Monday, 31 August 2015

How Long Does it Take to 'Recover' From Alcohol Addiction?

When I first quit, and for the months/years before I quit, one of my big questions was: how long does it take before you feel okay about not drinking?

It's very difficult to get an answer to that one!

For starters, everyone is - obviously - different. Secondly, it depends on your definition of 'okay', and, finally, the changes happen so slowly that you're barely aware of them until you look back later on.

It's a bit like ageing. You can't see the lines forming, or everything starting to sag, until one day you look in the mirror and think Yikes! It's my mother! (Only in the case of getting sober, the changes are wholly positive).

Slowly, slowly, baby step by baby step, you find that you've gone from:

I can't have a drink. Aaarrrgghhh! to:

I can't have a drink! I'm okay with that, at least for today, to:

I can't have a drink! I'm okay with that, at least for the next few months, to:

I can have a drink! But why on earth would I ever want to?

Admittedly, there's a fair bit of shilly shallying along the way which goes a bit like this:

Perhaps after all this time I can have just one drink. I can moderate! I've learned my lesson about overdoing it....

That's one we have to learn to knock on the head over and over again, like a constant game of whack-a-mole, until it eventually goes away.

So, how long does all that take?

Don't hold me to this, but based on my experience, and the stories I've read from other people, there does seem to be a bit of a pattern.

Here's my rough guide. Please add your comments and experiences below....

1. It takes 3 days to 3 weeks to get over the worst of the physical stuff. The headaches, fever, insomnia, fog, constipation etcetera. I drank a fair amount - a bottle, sometimes two, of wine a day, but, even so, within a few days I was physically okay.

2. It takes about 100 days for sober to start feeling like the 'new normal.' By then, hopefully, you're at the I can't have a drink. I'm okay with that, at least for the next few months stage.

If you're just starting out, then I know 100 days sounds like an awfully long time, but it's really not! Think about how quickly the time usually passes from New Year to Easter. That's all it is.

And during that time miraculous things start to happen that'll keep you going.

You'll sleep better, you'll start losing weight (hopefully!). Your moods will improve. You'll have more energy, less anxiety. Your skin, hair, eyes will transform. It's slow, but it's amazing.

By the time you get to 100 days you start to realise how good life without alcohol can be.

3. It takes about 6 months to get to the point where you suddenly realise that you can drink. But why on earth would you ever want to?

This is where I am now. A light bulb moment. You realise that it's no longer about denial. You feel FREE! I do hope that I'm not talking too soon, but I know that other people have said the same about six months.

I still get cravings, but they feel much like Jason Vale describes when he uses the analogy of driving a car with the indicators on a different side from the one you're used to. It takes a long time to break an ingrained habit.

Every now and again you still use the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator. You just think oops. Silly me. Adjust. Move on. I no longer have to retreat to the bathroom for an hour and immerse myself in bubbles, breathing deeply and chanting be gone foul wine witch.

4. It takes 2 years, apparently, to stop getting the occasional mood swings, cravings and doubts triggered by PAWS (see my post on Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome), but each episode gets shorter and easier to handle. Once you're used to them, it's no worse than PMT (although, to be fair, people have literally got away with murder using PMT as an excuse).

So, if you're at the beginning of this journey and feeling scared and unsure, then don't be. It's six months of ups and downs, and a hell of a lot of introspection, in exchange for a lifetime of liberation.

No brainer.

Love SM x

Sunday, 30 August 2015


Happy Sunday morning, everyone, and HUGE CONGRATS to Silver Birch (my favourite tree) on 100 days sober! Go crazy with the lime and soda, SB ;-)

It's very easy when you've been sober for a while to get into the habit of what's known as romancing the drink.

This is when you look back at the drinking days and only remember the good bits. You become obsessed by the memory of the first glass of cold, white wine after a long day.

You remember the sound of the cork leaving the bottle, the gentle glug glug glug of wine hitting your glass. You picture yourself, relaxing in your arm chair and taking the first sip. The tart taste on your tongue and the feeling of relaxation as it hits the bloodstream....

....damn, I'm doing it again.

What we start to forget is where that first glass leads. The race to the bottom of the bottle. The feeling of despair and shame when we realise that we've done it again. And the hangover!

So, every now and again, it's important to make yourself remember. Read back over the list you wrote before you stopped entitled Reasons to Quit Drinking, or similar. Read your blog, journal, or a book you associated with back then. Fight off the 'good' memories with the bad.

So, yesterday I re-read an early post on hangovers. Click here for Sundays: Hair of the Dog.

It's been so long since I had a hangover that I can barely remember the horrors. This post bought it back. Along with the realisation I had that there are two types of drinker: those whose hangover puts them off drinking for several days, and those who believe the only cure is to drink through it. Naturally, I was in the latter camp. That was 'a sign'.

(See my post on 5 Signs that you're a Problem Drinker)

In the paper yesterday there was an article on some Dutch research among 800 students. They monitored how much they drank, what 'hangover prevention methods' they employed and how they felt the next day.

The conclusion was that there is nothing you can do to prevent a hangover (apart, obviously, from not drinking too much *smug face*).

So, think about all that energy spent trying to drink pints of water when drunk. Waking up in the night and drinking pints more. Nurofen before bedtime. Kebabs on the way home. Glasses of milk. Etcetera etcetera.

TOTAL WASTE OF TIME! The number of times I nearly gave myself a black eye with the tap while drunkenly trying to wedge my mouth under it rather than stagger down the stairs to find a glass. Needn't have bothered!

I thought back to one particular hungover morning.

I'd woken up just before 9am. Crashing headache. Mouth like the bottom of a parrot's cage. Hair stuck to face. Face stuck to pillow.

With mounting horror, I realised that I had to get up to move my car. My resident's parking permit had expired, and I had to move it before the wardens ticketed it. Then I had to get to the town hall and queue for hours for a new permit with a hangover.

I staggered to the car in my pyjamas (I hadn't thought this one through). I drove to the local supermarket, thinking I could leave my car in their car park for the day.

Still half asleep, I took the wrong turn and ended up in the supermarket loading bay. Stupid error. I reversed. What I couldn't see in the rear view mirror was a mini roundabout. I reversed over it. I stopped. The car wouldn't budge. I was suspended, all four wheels off the ground, on top of the roundabout!

I had to get out of the car IN MY PYJAMAS and stand, looking at my dilemma, while everyone else went round the roundabout I was stuck on top of.

THE HUMILIATION! It took four beefy security guards to lift my car off and place it back on the road.

No more hangovers, my friends. Never again.

SM x

P.S. A guilty admission. One of my favourite things now is to wake up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to discover that Mr SM has a crashing hangover. This makes me not a very nice person.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Coming Out of the Closet

A belated, but heartfelt congratulations to the the wonderful LushNoMore who has not been a lush for SIX MONTHS! Well done LNM. You rock!

Most of us lie when we first stop drinking.

This is an entirely unfair state of affairs. When people stop smoking they shout about it! Everyone pats them on the back and supports them. Ditto dieting. How many conversations have you had with friends over the merits (or not) of the latest fad diet?

But, quit drinking, and we mumble about antibiotics, designated drivers and detoxes.

We are, quite justifiably, terrified of people's reactions. We worry that we will become pariahs at the time when we most need our friends around us. We know that in our drinking days we would treat non-drinkers with suspicion, possibly contempt.

I started off with the simple explanation: I've given up for Lent. I needed a detox! Could do with losing some weight.

This worked a treat. Lots of nods. Well done you's. No uncomfortable silences or tricky questions.

As Easter came and went, and people kept seeing me sober, my 'excuse' morphed into this one:

I gave up for Lent and it felt so brilliant that I've kept going for a bit. Who knows, I might even do a whole year!

This one leads to a lot more questions: what are the benefits? What are the downsides? etcetera. It makes people a bit more uncomfortable, but they can manage it.

The problem is that it's a lie. Plus, I'm concerned that every time I state out loud that I may start drinking again it gives a bit of life back to the Wine Witch (see my post on Neuro-Linguistic programming). I worry that I'll get to 365 days and she'll pipe up "There you go! One year, tick. Crack open the bubbly!"

So, what next?

What I'm not able to do is say this: I am an alcoholic in recovery. I am never drinking again.

Here's why: Firstly, as soon as you mention the A word, people imagine you are a horribly neglectful mother, pouring vodka on your cornflakes for breakfast and passing out nightly in a pool of vomit in front of your kids. It's not true, and it's not fair, but that's the way it is.

Secondly, I do not view myself as 'in recovery'. I don't believe that alcoholism is a disease - it's an addiction. (see Is Alcoholism a Disease?)

Thirdly, the reaction to the 'alcoholic in recovery' stuff is that people assume you are miserable. Taking one awful day at a time. Constantly yearning for the amber nectar that you can never reach for again. That's not me; I'm happier (after a fair few ups and downs) than I've been for years.

Fourthly, it makes people question their own (possibly addictive) behaviour, and they do not like this. We understand that, don't we?

Finally, it makes them uncomfortable drinking in front of us. As if we're going to forcibly wrestle their glass from their hands, down it and go on a three day bender.

So, for all of those reasons, I avoid that one like the plague.

Instead, I am playing with several different versions of the truth. Depending on my mood and who I'm talking to I wheel out one of the following:

1. The Allergy Story

I seem to have developed a sort of allergy to alcohol. It just doesn't agree with me any more. Perhaps it's age. Hormones. Whatever. But it makes me fat, depressed and unable to sleep. Bummer, but there it is. So, no more vino for me.

2. Been There, Done That

I have this theory that we are allocated a life time supply of vino at birth. I got a bit carried away, and I've drunk mine already! Hell, it was fun while it lasted, but I just can't do it any more. It doesn't agree with me. I don't agree with it. I've moved on.

3. All or Nothing

I ended up drinking more that I should and, you know me, all or nothing! I don't do stuff by halves. I find it easier not to drink at all than to drink one small glass of wine four times a week. It's like smoking - I had to quit that too when I ended up on more than a pack a day.

The reason these work for me is that (apart from number 2 which has to be used sparingly, choosing your audience, as it can make people think you're a little weird...) not only are they true for me, but they are also true for most of my friends.

Most people, I've discovered, find that alcohol agrees with them less and less as they get older. Most people, even 'normal drinkers' find moderation hard. Instead of thinking "ooh, she's an alcoholic! Not like me then!" they are nodding away and empathising.

And, it makes them think perhaps I should quit too.....

On the whole, these conversations convince people that I am happy! I am not 'recovering' from some terrible disease, pining for some past nirvana. I am okay. Better than that - I'm AWESOME.

And so are you, my friends.

Have a great weekend!

SM x

Friday, 28 August 2015

Smile, and the World Smiles With You

*Spoiler Alert* : This post is sickeningly upbeat.

In my early days of not drinking I would trawl the web for other people's experiences. What I wanted was to find people struggling, like me. I didn't want a Pollyanna tale of love and joy, because it felt too far removed for me to grasp.

If that's you, then read these posts instead: Weeping, Losses and Gains, The Sobercoaster, Wavering.

How true is that saying "Smile, and the world smiles with you; cry and you cry alone"?

We alcohol addicts do a lot of crying alone.

We gradually become more and more isolated. We don't trust ourselves when we go out. We like drinking alone because there's no-one to judge us. It's comfortable.

We get fewer invitations, because even if we don't get inappropriately drunk, we tend to be a bit boring and self obsessed (we don't realise this at the time, obviously!). We repeat ourselves. We don't listen.

Back in the early nineties I read a much talked about book: The Celestine Prophecy. I don't remember a huge amount about it now, but I vividly remember the author talking about two types of people: radiators and drains.

She (or was it he?) said that 'radiators' are people who radiate positive energy. They attract other people like bees to a honeypot. When you leave their company you feel much more upbeat and energetic that you did when you arrived.

At the time I knew that I was a radiator. A happy, positive, glowing love bunny who everyone wanted to know.

'Drains' are the opposite. They are energy suckers. You spend time with them and you leave feeling exhausted. Much as you may love them and care about them, you just have to protect yourself and try not to spend too much time with them.

That's what alcohol does to us. It turns us into drains. Little self obsessed bundles of misery.

Do you remember Snoopy cartoons? Whenever a character was miserable Schulz would draw them with a little black cloud above their heads? That was me. I just didn't see it.

You don't get to that point overnight. It creeps up on you so slowly that you don't realise it's happened.

So it shouldn't surprise us that things don't change straight away when we quit. Sometimes the changes are so gradual that you only see them when you look back and realise how far you've come.

But slowly, slowly the clouds dissipate. Gradually, you stop sucking all the energy down the plughole and start doling it out again.

Yesterday I was in Marks and Spencers buying a new, fluffy bath towel (cost: two bottles of vino). (see post on The Concept of Self Care!). I hadn't bought a new bath towel for TWELVE YEARS!

I chatted away to the cheerful cashier about the ups and downs of the school holidays. As I left she said "it's been a real pleasure serving you today." And, you know what? She wasn't just reading from the manual, she really meant it!

Then I took the dog for a walk. I passed a traffic warden writing out a ticket for some poor sod. Traffic wardens are not known for their geniality. But this one looked up at me, grinned and said "have a great afternoon!"

Same day, I got an e-mail from a lady who I'd employed to do a small job for me. She wrote "I believe in angels, and I think you are one of them."

I have a relatively new friend (she's known me for longer sober than drinking) who's been having a terrible time. She told me last week that I'd made more difference to her life in recent weeks than anyone else.

The combination of these big and little things made me realise, suddenly, that I'm back to being a radiator! I'm smiling, and the world is smiling with me.

This time last year, seven weeks into the school holidays, I was going loopy. I was desperate for some time to myself. I was grumpy with the kids and doing a lot of yelling.

Getting three children under the age of 11 out of the door on time is hard work. I would ask, plead, then shout (a lot) until they were all dressed and ready to go. I'd then be all stressed out and cross in the car, silently counting the days until school started.

Not now. I'm chilled. I'm in the zone. Yesterday I said to the kids "if anyone wants to go trampolining they have to be dressed and ready by the door in fifteen minutes. Or we can just stay home. I'm easy."

I sat back with a copy of Grazia. Ten minutes later and they're all standing in a line, ready to go. We got in the car and sang to cheesy tunes all the way. I'm going to miss them so much when term starts. (Still a little bit relived though ;-))

Why on earth didn't I think of that strategy before?

Well, we know the answer to that one, don't we?

Love and positive vibes to you all!

SM x

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Things I've Lost

You lose a lot when you quit drinking.

You lose that feeling of nagging anxiety, self hatred, lethargy. You lose the wine belly and hangovers. You say "hasta la vista, baby" to the Wine Witch.

Some of these things go immediately. Some take days, weeks or even months.

Some things you don't even notice have gone until you look around one day and think "That's odd! I haven't seen xxx for a while."

I've posted about all the big losses a few times, but there are lots of little things too. Small miracles that go unnoticed until something makes you realise they are there - right under your nose.

So, I thought I'd write a list.

I love lists. I've been writing a list of my Desert Island Disks for about twenty years waiting for Radio 4 to call me up.

(Unsurprisingly, my 'luxury item' used to be a case of Chablis! I need to find a new one now...)


Cashier phobia
Breath freshener
Room spin
Muffin top
Clock watching
Noisy recycling bags
Drunken texts
Unexplained bruises
Mini cabs
Fridge raids
Unexplained rage
Repeating myself
Missing the end of movies
Repeating myself
Stained lips
Googling "am I an alcoholic?"
Jokes about 'Mummy's wine'
Night sweats
Closing one eye to read straight
Make-up on the pillow
Bloodshot eyes
Wardrobe malfunctions

There are hundreds more. I'm looking out for them now.

Please add your own in the comments below!

Love SM x

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

New Start September - Just Do It!

I've always loved the lead up to September. It's a time of fresh starts. New, brightly polished school shoes. Well stocked pencil cases. Catching up with old friends, and making new ones. Clean slates. Days getting shorter; light getting longer.

Going sober can seem very lonely much of the time. It's easy to feel like the only black sheep in a flock of white. (Hang on. Surely we should be the white sheep in the flock of black?). Or the solitary lemming shouting "how about heading away from the cliff, folks?"

It's especially tough over the summer, I think. All those boozy barbecues, glasses of rosé at the water's edge, Pimms on manicured lawns. No-one wants to quit drinking over the summer. And many don't stay quit.

One of the things I love about blogging is that you get these fascinating statistics: how many readers you have each day, where they are, which posts they're reading, how they found you (no names or addresses - don't worry!). You have a sort of 'sober barometer' at your fingertips.

So, since I started this blog in March, the number of readers grew and grew every month....until July when whoosh! About half of them disappeared. Tumbleweed.

There I was, Norma-no-mates, banging on about the Wine Witch, weight loss (or not) and the benefits of vitamin B in fighting PAWS, and everyone had gone off down the pub.

But now, as September approaches, there are hundreds more people every day googling 'am I an alcoholic?' and finding their way here.

(Answer: forget about the terminology. Alcoholic is a horrible word, and not terribly helpful. If you've found this page, and you're still reading, then you're probably addicted to alcohol. No shame in that; it's a horribly addictive poison. It's messing up your life, and you'll be way better off without it).

See: Am I an Alcoholic? Am I an Alcoholic Part 2? and Am I an Alcoholic Part 3?

We're surfing the zeitgeist again, my friends. And it's so much easier feeling like you're swimming with the tide, not against it.

I guess this seasonal issue is preparation for the bigger challenge: Christmas. I shudder at the thought. But, at least it's followed by January. The month when millions hop on the sober bandwagon - even if  only temporarily. Bleak, miserable January - Bring it on!

So, if you've just found me, then WELCOME!

Maybe you're reading this, glass of vino in hand, thinking you just can't imagine how life can be any fun at all without booze.

But you're feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. You're bloated, depressed, stuck in a rut. You haven't had a really good night's sleep in ages. You're convinced you're a terrible mother, friend, wife, lover.

You're starting to think that the liquid you'd believed was your friend - there whenever you've been celebrating, miserable, stressed, anxious, relaxing - is actually your worst enemy. You turned round for a second and it's bitten you on the arse.

Well, you're in the right place. Because we've all been there. (see Secret Drinker hits the High Bottom) And September is a great time to go sober.

Just make one small change (STEP AWAY FROM THE VINO, or whatever your favourite poison is) and watch every aspect of your life transform. Your self respect, your moods, your relationships, your weight (eventually!), even your hair. And we're with you.

Huge congrats to Edinburgh Housewife and Angie on 100 days sober. Whoop Whoop! You are awesome!

Love SM x

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

It's All Kicking Off at Soberistas!

I love Soberistas. If you've never come across it, here's a link.

In my early days I spent about two hours a day reading Soberistas. It made me feel like I was not alone. The members helped me with my random questions, like is it normal to have terrible constipation when you quit drinking? (Answer: yes, totally). Soberistas was also my favourite distraction activity at wine o'clock.

I spend less time on Soberistas now, but I still dip in three or four times a week, and it's a great reminder of how hard those early days can be. How confusing. How angst ridden. It reminds me how far I've come, and how little I want to return there.

Every now and again I read a post from someone who's just taken the plunge, and I'm vividly reminded of myself. Like looking back at an old photo album (does anyone do those anymore?). Then I beg them to read Jason Vale (my hero), and post the link to this blog, hoping that they'll find me, and find me helpful in some way.

Anyhow, today it's all kicked off at Soberistas, as it does from time to time. Usually, Lucy Rocca (the founder) ends up wading in and saying something along the lines of "now, now ladies. We are all friends here. This is an accepting and non judgemental place. Calm down," like a kind but stern sixth form tutor.

Today's spat is about day counting. One of the members posted a punchy piece arguing that if you 'slip up' on the sober journey you have to re-set the day counter to 1. It's not ok to say, for example (and I quote)  'I am 1 year sober - minus 3 blips, 4 slips and a couple of shirt buttons'..... (Here's the full post).

Most posts on Soberistas get around five or six comments. A really good one might get about twenty. This post, in the last 14 hours, has had eighty-nine comments.

I've posted on day counting before (see Potholes in the Road). I used to count days avidly myself. If felt like a crucial marker, charting progress. Then I got to 4 months sober, and the individual days just didn't seem to matter any more. Now I count months (and that really is progress). I hope that one day I'll be counting years.

I read all the comments on the controversial post. Several things struck me.

Firstly, there are strong opinions on both sides of this debate. For some people the day count is sacrosanct, and the fear of going back to day 1 is partly what keeps them on the straight and narrow.

For others, it seems terribly unfair to suggest that a short 'blip,' after several weeks or months of sobriety, should negate all the good work done. Better just to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.

My view? I think we should all do whatever works for us. The crucial thing is to get there in the end, with whatever help, props, or large slices of cake we require.  We all have to learn the lessons for ourselves. We all have to go through it.

No-one can convince you, for example, that moderation is impossible. You have to work that one out on your own..... (often again and again and again).

The second thing I was reminded of by reading the comments is how terrified we all are of being judged. For us drinkers, the fear of judgement is one huge trigger.

We drank because we felt judged. We were judged because we drank. Terrible vicious circle. One thing we have to get used to when we quit is to drop this fear. The truth is that most people are far too wrapped up in their own lives to give a hoot about yours....

The third thing I realised, reading all the comments urging acceptance and peace, is how much we all hate conflict. Certainly I did. The slightest hint of conflict - even with my own children - and I'd reach for the bottle. Uh oh, all getting a little tense around here....better have a drink.

Funnily enough, we'd drink to avoid conflict and then, a few drinks down and BAM, uncontrollable rage. Suddenly you're chucking a mug at the husband because he's not helping you with the dishwasher! (see my post on Alcohol Induced Rage).

So, Laura, if you're reading this, I hope you're not worried about the s**tstorm! You've made people think, and you've distracted them from the Wine Witch. So well done you, and well done everyone, however you count, or don't count, your days....

Love SM x

Monday, 24 August 2015

Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays

I was singing along to the Boomtown Rats classic 'I Don't Like Mondays' the other day in the car. I looked, as ever, like a lunatic, yelling I wanna Sho-oo-oo-oot the whole day down.

I thought about all the many, awful Monday mornings that I've lived through. Monday: truly the very worst day of the week....

My Monday mornings would start at about 4am, when I'd wake up from a sweaty, restless sleep, filled with strange dreams that I couldn't quite remember, but made me feel uneasy.

For the next few hours I would toss and turn, replaying the events of the weekend in my head. How much had I drunk (again)? What had I meant to achieve but failed to (again)? What had I meant not to do, but done (again)?

I'd get up, go to the loo, go down to the kitchen to get a cold glass of water, get back into bed, toss and turn. Repeat. For several hours which felt like days.

Usually I'd fall asleep at about 6am, just in time to be woken up by the alarm at 6.20am.

Then the horror of the school run, on little sleep and with a horribly muggy head. Like wading through toxic soup.

Accompanying all of this would be a little voice in my head going something like this: well here we are again you promised this wouldn't happen will you ever learn you really are utterly useless this'll be another wasted day feeling awful with nothing achieved when are you going to grow up and get a grip you're not a teenager any more you have responsibilities you are a mother a useless one admittedly what sort of an example do you think you're setting bet the other mothers on the school run can tell what a mess you are look at them in their hip pristine gym kit with their rosy glow and bags of energy look at you you're an embarrassment oh for gods sake your shirt's on inside out bloody typical can't get anything right...

So I would try to pacify the voice of self loathing with the voice of empty promises. It went like this: I know I know I hear you today is going to be day 1 of the new regime I am not going to drink until the weekend well apart from Thursday when we have a dinner party to go to and when I do drink I will alternate every glass of wine with a glass of water I will absolutely not ever ever drink more than half a bottle of wine at a time in fact perhaps I will skip the wine altogether and only drink beer because I don't even like beer or maybe I will drink only beer during the week and wine at weekends whatever in any case I am definitely going to do something this can't go on...

But then, by 5pm - or possibly even a little earlier - the Wine Witch would pipe up.

She'd say I know you have all these good intentions. I'm with you, obviously. Things have to change. But is Monday really a good day to start? You feel awful after the weekend. You've done really well to get this far though the day without dropping any balls. It's best to cut down gradually. Have just a glass or two to take the edge off. Then we can start for real tomorrow....

And the Wine Witch always won.

But now? I love Mondays!

Monday: truly the very best day of the working week.

All that potential. Seven days stretching ahead, all shiny and new, waiting to be filled up.

I wake up, recharged after the weekend, and bounce out of bed (God, I'm irritating. Apologies).

I take out my big, old fashioned, leather bound diary and go through the schedule for the week. I write a list of all the things I need to achieve, knowing that they're actually going to get done. I build in a few social events, a treat for the kids, a date night and something just for me.

And then, just for fun, I sit back with a cup of coffee and remember what Mondays used to be like....

If you're reading this on this Monday morning and haven't yet quit drinking then DO IT, and you'll never feel this bad on a Monday again.

Love SM x

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Dorothy was right when she said "there's no place like home." We are back after 3 weeks of wild, wonderful, feral living at the beach.

I'm on the third load of washing already, and the children have latched onto their various technical devices and linked up to our fast speed broadband like (yikes!) junkies finding a fix.

In between the surfing and rock pooling, I've been thinking about neuro-linguistic programming (as one does).

When we quit drinking we create a war between our conscious mind and our subconscious mind.

Our subconscious is incredibly powerful. It quietly deals with pretty crucial stuff like breathing, keeping our hear beating, and so on. It learns from our day to day experiences and applies those lessons to keep us safe and happy.

So, for example, if we burn ourselves on something hot, it tells us to move our hand away quickly (before our conscious mind has even had a chance to catch up), and then reminds us to avoid the hot thing in the future.

It's like a really clever computer.

We have taught our subconscious, over decades, to associate any stress, any fun, any boredom - pretty much any emotion at all - with having a drink.

Alcohol advertising and marketing is, basically, extremely sophisticated NLP. I know - I used to make it. Every image used, every word and piece of music is debated and researched at length. It speaks directly to our subconscious, telling it that alcohol is sophisticated, desirable and delicious.

The language we use is crucial, too. Every time we tell someone "I could really do with a drink" or "can't wait till wine o'clock" our subconscious learns and plays it back to us.

When we try to stop drinking, however much our conscious mind says "I am not going to drink. Drinking is bad. I am going to stay sober," our subconscious mind is going loopy. It starts getting louder and louder the more we try to ignore it. It says "FOR GOD'S SAKE LISTEN TO ME! I KNOW HOW TO SOLVE THIS ANGSTY FEELING! HAVE A GODDAMN DRINK!"

We have a name for this. We call it the wine witch.

(For more on this wily, evil crone see: The Wine Witch)

According to NLP, we can't just beat our subconscious into submission. Like a really clever computer we have to re-programme it.

We can do this by storing up new imagery and language to counter all those stored images of happy, sexy, relaxed people quaffing vino.

So, next time you get a craving, picture yourself as a strong, healthy, happy sober person.

Whenever you see the image in your mind of a glass of wine promising you stress relief, wipe it out and replace it with the image of a hot bubble bath, or a walk in the woods, or a yoga class.

The more you do this, the faster your subconscious will catch up. (See my post on visualisation: I am Khaleesi)

You can use negative visualisation too. When you look at a glass of wine, strip away all the fancy branding and see it as the poison it really is. Whenever you think about having 'just one glass' then play it forward. Force yourself to remember where one glass leads.

Apparently this is why blogging helps too. Every time I write 'SoberMummy' my subconscious picks it up. Every time I type I DO NOT DRINK, it remembers.

Which is why you have to be careful when you fib to people. Because whenever I tell my friends "Oh no, of course it's not forever. Just a temporary detox," I'm undoing all my good work.

NLP theory explains why moderation is so hard, if not impossible. You work really, really hard to retrain your subconscious. You get to a point where it sees alcohol as a negative, a poison. It's started seeing 'sober' as a positive thing and not a state of endless misery....

.....and what do you do? You have one drink. You fire up all the dopamine receptors in your brain. Your subconscious says "that wasn't so bad was it? We're not poisoned. I remember how effective this can be as a stress reliever, a way to relax. Hell, it's fun!" All the learned responses you've spent months trying to get rid of come flooding back.

Your conscious mind says "Don't even think about it! We're not having another one of those for at least a week."

Your subconscious replies "MORE! NOW!"

So don't try and fight your subconscious. Just think about it as a stroppy toddler that needs a bit of re-training. Work with it, and it can be your friend.

Love SM x

Friday, 21 August 2015


Over and over again, when I read people's stories about how they ended up with a major drink issue, I hear them talk about growing up feeling like an outsider. A square peg in a round hole, not fitting in.

They go on to describe how, as a teenager, alcohol made them feel - for the first time - 'whole'. Included. Secure.

This is often quoted as evidence for an alcoholic 'type' - people with a hole in the soul.

But, you know what? I look at my eldest and remember all that teenage stuff - trying to get to grips the world and your place in it, whilst dealing with raging hormones and a body which won't stop changing. And it strikes me that surely ALL teenagers feel like that underneath. How can they not?

I used to tell people frequently that my life changed when I was about twenty five and I stopped caring what people thought of me. Is it a co-incidence that that's the age when I started drinking more and more?

Looking back, I'm not sure that I ever really stopped caring - I just found a way to mask it, not to deal with it.

And when you stop drinking, all the insecurities come back. You can find yourself standing on the outskirts at parties thinking "do people think I'm boring? Am I wearing completely the wrong outfit? Are they talking about me?" in a way you haven't done since you were nineteen.

So, decades later, it's time to learn how to properly cope with teenage angst. And I think I'm getting to the solution.... have to remember that everyone else feels the same.

Think back to all the 'insiders', the round pegs in round holes from your teenage years. Do you think now that they really had all the answers? How is that even possible at the age of sixteen or seventeen? I bet if you asked them they'd confess to having been as riddled with as many insecurities as you!

And the same is true of most adults.

How many 'perfect' marriages have you admired, only to find out that both parties secretly hated each other and have been having wild affairs? How many friends do you have with seemingly wonderful lives who you know are struggling terribly with debt, or depression, or similar?

I know from this blog and all the e-mails I receive that no-one's life is what it seems to the onlooker. There's Facebook life, and there's reality, and very little overlap between the two.

Learning to judge yourself by your insides, and not other peoples' outsides is the key to serenity, not a glass of vino.

And who wants to be a standard shaped peg in a standard shaped hole anyway? Who wants to be stuck in a gaggle of identikit followers?

Isn't it better to be on the outside leading the way? Like us.

Love SM x

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Making Amends

A few days back, I mentioned that this time last year - also on holiday in Cornwall - my Mum told me she was worried about my drinking. She also said that I needed to lose weight.

I was, obviously, very aware that she was right on both counts. So, you'd think that I would agree with her, thank her for her maternal concern and resolve to take action.

You'd be wrong. I threw all my toys out of the pram. I accused her of being cruel, ignorant and hypocritical. I stomped off to my room with a goblet of wine and then made snide remarks for the rest of the week.

When I wrote about this, almost in passing, you lot jumped on it and told me - quite rightly - that I should apologise to my poor mother and tell her she was right.

I have to confess that the thought hadn't even crossed my mind. Isn't that awful?

We don't really do 'talking about emotional stuff' in my family. In fact, I wonder whether the British 'stiff upper lip' thing is part of the reason we're so renowned for drunkenness. We need some way of dealing with the emotions we feel unable to display or discuss.

My reaction was: that was twelve months ago. Water under the bridge. It's obvious that I'm sorry and she was right - look at me! A stone (14 pounds, 7 kilos) lighter, and nearly 6 months sober - obviously I took it on board...

But saying sorry is the right thing to do. It's good karma. It's what we teach our children. And I know, from my kids, that a belated apology usually means more, and is more thought through, than a knee jerk one at the time.

One of the cornerstones of AA (still haven't been; still planning to) is 'making amends'. The Big Book states that in order to achieve freedom and serenity you need to make peace with the past.

Likewise, Beck - in his book 'Alcohol Lied to Me' (it's good, if a little preachy and irritating at times) is adamant that 'living in the present' is key to success. He states that worrying about the past or the future gets in the way.

So, I've been trying to find the right time to say sorry. I kept putting it off. It stuck in my throat. I was fighting against years of conditioning.

Eventually I cornered my poor Mum in the kitchen.

"I've been meaning to say something to you," I blurted out.

She looked startled. Like a hedgehog in the headlights.

"When you told me last year that I drank too much and was too fat I was horrible to you. I made you cry. But you were right, and I'm sorry."

"Gosh, I'd forgotten about that," she said (probably fibbing), looking stunned but rather....chuffed. "I'm sorry if I was a little blunt. But look at you now! I'm so proud of you - what willpower. You really don't want to turn into a slob."

(I'm aware that my Mum hadn't got a handle on the real issue. Her major concern was me 'letting myself go', but I don't think that matters).

We hugged. We coughed in a rather embarrassed fashion. We carried on chopping vegetables and changed the subject.

But I feel a weight off my shoulders. And I think I made my Mum really happy.

'Making amends' is about more than saying sorry - it's about putting things right. But I know that, as far as my Mum's concerned, quitting the drink (and, as a result, losing the weight) is all the reparation she wanted.

So, all is good with the Universe, and I hope all is good with you too....

Thank you for making me do that. As always, you were right.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Go Sober October

If you're doing Go Sober October and are looking for support, then go to: Go Sober October - Day 1.

Last year I contemplated signing up for Macmillan Cancer Support's Go Sober October.

I talked myself out of it, can't remember how. Perhaps I decided there were too many drinking events I couldn't possibly miss, or not drink at. Perhaps I argued to myself that dull January was a better month to go dry.

Most probably, I deliberately 'forgot'. Oh how we drinkers love procrastination!

Anyhow, I must have got as far as inputting my e-mail address, because they just mailed me, suggesting I sign up this year......and I did!

You might think this a little odd, given that by then I'll have been sober for SEVEN (yay, count 'em!) months, but I feel like being a member of a big club for once, and boy am I going to be good at it!

It'll be a bit like joining a scout troop with an arm already full of badges! Think of all the opportunities to feel unbearably smug. I am SO going to enjoy this.

These events seem to be more and more popular. As well as our Sober October, the Aussies have Dry July. Plus, there're all the millions world wide who make a New Year's Resolution to quit for January.

Obviously, I'm all for people stepping away from the demon booze, and I've given up for January twice in the past. However, I'm not sure that it really helps....

For a start, if you see this as an ordeal for a month that you have to 'get through' with the shiny prize of booze at the end, then you never really get your head in the right place. It's purgatory. It puts you off ever trying to go for longer because it seems so hard.

Secondly, a month really isn't long enough to see the real benefits of sober. In my experience it takes about 100 days for the major benefits to kick in - the feeling of peace, transformation, clarity and (sounds trivial in comparison, but it's a great bonus) weight loss.

So if you only quit for a month, and you just see it as a temporary thing, you put yourself through all the hardship but few of the real gains.

The other thing that's struck me, from the e-mails the GoSober people keep sending me, is the language they use.

Bear in mind that the vast majority of people taking on this challenge see themselves as 'normal drinkers.'

(You know what I mean by 'normal drinker.' Those unbearably irritating smuggy pants people who put their hands over their empty wine glass and say "no more for me thank you! I've had one glass already." Damn their evil eyes.)

So, these 'normal people', the ones that sneer at us self confessed addicts, get e-mails saying (I kid you not) 31 days is a challenge mere mortals cannot comprehend. It takes a very special SoberHero to be able to do it.....31 days is daunting for even the bravest and most experienced SoberHeroes... Etcetera, etcetera.

Isn't the fact that this sort of language seems entirely appropriate evidence that many, if not most, 'normal drinkers' are totally addicted? The question is only 'how badly?' and how many more 'sober challenges' will they have to do before they decide to join us?

And one final note: one of the e-mails I received reminded me what the purpose of SoberOctober really is. It said: help Macmillan Cancer Support be there for more people as they face one of the toughest fights.

How humbling is that? Quitting the booze is one of the hardest things I've ever done. But, let's face it, it's not like beating cancer. That's the biggie.

But, by quitting the drink, that's one battle you're much less likely to have to fight.

Love SM

Monday, 17 August 2015

Did I Overreact?

The problem with 'getting better', getting to the point where it seems so normal being sober that you can't remember what the problem was, is that the Wine Witch immediately senses the chink in the armour and dives in there with the question.....

......did I overreact?

Bet you've been there! It goes like this: so now I've been sober for x days I realise that I'm perfectly able to cope without alcohol. It's great! I'd never, ever want to go back to drinking x bottles of x per week. That would be madness!

.....But, typical me, in my all-or-nothing way, I overreacted with this 'total abstinence' malarkey. Now I see the light, I can have just one drink on special occasions.  After all, I'm not a 'proper' alcoholic. I never did x or y. Luckily I nipped it all in the bud just in time. Phew!

I have this one playing on an endless loop. At least once a week it reappears.

At this point I often re-read Jason Vale. But I'm bored reading the same book over again. So I've found 'Alcohol Lied to Me' by Beck. So far it's the same argument, just put in a different way, which makes a refreshing change.

So, the next time you get the 'did I overreact' bug, remember this:

The word 'alcoholic' is a red herring. Everyone who drinks alcohol (an addictive poison) is addicted to some extent, the question is just 'how badly?'

The issue with separating people into 2 camps: 'normal' and 'alcoholic' is, firstly, we spend stupid amounts of time trying to work out which camp we're in (remember all those ridiculous questionnaires?!?) as absolutely no-one ever wants to be in the second camp.

Secondly, the accepted conclusion is that if we're in the first camp we should carry on merrily, regardless of our doubts and the problems alcohol causes us.

But, if we're in the second camp, we HAVE to stop. No free will involved. In fact, according to AA, we should 'surrender' our free will and give ourselves up to a 'higher power'.

Here's how I think about it instead:

I don't care (any more) whether or not I am, or you think I am, an alcoholic.

I was, definitely, addicted to alcohol. No shame in that. Millions of people are.

I didn't HAVE to stop drinking, I CHOSE to stop drinking, because I realise that my life is immeasurably better without it.

I CHOOSE not to have even one drink because I know that that will allow the addiction to creep back in, and also because I've realised that I DO NOT NEED IT.

Alcohol took away my free will, but now I have it back and I am strong and fearless (most of the time!)

So long as you see quitting as being something you 'have' to do, so long as you envy the 'normal' drinker and see yourself as 'abnormal' it will be hard, if not impossible.

It doesn't need to be. CHOOSE to do this, for yourself, because it's better. You are not denying yourself anything; you are giving yourself a wonderful gift.

SM x

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Moderation and Dieting

I was reading Shane Watson's column in the Times Magazine yesterday.

I've always liked Shane Watson. The title of yesterday's article was 'Why I Hate People on Diets.'

As I read it, chuckling away, it struck me that trying to drink 'moderately' is very much like being on a diet.

Here's what Shane says about dieters - see if it rings any bells:

They (moderators) are unrelaxed and unrelaxing, reek of self denial and vibrate with unfinished business. For obvious reasons they tend to have a short fuse (who wouldn't, with the day stretching ahead with only three litres of Evian (one glass of wine) to look forward to), and God help you if a long-anticipated meal (drink) is held up for any reason....

....they are wired and restless and keen to get to the next stage, and then the next stage, before they finally collapse into bed and lie there, jaws clamped tight.

Remember all that? I think part of the reason we dread sobriety is that we've all played with moderation and assume that being sober is just the same but endless.

But it's not! Sober is like ditching the diet and eating what you want, it's just that you've got to the point where you no longer want to eat (drink) the bad stuff.

So, I'm nodding along, feeling smug, when Shane says: saying "I'm no carbs" is like saying "I'm teetotal."

Can you hear the implied scorn? I've always hated Shane Watson.

She goes on: dieters have....made us self-conscious about food. They've taken one of the most enjoyable things in life and made it awkward. That's why I hate people on diets: because they affect the way I feel about food and the role food plays in my life. Eating normally showing off.

With a horrible sinking feeling I recognised that that is exactly how people see 'teetotallers' at a dinner party. Party poopers. Fun suckers. Energy drains.

We make them question their own habits, and we make them self conscious about drinking in front of us.

That's why I usually stay quiet.

I let people fill up my wine glasses which I then don't touch. It's not because I'm ashamed of being sober - I'm not, quite the reverse.

It's because I'm worried that however much they pretend to admire me and be impressed, they're secretly thinking "bloody hell, they've sat me next to the sober person! Beam me up, Scotty!"

Love SM x

Saturday, 15 August 2015

How to tell if it's PAWS?

The last few days have been a bit odd.

First I had a major attack of The Glums, and then I boomeranged out into a world of fluffy pink clouds and dolphins....

.....and now I'm back on an even keel (I think!)

Which all got me thinking why? And how can we tell the difference between Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, known as PAWS (I've done several posts on this if you want to read more about it), hormones or just general bleurgh?

I imagine that everybody's experience is somewhat unique, but - for the record - here is mine:

General bleurgh: usually has a trigger, and you can often apply logic and come up with a solution

e.g. I'm feeling really grumpy because I've had no time to myself for weeks. Logic: if I go for a long walk and a coffee, and possibly apply a large slice of chocolate cake, all will seem better.

Hormones: usually involve irrational and self righteous anger

e.g. I have no idea why I'm so pissed off, but it is absolutely not my fault in fact it's yours! I would be fine if you just ......(insert as appropriate e.g. picked your clothes off the floor/loaded the dishwasher once in a while)

PAWS: usually characterised not by anger, but by general lassitude. A feeling of "what's it all about anyway? Why bother? What's the point?"

Plus - and here's the biggie - it's accompanied by overwhelming, unaccountable, fatigue. The sort that requires an afternoon nap to allow you to function properly.

Another clue is dippiness. The feeling of wading through soup. Forgetting names, why you walked into a room, searching for your glasses when they're on the end of your nose.

In retrospect, what I had a few days ago, and have had every six weeks since I quit drinking, was PAWS.

But what I read was right. It does get easier and pass more quickly. My first attack (at around 42 days) lasted about a week. This one had been and gone in 36 hours.

So, my parents have joined us on the family holiday in Cornwall.

This brings back vivid memories.

It was in Cornwall last summer that my Mother told me, kindly and gently, that she thought I was "drinking too much."

Did I thank her for her concern, think about it rationally, and decide to take action, thereby leading to where I am today?

Hell no!

I yelled at her big time. I made her cry. I called her interfering, cruel and a hypocrite. I stomped off to my room clutching a goblet of vino and spent the rest of the week making snide remarks about Attilla-the-fun-snatcher, and suchlike.

She hasn't said much about the fact that I've not had a drink for nearly six months. Understandably she's a little nervous about broaching any personal subjects around me.

I'm wondering how long it will take, and what she'll say. If anything, ever.

My Dad thinks I'm on some kind of fad diet and keeps banging on about my new trim(mer) figure, bless him.

Love to you all,

SM x

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Let Me Not Die While I am Still Alive

In her extraordinarily powerful eulogy to her dead husband, Sheryl Sandberg quoted a Jewish prayer: let me not die while I am still alive.

That's what drinking does to us. We kill ourselves slowly, drop by drop, glass by glass, bottle by bottle, when we should be living. We drown ourselves in booze, and bury ourselves under layers of flab.

In most of the drinking memoirs I've read the authors describe how drinking stopped them growing.

To move forward as a human being we have to properly experience life, to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We have to learn to meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.

When we drink, we don't do that; we just hide.

Rather than our horizons expanding, our world shrinks. If we don't stop, it gets smaller and smaller until we've lost everything except the bottle.

At the moment I'm reading Blackout by Sarah Hepola. She writes about hitting her bottom. She'd consoled herself with lists of the things she'd not yet lost, like her apartment and her job. But... occurred to me for the first time that perhaps no real consequences would ever come to me. I would not end up in a hospital. I would not wind up in jail. Perhaps no-one and nothing would ever stop me. Instead, I would carry on like this, a helpless little lush in a space getting smaller each year. I had held onto many things. But not myself.

That's just how I felt. Despite hanging onto the important things (so far) - my family and my home, my world was getting tinier and tinier, and I'd lost myself. I was slowly dying while still alive.

But now, after nearly half a year of introspection and building myself back up, brick by brick, I feel like I'm standing on the edge of something. Now I can see the horizon and I have - for the first time in years - a sense of possibility, instead of hearing the clang of doors closing ringing in my ears.

I don't know what's going to happen next, but something is.

So yesterday we took a boat trip along the Cornish coast. Bear in mind that this was not the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, it was the Atlantic. We were dressed in head to toe oilskins and life jackets.

We were a way out from shore, crashing through the waves, and I did something I haven't done since I was about ten years old. I asked the Universe for a sign (yes, really). I said:

If my life is about to change in miraculous ways then send me a dolphin.

Five minutes later and there's an effing dolphin swimming alongside our boat. I kid you not. Flipping Flipper!

So watch this space, my friends, because I've wasted an awful lot of time, and it's my turn now....

....and yours.

Sending you Dolphins.

SM x

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Finding the Whoop!

I'm back on form, my friends! Floating on the Happy Pink Cloud.

Yesterday I went surfing. At one point I caught a big wave just right.

As I hurtled towards the beach I looked to my left, and there was #1, grinning like a maniac. I looked to my right, and there was an equally euphoric #2. And I let out an involuntary Whoop.

(This is not an odd English euphemism for farting. What I mean is that I found myself, accidentally, yelling WOOHOO! in a semi-orgasmic fashion)

Now, I am a jaded, middle aged bird who has lived rather too hard for too long, so I cannot remember the last time I did an involuntary Whoop.

For the last few years, not even getting plastered and throwing some shapes on the dance floor made me Whoop. There was always a nagging voice (however much I tried to drown it out) saying you'll pay for this tomorrow.

Not only had the drink lost its power to make me Whoop. It also took the Whoop out of pretty much everything else. Feeling hungover, and counting the hours until the next drink, are very much Anti-Whoop activities.

And, you know what? Life is too damn short not to Whoop.

So I say go out there, find what makes you Whoop, and do more of it. So long as it's vaguely legal and doesn't involve any addictive substances.

(If you're reading this on Day 1, or thereabouts, and the Whoop feels a very long way away, then don't panic. Baby steps. Be kind to yourself. You'll get there).

Whoop! Whoop!

SM x

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Swimming in the Rain

So yesterday I posted about my attack of the Glums, during a(nother) rainy day on my Cornish holiday.

As you know, our default reaction to Glum is.....Drink! The panacea to all evils.

Instead, I posted, and you lovely people came back with amazing wise words.

Ulla, my wonderful Danish friend, told a story about her childhood. She said that one of her favourite memories was of her mother suggesting a swim. "But it's raining!" young Ulla replied (I imagine her with eyes as deep and blue as the fjords, and blonde hair in plaits, wearing a red, gingham pinafore). "So what?" replies Mum (who looks like Meg Ryan) "we're going to get wet anyway!"

Suddenly I remembered a post I wrote back in The Mists of Time (May, to be more precise) about a motto I'd just come across. It went like this:

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain

It's true. The more we react to adversity by holing up and hunkering down (whether or not we're drinking) the more scared we get next time. Our world gets smaller and smaller.

However, if we run out into the storm, if we turn it into an experience, if we actually start dancing, then next time we'll be braver. We'll know we can do it. Our world gets bigger and more filled with promise.

So, thanks to Ulla, we all donned our wetsuits and headed to the beach. It was late in the day, so the sun (what we could see of it) was low and the tide was going out, leaving huge calm pools of water among the rocks.

We dived in, and I lay there in the drizzle, floating on my back feeling like Momma seal (or sea cow, perhaps?) surrounded by her cavorting cubs.

(The moment was nearly ruined at one point by Mr SM when #1 said "where's Mummy?" and he replied "she's been beached!")

I looked up and watched the clouds clearing in the sky. I felt the clouds clearing in my head. I proved to myself that I can dance (and swim) in the rain, and hopefully I made some memories that (like Ulla) my children will never forget.

I could, on the other hand, have opened a bottle of wine and drunk all afternoon. Then yelled at the kids, gone to bed and tossed and turned all night.

Go figure.

Love SM xx

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Glums

I've hit a sudden patch of The Glums.

When I was drinking my emotions were up and down all the time. The biggest impact on how I was feeling at any point was the booze. It went something like this:

Wine o'clock: relief, elation, relaxation
3 hours later: guilt, grumpiness, exhaustion
3am: self loathing, anxiety, restlessness
7am: weariness, edginess, sluggishness


This endless cycle of short term ups and downs drowned out any underlying mood swings.

Now I've got off that endless merry-to-suicidal-go-round and I'm on a much more even keel. My default setting is 'pretty happy', pretty much all of the time. It's a miracle.

Which is why it floors me when suddenly I feel glum. For no reason.

It could be hormonal. It could be PAWS (see my posts on Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome). It could just be a non specific bad mood. 

I'm sure that everyone feels down from time to time, it's just that we ex drinkers are unused to dealing with mood swings. Our default reaction to a bad mood was "feel down ergo must have a drink." No attempt to analyse the reason for the mood - just to get rid of it.

Ignoring the longer term 'reasons to be happy' like good health, children, lack of unmanageable debt, etcetera, in the immediate present here is my 'gratitude list':

1. We are on holiday in Cornwall- one of my favourite places in the world
2. #1, #2 and #3 have declared it one of the best holidays ever
3. Mr SM has escaped from the office to join us
4. I have croissants baking in the oven
5. Against all odds, I have found a shop which sells Becks Blue. I think they must have ordered it in error, because when I took a six pack to the till they looked at me as if I were crazy and said "you do realise this is alcohol free?"

But still there's a grumpy voice pointing out the negatives:

1. It's raining, and the forecast for the week is terrible
2. It's a holiday for everyone else, but I still have to prepare at least 2 meals a day (that at least one child won't like), run the washing machine daily and the dishwasher twice a day. It's been more than a decade since I had a holiday with room service.
3. #2 behaved so badly in a local inn yesterday that we had to leave and I may be too embarrassed to ever return
4. I was so busy typing this with one finger on my iPhone that I burned the sodding croissants!
5. After several weeks of steady weight loss the scales are heading in the wrong direction. Maybe it's just as well the croissants are ruined. Every burned pastry has a silver lining...

So, here I am, in a grump, for no particular reason, trying not to let anyone know about the black cloud following me around.

But, on the upside, I know that the mood will pass, just as I know that the rain will, eventually, clear. And I also know that there is no way at all that a drink would help the situation....

(Apart from a Becks Blue, obviously, which does seem capable of curing most ailments ;-))

.....and that really is progress.

Love to you all,


Saturday, 8 August 2015


Saturday morning in Cornwall. We've now been here a whole week. The sun is shining and I can hear the sounds of #1 and #3 getting up (it's a small cottage).

#2 is snoring next to me. He snuck in last night, taking advantage of the fact that Daddy's been stuck in London, working. (He's joining us today - yay!).

I've been thinking about what's made this holiday, so far, different from previous years, when effectively the formula's been exactly the same (I'm obviously a creature of habits - good ones and bad ones!).

It struck me that the main difference is an absence of restlessness.

Throughout the drinking years I often wanted to be somewhere else. The only times I felt completely at peace were when I had a drink in my hand (which, increasingly, was quite a lot of the time).

Almost as soon as I'd start one activity, I was already considering what to do next. Rather than concentrating on the moment (mindfulness), I was already focussing on the future.

I called this 'planning.' Now is see that it was, actually, restlessness.

There is a biological reason for this feeling. When we are addicted to something (nicotine, narcotics, alcohol, whatever) our brains get so overwhelmed by the dopamine rushes caused by the substance  that they start to reduce the amount of dopamine produced naturally.

This means that without our drug of choice we feel depressed, edgy and restless. We feel like something is missing - we're not complete. Which is, in fact, the case, as we've created an imbalance, a hole, in our neuro chemistry.

So, however much we try and relax, to be in the moment, our subconscious (the Wine Witch) is whispering is there any wine in the fridge? Do you need to go to the shop? Haven't we been at this play centre/playground/funfair long enough? It's definitely time for a drink. Don't just sit there - do something about it!

In previous years, with the kids on the beach in Cornwall, by 5pm I'd be feeling angsty. I'd be hurrying everyone along, packing up, yelling eventually, making sure that we were back home in time for 'me time'.

But this year, as low tide has got later and later, we've adjusted our timings. We've been, literally, going with the flow - getting up later and going to bed later. Staying on the beach until 8pm to make the most of the surfing.

We've had sandy burgers on the beach for supper and watched the sun go down. And I haven't wanted to be anywhere else at all.

That's one of the best gifts of sobriety: peace.

Love SM x

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Rebranding Sober and Marie Helvin

Part of my job used to be taking tired old brands and making them relevant and sexy again.

One brand that's terribly in need of a revamp is 'sober'. And - even more so - 'teetotal'.

Both adjectives always conjured up images for me of very dull, boring sad cases. Puritanical, holier than thou types. Old biddies playing bingo while sipping endless cups of tea. Or reformed addicts - constantly atoning for the past and unable to look further ahead than one day.

'Sober' and 'teetotal' have never been fashionable. Those words have never screamed supermodel.

So I say Hurrah for Marie Helvin who, in a recent interview, said that she's quit drinking.

Marie is not only one of the world's most famous supermodels, but she is still modelling lingerie (that's underwear to us mere mortals) at the age of 62. She says:

The year I turned 60 I decided to give up alcohol as I felt it had no place in my life: I didn't enjoy it any longer and it was not how I wanted to spend my free time. I like to do more physical, adventurous things, pursuits where I need to be alert and focused, such as diving.

(Good point, Marie. It's awfully tricky to go diving and drink vino simultaneously. Note to self: take up diving).

...I like the clarity. I grew up a child of the 60s trying every kind of drug I could get my hands on. Now it's a different kind of high - being focused.

I wish I'd known that just by stopping drinking my skin colour and tone would improve, my eyes would be brighter, sleep would no longer be a problem, and my energy levels would soar.

The more people like Marie Helvin start publicising the benefits of sober, the easier it'll be for the rest of us.

A few more converts like Marie, and I could even become fashionable for the first time in my life! We'll be surfing that zeitgeist, my friends.

And perhaps if I keep up the whole not drinking thing for long enough, I too can be modelling lingerie in my sixties....

....or perhaps not.

Love to all you gorgeous people!

SM x

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Live Like Someone's Watching

I read somewhere that we should always try to live like someone's watching. It's a great way of checking whether you're doing the right thing. How would I feel if my mother/child/husband could see me now?

In fact, in the lives of most teenagers, filled with Facebook, Instagram and the like, someone probably is watching pretty much all the time. Which is, apparently, one of the reasons why the amount young people drink is falling.

They are terrified of being caught, literally and metaphorically, with their pants down. They know that the indiscretions of their youth will haunt them forever.

My maternal grandmother died when I was twenty. I didn't believe in heaven and hell as such, or in angels floating on clouds, but I did think that there was some form of life after death.

In my worst moments of self recrimination (usually at around 3am when I couldn't sleep) I would imagine my granny looking down at whatever I'd been up to that evening, horrified at the antics of her darling granddaughter.

I remembered this today, and it struck me that I haven't done anything (as far as I can remember!) in the last five months that I wouldn't have wanted Granny to see. I am living like someone's watching.

On the one hand, I'm horribly proud of that. But on the other hand, it feels a bit dull and ordinary to be so transparent. I kind of miss my seedy underbelly. Not the actual thing, you understand, just the idea of it.

It reminds me of when I was heading off to University for the first time. No-one I knew was going to Oxford, so I realised that it was a great opportunity to re-invent myself.

I decided that what I most wanted to be was elusive. I had always worn my heart on my sleeve. I had a habit of telling strangers my life story. I had no secrets. What you saw was what you got. I wanted people to say "Do you know SM?" and the reply to be "No-one really knows SM."

Of course, I only managed a few days of playing enigmatic before the wheels came off.

Ironically, decades later my life was one whole charade of smoke and mirrors.

But now I'm back to what you see is what you get. If you're there, Granny, it's can look now!

Perhaps that's one on the reasons I love this blog: it's my little secret....

Love SM x

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Depression and Blackberries

Problem drinking and depression are so intertwined that it's often impossible to tell which came first; do we drink because we're depressed, or are we depressed because we drink?

In fact, it can work like a downward spiral, sucking us in, like a spider down a plughole.

As you drink you flood your brain with dopamine. Do this often enough and heavily enough and your  brain reduces the amount of dopamine it produces naturally to compensate. This means that without alcohol you will feel depressed. Then, when you drink, the dopamine produced just takes you back to normal levels. In other words, you start to feel - because it's true - that only alcohol makes you happy.

To be honest, I didn't think that I was depressed. I just felt flat. A bit bleurgh. Like all the colour had been leached out of the picture, leaving it sepia. But because it happened so gradually, I hardly noticed.

But now, especially down here in glorious Cornwall, it feels like the knobs have been adjusted and we're back in glorious technicolor. The old brain has turned up the volume on the rusty dopamine producers and I don't need to booze to feel high.

So today I was walking up a cliff path with #3 picking blackberries. She'd put a few in the bag, but even more were smeared over her hands and face. I pretended not to notice as I imagined the crumble we'd make later. I could smell the sticky, tart blackberries and the sweet, crunchy topping. Custard or clotted cream....? One of life's eternal dilemmas.

I saw a woman walking towards us. I smiled at her. I was pretty sure that the sweet old lady was admiring my great parenting. Healthy, outdoor fun with the kids. Well done, Mrs SM!

As we passed each other she looked at #3 shoving another blackberry into her mouth.

"Dogs pee on those, you know," she said.

She took my happy balloon and pricked it, the miserable old crone.

Which made me think: do you want to be the person smelling the crumble, or the one seeing the wee?

Because I'm smelling the crumble, and it's only now that I realise how much time I wasted looking for wee.

Love to you all.

SM x

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Drinking with Keith Floyd

It's exactly 5 months since I last drank alcohol.

By way of celebration, and inspired by my post on ancestry and the Celts the other day (see Alcoholism and Ancestry) I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane.

More than twenty years ago, when I was a bright eyed, bushy tailed graduate just starting out in advertising, I was working on the Irish Tourist Board account.

I was in heaven. I loved Ireland. My clients were crazy, but great fun. If I asked them to meet me at any time after 5pm to look at some creative work they would insist on going to 'Meeting Room P' or, in other words, the Coach and Horses Pub. Once there they would merrily dissect and destroy whatever lovingly crafted work I presented over several pints of Guinness.

Once a year the Irish Tourist Board did the Grand Tour. They'd pick a region of Ireland and we'd spend a week visiting all the attractions and staying in the best hotels on offer. We'd 'work' all day, and all evening we were wined and dined like kings.

The evening would invariably end with a lock in, a sing song and lots of impromptu dancing. No-one went to bed before about 4am. Ever. Their stamina was extraordinary. I'd just spent three years as hard living student, yet there was no way I could keep up with this crew.

And their Christmas party.... I don't know where to begin. The truth is that I can remember very little detail, and neither - I suspect - can any of them.

The first big campaign I worked on with the Irish Tourist Board starred the famous, drunken, TV chef Keith Floyd eating (and boozing) his way around Ireland.

The first time I met Keith was when he came to London (from Devon) to shoot a press advertisement. My job (as the lowly junior) was to meet him at the station at around 10am and escort him to the studio.

I turned up early. I'd checked and double checked everything. I saw the train come in and waited by the gate for Keith to come through. I waited and waited. No Keith. I called his agent (from a payphone. We didn't carry mobiles in those days - imagine!) who told me that he'd put Keith on the train himself. I got the station to put an announcement over the tannoy. Still no Keith.

Eventually, palms sweating and heart racing, I called the hotel Keith was booked into that evening. "Mr Floyd has been in the bar for the last hour," they told me.

I collected him. He was contrite. He confessed to giving me the slip because they'd refused to open the bar on the train on account of it being breakfast time.

Despite (or perhaps because of) being drunk, Keith performed brilliantly. The photographer and crew forgave him for keeping them waiting for nearly two hours.

After the shoot he took me to a famous oyster bar on Piccadilly where, predictably, we got seriously merry, and he bought me my first oysters. "Isn't it like when the moonlight kisses the ocean?" he asked me. I thought it was like swallowing snot, but nodded (ever the people pleaser).

Keith died a few years ago at the relatively young age of 65. He had a heart attack. The last decade of his life was plagued by illness - including a stroke and bowel cancer. I'm sure that if he'd quit drinking he would have lived longer.

I wonder if Keith Floyd regretted any of it. Because, you know, I now accept - with a degree of serenity - that my drinking career is over. I'm happy to move into Phase Two. But I'm not sure that I regret much of it. For a while back there it was a bloody good laugh.....

....until it stopped being so.

Love SM x

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Blue Without Becks Blue

We've arrived in Cornwall!

I've discovered that there's one window in our cottage from which I can access a wifi hotspot. So here I am, snuggled on the windowsill in my pyjamas, looking out at the stunning, wild, wet and windy landscape.

Yesterday was hard. I was up at the crack of dawn, packing for several hours, trying to cram everything into our (not large) car and still leave enough room for 3 children.

This was tricky as I'd bought enough Becks Blue (alcohol free beer) to sink a battleship. I didn't know if Becks Blue has yet penetrated this remote corner of the world and wanted to Be Prepared. Luckily I squished it all in and didn't have to choose between leaving behind the beer or a child.

I did the drive down in horrible traffic on my own (Mr SM following on by train after a day at work). Then I had another hour of unpacking while simultaneously dealing with 3 overexcited children.

Arriving at a holiday destination pulls every trigger there is: stress (tick), exhaustion (tick), celebration (tick), reward (tick), anxiety (tick). BUT I had planned ahead! I am an expert at this game! I had a chilled Becks Blue waiting for exactly this moment.

What I hadn't counted on was there being NO SODDING BOTTLE OPENER!

I turned the cottage upside down. The children were hollering to go to the beach. I was a woman possessed. I looked like.....AN ADDICT! (Who'd have thought it?)

I've obviously lived a sheltered existence as I had no idea how to get the lid off without an opener. I tried everything, and only succeeded in hurting my hands.

In the end, I went into the garden and smashed the top off on a stone. Needless to say, it went everywhere, leaving me with two gulps, lots of foam and broken glass.

The kids and I walked down to the beach as the sun was setting, and ate Cornish ice cream, sitting on the rocks watching the waves.


I'm not going to quit the Becks Blue while I'm here - after all I have 2 crates to get through - but I am going to try.....MODERATION!!!

Although, moderating the time I spend blogging doesn't seem to be working. I'm still at it every day...

Still, as Mr SM keeps reminding me, there are worse addictions to have.

Don't we know it!?!

Love SM x