they need to speak to someone about their drinking. There are so many books out there where people share their stores about drinking and tips and tricks. My book club focuses on those books and helping people explore that, because even if we can start to reduce their drinking, it’s a good start.”

The Serenity Bookclub has been created with the intention of providing support, knowledge and connection to anyone impacted by alcohol. It is open to those on their own journey, who are wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle or support others. The bookclub is a safe, confidential and supportive space to explore and gain understanding of the alcohol free journey.

Those who join will receive a copy of the book and a notebook to keep as well as additional materials and ‘of course a cup of tea and a biscuit or two.’

“My job is to help people get themselves to a place where they’re more content, but also to educate about alcohol and its effects. We read the book and also do things like worksheets to change beliefs in and around alcohol. We do find, a lot of the time, that people get to that place where they find they are better without it. The book club is about having that safe space for people to explore all that.

“We’re just finished the first book club - there were two running for five weeks and the feedback has been brilliant. Those who took part are looking for another one, as they like having that accountability. I just want people to know that there is somewhere to get help, if you are not happy with your drinking.”

The book club takes place in ‘Soul Cottage’ in Rossdowney Road and the next one begins on April 26.

“We have a lovely big room there and people talk about what they want to talk about. There’s no pressure. Even from my own journey, it’s finding other ways to get that pleasure and fun. I still go out, but I’m going out for the company and to be with people I like. But, there are certain tools and techniques I would teach people to get them to that point - the point where you think: ‘This isn’t doing anything for me.’ But it takes time to undo that habit. I still go out and dance away and enjoy myself. It’s also about trying new things too - like coming down the book club. There is so much I have tried that I never would have done before, as I spent my weekends drinking and then hungover.”

Joanne said she calls this ‘playing it forward’.

“You look at those experiences that you think you’re missing out on by not drinking and playing it forward by thinking of how amazing you’ll feel tomorrow.

“By not drinking or reducing it, you’re also working on other things like confidence. But again, this can be hard at first and I think that’s why support is so key, particularly when you’re dealing with people who don’t get it, because of social pressures.

“Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking. If you don’t drink you’re nearly asked what’s wrong with you. Or people will say to you: ‘Sure you’re not that bad’ and that can keep people stuck where they’re at with their drinking. They can be afraid of doing something about it because of how other people are. But, they’re also sick to the back teeth of feeling the way they do.”

Joanne said she believes that society is better now in normalising abstaining from alcohol, particularly in relation to alcohol free options, but added that ‘we have a long way to go’.

She believes the book club has been successful as ‘everyone is there for the same reason’.

“It’s not like you’re sitting in a circle, saying this and that. That does work for some people, but not for others. And those people are wondering where they can go to get help. With coaching, it’s the thought of: ‘This isn’t working for me and I want to do something about it’.

“I have always been open with my journey. There’s no judgement and it makes it that safer space. Many people want to get help and don’t know where to get started. This is about providing an alternative option.”

Joanne highlighted how, for some people, alcohol addiction can be ‘progressive’ and with them, ‘the earlier you can make changes the better’.

“It’s even about just coming in and thinking that you want to explore this a bit. I was so grateful to have the coaching online, but I wanted it in person where you can meet with someone who doesn’t judge and who will cheer you and not judge you.”

The next book club takes place on April 26 from 7pm at Soul Cottage. You’ll receive a copy of the book and notebook to keep, as well as tips, tools, guides and resources to support your journey.

You can follow Joanne on Instagram at The_Sober_Coach and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/The.Sober.Coach.Joanne.Nash