Bestselling Kiwi author Lotta Dann on life after quitting the bottle

Mrs D is back, and her new book is packed with strategies and techniques for coping with sobriety sanely.
Lotta Dann's second book deals with living life alcohol-free.

Mother-of-three Lotta Dann is a self-confessed recovering alcoholic who found her way to sobriety after realising her life – despite outside appearances – was slowly but surely hitting the skids.

The Wellington-based former journalist, who is married to TVNZ’s political editor, Corin Dann, began blogging in 2011 as a way of coming to grips with the reality of her alcohol problem.

That blog, Mrs D Is Going Without, became a best-selling memoir of the same name, and helped grow a huge online community of like-minded people also looking for a way through.

Now Lotta, 45, is back with a second book, Mrs D Is Going Within. The follow-up memoir reveals there’s more to getting sober than just putting down the drink.

We catch up with Lotta and ask her a few questions about living a sane, happy, and productive, alcohol-free life.

How have you found life after getting sober?

Confronting, fabulous, revealing, grounding, challenging, rewarding and exciting. Sometimes all within the same day! In short being sober is like being on a crazy roller-coaster ride that I never want to get off.

You exposed a lot about your life in your first book, how did you feel about sharing even more of your story?

I feel quite nervous and vulnerable about this second book – more so than the first. I think this is because the first book was about a very specific aspect of my life – my relationship with alcohol – and I wrote it from a very strong standpoint of being delighted to be sober and wanting to help others.

This second book is far more broad – how I live now I’m sober – and I’m still in a wobbly place in terms of how I deal with life and cope with stuff in an ongoing basis. So I’m feeling quite exposed right now but I’m getting lovely feedback from people which is helping. I do still want to share openly because I think the worst thing any of us can do is pretend things are fine when they’re not and hide our truths.. that leads to misery and bad choices.

Was there an event that prompted you to think you might need a second book to process life sober, or was it more trying to come to grips living without alcohol?

There was an event that sparked me embarking on a new project to learn new coping strategies to deal with life, and that was my beloved step-father dying very quickly from cancer. This happened three years after I quit drinking and it was at that point that I realised I was woefully ill-equipped to manage my way through tough emotions. So I set myself a new project to learn tools and techniques (such as mindfulness, yoga, gratitude etc) to help me cope. I never intended for this project to turn into a book but about a year and a half after starting it I began writing it all out and here we are!

You manage an online group called Living Sober. How has that community reacted to this book?

Members of the Living Sober community are being very warm and supportive about my new book which is no surprise because that’s how we roll at Living Sober. It is the most remarkable place on the internet because it’s full of people who are raw and emotional – digging deep to turn their lives around – yet the tone of our communications is unfailingly kind, supportive, warm, wise and empathetic. It’s a very special little corner of the internet that’s for sure.

You say this book reveals the truth to getting sober. What are some of the obstacles people face when they realise they’re an alcoholic or have a problem with alcohol and that sobriety needs to be a way of life?

There’s a saying in recovery circles which is ‘Putting down the drink is just the beginning’ and that is the truth that I expose in this book – that after the hard work of getting sober is over (beating cravings, reframing your thinking and reshaping your identity as a sober person) most people find there is some further work they need to do on themselves.

For me the biggest thing was learning how to deal with my emotions after 20-plus years of stifling them with booze. I’m so pleased I’m fully in touch with my feelings now… it’s a vast improvement from being the numbed-out, disconnected woman I used to be.

What helped you find your way through this part of your journey?

I always get great tips and recommendations from my online community… we’re constantly sharing resources we’ve discovered and tips on what works for us. For me the great book that really unlocked mindfulness for me was called Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Also Ruby Wax’s books on mindfulness are fabulous.

One of the biggest things I hope people get out of reading my new book is the understanding that it can take quite a bit of trial and error until you find the writers or experts that click with you. Don’t give up! I tried three different yoga classes (and hated them all) until I discovered the one that works for me.

Watch: Lotta Dann opens up on her battle with alcoholism on Sunday. Article continues after video

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Do you take a holistic approach to your recovery?

I have a range of tools and techniques now that I draw from to help me through my days. I use mindfulness techniques and draw from some of the overarching concepts of the practice regularly (such as acceptance and compassion), I practice gratitude with my kids, I get into the outdoors with my dog, I do yoga (and I am NOT flexible or limber!). I try really hard to eat and drink well – no alcohol helps! – but I do still fall into piggy eating habits which I’m trying not to do so much… sugar is a tricky one for me.

How has being sober affected your relationships?

Every single thing I have done since I put down the bottle on September 6, 2011 has helped my family relationships. I am so much more deeply connected with my husband and kids now – and others around me. Most of all I’m more connected with myself and I think if you’re working on that number one relationship (with yourself) everything will flow out happily from there.

Did you ask for help from professionals or did you go to therapy?

No. All of my help has come from books or my peers online.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step group for people recovering from alcoholism. Is this something you’ve tried?

No I never went to AA, despite knowing it is incredibly powerful and effective. Mostly this is just because I found amazing support through my online networks. However, never say never… I’ve always said that if one day I feel close to relapsing I’ll get myself to a meeting quick-smart.

Do you read self-help books yourself and are there any you’d consider absolute must-haves?

For giving up drinking I heartily recommend Kick the drink easily! by Jason Vale or The easy way to stop drinking by Allen Carr. For the ‘next stage’ recovery stuff aside from the books mentioned earlier I recommend The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris and go listen to Tara Brach’s free talks online – she’s awesome.

Lotta Dann’s top 5 tips for coping when everything seems to be falling apart

  1. Sounds silly but just stop, take a serious pause and breathe deeply. Feel the air coming in and out of your lungs and your body connected to the ground. Keep doing that for as long as you are able. Even 10 seconds will make a difference.

  2. Try to picture your thoughts like clouds floating through the sky, watch them enter and then leave your mind. They are just thoughts, not facts.

  3. Do some things that are rooted in self-care and kindness that will make you feel good about yourself. They might only improve your day by 5% but that’s better than nothing (and it’s certainly better than self-sabotaging behaviour).

  4. Try and do these sorts of things regularly, knowing they have a subtle impact – it’s the ongoing, cumulative effect of having them in your life that will make them powerful.

  5. Turn up some cheesy music at home and dance like no-one is watching! Guaranteed to give you some positive endorphins…

Mrs D Is Going Within is available now. RRP $35

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