Saturday, 30 January 2016

Days 30-100

Tomorrow is the end of January.

This means that many of you will be on or around day 30. Perhaps you only intended to quit for one month, and you're already gearing up for a humdinger of a party?

DON'T DO IT!

30 days is awesome work, but you've only just scratched the surface of all the benefits you get from staying sober. This is not it. You have to keep going....

I thought you might like a guide to the next phase: Days 30-100, and I'm hoping that my readers who've been through it already will chip in with their wisdom in the comments section below. So, here goes:

Days 30-100

First off, HUGE CONGRATULATIONS! You've done the first month, and it's by far the most physically gruelling.

By now, I hope, you're sleeping like a baby, and your energy levels are improving. Maybe, now there are no hangovers, you're learning to love mornings again?

You probably haven't lost much weight yet (sugar cravings, anyone?), but I bet you LOOK different. Bright eyed, dewy skinned, less puffy.

Maybe the cravings are getting a bit better too - probably just as powerful, but less frequent. Once a day, rather than all day.

By now you're detoxed. Your liver is doing high fives and thanking you profusely. You are all sparkly and clean.

But now, I'm afraid, the hard work begins.....

Because days 30-100 are all about introspection. Endless naval gazing. The asking of all those big questions like how did I end up in this mess? Who am I (without alcohol)? Who was I (before alcohol)? Where do I want to be? How the hell do I get there?

If, like me, you're British, then the idea of any form of self analysis is anathema. My response to any big LIFE questions was "Pass the bottle!"

It is horribly uncomfortable for all of us life-avoiders, but it's inevitable when you strip your comfort blankets away, and you'll come out the other side a stronger, better and more aware person.

(For more about how this all feels, from when I was going through it, click here)

The other big theme of days 30-100 is learning to deal with fear and anxiety.

Up to day 30, you're so far down in the trenches, and the cravings come so thick and fast, that it's difficult to see any pattern.

But now you'll start to see that there are some major triggers, and the biggies are fear and anxiety.

We get so used to dealing with these uncomfortable emotions by blotting them out that we forget how to cope with them. And if you spend long enough avoiding coping with fear, you find - eventually - that you've completely lost your courage.

Days 30-100 are about tackling fear and anxiety (and all the other nasty emotions like envy, self doubt, boredom, etc) without any props, but in doing so you will, slowly, slowly find your courage returning, and - with it - your self respect.

(For more on this, from my Day 77, click here)

So, once you've done all the introspection and all the dealing with bad stuff sober, you also have to cope with other people.

It's normal for the first month (especially if it's January) to hunker down and not go out much. And if people ask you about your 'not drinking' you can shrug off the question easily - you're detoxing/having a month off/Dry January etc.

But, eventually, you have to start socialising again.

This one takes a while. I still don't have quite the same level of anticipation about social events, but it's gradually coming back.

My advice, and it's controversial, for the early days is to fake it till you make it. The last thing you need when you're still feeling fragile is to have someone grilling you about why you can't have 'just one.'

So I suggest you lie (I'm driving/on antibiotics/detoxing) or fake (drink virgin cocktails, let them fill your wine glass and don't touch it) for a while.

I realise that this is not ideal, but the truth is society is really screwed up about alcohol, and we non drinkers are made to feel like the ones with the problem, not the addicts still quaffing away.

For more on how to cope with, and actually enjoy, partying sober read: Sober Mummy's Party Survival Guide.

Over the next sixty days, you'll find that you get fewer and fewer cravings, but when they do hit they're almost harder to deal with because they're from left field. You're not expecting them.

This phase really is a rollercoaster. You'll have wonderful, pink cloudy days of real euphoria, and some days of despair. That's perfectly normal.

It's known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), and you can read more about it here.

It's all a bit like my favourite children's book: Going on a Lion Hunt:

You can't go over it, you can't go under it, you've got to go through it.

But, after all those ups and downs and insides and outsides you'll find yourself gradually shedding off all those ugly duckling feathers, and one day you'll catch your reflection in the pond and you'll think "Why, I'm a swan!"

By Day 100 it won't be so hard anymore. And you'll be braver, slimmer, nicer, a better parent. Your life will be easier, more fulfilled, and going somewhere.

So keep going, bird by bird, until you find your inner swan.

Love SM x

Friday, 29 January 2016

Money, Money, Money

Today is a very bad day.

I have to file my tax return. Isn't it funny how the first 100 days of staying sober go so slowly, and yet the twelve months between one tax return and the next scoot by like a Russian athlete on steroids?

I particularly resent the hours and hours it takes me to sort out all my tax paperwork and fill in the online forms, because my paltry income barely makes it above the tax threshold. Endless angst for a mere molecule in a drop, in the vast ocean of HMRCs tax receipts.

I remember doing my return last year. I decided to 'celebrate' part way through with a glass or two of vino. Needless to say, that didn't help much.

The other thing I remember about last year, is that I started January, as per usual, with a bank balance of, approximately, zero.

The excesses of Christmas had totally wiped me out. So, by the end of January I was well into my overdraft facility. By the time I'd paid the tax I owed, I was four thousand pounds overdrawn.

It took me months (and begging the husband for an emergency hand out) to get me anywhere near the black again.

My attitude to finances is very mature. I have two basic principles: (1) whenever you take cash out and your balance is displayed on screen close your eyes. (2) Towards the end of the month, when you go to withdraw cash, pray to the cash machine Gods and they will, hopefully, continue to provide.

But, yesterday, as I prepared all the numbers for my tax return, I had to wade through months and months of online bank statements, and I noticed an incredible thing.

At the beginning of January this year I was in the black. SOLVENT!

And, even more incredible: at the END of January I am in the black. STILL SOLVENT!

(This won't be the case, obviously, by the time I've paid Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs).

There is only one possible reason for this miracle (my income is down year on year, not up): I have saved a small fortune by not drinking.

Like the weight loss thing, it's happened slowly, slowly, drop by drop. So slowly that I didn't really notice it (plus I had my eyes closed). But, nearly eleven months later, I am approximately THREE THOUSAND POUNDS better off than this time last year.

HALLELUIA!

Yet another fabulous reason to keep going, my friends.

And, by the way, if you're finding Fridays particularly hard right now, then read my post on Fear of Fridays (click here).

Now, back to that blasted tax return....

SM x

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Two Tribes

One thing I've realised after months of reading blogs and e-mails from readers, is that we 'thirsty drinkers' fall into two distinct camps.

There are those of us who describe ourselves as Binge Drinkers, and those who confess (like moi) to being Daily Drinkers.

The two tribes have huge amounts in common. But it's often the differences we focus on, and the existence of the other tribe is, bizarrely, what provides our security blanket and keeps us drinking.

Why?

Well, Binge Drinker looks at Daily Drinker and thinks okay, maybe I did get completely legless at the weekend. I behaved really badly, fell off a table, and have no idea how I got home. But I won't drink again until next weekend. I have self control. I will give my body time to detox. I'm nothing like the daily drinker who just can't stop herself. I don't have a problem.

Meanwhile, Daily Drinker looks at Binge Drinker and thinks okay, maybe I do drink every single day (sometimes at lunch time as well as in the evening). But I never look completely drunk. I don't behave really badly and fall off tables. I have self control. I'm nothing like the crazy binge drinker who just can't stop herself. I don't have a problem.

What we don't realise is that Binge Drinker, over time, has shorter and shorter breaks between the binges until they start to occur almost....daily. While Daily Drinker, over time, drinks more and more each day, until each session starts to resemble....a binge.

Their paths may start off from different places, but they're slowly converging, and they're both heading towards the same destination: rock bottom.

There is a great saying (that I posted elsewhere on this blog, back in the sands of time) that judging others does not define who they are, it defines who you are.

And the truth is that we LOVE to have a tribe to look down on, because it makes us feel better about our own problem.

Funnily enough, the other thing I've noticed is that whichever tribe we start off from, when we quit drinking our experience is exactly the same.

Join the Sober Tribe, peoples.

SM

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Jekyll & Hyde

I received an e-mail yesterday from a lady called M.

M says that she's made some very bad choices, especially with regard to relationships, because of her friend - red wine.

She went on to say: my particular weakness is for over promising and being overly generous with my time, plans and money when I'm drunk, then regretting it bitterly in the morning.

M was wondering whether other people had the same problem (answers below, please!)

This got me thinking.

I was always rather reassured by - proud of even - the fact that I rarely appeared terribly drunk. I had, I expect, a very high tolerance for alcohol by the end.

However, I became increasingly aware of the fact that I turned into a rather different person when I drank. A bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

M's e-mail made me feel rather awful, as M obviously becomes a rather nice and kind person when drunk. Too nice and kind, in fact.

I'm ashamed to admit that my drunken alter ego was not at all like that.

I like to think that I am, by nature, a kind and thoughtful person. I do think kindness and good manners are really important. Yet, when I drank, I became totally thoughtless and self centred.

After a few drinks, I wouldn't just gain in confidence, I'd become totally arrogant. I'd make little effort to be kind or thoughtful to others, and my favourite (only) topic of conversation would be idle (sometimes damaging) gossip about mutual acquaintances.

This really bothered me. You know how they say in vino veritas? Well, I worried that this nasty person who emerged after a few drinks was actually the real me.

Now I know it isn't.

And one of the best things about not drinking is not having to have those awful mornings when the realisation of what you did, said, promised or omitted comes back to you, shameful bit by shameful bit.

So, M, I think it is very common to find that alcohol turns you into a different person, and makes you do things you regret. But at least your Mr Hyde is a really nice guy!

What about the rest of you?

Love SM x

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Are You Struggling? Part 2

I wrote yesterday about how the end of January can be hard. And, I know from your comments and e-mails, that at least a few of you have slipped off the waggon.

If you have, then here's something for you:

I found another Anne Lamott quote, from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Again, she's not talking about drinking, but it's so, so relevant:

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbour's yard (she means GARDEN, English people) every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.

So, if you gave in to the evil wine witch, then don't beat up your inner puppy, just bring it back to the newspaper and keep on going.

There are, however, three thought processes to watch out for (I know this, because I've been through them all. Several times). They go like this:

(1) I only had one glass of wine, and - you know what - I didn't even like it that much! And I STOPPED! AFTER ONE! Halleluiah - I'm CURED!

You are not cured. You may be able to moderate for a while, weeks, maybe even months, BUT eventually you'll be back where you started. In fact, most people find that they end up WORSE than where they started, almost like our addict head is making up for lost time.

But you don't need me to tell you that, because you've tried moderation before, right? Lots of times. You know it doesn't work. Get back on the sober waggon - it's easier and you'll be happier. (See my post: Reasons to Quit Drinking: Because it's easier).

Here's the other one to look out for:

(2) I've blown it now. I may as well let rip. Really get it all out of my system. Then I can quit again. After all, I know I can do it now....

No, no, no. We've all been there. The 'letting rip' bit often ends up going on for months, and it's not easier next time. Actually it's harder, because the whole quitting thing isn't so new and shiny and exciting any more, and there's a little nagging voice in your head saying you flunked last time, and you'll flunk again.

Here's the third one:

(3) I'm weak. I'm bloody useless. I KNEW I couldn't do this, and it's true. My life is doomed, and the only way I can cope with all this terrible failure is to drink....

NO! You CAN do it! But you're human. It's difficult. Don't drop kick the puppy. Forgive it. Pat it on the head and try again. You know it'll learn eventually.

A while ago I wrote a post called 'Potholes in the Road' (click here). You haven't failed. It's just a pothole in the road. Next time you'll know it's there and you'll walk round it. Eventually, you'll find another street....

Keep on keeping on, people. We're all in it together.

Love SM x

Monday, 25 January 2016

Are You Struggling?

I read somewhere that the third weekend in January is the one where most New Year's Resolutions fail.

It's easy to see why.

To start with you're all fired up with energy and enthusiasm. And however hard it is, it's all a bit of a novelty at least.

Then, three weeks later, it's still hard, and the novelty's worn off. All you can see stretching ahead of you is a lifetime of denial, and you're thinking is this it? Surely making it to (nearly) the end of January is enough. I can't be expected to do this forever!

Well, I found a fabulous story from a lady called Anne Lamott which may help you. She's the author of a book called 'Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.'

Anne tells a tale about her older brother, aged ten at the time (about the same age as #2).

Anne's brother had been asked to do a project on birds. He was given three months to work on it, so it was obviously expected to be a pretty comprehensive study.  However, just like #2 would do in the same situation, he had left it until the last minute.

It was the night before the project was due in, and the little boy was sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by empty sheets of paper, sharpened pencils and unopened reference books about birds.

He was totally paralysed by the enormity of the task ahead of him. It seemed insurmountable.

Then, Anne's father sat down next to his son, put an arm round his shoulder, and said "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

Anne wrote that story to help people get over writer's block, but realised that it applies to many situations in life. I think it's particularly relevant to us.

So, if that's how you're feeling, and the enormity of the task ahead has suddenly hit, and you're feeling overwhelmed, then don't think about the whole damn project. Just deal with one bird at a time....

....then after about 100 days worth of individual birds - from tiny hummingbirds, to huge, aggressive eagles, you find that the project is looking amazing. It's nearly finished!

You can't believe how much you achieved. You never thought it was possible. In fact, you're feeling so good about it that you decide to keep going, to see what else you can achieve.

And about six months after you started, not only is the whole bird project not at all daunting, but you realise that it's actually become your passion, your raison d'etre, an innate part of you. This is what you want for the rest of your life.

You put the books down, run into the street and shout "I'm going to be an ornithologist!" Or maybe a pilot? Or an aviation engineer. Whatever, the point is you're no longer afraid, and your whole life has changed.

That's why you mustn't give up. Just take it bird by bird.

Love SM

P.S. If you did fall off the waggon this weekend, then look out for my post tomorrow, for more wise words from Anne Lamott.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Karmic Circle of Love

Thank you, thank you to all of you who so kindly donated your hard earned cash to The Haven and joined my karmic circle of love. As of this morning, the total stands at just over £1000.

That's awesome.

I was reminded again that ex drinkers are some of the best, kindest and most extraordinary human beings.

(See my post: Why ex-drinkers rock and Why ex-drinkers rock, part 2)

The Haven are a small charity, so that sort of cash makes a real difference. £1000 will fund two years supply of acupuncture needles, or twenty hours of counselling sessions for women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

If you haven't donated yet, or if you're coming across this page months into the future, then do not worry: I am going to leave the page open, so anyone who feels the need to give back, or pay it forward, or whatever, can do so at any time.

(Just Giving pass your donations directly onto The Haven, they don't just sit in a holding account).

They, and I, and The Universe will be phenomenally grateful. Here's the link again: www.justgiving.com/sober-mummy

So, yesterday evening, I was feeling all hyped and fuzzy from seeing the total on my JustGiving page going up and up, and I checked my e-mail.

There was an e-mail from someone called Jeremy. He told me that he's been battling addiction since he was thirteen, (not sure how old he is now!), and had written a song which he thought I might like to hear, and possibly share.

To be honest, I was going to ignore it, but will all the karmic love circle stuff going on that felt a bit mean, so I clicked on his link - more with a sense of duty than anticipation. More fool me, because it's just lovely.

The song is just Jeremy and his guitar.

I was immediately transported back to my backpacking days. Remember when you'd end up in some far flung corner of the world, with a bunch of fellow travellers you'd never met before, but with whom you shared a sense of adventure and a yearning for a hot bath and a washing machine?

You'd all sit around a camp fire, exchanging tales of bus journeys from hell, and spiritual awakenings. Then someone would pull out a battered guitar, start to strum, and you'd think why oh why did I waste all those years learning the bloody oboe?

But Jeremy's isn't the voice of the young, naïve gap year student - it's the voice of someone who's been over that Obstacle course a number of times, and lived to tell the tale (see my post: The Obstacle Course).

Have a listen here to his song called Help Someone, and see what you think.

Happy sober Sunday to you all!

SM x






Friday, 22 January 2016

Giving Back

Most of us 'over-enthusiastic drinkers' find that, once we're out the other side, we have a real need to help people still struggling.

It's one of the fabulous things about the sober blogosphere: you start blogging, and reading other people's blogs, to help yourself. Then you find that, over time, your blog starts to help other people following in your footsteps.

Giving back is also fundamental to AA. It's the twelfth of the twelve steps.

Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA, believed that an alcoholic who no longer drinks has an exceptional faculty for 'reaching' and helping an uncontrolled drinker. Bill writes when the twelfth step is seen in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price tag on it.

(Apologies, Bill, but I'm about to change that...)

Giving back is not entirely selfless, though, as Bill points out: practically every AA member declares that no satisfaction has been deeper and no joy greater than in a Twelfth Step job well done.

Yesterday I discovered that this need to give something back isn't just about quitting the booze. I think it's true of coming out of any major life change or trauma.

I was at The Haven, a support centre for women coping with breast cancer. They'd offered me a free acupuncture session to help with the side effects of Tamoxifen.

(I have no idea how being turned into a human pin cushion for an hour works, but it really seems to. Extraordinary).

Anyhow, on my way out, I passed a lady coming in for her first consultation with the breast nurse.

She had a gorgeous, strong face. Younger than me. But she looked drained. As if someone had taken a giant vacuum cleaner and sucked all the joy and hope out of her life. Which I suspect they just had.

It reminded me vividly of how I'd felt turning up for my first consultation three months ago, and I desperately wanted to give her a hug and to say it's going to be okay.

I didn't. The poor woman was coping with enough, and didn't need to be suffocated by a mad stranger.

Anyhow, I know The Haven will look after her. They'll talk her through her diagnosis and treatment plan. They'll offer her counselling, nutritional advice, and complimentary complementary (see what I did there?) therapies like reiki, acupuncture, reflexology and massage.

They'll invite her to join their self help groups and yoga sessions, and they'll advise her on what government benefits she may be eligible for.

But, most importantly, they'll listen. They'll understand. And they'll make her feel less alone.

That's what they did for me.

And I really, really want to give back...

Which is where I need the help of you wonderful people.

I don't make a penny from this blog. And reading this blog costs you nothing.

If it has helped you, then please, please will you do something extraordinary for those people who are doing something extraordinary for women who are having an extraordinarily awful time?

It will be like a sort of global, interwebby, karmic circle, passing on the love.

I've set up a Just Giving page. It's on www.justgiving.com/sober-mummy  If you could donate just a small fraction of what you would have spent on booze, then together we can make a huge difference.

(You can donate anonymously, or using whatever pseudonym you like).

Here's a link to the Haven website so you can read more about the amazing work they do.

Let's harness the power of the sobersphere and change some lives.....

Thank you. Thank you.

Love SM x

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Picture The Young You

I read something in a magazine the other day which I found fascinating. It was actually about dating, but I reckon you can use it for anything.

The writer said that if you have to make an important decision (like whether to accept a marriage proposal), you should take a picture of yourself as a child, looking all fresh and innocent and smiley, and ask yourself "would I want this for her/him?"

I thought I'd try it.

I found a picture of myself aged about ten. It was one of those formal school portraits. I had long, straight, dark hair pinned back with kirby grips. I had a gap toothed smile. I was proudly wearing my HEAD GIRL badge, pinned to my pale blue, nylon, polo neck jumper.

(That was before the rebellious years, when I was a frightful goody goody).

I looked hard at that little girl, all sparkly eyes and unshakeable belief that the world held all sorts of possibilities, just waiting for me to come and grab them.

And I thought would I want her to drink a bottle of wine a day? Would I want her to waste all that talent and enthusiasm for life just getting over a hangover and waiting for the next drink.

I let her down, that little girl. And now I have to make it up to her.

So then I thought what did she LOVE back then? What made her heart race faster? (Apart from Ben - the HEAD BOY).

And the answer was words.

I spent hours and hours reading. Hiding under my duvet with a torch. I often had four of five books on the go simultaneously. I read and re-read my favourites until they fell apart.

And I wrote. A diary - for many years, and lots of stories. A poem I wrote at about that age was a runner up in a WHSmith writing competition.

If I can find a way of taking that passion and turning it into a new career, a way of life, then I'll have done her proud.

So, next time you feel like a large glass of vino, find a photo of your younger self, and think is that what I want for her?

I bet it's not.

Then ask what is? And go do it.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Out of Control

One of the best things about not drinking is getting a sense of control back into your life.

Gradually you find that you're in control of your emotions (most of the time). No more unaccountable rage (see my post: Alcohol Induced Rage), paranoia or uncontrollable weeping.

Your life gets back in control. You get things done. You de-clutter. You start attacking all those little jobs (photo albums, anyone?).

You're in control of what you do and say. No more drunken texts, or accidental spilling of secrets.

And you're physically in control. Your weight stabilises (eventually). You no longer have to do that 'audit' when you wake up (how bad am I feeling this morning? How awful is today going to be?).

I've got rather used to all this being in control stuff, which has made the last week particularly hard.

You see, I've been taking Tamoxifen for the last two weeks. Only nine years and fifty weeks to go.

Tamoxifen is a wonder drug, and is one of the main reasons why the recurrence rates for breast cancer have fallen sharply over the last thirty years.

BUT it's making me feel really weird.

For the last few days I've had pretty constant low-level nausea. I'm exhausted. And my brain is totally fogged up. I have to try really hard to remember what I'm supposed to get done each day.

Last week I managed to totally forget #3's parent/teacher evening. I just didn't show. When I confessed, even #2 was really horrified (he said That's really BAD, Mummy, and his standards are low).

And it is bad! Entry level parenting: feed children three times a day, make sure none of their limbs fall off, and turn up for parent/teacher meetings once a year.

Then yesterday I was meeting a friend after the school run for a dog walk. I dropped #2 off, and had this odd feeling that I'd forgotten something.

I'd left the sodding dog behind!

I had to do an emergency loop back with #3 yelling "I'M GOING TO MISS RECORDER CLUB!" all the way.

I feel very much like I did for the first two or three weeks after quitting the booze. In fact, it's just like the early days of pregnancy.

And that's when the penny dropped.....

I had to stop using my regular contraception, because my cancer was massively hormone responsive. Hormones would act like rocket fuel on any rogue cancer cells that escaped.

But I've only taken a couple of teeny weeny risks, and surely you can't get pregnant by accident at the grand old age of forty six (nearly forty seven)?

I started to hyperventilate. Babies are, of course, a blessing. But I've been there, done that. I really couldn't start all over again with nappies and sleepless nights.

Plus you can't take Tamoxifen when you're pregnant, and see above re: hormones and rocket fuel. It is quite probable that a pregnancy would kill me, leaving three existing children motherless.

I couldn't face going into the chemist to buy a pregnancy test. I thought they'd laugh at me (ha ha, who do you think you're kidding, Grandma?).

So I ordered a whole load of groceries I didn't need via a supermarket home delivery service, just so the latest in digital display pregnancy tests could be delivered to my front door.

So, there I was, at the grand old age of forty six, peeing on a stick and praying madly like an errant teenager.

Three long minutes.

Then: not pregnant. (The actual words come up these days, not just a blue line).

HALLELUIA! Although, does that mean I get to feel like this for ten whole years?

That's when I made a huge error. I Googled side effects of Tamoxifen. Just like my oncologist had warned me not to do.

Hundreds of stories of women gaining two stone, going nuts and feeling awful, eventually quitting having decided that quality of life is more important than quantity. Fifty percent of women never finish a five year course, let alone ten.

Then this chilling statistic: one quarter of women taking Tamoxifen will die from breast cancer recurrence within ten years anyway.

Well, that made for a good night's sleep. Not.

I'm hoping that this is temporary, and that after a few more weeks the side effects will settle down. And I'm taking my own advice and focusing on gratitude (see my post: Gratitude).

I am (as far as we can tell) cancer free, and NOT PREGNANT. Hurrah!

Love SM x

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #10: All the Little Things.....

We've already covered the biggies here. If you quit drinking you'll be healthier, skinnier, happier, a better parent with better friendships. You'll find your mojo, expand your horizons, and join the vanguard of hip youth and celebrities discovering a new way of life.

Is that it?

Well, no actually.

The great thing about going sober is the huge number of little changes that make it all worthwhile. And all the little things add up to one big transformation.

Here are just a few, and there are many more described in the pages of this blog, by me and my readers....

1. You'll get to see the end of movies. And remember them.
2. No more fear of sent texts
3. You'll enjoy driving past police cars. You may even start willing them to pull you over and breathalyse you.
4. You won't have to run away from cameras, or lie to doctors.
5. No more worrying about people smelling your breath. Minty fresh.
6. Goodbye unexplained bruises and wardrobe malfunctions.
7. You'll stop imagining that cashiers are judging you.
8. Mornings! I have to say that one again: MORNINGS!
9. You'll be richer.
10. You'll sleep like a baby. No more 3am tossing and turning.

Even ten months down the line, I still keep finding new things that give me a buzz.

One of my least favourite chores used to be collecting additional recycling bags. Every few months the local council deliver two large rolls of recycling bags. It used to make me really mad. Two rolls? For a family of five (plus dog)? Who were they kidding?

Inevitably I would run out of recycling bags after a few weeks, and have to trek to the local library to collect more. The stern librarian was under strict instructions to only dole out one roll of bags at a time. For f***s sake! What did they think we were going to do with them? Start flogging them on the black market?

A fortnight later I'd be back again, pushing old ladies with their Mills and Boon's aside to get to my next measly roll of bin bags.

Well, I realised yesterday that I have a stockpile of recycling bags! And I haven't been to the library for ten months!

God knows how many bags I filled up with empty bottles of vino over the years!

One more annoying little chore crossed off the list. One more reason to never go back there.

Keep going, my friends.

Love SM x

Monday, 18 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #9: You'll Get Stuff Done

They say that when you're a big drinker your world shrinks. One day you look up from the bottle and think "Is this it?"

(See my post: Let Me Not Die While I'm Still Alive).

Well, no. This isn't it. There's a whole world of possibility out there, and when you stop drinking it suddenly becomes apparent.

If you think about it, imagine you spend an hour a day achieving little because you're a tad hungover.

Then there's another two hours a day when you achieve little because you're a tad drunk.

That's three hours per day (on average), twenty one hours per week, two working days! Per week!

Imagine what you can do with an extra twenty one hours!

It often starts with the little things.

One of the common effects of quitting is your house suddenly gets really clean. Gleaming!

Partly because you have spare time, but also because cleaning is a great displacement activity. It stops you thinking about drinking and keeps your hands busy.

Another fabulous activity, for the same reason, and because it's good for the soul, is de-cluttering (see my post on Clutter).

But those things are just starter level sober stuff.

After you quit you find your energy levels start to increase (once you're past the 'I'm so tired I could get into bed and sleep forever' phase) and your neurons start firing in a way you've forgotten they could. You feel creative, imaginative and entrepreneurial.

People talk about taking up drawing, writing, knitting, running, yoga - all sorts of amazing stuff once the booze is out of the picture.

Then, once you start getting used to dealing with emotions and stuff sober, you wake up one day and realise that you've lost your sense of fear.

(See my post: Feel the Fear)

Not only are you achieving more, but you're able to go out and sell yourself. Launch a business, publish a book, find a new partner.

Then, you look back at where you've come from and you think OMG, my world is so much BIGGER than I ever thought it could be!

And all because you've made just one small change.....

Love SM x

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Sad Days

Even after several months sober, and even after surviving a cancer diagnosis, you can still get sad days.

Today was one.

The trigger for my general ennui was an e-mail correspondence (or lack of one) with a friend (or maybe an ex friend) I've known for twenty years.

Just before Christmas X send round a group e-mail announcing a new online business she's set up.

I replied congratulating her, wishing her and her family Merry Christmas and adding something along the lines of: So sorry, but I'm not sending Christmas cards this year. I've got breast cancer, which is a bit of a bugger. It's all going to be okay, but can't do cards on top of everything else.

Then I waited. No flowers. No 'phone call. Not even a quick one line e-mail reply. Nothing. Tumbleweed.

Hang on! I thought. Which bit of I'VE GOT CANCER did you not understand?!?

But, I'm sober now, and all level headed and sensible, so I figured that she was horribly busy with Christmas and the new business and stuff, and let it go.

Then, a few days ago I got another group e-mail from X, this time announcing a change of address.

I sent a reply wishing her luck with the move, and adding something along the lines of:

Finished radiotherapy, thank goodness, and would love to meet up. It's been too long.

Then I waited. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

In the old days I would have opened a bottle, had a bit of a rant, then got maudlin. The next day I'd have a hangover and paranoia. I'd feel even worse.

As it was I reminded myself that I, better than anyone, know that you have no idea what goes on in other people's lives. Who knows what she's dealing with. Perhaps it makes my silly old malignant tumour seem insignificant.

Plus, it's perfectly possible that I have, somehow, upset or insulted her and she's deliberately ignoring me. You can't spend ten years as a terrible lush without some fallout. It would be entirely my fault.

So I didn't get angry. And I've learned that when you have sad days, rather than blot them out with booze the best thing to do is indulge them.

I played lots of old tunes from my youth, and did a bit of nostalgic, therapeutic weeping. I ate some ice cream (purely medicinal), and now I'm planning a bath and a lounge around in PJs.

Tomorrow, as they say, is another day.

Love SM x

Saturday, 16 January 2016

I am an alcoholic, and my name is.....

Well, a documentary with that title (aired a few days ago in the UK) was bound to catch my attention, wasn't it?

And you think I'd welcome anything in the mainstream media that highlighted the problems caused by alcohol addiction.

But, actually, no. It made me really mad. Because I think this sort of programme only makes things worse.

Why?

Well, the documentary focussed on eight interviewees (including the fabulous Lucy Rocca - founder of Soberistas.com) who, like all the ex-drinkers I've come across, were amazingly brave, honest and individual.

Almost the entire hour was spent lingering over the details of each of their 'rock bottoms.' Ruined careers, homelessness, emergency hospital admissions and so on, with moody lighting, gritty close ups and porn shots of booze. It was like being invited to watch a car crash in slow motion.

To an extent those stories help. I have huge respect for those people who told their stories so movingly in order to make others watching, whose lives are spiralling out of control, feel less alone.

BUT, interestingly, although the interviewees all confessed to being totally addicted to alcohol, and never wanting to drink again, only half of them described themselves as 'alcoholics.' They used expressions such as 'alcohol dependant' or 'non-drinker.'

(See my post: Are You an Alcoholic?)

Despite this, the documentary was called 'I am an alcoholic, and my name is....' encouraging, I believe, viewers to see the interviewees as 'sad people born with an unfortunate disease', with nothing at all in common with them, regardless of how much wine they were happily throwing back while watching.

The word 'alcoholic' leaves the impression that the people are the problem, not the booze, and that it's 'normal' to drink gallons of an addictive substance without becoming addicted, and 'abnormal' if you do!

One lovely lady, a professional cellist, talked about how she used alcohol to cope with performance anxiety. She used to buy bottles of vodka in the supermarket, and use their toilet to hide in while she decanted them into bottles of Evian.

She said "I know there will be people watching this who are addicted to alcohol, but they'll think I'm okay because I've never mixed vodka into bottles of water in a Supermarket toilet."

And she's right! All those 'rock bottom' stories only serve to reassure other addicts that they're not so bad really. Carry on! Crack open another bottle! That's what an alcoholic looks like, and that's not me!

Alcoholics Anonymous tell people to 'look for the similarities, not the differences,' but it's so much easier and more reassuring to look for all the tiny ways those stories differ from ours, isn't it?

But what made me really cross is that these amazing people had all managed to quit drinking and had gone on the live fantastic lives, achieving wonderful things. And how much time did the documentary spend focussing on that?

The last five minutes.

We were encouraged to come away feeling sorry for those poor alcoholics who'd had such a horrible time and could never drink again, when really we should be thinking What incredible people! I want to be like them!

When are we going to start seeing documentaries with titles like 'How I beat alcohol addiction and transformed my life'?

We need documentaries that show how anybody can find themselves addicted to alcohol, and how quitting isn't just a terrible hardship. Documentaries that encourage people to look hard at their own drinking, and see how much better life could be without it.

We need inspiration, not voyeurism.

Gggrrrrr.

SM x

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #8: Because it's Easier

Before you start yelling at me, please note I said easier, not easy.

What we all secretly desire is to be like those intensely irritating people who can drink just one glass of wine and then stop. The ones who almost seem to forget they have a glass sitting in front of them.

I mean, what is all that about?

Our goal is to be able to cut down. To moderate. To be in control.

Well, I'm really sorry to have to break this to you, but once you're addicted to alcohol (and even seemingly moderate drinkers can be addicted), it might be possible to do all those things, but it is immensely hard work.

The problem with any addiction is that your brain has been wired to want MORE.

(For more on how your brain chemistry has been buggered up by alcohol read this one: Is Moderation Possible? Part 2)

So you either give in and just give it what it wants until you end up the classic low bottom drunk pouring vodka on the cornflakes, or you constantly fight it.

And constantly fighting is exhausting.

It's like being on a never ending diet. The more you try not to do something, the more you want it. The more you attempt not to think about it, the more it preys on your mind.

And, let's face it, we were never very good at restraint, moderation and denial in the first place, were we? That's what got us into this mess!

I know that sounds all rather depressing, so here's the GOOD NEWS....

You can fix it.

Remember when you were a child and all you were really bothered about was learning to do a wheelie on your new Chopper, and whether it was a better idea to spend your pocket money on a Sherbet Dib Dab or some Space Dust? You spent no time at all thinking about booze. Cherry Cola maybe.

Well, you really can go back there. Not to the 1970's, obviously (who'd want to?), but to a place where you don't have to worry about drinking, or not drinking, or how much drinking, or what you did while drinking, or anything at all to do with drinking.

All you need to do is to STOP. For long enough.

The tricky bit is that initially, instead of thinking about booze less, you'll think about it more. That's the addiction talking. The wily old wine witch putting up a fight.

You have to kill the old crone, and the only way to do that is to starve her of alcohol for long enough.

It takes around 100 days to get through the worst, and about six months before you start to feel completely free.

BUT, be warned, as soon as you have a drink, you breathe life back into the wine witch, and your addict brain is back with a vengeance.

(Read my post: The Obstacle Course for more on this one).

Please believe me, once you're out the other side (and you will get there) it's EASY. And you think why on earth did I struggle for so long?

Then it's your job to spread the word....

Love SM x

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #7: You'll Have More Friends

One of my main worries when I quit drinking was losing all my friends.

(See my post from way back in March: Will I Lose All My Friends?)

Then, just recently, it struck me that I've made more close friends over the last ten months than in the previous five years.

The reason we worry about losing friends is that for years we have equated friendships with drinking.

Alcohol is the rocket fuel of any gathering, the social lubricant, the leveller. It gives us the confidence, the wit and the energy to bond with our friends and attract new ones. Right?

Plus, we know how suspiciously we used to view any 'non-drinker'. We'd quickly wipe them off our list of potential new mates.

Now that's going to happen to us. Yikes! Social pariah!

Well, you know what? That's not how it works!

For a start, have a look at the 'big drinker' at the next party you go to. Are they surrounded by potential new buddies, cracking jokes and exuding bonhomie?

Maybe for a while at the beginning, but I bet that after a few hours people are avoiding them like the plague, and secretly sniggering as they become boorish and embarrassing.

The truth is that drinkers do not make great friends. Harsh, but true. At least it was of me.

Firstly, drink made me incredibly selfish.

I spent far too much time hungover, thinking about drinking, or actually drinking, to have much time left to consider anybody other than my immediate family.

If an old friend did manage to engage me in a conversation about anything important at a party I'd quickly move the topic on to something more frivolous (ideally about ME), and by the next day I'd have forgotten it entirely.

And I was a terrible person to sit next to at dinner.

Maybe I'd be quite fun during the starter, but by pudding I'd be rambling and repeating myself. If the person on one side was more 'boring' than the one on the other I'd ignore them entirely!

Despite all this, a fair number of my old friends (particularly the other big drinkers) have kindly stuck by me, but I'd made few good new friends.

But now? Not only am I a much better friend to those old mates - I genuinely care about what's going on in their lives, and I try to support them whenever I can - I also seem to be attracting a whole bunch of new ones.

For a start, I no longer dismiss anybody who doesn't drink much! Who knew sober(ish) people could be so fascinating!

I don't scare people away by being too loud, too brash, and too disinterested in anyone other than ME. I'm genuinely intrigued by other people's lives and what makes them tick.

But most of all, I think it's about the vibe you give off.

I wrote a post a while back called Smile and the World Smiles With You (click here), where I talked about radiators and drains.

When I drank I was a drain. Now I'm a radiator. And people gravitate towards radiators and avoid drains.

You may well lose some friends, but I bet that if you do, you'll realise that they were the ones with whom you had little in common, except for the drink.

And you'll make a bunch of new ones. Proper, life enhancing friends.

Plus, more importantly, you'll be a better person to know too.

Thank you so much to you all, for being my new friends. You're awesome.

SM x

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #6: Because You're a Parent

You might not actually be a parent. You might be a step-parent, a Godparent, or planning to be a parent someday. Maybe you're looking after your own aged parents. The principle is the same.

Drinking (a lot) makes us rubbish parents.

For a start, there's the physical stuff. Good parenting requires really high energy. Which is not at all compatible with several hours a day spent hungover. Or drunk.

Also, you really need to be present. And I don't mean just in the room (although that helps too, obviously), I mean paying attention.

Even sober I have to confess to frequently checking my mobile in mid conversation with my children, and answering uh huh to any question they ask (which doesn't fool them for a instant).

But when I was drinking I was a lot worse.

Far too much of my head space was taken up with thinking about booze.

In the morning I'd be thinking about how much I (shouldn't have) drunk the night before, and how to get through the day feeing under par.

In the afternoon I'd move onto when I could poor the next glass of wine, which shop I could duck into on the way to the school run, and so on.

(See my post: The Wine Witch for more on those infernal internal dialogues)

Plus, alcohol makes us miserable (if you don't believe me, read my post: Reasons to Quit #4). It leaches the colour out of life, and makes it difficult to appreciate the little things.

And being with children is all about the little things: discussing the smell of PlayDoh, playing Pooh Sticks, kicking leaves, drawing smiley faces in the fog on the car windows - you know what I mean.

Once you quit, you'll find yourself much more able to be in the moment, and to see things through the eyes of your children.

(See my post: 7 Months Sober, for more on this).

And, you know what? Our drinking doesn't just affect their childhoods - it affects their adulthood too.

I'm sure that part of the reason I was so comfortable with drinking every day, was that I grew up in a family where drinking gin and tonic before dinner and wine with dinner every night was normal. I never questioned it. It was just what (sophisticated) adults did.

Christmas 2014 I realised that all my Christmas presents from my children were wine related! A bottle stopper (as if there'd ever be anything left in the bottle!), a corkscrew, and a mug with the caption I wish it were wine o'clock.

Now my kids LOVE the fact that 'Mummy doesn't drink.' They boast about it. And, I hope, I'm showing them that you can be a normal, fun, sociable adult without the constant prop of booze.

BUT, for me, the biggie, the main reason why quitting drinking is a no brainer if you are a parent is this:

What happens when the s**t hits the fan?

We may not have been brilliant parents when we drank, but we kept it all together, didn't we? Our kids were happy, well adjusted, well turned out, achieving..... Because we put them first. Always.

Well, sure. And that's all fine when life is going okay. But, here's the bad news: it doesn't always go okay.

Sometimes kids get dangerously ill in the middle of the night. Someone (capable) has to take them to A&E.

Sometimes parents get divorced and someone needs to hold it all together, and be civil to the utter bastard (their father).

Or....as happened to me.... sometimes Mummy gets cancer and has to put her children first when her world is falling apart.

If those things happen when you're drinking, all the wheels come off.

(See my post: When Life Throws You Lemons).

Stop drinking now and, baby step by baby step, you'll find yourself being a better and better Mum (Dad). Without faking it!

And, if life does throw you lemons, you won't be running and ducking, you'll be running a lemonade stand, baby.

Love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie



I woke up this morning feeling great.

I used to hate Monday mornings (see my post: Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays).

I'd wake up feeling groggy and hungover after a restless night, knowing that I'd have to start dealing with the excesses and ramifications of the weekend.

Now, I adore Mondays. A brand new and shiny week, just bursting with possibilities.

And today was a good one: the kids are settled back into the new term, the mains pipe burst in the cellar is fixed, I've lost the Christmas weight gain already (easy when there's no booze calories involved), and I'm getting to grips with the to do list.

Then I heard the news:

David Bowie is dead.

His circuit's dead, there's something wrong. Can you hear me, Major Tom?

I cried. I can't remember ever crying about the death of a stranger.

But Bowie didn't feel like a stranger to me. He was the sound track of my youth. And he was a genius.

Look at all the manufactured pop princes and princesses of today. Puppets of the record companies, and driven by focus groups.

Bowie was the antithesis of all that.

Not only was he an extraordinary musician and lyricist, he was also an artist, an actor, a visionary and a style icon.

But that wasn't why I loved him; I loved him because he was a Rebel.

Rebel Rebel, you've torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!

I always saw myself as a rebel. It defined me, the decisions I made, and my relationship with alcohol.

(See my post: Rebel Without a Cause)

And Bowie was the ultimate rebel. Even his irises didn't play by the rules: one blue, one brown.

He didn't believe you had to stick with the name you were born with (David Jones, in his case).

He changed his identity more frequently than most people move house. He played around with his sexuality.

He called his son Zowie Bowie (his only major error. His son later changed his name by deed poll to Duncan Jones).

So, we would drink, dance and sing to David Bowie, believing that

We could steal time,
just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d'you say?

But the truth is, however rebellious you are, there are some rules you can't break, and you may be able to steal time just for one day, but not forever.

One day it catches up with you.

Bowie, like us, drank too much, for too long and - inevitably - became addicted. He quit in his fifties.

In an iconic Paxman interview, Paxman asked him:

"On a personal level, you don't do drugs anymore and you don't drink? Not even a glass of wine?"

"No, it would kill me," replied Bowie. "I'm an alcoholic, so it would be the kiss of death for me to start drinking again. My relationships with my friends and family have been so good for so many years now, I would not do anything to destroy that again."

So, if Bowie - the ultimate rebel - can go sober, then so can we.

If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for me, do it for him, and do it for Ziggy Stardust.

I'll go back to my January 'Reasons to Quit' series tomorrow, but in the meantime I'm going to....

....put on my red shoes and dance the blues.

Love SM x

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #5: Your Mojo

Have you lost your mojo?

I bet you think it's an inevitable function of getting older? That mojos are the preserve of the young?

Balderdash. It's still there. Somewhere. You've just drowned it in alcohol.

I misplaced my mojo for a decade.

I was fat and puffy. I had chins and jowls. I slept badly and had little energy. The last adjective in the world I would use to describe myself was 'sexy.'

I would avoid mirrors and photographs like the plague. Our family album for that decade gives the impression that Mr SM is nobly bringing up three children alone.

When you're a teenager, or in your early twenties, drinkers look like sexy, uninhibited hedonists (at least I thought so), but - I discovered after I quit - when you get to middle age, big drinkers look pretty terrible. You can spot them a mile off (see my post: Spot the Lush).

But, do not despair, because quite soon after you quit drinking you see little signs of your mojo reappearing, like daffodil shoots in Spring.

The first thing you'll notice is the puffiness receding. Cheek and jawbones! Who knew?

You'll also find your skin (now you're less dehydrated) starts to glow, and looks less red and patchy.

Even your hair gets thicker and glossier! (See my post: Sober Hair)

Because you'll be sleeping better (See my post: Sleep, Glorious Sleep), and you'll be healthier, you get your energy back. With no hangovers to deal with, you can bounce out of bed in the morning.

Then, after an initial period of adjustment and bingeing on sugar (usually about 100 days), you'll find the weight will start to shift (see Reason #1: Weight Loss)

Six months in, you'll be slimmer, look 5 years younger and be bombarded with compliments. You'll find your confidence returning and you'll be able to walk into a room with a swagger, rather than sidling in apologetically. (See my post: Invisibility)

So, if you you've just quit this New Year, and are on Day 10 - or thereabouts - KEEP GOING, and get ready to say:

"Hello, Mojo. Welcome back!"

Happy, sober Sunday to you all,

SM x

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #4: You'll Be Happier

Right now that probably sounds counter intuitive.

When I first quit drinking, my thoughts went along the lines of Aarrrgghhh! I'm never going to be properly happy ever again! Mainly because any image I had in my head of 'true happiness' involved a glass of vino.

Example: SM at her wedding with glass of champagne, SM watching sunset with Mr SM and a couple of cocktails, SM relaxing on sun lounger in glamorous location with chilled glass white wine etcetera, etcetera.

It's only looking back now that I see that I was only properly happy after the first glass or two of vino, and by glass number three things would start going downhill again.

I was actually suffering from low level depression, although it crept up so slowly, and I was so used to it, that I thought it was normal.

The link between alcohol and depression is a long established one.

Alcohol is a depressant. We think it's making us happier, but all it's doing is depressing our controlling behaviours like judgement, planning, reasoning and self monitoring.

Over time, constantly imbibing this depressant leads (unsurprisingly) to depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

In his NHS clinic specialising in alcohol problems, Dr Rao sees people in their 60s with subtle alcohol related brain damage after a lifetime of casual drinking.

‘I always say to my patients ‘Your brain is affected a lot earlier than your liver’, he says. ‘Before we see the cirrhosis we see depression and problems with impulse control, moodiness, problems making complex decisions, say with finances and their children or spouses might say ‘Oh that’s just so-and-so being a silly old bugger,’ so the problems are missed.’

(If you'd like to read more on alcohol related brain damage then here's a fabulous article from the Wall Street Journal, sent to me by Eeyore - one of my readers, not the donkey).

The good news is that much of the damage can be reversed within six months, but - according to the WSJ article - repair is less probable after the age of fifty. So don't hang around any longer!

The other issue with alcohol and depression is it becomes a vicious circle.

Often people say "I don't know if I drank because I was unhappy, or I was unhappy because I drank."

Actually, both are true. You drink because you're unhappy, which makes you more unhappy, so you drink more. It's like a whirlpool of unhappiness and booze sucking you down into the depths.

If you've been drinking at least three times a week, you've probably forgotten what 'normal' feels like. That's because it takes two or three days for the effects of alcohol to leave your system, so you're either drunk, hungover, or in low level withdrawal. Your poor brain is never in equilibrium.

Also, drinking messes with our dopamine levels.

Dopamine is the 'happy hormone.' When we drink, our brain is flooded with dopamine, making us happy. BUT when we drink a lot, regularly, our brain reduces the levels of dopamine it produces naturally to compensate.

This means that when we're not drinking we feel bad, and adding alcohol only takes us back to 'status quo.' Effectively, our 'happy' becomes a sober person's 'normal.'

For a few months after I quit, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster (see my post Sobercoaster). I was constantly up and down.

Then, at around six months, it seemed like a fog was clearing, and I felt happier than I could remember ever feeling with a glass in my hand. Not a manufactured happiness, but a bone deep contentment, and a real appreciation of the small things.

(see my post: Smile and the World Smiles With You for an example).

As well as feeling happier because you've fixed your brain chemistry, you'll also find that many sources of your previous unhappiness have just disappeared: no more stress and guilt about what you said to whom at that party, no more anxiety about being a bad parent, and no more irrational drunken arguments with the husband, for example.

So don't worry about never being happy again when you quit drinking. You've forgotten what happy really fees like. But you're about to find out.....

Love SM x

Friday, 8 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #3: You'll Live Longer

I was woken up today by the headline news on the radio that, for the first time in twenty years, the UK government have done a comprehensive review of the drinking guidelines and concluded:

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

The government recommend that neither men nor women should drink more than 14 units per week, spread over two or three days, allowing several days each week alcohol free. That's approximately 1.5 bottles of wine, drunk slowly.

(Excuse me while I roll on floor laughing).

I used to drink that amount on a Friday. More than that on Saturday and Sunday, and a further bottle every night Monday to Thursday. Oops.

The reason for the harsher stance is new research showing that any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer, especially breast, mouth, throat and bowel cancers.

The link to breast cancer is particularly strong. One drink a day increases your risk by 12%, two drinks daily by 24%, three drinks daily by 36%, and so on.

This is thought to be because of breast cancer's link to oestrogen. Alcohol raises the levels of oestrogen in the body, and most breast cancers are oestrogen receptive, meaning that oestrogen acts as a kind of rocket fuel - making them grow faster.

But it's not just cancer. 

Drinking also raises the blood pressure, short and long term, which increases heart attack and stroke risk. And excessive alcohol damages the heart's ability to pump (cardiomyopathy), increasing the risk of heart failure.

Plus we all know about the risk to our liver.

Liver disease in the UK has risen by 400% since the 1970s and 'those at risk are not just chronic alcohol abusers, but also middle-aged professionals who drink a little too much most nights' says Dr Debbie Shawcross, consultant hepatologist and King's College Hospital.

I know how easy it is to think it's not going to happen to me. Or you take a risk every time you cross the road. Or we constantly get conflicting advice. I thought red wine was supposed to be good for us!

That's what I thought. Until it did happen to me (see my post: I Need Help). And when you get your cancer diagnosis, it's too late to say "Ok, I'm listening now!"

I shouldn't have got breast cancer. I'm only 46 - not even on the national screening programme.

I breastfed three children. I eat healthily. I exercise every day. I was a bit overweight (no longer!), but not obese. I haven't smoked for nearly fifteen years.

My only remaining vice was booze (plus box sets and a bit of chocolate).

And I honestly believed that quitting booze seven months before I found the tumour (which had been lurking for years) saved my life.

For a start, being healthier and slimmer made me more aware of my body, and more able to find the lump.

Secondly, having found it I was unable to make the fear go away - I had to deal with it straight away. Had I still been drinking I would have drunk every time the fear emerged, convincing myself to wait a few weeks to see if it went away by itself...

Thirdly, my tumour was massively hormone receptive. Which means that, had I still been drinking, it would have grown much faster.

Because I was diagnosed early and, by this point at least, my tumour was deemed 'slow growing', I avoided chemotherapy and will, in all likelihood, die of something altogether different, hopefully a long time from now.

BUT I still have to live with constant fear of recurrence, and take Tamoxifen (with a dizzying list of potential side effects) for at least a decade.

So PLEASE don't think it's never going to happen to you:

STOP DRINKING AND LIVE LONGER!

Healthy hugs,

SM x

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #2: Because it's Fashionable

Yes, really.

One of the reasons we're so terrified about quitting drinking is because we have this picture in our heads of the 'sober person.'

'Sober person,' we think, is a sad case loser with no friends and no sense of adventure.

We do not want to be 'sober person', and we're scared that our friends will not want to hang out with 'sober person' either.

Our life is DOOMED.

For as long as we can remember we have equated booze with FUN, with being the life and soul of the party, with being reckless, daring adventurers. Without it we will be less.

It is very hard to quit drinking when you still have that image of 'sober person' in your head, because you will always feel like you are missing out. You need to replace that image with the truth.

And the truth is that 'sober person' is seriously fashionable. Hot, even.

Amongst the middle aged it's still relatively rare to find teetotallers - hence our concern. And, being drinkers ourselves, we have spent years surrounding ourselves with like minded people. We assume that everyone drinks.

But 20% of the UK adult population are teetotal. And the number of under 25's opting to not drink has risen by 40% in the last eight years.

Now, one in four adults under 25 do not drink. Ever. (In London it's one in three).

We, my friends, are down with the yoof. We are surfing that super cool zeitgeist. We are so far ahead of the curve that we can barely see it in the rear view mirror.

The young have a huge number of sober icons blazing the trail for them: Blake Lively, Bradley Cooper, Jessie J, Tyra Banks, Daniel Radcliffe, Russell Brand and Leona Lewis, to name just a few.

Robert Downey Junior doesn't drink. Do you think anyone tells Iron Man that he's uncool because he doesn't get drunk? Hell no!

And of my generation, two of the Sex in the City lasses are sober: Kristin Davis and Kim Cattrall, as well as one of the Friends - Matthew Perry.

Amongst the seriously ambitious style leaders, staying sober is seen as necessary if you want to get ahead. Katie Perry says "You have to bust your ass off at (what I do), which is why you don't find me getting shitfaced in bars."

For the young, teetotal is becoming seen as a totally valid, seriously cool, lifestyle choice - not something to be ashamed and embarrassed of.

If you're still not convinced that sober is fashionable, then how about asking the most fashionable person on the planet? The lady who dictates fashion: Anna Wintour. Who doesn't drink. At all. Not even champagne.

Do you think people accuse Anna Wintour of being uncool because she's teetotal? They wouldn't dare! Does she get left off party invitations? No, she goes to three parties a night. Totally sober. She is far too cool to lose her cool with alcohol.

You know what's not cool? That's a middle aged lady with a wine belly and broken veins all over her nose, slurring her words and staggering at a drinks party.

(Actually, the word 'cool' is not cool either. But I can't bring myself to describe things that are not ill as 'sick').

We, my friends, are blazing the trail.

I'm leaving the final words to one of my favourite sober celebs: Ewan McGregor:

"The difference between living life when you're drinking all the time and when you're not is profound."

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Reasons to Quit Drinking #1: Weight Loss


I'm aware that it sounds a little shallow, kicking off my 'Reasons to Quit' series with weight loss.

Perhaps I should have started with something a bit more weighty (excuse the pun), like health issues, or mental wellbeing.

But the truth is we know drinking is bad for us, and we know we have to stop, but it's not easy, and we deserve a bit of a perk, don't we?

And I can't be alone in being a teensy bit interested in the idea of getting skinny, as more people find my blog via Google by typing in 'stop drinking and lose weight' than any other search term.

Weight isn't just a vanity thing for us women - it affects all areas our lives. Our self esteem, our relationships, our health, and the way other people view, and judge, us.

Throughout my childhood, teenage years and my twenties I was effortlessly slim, but from my late twenties onwards (about the time I started drinking heavily) I steadily gained weight.

By the time I quit drinking, last March, I was a UK size 14 (US size 10) and weighed 11 stone 10 pounds (164 pounds).

Not only did this give me a BMI in the 'overweight category', but it made me feel bleurgh. I'd lost my mojo. I felt unattractive and old. I knew that that confident, skinny person was still in there somewhere, but muffled by a layer of blubber and pickled in booze.

I particularly hated the 'wine belly.' (See my post on The Wine Belly). I was asked several times by young children whether I had a 'baby in my tummy.' Mortifying. People would offer me their seats on buses!

It's not surprising that alcohol makes us gain weight. After all, a bottle of wine contains around 600 calories. I was drinking around ten bottles a week! That's 6,000 calories - more than two whole days worth of calories!

Plus, as soon as I'd had a few glasses of vino, all thoughts of moderation in anything flew out the window. Pudding? Why the hell not? Chocolates with coffee? It'd be rude not to!

Then you wake up with a hangover for which there's only one cure: a carbs/fat combo, like a bacon sarnie, or a large blueberry muffin (one of your five a day!).

Over the years I tried endless diets: The F Plan (endless fibre), the Beverly Hills diet (lots of fruit), Scarsdale Medical diet (detailed meal plans), Hay diet (complicated rules about protein and carbs), Cabbage soup diet (just what it sounds like), The Cambridge diet (milkshakes), Atkins (no carbs), Dukan diet (no carbs), Low GI diet (low carbs) and the 5:2 diet (2 days fasting a week).

(Just writing that list makes me feel hungry).

All of them would work for a while. I'd lose up to around ten pounds in a month. But they were impossible to stick to long term, and as soon as I started eating normally again, the weight would pile back on, plus a bit extra for good measure.

I did the exercise thing too. Jane Fonda's workout. Rosemary Conley's hip and thigh workout. Stepping. Spinning. Running. Large rubber band things. Blow up balls. Callanetics. Weights. Body Pump. Body Attack and that funny machine that you stand on while it vibrates.

(Just writing that list makes me feel exhausted).

I did get fitter, but not much thinner.

Since I quit drinking I haven't followed any particular diet. I've not been to the gym much, although I've been pretty active as I've had so much energy. I've not been hungry at all.

Yet I've lost nearly twenty pounds.

I'm now a small UK size twelve, maybe even a ten (US size 6). I've gained cheekbones. I've lost a chin. And the muffin top that I thought was obligatory for all mothers in their forties? Completely gone!

I may not be a MILF, but I am in pretty good nick for my age.

And the great news about this diet is that it is very simple. All you need to do is not drink alcohol.

But there are some caveats:

1. It is slow.

You will probably only lose about half a pound a week. It's not like those 'miracle' diets where you lose half a stone in week one. It's slow and steady. But any nutritionist will tell you that's the best kind of diet, and the only way that's sustainable.

2. It isn't immediate.

Most people don't lose weight initially, many even gain weight at the beginning. It took me until about day 100 to start seeing results.

Firstly, it takes your body a while to adjust - it's had a huge shock. Secondly, you'll crave sugar when you first quit, and cake and hot chocolate are invaluable quitting tools. Let yourself indulge initially - one thing at a time. When you're ready, try to use exercise as a way of managing cravings instead of sugar.

3. You have to stay sober.

Otherwise it'll all pile back on.

So, if you're in the early days of going sober, and starting to waver, stick a 'fat' photo of yourself on the fridge next to a picture of Kate Moss and keep going!

Check out the SoberMummy Facebook page HERE for inspiration, information and a few great laughs, every week day at wine o'clock. 'Like' the page to stay updated!

Love and skinny hugs to you all,

SM x


Monday, 4 January 2016

Gratitude

It's not happy people who are grateful, it's grateful people who are happy.

I found that the single most difficult thing about quitting the booze was dealing with stress and anxiety.

For years, or decades even, we have reached for a glass of our favourite tipple whenever the going got tough, 'to take the edge off.'

For me, this became such an ingrained habit that I'd automatically anaesthetise even the smallest stresses. (Uh oh, the telephone's ringing, better have a glass of vino).

So, when we quit, dealing with all of that day to day stuff, raw, is a bit of a shock.

That's why, whenever I attempted Dry January, I'd generally choose a start date of January 5th. Firstly, it knocked a few days of the month, and secondly because the beginning of January can be a bit stressful.

Yesterday was a case in point.

I had to get everything packed up and cleaned ready to move the family back home from skiing in the Swiss Alps to London, involving one taxi, one train, one plane and one car journey.

We were due to get home 10pm, with kids starting school 8.30am the next day (aarrrgghhh!).

Added to which, I knew that on my return I'd be back to earth with a huge bump, dealing with the flood in our cellar, the two pounds I've gained over Christmas, the annual tax return, and the biggie.

'The biggie' is the fact that over the last week I've managed really successfully to forget about the whole cancer thing. I've hardly thought about it, after two months of thinking about little else.

But now I have to get back to the reality of check ups and starting a ten year course of Tamoxifen.

In the old days I would have drunk my way through a day like yesterday. Not getting drunk (it took quite a lot to get me drunk by that stage), but providing a constant blur to all the stress.

A glass or two while packing, one at the airport, one on the plane (more if I could brave the disapproval of the air hostess), and the best part of a bottle on returning home.

Not now.

So I'm always looking for new ways of relieving stress. Usually I'd do a bit of 'time out.' A hot bath, a good book, a slice of cake. No good, however, if you have to travel hundreds of miles.

Well, apparently GRATITUDE is the new Mindfulness. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pierce Brosnan, Barack Obama, and many more, swear by it.

Oprah insists that the 'gratitude diary' she's been keeping for the last twenty years is the most important thing she has done in her life.

Twitter is suddenly littered with #gratitude (accompanied by sick making pictures of minor celebrities doing improbable yoga poses in jaw dropping locations).

There's science behind it too.

Psychologists have shown that gratitude is linked to better sleep, less anxiety and depression, sounder relationships and higher long-term satisfaction with life.

It even makes us healthier, and Janice Kaplan, author of 'The Gratitude Diaries' swears that being grateful for our food can make us thinner.

The bestselling self-help book The Secret takes the concept of gratitude even further, claiming:

Gratitude is a powerful process for shifting your energy and bringing more of what you want into your life. Be grateful for what you already have and you will attract more good things.

What's not to like?

So I gave it go. I took my list of all the things that were stressing me out, and turned it on it's head.

Instead of fretting about the journey, I focused on what a great holiday we'd had.

Kids back to school equals more free time - yay!

Thank goodness we'd found the mains pipe leak in our cellar before we went away and were able to turn the water off.

A two pound weight gain is nothing compared to the eight pounds I'd have gained over a boozy Christmas.

Well done me earning (just) enough cash last year to qualify for a tax return.

And, the biggie: Thank you, thank you Universe, for the fact that I'm currently (as far as they can tell) cancer free.

And you know what? IT WORKS!

I went from dreading the day to feeling positively buoyant.

So, next time you hit a bump in the road and it makes you really, really want a drink, remember this one:

There are people out there who would love to have your bad days...

.....and have a hot chocolate instead. Or an AF beer.

(I do have to confess that I did need a crate of Becks Blue by the time I got home, despite all the Gratitude stuff).

Love to you all, and Thank you!

SM x

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Are You An Alcoholic?



I spent years leading up to starting this blog, and months afterwards, wrestling with this one. I wrote three posts on the subject.

If you're anything like me, you will have Googled the question many times, and spent ages doing (and then re-doing) those questionnaires which claim to give you the magic answer that will define the rest of your life.

Nobody wants the answer to be 'yes'.

Why not?

Because we all think we know what the 'alcoholic' looks like: the sad old bag lady who's drunk away her job and home, lost her family and had to reach 'rock bottom' before she was forced to quit and live half an existence without life's best reward: booze.

It took me a while to work out that it's all bollocks.

I simply don't believe that the world is divided into two types of people; 'normal drinkers' and 'alcoholics,' with those roles assigned at birth, in the same way as there are no 'normal smokers' and 'nicotinaholics', or 'normal heroin users' and 'heroinaholics.'

Alcohol is like any other addictive poison. Take enough of it for long enough, and you'll end up out of control.

Some people are more predisposed to becoming addicted, and this predisposition can be hereditary, but anyone who drinks excessively is playing Russian roulette.

So the question you should really be asking is 'am I addicted to alcohol?'

The answer to that question is pretty easy, isn't it?

If alcohol is starting to control you, rather than you controlling it, then you're addicted.

If you keep drinking when you really want to stop (or cut down), then you're addicted.

If you're behaving in ways you really don't mean to, and if alcohol is taking up way more space in your head than it should, then you're addicted.

So then what?

Well, once you're addicted to something you always will be, because of the way addiction rewires the dopamine receptors in your brain. And if you carry on 'using', it's only going to get worse.

(You'll find that you can quit for days, weeks, or even months at a time, but as soon as you start drinking again 'in moderation', the amount you're consuming creeps rapidly back up until you're drinking even more than you were before).

You wouldn't tell a heroin addict to carry on shooting up 'in moderation', would you? Or a gambling addict to just go to the races at weekends?

The truth is, any addiction will control, and ruin, your life if you don't step away from it permanently.

Don't wait until you get to 'rock bottom'. That would be madness! Because the more time your addiction has to take hold, the harder it is to break. Stop now, while it's still (relatively) easy.

And the good news?

Once you quit you're not condemned to a terrible life of a deprived alcoholic forever envying the 'normal drinker'. No!

When you stop you free yourself of a chronic addiction that was ruining your life! You go back to being the person you were always meant to be.

YOU will be the normal one, not the millions of people gradually slipping down the slope you've just scrambled off.

I still don't define myself as an 'alcoholic'. I was (am) addicted to alcohol. No shame in that - it's a terribly addictive substance.

But I had the wisdom and the courage to realise the problem and quit while I still could.

And now I am free. And so can you be.

For inspiration, information and a few good laughs every week day at wine o'clock, check out the SoberMummy Facebook page here, and 'like' to stay updated.

Big hugs to you all,

SM x


Friday, 1 January 2016

Dry January

Is your New Year's resolution to do Dry January?

If so, you're not alone. 2 million people in the UK took part in the Dry January challenge in 2015.

However, a recent study showed that only 63% of those that try to go dry for a month make it, and those are primarily the 'moderate' drinkers, the ones who didn't drink much in the first place.

Perhaps you're one of those people? You overdid it a tiny bit on the Cava over New Year and want to detox for a while. You're not anticipating any trouble, and you'll pick up again, moderately, in February. If so, good for you. Crack on.

I, however, was never a 'moderate' drinker. In fact, I'm not good at moderation in general. I'm an all or nothing kind of girl. I did lots of 'dry' challanges. Sometimes I managed to white knuckle through a whole month, but often I'd cave within a fortnight.

By the time I finally quit, last March, I was drinking around a bottle of wine a day - more at weekends. I was feeling fat, toxic and ashamed, and my life was going nowhere.

If that sounds familiar, then you're in the right place.

Whether you want to quit just for January, or whether you've realised you've got to give it up forever, here is some advice on how to get through the first 31 days.

(I'm hoping that my regular readers will chip in in the comments section below with their additions).

It's really hard to condense this into just one post, but there's more information on all of this - and very much more - throughout this blog. Or you can e-mail me on sobermummy@gmail.com.

1. Preparation

Getting your head in the right place is crucial. If you start the month with a sense of dread and deprivation you'll never make it.

You are doing an amazing thing. You are about to change your life for the better. Be excited!

If that last sentence is just incredibly irritating, and you can't imagine feeling anything like excitement right now, then read Jason Vale's book: Kick the Drink, Easily.

In fact, read it anyway. It'll completely change the way you think about drinking, and make the whole process of quitting much easier.

Write down, right now, while you can remember, all the reasons why you want to stop. The big ones (like health concerns) and all the little ones (like being embarrassed about your recycling bags).

Over the next few weeks there will be many moments when you will think "why am I doing this?" You'll need that list as a reminder.

2. Know what to expect

The first two or three weeks after quitting drinking can be physically and mentally gruelling, but it's much easier if you know what to expect, and know that it's all perfectly normal. After years of flooding your body with addictive toxins, it's bound to fight back a bit when you quit.

You will probably feel more tired than you can imagine. By mid afternoon you'll want a nap - like a toddler. You'll feel muggy headed, like you're wading through soup, and your concentration levels will be completely shot.

Don't worry - it'll pass. See it as a sign that your body's recuperating.

Ironically, you may find that you also have problems initially in getting to sleep. Again, this is temporary. Soon you'll be sleeping like a baby - better than you have in years. And no more waking up at 3am with the night horrors.

You might get headaches and/or constipation. That's all part of your body detoxing. Drink lots of water, fresh juices and smoothies.

You may be a bit (or a lot) tetchy and snappy. Like a bad case of PMT.  Try to avoid taking on anything too crucial or stressful over the next week or two.

You'll constantly think about drinking. Or not drinking. And, generally, the more you try NOT to think about something, the more you do.

I found that the best thing to do is to indulge the obsession - at least initially. I read endless books, articles and blogs about drinking. My favourite drinking memoir is Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. For great drinking fiction read Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins, or Summer Secrets by Jane Green.

3. Find Some Friends

It's really difficult to quit drinking on your own. You might be lucky and have someone 'in real life' who's doing it with you. The problem with that, however, is if they cave they're likely to take you down with them. And they might not need to quit as much as you do....

Luckily, there's a huge amount of help online - a whole Soberverse!

You can start at the beginning of this blog - back in March - and read through my first few weeks. And sign up to www.soberistas.com where you'll find huge amounts of help and support.

If you'd like to follow the story of someone starting on Day 1 now, then check out my online blogging friends: redrecovers.wordpress.com, gingergroundhog.blogspot.com and annieuk101.wordpress.com. And another more seasoned blogger, like me, thewinebitch.blogspot.com.

There's also AA. I have to confess that I've still not been myself, but they've helped millions of people and saved endless lives. With AA you get all the help and support you'd get online plus real hugs, not just virtual ones.

4. Be good to yourself

You are doing a phenomenal thing. And it's not easy. So, for the next few weeks at least, don't try to do anything else. Don't worry about dieting, about getting a new job or redecorating the house. Just concentrate, for the moment, on NOT DRINKING!

Give yourself some rewards - you deserve them. And you're saving money! Eat cake. Drink lots of hot chocolate (it has magical properties - you'll see). Have hot baths with bubbles and candles. Book a massage. Whatever makes you feel good.

5. Watch out for cravings

You're bound to get them, especially at your main trigger points, like 'wine o'clock' or when you're hungry, tired, stressed or bored. Or pretty much anytime, actually.

Remember - THEY WILL PASS. You just need to distract yourself for as long as it takes.

Bake cookies. Or, the more healthy option, do some exercise. Go for a long walk, or a run. Getting away from the fridge or any drinking environment is a good idea.

Have a hot bath. Log onto Soberistas (see above) or your favourite blog. Take up knitting, colouring, the guitar - whatever works.

6. Wait for the miracles to happen

Just take it one day at a time and you will, slowly slowly, start to see the benefits.

You'll sleep better than you have since childhood. Your eyes will be brighter, skin fresher and hair bouncier. You'll look five years younger.

You'll lose the puffy face and the wine belly. You'll feel calmer and happier.

But the best things about being sober don't happen in the first month. They keep on coming, over the weeks, months and years.

So don't just do Dry January. Consider making it forever.

Just think about it....

Good luck to you all!

SM x