Thursday, 30 April 2015

Role Models

DAY 60!!!

I heard yesterday that a new movie of Absolutely Fabulous is being released. I was overcome by a huge wave of nostalgia for the wonderful Patsy (Joanna Lumley) and Edina (Jennifer Saunders).

In the early 1990s, when I was in my twenties, Absolutely Fabulous (or AbFab as we called it), was my favourite comedy sitcom - along with Friends, obviously. Not only did I adore Patsy and Edina - I actually wanted to be them.

And with my great fondness for nicotine and alcohol, plus my high paying advertising job, love of Harvey Nichols and convertible sports car, I was a pretty good approximation. For me, they were not an ironic comedy duo, they were role models.

So when I heard the news yesterday I looked them up on YouTube for a trip down memory lane (isn't the interweb just marvellous?).

Now please, please check out this compilation of 'Edina and Patsy's Finest Moments'. The amount they drink, in just this seven minutes, is horrifying. But at the time I honestly thought that drinking every day, and with abandon, was cool, rebellious, kooky and cocking a snoop at the establishment and the uninspired.  Just like Patsy and Edina.

These two were obviously extreme examples, but they weren't my only role models. My parents drank every evening. Gin and tonics before dinner. Wine with dinner. And, for my Dad, a brandy or whisky afterwards. They were never drunk, but often drinking.

All my friends drank, at least they did whenever we met up, and I assumed they did at home too. I never felt any concern, stigma or shame about daily drinking, or drinking at home alone.

The 1990s were, if you remember, the era of the 'ladette'. The cool girls who refused to be demure and cute, but worked hard and played hard with the men. Zoe Ball, Denise van Outen, Tara Palmer Tomkinson and the like, were pictured out drinking hard every evening (or so it seemed).

One of my main reasons for quitting now is so my three children don't grow up thinking that drinking every day is normal. Their example will be a mother who doesn't drink at all, and a father who drinks from time to time in moderation (goddamn him!).

Then, hopefully, even if they've inherited my 'caution to the wind' genes, they will at least question their habits well before I ever did. With luck, and good role models, they will keep their cucumbers unpickled (see Moderation. Is it Possible Part 2 if you don't get the cucumber reference - it's important!) and be happy, moderate drinkers throughout their lives.

I could hate Patsy and Edina for leading me astray, but I only have myself to blame and, the truth is, I still have a huge fondness for them in all their flawed fabulousness. The problem is that their new film, I'm sure, will portray them as unchanged - still chuffing and chugging away twenty five years later.

Yet we all know that, if that were really the case, they'd either be in rehab or dead. But where's the comedy in that?

An absolutely fabulous day to all of you.

SM x

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Journey to Freedom

Day 59, and my latest reading material is Veronica Valli's 'Why You Drink and How to Stop'.  Subtitle: 'Journey to Freedom.'

Now I love a good analogy, so thought I would share one of Veronica's.

According to Valli, the first few months of sobriety are like waking up at 3am to catch a flight to Barbados for a much anticipated dream holiday.

Woo hoo! Really? I'll tell you why in Valli's own words:

"For those few seconds, when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, when you are in the deepest of sleeps, dreaming about a wonderful fantasy, you have to grope around trying to still that intrusive bleeping. Your mind begins an argument with itself, where for a few seconds, you consider just closing your eyes, just for a couple of minutes, to experience that warm, comfortable, seducing lure of sleep again."

"Despite knowing that you don't have long to get to the airport, there is that voice telling you just to shut your eyes and go back to sleep and everything will be OK. The pillow is so soft, the bedding so warm and comfy. The pull is intoxicating. Nothing matters more than the bliss of sleep, of unawareness. But of course you force your tired eyes awake and stand blearily in the shower with the excitement in your belly and the adrenalin beginning to pump through your veins. Because you know that very soon you're going to be on a plane to Barbados and what a wonderful feeling that will be."

"The first few months of recovery for an alcoholic are like the first few seconds of being awoken by the alarm clock."

"Even though you know that where you're going is the most wonderful place you'll ever visit; even though you know you would be devastated if you gave in and shut your eyes and woke up to realise you'd missed the plane; even though you know all of this - there is still a strong temptation to go back to sleep and block out all of those possibilities and experiences for the sake of a few extra hours of nothingness."

"This is what the alcoholic experiences in early recovery. For so long they have lived half asleep, half aware, missing their lives, and now finally the opportunity has arrived for them to be fully awake, fully conscious of their experience. But its very tempting to go back to sleep; this is because recovery is hard and painful at times, especially in the beginning. Even though Barbados will be great, the getting there can sometimes be uncomfortable, painful, irritating and inconvenient. The drive to the airport, carrying bags, queuing at security, airline food, cramped seats, all of those things we'd rather do without, but we put up with them because of the destination."

I have three questions. (1) Is it possible to get an upgrade and avoid all the discomfort? (2) Do you get a complementary cocktail on arrival? and (3) If anyone's got to Barbados yet can they send me a postcard and let me know if it's all it's cracked up to be? Because if it's not I'm going back to bed....

Love SM x

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Simple pleasures

When I quit drinking 58 days ago, I didn't realise that it would have ramifications on pretty much every aspect of my life.

One thing that has totally changed is my relationship with breakfast.

Back in the smoking-like-a-chimney and drinking-like-a-fish years which characterised my twenties, my standard breakfast was two or three Marlboro Lights and a jug of strong coffee, accompanied by a hacking cough. Nice.

Then I gave up smoking, ramped up the drinking, and rediscovered a love of food. I gained at least a stone (that's fourteen pounds to you Americans, and about 7 kilos for the continentals).

For the last few years my standard breakfast has been a boiled egg with toast (how British is that?). Pretty healthy. A good start to the day. But I was never terribly excited by it. Apart from anything else, it's hard to be enthusiastic about anything much with a constant low level hangover.

But now, not only do I wake up feeling perky, I wake up ravenously hungry. If you think about it, BS (before sober) I would consume, on top of my supper, a bottle of wine containing at least 500 calories. Then, having drowned out any willpower, I'd probably have raided the children's snack drawer for kit kats. No wonder I wasn't hungry at breakfast time!

Oddly, my favourite breakfast of old - the egg - is no longer at all appealing. It's just not sweet enough. Many of us crave sugar when we quit - apparently it has a similar effect on the dopamine (happy hormone) levels as alcohol. Alcohol is, after all, another form of sugar and grain, just in liquid form. It's very common for alcoholics to use sugar as a coping mechanism in the same way as they used alcohol. Oh God, will it never end?

So now I find that the best way to keep the sugar cravings at bay is to have a 'healthy' sugar hit at the beginning of the day. Move on you boring old oeuf, and hello 'SoberMummy's Sunrise Suprise' (the suprise being OMG no hangover!).

How to make 'SoberMummy's Sunrise Suprise':

Take 3 big spoons of plain Greek yoghurt. Throw in a handful of fresh berries (I like raspberries and blackberries best), and sprinkle with a really good quality granola.

(Note: for those children of the 1970s (like myself), do not confuse granola with that horrible, dusty muesli that our mothers tried (in vain) to get us to eat instead of Golden Nuggets or Coco Pops. Granola is way more yummy. And crunchy).

This breakfast is my new addiction. All the major food groups represented: good fats, low GI carbs, fibre, calcium, omega acids and vitamins. And it's seriously yummy.

Now I know why they say breakfast is the best meal of the day.

Huge congrats to Kags, one of my first readers, who made day 50 yesterday. She has a really sweet tooth, so this post was in her honour.

Love SM x

Monday, 27 April 2015

Low Bottoms

Day 57 - Eight weeks!

I've just finished reading Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It's a brilliant, page turning, thriller - but that's not the main reason I bought it. The truth is that I was listening to a (glowing) review on the radio and discovered that the central character - Rachel - is an alcoholic.

If you're planning to read the book - and I highly recommend that you do - don't worry, I'm not going to reveal any crucial plot twists!

Now Rachel is hugely believable. A terribly flawed, deeply troubled 'heroine'. And I'm all for anything that draws attention to the issues that alcohol can cause people and society. However, I don't think that Rachel has done us any favours...

You see, Rachel is a classic 'low bottom' drunk. She has huge memory black outs pretty much every time she drinks, which is pretty much all of the time. She's alienated almost all her supporters. She's constantly hurting herself and other people. She's lost her husband, her job, her house, and is about to be thrown out of her rented bedroom.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence have a 26 point scale of dependence (which I'll do a post on if you're interested), and according to this, Rachel would be classified as a 'final stage' alcoholic. But in fact, only 3-5% of alcoholics are your classic 'low bottom' drunks. The vast majority of us are 'early' and 'mid stage' alcoholics, and manage to function quite admirably for many years.

"So what?" you may ask. This is fiction, and the 'final stage' alcoholic is way more interesting than a boring old 'high functioning' one. But the problem is that a bestselling novel like this just re-enforces all the massive pre-conceptions that people have about 'alcoholics'. It loads more and more negativity on the 'alcoholic' word, and makes it increasingly hard for any of us to want to admit to being one of the tribe.

Not only that, but had I not already quit drinking this book would have been classic wine witch ammunition. I would have read it, chortling away at Rachel's antics, feeling a massive sense of relief that that was what a proper alcoholic looked like, and that definitely wasn't me. Oh dear, poor Rachel, pass me another glass of that Chablis, please...

The truth is that there is always someone we can look at for reassurance - to convince ourselves that we are actually okay. And we are masters at surrounding ourselves with them. We seek each other out and then judge each other as a way of making ourselves feel better. As Caroline Knapp says (in my favourite book Drinking, a Love Story) "When you're drinking, the dividing line between you and real trouble always manages to fall just past where you stand."

I bet thousands of women will use Rachel as reassurance that they don't need to worry about their drinking. But the truth is that once that switch in your brain is flipped, once you've turned from a cucumber into a pickle (read Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2 if you've missed the post on pickles!) the only way is down. The only possible progression is from early to mid to final stage.

We shouldn't laugh at Rachel, scorn Rachel or dismiss Rachel - because Rachel is waiting for all of us at the end of the elevator. So don't wait until you get to the bottom! Get off as quickly as you can while it's still (relatively) easy.

Do read the book - it's great. But don't take it as reassurance. See it as a warning.

Love SM x

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Finding the inner child

Day 56, and it's #2's birthday!

The rule in the SoberMummy house is that, when it's your birthday, you get to design your perfect day.

#2 is a creature of habit. He knows what he likes. So there were no surprises. Today's schedule involved starting with the grand present ritual, moving onto a day at Legoland, and ending up with steak frites and chocolate fondant at his favourite restaurant. Exactly the same as last year. And the year before.

The grand present ritual starts when the birthday person wakes up (usually around 7am). They then wake everyone else up, and everyone piles into Mr and Mrs SoberMummy's bed (including the terrier). The birthday person then has to find all the presents hidden around the room (warmer....warmer...colder....boiling hot!) and open them (to lots of oohs and ahhs).

Whilst today was ostensibly the same as the last two years, it was also completely different.

For a start, I didn't have to feign enthusiasm when an overexcited small person jumped on my head at 7am. I woke up, on a Sunday morning, after a Saturday night, just as excited that morning had arrived as he was.

Once we'd littered the bedroom with wrapping paper and managed to get everyone dressed and ready, we set off for Legoland.

Now, when I was #2's age, I loved theme parks. My idea of a perfect day out was charging around the roller coasters, dodgems, water slides and so on. But I grew out of all that years ago. I thought everyone did. On the last few visits to Legoland (and the like), I would plaster a grin to my face and hope no-one could tell that I'd much rather be at home in my favourite armchair with the Sunday papers and a large glass of wine.

But today - bizarrely, and totally unexpectedly, I rediscovered my sense of wonder. I sat with the children, park maps spread out, planning what we would do first, then next, then after that. I went down the water shoot 3 times - happily. I queued patiently. I went up and down and upside down, and had a blast.

It stuck me as totally ironic that we alcohol addicts end up emotionally immature, and yet prematurely jaded. And in giving up the booze I am simultaneously growing up and finding my inner child.

So whilst I am, in a myriad of ways, terrified of the 'never agains', there are some 'never agains' that I embrace wholeheartedly. For example:

1. Never again will I feel guilty because I cannot match my child's excitement at 7am on their birthday.
2. Never again will I have to cope with a theme park or a soft play centre with a hangover.
3. Never again will I waste days of my precious life wishing I was somewhere else.

Happy birthday #2, and lots of love to all of you.

SM x

Related post: Sundays: hair of the dog, Discovering mindfulness

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2

Day 55. Since I wrote Moderation. Is it possible? I found a fabulous insight into the topic in Caroline Knapp's 'Drinking, a love story,' so I thought is was a subject worth revisiting.

Knapp explores the neurological and physiological reasons behind alcohol addiction. Don't panic, I'm going to explain this in easy terms so that I can unserstand it properly, as well as you!

She explains that when the brain is 'excessively and repeatedly' exposed to alcohol (that'll be me then!) its natural systems of craving and reward are screwed up.

When we drink, our brain's reward system is artificially activated, and it produces dopamine. Dopamine is the brain's 'feel good' chemical. Over time, the brain susses out that it's producing far too much of the stuff, so it compensates by kicking into reverse gear and actively decreases our base levels of dopamine.

That's why, over time, drinkers feel more and more depressed, and start to believe that only alcohol will make us feel better. We're not actually wrong. Drinking enables us to produce dopamine again. What we fail to understand, however, is that it was drinking that caused the problem in the first place.

Effectively, we reach a tipping point where alcohol stops being the solution and starts being the problem.

The good news is that as soon as we stop drinking our brain gets back into balance, and starts producing the happy hormone again all on its own. In fact, in the beginning it can overcompensate. A bit like a rubber band pinging back into position, it initially overshoots. This is why ex drinkers experience the 'pink cloud' stage, followed by a series of ups and downs as our brains struggle to find equilibrium again.

The bad news is that by now our brains have been hard wired to believe that alcohol equals pleasure. Years of our dopamine levels being controlled by alcohol have, in effect, created the 'wine witch' in our heads. And the only way to shut up the wine witch is to not drink.

Knapp uses the best analogy I've heard to explain why alcohol addicts can't drink 'normally' again - that of cucumbers and pickles. She says that you can stop a cucumber turning into a pickle, but once it is a pickle it can never be a cucumber again.

If you're reading this thinking 'am I a cucumber still, or am I already a pickle?' have a look at 'Am I an alcoholic? Part 2' and try Bill Wilson's moderation test. If you find it impossible, over a decent length of time, to stick to drinking just one small drink a day then it is probable that your brain chemistry has already gone haywire. You have, in effect, pickled it.

I know this all sounds a bit depressing but, on the upside, it shows that you are NOT weak willed or pathetic. You are dealing with powerful physiological forces that 'normal drinkers' don't have to face. It is not your fault - it's the fault of the drug.

Plus, there are physiological reasons why you're feeling miserable (if you are) and you will get better. In fact, once we sort out our bain chemistry we should be able to feel as good as we ever did after a large glass of vino all the time!

Have a great weekend, all you fabulous pickles,

SM x

Related Posts: Moderation. Is it possible? What's so great about moderation anyway?

Friday, 24 April 2015


Day 54.

I had an odd day yesterday. I was multi-tasking: doing the ironing while catching up on Poldark on the TV, about 11am.

By the way, have you noticed how clean and orderly your house gets when you stop drinking? We ex-drinking enthusiasts often find that cleaning and ironing really help to take your mind off the not drinking thing - it's like a less indulgent version of 'mindfulness' - it keeps you focused on the moment.

Plus, there's a lovely synergy between cleansing everything around you and cleansing yourself. A fresh start. A clean sheet of paper. Right now I'm finding newly laundered bed linen almost exciting as a chilled bottle of Sancerre used to be. How sad is that?

Anyhow, back to the point. There I am, watching telly and ironing the husband's shirts when, a propos of nothing, totally out of the blue, I start weeping. Profusely. And I'm not even sad. Nor is Poldark - he's just discovered copper in his mine and they're all celebrating.

Now, I'm British. I don't do weeping. Stiff upper lip and all that. The only time I remember being this emotional for no apparent reason was shortly after #1 was born. I was a mass of hormones and still in shock from being suddenly propelled into motherhood and it took me two days to get over the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo's Mum, along with hundreds of his un-hatched siblings, was eaten by a shark.

Yesterday I felt a bit like an onion that's gradually had it's layers peeled away, leaving me all raw and vulnerable. And I was crying because I suddenly felt overwhelmed by emotion. It wasn't bad crying - it was actually rather cathartic.

I've read a lot about how we drink in order to avoid emotions; we're stressed, we drink, we're scared, we drink, we're happy, we drink. As a result, we fail to grow up.

The fabulous Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking, a Love Story, writes 'I'd never really grasped the idea that growth was something you could choose, that adulthood might be less a chronological state than an emotional one which you decide, through painful acts, to both enter and maintain. Like a lot of people I know (alcoholics and not), I'd spent most of my life waiting for maturity to hit me from the outside, as though I'd just wake up one morning and be done, like a roast in the oven.'

And that's so me: a raw chicken wondering when I'm going to get cooked. I still feel like a nineteen year old at heart. states that 'Addicts usually struggle when it comes to dealing with their feelings. This is why many of them will have turned to substance abuse in the first place. Alcohol and drugs can provide a temporary escape from unpleasant emotions. These chemicals numb the brain so that the individual feels very little. Once the individual becomes addicted to these substances, they will be unable to mature emotionally. This means that when they become sober, they will still be faced with the problem of dealing with their emotions.'

When we stop drinking we don't mature immediately. It feels as if we have to be 'pared down', or rubbed raw, before we can build ourselves up again, before we can choose to deal with our lives and emotions properly, soberly, and become a real life grown up. A perfectly done roast.

So there I was, all raw and weeping. I felt as if I was looking at myself from a distance, and I'm thinking 'look at you, you ex boozer, sad case weirdo. But, actually, what an inventive use of bodily fluids! Who needs an expensive steam iron? Just weep all over your laundry.'

Have a fabulous Friday everyone.

Love SM x

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Follow the sober brick road....

Day 53! Over the last week I've become obsessed by imagery from the Wizard of Oz. I've managed to work out why. Please stick with me here, I promise there's a really valid point to all this!

Remember the bleak, lonely, black and white Kansas in the opening of the Wizard of Oz? That's the drinking days. Slowly, slowly, sip by sip, all the colour is gradually leeched out, and you look around you and think "how the hell did this happen?"

So you make a monumental decision: I have to stop drinking. The initial few days are a physical whirlwind - a tornado. You're all tetchy and restless and everything goes a little haywire - your sleep, digestion, energy levels and emotions are all inside out and upside down.

Then, the tornado clears and you discover that you've landed in an amazing place - Oz. This is the 'honeymoon' (sometimes called 'pink cloud') phase that I've written about a lot already. All the colours are brighter, your senses are heightened, there's a feeling that anything is possible. You wonder why on earth you never came here before.

But before too long you realise that Oz isn't all it seems. You don't know the rules, you're not sure how to navigate the landscape. The brightness is actually a bit scary and there's a sharpness, an edge, that you're not used to dealing with. (This is around week 6 or 7, when a lot of people seem to fall off the wagon).

And, the most frightening thing about Oz? The Wicked Wine Witch of the West who is constantly out to get you.

Now I get to play Dorothy. I know that's not entirely fair or democratic, but it's my blog and I have to get some perks. But I'm not wearing that ghastly gingham dress, or doing the plaits. The expression 'mutton dressed as lamb' springs to mind. I'm wearing a floaty Alice Temperley dress, and the hair is loose with a Kate Middleton style blow dry (by the way, is it true that you Americans say 'blow job' instead of 'blow dry', or is someone winding me up? A blow job means something entirely different on this side of the pond....)

Tallaxo gets to be the lion as he's the only bloke who's so far volunteered for a speaking part on this blog. (What are you all - men or mice? It is not statistically likely that 17,000 page views are all female. Come on out of the drinks closet and join the conversation!) Plus, I suspect that Tallaxo looks like Colin Firth. Don't you just love putting imaginary faces to the names?

So, now we've discovered how scary Oz actually is, we find ourselves some friends and together we follow the sober brick road, because we've been assured that at the end of it is the Wizard, and the Wizard can give us freedom.

As we make our way on our journey, holding hands and singing, we realise that we're having to cope with emotions and stuff that we've never really dealt with before - or at least not since we started drinking a lot. We find that, like the lion, scarecrow and tin man, there's bits we're missing - a heart, a brain, courage, whatever, and we want the Wizard to fix us and transport us to the sober nirvana.

Tragically, when we get to the end of the road we find that the wizard isn't there. He never was. He was a figment of our imagination. But, you know what? By then we no longer need him. Because, in our long journey, brick by sober brick, along the road, we've been learning how to deal with all the emotions and stuff.

Oz is no longer scary and sharp, and we've managed to dissolve the Wicked Wine Witch of the West with a bucket of water (she was well and truly sozzled). We don't need to be transported anywhere else, because we find that, actually, we're already here, and it's amazing!

At least that is, I hope, how the story ends. Right now I'm still tripping along that sober brick road with you, my friends.

Have a great day in Oz!

Love SM x

Related post: the sober rollercoaster

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The concept of 'self care'

Spoiler alert: this post is entirely shallow, frivolous and self indulgent.

I have come across the expression 'self care' in many of the articles, books and books that I've read.

Here, on day 52 of the sobercoaster, where it's all a bit bleak and a little 'is this all there is to life?' it is, apparently, important to exercise some self care.

I'm pretty sure that self care is all about healthy nutrition and exercise - beginning to repair the ravages caused by years of 'lack of self care'. When drinking (a lot), we also tend to eat badly, and who on earth wants to exercise with a hangover?

I do now feel so much more 'in tune' with my body - having, literally, drowned out all it's natural signals for years, I'm now aware of when I'm properly hungry and thirsty (for water, not alcohol!). I have loads more energy for exercising too, plus it's a great way to take your mind off the not drinking thing.

But I have broadened the definition of self care to include a little 'self indulgence'. Hell, I think I deserve a bit of that by now.

I sat down for the first time ever, and calculated how much I used to spend on wine. I didn't drink cheap plonk. In my head, if the wine cost over £10 a bottle it made you a connoisseur as opposed to a common old garden lush.

So I spent, on average, about £12.50 per bottle. And I drank (this is a conservative estimate) about ten bottles a week. That's £125 per week! More than £500 per month! That is a MASSIVE proportion of my total housekeeping budget.

I must have been aware of how much I was spending (I have a degree in Economics for God's sake!), but because it was filed in the 'total necessity' part of my brain I never stopped to question it. There I was, week in, week out in the supermarket looking for the buy-one-get-one-free offers and swapping expensive brands for own labels, and yet I was spending more than £500 per month, £6,000 per year on booze!

That's the terribly, awfully, embarrassingly bad news. Here's the good news:

I have now saved myself £500 a month!

Yay! Go girl. Let's shop! Here's where the 'self care' comes in:

Every week I now buy fresh flowers for my house (1 bottle of wine)
Last week I had a fabulous pedicure (orange toenails - how spring-like is that?!) (2 bottles of wine)
Right now there is a really lovely cheerful lady spring cleaning my house! (4 bottles of wine)
Next week I'm going to a big charity ball so have booked a professional blow dry (2 bottles of wine)

That all adds up to three weeks of self-indulgence, a really clean house filled with fresh flowers, and a well groomed SoberMummy for the same cost as one week's wine. The other £250 saving is, sensibly, going to help pay off the overdraft.

Over the last few years I have not bothered very much with 'grooming'. All that waxing, tweazing, tanning, blow-drying nonsense was way down the pecking order compared with buying, and drinking, wine. Plus I was so grumpy, bloated and lacking in self respect that whenever I did do any of that stuff it felt (to steal a phrase from Sarah Palin) like putting lipstick on a pig.

But now I'm feeling just a little bit sexier. I have more time. I have more cash. So now, dear friends, I'm saying 'farewell, ugly ducking, and hello swan!'

Love to you all.

SM x

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

When the wine witch wins

When I was twenty-six, a friend of mine introduced me to his new girlfriend - Juliet. Juliet and I immediately fell in (platonic) love.

Juliet had wild, untameable red hair and freckles, and she crackled and fizzed with an energy which was tangible. She was fiendishly clever, and fiercely loyal and, like me, she smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish. When I was with Juliet I felt more. More attractive, more witty, more alive.

I should have known then that a flame that burned so brightly would inevitably die young.

Juliet and I would go to smart restaurants and talk until the waiters started putting chairs on the tables around us. We'd finish the first bottle quickly and Juliet would wave it at a waiter crying "excuse me, my man, could we please have one exactly the same as this, but full?" and she would tip back in her chair and guffaw with laughter.

We would spend long nights at her flat or mine, dancing like no-one was watching to the anthems of our youth: Duran Duran, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Toyah Wilcox. We read poetry to each other. One of Juliet's favourites was John Betjeman's 'Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough.'

We'd promise that we would never end up as grey faced automaton's like those in the poem, rather we'd be eccentric old ladies dressed in purple velvet and mink, terrorising youths with our walking sticks and drinking Martinis with abandon.

Juliet was ferociously fearless (when drunk. When sober she was riddled with insecurities), and persuasive. She would always manage to convince someone that she was 'perfectly able to drive'. She was, she'd say, a brilliant driver and, in fact, even better after a few drinks.

One day, after we'd all been to a wild weekend country house party, she decided she was perfectly able to drive home rather than stay the Sunday night like the rest of us. We let her. She crashed her car on the M1.

Mercifully, no-one was hurt, but it shook her up big time. She realised she wasn't invincible. She ditched the high powered consultancy job she hated and moved out of London, away from temptations, to live more soberly and follow her dream of writing. She wrote the way she lived - with great gusto, originality and humour. Her e-mails were side splittingly funny. My husband read some of them out at her memorial.

I'm ashamed to say that, wrapped up in the self-obsession of youth, I didn't speak to Juliet as much as I should have done after she left town. In the year that she was away I never once went to visit.

One night Juliet had a friend over. He wasn't yet a boyfriend - I think they were just 'testing the water.' They got drunk. She wanted to buy some cigarettes, but - having holed herself up in the countryside - the nearest shop which would be open was several miles away. She spun the usual line about being an even better driver when drunk.

Juliet's car careered off an empty country road and ended up upside down in a ditch. The bloke was trapped for hours, dressed in his pyjamas, next to her corpse. She wasn't even thirty years old.

Many years later, the husband and I were driving in Africa with #1 and #2 (who were then a toddler and a baby) in the back. The visibility was terrible - lashing rain and fog. I fell asleep. In my dream I saw Juliet, as clear as day. She shouted at me "WAKE UP!" I woke to see that the road was splitting into a dual carriageway. The husband hadn't noticed and was heading straight towards two lanes of oncoming traffic. I yelled. He swerved. I honestly believe that Juliet saved our lives. I wish I'd been able to save hers.

That's the thing about the wine witch. She cuts brilliant lives short, and ensures that others are only half lived. She makes children grow up thinking it normal for adults to drink all evening, every evening. She fixes it so mothers are woken up in the middle of the night by a stranger telling them their only child was found dead in a ditch, next to someone she barely knew.

So, I'm not just doing this for me. I'm doing it for my children, and I'm doing it for my feckless, fearless, flame haired friend - Juliet. I will never forget you.

Love SM x

If you have a friend, or relative you'd like us to remember, please do post in the comments section.

Related posts: When the wine witch wins. Part 2

Monday, 20 April 2015

5 things I've discovered after 50 DAYS sober

50 DAYS! Who'd have thought it? And there's no-one I can celebrate with who'll understand apart from YOU LOT! So Yay! Go me!

I thought that I'd done a couple of months sober back in the summer of 2013, but when I went back through my old diary with my honest hat on, I realised that I started having the 'odd glass or three' after only 35 days, and within 2 months I was back to square one.

That means that this is my longest sober period since I was about sixteen years old. And that includes my 3 pregnancies.(In those days British obstetricians were very relaxed about a couple of glasses of wine a week).

To mark the occasion I've been thinking about what I've discovered over the last 50 days. Here are 5 things:

1. Not drinking changes everything.

I'd thought that when you stop drinking your life carries on as normal, but just without drink in it. Not the case! When you take drink out of your life everything changes.

For me, it's like when I first became a mother. I thought that I, and my life, would be just the same but with a lovely, gorgeous baby along for the ride. In actual fact, you change fundamentally once you have a baby - your priorities, your perspective, your relationships, your body and your emotions. And the same is true when you take drink out of your life, which is why it's such a huge adjustment.

2. It's difficult to do it alone.

...which is why AA has saved the lives of so many.

When I gave up smoking I announced it to the world, so I had constant support and encouragement. One of the main reasons that I (eventually) succeeded was because I couldn't face letting down the family and friends who'd been so helpful.

But the shame of being an 'alcoholic' (can't believe I used the 'a' word), is such that we do it quietly. And it's oh so easy to 'quietly' start drinking again. We just announce that we've had our two months off and now we are re-joining the merry band of drinkers. Rather than being disappointed in us, our friends are actually rather relieved.

I still can't face the idea of AA, or of 'coming out', so you - my wonderful, faceless inter-web posse, are my support. A number of times when I've reached out for the bottle, chilled, inviting, and oh so accessible, I've stopped myself because I couldn't face either posting an admission, or lying to you by omission. You have kept me on the straight and narrow, and I am humongously grateful.

3. It's a journey, not a immediate transformation.

When you only give up for a month (dry January, sober October etc) you don't get a proper sense of the sober journey - the ups and downs of the 'sobercoaster'. But like bereavement, or (again) motherhood, there are distinct phases.

Now I totally get the theory of the 'honeymoon' phase. I spent the first 6 weeks in a 'happy land'. In retrospect, it was very much like the land of the Lorax, before the Once-ler got busy making sneeds. It was all candy coloured Truffula trees, and happy, frolicking Brown Barbaloots.

I'm now climbing The Wall. And it's not a low, crumbling Cornish dry stone wall covered in blackberries that you can easily see over. Oh no. It's a giant wall of ice - like in the Game of Thrones. It's a monotonous slog of one hand, followed by the other. Left foot followed by right.

But I know that 'something better' lies over the other side of that wall. And when I get there, I'll let you know what it is.

4. The obsession gets worse before it gets better.

One of the worst things about alcohol addiction is the constant inner dialogue about drinking. It goes on and on, checking what's available in your fridge or your cupboard, where/when you can buy more, how you can avoid anyone spotting how much you're drinking yada yada yada.

I'd thought that not drinking would, pretty quickly, shut up the inner addict. But it's still there, it's just that now it's obsessed with not drinking. I may not be talking to friends and family about it, but my internal monologue is boring me to death. And it makes me spend at least a couple of hours a day blogging about not drinking and reading about not drinking. I'm still waiting for the 'clear headspace' which I only experience in small bursts - a tiny promise of what, I hope, is to come.

5.  Everyone is different.

From everything I've read over the last 50 days, it strikes me that every drinker is different. I've been desperate (as many of us are, I think), to find the answer. I want a definition of what I am, what my 'problem' is, and, therefore, what the solution is.

There do seem to be huge consistencies - for example, we all seem to associate with the idea of the 'wine witch' - the devil on our shoulder. But how we got here, our specific drinking patterns, and what made us want to stop all varies.

I've always found it tempting to read other people's stories and use them as justification - I never did x, y or z - therefore I am not a 'proper alcoholic' and 'I do not need to stop.' Yet now I see that other people could easily read my story and feel that, in many ways, I was 'worse' than them.

I'm sorry that this is not an overwhelmingly cheerful post. Believe me, the longer I spend on the sobercoaster the more convinced I am that it's the right place to be. But I am more 'grown up' and realistic than I was in the pink cloud days. Now I see this sober thing as a work in progress - but I am progressing.

Onwards and upwards sober friends, and HAPPY SOBER BIRTHDAY TALLAXO (possibly my only bloke reader. Any others lurking???)!

SM x

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The 'drunkard detector'

Happy, hangover free Sunday morning everyone!

I was out on Friday night at a dinner party hosted by a couple I have known for 25 years. There were ten of us there, two I didn't know at all, and another four who I knew vaguely.

I learned a number of things that evening.

One: most people don't drink at least half a bottle of wine before they arrive at a party. I'd thought that pretty much everyone started drinking fairly early on a Friday.

When I was still working I would use 'thank God it's Friday' as an excuse to take my whole team out for a (boozy) lunch. Friday afternoon children's playdates would often end with a glass of vino rather than a cup of tea. Even if I hadn't found an excuse to open a bottle before 6pm, I definitely wouldn't wait a minute past 'wine-o-clock' before getting stuck in.

Doesn't everyone have a 'quick sharpener' or two while they're getting ready to go out? It appears not, because one thing I noticed on Friday was that, at the beginning of the evening at least, everyone appeared stone cold sober. Needless to say, in my BS (before sober) days, I would not have been.

Two: most people do not get drunk at a dinner party. Who knew? I was so busy getting merrily drunk myself (never embarrassingly so; never staggering, vomiting or abusive, but probably a little slurry by the end) that I just assumed everyone else was doing the same. But of our ten, at least 2 others drank no more than two or three glasses of wine all evening, and no one was obviously plastered by the end.

Three: I am - I think - much better company sober. I talked, in equal measures, to the bloke on my left and my right (BS I would have stuck with the 'more interesting one' as much as possible, ignoring the poor chap on the other side), and I was genuinely interested in what they had to say. BS I used to get stuck on 'transmit' and somebody else talking was just a helpful pause for me to be able to work out what other (tired old) anecdote I would wheel out next.

Four: I can spot the kindred spirit. Back in the early nineties when (and it seems odd now) coming out of the closet was a very difficult process, a gay friend of mine told me that he could always spot the repressed homosexual at a party. He called it his 'gaydar'. I suspect that I have a similar 'drunkard-detector'.

Here's what caused the drunkard detector to start bleeping: Most of Friday's guests asked about me not drinking (I've just quit for a while...detox...weight loss...blah blah) and then moved on. The lovely guy on my left, however, couldn't let it drop. He asked if I'd gone to AA. He talked about his problems moderating alcohol. I could see him watching the bottle and feeling awful about asking me to pass it when he didn't have the excuse of topping up my glass en route. I knew my not drinking was making him envious and uncomfortable in equal measures. I knew all of this because I have been there.

So, in general, Friday was a huge success. I drove there and back (no taxis - what freedom!), I had a good time. I was - I think - a good guest. I woke up without a hangover. But the next day I still felt really sad. I still fear that as people realise that I'm no longer 'joining in' that I will get left out. I worry that as I dry out all the invitations will dry up. I know that this is shallow of me, but being sociable has always been part of my raison d'etre. And, remember, I spend most of my day with people under the age of twelve, so my evenings are often my only chance to talk to grown ups.

On the subject of friends, one of the best things about writing this has been the people I've met already on the journey. In a short period of time you feel bizarrely close to faceless friends who've been brave enough to comment and to share something of themselves.

And then some of them disappear, and you think 'have they just got bored and moved onto more interesting things?' - in which case, fair enough. Or have they fallen off the wagon and don't feel able to read/comment any more?

I especially miss funny, Irish Kags who stopped drinking at the same time as me. Did she hit The Wall (see The Sober Rollercoaster) too and fall into a ditch? Where are you Kags? Please come back, drinking or not! And where is lovely Laura from Belgium, my continental doppelganger? I guess I have to get used to people dipping in and out, but it's hard not to worry about them.

Love to you all. SM x

Related posts: Will I lose all my friends? And for those of you who are new to this blog and this journey, have a look at Sundays: Hair of the Dog

Friday, 17 April 2015

Moderation. Is it possible?

Moderation. The elephant in the room. The giant enchilada. The hairy chestnut.

I've avoided this one up until now because it's so emotive. A virtual fight broke out recently on one of the sober websites over this topic. Some newer members were discussing moderation and 'just cutting down' in a positive way, and some of the older (wiser?) members got so cross that they abandoned their subscriptions.

The reason this subject is so highly charged is that, at least in the early days of sobriety, many of us hold onto the idea of moderation as the holy grail. The ultimate fairy tale fantasy. Being able to, eventually, raise a glass of chilled champagne with friends and family at a special event, end then - without regret - stop.

Discussing this possibility (fairytale?) is dangerous because, for all of us, it gives ammunition to the wine witch.  Her most fiendish argument is when she whispers into our ear 3 month, 6 months, 1 year in and says "you've done so well! You've really re-calibrated your relationship with alcohol. Now you have a clean sheet of paper. You can start again. Differently. Moderately. You were never a really bad drinker anyway. You never reached that 'rock bottom'. Go on! Just have the one!"

Every time I hear about a properly thirsty (how many euphemisms can I find to avoid the 'alcoholic' word?) drinker giving up and then re-starting - moderately - I feel this surge of hope that I then have to sit on and squish really hard.

Here's an example: When comedian David Walliams married the supermodel Lara Stone she, very openly, discussed her issues with alcohol (she used to drink cocktails for breakfast) and her time in rehab in South Africa. Then, in interviews last summer, she said that she was wasn't being as 'strict' about alcohol and was drinking moderately. A couple of months ago she and David split up.

I have become weirdly obsessed by Lara (who I had no interest in before). Is she still 'drinking moderately'? Did she go back into rehab? What happened?

And this is the problem. Every time one of us claims to be drinking 'moderately' we offer (false?) hope to everyone. And, very often, no-one gets to hear how it all ended. It just goes silent.

I was reading one sober blog a while ago on this subject, and the author said whenever one of her readers was insistent about trying moderation she would, eventually, say 'go on then. Try it. And if it works, come back and tell us all about it.' And, to date, no-one ever has.

I have tried moderation in the past, after a couple of months of total abstinence. Here's how it goes for me:

Some 'trigger event' leads the wine witch to pull out the big guns (see above), and I pour a glass of wine. This does not lead to a 3 day bender and me ending up knickerless in a gutter. Oh no. It's far more insidious than that...

I don't actually enjoy that first glass all that much - it tastes sort of vinegary, not the way I remember. I think "See! I don't even like it that much any more! Ha ha. Put the cork back in the bottle and leave it there for ever. Or, at least until it's a really special occasion."

2 weeks later. It's a mildly special occasion. "I can have a glass of wine! I did so well last time! It's been two weeks already." Drink 3 glasses of wine.

Within 2 more weeks I'd be drinking every weekend, then every time we went out, then every day except Monday and Tuesday, then every day after 7pm...yada, yada, yada. Back to square one.

I had an 'ah ha' moment recently thanks to Anne's fabulous blog ainsobriety. With her usual, beautifully written, straight talking common sense, Anne said 'a normal (if that word even means anything) drinker does not feel the need to write a sober blog.' Or, I expect, to read sober blogs. That sentence has been stuck in my head for days - because she's right.

When I asked at the end of my last post what was over The Wall, Anne replied 'freedom'. I've been thinking about what freedom looks like, and, for me, this is it:

When I quit my chronic, 30 a day, smoking habit (see a pattern here? Just don't let me take up online bingo!) I thought that 'nirvana' was being able to smoke just 2 or 3 a day. One after work, 2 after dinner. Just the best ones. For at least a couple of years I would have leapt at the promise of being able to do this. If I'd been told I only had a month to live I would have immediately taken up smoking.

But at some point (and I wish I knew exactly when), that yearning left me. Now I loathe the idea of smoking 2 or 3 a day. The last thing I'd do with my final month on earth is to spend it smoking.

That's where I want to get to with alcohol because that, my friends, is real freedom. Is anyone there yet? Is it possible?

Wishing you all a fabulous Friday!

SM x

Related posts: Secret Drinker hits the High Bottom, Am I an Alcoholic? Am I an Alcoholic? Part 2
Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2 What's so great about moderation anyway? Celebrity Drinkers

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The sobercoaster

Day 46, and, as is obvious from my two posts yesterday, I'm on a real emotional rollercoaster at the moment.

I've heard people talk about the 'honeymoon period' of sobriety, so I looked it up. There are, it seems, several stages of 'recovery'. The 'honeymoon period' is characterised by feelings of confidence and optimism about your life and a sense of well-being and being in control. Oh yeah, baby, that was me!

Sadly, the phase which follows 'honeymoon' is called 'the wall', and generally runs from around day 46-120. Day 46!!! That's exactly where I am! How irritatingly predictable I seem to be.

'The wall' phase is all about boredom, depression and questioning. Oh God - that doesn't sound much fun!

I remember Mrs D, In Mrs D is Going Without, talking about the end of the 'pink cloud' phase being followed by a period of doing lots of weeping.

As 'enthusiastic drinkers' we are used to blurring all our emotions, and now we have to get used to facing up to them, all raw and clear and sharp edged.

I feel very much like I did in the first few weeks after #1 was born. Initially I freaked out - they expect me to be responsible for this baby with no experience? With no user manual? Are they crazy? What if I kill her? Very much like my initial panic about stopping drinking.

Then you go through those blissful, cloud like first 3 weeks where you're all loved up and cossetted. Everyone's there to help. The baby's asleep all the time. You're inundated with flowers and presents and happy hormones. You think 'I am earth mother. I am a natural. This is a walk in the park.'

That's been my last few weeks. Pink cloud. Honeymoony loveliness (relatively speaking).

Then the lack of sleep kicks in. Husband goes back to work, the visits dry up, the baby gets colic and you feel overwhelmed, exhausted and lonely. You ask your husband to buy a cabbage as the leaves are supposed to help with mastitis and he comes home with a cauliflower! (That actually happened to me). Divorce beckons.

That stage is The Wall. That's where I am now.

How high is it? How wide is it? What's on the other side?

Huge thanks for your comments on my last post - they really helped, and I love you all.

SM x

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Unsupportive support group

Yesterday, I was Googling 'stop drinking' (obsessed? Moi?) and I came across There's a whole sub-strand (or, as they call it, subreddit) called 'stop drinking,' and loads of conversations going on about my favourite topic.

I lurked for a while and then found someone who sounded just like me 45 days ago. I posted a comment, explaining that I was going through the same thing. I suggested that they read Alan Carr or Jason Vale, and gave them my blog address.

Cut to this morning. As you can tell from my Ex-drinkers Rock Part 2 post, I was feeling the love. I was a little heart shaped helium balloon floating along on a happy cloud.

Once I'd posted my 'I'm-so-happy' missive, I logged back onto to see if there was any response to the comment I left yesterday. I found 2 messages. One was an automatically generated one saying 'Welcome to Reddit, SoberMummy' in a cheerful fashion. The second was written by a real person - a moderator - saying merely: No blogs. No spam.

Now I thought that was a little rude and abrupt. No 'hello'. No 'please' or 'thank you'. I'm English, and a mum of three, so I'm big on manners. And surely blogs and spam are two very different things?

I checked the Reddit '5 rules' and they say nothing about 'no blogs'.

Admittedly, I'm new to blogging, so maybe I accidentally broke some unwritten etiquette rule.  Remember, I grew up in the era of facsimiles and telexes, so I could have missed some crucial lesson on acceptable blogosphere behaviour. Have I?

I don't make any money from my blog. All I'm trying to do is help myself and, hopefully, some other people along the way. Is that not how it works?

Anyhow, I took the point on board and decided to post a comment on another strand without mentioning my blog. But I couldn't. A message came up saying 'you are not allowed to do this.'
The moderator had blocked me! I am no longer allowed to post, comment or reply to anything on Reddit.

 I felt like I'd turned up at an AA meeting only to find a piece of paper taped to the door saying 'SoberMummy is not welcome here.'

The Reddit moderator stuck a pin in my happy heart shaped balloon and I was transformed into a useless mangled piece of rubber lying on the floor.

Up until now I've found sober-web a really friendly, accepting place. I've met some wonderful sober-bloggers, several of whom comment here regularly, like Wendy (tipsy no more), Flossie (another way now) and Angie (it's time to get sober). There's also the hugely welcoming Mumsnet Bloggers Network.

I had this vision of us all as a happy, sober family holding hands across the world wide web and tripping off into the sunset. So my non-welcome from Reddit was a total shock.

Blocked! I feel like a stalker. A troll.

I know I'm overreacting. One of the side effects of this bloody no-drinking malarkey is that it seems to send your emotions on a massive roller coaster ride. But right now I feel like deleting mummywasasecretdrinker and going to bed for a week.


Why Ex-Drinkers Rock! Part 2

I believe that drinkers, and ex-drinkers, have not just a thirst for alcohol, but a thirst for life. We are 'all or nothing' people - everything we do, we do with enthusiasm and gusto (see Why Ex-Drinkers Rock!).

Sadly, we eventually come to realise that, having done the 'all' bit of drinking, it's now time to do the 'nothing'.

In one of my general browses I came across this quote from Abraham Lincoln who seemed to agree with me.

In his famous 'Temperance Address' in 1842 he said "I believe, if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant, and warm-blooded to fall into this vice. The demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity. What one of us but can call to mind some dear relative, more promising in youth than all his fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity? He ever seems to have gone forth, like the Egyptian angel of death, commissioned to slay if not the first, the fairest born of every family."

So, according to Lincoln, we - dear friends - are the most 'brilliant, warm blooded and fairest born.' Stick that in your small sized wine glass and sip on it slowly, all you holier-than-thou moderate drinkers!

Since I was, by now, on a roll with world leaders, I thought I'd look up my all time favourite: Sir Winston Churchill.

Sir Winnie was the originator of the best put down of all time. When a grand dame at a party said to him imperiously: "You sir are drunk!" he replied "Bessie, you are ugly. But tomorrow I will be sober, and you will still be ugly." Anyone who can come up with that line after a few jars deserves our never ending admiration.

It is unlikely, however, that - despite his response to Bessie - Sir Winston was ever sober for long (if at all) in the mornings.

Winston, allegedly, drank 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger champagne in his lifetime. He started his day with a (weak) whisky and soda at 9am, and drank a couple more before lunch time. He'd drink a (small) bottle of champagne at lunch, followed by cognac. He'd then (no surprise!) have an hour long siesta.

The afternoon would see a few more whisky and sodas, then a sherry before dinner, another bottle of champagne during dinner, and brandy before bed. Check out this great video 'The day I tired to match Churchill drink for drink' by the wonderfully named Harry Wallop.

Needless to say, Sir Winne wasn't sticking to the recommended guidelines. Nor was he any good at moderation. However, by the time he was my age he had fought in the Boer war, escaped from prison camp, written 11 books and served as Home Secretary. Think what he could have done if he'd been sober!

We spend an awful lot of time berating ourselves and feeling rather ashamed of our grandiose appetites, so it's about time that we gave ourselves, and each other, a little love. Not only are we 'brilliant and warm blooded', but we have enough self knowledge and strength of character to stop the 'Egyptian angel of death' (that's the wine witch to you and me), before she sucks any more of our 'blood of genius and generosity.'

So, yet again lovely readers, I urge to remember that EX DRINKERS ROCK!

The sun is shining here in London. The Kids are back at school. And I have done 45 days sober.

Love SM x

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Am I an Alcoholic? Part 2

Day 44, and I'm still wrestling with this question.

In my general trawl of sober blogs, books, articles and all things alcohol related, I came across an article which, for me, was a real 'Ah ha!' moment.

The piece, 'A dry January could be a sign of a drink problem', was published in The Telegraph in January last year by Tom Sykes, an ex drinker.

Tom argues that giving up alcohol for January (as he did himself, many times) is not necessarily helpful, as it can give the illusion that you don't have a problem.

I gave up alcohol in January 2014, and for two months (more or less) in the summer of 2013. Like Tom, I argued to myself that this achievement meant that I was categorically not an alcoholic. I was just a bit thirsty.

Tom argues that most people can manage to give up alcohol for a month. The real test is the one advocated by Bill Wilson - the co-founder of AA - and it involves drinking. But just one drink at a time.

Bill believed that alcoholics suffer an 'allergic reaction' to alcohol that makes it impossible to moderate. Once they start drinking they develop an overwhelming urge to drink more.

So, if you want to know if you have a problem with alcohol try drinking just one glass of wine, then stopping. See if you can repeat this every evening for a week. I might have been able to stop drinking for January, but I definitely couldn't pass Bill Wilson's test.

Here's how my week of 'one glass a day' would go:

Monday: Pour large glass wine. Sit on hands to stop self pouring more. Yell at husband and kids and go to bed by 9pm in order to get away from the fridge. Tell self that am very clever and have definitely proved the point.

Tuesday: Repeat with larger glass of wine, bigger argument and earlier bedtime. Congratulate self more, especially given the particularly stressful day I've had.

Wednesday: Since today is even more stressful 2 glasses of wine seems fair enough. It's a stupid test anyway. After all, I can give up for a whole month, so this proves nothing.

Thursday: Pour two glasses. Hell, Thursday is the new Friday. It's the weekend! Finish the bottle! Well done me. I made it through the week.

Denial is a river in Egypt.

I still have problems with the label 'alcoholic' (see Am I an Alcoholic?), but thank you, thank you Tom for further convincing me that I am definitely doing the right thing.

Love to you all SM x

Related posts: 5 signs that you're a problem drinker

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cravings from left field

This weekend (day 41/42) was very much a game of two halves.

On the plus side, on Saturday I finally experienced what I'd read about in other sober blogs and memoirs: a real flash of elation.

We were in Holland Park with #1, #2, #3 and the dog. The children were playing hide and seek in the adventure playground. Husband was reading the weekend FT in the sunshine. The dog and I went for a wander - looking at the hugely diverse groups of people you find in Central London relaxing and frolicking in the warm spring sunshine.

Then, out of no-where, I felt a bolt of pure joie de vivre and love like I haven't felt since the legendary Judge Jules played at The Cross back in 1995. "This is it!" I thought, "this is what I've been promised!" Then it went. I'm sure it'll be back, though.

On the minus side (and the two things are definitely related), by Sunday evening the massive cravings were back with a vengeance.

I think that in the early stages of sobriety you are constantly on high alert. Because you are thinking about not drinking all the time, you always have your armour up. It's like the picture of a Roman battalion in #2's Roman Project (God, that was a nightmare. Enough to drive any mother to drink) book. The soldiers march forward slowly in 'tortoise' position - with shields positioned to protect their sides, front and back, and even over their heads like a shell.

As time goes on, you manage to forget about not drinking for whole minutes - or even hours - at a time. It's such a relief to have some lovely clear headspace. But, as a result, you let your shields down. Your Roman soldiers head off to the hot baths, the mess tent and the brothel. You are left exposed.

Where are my armies? Up your sleevies! (You can tell I spend too much time with children ;-))

So then, when a craving hits you it's feels like you're sitting on the toilet minding your own business, when the door flies open and you're confronted by an angry dwarf pointing a crossbow straight at your chest.

(Aarrghh! Sorry! Sorry! It's the Game of Thrones obsession coming about again! Did I mention that season 5 breaks in the UK tonight??)

My craving last night didn't just last ten minutes, the way they're supposed to. I spent hours feeling angsty and tetchy.

Thankfully I'd been reading up on visualisation (see yesterday's post I am Khaleesi), and I let loose all 3 dragons at the wine witch who, finally, slunk off into a corner.

Today I'm thinking of new reader Red, who unleashed Khaleesi yesterday too, and hopefully made it through to day 2 unscathed.

Stick with it, friends. We can do it.

Love SM x

Related Post: Fed up Friday: Angst and Wobbles

Sunday, 12 April 2015

I am Khaleesi!

Day 42, and I have been reading up on visualisation techniques (that's visualization for my friends on the other side of the pond).

Visualisation has been around for centuries, and has roots in meditation, prayer and hypnotherapy. Many top sportspeople use visualisation, and Arnold Schwarzenegger famously took the visualisation techniques he used in body building and applied them to acting and politics.

Arnie says: "I visualized myself being and having what it was I wanted. Before I had my first Mr Universe title, I walked around the tournament like I owned it. I had won it so many times in my mind that there was no doubt I would win it. Then I moved onto the movies, the same thing. I visualized myself being a famous actor and earning big money. I just knew it would happen."

Think about the improbability of a scarily pumped up Austrian with an unintelligible accent becoming Governor of California, and you start to think that maybe there's something in this visualisation malarkey.

There are 3 ways to use visualisation on the road to getting and staying sober. The first is in relaxation and stress relief. The idea is that around wine o'clock, instead of thinking about pinot grigio, you find a quiet spot (like in a hot bath) and imagine yourself in your 'happy place'. Try and use all your senses - smell, feeling, sounds, colours, taste. Cravings only last ten minutes, so this can help you ride the storm.

My current favourite 'happy places' are: (1) On a deserted beach on Koh Samui with Buck the Texan (see Sober in Switzerland for the full story) (2) On the back of a horse galloping along the Cornish headland with my arms wrapped around the rippling, glistening six pack of Poldark (only my English friends will get that one) and, my favourite (3) In a calorie free cup cake bakery with the gorgeous husband and kids. What's yours?

The second way to use visualisation is the Arnie way - to imagine your future success. Here you picture yourself where you want to be in a year's (pick your own timeframe) time. My future visualisation is of a sober, skinny, beautifully dressed and groomed me, at the book launch of my soon-to-be-bestselling novel, surrounded by friends, family and my proud, happy, well behaved and well adjusted kids.

Future visualisations are believed to help with focus, confidence, motivation and self esteem. Knowing what you are working towards and really believing it can happen is the first step to changing your life. There are even those who claim that visualising a positive future can actually make it happen. This is referred to as the 'law of attraction.' It sounds like poppycock, but there are many studies showing that people who think positively have more positive outcomes, and vice versa.

But my favourite way of using visualisation is what I refer to as the 'kick ass method'. Alan Carr suggests visualising your cravings, or your 'inner addict', as a writhing snake or a monster. Every time you deny the snake a drink it dies a little. You have to keep going until it's well and truly despatched. One small sip and it leaps back into life.

In a similar vein, we all talk about the 'wine witch'. It's easier to beat your inner addict when you picture it as a vile, manipulative crone and not just your own subconscious. I like to take this one step further and imagine myself in 'kick ass' persona, battling with, and beating the enemy with great style and panache.

I first used this technique when I was promoted to the board of my Ad Agency. When I went into board meetings as the youngest, and one of the only female members, I would picture myself as Madonna circa 1987 wearing one of those cone tipped bras and leather hotpants. I also imagined that my nipples could fire laser guns on demand. Needless to say, I swaggered into those meetings with far more panache and confidence than I'd have had without Madge.

Apologies to Madonna, to whom I will always be grateful, but I have updated her. I am now Khaleesi from the Game of Thrones. Khaleesi - aka Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons - strong, wise and beautiful. You would never, ever see Khaleesi reach for the Chablis when in a spot of trouble. Oh no! She would let loose her army of Unsullied. Khaleesi would never have a problem overcoming a little addiction. This woman can walk through flames and come out unscathed!

So whenever the wine witch comes tapping on my shoulder, I picture Khaleesi and let lose my three dragons, burning the evil bitch to a cinder without hesitation or wavering. (n.b. it's important to ignore the end of Season 4 when Khaleesi's dragons turn bad and start frying small children).

You know where I'll be on Monday evening? Series 5 of Game of Thrones starts in the UK on Sky Atlantic. I'll be on the sofa with my hot chocolate cheering on Khaleesi as she gets ever closer to the iron throne.

Happy hangover free Sunday to you all.

Love SM x

Related posts: Discovering mindfulness

Friday, 10 April 2015

5 signs that you're a problem drinker

Today is Day 40! Woo hoo - the big FOUR OH. Have a glass of veuve cliquot to celebrate! Oh, whoops - perhaps best not....

I used to be - and still am - obsessed with those quizzes called things like 'are you an alcoholic?' or 'signs that you're a problem drinker.' The problem is that I always found them too reassuring, despite the fact that I was drinking at least one bottle of wine a day.

I would happily stick crosses against questions like: Do you get the shakes in the morning? Do you get blackouts? Have your friends and/or family asked you to cut down? And, until 41 days ago (see Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom) I confidently shook my head to 'Have you ever drunk in the morning? and Do you hide alcohol?'

But these questions were providing a false sense of security. We all have different 'ah ha' moments - those things that, in the middle of the night when we're wrestling the demons and sweating out the Chablis, make us realise that our drinking is actually a bit of a problem.

So, in the interests of honesty, and so that I have a written record to remind myself what life was like BS (before sober), here were my five signs. Please do, for the benefit of any worried drinkers reading this, add your own in the comments below...

(1) Dealing with hangovers

I started to notice that most people who wake up with chronic hangovers have the reaction 'Oh my God, I am never, ever, going to drink again'. And, indeed, they manage not to for at least a day or two. My reaction to a hangover had become 'Oh my God, I am never going to feel better until I can legitimately (i.e. after 12pm) have another drink.' This, I eventually realised was a sign.

(2) Trying, and failing, to 'moderate'

Problem drinkers all desperately want to be able to moderate. We do all sorts of deals with ourselves. Do any of these sound familiar: I will not drink on school nights? I will not drink before 6pm/before dinner/at lunch times? I will not drink alone/at home? I will not drink spirits/wine? I made many of these deals with the wine witch over the year or two before I quit and I was never able to keep to them for more than a week or two. This was another sign.

(3) Obsession

I started to spend more and more time thinking about drinking. For example, an hour or so before 'wine o'clock' I would start to obsessively check my watch. I would check my fridge daily to see how much wine was available, and plan my shopping trips around school runs accordingly. If the husband and I were 'sharing' a bottle I would constantly check that I was getting at least my share (hopefully more). Spending lots of time thinking about drinking is not a good sign.

(4) Physical and Mental Health

I was never hospitalised. I never blacked out or threw up. My doctor never twigged how much I was drinking (I 'fessed up' to 14 units a week - lol). But I had a terrible wine belly. I was overweight and puffy. I had debilitating insomnia (see sleep, glorious sleep), and I was miserable and stuck in a rut. It took a long time to twig that these were all signs.

(5) Deception

I have always prided myself on being really open and honest, but towards the end of my glittering drinking career I started to lie. I lied to myself - constantly - about how much I was drinking. I lied to my GP (see above). I 'confessed' to my friends to drinking 'oooh, about half a bottle a day - isn't that terrible?' And then I started to hide half full bottles of wine in the cupboard so that when the husband came home I could pretend that I hadn't started drinking yet. For me, this soul destroying deception was the final sign.

So, next time the wine witch whispers in my ear that 'I wasn't so bad really. I've done 40 days without wine already, surely I can have just one?' I can re-read this post and remind myself how much better life is without all of that stuff.

If you're a drinker and recognise yourself in any of this then please do join me on this rollercoaster of sobriety. It's worth it.

Love SM x

Thursday, 9 April 2015

I hate the word 'normal'

Day 39. Back at home. Another week of school holidays left and it's hard.

During term time I get at least a couple of hours during the day to 'de-stress'. Like many of you, I've found that going to the gym, taking the dog for a walk, meeting a friend for a coffee, cooking food for the freezer or just blogging and reading take my mind off the not drinking and give me the strength to cope with the more 'full on' bits of the day, and the dreaded 'wine o'clock'.

When #1, #2 and #3 are on holiday, all day, every day is full on, so when it gets round to 'wine o'clock' I'm on my knees and finding it very difficult to step away from the wine rack.

So, today I got up while the children were still fast asleep to blog, and *spoiler alert*, I feel the need to RANT. I realise that many of you will not agree with the following argument, and I even realise that in a few weeks/months/years time I may not agree with it myself, but at this point in time I:

HATE THE WORD NORMAL.  I particularly hate the expression NORMAL DRINKER.

Over the last 39 days I have read LOADS of books on getting sober, and lots of amazing sober blogs and personal stories, and they are all (including my own) littered with the word NORMAL.

We compare ourselves endlessly to the 'normal drinker'. We admire them. We envy them. And as a result we secretly hate them (go on - confess!). But the problem is that, in defining them as 'normal', by implication we believe ourselves to be 'abnormal'. Freaks. Sad case losers. Well SOD OFF!

(I told you I was cross today).

I turned to the good old world wide web. I found this amazing article in the Washington Post from last September. According to this article (based on government statistics), 3 in 10 American adults do not drink at all! Who knew? (Incidentally, in the UK it's only around 2 in 10). Another 3 in 10 drink less than one drink a week. That leaves only 40% of American adults who drink more than one drink a week.

Here's the interesting bit. 1 in 10 US adults drink more than 10 drinks a day. That's 2 bottles of wine a day. Now, if you add those two sets of facts together it means that of the American adults who drink more than one drink a week, ONE QUARTER of them are drinking more than two bottles of wine a day. I double checked the maths (and I did get a first in econometrics from Oxford, back in the day), and I'm sure it's right.

How can one quarter of all drinkers (I don't include the 'less than one drink a week' people as drinkers) be abnormal?

These statistics, I think, back up Jason Vale's argument that there is no such thing as an 'abnormal' drinker or, indeed, an 'alcoholic'. He argues that alcohol is a highly addictive substance - just like nicotine and heroin - and that ALL regular drinkers are addicts, the question is just how far down the slippery slope you have slid.

We don't look at people who smoke 5 cigarettes a day and call them 'normal smokers' versus those on a packet a day. Nor do we define the occasional heroin user as 'normal'. Why do we treat alcohol so differently?

Jason argues that we shouldn't envy the 'normal' drinker. They are trapped too (just less far into the cage), and if you suggested to them that they gave up their two small glasses of wine per night they'd be horrified! They may be 'moderating' but they, too, are constantly watching their intake and setting themselves parameters.

How many times have you heard your 'normal drinker' friends talk about "giving up for January. Not drinking on school nights. Shouldn't have more than one"? Many (if not most) of them deal with the wine witch, too, it's just that she hasn't got as loud and insistent with them (yet).

So who is normal? The person poisoning themselves on a regular basis and slipping further and further into the trap, or us - the alcohol free?

Besides, I've never aspired to 'normality' anyway.

Now I feel much calmer. Better go wake up the kids. Onwards and upwards.

SM x

Related post: Am I an Alcoholic?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

I wish that I could wake up with amnesia

Yesterday was Day 37. We were a couple of hours into the 14 hour drive from the Swiss Alps back to London. The sky was a cobalt blue, and the waters of Lake Geneva were glistening in the sunshine. #1 was listening to one of her favourite songs (by 5 Seconds of Summer) for the third time.

As we sang along to the lyrics, she was probably thinking about some hot pre-pubescent boy in Year 8. But I was vividly reminded of my relationship with Chablis.

"I drove by all the places we used to hang out getting wasted.
I thought about our last kiss, how it felt, the way you tasted....

....sometimes I start to wonder, was it just a lie?
If what we had was real, how could you be fine?

'Cause I'm not fine at all."

And it struck me that ditching alcohol - at the grand old age of 46, is much like breaking up with the unsuitable first love at the age of nineteen.

Do you remember all those horribly raw emotions? You weep buckets. You think you're never going to be happy again. You sob on the shoulder of any friend who'll put up with you, truly believing that no-one has ever felt heartache like you do.

He is constantly on your mind, and everything seems to remind you of him: places you went to together, mutual friends, shared interests. Evenings are spent playing songs that you listened to together, poring over old photos and replaying the relationship in your head endlessly.

Was he really so bad? Perhaps, after this break, with time to reflect, you can 're-invent' the relationship - make it perfect. There was so much that was good, wasn't there?

Life is monochrome without him, and it will never, ever be technicolour again.

"I wish that I could wake up with amnesia,
and forget about the stupid little things.
Like the way it felt to fall asleep next to you,
and the memories I never can escape.

'Cause I'm not fine at all."

And that is exactly how I feel. I wish that I could wake up with amnesia, and skip out this grieving process. I feel scarily like my nineteen year old self - possibly because that was the last time I really felt emotion properly, without all the edges blurred off. I'm not fine at all.

But what I have to remember is that now I see that boy I sobbed over for what he was: a terrible mistake, who would have carried on making me miserable again and again. And if I'd let myself see him just once, on his best behaviour - if we'd had had just one kiss for old time's sake - I would have been sunk. I would have forgotten all the bad stuff, and leapt right back in. All the heartache would have been for nothing.

It wasn't my destiny. He wasn't my soul mate. It was just 5 seconds of summer.

If you fancy indulging yourself, here's the link: 5 Seconds of Summer: Amnesia

Love to you all SM x

(For more about connecting with the inner teenager read Sober in Switzerland)

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Play it forward

I've been thinking more about my last post - 'not the girl he married'. Thank you so much for your comments - as always, a wonderful mix of empathy, humour and sound advice.

I realised, on re-reading, that the wine witch - yet again - had me romanticising the past.

I was waxing lyrical about boozy Sunday lunches with friends, elaborate gourmet dinners at home with fine wine, and date nights in fancy restaurants with aperitifs, wine and digestifs. Oh it is so, so easy to view it all through rose (I want to put an ecoute on the e of rose, but my iPhone won't let me!) coloured spectacles.

The AA advice is, I think, to 'play it forward', so in the interests of honesty, and to cast a blow against the wine witch, here's what happens when I press forward on the memory tape....

The boozy Sunday lunches with friends: I start drinking while preparing lunch (after all, I need to add wine to the gravy!). By the time the friends arrive with various children in tow I'm about 2/3 of a bottle down and finding it seriously tricky to co-ordinate all the cooking with the chatting, and hostessing.

By the end of the meal I've become horribly boring as I repeat anecdotes I've told a million times and/or forget the punchlines. I'm stuck on 'transmit' rather than receive, so don't ask my guests anything about their lives.

Usually at least one or two of our guests aren't drinking as they're driving, or on water after drinking too much on Saturday night. I must look seriously raddled to anyone completely sober!

Once everyone leaves (about 3.30pm) I clean up, while polishing off any leftover wine, then invariably fall asleep for a couple of hours. I wake up feeling really grumpy and yell at the husband and children. I realise that homework's not been finished, and the children have spent hours on electronic devices and are bouncing off the walls. Horrible evening followed by restless night. I start the week exhausted and depressed.

And those gourmet evening meals at home over a shared bottle? Here's the truth - I spend most of the meal trying to ensure that I get more than half of the wine. Husband gets cross as he had to drink at top speed if he's going to get more than a small glass. I start planning how to casually produce second bottle without getting a 'look', or a lecture.

If I do manage to open the next bottle (or if I'd quietly polished off a few glasses before husband got home) I'm drunk and cross by the end of the meal and end up picking a fight - often over horribly boring stuff like loading the dishwasher. We try to watch TV together, but I fall asleep after ten minutes. I wake up at about 3am hating myself (again).

What about 'date nights'? I usually manage not to pick a fight, and generally collapse in a cheerful(ish) heap when we get home, but I sleep really badly and wake up with the hangover from hell. I spend all morning counting the minutes until I can open the next bottle, as I know it's the only way of making the headache go away.

So, the truth is that whilst the husband probably does miss the girl he married 13 years ago (if he can remember her. Not sure that I can!), he almost certainly doesn't miss the girl he was married to 35 days ago.

Happy, sober Easter everyone!

Love SM x

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Not the girl he married

Thirteen years ago my husband married a party girl. A bon viveur.

Until recently our lives revolved around entertaining friends over boozy Sunday lunches, getting happily plastered at parties and cooking elaborate dinners accompanied by expensive wine. 'Date nights' generally involved meals out at the latest restaurant with aperitifs, wine and digestifs. Followed by a nightcap.

And now he's married to a teetotaller. I signed up to this - he didn't. He wanted me to cut down (drastically). He didn't ask (or want) me to stop completely.

The difference is especially stark now we're on holiday. I haven't asked him not to drink. I'm happy to have alcohol in the house. After all, it's unrealistic to avoid alcohol given that 90% of the adult population drink the stuff. But he very kindly doesn't leave open bottles of wine around - at home he's switched to beer, and I join him with a non alcoholic beer.

When we eat out he orders a small carafe of wine (having checked that I don't mind first). But I can't help worrying that he's missing the company. That he's missing the girl he married.

In my low moments BS (before sober), usually at around 3am, I'd have visions of the husband leaving the puffy, boozy, raddled wife and running off with a younger, slimmer, more vibrant version.

Now in my low moments I have the same vision, but in this one they are happily sharing a bottle of wine in a romantic bistro. Aaarrrggghhh! Stab the filthy hussy drinking in moderation in the eyes! Leave my husband alone, damn you.

There's a lot of help and discussion for families of problem drinkers, but not much help - as far as I know - for husbands of non-drinkers.

The problem is that I can't even discuss my fears with him as he's too kind to ever confess to any pangs of regret, so whatever he says I won't believe him.

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for drunker and more sober.....

Love to you all,

SM xx

Related post: Not the Girl he Married Part 2

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Dogs - a sober girl's best friend

Whilst it's great being on holiday in Switzerland (despite 2 days of total white out), I really miss my dog.

A number of people commenting on this blog have talked about how walking their dogs really helps them take their minds off drinking (or not drinking). It definitely works for me.

To start with, dogs get you out in the fresh air doing some exercise - and both outdoors and exercise seem to really help banish the wine witch. Plus, dog walking is one of the few regular activities I do which is not at all associated with wine. Even I never got so bad that I'd pack a hip flask for the dog walk!

On those days when you just want to hide under the duvet for ever, dogs make you get up and outside. And on the days when you hate yourself and assume everyone else does too, they prove you wrong.

For me, another huge benefit of the furry friend is that I usually arrange to meet a friend (plus dog) for my walks, and we spend an hour gossiping and drinking takeaway cappuccinos while the dogs chase each other around the park. Given that I'm avoiding parties as much as possible for the time being, this gives me a much needed social event.

Dogs are also a great reminder that we don't need artificial stimulants in order to love life. And now when my dog leaps onto my bed in the morning with a look of utter joy that it's a new day I know how he feels! Yay! It's morning!

It's not just me who believes in the power of pets. The Betty Ford Centre use canine therapy, and Hazleden use equine therapy. In fact, many studies have shown that 'interacting with pets can reduce stress and anxiety by reducing cortisol levels. Pets can also decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels' according to

So, go hug your pet. Or, someone else's. Or get one.

But remember, dogs are for life, not just for recovery ;-)

As Flasheart used to cry in Blackadder, "Woof, Hurrah!"

Love SM x