Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Year's Eve

It does seem deeply unfair for newly sober people that, just a handful of days after the major challenge of Christmas, they are faced with the biggest party evening of the year: New Year's Eve.

(If you are worried about this evening then this post might help: SoberMummy's Party Survival Guide)

I have a complicated history with New Year's Eve.

I've had some wonderful, unforgettable times with incredible friends in beautiful places. But I have also had many years that have bowed, then broken, under the pressure of expectation. Years when I attacked the booze so enthusiastically, and so early, that well before midnight I'd be sleepy, grumpy and able only to slump in an armchair, telling circular, rambling stories to anyone drunk enough to listen.

And the worst thing about New Year was waking up on January 1st with a raging thirst, pounding head and a mounting sense of despair. How, I would ask, can I find the strength to start all over again?

One thing that is worth remembering if things get tough tonight is that - like many things post booze - everything turns upside down and it becomes all about the morning, not the night-time.

Last New Year (my first sober) I had a relatively quiet evening. It was lovely, but not hugely memorable. But the next morning, as we were in the Swiss Alps, I took the whole family SM up the mountain relatively early. We stood on the deserted peak, literally on top of the world, looking at the most beautiful, shiny New Year's Day and everything and anything seemed possible.

This year I'm being more ambitious.

It strikes me that we tend to blame ourselves for not enjoying parties as much when we get sober, whereas actually it's the fault of the parties.

We expect people to have a wild time at an event which consists solely of a bunch of people - many of them strangers to each other - standing in a room for several hours just talking and drinking. When did that start to happen?

Can you imagine a children's party where forty kids were expected to just talk for five hours? No way! We have pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and pinatas. Then, after just two hours, we give everyone a large slice of cake and a party bag and pack them off home.

There are fewer party games at teenage parties, but the gap is filled by lots of dancing, raging hormones, flirting and experimental snogging.

Even into my twenties I remember wonderful celebrations involving hugely competitive games of charades, sardines, squeak piggy squeak, karaoke, dressing up and Scottish dancing.

Then, gradually, all the party games and events (what my Scottish in-laws would call 'happenings') petered out, and we were left with the standard format of fifty people in a room, constantly drinking, wheeling out tired anecdotes and chasing tired canap├ęs.

This suited me, actually, as all I really wanted to do by this stage was drink. And if I was hosting, the idea of organising anything more challenging than a bottle opener, once I'd had a few glasses myself, was anathema.

But now I'm on a mission to revive the great party happenings of the past.

Tonight we are celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland - five adults and six children with ages ranging from eight to eighty.

Rather than trying to hustle the children into bed early so that we can all get drunk, I'm letting them stay up to see midnight in. It's not as if there's school in the morning (thank God).

We're going to have a huge dinner together, then we'll play charades, guess who? and other party games and teach everyone how to dance an eightsome reel. Then at midnight we'll sing Auld Lang Syne and let off some celebratory fireworks.

Actually, I'm feeling a little exhausted just thinking about it, but I'll make it through on a wave of adrenaline and caffeine.

Hurrah!

Happy New Year to all you wonderful people! See you in 2017.

Love SM x




Wednesday, 28 December 2016

George Michael

If you've just made it through your first sober Christmas, then CONGRATULATIONS! I'm sure it wasn't easy, but I'm prepared to bet that it was also awesome.

Maybe you overdid it on Christmas Day and have decided that this is your Day One, or perhaps you're gearing up to quitting in the New Year?

I think we're all looking forward to a new, bright and shiny 2017. After all, 2016 has been a really hard one, starting with the death of David Bowie, then Prince, Leonard Cohen and now George Michael. Some of the greatest songwriters and poets of my youth all.... gone.

I loved George Michael in all his incarnations - except his final one, as a bloated, depressed recluse, addicted to alcohol, marijuana and - allegedly - crack cocaine and heroin.

I was at a traditional girl's boarding school, perched on a windy cliff overlooking a grey sea, when George burst onto the scene in Wham!

There was very little to do at weekends when we were fifteen. We weren't yet trusted to go into Brighton unaccompanied, so we were left, rattling around the decaying old buildings and vast bleak grounds, to make our own entertainment.

This involved activities like trying to get high on Tippex thinner, seeing if we could make our own tobacco from baked banana skins or competitive cockroach catching. I was the House champion at catching cockroaches - the only school sport at which I excelled.

Anyhow, one memorable weekend we spent hours perfecting a dance routine to Wham!'s newly released single Bad Boys.

I still have the lyrics seared into my memory:

When you tried to tell me what to do,
I just shut my mouth and smiled at you,
One thing that I know for sure

Bad boys
Stick together, never sad boys
Good guys
They made rules for fools, so get wise

I remember thinking how those words could have been written for us - the cool rebels who loved ignoring all the rules.

But the truth is that breaking the rules catches up with you eventually, and it's wise to fall into line before it's too late.

So, if you spent this Christmas drinking way more than you know you should have done, then why not make it your Last Christmas boozing, in honour of gorgeous, wonderful and talented George?

Love SM x

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Stephen King on Booze

We are in Scotland for the festive period, hunkered down around blazing fires, keeping out storm Brenda who is raging outside.

(Don't you just love the names they pick for storms? Brenda sounds like she'd be more at home in the Bingo Hall or with a knitting circle rather than flooding roads and knocking down power lines).

Whenever I get to take a break from the frenetic Christmas supermarket shopping and last minute present buying and wrapping, I've been reading Stephen King's book: On Writing.

I bought this book because it was about writing. Little did I know, it also covers King's alcoholism, about which he writes brilliantly.

King says that when he first realised that he was an alcoholic his immediate reaction was to be incredibly careful not to let anyone know, otherwise someone would tell him to get control of his drinking.

Telling an alcoholic to control his drinking, he writes, is like telling a guy suffering the world's most cataclysmic case of diarrhoea to control his shitting.

Eew, but we know what he means, don't we?

King says it's been almost twelve years since I took a drink, and I'm still struck by disbelief when I see someone with a half-finished glass of wine near at hand. I want to get up, go over, and yell 'Finish that! Why don't you finish that?' into his or her face. I found the idea of social drinking ludicrous - if you didn't want to get drunk, why not have a Coke?

Well, quite.

But the really fascinating thing about King's story is how his subconscious was crying for help through his writing.

It was, apparently, many years before King realised that the alcoholic writer and ex-schoolteacher who starred in The Shining was actually himself. He had been up to his neck in denial, but somewhere, deep inside his brain, in the part that writes the stories, he knew.

Ten years later, in 1986, he wrote Misery, a title, he says, which accurately described his state of mind. The hero - a writer again - is tortured by a psychotic nurse. The nurse, Annie Wilkes, he says (with the benefit of hindsight) was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided that I was tired of being Annie's pet writer.

The book which followed Misery was Tommyknockers, which King says he wrote with cotton swabs stuck up his nose to stop blood from his cocaine ravaged nostrils dripping all over his typewriter keys.

In this novel, alien creatures get inside your head and start messing about in there. The upside to this alien activity for the host is boundless energy and a superficial intelligence, but in exchange they give their soul. King writes it was the best metaphor for drugs and alcohol my tired, overstressed mind could come up with.

So, if you're tempted tomorrow to have just the one glass of wine with your Christmas lunch, then remember that alcohol is not your best friend, your greatest fan; she is a crazy obsessive with a penchant for amputation (or 'hobbling' in the film version). She will get inside your head and she will steal your soul.

Get the hell out of there before it's too late.

(If you need more motivation, then read this one: Relapse Stories)

Love to you all, and have a very, very merry (but sober) Christmas! It'll be awesome! See you on the other side....

SM x

P.S. I've just been told that the storm is actually Barbara, not Brenda. Still more redolent of home knitted jumpers and self sufficiency than 100mph winds....


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Before and After Pictures

Not drinking in December can be really hard, so when I came across this article on Facebook I thought I should share it.

It's 'before and after' pictures of people who've stopped drinking, so Click here for instant motivation and a sneaky warm, smug feeling.

(Apologies, I've removed that link as one of my readers tells me that the photos were taken from a 'stop drinking' forum on Reddit without permission which may not be legally wrong, but does feel morally suspect).

I find it ironic now the lengths we go to look younger and fresher. Fillers, botox, endless fad diets, lasers, chemical peels, etcetera. And yet the best, quickest fix is not doing something, but not doing something: not drinking.

Booze is filled with toxins. It makes your skin puffy and your eyes yellow. Plus - ironically - the more you drink, the more dehydrated you get, giving you wrinkles and lank, dull hair.

Alcohol is filled with empty calories, so it makes you pile on the weight, particularly around your stomach (muffin top, anyone?).

So, if you're feeling a bit down about the fact that you're surrounded by people drinking endless glasses of mulled wine, champagne and festive cocktails, then just think about how amazing you're going to look in January when they are starting the new year counting regrets, making impossible resolutions and feeling bleurgh.

The first thing you notice when you quit is the changes to your face. You lose that puffy, jowly look, your skin gets rosier and your eyes get brighter.

(See my post from day 110: Go Sober for Free Botox)

Then, even your hair gets shinier and bouncier.

(See my post from day 74: Sober hair)

And, hopefully, you'll start losing weight - although do remember that in the early days of not drinking chocolate and cake are necessary food groups.

Even if it takes a while to shift the pounds you'll notice that the pounds are shifting around. You start to lose that six month pregnant look and can do the belt up an extra notch.

(For more on weight loss click here)

So DO NOT DESPAIR. It's all worth it. You're going to start 2017 looking and feeling AWESOME!

Big hugs to you all,

SM x

Friday, 16 December 2016

New Phases

HAPPY SOBERVERSARY to claireperth! Awesome work, girlfriend!

Claire wrote in her e-mail to me: This year has been the best year of my life. I still haven't quit smoking, I still have some serious shit to sort out, but I feel really at peace - it's a shiny new lovely place to be! The biggest thing I have learnt is that it's a slow process to change a life; to change a really big part of who you are and to be comfortable with it takes time.

This got me thinking about the different phases we go through when we quit the booze.

Most of you will be familiar with Phase One. Many of you are still battling through it.

It's the physically tough stage, the period when you feel more tired than you can ever remember being and the phase when you become totally obsessed by booze: by drinking it, by not drinking it, reading about it, blogging about it, dreaming about it.

Then, after about 100 days, the fog starts to clear and come out into the light, blinking, and thinking ok, now what?

And now what is Phase Two, the mentally tough bit. This is when you start getting your head around the idea of 'forever', when you battle with the idea that perhaps now you can go back to 'moderating', when you have to find new ways of dealing with fear, anxiety, elation, with life.

Then, as you reach your first soberversary, you start to think hey, I may have got this now. I can do it. I've done my birthday, Christmas, a whole twelve months of ups and downs. Hurrah, but then....

....what next?

And Phase Three is all about working out what to do with the rest of our lives.

You see when you get sober you're left with huge chunks of time to fill, and massive amounts of energy and passion (because we 'overly-keen-imbibers' are a hugely enthusiastic and passionate lot - that's what got us into this mess, isn't it?).

You're also left with a sense of having wasted too much of your life and a realisation that time is precious.

Plus, twelve months of facing up to your fears and trepidations sober has given you back your courage and your drive.

So you start to think what am I going to do now?

And, funnily enough, the process of getting sober often involves re-discovering old passions, or finding new ones.

In order to make it through wine-o-clock day after day after day we take up things like running, yoga, knitting, baking - whatever stops our minds racing and keeps our hands occupied.

Then, miraculously, for many of us, the hobbies that saved us become a career. Anneinsobriety became a yoga teacher, melanie-from-boston set up a jewellery making business, Lucy Rocca took up running and founded Soberistas.

And my old passion, the thing I did to wind down, to take my mind elsewhere, was writing and reading.

When I got to my soberversary, last March, I thought how can I turn my passion into a job? And, in doing that, how can I help as many people as possible who are stuck in the same hole that I climbed out of a year ago?

So I wrote a book proposal, based on this blog, and I sent it to a few agents. Then my agent sent it to a few publishers. And along the way I got a whole heap of rejections which, in the old days, would have had me weeping into several glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and resolving never to bother again.

But, along with the rejections, I had some amazing feedback from women (all women, funnily enough. The men usually didn't bother replying) who really got it and who said there is a need for this book and we want to help you publish it.

AND YESTERDAY I AGREED A BOOK DEAL with a wonderful team at one of the biggest and best publishing houses in the world. All being well, it'll be on shelves in January 2018.

That glass of wine might give you a momentary buzz, but there is nothing like the high of having worked at something really hard for months, having been knocked back but having picked yourself up and then, finally, to have achieved what you set out to do.

That's a high that lasts for days and doesn't end with a hangover.

So, to all of you who helped me get there, thank you. I could not have done it without your support and encouragement.

And please believe me when I tell you that quitting booze really does change your life.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Booze and Marriage

Last week it was our fifteen year wedding anniversary.

My marriage was one of the things that worried me the most about quitting the booze, and I know from many of the e-mails I receive that I wasn't alone in this.

I thought Mr SM would be horrified at losing his drinking partner and I mourned, in advance, all those romantic evenings over a bottle (or several) that we'd no longer share.

No more giggling like children over terrible jokes, clinging to each other as we stumble up the stairs and slurring I really, really love you, I do.

(Click here for my posts from back then: Not the Girl he Married and Not the Girl he Married, Part 2).

I confess, there are still a few moments that I miss. But the truth is those fun moments are fleeting, and they are followed by hours - if not days - of grumpiness and recriminations.

I may not be the wild party child I once was, but I'm much nicer, more thoughtful, even tempered... I'm a much better wife.

And as for Mr SM - he's transformed!  I never asked him to stop drinking around me, but, because I'm no longer egging him on, he generally only drinks at weekends and has lost at least a stone in weight.

The new healthy living regime has spurred him on and he's even taken up pilates! He keeps muttering about 'six packs' (not the booze related variety) and 'ab cracks'. My husband is starting to look seriously hot.

The day after our wedding anniversary, (when we still giggled like children over a fabulous dinner out, just with less stumbling and slurring), Mr SM sat down on our bed (purchased just before our wedding) which promptly collapsed beneath him.

I do hope this is not a sign.

Mr SM found some old bathroom tiles in the cellar and used a stack of them to prop up the broken corner of the bed, which means I'm back to spending every night on the tiles. Ho ho.

It's really hard to nurture a marriage when you're spending all your time wrapped around a bottle. And if you're not careful, you'll find that you left it too late.

Liam Neeson, whose wife Natasha Richardson died in a ski accident five years ago, says it much better (in a recent Facebook post) than I ever could:

Spend time with your spouses. Treat them well. Because, one day, when you look up from your phone, they won't be there anymore.

What I truly learned most of all is: live and love every day like it's your last. Because one day it will be. Take chances and go and live life. Tell the ones you love that you love them every day. Don't take any moment for granted.

Life is worth living.

And so say all of us.

Love SM x


Saturday, 10 December 2016

Christmas has Arrived!

Christmas has arrived in the SM house.

I picked the children up from school yesterday and we went shopping for a Christmas tree. We found a gorgeous one which was then wrapped in netting so we could transport it home.

At this point #2, who was helpfully trying to carry said tree, got the netting all tangled up in his school blazer buttons and was inextricably attached to a large Norwegian spruce.

A couple of hours later and our kitchen was festooned with fairy lights, lovely tree in the corner, fire lit and the children were playing carols on various musical instruments.

I was drinking Marks and Spencer's alcohol free mulled wine (as recommended by RedRecovers)

Mr SM was sulking slightly as he realised that the presents under the tree were labelled 'with love from Mummy (and Daddy)'. I've never seen such a huff over a couple of parentheses.

I looked around thinking this is all really Hygge. It almost looks like good parenting.

What a difference from last year, when I was in the middle of radiotherapy for breast cancer, and the year before when I was ricocheting from drunk to hungover and back again, only briefly passing through a state which could be described as 'normal and happy'.

And today we are all trooping into Covent Garden for lunch followed by the new musical: School of Rock. Then I have a babysitter booked to look after the children in the evening as some old friends of ours are having a big Christmas Housewarming near Oxford.

How is that possible? I hear you ask. Surely Oxford is at least 90 minutes up the motorway from London?

And it is, my friends. But here's the thing: I can drive! Because I don't drink. So we can go to the party, stay three hours, drive home and still be in bed by 1am. Result.

When I was coming up to my first sober Christmas it felt like too huge a hurdle to handle. But now I realise that Christmas is a truly awesome time of year, and being properly present in every moment is just amazing.

A sober Christmas is calmer, happier, more organised and generally more....Christmassy.

Merry, merry Christmas to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Everyone Needs Cheerleaders

One of the biggest issues when it comes to quitting the booze is the lack of cheerleaders.

If you quit smoking everyone pats you on the back and tells you how strong and awesome you are. But give up drinking and they look at you askance and wonder if you have a problem (is she an *whisper it* alcoholic?) and if you're going to become a total party pooper.

It's no wonder that we generally hide behind smokescreens and excuses: "I'm driving/ on antibiotics/ detoxing/ still getting over last night ha ha ha."

But quitting is hard, especially at this time of year when the world and his wife are constantly out getting drunk.

We need cheerleaders. We need someone to say "YOU ROCK! YOU'RE AMAZING! SEE YOU ROAR!"

That is, I imagine, one of the wonderful things about AA. There's always someone to light candles on a cake for your soberversary and give you a big hug.

The internet can also make you feel surrounded by cheerleaders, and I hope that through this site, and those of my fabulous fellow sober bloggers, you can feel supported and understood.

But, just in case some days you need just a bit of an extra boost, I'm going to share my little secret with you....

(You may, at this stage, start thinking I'm a little mad. I suspect you're right).

....when I'm feeling a bit flat I imagine that I am being followed everywhere by my own personal rock band. Click here to see what I mean.

Let me know if it works for you too.

Love SM x

P.S. If you're new to my blog and would like to read from my Day One, then click here.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The BBC on Sober Christmas

Are you about to do your first Christmas sober (in the UK)?

If so, then a journalist called Erin at the BBC would love to talk to you for a piece on Up All Night on Radio 5 Live.

I know that this may sound like a scary prospect, particularly if you haven't even told your friends and family that you've quit the booze yet, but you can be completely anonymous and you would be a huge help for anyone out there struggling.

We know what it's like to feel completely alone, don't we? Well this is an opportunity to make a difference.

Erin's e-mail address is erin.marsicovetere.ext@bbc.co.uk She'd love to hear from you.

Merry, sober Christmas to you all!

Love SM x



Friday, 2 December 2016

Doing Christmas Sober

It's December. Which means Christmas is coming.

If you've only recently quit the booze then I know how the idea of coping with Christmas without it is terrifying.

Last year I wrote four posts which might help, just click on these links:

Coping with Christmas, Part 2
I discovered that, like most things in a post-vino world, a sober Christmas is only scary the first time.  Once you've done it once, you realise that Christmas without booze is SO much more manageable, enjoyable and soul enhancing that Christmas on the usual merry-go-round of drunk and hungover.

Last year, my first sober Christmas, was the best I can remember, despite the fact that I spent most days in December in hospital having what was left of my left boob blitzed by radioactive waves.

But, just in case you think it's only me, my lovely reader, Laura, (who, miraculously) managed to find me on my second day of blogging, when I thought I was just talking to myself) sent me an e-mail yesterday which she said I could share with you.

Here it is:

Dear SM,

I am coming up to my second Christmas without alcohol and really looking forward to it. You know, the first one was a bit hesitant and quiet, not wanting to go out or socialise too much.

This year I am there with bells on, so to speak. I have started shopping, cleaning out the spare room, ordered an elf outfit for the dog, tested the lights, am harassing Himself to get a tree sooner rather than later. Even the goose is ordered from the butcher and the overseas Christmas cards written with a few personal lines in each.

How different is this from when Christmas was a great excuse for a month (or two) long champagne bender, starting the New Year with a fat face and belly. The presents were some hastily bought things (usually expensive as I thought cash trumps thought).

A booze free Christmas has freed up space in my heart and head to embrace its meaning. To look forward to hunkering down with the fire on, long walks with the dog, delicious food shared with friends and family, laughter through the games of Monopoly and Scrabble, volunteering for the local charity and realising all I have to be grateful for.

Thank you, SoberMummy, for opening my eyes to the idea that life after Margaux could be joyous and good.

And it can! And it will be!

Thank you, Laura, and Merry Christmas to you all. I'm off to order an elf outfit for the dog.

SM x

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Channel the Iguana

Last year I wrote a post called The Obstacle Course which has been shared and recommended more than anything else I've written. In it I described what quitting booze feels like, and why you really, really don't want to keep doing the early days over and over again.

(To read the Obstacle Course click here).

Well, last week I was watching David Attenborough's incredible Planet Earth 2 with the children and I came across a scene which reminded me vividly of those initial days wrestling with the obstacle course.

So, if you're at that horrible stage when you're sitting on your hands and grinding your teeth every evening at wine o'clock, and you can't believe that life is ever going to feel good ever again, then please watch this clip, it'll really help.

David Attenborough films a volcanic island where hardly anything lives except a lot of iguanas and even more snakes. These are no ordinary snakes - they are called 'racer snakes' and they live up to their name.

Pretty much the sole diet of the racer snakes is iguana.

The adult iguanas lay their eggs away from the shoreline to protect them from the waves, but this means that the very first thing a newly hatched baby iguana has to do is to make it across the beach to the shoreline where the mummies and daddies are hanging out.

The racer snakes know this, and they hide in the rocks just waiting for a tender young iguana to run by, at which point it's dinner time.

This clip shows a heroic baby iguana - his first day on the planet. He knows instinctively that there is danger around him, and initially he stays very still, hoping that an approaching snake won't see him (this is the denial stage, remember that one?).

Eventually he realises that he has to run, or he's toast.

As he charges towards the shore he's chased by loads of snakes - at one point they are literally coiled around his body - but each time he escapes with amazing determination, courage and death defying leaps.

Finally, he makes it to safety.

So, next time you're wrestling with the racer snakes, channel your inner iguana. You can do it. You can make it to the shore. You will find peace.

(To watch the clip, click here)

Love SM x

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Pills

A few days ago I was having tea with a girlfriend who has just returned to London after 3 years of working in Manhattan and living in New Jersey.

I told her that, since she'd been out of town, I'd quit drinking, started a blog and was now in the process of (hopefully) selling a book.

"Do the New Jersey housewives drink the same way the London ones do?" I asked.

"Oh no," she replied, "they're generally far too worried about smelling of booze. They take pills."

"What pills?"

"Usually a whole cocktail of prescription meds. The doctors dole them out like Smarties. Prescription painkillers, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds, anti-depression meds. They're obsessed with perfection - always at the gym, dressed in Lululemon, driving the latest Range Rover, but I swear, they're like zombies."

I confess, I was a little sceptical. I thought she was maybe exaggerating to make me feel better about my own little addiction issue. But then she told me this story:

"When we were selling our house the real estate agents said 'remember to empty your bathroom cabinet.' I asked why, and they were amazed that I wasn't already aware that if you leave your medications in the bathroom people steal them during viewings!"

So, different continent, same problems, same 'solutions'.

We are all so stressed out by trying to keep up with the faked perfection of other people's lives, of Facebook and Instagram, that we look for something to blur the edges, and pills do the job as effectively as booze.

I have to confess, just a tiny bit of me was desperate at this point to make an appointment with the GP. But then I remembered reading about a sign that David Hockney has hanging in his studio in Los Angeles. It reads:

All visitors, please please.
No photography and video.
Look with both eyes.

We spend too much time looking at life through a lens of one sort or another - blurring the focus and changing the reality.

It's time to look with both eyes.

Love SM x






Tuesday, 22 November 2016

AA Gill

AA Gill announced in his Sunday Times restaurant review this weekend that he has cancer.

Not just a little bit of cancer, like I had, but 'an embarrassment of cancer, the full English. There is barely a morsel of offal not included. (He has) a trucker's gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy.'

This made me cry. Not because I've ever met AA (Adrian Anthony, not Alcoholics Anonymous, although more on that later), but because he is a genius and the world would be a less interesting and vibrant place without his words.

I can, I hope, make words line up on a stage and take a hesitant bow, but AA can make words do aerial acrobatics and death defying somersaults. His metaphors and analogies make me laugh out loud with their originality and utter rightness.

AA is an alcoholic which is, in my book, another reason to love him. In his early thirties a GP told him that unless he quit drinking he would only live another six months.

'It's not death that terrifies me,' Gill said, 'it's life.' And isn't that just a perfect explanation of why we drink?

Gill dried out, did the steps and was introduced to an editor at Tatler who commissioned him to write an article about his experience in rehab. The rest, as they say, was history.

It's not his years of drinking that caused AA's cancer, but his other addiction - nicotine. Despite having ditched the smokes fifteen years ago he has smoking related lung cancer.

AA says of his future: 'I don't feel I've been cheated of anything....I gave up (alcohol) when I was still young, so it was like being offered the next life. It was the real Willy Wonka golden ticket, I got a really good deal.'

So, if you're still humming and hah-ing about quitting then please just grab that golden ticket while you're still young enough to make the most of it.

And Adrian, if you ever come across this post, then thank you. Thank you for showing us all how words can change the world.

SM x

P.S. If you want to read my blog from the beginning then click here.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Pride Comes Before a Fall

After twenty months of not drinking I had this sense that my whole life was slotting into place. I was a little happy bunny, veritably hopping along verdant verges, counting all my blessings which went something like this:

(1) A twelve month 'all clear' from the cancer clinic and a happy, healthy family.

(2) I have finally reached my wedding weight - ten stone, one hundred and forty pounds. I have lost two stone without even trying very hard (I eat a lot of cake).

(see my post: Reasons to quit drinking #1: weight loss)

(3) I have not just one, but a flurry of publishers interested in my book. My agent is busy arranging meetings (I hope they don't change their minds once they've met me!) and has set a deadline 'for offers' of December 6th.

Life doesn't get much better than that.

I should know better than to allow myself to feel smug.

Then Mr SM comes back from the office and says "we have to talk," followed by the words most designed to make me freak out: "don't freak out."

It transpires that his whole team is being gradually 'phased out.'

Now Mr SM is relatively sanguine about the whole thing, muttering phrases such as "time for a change anyhow," and "don't want to get stuck in a rut."

He's even taking to quoting The Apprentice: "next time you come into the Boardroom, at least one of you will get fired," and "why do you deserve to stay in the process?"

I, however, am very bad at dealing with uncertainty. I spent a sleepless night catastrophizing. After just a few minutes of this information hitting my over-active brain I had us all homeless and begging on the streets.

In the morning I was blearily loading up the car with school kit when I realised that it had been broken into. Someone had stolen my stash of parking change and - bizarrely - my driving glasses.

We're looking for a thief with an unusually large number of 10p coins and an eyesight prescription of approximately -1.75, sporting a pair of rather old and battered middle-aged-lady specs.

It's on days like these when alcohol would be extremely useful. Just a few glasses of vino and all those sharp edges disappear, everything feels a bit less real and life becomes an awful lot easier to cope with...

....for a short while.

But I am stronger than that now (plus, I suspect it would bugger up any chance of that publishing contract!), so I tried all the other things that I know can help.

I did gratitude (see my post: Gratitude) and counted all my blessings (see above). I did mindfulness and stopped myself looking ahead and panicking. I did exercise. I wallowed in the bath with a dash of aromatherapy oils. And I ate cake.

And today it all seems a lot better.

Especially as I discovered that one incredibly generous and kind reader has anonymously donated £100 to my JustGiving page in aid of The Haven Breast Cancer Support Centres (see my post: Giving Back for more about The Haven and how to donate).

Isn't that awesome? Thank you, thank you, whoever you are.

Happy Friday everyone!

SM x



Sunday, 13 November 2016

There is a Crack in Everything

What a week. America elects Trump and Leonard Cohen dies.

Do you think those two events are related? Did Cohen see the news and lose all desire to ever sing again?

Cohen was, first and foremost, a poet. He said that he only took to song writing because he couldn't make enough money from poetry.

The lines of poetry, from his song 'Anthem', that have been haunting me this week are these:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

We are obsessed with papering over our cracks.

We are constantly bombarded with Facebook and Instagram posts of people's perfect offerings. Perfect faces, bodies, children, houses. We never get to see the hidden wrinkles, cellulite, behavioural issues and damp.

It's so easy to believe in all of it, particularly if you're an adolescent, programmed to hate your own flaws and disregard anyone else's.

One thing the last year and half has taught me is that there really is a crack in everything. Everyone has their hidden struggles - their addictions, their fears, their challenges, because that's how life is.

I've also learned that, once you find out how to deal with those cracks, how to fill them up properly, rather than just pour booze into them, you'll be stronger and more fearless than ever before.

Now, when I meet someone new, I look past the perfect face they show the world and try to see the cracks. Because it's the cracks that make us unique, that make us interesting. Without them it's all a bit bland, a bit meh.

It's the cracks that let the light in.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for leaving us your words, and happy Sunday to you all,

SM x

P.S. Please check out lovely reader Neinwine's new blog at www.anintoxicatingaffair.blogspot.co.uk

Thursday, 10 November 2016

What's in a Name?

Names are very important things. I know this because I spent twenty years in advertising building and growing brands. Our names are a crucial part of our identity.

When I got married to the wonderful Mr SM, at the age of thirty-two, I changed my name to his. It was important to me that we became a 'unit', and that any future children would share the same name as us.

We couldn't just add our names together since Mr SM's name was already double-barrelled as a result of some inheritance malarkey several generations back.

Now, Mr SM's name is old and deeply posh as well as being stupidly long. The history of his family, going back more than five hundred years, is listed in minute detail in Debrett's peerage and Burke's Landed Gentry.

But it's not my name. It's not the name that I spent thirty-two years becoming. Even after fifteen years of marriage I still feel like a fake when I use it.

For many years I ran the two names simultaneously. I used Mrs SM socially, and Ms P (my maiden name) at work.

It made me feel slightly schizophrenic (and caused havoc at airports when I'd often turn up with a ticket in one name and passport in another), but my life at that time was schizophrenic: high powered global businesswoman by day, harassed mother covered in baby vomit by night.

Then I quit work to become a full-time Mum and my birth name just... disappeared. I became subsumed by the name that belonged to my husband and my children and, at the same time, felt that the girl I was before the age of thirty-two was drifting away from me.

This, of course, coincided with me drinking more and more, until one day I looked at myself and thought who the hell are you, anyway?

Since I quit the booze, twenty months ago, I've gradually felt more and more connected with the person I used to be. I feel like I've come home.

Then, last week, an envelope dropped into my post box. It was addressed to Ms P. It was the contracts from my agent (I love being able to say my agent, in the same way that, when I first got married, I loved saying my husband).

Just seeing my original name on an official document made me all tearful.

She's back, baby. She's back.

Love SM x

Sunday, 6 November 2016

All Clear

My friend S and I went to the boob clinic for my 12 month check up.

A couple walked up the stairs behind us. They were, I think, in their late fifties. Their fear was palpable.

She was in exactly the same place I was a year previously - recently diagnosed, waiting for more detailed results to tell her just how bad it might be.

I desperately wanted to give her a hug, but this may have just tipped her over the edge. It's bad enough receiving a life altering or threatening diagnosis, without mad women accosting you physically on stairwells.

After a short wait I was called in for a mammogram. I can barely remember my last one - I was in shock at the time, having just been told by Mr Boob God that he was 99% certain that my lump wasn't at all benign (the 1% of uncertainty he left me was his version of breaking the news gently).

I felt very much like I was making a toasted sandwich with my boobs as the huge machine squeezed each in turn flat and x-rayed them. I fought the urge to suggest the addition of a little Worcestershire sauce.

As I was getting changed, I could see the radiographer checking and printing off my results. I tried desperately not to analyse her facial features. Likewise when, back in the waiting room, I watched her trundle down the corridor and put my envelope in Mr Boob God's in-tray.

After a wait which felt like an eternity I get the call up and he says "your mammogram was all clear." I wanted to clasp his hands and kiss them all over, but I knew just how many mammaries those hands had kneaded over the previous few hours.

He had a grope of mine, pronounced them all good and I was done.

S and I cried. Then we shopped. Then we went to the Chiltern Firehouse where I ordered a Virgin Mojito and we had the most delicious lunch.

Funnily enough, I am so used now to dealing with traumatic situations without booze that I don't miss it so much at those times. I know that a clear head is crucial in testing circumstances.

The time I really miss the booze still is when I'm celebrating.

However, fabulous food and friendship go a long way to making up for the lack of a fuzzy head.

And last night we went to a fireworks party. At the same event last year I'd felt totally disconnected. I was floating in a bubble of fear, watching all the people around me having fun.

But this time, as I watched the display surrounded by my family and some of my oldest and best friends, it felt like all those fireworks were laid on just for my benefit.

I knew that every year from now on fireworks will have a special message for me: you made it. Another year all clear. Another year to do all the things you want to do and to be with the people you love.

Hurrah, and love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Angels

The internet has been responsible for some terrible things; grooming, trolling, cyber bullying and those horribly irritating gaming videos on YouTube that the children are obsessed by, but it also has the miraculous ability to bring together people who would never normally have met, but who go on to change each other's lives.

Just over a year ago I received an e-mail from a lady called Elizabeth. She wrote this:

....I'm drinking a bottle of 12.5% red wine a night and would love to be one of those 'normal' one glass with dinner people, but I'm an all or nothing girl. When I smoked, I smoked 30 a day. Now I haven't touched a cigarette for 11 years but I have another crutch in red wine. I will stop one day and I read your blog every day. So please don't stop blogging because one day will be day one of never again....

I wrote back to Elizabeth, telling her that she sounded exactly like me, and that she'd never regret quitting once she decided that the time was right.

Then, just ten days later, I found The Lump in my left boob. In a bid to try to calm my terror, I wrote about it (see my post: I Need Help). That night I was lying in bed, unable to sleep and I found this e-mail from Elizabeth:

...I have just read today's blog and I really feel for you. I know exactly what you're going through. I found a lump when I was 42 (16 years ago) and it turned out to be cancer....

....what I can tell you is that the waiting is far worse than anything you have to come. The not knowing, the terrifying scenarios that play in your head every single second of the day far out-terrify the outcome...

....I am just one of so very many people thinking of you because you have done so much for so many. if anyone deserves good luck it is you.

I remembered those words over the next few weeks and, you know what? She was absolutely right: the waiting is always the worst.

When it turned out that I wasn't one of the lucky ones, Elizabeth mailed me again, telling me her story in detail, reassuring me that it would all be okay, and ending with these lines: Keep dreaming your dreams because there is a future for you and your lovely family and this is just a blip in that wonderful future.

When I posted from the depths of despair I found a message saying I don't know what to say, because whatever I say won't help while you are in this horrible fog of doubt. All I can tell you is the truth. You are going to be fine. I know this because (a) I've been there and (b) I'm a nurse :-)

Once or twice over those initial weeks I found myself on cancer sites and forums. Within minutes I'd be convinced I was going to die. So I stopped Googling. Instead, almost every day, I'd read one of Elizabeth's wonderful mails. It felt like she was holding my hand across the interweb.

Then, on 30th October last year I said farewell to a chunk of my left boob, and Elizabeth sent me this:

...we find the people we are meant to find, and, as a result, come Friday when you lose a bit of boob I'm going to give up my wine habit....It seems like as good a day as any to rid myself of a bad habit while you rid yourself of bad cells.

Elizabeth and I have mailed each other regularly over the last year, and then a couple of days ago this dropped into my inbox:

I can't believe that it is one year tomorrow that both our lives changed. Had I not pledged to quit drinking on the day of your surgery, I may have slid off the wagon in those early days, but you had been so supportive I couldn't even contemplate failure...

I replied that the support I had given Elizabeth was nothing compared to what she did for me.

The truth is that angels come in all forms, and some of them are wifi enabled and have addiction issues :-)

CONGRATULATIONS, Elizabeth my friend, on one year sober. You are my angel.

Tomorrow I have my check up at the cancer clinic. Please keep your fingers crossed for me. (Unless you're a surgeon on duty - that would be dangerous).

I'm going with a lovely friend (another angel who has dropped everything so that she can hold my hand) and have booked a table for lunch at the ferociously trendy Chiltern Firehouse afterwards.

If I'm going down, I might as well go down in flames....

SM x

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Final Addiction

We've been up in the wilds of Scotland over half term.

A few days ago, I was driving with the three children and the dog down a dual carriageway when a big red warning light flashed up on the dashboard:

WARNING! ENGINE MALFUNCTION

Not what you want to see when you're an hour from home and it's getting dark already.

As well as the ominous warning, I'd lost all power in the accelerator. Even with my foot on the floor I couldn't go faster than fifty miles an hour.

I called Mr SM for moral support.

Now, Mr SM is no mechanic, but he does like to have an opinion, nonetheless.

"Maybe you should try turning it off and on again?" He suggests. This is his go-to solution in his job as an IT whizz.

I harrumphed.

"There's probably something stuck in one of the pipe thingies," he tries. I hang up, angrily, and we manage to limp all the way home, followed by a long queue of angry motorists.

The house in Scotland is in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive for fifteen minutes to find a pint of milk. It would take several hours (in specialist clothing) to walk to the nearest shop. If we were without a car for a day or two, we would be totally stranded.

It struck me then that in the drinking days my primary concern would have been stocking up on booze.

I would have detoured via a supermarket, risked turning off the engine and not being able to start it again, risked being stranded with three children and dog, just to make sure that we didn't run out of Chablis.

One of the very best things about quitting the booze is not having that constant fear of running out. Not having to think the whole time about where (and when) your next drink was coming from.

I remember once arriving, after a very long journey, at a family holiday in France. Our first evening in a gorgeous house by the beach with my parents, brother and our families was ruined by my horror on realising that the local shops were closed and we only had one bottle of wine between six adults.

I was constantly going out of my way, changing routes, upsetting plans to make sure I could get to a shop to stock up on booze supplies. I was the same with cigarettes, back in the smoking days.

But now? Now, so long as I have the basic human needs - food, water, shelter, warmth and love - I can be completely happy and relaxed. And that's freedom.

Oh, and my iPhone, obvs. With good wifi connection.

The internet: my final addiction.

By the way, when we got home I turned the car engine off, then turned it on again to check that it would still fire up. The warning had disappeared, as had any problem with the acceleration. I took it to a garage to be checked over. Apparently a bit of gunky oil had temporarily caused an engine blockage.

So, turns out something was stuck in one of the pipe thingies and all I'd needed to do was to turn it off and back on again.

Love SM x


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Stiff Upper Lip

Yasmin le Bon has been in the press a lot this week talking about how the strains of juggling a career and motherhood led to her having a breakdown.

Yasmin admitted that, when it all got too much, she would often hide in the bathroom and cry.

Under the same circumstances I would have drunk a bottle of Chablis. It strikes me that Yasmin's reaction is altogether healthier.

But it's not very British. I'm sure it's no co-incidence that the land of the 'stiff upper lip' is also the home of heavy drinking.

The British see crying as a form of - at best - weakness, at worst - mental instability.

When I started work in the early nineties, it was perfectly okay for my boss to quiz me about my sex life, or to pat me on the arse. It was 'banter.'

Another senior director stroked my thigh under the table during one formal dinner. I discovered afterwards that he was doing the same to my friend on the other side. How did he manage to actually eat anything?

All that sort of behaviour was totally acceptable, but one thing I was warned about in no uncertain terms was crying.

I asked one of the (few) female directors for her advice when I first joined. "Never cry in the office," she said. "Your career would be over. If you feel like you're going to cry, go to the loos and whistle. It's physically impossible to cry and whistle simultaneously."

I whistled a fair bit, and drank an awful lot, during my twenty year advertising career, but I never cried. Not once.

Then, exactly a year ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I discovered the miraculous power of crying.

Weeping is nature's pressure valve.

You know those old pressure cookers your Mum used in the seventies? The steam builds up and up until you need to release it with the valve on the top and it makes a really satisfying whooshing sound? That's what crying does.

Last year, the children were on half term and I was getting to grips with the idea that I might not be around to see them grow up. I couldn't cry in front of them, so I would take the dog out for a walk and weep in parks.

One day I was standing alone on Eel Brook Common howling like a banshee when I was spotted by one of the mums from the school playground.

I didn't know this mum well. I didn't even know her name, but I'd always been rather in awe of her. She looks a bit like a rock chick, and at a school where everyone calls their children names like Octavia and Joshua, hers are called Spike and Buster.

Anyhow, she starts walking over to say hello, then realises that I'm falling apart in front of her. She freezes, not sure whether to come over or to escape as quickly as possible.

Understanding how terribly awkward this situation was (for a Brit), I went over to her.

"I'm so sorry," I said, through the howls (another British trait: always apologise for everything, especially if it's not your fault), "I've got breast cancer."

She was utterly lovely and we've been friends ever since (in that building up gradually to eventually meeting up for coffee way that the British make friends).

Anyhow, my point is: CRYING IS AWESOME. And it really works.

So, next time you're finding life just too overwhelming and you can't turn to booze to take the edge off, have a damn good weep instead. Much more effective.

Love SM x

P.S. Check out a fab new blogger I've come across: www.sobersphere.blogspot.com

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Phil Collins and 'Mid-Life' Drinking

The prevailing wisdom about alcoholism seems to be that it is a disease that you are born with (or not).

Therefore, you're either an alcoholic, in which case you can never drink 'normally', or (like the vast majority of people) you're not, in which case you can quaff away as much as you like without ever getting into trouble.

But that's not what I see in this blog, or in the e-mails I get from readers.

There are many women I've come across who have always had a dysfunctional relationship with booze, who have been aware from the moment they had their first taste of alcohol that the way they drink is not like other people.

However, I also hear from a huge number of people (like me) who drank 'normally' for years, decades even, only to find that in the forties or fifties it bites them in the arse.

So, I say hurrah for Phil Collins, who has recently published his memoir which led to this headline in the Telegraph yesterday: Phil Collins and the rise of mid-lifers drinking their way to oblivion.

I've always been fond of Phil Collins. For a start there's that awesome drum solo in 'In the Air Tonight.'

Also, I remember watching his video for 'You Can't Hurry Love' on Top of the Pops with my Mum. He used a particularly avant guarde technique which meant there were three identical images of him on screen simultaneously.

"Oh, I like this band," says my Mum. "Who are they?"

"The Collins Triplets," I replied. For years afterwards my Mum referred to 'those nice Collins triplets', which cracked me and my brother up every time.

Anyhow, Phil says "I stopped work because I wanted to be a dad at home. As bad luck would have it, as soon as I retired, my family split up. I didn't have anyone to go home to. That's why I started drinking."

"It took me until the age of 55 to become an alcoholic. I got through the heady 1960s, the trippy 1970s, the imperial 1980s, the busy 1990s. I was retired, content, and then I fell. Because I suddenly had too much time on my hands."

I've heard that story time and time again. Many of my readers drank perfectly happily until redundancy, divorce, bereavement or caring for a special needs child tipped them over the edge.

For me it was just that peculiar mix of stress and boredom that comes with being a stay at home mum.

Phil started with a glass of wine in the afternoons while watching the cricket. Gradually that turned into a couple of bottles, then vodka at breakfast time and, eventually, he was hospitalised with pancreatitis and nearly died.

The Telegraph article cites a major study of more than 9,000 people published last summer which concluded that drinking among the over-50s had become a hidden “middle class” phenomenon, and the higher somebody’s income the more at risk they are.

The number of over 65s admitted to hospitals in England and Wales for alcohol related disorders increased by 40 per cent between 2007 and 2014.

Research commissioned by a lottery funded scheme to reduce alcohol related issues in the over 50s found 17 per cent of them class themselves as “increasing risk drinkers”. 40 per cent blamed it on retirement, 26 per cent on bereavement and 20 per cent on a loss of sense of purpose.

Those aged between 55 and 64 are the most likely to die an alcohol related death. Often these are people who would never class themselves as 'alcoholics' but who have shared a bottle of wine over dinner every night for twenty years or more.

Hopefully, articles like this (click here to read the full text) will encourage more people like us to find help and to turn their lives around.

So, thank you, Collins triplets. You still rock. All of you.

Love SM x

Friday, 14 October 2016

Meh

For the last week or so I've been feeling a bit meh.

I think this is partly triggered by breast cancer awareness month.

It makes me want to yell, like a crazy person, "I am already effing AWARE. It's exactly a year since I got it, I've got a cancer check up in the diary that I can't stop fretting about and I do not need your silly PINK RIBBONS in order to remember breast cancer. In fact, I could do with forgetting all about it, so eff off with your fundraising t-shirts and bake sales."

But that wouldn't be very nice.

The quicksand of meh has not been helped by Mr SM and the children pointing out, somewhat gleefully, that the lady who threaded my eyebrows last weekend must have been drinking (oh, the irony), because one eyebrow is higher than the other - permanently cocked in surprise.

This means that whatever anyone says to me, my face replies with a rudely sardonic "oh, really?"

I have a sarcastic resting face.

I am trying to even out my errant brows with tweezers, but am mindful of the occasion when I was at boarding school and offered to trim a friend's waist length hair. I tried to take an inch off, but it ended up shorter on one side than the other. So I cut more off. This time it veered in the opposite direction.

Needless to say, she ended up with a bob. A wonky bob. I tried to convince her it was very Depeche Mode. She cried.

Perhaps this is karma?

In the old days I would have drunk my way through the meh. But this time I am being helped by something a reader sent me a few weeks ago. She said that whenever she felt bleurgh she'd remember this quote by George Denslow (who was bipolar):

Honour your rhythm.

We all have natural rhythms, but heavy drinking masks them, and after decades of drinking we become totally oblivious to them, stuck in a permanent fug.

Our moods are affected by many things, often beyond our control - hormones, the weather, our sleep patterns and so on.

We are so used to self medicating that we forget that it is okay to feel sad sometimes. It passes. Recognise it, honour it, then sit with it until it moves on.

I've found that two things help:

Exercise - especially out doors, ideally surrounded by nature, even better with a dog, best of all with a dog and a friend, and a doggy friend for your dog.

Then, the opposite: hibernating. Wrapping up warm, clutching a hot chocolate and going to bed super early with a good book.

And, after a few days of doing just that, my meh is clearing.

This is helped by the fact that I've got the painters in.

(That's not a euphemism - I really do have the painters in).

For the last few years the front of my house has looked like a sad, neglected, middle aged lady, covered in cracks and blemishes.

Now she looks years younger. All bright eyed, clear skinned and optimistic.

If only they could do the same for me....

Happy Friday everyone!

SM x



Sunday, 9 October 2016

Alcohol and Nicotine

Looking back now at my addiction to vino, it strikes me how identical it was to my addiction to nicotine.

And, funnily enough, my old smoker friends, who were also hooked on a packet a day (at least), are the exact same ones struggling with booze now.

What about those really annoying 'social smokers' (Mr SM was one of these) who'd steal one of your last, precious, Marlboro Lights at a party*, then not smoke for days?

(*Known in 1980s England as 'bumming a fag'. That's an expression that doesn't translate well to American).

They're the ones who slowly savour one glass of wine with dinner then stop. Happily. Damn their eyes.

The last smoking years were much like the final years of drinking: I tried again and again to quit, sometimes only lasting a day or two, sometimes weeks or months.

I, once, managed to quit for a whole year, decided I'd cracked it and could live life henceforth happily as a moderate, 'social' smoker. Ho Ho. Two weeks later and I was back on thirty a day.

I wasn't enjoying my habit any longer - it was making me cough, it was making me smell, and my nails, teeth and skin were turning yellow. I hated myself for my lack of willpower.

But the main reason I knew I had to quit smoking was that it had started messing with my head.

I would leave parties early and walk for miles to find a twenty-four hour garage selling cigarettes, rather than stay without my smokes.

I would wrap up a client meeting early on some feeble excuse so that I could squash the edgy feeling. I would avoid any no-smoking restaurants like the plague. I was very cautious about actually making friends with a non-smoker.

Is this ringing any bells? Because that's exactly how I was, by the end, with booze.

And quitting the ciggies was just like quitting booze: a few weeks of uncomfortable, bordering on unbearable, physical withdrawal, followed by months of feeling edgy, obsessed and not knowing what to do with my hands.

I didn't know how to deal with stress, fear, boredom, celebration - anything - without lighting up.

But, instead of replacing my trusty smokes with something healthy like exercise, mindfulness or yoga, I found something altogether easier and more familiar: WINE!

Oh, the irony.

There is, however, one huge difference between my two favourite addictions: other people.

When I quit smoking everyone understood. They all - even the avid smokers like myself - knew that cigarettes were evil, that they were killing us.

No-one thought that I was weird and had a problem - they understood that I'd just been trapped (like millions of others) by a highly addictive drug.

There's loads of help out there for the quitting smoker - the encouragement of friends and family, free support groups, hypnotherapy, patches, gum, inhalers, e-cigs.

Nobody expects you to huddle anonymously in church halls berating yourself and blaming your situation on a disease.

But here's the good news: now I look at smokers and I don't envy them at all. Not even the tiniest bit. I think you poor, poor fellows. If only you knew how much simpler, healthier and more peaceful life is without the tyranny of nicotine...

....and I'm starting to feel the same way about booze, too.

Maybe, one day, society will support and cheer the quitting drinker in the same was as the quitting smoker.

Alcohol and nicotine - they are just the same.

Love SM x


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Mothers

I don't think you ever properly appreciate your own mother until you have children of your own.

It's then that you realise how much she did for you. All those grazes kissed, tantrums diffused, stories read. And now that #1 is nearly a teenager, I am in awe of how pitch perfect my Mum was through all those difficult years (most of the time).

Looking back, she seemed to know exactly when to let me make my own mistakes, when to intervene with a guiding hand and when to keep her counsel, however hard that might have been.

Over the last few weeks I've been telling a handful of people about this blog, and the possible book. They've all been amazing - really supportive and genuinely enthusiastic (although I have, I think, chosen my audiences wisely).

But I have not told my Mum.

Then, last week, Mum, #1 and I went out for lunch together. Three generations of women, bound by genetics and by love, but very different in so many ways.

We're all happily slurping our ramen when #1 pipes up with "I'm so proud of my Mummy. She's had two agents call her about her book."

Silence.

"Ah yes," I said, cautiously, "It's non fiction. I'll tell you all about it if it actually comes off."

My mother looks me firmly in the eye and says "I hope you're using a pseudonym?"

"I don't think I can, Mum," I reply, "as the publishers will expect me to do lots of publicity. You know, Woman's Hour, Loose Women, that sort of thing."

"Mmmm," she replies as we all stare into our bowls of noodles, and we do what we always do when there's an uncomfortable atmosphere: we change the subject.

And now this is making me think she must know already. Why else would she ask if I was using a pseudonym? I might be publishing a book about knitting, or fairy cakes.

When we were in Cornwall last year I told her I was writing a blog, because she'd accused me (jokingly, I think) of having an affair, as I kept sneaking off to use the laptop and closing the lid when anyone approached.

Did she track me down?

MUM, ARE YOU READING THIS?

Love SM x

Friday, 30 September 2016

Flashbacks

It's almost exactly a year since my cancer diagnosis (see my post: I Need Help) and even the most innocuous things that happen at this time of the year have the ability to plunge me right back into that hellhole.

The slight chill in the air, the darker mornings, displays of pumpkins in the shops, any date with '10' in it, planning for half term; all bring back memories of stomach churning dread in the cancer clinic waiting rooms, lying awake all night planning the music for my funeral and having to tell the children that "Mummy has cancer."

On top of that, I've been re-living the last of the drinking days, and the hell of the early not-drinking days, as I've been writing The Book.

But all of this churning up of the past has a purpose:

When you have cancer you constantly tell yourself that if you are ever blessed with good health again you will no longer take it for granted. You promise never, ever to moan about the insignificant and to count your blessings every day. Yada, yada, Pollyanna.

Then, a few months later and you're back to cursing at the weather, the PTA and the demise of Bake Off as we know it. You forget to say hurrah for being alive and surrounded by the people I love.

So, these reminders are timely ones.

My amnesia about the drinking days is similar, but more dangerous.

After nineteen months of no booze I am feeling totally normal (well as normal as I'll ever be). The dark days seem so far away that it's hard to believe they were real. Our brains are hard wired to hang on to the rose tinted memories and bury anything unpleasant.

It's so easy, even after years of sobriety, to listen to that voice that says hey, you were never that bad! Drinking was FUN! What are you worrying about, you big girl's blouse?

The more 'cured' you become, the more precarious your situation.

It's no wonder studies show that between 50% and 90% of people relapse after a period of recovery.

That's why AA have The Rooms to which people return for years, decades, after they quit in order to re-live their rock bottoms, and to hear the stories of others.

It's also why I, and many like me, are still blogging and reading other sober blogs long after we've quit, because hugging those memories close is crucial.

So, if you're recently sober, or thinking of taking the plunge, then write it down.

Document how you feel in lurid, livid detail. List all those reasons why you're waking up at 3am every morning thinking this has to stop. Start a blog, or a diary, write a letter to your future self.

One day that piece of paper, or blog post, may be the thing that saves you.

Happy sober Saturday!

SM x


Monday, 26 September 2016

Kristi Coulter

We're used to all those funny memes about drinking going viral on Facebook - little jokes about wine o'clock and MummyJuice.

Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can....and wine to accept the things I cannot.

Etcetera, ad infinitum.

But this summer an article went viral about not drinking. Halleluiah! Perhaps the tide is turning.

You may have seen it. It cropped up on my Facebook newsfeed and was sent to me by a couple of lovely readers who'd also spotted it. It's by Kristi Coulter and has the (not so pithy) title: Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink.

Click here to read it. It's very funny and very true.

Kristi's article also reminded me of a truth about quitting booze: like bereavement you go through several stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. When Kristi wrote her piece she was definitely at the angry stage.

She's angry about being surrounded by booze, and mentions of booze, all the time. She's angry with all the demands we women place on ourselves, the compromises we're forced to accept and the fact that - as a result - we end up self medicating with alcohol.

Kristi asks:

Is it really that hard, being a First World woman? Is it really so tough to have the career and the spouse and the pets and the herb garden and the core strengthening and the oh-I-just-woke-up-like-this makeup and the face injections and the Uber driver who might possibly be a rapist?

Is it so hard to work ten hours for your rightful 77% of a salary, walk home past a drunk who invites you to suck his cock, and turn on the TV to hear the men who run this country talk about protecting you from abortion regret by forcing you to grow children inside your body?

I mean, what’s the big deal? Why would anyone want to soften the edges of this glorious reality?...

.....Is there nothing so inherently absorbing or high-stakes or pleasurable that we won’t try to alter our natural response to it?

Maybe women are so busy faking it — to be more like a man at work, more like a porn star in bed, more like 30 at 50 — that we don’t trust our natural responses anymore.

Maybe all that wine is an Instagram filter for our own lives, so we don’t see how sallow and cracked they’ve become.

She has a point. Several points, actually. All a bit shouty, but very pertinent.

Kristi's theory - that we drink to take the edges off the lives we have made far too hard for ourselves - has implications for when we quit.

Firstly, at least in the early days, you have to give yourself a break. The definition of madness is trying to do everything the same and expecting a different result.

Take all those chores, tasks, situations and people that make you want to reach for the bottle and just....cross them off the list for a while. No-one's going to die (unless you're an ambulance driver).

Have early nights or, if you can, afternoon naps. Let the diet and the gym go to hell (unless you find them helpful). Buy yourself presents.

And, secondly, if you no longer have booze as the quick, easy, catch-all relaxant, you need to find something to replace it.

We all find our thing. It might be mindfulness, meditation, yoga, running, colouring, knitting, gardening or writing. Or something else. Anything else.

Gradually, you'll find ways of adding that Instagram filter to your life which are life enhancing, not soul destroying.

And then, like Kristi, you'll find that you've made it to the other side. Here's how she describes a recent outing with her friend Mindy, also in recovery:

On Sunday morning we’re reading by the deep end of the hotel pool when the shallow end starts to fill with women, a bridal party to judge by what we overhear.

And we overhear a lot, because they arrive already tipsy and the pomegranate mimosas — pomegranate is a superfood! one woman keeps telling the others — just keep coming until that side of the pool seems like a Greek chorus of women who have major grievances with their bodies, faces, children, homes, jobs, and husbands but aren’t going to do anything about any of it but get loaded and sunburned in the desert heat.

I give Mindy the look that women use to say do you believe this shit? with only a slight tightening of the eyeballs.

The woman on the other side of her catches the look and gives it back to me over her laptop, and then woman next to her joins in too. We engage in a silent four-way exchange of dismay, irritation, and bitchiness, and it is wonderful.

Then Mindy slides her Tom Ford sunglasses back over her eyes and says, “All I can say is it’s really nice on this side of the pool.”

I laugh and my heart swells against my swimsuit and I pull my shades down too, to keep my suddenly watery eyes to myself.

Because it is. It is so nice on this side of the pool, where the book I’m reading is a letdown and my legs look too white and the ice has long since melted in my glass and work is hard and there’s still no good way to be a girl and I don’t know what to do with my life and I have to actually deal with all of that.

I never expected to make it to this side of the pool. I can’t believe I get to be here.

I can't believe I get to be here either.

Thank you, Kristi,

Love SM x

Friday, 23 September 2016

Reunions

One of the (many) miracles that has occurred since I quit drinking is the number of old friends who have reappeared in my life.

These are friends I'd thought lost for ever, who I hadn't seen or heard from for twenty or thirty years and yet, through a series of chance encounters and coincidences, they are back, and this time I'm hanging on.

It's awesome. I feel like an battered old jigsaw puzzle that for decades has had a few key pieces missing, but gradually they're being slotted back into place.

The latest of these lost friends is V. We were great mates at Cambridge University. We did the May Balls, punting and double dates. We got each other through the trauma of Finals. We went on holiday together. And yet, just a few years after we graduated, we totally lost touch.

Looking back, it was entirely my fault.

The last time we saw each other properly was at V's flat. She'd invited me to a dinner party with her and her boyfriend (now husband), and about five other guests.

I'd just started dating a man (boy?) who I was totally besotted by. He wanted me to join him and some other friends in a nightclub in Notting Hill. He kept calling me on my newly acquired mobile 'phone (they were a rare and miraculous thing in those days). I kept leaving the dinner table, mid conversation, to take his calls.

As soon as dinner was finished, perhaps before, I hotfooted it to the club. I barely said goodbye. I'm quite sure I never sent a thank you letter.

The truth is I was far too caught up in a whirlwind of booze, romance and danger, and V, with her steady relationship, serious career and grown up life, just wasn't on my wavelength.

Needless to say, she didn't call me again. I don't think I even noticed until a year or two had passed by. Then I shrugged and moved on.

I know what you're thinking: I was not a very nice person. I agree.

Anyhow, another old University friend who I've re-met recently, and who has rapidly become one of my besties all over again, bumped into V last weekend, and she's invited me round for tea.

To be honest, had I received this invitation back in the drinking days I would have been terrified. I probably wouldn't have gone.

I loathed seeing people I'd not seen for years. I hated the way their eyes would widen involuntarily before they had a chance to manage the outward displays of the shock of seeing me two stone heavier.

I was conscious of the fact that I'd always been a hugely optimistic, ambitious live wire, yet now I.... wasn't. I was depressed and bitter.

But now? I'm thrilled. I can't wait to catch up.

Incredibly, I'm back to my university weight, so look more like my old self than I have for decades. No more embarrassing silences followed by "You look really.... well." (Code for: "You look a bit.... fat.")

(See my post: Reasons to Quit Drinking #1: Weight Loss)

And, more importantly, I've rediscovered my joie de vivre. In short, I am me again.

I'm also a much better friend. The last year has really taught me the value of strong friendships and I'm not messing up this time.

So hurrah! And happy sober weekends to you all!

SM x


Sunday, 18 September 2016

Make Life Easy

I'm quite sure that part of the reason we mums end up so reliant on booze is that we put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly.

We have to make cakes for the school bake sale, help our kids turn in the best possible school project, cook organic food from scratch and look vaguely presentable for the school run.

We run ourselves ragged taking kids to playdates and after school activities and, on top of all that, many of us are also trying to hold down high pressure jobs or, at least, trying to find some way to earn enough money to cover the housekeeping.

I just received an e-mail from a fabulous lady I met through this blog, J. She said:

I get fed up with the endless school requests, usually sent the day before. 

"Please send your child in wearing yellow for Roald Dahl day". I don't have four effing yellow t-shirts!  "Please send your child in tomorrow wearing a pirate costume". Thanks for the notice!  

Not to mention the mummy WhatsApp groups. "Who would like to help me run the name-the-bear stall?"

I think I am getting cynical in my old age, but some of those PTA mums just need to get stoned and have sex.

I laughed so much that the coffee I was drinking came out of my nose.

So, here's a plea from me: Give yourself a break.

Buy the fancy dress costumes off Amazon (they do great, incredibly cheap, costumes for all occasions - just make sure the kids don't go near any naked flames), get the cakes from the supermarket, decant them into a Tupperware box and 'distress' them a little. No-one will know. And keep the after school clubs to a minimum - your children will love you for it.

One of the (few) upsides of getting breast cancer was being able to turn down all the requests from the PTA. "So sorry, can't help with the second-hand uniform sale. I have cancer." Works like a dream. (Not that I'd recommend it).

And here's my favourite new discovery:

I always wanted to be the kind of mum who does lots of home baking. It's taken me twelve years of motherhood to accept that that's just not me. Then last week came across COOKIE DOUGH (I buy Mo's chocolate chip).

It's awesome!

You keep it in the fridge, then cut it into 1cm disks, stick 'em in the oven for 8 minutes and voila! Your house smells of baking and you have a tray of yummy, warm, 'home baked' cookies without any hassle and minimal washing up.

So please, please let's all try to stop being so damn perfect. It's enough to drive anyone to drink...

Love SM x

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Apologies!

I'm sorry I've been posting so infrequently.

I promised my (potential) agent that I'll have written the first 7,000 words of The Book in eight days time.

What this means is that I've been re-living - in graphic detail - my last day of drinking, and first few days of not drinking.

I've been remembering the despair, the self hatred and the fear, followed by the utter exhaustion, headaches and obsession.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure how I did it.

But, here's the truth: You only have to go through it once. And it's a very short period of time compared to the rest of your life.

So, if you're still unsure about whether or not you can do it then please believe me when I say that if I could, then so can you.

If you'd like to read my story from the beginning, then click here. Or wait for the book...

(I'm not sure if it's actually going to happen. I'm kind of terrified that it might, but terrified that it won't. Either way, I'm terrified).

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Alcohol and Food

Food has always been my favourite thing (after booze, obviously). And the two things are as tightly entwined as Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston.

(Oops. Scrap that last bit. Hiddleswift are, apparently, no more. They are Hiddleswhistory).

I remember when Mr SM and I walked into the flat that was going to become our first shared home.

It was the kitchen that sealed the deal. It had a beautiful, curved, floor to ceiling window looking out onto a large, shared garden. I had a vivid picture of myself standing at the range oven, preparing Sunday lunch for a group of friends, clutching a generous glass of red wine.

And, boy, did I make that dream a reality. Many, many glasses of red wine while cooking, while eating, while clearing up.

I do hold Keith Floyd partly responsible. He, you may remember, was the drunken TV chef who made you feel that if you weren't boozing while you were cooking you weren't properly throwing yourself into the whole experience.

(I did, in fact, spend some very memorable, drunken, time with Keith Floyd. To read more click here).

It's not just cooking that is a major trigger for me, it's eating too.

I've always loved restaurants. Mr SM and I have done the rounds of most of London's best (and worst) eateries over the years, spending hours over meals that became increasingly rowdy.

There'd be aperitifs, white wine with the fish, red wine with the meat, digestifs, raucous laughter and, sometimes, booze fuelled arguments.

I get many e-mails about food, from readers, like me, who can't imagine cooking, or going out for dinner, without alcohol.

My advice is to make life easy for yourself. It's just not possible, at least initially, to carry on life exactly as it was, only without the drink. You have to change your routines for a while, or it's too hard.

So, for about three months, I stopped cooking in the evening. I'd feed the children (and myself) early, and I'd leave Mr SM something in the fridge to re-heat when he got home.

I know it's not ideal, and I'm sure he missed our shared evening meals as much as I did, but it was the only way I could manage.

It took a while, but now my love of cooking is back. I'm just (well, almost) as happy dancing round the kitchen to great music and clutching a lime and soda as I was getting slowly sozzled on the vino.

(And I'm much less likely to forget a key ingredient or burn something to a crisp).

But restaurants I still find hard.

I still love eating out, it's just the waiting around that drives me crazy. Hours (it feels like), sitting at a table, toying with the cutlery, waiting for your food to arrive, or playing with an empty water glass while waiting for the bill.

These days I prefer to catch a quick meal before going to see a movie, or a play. Eat, pay, leave, do something else.

I find Chinese or Thai meals easier than western ones. Lots of little dishes to play with, and the fabulous ritual of pouring tea into those dinky china cups. Plenty of things to do with your hands (hurrah for chopsticks!), and less time spent staring at starched, white tablecloths.

I don't think this restaurant phobia is forever. It is, like everything else, getting easier. I can happily sit at a table for an hour now - it's just that by two hours I'm feeling really twitchy. By three hours I want to stick a fork in the waiter's eye.

Baby steps....

Happy sober Saturday everyone.

SM x



Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Hurrah for Gin

Finally, after eight whole weeks of summer madness, the kids go back to school today.

I'm up stupidly early in anticipation.

The uniforms are laid out and labelled. Pencil cases are stocked with newly sharpened pencils, pristine erasers and unblemished protractors.

I've shaken the sand out of their ears, blasted stubborn verruccas (my spell check thinks this should be verrucae) off their feet and had their hair cut.

We are good to go.

When I quit work after #3 was born, nearly eight years ago, I thought I'd be the perfect Mum.

The house would be filled with fresh flowers and the aroma of cup cakes baking. It'd be craft tables, not TV, laughter filled outings to museums and perfectly delivered introductions with eye contact.

How the Gods must have chuckled.

Instead, I was sucked into an exhausting Groundhog day of wiping orifices, peeling dried spaghetti and Rice Krispies off floors and ceilings and dealing with tantrums, all set to the soundtrack of The Wiggles and punctuated with endless re-readings of the Gruffalo.

So I totally get the latest trend (spearheaded by the movie Bad Moms) for tales of 'imperfect mothers.'

According to the Sunday Times, this Christmas's bestseller is going to be one of these, titled Hurrah for Gin.

Hurrah for Gin is based on a blog written by a 26 year old Mum of two who's on maternity leave from her job in advertising.

It's exactly the book I would have written ten years ago (when I was also in advertising and on maternity leave with a toddler and a baby). And it struck me that it's like the prequel to this blog.

(Except my book would be titled Hurrah for Chablis. My only saving grace was not having developed a taste for spirits).

And the title is perfect. Because when you're in the trenches of motherhood, alcohol provides those much needed oases of calm.

For me, a glass of wine could put the zing into a late afternoon playdate with a girlfriend, and the zen into post children's bed time. At the end of a long, frazzled day I could pour a glass of wine, dance around the kitchen and think yeah, baby, she's still got it.

But the problem with relying on vino, or gin, to relax, to de-stress, to feel adult, is that one day - maybe a decade down the line - you find that you can't relax, de-stress or feel adult without it.

And that's when you stop reading Hurrah for Gin! and start reading Mummy was a Secret Drinker.

So I do rather worry about yet another book which normalises relying on an addictive drug to get through the realities of everyday life. After all, I am the cautionary tale.

Love SM.

P.S. If you'd like a male perspective on all of this, then click here to check out my new friend, Makeittea.

And thank you, Makeittea, for your incredibly generous donation to my Justgiving page for breast cancer support (www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sober-mummy).