Saturday, 30 April 2016

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago, when I was exactly two months sober, I wrote this post - Tartan and Tiaras - about a huge Scottish society ball that Mr and SM and I went to.

Seven hundred dancers, from the age of eighteen to eighty, dressed in clan tartan and doing traditional Scottish reels.

Well, last night we went again.

This event has remained pretty much unchanged for over one hundred and fifty years. It's all floor length dresses, dance cards, bagpipes, diamonds and sporrans.

The only thing that changes is the other guests get younger and younger.

When I first went, more then twenty years ago, I was part of the fast, young set. Now, I find myself a grande dame (or old bag, depending on which way you look at it). How did that happen?

I always get a bit nervous leading up to the ball.

Yesterday I was in a panic about several things. Would I manage to get the children fed, bathed, and ready for bed, whilst also getting dolled up myself, before the babysitter arrived at 7pm? Would I remember all the steps? Could I make it through to 3am without keeling over?

Then it struck me. One thing that hadn't bothered me at all, was the idea of doing it all sober. In fact, just the thought of doing all of that while drunk gave me the heebie jeebies. How on earth did I manage it?

The thing about these annual events, these fixed points of stability and consistency in a fast changing world, is that they give you an unnerving perspective on time.

For years the ball gave me a sense of time slipping through my fingers. To paraphrase John Lennon, another year over, and what have we done?

I didn't feel like that last night. I looked back on the year that had passed since I last twirled my way through the Reel of the Fifty First Highland Division and felt....proud.

I'd lost the drink, found myself, and dealt with cancer. It wasn't the best of years, but at least I'd grabbed it by the sweaty bollocks, not just let it pass me by, unnoticed.

At about 2am, I looked around our group of fifty friends, and realised, yet again, that hardly anyone was drunk. And the ones that were stood out like sore thumbs.

I'd assumed for years that most people drank the way I did. I thought that if, by the end of an evening, I was a little unsteady, repetitive and slurry no-one would pay much attention, because they would be in the same state.

Now I cringe at the thought that none of it would have gone unnoticed.

So, this morning I've woken up exhausted after only four hours sleep, and aching all over.

In a way it reminds me of waking up with a hangover. You do that sort of inventory of how you feel, and use it to piece together the night before.

But, rather than my aches and pains reminding me of embarrassments and misdemeanours, they bring back memories of a magical night, celebrating another year passed with great friends, music and dance.

There are much better ways to get high than drinking.

Love SM x

(To follow my story from Day One, click here)

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Little Things

There are lots of major advantages that come with quitting booze, but there are also a number of little things. Things that crop up from time to time and give you a welcome boost, reminding you that you're doing the right thing.

I had two such lovely moments in the last week.

The first one came courtesy of the ice cream man.

There's an ice cream van which, much to the chagrin of all the mothers, parks right outside the children's school, arriving with the first signs of spring, and staying through to middle of Autumn.

I run the gamut of the van, dragging protesting children, every day of the week, except for Friday, which has been renamed ice cream Friday.

Now it's the summer term, the ice cream man is back (even though it still seems to be snowing from time to time).

So, last Friday I ordered two Ninety-nines (one with additional strawberry sauce), and the ice cream man did a comedy double take.

"Hope you don't mind me asking," he says, "but have you lost, like, loads of weight?"

"Err, yes, I have actually," I replied.

"How did you do that?" he asks, by which point everyone in the queue is listening.

"I quit booze," I said.

"Just that?" he asks, somewhat incredulously. "No diet or anything?"

"Nope. Just the alcohol. Goes to show how much Chablis I was drinking. Ha! Ha!"

"Ha! Ha! Ha!" goes everyone else in the queue. If only they knew....

(For more on alcohol and weight loss, see my post: Reasons to Quit Drinking, #1: Weight Loss)

Then, last night, I was at a dinner, sitting next to a friend's charming new boyfriend, who I'd never met. Somehow we ended up talking about our University days.

He mentioned his student loan, to which I replied "We didn't have student loans in my day."

(In fact, I vividly remember going on the anti-loan march - Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, Out, Out! -  a whirlwind of idealism in a mini skirt, duffel coat and leg warmers, swathed in cigarette smoke.)

"That can't be right", he said. "You're way younger than me."

"I think not," I replied. "How old are you?"

"Forty two." he says.

"Well, I'm forty seven."

Now, admittedly, he may be a great actor. He was, obviously, a charmer. But he did look genuinely shocked.

And, I promise you, a year ago he would not have been at all surprised to discover my age. (And, actually, he probably wouldn't have bothered with the charm offensive).

I apologise that this all sounds rather superficial, but - let's face it - quitting alcohol is hard when the whole world is awash with the damn stuff, so we deserve a few perks from time to time, don't you think?

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Alcohol and Creativity

#2 is obsessed by Harry Potter. He's seen all the films (several times), and the books have been the only thing that have managed to ignite any interest he has in reading.

(I thank you, J.K. Rowling, from the bottom of my heart).

So, as a special treat, I took #2 and #3 to the Warner Brother Studios to do the tour of the Harry Potter sets.

It was extraordinary.

It's amazing to think that from one single mother, on a delayed train, having an idle thought (wouldn't it be interesting if a young boy were to discover that he had magical powers and was going to a school for wizards?) came a set of stories that have entranced millions around the world.

The Harry Potter characters are an intrinsic part of our children's childhoods. Dumbledore is more real to #2 than President Obama. He knows more wizarding charms than French vocabulary.

And that spark, lit by Rowling, inspired thousands of others to create incredible costumes, sets, animatronics and so on, much of which we saw.

At any one time, over a ten year period, there were around two thousand people at the Warner Brother's studios, working some kind of personal magic on the Harry Potter project.

Alan Rickman, who played Snape, and tragically died last January, said "a film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."

And the Harry Potter stories did. They gave children around the globe a common language. They inspired them to read, to believe in magic, to value bravery and loyalty....

.....and all of that from one person's imagination.

Creativity, imagination, storytelling - they are what make us human. They're not just about survival and reproduction, but about nourishing the soul, and bringing people together in a shared experience.

I've found that one of the things that happens when you stop drinking is that your desire and ability to be creative is ignited. It's as if our all our soggy neural pathways are dried out and fired into action.

I believe that we use alcohol to transport us away from our humdrum lives, and when we no longer use it, we discover that creativity can do the same.

Listening and dancing to music, going to the theatre, reading a great book, painting, writing, dressmaking - all of these things have the ability to take us out of ourselves in the way that booze once did. And in a way that's life enhancing, not self destructive.

(See my post from back on Day 119: Blowing Your Mind)

Since I quit I've taken up writing every day. I've written one novel, and am planning another. Anne (ainsobriety) has written a book on meditation. '69 has rekindled her old passion of designing amazing hats, Wine Bitch has just finished her book, and filmed some fabulous podcasts. Jen Flowers has launched a jewellery business, and there are many, many more examples I could quote.

So, if you haven't already, quit now, and find out what your brain is really capable of....

Love SM x

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Memory Loss

On the very many occasions when I would, usually on a hungover Sunday morning, ask myself Am I an Alcoholic? one of the pieces of evidence of 'normality' that I would cling to like a life raft was this: I never had a blackout.

I was terrified by the idea of a blackout; the fact that you could walk, talk, dance, have sex - all seemingly consciously - yet have no recall of any of it, even when prompted.

Imagine the humiliation of having to call friends to find out what happened between, say, being at a restaurant and waking up in a stranger's bed.

Sarah Hepola, in her wonderful memoir - Blackout - describes it lyrically:

If you're like me, you know the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings came with trap doors....

....A curtain falling in the middle of the act, leaving minutes and sometimes hours in the dark. But anyone watching me wouldn't notice. They'd simply see a woman on her way to somewhere else, with no idea her memory just snapped in half.

The cause of blackouts is that, at a certain blood-alcohol content - around 0.3%, the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for making long term memories) shuts down.

Your short term memory still functions, but it can only retain detail for around two minutes, which is why people in a blackout often repeat themselves, like a talking goldfish.

The scary thing is that as those memories have never been stored, they can never be recalled, so even when your friends tell you what you did the night before, it doesn't help you to remember.

(This was central to the plot of the bestseller 'Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins. If you haven't read it, then do. A great page turner about an alcoholic - what's not to like?)

I was thinking about all of this in light of my post yesterday on the documentary 'Drinking to Oblivion,' where I'd concluded that there is no black and white to alcoholism, just ever darkening shades of grey.

That's when it struck me that I may not have had blackouts, but I'd definitely, and with increasing frequency, had memory 'issues'.

Because a blackout requires a certain level of blood saturation, you are most likely to have one if you drink strong alcohol, particularly quickly, and on an empty stomach.

(Women, with their lower body weights and higher fat ratios, are more at risk than men).

I only drank wine. Buckets of it, admittedly, but sipped over long periods, and I'd usually eat at some point. That's probably how I avoided the problem.

But, at a lower level of blood saturation (around 0.2%) you can experience 'fragmentary blackouts,' sometimes called 'brownouts.'

These are more like a light flickering on and off in your brain - you remember many details, but not all of them.

And that was me. Not often, but occasionally.

For example, I would go to a party and stay until 4am, and yet the period of time between, say, 1am and 4am would be a bit of a blur. I'd think back over all the people I talked to and conversations I'd had and I'd remember a fair bit, but only about one hour's worth.

Where did all the time go? I'd ask myself.

I thought maybe it was just the fact that time seemed to speed up when you were 'having fun.' But it never happens to me now.... (And I am still having fun, honestly!)

The other sign that I was heading down that slippery slope towards rock bottom was 'handbag panic.'

Several times over the last year or two of my love affair with booze, I would wake up, as per usual, at 3am, sweating alcohol and hating myself.

I would, after a bit of rummaging around in the memory banks, be able to remember how I got home, but I'd have a total panic about what I did with my handbag.

I have a beautiful Chanel clutch which Mr SM bought me on my fortieth birthday, and I would hyperventilate with fear that I'd left it at the party, or in a taxi.

At this point I would roam the house and my bedroom, using the torch on my iPhone, so as not to wake anyone, until I located the bag (which I always did). Then I'd toss and turn until past dawn.

It's only now I realise that those were 'brownouts.' My memory was flicking on and off, so I would get fragments of conversations, of a taxi journey, and so on, but some details (like where I put my bag) just disappeared through the trapdoor.

You see, it's really not black and white - just shades of grey (or brown).

And now I never lose time, or handbags, or my mind. Hurrah for that.

Love SM x

Monday, 25 April 2016

Drinking to Oblivion

That was the title of a Louis Theroux documentary on the BBC last night.

(If you missed it then do try to catch it on iPlayer).

Louis spent weeks following four alcoholics at the Kings College liver unit. All were gradually killing themselves. Some were closer to death than others.

It was a brilliant, but harrowing, programme.

It would be so easy to look at those people and think that's just not me, but, actually, I found - terrifyingly - that the similarities were, in many ways, greater than the differences.

The popular view of 'alcoholism' is that a small proportion of people have an illness which makes drinking 'normally' impossible for them. For everyone else, drinking is relatively harmless.

This documentary just re-enforced, for me, that this is just not the case. The difference between the heavy drinking 'wine connoisseur' and the low bottom drunk is actually paper thin.

There is no black and white to alcohol addiction, just shades of grey. The one certainty is that it only gets worse, and if you don't quit before it's too late, the Kings College liver unit (or similar) is where you end up.

Louis met Stuart, who was told he had around three months to live, due to cirrhosis of the liver. We saw him having ten litres of vile fluid drained from his distended belly.

Then we saw Joe, who was only thirty two (I think), and was going through a seven day medically supervised detox. Several days in and he still couldn't walk, and was shaking terribly.

Any toxin that can totally destroy people physically in that way cannot possibly be harmless in any quantities.

Another really frightening aspect of the documentary was the way it showed how, little by little, alcohol strips you of everything.

Joe had had a girlfriend, a lively social life, a good job and a lovely flat. He'd lost all of them. He was completely isolated, homeless and unemployed.

But, as their lives became emptier and emptier, there was always something there to fill the gaps - the booze.

Until, eventually, alcohol became their only friend, like the gargantuan cuckoo that pushes everything else out of the nest. And then, the idea of losing the only thing they have left becomes unthinkable.

As one lady said, she'd rather die. And she will.

I watched all of this thinking, sure, that isn't me. But I can see how it could have been.

I didn't have incurable cirrhosis, but I was two stone overweight with a malignant breast tumour.

I didn't need a seven day medical detox to quit, but quitting was still one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I didn't lose my friends, my home  and my job, but my life was gradually becoming emptier and emptier, with booze insidiously filling in all the cracks left behind.

I wasn't there, but I was on the way.

The one thing you really don't want to do is to look at the rock bottom alcoholic and think that's not me, using that as reassurance to carry on (as I'm sure many, many viewers did yesterday as they quaffed their bucket sized glasses of chardonnay).

Because, once you're addicted, it's the way you're heading, and the closer you get, the scarier it is, the more damage you're doing to yourself and your life, and the harder it is to stop.

And here's a salutary tale: lovely Joe had been alcohol free for four and a half years. He said he thought he was older and wiser now. He didn't want to go back to drinking vast amounts, he just wanted to have a glass or two of wine with dinner....

.....but we all know that you don't spend years going gradually back downhill; all it takes is a few drinks and whoompf, you're teleported back to just where you left off, or worse. And within weeks Joe was back in A&E in a poorer state than ever.

(See my post: Relapse Stories)

Interestingly, Louis Theroux, in his interviews with the media about the documentary, confessed to drinking two gin and tonics and three glasses of wine every night.  He also said that at weekends he could easily drink two bottles of wine after lunch.

Now, presuming that those were three fairly large glasses of vino, he's drinking exactly the amount that I was before I quit. And I know that that is not healthy. Mentally or physically.

So please, next time you fancy a quick drink, watch that documentary and - I promise - you won't want to any more...

(On a cheerier note, the new series of Game of Thrones starts tonight! I am beyond excited).

Love SM x

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Self Sabotage

Lovely J - reader, e-mail friend, and fellow breast cancer survivor, sent me this fabulous article by Martha Beck on self sabotage (click here).

Martha's thinking is based on the famous 'rat park' experiment.

(Johann Hari's TEDD talk on addiction was inspired by the same game changing rodents. If you haven't seen it yet, go to my post: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong).

Rat park was an experiment designed by a Canadian called Bruce Alexander.

He looked at the myriad of studies into heroin and opiate addiction, where rats, given the opportunity, would drug themselves into oblivion.

Eventually they'd ignore all the food and water until, pretty quickly, they died. Game over. Ex rats.

Alexander noticed something significant: in all these experiments the rats were on their own in small, featureless cages.

So, Alexander designed Rat Park, a rat nirvana. He put lots of rats in it with loads of fun stuff to do, and gave them a choice of water or morphine.

Most of them chose the water.

(I suspect that if I'd been in that cage, however much fun I was having, I still would have wanted to party with the morphine from time to time. I would have been rebel rat).

Reading about this experiment was Martha Beck's lightbulb moment. She says:

The Rat Park studies profoundly influenced my view of what many people call self-sabotage. I believe that most of us live in cages of our own creation.

Ignoring our actual desires, we try to do what we think is right (or good or healthy or admirable—pick your poison). Sometimes this arrangement works. Sometimes it doesn't.  

Martha reckons that we fall back on our bad habits (drinking, smoking, overeating, shopping, whatever) when our conscious self is fighting against our inner desires.

In effect, we're sticking our rat-self in a cage and not letting it near the rat park. All this does is make our inner rat rebel and dive for our bad habit of choice, as a sort of ratty f**k you.

So, for us, the greater the divergence of our actual lives from our perfect rat park, the more likely we are to reach for the booze.

I get this. I also think it becomes a vicious circle, because the more we drink, the less likely we are to create a stimulating and varied rat park. Over time, our cage becomes increasingly dull and empty.

Instead of doing anything constructive about the situation, we shrug our shoulders, feel a bit sorry for ourselves and pour another drink, just like the self destructing rats with the morphine water in the original experiments.

So, how does Martha suggest we break the cycle of self sabotage? How do we get out of the cage and into the park?

She says the key is to make yourself aware of your inherent desires, and when you're disallowing them.

So, sit down with a pen and paper, and write down all the things you're planning to do tomorrow, big and small.

Then, think about drinking, and what triggers the addict voice in your head.

Read through the list carefully, think about performing each activity, and how much it makes you want to self sabotage.

If it doesn't make you want to drink at all, give it a zero. If it immediately makes you want to dash to the nearest wine shop and drown in booze, give it a ten.

This exercise will reveal some scary, and helpful, truths.

You may find, for example, that your evening bubble bath and your yoga class are zeros, but calling your ex-husband, and meeting your friend Chloe, are tens.

Martha suggest that you take each self-sabotaging item on the list and think:

1. In a perfect life, would I do this thing at all?

2. If so, what would I change to make it more enjoyable?

3. If not, what would I rather do?   

Let your imagination run wild. Dream. Be adventurous. Create your perfect Rat Park in your mind.

Then keep that amazing place in view, and make as many tiny changes as you can over time to get yourself closer to it.

Do more of the zeros, and jettison the tens, or adapt them to make them more manageable.

Because, as Martha says, If you cease to betray yourself, the self-sabotage in your life simply stops.


Happy, sober Sunday to you all,

SM x

Friday, 22 April 2016

Get Out of Jail Free

There are a series of milestones we pass when quit drinking.

The first is just getting through a day without drinking. Sometime later, much later, we manage to get through a day without thinking about drinking.

Then there are all the firsts: first sober party, first sober holiday, sober Christmas, sober birthday etcetera.

Eventually, after much bitching and moaning, and some experimentation, we come to terms with the fact that we're never going to be able to moderate - to be a 'normal' drinker.

The biggie, the giant enchilada of milestones, is the one chiselled with the words 'FOREVER.'

(Can you chisel an enchilada? Sounds messy. You'd need to wear an apron. Note to self: try not to mix metaphors).

It took me at least six months to even think about forever.

But now, I don't find the idea of forever scary at all. Instead, I find the idea of going back to the dark days totally terrifying.

So, I was thinking, have I reached the Final Milestone? Is that it?

And it was playing a game of Monopoly that made me realise it's not.

(Monopoly is a serious business in the SM household. It involves lots of extra rules around passing Go, landing on Free Parking and going to jail. Plus, often the players use more than one piece simultaneously. And #2 cheats).

I realised that you haven't reached the Final Milestone until you've ditched the Get Out Of Jail Free card. The card that allows you an immediate exit in an emergency - without payment or guilt.

When I quit smoking, it didn't take me long to know that I didn't want to be a thirty a day smoker for the rest of my life. It took me a good while longer to reconcile myself to the fact that I couldn't just be a 'social smoker,' but - after a few tumbles from the smoke free waggon - I got there.

However, for many years I clung onto my Get Out of Jail Free Card.

I knew that I would never smoke again unless I had to attend the funeral of a very close friend or relative. I just could not imagine that scenario without me having a cigarette in my hand.

Likewise, I decided that I could, and would have to, play the card if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. If you're going to die anyway, then why the hell not? And how could anyone get through that kind of situation without a lorry load of fags?

(1980s English slang alert! Fag = cigarette, not a derogatory term for a gay guy. Having said that, a lorry load of fit gay guys is probably just the thing in those circumstances).

But, at some point over the years that followed, I ditched the Get Out of Jail Free Card. The annoying thing is I can't remember when, as the whole point is that by then I'd stopped thinking about cigarettes at all. Ever.

Now, if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the last thing on earth I'd want to do is to start smoking! Yeuck! Why in the world would I tarnish my last days with noxious, smelly, stupidly expensive smoke? Madness!

BUT, when it comes to alcohol, I'm still clutching onto my Get Out of Jail Free card. I'm still thinking if my cancer came back (terminal), or if one of the children was seriously ill, or Mr SM died, then I'd have to drink. Not my fault. Just life.

I have no idea whether I'd ever actually play the card. I like to think that I'd have the courage to just leave it face down on the table. But I'd know it was there.

I also know that one day it won't be.

One day I'll realise that even if I only had twenty four hours before a meteor struck and obliterated the planet I would not drink. Not because I couldn't, but because I genuinely wouldn't see the point.

And that is, I believe, the Final Milestone.

But the bizarre thing is, once I've made it there, I won't be able to celebrate, because, like smoking, I just won't be thinking about it any longer.

Until some time in the distant future, maybe over a game of Monopoly with the future grandchildren, I'll pick up a Get Out of Jail Free card, and I'll remember, and smile a little (toothless) smile to myself, as I sip on my camomile tea.

Are any of you there yet?

Love SM x


Oh no. First Bowie, now Prince.

This is what is sounds like, when the doves cry.

It's hard to believe that such a feisty, fabulous ball of energy could be extinguished like that, at the age of fifty seven.

Prince was a creative genius.

He sold over one hundred million records, and not only wrote around one thousand songs in his own name, but hundreds for other artists (Nothing Compares to You and Manic Monday, amongst many others).

Prince didn't have it easy. He had epilepsy as a child, but still managed to write his first song at the age of seven.

He mixed his first album at nineteen, arranging, composing and playing all the twenty seven instruments on the recording.

Prince's first child, Boy Gregory, with Mayte Garcia (his backing singer and dancer), died at only a week old. He never had another baby, or a long term, successful relationship.

I went to see Prince on his Purple Rain tour. I was only fifteen. I remember him being tiny, but his energy filled a football stadium, with oodles to spare.

He danced like a banshee for several hours in six inch heeled boots, only pausing from time to time to throw his microphone to the floor and hump it. I was agog. Blown away.

Prince was a rebel. A true individual.

Not only did he decide to change his name, but he changed it to a symbol, thereby forcing everyone to describe his as 'The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.'

(This caused some hilarity when he eventually reverted to Prince, thereby becoming 'The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.')

Prince also enabled us to share that rebel spirit.

If ever I wanted to feel naughty, wild, out there, all I had to do was to put 'Darling Nikki' on the record player (remember those?) and sing along...

I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine

(It was that song that encouraged Tipper Gore to found the Parents Music Resource Center which led to 'Parental Advisory' stickers on album covers).

But you know the really amazing thing about Prince?

Creativity, fame, adversity, rebelliousness, individuality, rock and roll - all things we tend to associate with drink and drugs - and yet Price was, by all accounts, completely teetotal. He never touched alcohol.

I guess it figures. How else could he have achieved so much in just fifty seven years?

Prince said, in an NME interview, "I know those paths of excess, drugs, sex and alcohol - all those experiences can be funky, they can be very funky, but they’re just paths, a diversion, not the answer…

You will always live on for me, Prince. I don't want to think of you as a dead body stuck in an elevator...

....I only want to see you bathing in the purple rain.

Love to you all,

SM x

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Drinking Enthusiasts

Yesterday, I received an e-mail which I was not expecting.

It was from a lady called Kelly, and it opened with the greeting: Hello Fellow Drinking Enthusiast!

This threw me somewhat.

I've been called many things since I started this blog (in fact, yesterday someone commenting on Annie's blog described me as a 'sanctimonious self promoter'. I'd pretend not to be bothered, but the fact that I find myself mentioning it would suggest otherwise), but 'Drinking Enthusiast' is a new one.

Kelly goes on to say this: I love to throw a few back now and then, and apparently you do too. I love the boozy life so much that I created a very cool and fun line of alcohol and booze-related vinyl decals for all of my fellow boozers (with a sense of humour) out there. I was hoping that you could give my booze decals a little love on your blog.

She even, most kindly, offered to send me some freebies in return.

I like to think that I do, indeed, have a sense of humour, so I chortled a lot, at the idea of me being a 'drinking enthusiast', and the fact that I have absolutely no idea what a 'vinyl decal' is, let alone how to 'give one some love' on my blog.

Loving a boozy vinyl decal sounds like something one might do at an S&M orgy (not that I'd know much about that either, obvs).

I looked up Kelly's website, and the 'decals' feature a number of 'witty' sayings, like 3-4 glasses of wine a day can reduce your risk of giving a shit (don't we know it), or I am Woman, hear me pour (all that effort, Emily Pankhurst, for this!)

Anyhow, I salute any woman who has the balls and creativity to set up their own internet business, so well done you, Kelly, and should any of you want to buy a witty, boozy, vinyl decal then do check out

I find the idea that there's this whole parallel universe out there quite unnerving. Here we are, floating around the world wide soberverse, while there are millions of others (more than us? Fewer?) blogging away in the 'drinking enthusiast' space.

I do hope that some of them eventually realise that 'giving a shit' is good thing and that there is more to being 'Woman' than pouring wine, and decide to hop on over here (yikes! Does that sound sanctimonious?).

Love to you all,


Wednesday, 20 April 2016


One of the most awesome things about not drinking is driving.

It took me a while after I quit to really get the driving thing. I wasn't used to using my car much. But now, I just love it.

Last night, for example, Mr SM and I were meeting some old friends in a restaurant in Covent Garden.

In the bad old days this would have meant either struggling with a long tube journey in rush hour, or a very expensive taxi ride.

Coming home would have been even more tricky, as with all the theatres emptying out, a black cab would have been hard to find, Uber would be on triple time, and the tube filled with (other) drunks.

But last night all I had to do was walk outside my front door and jump in my car. Stuck some good music on, set the SatNav, and off we went.

And I've discovered that as practically no-one drives into the West End, you can always find somewhere to park. For free.

Oh joy.

Then there's parties. Remember that awful moment when you realised that you just had to put the drink down and go home?

Often it would involve tracking down the host to find a mini cab number, waiting for said cab, trying to look sober(ish) so they won't refuse to take you, having to drive round and round to find a cashpoint while making inane conversation about the vagaries of the British climate, when all you want to do is go to sleep (pass out).

NO MORE! Now you can be your own personal night bus. Your own on demand chauffeur, ready to whisk yourself home as soon as you've had enough.

Plus, you become super popular with all your (drunk) friends as you can drive them back too.

You also have the joy of playing the go-on-please-stop-me-and-breathalyse-me game whenever you pass a police car. It gives me a frisson every time.

(See my post: Fear of Cashiers and Police Cars).

Out of town parties are even more smug making. While all your friends are spending fortunes on hotels, and taxis to and from said hotels to party venue, so long as you're not more than two hours away you can just drive there....and drive back.

Ok, you might not get huge amounts of sleep, but at least you wake up in your own (free) bed, without a hangover. What's not to like?

So, all in all, I'm totally in love with my car.

Until yesterday.

I took #2 and five of his friends to Kidzania at Westfield Shopping Centre to celebrate his birthday, and the last day of the school holidays.

The boys - aged ten - were all completely hyped up, and when we arrived they jumped out of the car in a flash, and headed off.

I chased after them, yelling, in a totally un-repsonsible-adult way, and only realised once I'd dropped them off at Kidzania that I had NO IDEA where I'd parked my car, in a car park with literally thousands of spaces.

Instead of having a couple of hours to shop while the boys went crazy in Kidzania, I spent the whole time wandering round the car park trying to find my vehicle.

Which just goes to show - even sober people can be total pillocks from time to time.

Love SM x

Monday, 18 April 2016

Relapse Stories

I get many heart breaking e-mails from people who've quit booze for months, even years, at a time, but then are lured by the dream of 'moderation' back into drinking.

Within weeks they're back to square one.

I've been there too, and yet - even now, after thirteen months of not drinking, I still get haunted by that false promise.

In fact, in some ways it gets harder as, with time, the bad memories fade, and you're only left with the rose tinted ones.

It goes like this: You're overreacting! You were never a 'proper alcoholic'. Now you've 'reset' your relationship with booze and you can drink 'normally'. You're aware now, you know more. You'll never let yourself get into that position again....

I find that what helps me the most when I start thinking like this, is to hear the stories of people who've listened to the wine witch and picked up a drink after a good, long sober stretch.

Because it's never pretty. There's never a happy ending.

So, I'm hoping that any of you who've been there, done that, can comment below, so that all of us who need an extra boost once in a while can read those cautionary tales and find strength in them.

(If you're having problems commenting, then go to and set up a user profile. It's completely anonymous, and can be under any name you like. Then you can comment on any Blogger websites, and even set up your own blog).

To kick things off, here's mine:

My only other long sober stretch was about three years ago. I was getting increasingly troubled by my relationship with booze, and how it seemed to be dominating my life. I desperately wanted to cut down. So I read Jason Vale.

By the end of the book I'd completely changed my view of alcohol. I realised that cutting down wasn't going to work for me - it never had in the past - and that I really could go alcohol free.

So I quit. For nearly two months. I joined, but that was really the extent of my involvement in the sober world.

Then I had a bad day. I drove for a solid nine hours to Scotland with three squabbling children and a cooped up terrier.

When I, finally, arrived, I thought I really deserved just one glass of wine. After all, I'd reset my relationship with booze now. I knew how dangerous it was. I'd be cautious. Aware.

Within an hour or two I'd drunk the whole bottle! And after two months sober the after effects were ghastly.

Still, I wasn't worried. It was a good lesson. And, indeed, I didn't drink again for a whole week. When I had two glasses. See! Moderation in action!

Suffice to say, that within a month I was back to drinking just as much as before. And the amount kept creeping up, millilitre by millilitre.

It took two whole years for me to find the resolve to quit again. And this time it was harder. Much harder.

So, I know that it's just not worth it. I know that I'd only end up back at the beginning, and that from there the trajectory is in one direction: down.

And yet, sometimes I still hear that voice saying after more than a year you really must have cracked it....

Which is why I'm asking you to share your stories too. Because stories really do have the power to change the world.

Love SM x

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Alcohol and Sleep

Often I find the self help mantras of successful women rather dispiriting and... exhausting.

The Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother? Oh come on. Just getting my smalls to brush their teeth and do their homework is achievement enough.

Lean In? Give me a break, Sheryl Sandberg! I'm worried that if I lean in further I'll fall flat on my face - rather like I did during an over-enthusiastic jive move at a wedding with Mr SM in the late nineties.

That's why I'm so grateful for Arianna Huffington's latest war cry: She says, and has done the requisite TED talk and written the book, that we all need more sleep.

Hurrah for sleep!

It was a personal experience that got Arianna all fired up about snoozing. She'd taken her daughter round a tour of colleges for a few days, spending the nights catching up on work, then, the day she got back to work, found herself on the floor surrounded by blood.

She'd collapsed with exhaustion and banged her head en route, breaking her cheekbone and cutting her forehead. (Arianna, it seems, never does anything by halves).

So, Arianna's now urging women round the world to, literally, sleep their way to the top.

This is all extremely relevant for us, because heavy drinkers sleep really, really badly.

(For more on this, see my post Sleep, Glorious Sleep).

We might get to sleep (aka passing out) pretty easily, but we tend to wake in the early hours needing to wee, then toss and turn for hours, sweating booze and berating ourselves. Sound familiar?

And, even when we are asleep, the quality of that sleep is pretty rotten, as our bodies are working overtime processing all that alcohol.

The impact of this lack of sleep, as Arianna points out, isn't just that we feel a little bit tired. Oh no. It affects our relationships, our careers, our creativity and our health.

Lack of sleep is directly correlated to an increased incidence of breast and colon cancer, and of heart problems. In the days after the clocks spring forward an hour in March, there is an increase in heart attacks, and of road accidents.

Researchers from the University of California found that couples who regularly get a full night's sleep are more likely to have happy, successful relationships.

Sleep deprivation was deemed to be 'a significant factor' in the Exxon Valdez wreck, the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle and the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

Now, we may not be in charge of a space programme; you may be 'only' a housewife, like me. But you know how lack of sleep makes you unproductive, irritable and more likely to make mistakes.

Of all the benefits being sober brings, for me, getting lots of (great quality) sleep has been one of the best.

It's made me healthier, happier, more creative and has even made me look better (no more eye bags and dull, tired skin).

BUT, be warned, when you first quit you may find getting to sleep tricky. Don't worry. That'll pass. (Magnesium supplements may help).

You'll also find that, for the first few weeks, you are more tired than you can imagine. A bit like that early pregnancy tiredness, but even more so.

That's your body saying oh thank heavens for that! I'm totally exhausted dealing with all that constant poison. Just give me a while to readjust and I'll - finally - be back on form.

If you can, take a tip from Arianna, and have a nap mid afternoon, just until you get your energy levels back.

So, get as much sleep as you can. Not just for you, but for the people around you.

Arianna tells a story about sitting next to a chap at dinner who was boasting about only having had four hours sleep the previous night. Arianna desperately wanted to reply 'if you'd had five, this dinner would have been a lot more enjoyable.'

Have a great day, peeps, I'm off for a snooze.

SM zzzzzz

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Spark Joy

Spring has arrived (if temporarily) in London.

People are ditching their coats, smiling more, and the ice cream vans have started prowling the streets.

This is the traditional time for the SoberMummy wardrobe assault.

I only have one (largeish) wardrobe. Not enough space to store four seasons worth of clothes. So, twice a year I store away winter garments and bring out summer ones, or same thing in reverse.

This is always a fabulous opportunity for decluttering, and decluttering is a brilliant activity for sober people.

Why? Well, for a start it keeps you, and your hands, busy. Also, it's great mindfulness training. You have to totally focus on the job in hand.

Plus there's a beautiful symmetry about it - you turn chaos into order externally, mirroring what's going on inside your head.

And, after years of drinking too much, you're bound to have created quite a lot of chaos, right?

This year, I decided to take some expert advice, so I looked up Marie Kondo, enthusiast of the Japanese art of 'KonMari', and author of 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying.'

Life Changing Magic! What's not to like?

Marie's method applies to your whole home, but she says to take one category at a time - in my case clothes.

What you do is lay out everything you own. All your clothes, dug up from every recess. It's frightening.

Then, quite simply, you pick up each piece and ask yourself does it spark joy? If it does, you keep it, if not you give it away.

Try it! It's extraordinarily liberating.

So many of our clothes are laden with emotion: guilt (it cost me a fortune, but I never wear it), sadness (I loved it once, but it's too young for me now), nostalgia (I looked amazing at that wedding, back in the day).

(I got positively weepy over a pair of bright orange Versace jeans (UK size 10) from my clubbing days).

But much of that emotion is negative. Plus, we only wear a tiny proportion of what's in our wardrobes.

So, when we open the closet, we're confronted by chaos. We can't see the clothes we could wear, because they're hidden by all the clothes we're never going to wear again. It's a Pandora's box of confusion, guilt, shame and regret.

So, Marie says be ruthless. Keep only those clothes that 'spark joy.'

(What I love about this is that it does allow you to keep the nostalgia dress you'll never wear again but has such happy memories. Or the shoes that cripple your feet but are so beautiful that you love them anyway. It's about emotion, not boring practicality).

Once you're done, you rearrange your wardrobe and drawers so that everything is easily visible and simple to locate. (She has special folding methods for drawers which you can check out on YouTube).

And you know what? It really works!

Now, when I open a drawer I can look at everything with fondness, with enthusiasm, with anticipation. I know I love it all, for one reason or another.

Plus, I can see it all! Some gorgeous, forgotten items have resurfaced after the purge. No need to go shopping for ages, Mr SM ;-)

And what you're left with, after all of that, is a feeling of peace. Of joy in a life made more simple.

And we all need a bit of that, don't we?

Now for the children's wardrobes.... *flexes fingers and cracks knuckles.*

So, go spark some joy, my friends.

SM x

Thursday, 14 April 2016


I was reading Angie's blog this morning (My quest for an alcohol free life).

I've been following Angie, a lovely Australian nurse, for over a year. She got as far as 100 days once, but then disappeared. We all missed her terribly. Then she came back. Back at Day One.

But this time she sounds different. She's got to around four months, and I honestly think she's cracked it. Go Angie!

Angie was talking about a wonderful day out with her husband and son, picnicking by the river, and how she was overwhelmed with sadness, because it would have been perfect if they'd been able to share a bottle of wine.

Fear of missing out (or, as my children would say, FOMO) is a big problem for we newly sober people. Even after thirteen months I still get hit by it from time to time.

There you are, having a blast, when out of nowhere a voice pipes up it'd be better with a glass of vino, wouldn't it? You're really missing out.

Now we're not very good at missing out. If we were, then we would probably be good at moderation *rolls on floor laughing*.

When FOMO hits me I remind myself that the picture of me calmly, and happily, sipping one glass of wine is a myth.

Because one glass of wine doesn't really do anything, does it? You might as well drink a glass of elderflower cordial.

All one glass of wine does is make you want more. It doesn't leave you feeling better, it leaves you feeling dissatisfied.

So, you wouldn't be sitting there drinking one glass, you'd be sharing a bottle. And all the while you'd be trying to make sure that you were getting at least your fair share of that bottle.

And, when the bottle was gone, you'd rearrange whatever plans you had had to ensure that you could carry on drinking.

And by the end of the evening you'd be tetchy, or morose, or boring, or embarrassing, or something you didn't want to be.

So, you're not really missing out at all, because that one glass is a total fantasy.

What you are missing out on is waking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning and sweating booze.

You're missing out on wasting the morning feeling yucky and regretful.

You're missing out on telling yourself yet again that this is the day you'll start being sensible and drink mindfully and moderately, only at weekends, and never more than two glasses.

So, next time you get an attack of the FOMOs, remind yourself what you really are missing.

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Getting to 100 Days

If you quit drinking around New Year, then right about now you should be getting to 100 days!

Huge congratulations to SFM, Justonemore, Dr C and my e-mail friend CB for doing just that. Awesome work, my friends.

I looked back at the post I wrote on my own centenary (click here).

The reason 100 days is so significant is not just because it's a pretty number with three digits. It's a massive achievement.

One hundred one-days-at-a-time. Hundreds of battles with the wine witch. Endless sitting on your hands, gritting your teeth and mainlining hot chocolate.

The other reason it's so significant, is that for many of us, the 100 day mark was about when it started getting easier.

There's no immediate change. Everything on this journey happens slowly, slowly. BUT there will come a day, around that point, when you realise that you're not thinking about booze any more.

It's like being stuck in a cell for years, then discovering a window you've never spotted before and, through it, glimpsing freedom.

There will still be cravings. There will still be dark days. There will be episodes of PAWS. BUT you start to realise what it's all been for.

Leonard Cohen wrote:

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

And that, for me, is how 100 days feels.

(By the way, here's what Leonard Cohen said about drugs: The recreational, the obsessional and the pharmaceutical - I've tried them all. I would be enthusiastically promoting any one of them if they worked.)

You've spent more than three months discovering all the cracks that you used to fill by pouring booze into them (not realising that it was only running out the bottom). You become painfully aware of how imperfect you are....

...but then, around day 100, the light starts to get in. And it all makes sense.

And you realise that without the preceding darkness, you'd never have appreciated the simple beauty of those shafts of light.

And you find that your cracks, your imperfections, are what make you strong and beautiful. They give you wisdom, resilience and empathy.

Once that light gets in, you never want to go back to the endless, oppressive gloom. And that makes the next 100 days so much easier.

So, welcome to the field of bunnies, all you wonderful, strong 100 dayers.

(If you've not heard of the field of bunnies, and want to know how to get there, then click here).

You rock. All of you. Whether you're on Day 100, or Day 1.

SM x

P.S. If you'd like to receive my posts by e-mail, then go to the full website (if you're reading this on a mobile device, scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on 'View web version'), then go to the top right of the home screen and you'll see a box labelled want to follow by Email? Just put your e-mail address in there (it won't be seen by, or shared with, anyone) and click Submit.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Sugar Cravings

Most of us, when we quit drinking, get major sugar cravings.

That's perfectly understandable, as our bodies are missing all the sugar they got from alcohol.

Here's the most important thing: If you're in the early days of quitting and you're craving a sugar hit then give in.

Eat a slice of cake bigger than your head. Mainline Haribos. Lie in the bath with a stock of Cadbury Flakes. Do whatever you need to do to get you through....

The most important thing is that you do not drink.

However, one of the fabulous side benefits of quitting is weight loss (see my post: Reasons for Quitting #1: Weight Loss), so you don't want to carry on schnarfing thousands of calories in sugar for ever.

Plus, sugar tends to give you an initial high, but it's followed by the inevitable crash (sound familiar?). What goes up must come down....

So, here's my top tip for busting the sugar cravings:

Eating fruit is the healthiest way of getting a sugar hit. However not all fruit is the same.

You really want to eat fruits with the lowest GI (glycaemic index). They're the ones that release energy slowly, so they don't give you that high and low and, crucially, don't encourage your body to lay down fat.

The easiest way to remember which fruits are good, and which not so good is this: big fruits bad, small fruits good. So, the worst fruits are ones like pineapple, oranges, mango etc, and the best ones are the berries - raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries.

Those berries are also filled with antioxidants and are on my consultant's list of best breast cancer busters.

(He doesn't use that expression. Breast surgeons aren't known for their love of alliteration, but that's ok, so long as they can make sure your nipples still line up).

My favourite trick is to take a few handfuls of those berries, stick them in a saucepan with a tiny bit of water (NO ADDED SUGAR), and simmer them for about twenty minutes until they turn into a gorgeous, sticky compote.

That compote will keep in the fridge for several days, and whenever you have a sugar craving, spoon some into a bowl with some natural yogurt. It's really, really sweet, but guilt free.

You can add some crunch with a handful of granola. If you want to make it even more healthy then add extra nuts and seeds.

(Want to add an extra breast cancer buster? Then sprinkle on some flax seed or chia seeds).

If you're trying to cut down on dairy (like me), then go for a coconut yoghurt. I buy one called Co-Yo. It's super yummy, and dairy free. The only ingredients are coconut milk and yoghurt culture.

You can also take the same berries, add a splash of orange juice and some water, and blitz them into a smoothie.

Please feel free to add any of your ideas for beating sugar cravings below!

Love SM x

Monday, 11 April 2016


One of the (many) benefits of sober life is that when your children ask you tricky questions - about sex, drugs, relationships or morals - you can be properly on your toes, and able to give it your best shot.

It's also easier to advise them about risky behaviours and self care without feeling like a hypocrite.

The other day, #1 and I were taking the dog for a walk.

"Mummy, " she asked me, out of the blue, "why did you get cancer?"

The thing to remember about this kind of conversation, is that they don't really come out of the blue. They've probably been fretting about it for ages, and waiting for the right moment, and the courage, to bring it up.

You need to think about why they're asking.

Thinking fast (and soberly - whoop whoop), I concluded that #1 might be worried that she'll get it herself one day, or worried that I'll get it again. Probably both.

The side benefit of being thrown a question like this one, is that it gives you permission to throw back a little, barely disguised, lecture on lifestyle choices....

"Well," I replied, taking a deep breath, "for a start, you mustn't worry. You know that horrid, genetic breast cancer that Angelina Jolie's mother had? The one that runs in families? It's called BRCA1&2."

She nods.

"I was tested for that, and I don't have it. As far as they can tell, my cancer is not genetic. Not hereditary."

"So, why you then?"

"Sometimes these things are just bad luck, but there are some major risk factors. Smoking is a biggie as you know, (hard stare for re-enforcement) but I quit fifteen years ago, thank God. Being overweight and eating badly is another, but that wasn't really me either....

"......the only thing I did which could have caused my breast cancer is I drank too much alcohol."

"But you haven't drunk for ages, and you never drank very much anyway," she replied, vehemently.

And, reader I confess, I could have spoken up and corrected her, but I was so thrilled at being portrayed in her memories as a moderate drinker that I said nothing.

"Well, recent studies have shown that even one or two glasses of wine a day can hugely increase your chances of getting breast cancer," I told her.

"But now I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I eat super healthily, so there's no way I'm getting pesky cancer again.

"Just remember, what you eat, drink and put in your body matters. Everything in moderation - that's the key."

Ha ha ha. SM preaching moderation. Who'd have thought?

So, try not to worry too much about your children. The thirteen months I've been sober feels like an eternity to mine, they can barely remember the before.

And children do have the ability to re-write history in a way we can only dream of.

SM x

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Doing the Early Days

One of the most common questions I get via e-mail is how do I get through the first few days sober?

So, here's SoberMummy's guide for doing Days 1-5.

It might also help if you've hit a patch of the PAWS (see my post on Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) which can make you feel (temporarily!) like you're back at Day 1.

1. Preparation

If possible, clear the house (and that includes the garage, basement and attic - no cheating!) of alcohol. It's more difficult to give into a craving if you have to leave the house to find some booze.

Get your reading material ready. Jason Vale's Kick the Drink is a must, even if you've read it before. Read it a day or two before your Day 1.

For more reading ideas have a look at this: SoberMummy's Book List.

Write down, somewhere safe, all the reasons why you want to quit. The more honest and gruesome the better.

You'll need that list later down the line when you start thinking you've overreacted and that moderation is a far more sensible plan.... (And that will happen, many times).

Fill the fridge with yummy, healthy food, stuff that doesn't need much cooking or preparation (and some chocolate for emergencies), and your favourite alcohol free drinks.

(I swear by Beck's Blue Alcohol Free beer, but watch out, as some people find it too close to the real thing...)

And the most important thing: start to think of yourself as a Non-Drinker. Say it to yourself, with excitement and enthusiasm (fake it if necessary), over and over again. I am a Non-Drinker! Yay! Go me!

2. Make it Simple

For the first few days, try to simplify your life as much as possible. Apart from anything else, you're going to be exhausted.

Don't plan any evenings out. Warn (older members of) your family that they're going to have to get their own supper for a few days. Try to get any stressful chores/work done in advance.

3. One Day at a Time

Actually, it's not even a day.

Presuming that you weren't drinking throughout the mornings, you'll probably only find the evenings hard. And cravings generally only last about an hour, so in fact it's only two or three individual hours that you have to cope with.

And then it'll be morning! And sober mornings are just the best. They're our reward for having made it through the evening.

4. Make Changes

You'll probably find that pretty much all of your usual evening routine is a trigger. Making supper: must pour a glass of wine. Kids in bed: really deserve a glass of wine. Favourite TV show: better with a glass of wine.

Am I right?

So, in the early days, try to fill your evenings with things that aren't associated with drinking: go to the gym. Go swimming! (I haven't yet met anyone who's managed to combine swimming with drinking). Go for a run. Have a long, hot bath. Take the dog for a walk.

If you can't do any of the above because you have small children at home, try and get some help for a few days.

If that's not possible, then try this: be one of them. Have supper with them at 5pm (or whenever they eat), get in the bath with them, then curl up in bed with them and read lots of stories.

Pretend you're five years old again. The kids will love it, it'll keep your evening routine really simple, and you'll be less able to hang onto that glass if you're in the bath/in bed with the babies.

5. Cop Out Early

Luckily, when you first quit, you're really, really tired. Bone deep exhaustion. Which is a fabulous help, because what you really need is less of the hard evenings, and more of the wonderful mornings.

So, for the first few days, why not go to bed at 8pm?

Put the kids in bed, leave the other half to fend for themselves, and retreat with a hot chocolate, an iPad so you can surf the sober sites and exchange notes with fellow travellers (try, and some good books.

Pat yourself on the back for having made it through the witching hour, and go to sleep. Even the most hardened drinker can't manage to drink while sleeping.

(Some people have problems getting to sleep when they first quit, which is where all the reading material comes in handy. A magnesium supplement may also help).

Having gone to bed so early, you may well wake up at dawn - which is great! All that morning with no hangover and bags of energy.

(Which you can use to get all the chores/work done in advance so that you can make the next evening easier).

6. And Repeat

Once you've done it once, you know it's possible. And all you have to do is repeat. Just one day at a time.

Until, the day comes when you realise that it really isn't hard any more....

I'm not saying that it's easy, but it is possible. And you can do it.

Remember that a diamond is simply a lump of coal that's done really well under pressure. Go make yourself a diamond.

SM x

P.S. Please can my fellow Survivors add their own tips in the comments below? Thank you!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

My Friend Annie

One of the sober bloggers I follow is Annie (A Dappled Path).

I feel like I know Annie really well. Partly because she wears her heart on every page of her blog, and partly because we also e-mail each other frequently. It even turns out we have mutual friends in the real world. I've told her my real name.

Annie's been blogging for way longer than me. But she's on Day 7.

I - along with thousands of others - have followed her heart wrenching struggle from Day 1 to Day 1 over and over again. And we've all been there, haven't we?

My journey has got easier and easier, and more and more miraculous, over the last thirteen months. Meanwhile Annie has thrown herself, courageously, at those horrible first obstacles over and over again, and never made it to the field of bunnies on the other side (see my post The Obstacle Course).

Well yesterday, for the first time in months, Annie made it to Day 7 (yay!). And this time she sounds different. More determined, more confident.

Like most of us, Annie finds Friday evenings the hardest, so she plucked up the courage to go to an AA meeting (she's a braver girl than I am).

Annie has a love hate relationship with AA. The problem is that whenever she hears a gruesome tale of someone's rock bottom, she thinks 'that's not me!' (or, deep down, I don't want that to be me) and she drives straight from the meeting to the wine shop.

(I totally understand that. After all, I still refuse to call myself an 'alcoholic.' It's partly why I've never been to a meeting myself).

Annie blogged about last night's meeting, explaining that she can't associate with the hardened alkies, and a lady called haplesshomesteaders posted a response that I thought so wise I had to share it. Here it is:

Once, early in my sobriety, I told my sponsor that the stories of “people NOTHING like me” I heard in meetings made me feel like I was just fine, and that moderation was more for my sort than abstinence.

She told me I was half right. I was different than they were. I was worse off.

They had been sober longer, understood how serious their problem was, and didn’t use others’ experiences as (yet another) excuse to drink. They were also more generous than I was, willing to share honestly the stories of their addiction to help me get sober.

She had me.

She told me I had to stop looking for differences and start looking for similarities — it was my giant alcoholic ego that kept me from seeing them. I’m glad to hear that you do see some of those similarities.

And one final word from my sponsor (ha ha) — she said that because of luck (financial circumstances, mental and physical health, supportive family, timing) — and not because of any specialness on my part — alcohol had not visited some of those horrors you talk about (losing kids, constant drunkenness) on me.

But the seeds were there, and had I kept drinking, my addiction certainly could have brought down all that and worse. That is one of the many reasons I am so grateful for AA.

If you find this post, haplesshomesteaders, then thank you. For telling it like it is, and for making me think.

And now I am dying to hear if Annie made it through to Day 8. I've checked her blog. I've e-mailed her. Not a peep.

I'm, literally, on the edge of my seat.

Annie and I have agreed to meet up in real life once the kids are back in school. I'm excited about it, but also terrified. It's like a blind date - you're desperate to get on as well as you think you will, but know you'll be gutted if you don't....

So, Annie, whether you're on Day 1 or Day 8, know that we are all willing you on.

Sending you, and everyone else in the same boat, a big virtual hug.

SM x

Friday, 8 April 2016

What People Think

For many years I prided myself on not caring too much about What People Think.

This is me. Take it or leave it.

But, when we quit drinking, we seem to spend an awful lot of time worrying about other people, which is why Alcoholics Anonymous is.... well, anonymous.

It's why we pretend to be on antibiotics, or beg to be the designated driver. It's why we spend hours on the internet hiding behind silly pseudonyms - like SoberMummy.

We worry that we'll be judged by our pasts: will they think I'm an 'alcoholic?' Will they assume I'm a terrible mother? Will they think I'm pathetic and weak, with no self control?

We worry that we'll be judged for our futures: will they think I'm boring? Will they think I'm judging them? Will they never invite me to a party again?

#1 is (very nearly) a teen. She's entering the maximum danger zone for fear of other people's thoughts.

Do you remember how awful it was, being a hormonally ravaged teenager, constantly second guessing, and reacting to, other people's judgements of you?

Now add Instagram, Facebook and all the other judge-me-and-my-life media into the mix.

How is she ever going to survive?

Recently she came home fretting about what one of the girls at school had said about her.

"Darling," I said, "You will never be happy if you worry too much about what people think of you."

*eye roll* from tween.

"Tell me something. Do you like her?"

"No!" She replies vehemently.

"Well then. Some people just don't get on. Nobody likes everybody. You've got lots of friends who really, really like you, just as you are. And you like them, just as they are. Don't fret about people who are nothing like you, and are never, ever going to be your best buddy."

"But," she says, "everybody wants to be popular."

"I'll let you into a secret," I said. "Who is the most popular girl in your class?"

"H," she replies.

"And who is the girl in your class who cares the least what other people think of her?"

She thinks for a moment, then says "H."

"It's not a co-incidence. You see, the less you worry about what other people think of you, the more they'll like you, and - more importantly - the happier you'll be. The only important question is do you like yourself?"

I was reminded of this conversation when the children and I drove to the country yesterday to see one of my oldest and best friends - K.

Our children all ran off to play, and we sat down, happily, to catch up on the months since we'd last met.

I started to tell her about my check up at the Breast Clinic and how worried I'd been.

She looked really uncomfortable. Shifty even.

"SM," she said, "I have to tell you something. I feel awful letting you tell me a story that I already know. You see, I've been reading your blog for the last three months."

(My fault. I'd told her that I'd raised a lot of money for The Haven breast cancer charity through a blog I'd been writing. That was enough information for her to hunt me down. Nosy cow. And I say that lovingly.)

I was totally stunned. I didn't know what to say. I sat there, waiting for the waves of panic to engulf me. For all those familiar worries to pipe up: will she think I'm a total lush/terrible mother/frightfully DULL?

And....nothing. Zip. I didn't care! If anything, it was a relief. (At least not until I realised that every anecdote I tried to tell over dinner she'd heard before).

And that, my friends, is progress.

Happy Friday to you all!

SM x

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Survivors

I spent over an hour in the waiting room of the Breast Clinic yesterday (with my lovely friend, H, who'd come to hold my hand).

I realised that there were three types of ladies waiting.

1. The 'Norms'...

....with their normal breasts, and cells that divide and multiply in a normal way. They just pop in for an annual road check to 'be on the safe side', or because they have a family history.

They sit, leafing through magazines, looking much like the ladies you see in the waiting room at the dentist. Being all normal.

2. The Newbies

The newly diagnosed. They're often waiting to find out just how bad it is.

You can spend weeks being drip fed this information - how aggressive your cancer is, if it can be treated with hormonal therapies, how much boob(s) you're going to lose, and - crucially - how far it's spread.

They usually look like they've been hit by a bus. Quiet. Pale. Stunned. Not knowing what's coming up, or how they're going to cope.

3. The Survivors

An amateur could mistake A Survivor for A Norm. On the surface, they look nonchalant, relaxed, smiley. But it's a cover.

They may flick through a magazine but they're not really reading it. The words aren't going in.

They greet all the nurses by name, and ask after their children, but what they're really thinking is I hope I don't have to see you again until next year.

Under all the false bonhomie, all they want to know is am I still okay?

Eventually, they called my name. H squeezed my hand, and I swanned in, all calm elegance (I always dress up for the Cancer Clinic. Like you do for a funeral).

A charming, fatherly, antipodean squirted (thoughtfully warmed) gel all over my boobs and starts running his (what on earth do I call the thing that doesn't sound sexual?) over them.

Within just a few minutes he says "that's all absolutely fine."

"Thank you, thank you," I whispered, "I've been really worried."

"I know," he replies. "I realise that just one word can change your life."

And that moment of empathy nearly had me sobbing all over his paper sheets.

On the way out I met a lady ten years or so older than me. She had one of those wonderful faces that looks like it had a host of stories to tell. She was also skipping, and hugging her reprieve close to her heart.

We did the 'Survivor' thing of exchanging case histories, like Norms chat about the weather.

She was first diagnosed fourteen years ago, with a recurrence (of primary breast cancer, not the terminal secondary variety) four years ago.

She said "I've stopped talking about it now, because no-one really knows what it's like unless they've been there." And we smiled at each other, members of a club no-one wants to join, and I felt I'd known her forever.

And it struck me that this blog is much like the cancer clinic.

There are the 'Norms' who pop by, just to check that they are really okay. There's the Newbies, all shell shocked and not sure if they can go through it (AND YOU CAN!), and the Survivors.

(I much prefer to think of myself as a Survivor, rather than 'in remission', or 'in recovery'. Both those words give me the heebie jeebies, as the implication is that you still have some terrible underlying sickness).

And nobody knows what it's really like unless they've been there, do they?

Much as I've hated the last few days, the good thing about going through it all (on a regular basis), is it's a reminder that you have to remain grateful.

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

I re-read my post from January on gratitude, and how it can transform your mental health (click here), and today I really, really am.

Grateful for all those things we so easily take for granted. For being alive. For being healthy. For being here to see my kids grow up.

I'm grateful to my friends (like H, who came with me) and family (like my brother-in-law and niece who babysat my children), and lovely Mr SM, who pretends he's supremely confident, but who I suspect has had a few wobbles over the last few days too.

And I've grateful to for all of you, for all your comments, thoughts and prayers.

Thank you.

Love SM x

P.S. If you've just come across this blog and want to read my story from when I quit booze click here. If you want to read from when I found The Lump (eight months later), then click here.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Swearing, and Other Tips

I've woken up this morning feeling positive about my ultrasound at the breast clinic today.

Only a few more hours to go, and - after days of feeling increasingly stressed - it'll all be over. Then, next time it won't be so hard.

I've been reminded, yet again, that dealing with anxiety is just like dealing with cravings.

(The feeling is very similar too - a squirming knot in the stomach, constant restlessness and a one tracked mind that won't shut up).

So, I thought I'd share four things that helped me yesterday, as - if you're duelling with the wine witch right now - they might help you too.

1. The Soberverse

The soberverse really is the most amazing place. All your comments on yesterday's post, and your e-mails, meant so much, and really reminded me that I am not alone.

And it can do the same for all of you, too, because you really are not alone.

2. Swearing

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll probably have realised that I'm not a big swearer. I'm fond of an occasional bollocks! Partial to a bugger! And occasionally employ a s**t, but, that's about it.

Generally, I think swearing is just a bit lazy and unimaginative. I try to encourage the children to find much more interesting invectives if they're stressed. (Apart from anything else, it's great for the vocabulary).

So, #3 might drop something on her foot and say "Aarrrggghh! Dastardly, pox ridden camel's buttocks!"

You see? Much more fun.

I think this aversion to swearing comes from my childhood. I remember vividly the one occasion when my Dad told my Mum to "f**k off." She left the house, and didn't come back for TWO DAYS. As my Dad couldn't even boil an egg, it was a disaster. None of us ever swore again.

Anyhow, back to the point: Yesterday Soberat53 and Claireperth both said "Fuck cancer!" And I thought, well yes, why the hell not?

So, I went up to my bathroom, locked the door (the children were downstairs) and shouted FUCK FUCK FUCKEDY FUCK FUCK! FUCK RIGHT OFF AND DON'T FUCKING COME BACK, FUCKER.

And, you know what? I felt much, much better.

So, next time the wine witch is bugging you, tell her to eff off. Really loudly. And with foot stamping and fist waving.

3. Eddie the Eagle

If you need some distraction then take the children (or just go by yourself!) to see the Eddie the Eagle film.

It's hysterically funny, plus it's a great tale about tenacity, bravery, and proving the world wrong (see the relevance?).

And the best bit?

Eddie doesn't drink! He managed to jump a 90 metre ski jump, with less than a year's training and the whole world laughing at him, without anything at all to 'take the edge off.'

There's a wonderful scene (that will do more for us sober people than endless government warnings and guidelines) where Eddie goes into a bar and is jeered at by the Finnish ski jump team, in their ridiculous skin tight all in one lurid lycras.

He goes up to the barman and orders....a glass of milk. Genius.

4. Finding something else to worry about

Sometimes, the only thing that will displace a worry is another worry.

#2 has gone off for four nights - the longest he's ever been away from home (he's nine) - on a sailing expedition. It looks amazing - all Swallows and Amazons.

Last night I found his toothbrush in the bathroom.

Personal hygiene is not his forte at the best of times.

So, forget fretting about cancer. I'm too busy worrying that #2 is going to come home with no teeth!

Onwards and upwards, and thank you.

SM x

I Can't do it Again

As a society we are conditioned to believe that the best companion when dealing with trauma is alcohol.

When I was going through the whole cancer thing, I was constantly told, by doctors and nurses, to 'go and have a stiff drink.'

If only they knew.

In fact, I learned that dealing with trauma is actually much, much easier without booze. Especially if you are responsible for children, and protecting them from the impact of whatever you're going through.

Alcohol makes coping with fear and grief a very selfish process.

I wrote a post about this when I was right in the middle of it, called When Life Throws You Lemons (click here).

I do, honestly, believe that doing the whole thing sober was what kept the wheels from falling off, kept me sane, and my family secure.

But, here's the thing, I don't think I could do it again.

And tomorrow I have a (routine) ultrasound exam.

I know, logically, that it's highly unlikely to show anything nasty. The chances of anything surviving the onslaught of surgery and radiation just a few months ago are extremely slim, and there's not really been enough time for anything new to crop up (I hope).

But I'm still feeling sick.

You spend months trying to forget the whole thing, then - just as life's returning to normal - you have to go back to the scene of the crime.

And my record is not good. I've only had one breast ultrasound and it was terrible. 

There's that awful moment when you catch sight of a black mass on the screen, and the friendly, chatty sonographer goes quiet.

Then they start measuring it, just like they measured your foetus's head and spine when you were pregnant, but less jolly. Because it's not going to grow into a gorgeous, squirming baby - it's going to kill you.

I don't even want to remember it, let alone go back there. And I certainly don't want to have to redo the whole cancer thing.

I couldn't do it again. And I definitely couldn't do it sober.

Everyone has their limits, and I think that's mine.

Fingers crossed, hey?

Love SM x

P.S. On a much cheerier note, HUGE CONGRATS to my lovely e-mail friend, P, who is celebrating her first SOVERVERSARY today. Well done P - you rock!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

False Memory

Memory is a funny thing. It plays tricks on us.

Sometimes this is for a good reason. For example, I realised recently that I have little memory of whole chunks of time last October/November.

I think I have mild post traumatic stress from the whole cancer thing, and my mind has just blanked it all out.

This became apparent because of #1's teeth.

Last October half term, I'd booked her in to see an orthodontist. It so happened that the appointment fell right in the middle of all my scans and biopsies.

We went along and discussed her teeth at some length (and cost). I was given detailed instructions on next steps, including going somewhere to get some crucial x-rays done.

But I can't remember any of it. #1 says I wrote it all down, but God knows where.

I'm too embarrassed to go back and do the same appointment all over again, plus it'll just bring back all those bad memories that my brain has obviously decided to delete for good reason, so we're going to another orthodontist next week.

Last night I was watching Peter Pan with the children, and I had this vague memory of writing something about him. Sure enough, I found this (rather good) post from November about growing up (click here) which I had no memory of writing.

I re-read all my posts from that period, and a whole bunch of them might just of well have been written by someone else.

The reason this is relevant is that false memory can completely scupper the newly sober person.

The problem with not hitting a 'rock bottom' (which no-one wants to get to, obvs) is that once you've been sober for a good long stretch, it's really easy to forget how bad it was.

This caused me some problems last week.

A friend of mine was talking about my not drinking, which she feels (as do most of my friends) is a bit extreme. She said "it's not as if you were an alcoholic. I mean, we all drink too much, but we don't need to give up altogether."

You know what happens next, don't you? Here's how I start thinking:

She's right! I'm NOT an alcoholic. EVERYONE drinks too much. Yes, it all got a bit out of control, drinking most of a bottle most nights of the week, but it's not as if my family suffered. No one ASKED me to quit. I never blacked out/fell over/threw up. I could have a drink or two once in a while....

Luckily, I decided to go back and read 'Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom,' just to remind myself how 'moderate' my drinking really was (click here).

And there was this terrible lush confessing to drinking one and a half bottles of wine a day. And to fibbing. And to (once) drinking in the morning.

I was horrified. Was that really me?

So, listen up, because this is really important.

Write it down. All of it. Now. Before you forget.

Because one day you'll convince yourself that you weren't that bad really. And you're going to need that piece of paper, or that blog post, to remind yourself that you really were. You really, really were.

Never forget.

Love SM x

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Dealing With 'Forever'

One of the things everyone struggles with when they quit drinking is the idea of forever.

Forever - to quote Prince - is a very long time. (Or at least we hope so).

That's why we all learn, at least initially, to only deal with one day at a time.

Well, next time you accidentally think about forever, and start freaking out, then try my new trick...

It's inspired by a comedy sketch I heard on the radio. Two ladies were having a few drinks in a wine bar, and one says to the other "OMG, just look at those two dreadful old lushes sitting over there!" The other replies, "It's a mirror."

It struck me that when we think about drinking being all glamorous and hedonistic, we're thinking about young people. Beautiful, skinny people, dancing and going wild.

When we think about ourselves drinking, we think of our 'best looking' selves, all dressed up and gorgeous, casually sipping on a glass of champagne.

Well, instead of imagining that scene, and going all teary eyed, mournful and nostalgic, picture this:

A lady around the age of sixty five (or older, depending on where you are now!), huge wine belly and puffy, red face, at a smart drinks party. She's talking too loudly, slurring and is slightly unsteady. When the music starts she does some really embarrassing dance moves and starts singing, out of tune.

Now, next time you start worrying about forever, think about the alternative. Because that's the alternative. It's not rebellious and wild - it's just a bit....sad and embarrassing.

And that's not the old age I want to imagine. I like to see myself more as a Mary Berry oldie. All chic, composed and dignified. A wise, kind and respected matriarch.

I bet Mary doesn't down a bottle of wine of an evening. She's more of the 'one glass of champagne on special occasions' type. I can't imagine her ever being drunk, or out of control.

Or Helen Mirren. Interestingly Helen says her motto is 'do everything. But not too much of anything.' Sadly it's a bit too late for that advice.

And don't worry. The fear of forever does fade. Eventually, ironically, it's replaced by the fear of going back to drinking again!

But, until then, just take it day by day. Baby steps. And think of Mary.

Love SM x

Friday, 1 April 2016

Moderators vs Abstainers

I've had many vices, but - luckily - sugar is not one of them.

(Crisps are a different matter. That's chips for my American friends. I can hover up a party bowl of crisps faster than the latest Dyson during a power surge.)

However I have always had a major penchant for Rowntree's Fruit Gums. The ones shaped like tiny little fruits. As a child, I'd save up my pocket money for weeks to buy a box. I was distraught when they discontinued the raspberry ones in the nineties. I even wrote to complain.

I haven't had a fruit gum frenzy for a long time. Apart from anything else, refined sugar is in the AVOID section of the how-not-to-get-breast-cancer-(again) diet sheet. Along with alcohol, obvs.

But today we were doing the drive back to the big smoke from the depths of Cornwall, and everyone knows that whatever you eat on a road trip does not count. (Same is true for anything off a child's plate).

So, I bought a family sized pack of Rowntree's Fruit Gums. After all, we are a family of five.

(I conveniently ignored the fact that I am the only one in the family who actually likes fruit gums).

I resolved to eat just a few. Spread out through the journey. I'd then put the rest away until the next road trip.

But once I started, I just couldn't stop. My hand just kept moving from the pack to my mouth as if it had a life of its own.

By the time we'd reached Yeovil, there were hardly any left.

I decided they'd all have to go, otherwise they'd just be sitting there as a reminder of my terrible gluttony, constantly calling to me.

So, just two hours into the journey and I was on a major sugar high, jaw aching, a raging post sugar thirst, and feeling rather disgusted with myself.

I was reminded of sw6mum's comment about the book The Happiness Project (which I must read), and how it categorises people into two personality types: moderators (people who are happy cutting down), and abstainers (people who are happier cutting out).

No prizes for guessing which one is me....

Happy Friday to you all.

Love SM x