Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Disease of 'More'

I've just started reading the fabulous collection of essays and observations by Marian Keyes called Making It Up as I Go Along.

I have a huge girlie crush on Marian Keyes. She's a brilliant author, but also an addict who, many years ago, after 'becoming rather too fond of the Jacob's Creek,' ended up in rehab.

This inspired her poignant, yet hilarious, novel about an alcohol and cocaine addict - Rachel's Holiday. If you haven't read it yet, then lucky you, you have a treat in store. Buy it now!

Marian describes addiction as 'the disease of more.' She talks about how, when she finds anything that she really likes, she just wants more. Not just alcohol, but also nail varnish, fake tan and box sets (amongst many other addictions).

That is so me.

Marian talks about how all of these addictions trigger familiar addict behaviour.

For example, she loves eyelash extensions. When she hadn't had her eyelashes done for a while she would get irritable and tetchy.

Knowing that you were supposed to give your eyelashes a break after six months of extensions she would rotate beauty parlours and lie about how often she was going.

Eventually she had to face up to her addiction, confess to her beautician and go cold turkey.

Having just returned home after a three week family holiday in Cornwall I can totally identify with Marian's disease of 'more.'

I'm going cold turkey after a horrific (yet totally enjoyable) sugar binge.

When I first quit drinking I turned to cake. It was the lesser of two evils. Sugar was a completely necessary food group.

Eventually, as life evened out, I cut right down on the white stuff, lost two stone, and now I only eat sugary things as a special treat.

When most people would have a glass of champagne, I binge on sugar. When I finished my cancer treatment, instead of downing a bottle of vino I ate two whole boxes of Matchmakers (mint and orange flavour). In about ten minutes flat.

Going on holiday is also a cause for celebration, so during our first week away I treated myself to a Cornish ice-cream every day. It gave me a total buzz.

By week two, the ice cream on its own just wasn't cutting it any longer. I added in a few Cornish Fareings (large ginger biscuits) a day, plus a handful of honeycomb fudge.

By week three I was supplementing with cream teas - scones with lashings of jam and clotted cream.

The disease of 'more' had got me good and proper.

I haven't dared to stand on the scales, but know things are bad as #3 asked if I was "growing a baby."

I was relieved, and grateful, when #1 said "Don't be silly, #3", but then she ruined it by adding "Mummy's far too old for that!"

Great. Fat and old.

So now I'm back in my reserved seat on the familiar waggon. And it's such a relief.

Please feel free to share your holiday sins in the comments below. There's no judgement here.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Alcohol and RAGE

There's been lots of discussion in the UK recently about alcohol fuelled rage.

Airlines UK, which represents many of the major carriers, have called for stronger deterrents for passengers who decide to crack open their duty-free booze while still on board.

Ryanair have asked airports to ban sales of booze before 10am, and insist passengers drink no more than two alcoholic drinks before flying.

In the last year 387 people were arrested for being drunk and disorderly on a plane, up from 255 the year before.

I bet none of this surprises any of you.

I've found that one of the best things about being sober is the lack of ANGER. I still get cross from time to time, obviously, but it's a slow burn kind of cross, a gradually building irritation. Alcohol (or hangover) induced rage isn't like that at all. It hits you from nowhere like a tornado.

Here's what I wrote, back on DAY 190, about alcohol and rage:

I keep coming across stories in the newspapers about celebrities getting into trouble due to fits of rage. Funnily enough, it’s never the teetotal ones and there’s usually alcohol involved. The most common incidents involve throwing mobile phones at support staff, yelling at air stewardesses, being carted off planes and losing it over inadequate catering arrangements.

Needless to say, I love reading these stories, because all of us big drinkers have, in slightly less dramatic ways, had incidents of alcohol-induced rage. I remember (as, sadly, do many of the other guests) throwing a glass of wine at my husband (the wine and the glass it was in) during a row over a taxi booking at a friend’s wedding in France. Luckily, my aim was terrible, so no lasting damage done, but sometimes these fits of temper can have real consequences.


Years ago, when I was in the high-powered job (with the bar in the office), I had two large glasses of wine with a colleague at lunch. When I got back to my desk I found an email from a very important global client asking for a number of unnecessary changes to the edit of the new TV commercial we’d just shot. I fired off a reply in (drunken) high umbrage, calling him a Neanderthal nincompoop who was obviously unable to appreciate a work of true artistic genius. This email became famous and made me a heroine in the creative department, but it got me fired from that client’s account and could easily have cost me my job.


According to my research, alcohol narrows our focus of attention, giving us tunnel vision, meaning that we become unable to take mitigating circumstances, other people’s feelings or potential consequences into account if we’re provoked when drunk. This means that we can react violently in circumstances that we would ordinarily have shrugged off.


Also, because alcohol lowers our inhibitions, we are more likely to end up in dangerous situations, leading to potential confrontation. We get a dangerous, and false, burst of confidence. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that we are less able to process information properly and are, therefore, more prone to imagining insults (he looked at me the wrong way, Your Honour). 


Since I quit drinking I haven’t lost my temper once (well okay, maybe once or twice, but definitively not a lot). I am Zen-level calm.


Which is why events this evening come as a bit of a shock.

I’m in bed, about to drop off. Mr SM’s in the bathroom. As he closes the bathroom door I hear a whuuumph! as the wet towel I’d recently picked up off the floor and hung up hits the floor again. Needless to say, Mr SM (who must have heard it too) pays no attention and climbs, nonchalantly, into bed.


I sit bolt upright in bed and yell ‘THAT’S IT! I’VE HAD IT WITH THE TOWELS!’


Mr SM looks totally taken aback. Rabbit in headlights. There’s no stopping me.


‘I PICK UP YOUR TOWELS! I PICK UP #1'S TOWELS, #2’S TOWELS AND #3’S TOWELS. IF THE DOG USED TOWELS I WOULD HAVE TO PICK THOSE UP TOO! NO ONE ELSE IN THIS FAMILY EVER PICKS UP A TOWEL. IF IT WEREN’T FOR ME THE WHOLE HOUSE WOULD GRADUALLY FILL UP WITH TOWELS UNTIL WE ALL DROWN IN WHITE FLUFFY TOWELS!’


As I pause for breath, Mr SM puts his hand on my arm (very brave, as I am considering biting it off), and says – very quietly – ‘SM, this isn’t about the towels, is it?’


I stop and think. It strikes me that while I am, obviously, and righteously, cross about the towel situation, the truth is that I am always cross about towels. But a dropped towel won’t usually make me go stratospheric.


#1 is away on a school trip. I’m not going to see her for a whole week. The longest I’ve ever been without her previously is three days. I miss her. That’s why I lost it.

Had I had a few drinks, I would never have realised this. I would have ignored Mr SM’s intervention, which would only have increased my fury. I would have moved on from the towels, and on to my other pet hate – the way everyone leaves their dirty plates and cutlery on top of the dishwasher rather than inside it. I would have accused Mr SM of being a terrible husband and we both would have gone to sleep upset and angry with each other.


So, quitting alcohol doesn’t make the occasional bouts of irrational rage go away, but it does help you to stop, get a sense of perspective and realise that it’s not about the towels. Or the dishwasher. Or the catering arrangements. And that has to be better for our sanity and our relationships.


But I’d still love to know how to get anyone else in my family to pick up a sodding, sodden towel once in a while.


Love and zen-like calm to you all,

SM x

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Beating Cravings

I don't think I could have quit my thirty-a-day smoking habit, fifteen years ago, without the help of nicotine patches.

Those first few days and weeks without my former drug of choice were pretty unbearable. I was irritable, couldn't concentrate, couldn't sleep, had terrible headaches and was totally obsessed with the thought of smoking.

Nicotine patches really helped to take the edge off. They were advertised everywhere. Your doctor could prescribe them on the NHS. We wore them with pride.

When I quit drinking, the cravings and withdrawal symptoms were just as bad but this time there was nothing available to help. Or so I thought.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from a friend I met through this blog. J's drinking history is very like mine. She's been struggling for years to quit the habit, but hasn't got past the first few weeks.

J, unlike me, had the courage to confess her problems to her family doctor. He prescribed her a drug called Acamprosate (also known as Campral), an anti-craving medication. Here's what she says:

Day 9. Acamprosate is bloody brilliant.  All of my previous attempts have had me crawling up the walls, bad tempered and, in AA style, surviving one day at a time until an argument with the husband "justified" a dash to Oddbins.

I know it's early days and there's a long road ahead, but I haven't had the slightest urge to drink at all. I feel so upbeat and my energy levels are amazing. Husband came home on Monday and hardly recognised the house!

And I didn't even want to drink when a plumber fixing our bathroom tap managed to flood the bathroom floor and water came down through the ceiling, drenching the hallway, kids screaming. 

I Googled Acamprosate. It's been approved in Europe since 1989.

I've written a lot on this blog about how long term abuse of alcohol changes our brain chemistry, reducing the amount of dopamine our brains produce naturally, so that - without booze - we feel tetchy and depressed.

After we quit drinking, our brain chemistry does, eventually, find its way back to equilibrium, but in the initial months we are left to cope with badly malfunctioning neurology.

That's where Acamprosate steps in. It helps to restore your brain's chemical balance and, therefore, helps with those terrible cravings.

Why, why, why had I never heard of this? Why aren't the government advertising it widely? How is it that everyone knows about nicotine gum, patches and inhalers, yet no-one's heard of Acamprosate?

If any of you have experience with this one then please can you comment below and let us all know if it works for you? If you've discussed alcohol issues with your doctor, have they offered you anti-craving medication?

It's easy to comment totally anonymously. All you do is go to www.blogger.com and set up a Blogger account under any pseudonym you like. You can then use that Blogger name to comment on any Blogger or Wordpress blogs.

Huge thanks to J for letting me share her e-mail, and love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 7 August 2017

Changes

When I first quit drinking, I was constantly noticing changes.

Initially, I noticed the lack of hangovers and improved sleep. Then better skin, a less puffy face and bouncy hair. Followed by improved moods and less anxiety. And, after a while, weight loss and better relationships.

Inevitably, though, over time, you find an equilibrium. I didn't think much had changed for the last year.

But then, the I came down to Cornwall with the family for our traditional summer holiday.

I've been getting up early every morning while the children, exhausted from hours of fresh air and surfing, are still dozing, so I can do the final edit of the book which I have to send back to my publisher this week.

As a result, I was re-reading a passage I wrote about coming down to Cornwall just five months after quitting the booze. Here it is:

DAY 155

It’s time to leave for Cornwall!

I get up at the crack of dawn and spend several hours packing, trying to cram everything into our (not large) car and still leave enough room for three children and a dog. This isn’t easy as I’ve bought enough Beck’s Blue (alcohol free beer) to sink a battleship. I don’t know if Beck’s Blue has yet penetrated such a remote corner of the world and want to Be Prepared. Luckily I squish it all in and don’t have to choose between leaving behind the beer or a child. Not quite Sophie’s Choice, but awkward, nonetheless.

I do the drive down in horrible traffic on my own (John, as usual, is following on by train after a day at work). Everyone seems to be heading for the coast, and the M5 resembles a car park rather than a motorway. We’re all hot, tetchy and tired.

Then, finally, we turn off the A30 and onto the North Cornish Coast Road and I can feel the tension leaving my shoulders. Even the air smells different – of heather and salt. We play the usual competition, seeing who can be first to see the sea and shout ‘Icanseethesea! Icanseethesea!’

After another half-hour of tiny Cornish lanes and terrifying blind corners, we arrive at our little cottage. Then I have another hour of unpacking while simultaneously dealing with three overexcited children.

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

What I hadn’t counted on was there being NO SODDING BOTTLE OPENER! What kind of holiday cottage doesn’t provide a bottle opener?! I turn the cottage upside down. The children are hollering to go to the beach. I’m a woman possessed. I look like… AN ADDICT! (Who’d have thought it?). Or a crazy poltergeist, opening and closing, then reopening, every drawer and every cupboard.

I’ve obviously lived a sheltered existence as I have no idea how to get the lid off a beer bottle without an opener. I try everything, and only succeed in hurting my hands. In the end, I go into the tiny walled garden and smash the top off on a stone. Needless to say, beer goes everywhere, leaving me with two gulps of liquid, lots of foam and broken glass and smelling like a brewery.

It strikes me as ironic that, however badly I was addicted to alcohol back in the day, I never resorted to smashing bottles like a lunatic.

The kids and I walk down a narrow footpath, across a field, over a stile and through a dark, tangled copse down to the beach. As the sun sets, we sit on the rocks and eat Cornish ice cream, watching the waves crashing, with hypnotic regularity, on to the sand. Bliss. The vast Atlantic Ocean and three weeks’ holiday stretching out in front of us. I watch some reckless teenagers tombstoning off the cliff into the choppy waters below, and the dog – in a hilarious display of hope over experience – trying to catch a seagull.

Later, the children are in bed, windblown, exhausted and happy, and the dog is fast asleep, his legs twitching as he dreams of finally getting the better of those birds. I’m snuggled on the windowsill in my pyjamas, looking out at the stunning, wild, wet and windy landscape and listening for the sound of John’s taxi. He’ll be fresh as a daisy after a relaxing train journey with a good book and a half bottle of vino. But I forgive him as he should, as instructed earlier today, be carrying a bottle opener. If he isn’t, I’m not letting him in.

And, on reading this passage, I realised that I ran out of Beck's Blue a week ago and haven't even bothered to search the local shops for more.

That's another addiction crossed off the list!

Happy holidays, everyone.

Love SM x



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Some Great Reading

I'm madly packing this morning for our annual trip to Cornwall. Buckets and spades, surfing and ice-creams, cliff walks and caves. Can't wait!

(The three children aren't being much help on the packing front. They are horribly overexcited about having found a Special K which looks exactly like Ukraine, and are busy posting photos on Instagram).

I thought I'd leave you with some of the best things I've read this week....

The first, sent to me by lovely C, now 7 months sober, is for anyone who was interested in last week's debate on the word 'alcoholic'. It's a fabulous piece from Holly at Hip Sobriety entitled: My name's Holly and I'm not an alcoholic (because no-one is). Click here to read it.

I also have two blog recommendations.

Anyone who hasn't already met Lily at alcoholfree2016.com should check her out here, and here is a fabulous new blog from mommyisaquitter who is currently wading her way through Day 5. Pop on over and give them both a virtual hug.

Finally, I had an e-mail from J, which she said I could share.

J tells a story about accidentally taking a sip of real booze and how much it messes with your head, which I can relate to. I vividly remember getting my Beck's Blue confused with a real beer back in the early days.

Here's J's story:

Dear SM
I just thought I would contact you to recount an event which may be of interest to others on the sober journey : My reaction has  rather staggered me ….

We were last week on a river cruise (40 years married) I had thought through my strategy to resist temptation and to have a fab sober time.

All was going well (harder work that I had expected with lovely elegant wine glasses laid out each lunch and
dinner and waiters/waitresses constantly topping up chilled whites and ruby reds:  However they served Becks Blue on request, so that was lunch sorted and Fever Tree Ginger beer with lots of ice was working with dinner.

Part of my strategy was to enjoy a non alcoholic cocktail at the pre dinner drinks - and credit due, there were 4 to chose from.  ‘Virgin Mary’ was very nice (don’t know that the stick of celery added anything :-) ‘Shirley Temple' also very nice.  Then I thought to try a ‘Cucumber Fizz’ - well it took a while to arrive and when it did one sip shouted out GIN!! 


I gave it to my husband to confirm and we sent it back ….. then the strangest thing … I thought ‘Shit I am going to cry’ !!!  I took a walk round the deck really struggling.  I rallied for dinner with the new friends we had made (interestingly no comments had been made that I always had soft drinks and I didn’t say anything either).

The next morning I woke up weepy and was so for the most of the morning and typing this am filling up a bit.  My husband said that one sip didn’t spoil my record of 325 days.  I hadn’t thought of that but was a bit scared
the one sip had let the wine witch reassert herself.  However logic told me that the one tiny sip was not enough to let her back. 

So my only conclusion is that some sort of mental switch was thrown - a grieving process??  I don’t know.  I do feel a bit cross that this happened but don’t know if I am cross with the bar staff’s error or my reaction.

So my reasons for emailing - I guess just to share the event, maybe others have had similar and are just as confused and this 63 year old Granma who is actually thoroughly enjoying every minute of being sober.

Oh well there we have it - onwards and upwards (my younger son is taking me on a trip up the Brighton 360 to celebrate my first year sober) how wonderful is that!!

Huge congratulations to J on 40 years of marriage and on 325 days sober. What incredible achievements. You rock, J.

And so do all of you.

Love SM x

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sober School Holidays

Schools everywhere are breaking up for the summer holidays.

I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday, and I came across several variations of the same meme: a headline saying SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER, then a caption saying KIDS over footage of children going wild with excitement, a caption saying TEACHERS, over footage of adults doing the same, then a caption saying PARENTS over footage of a mum looking harassed and glugging from a glass of wine bigger than her own head.

Each of these memes has had millions of views.

In the old days, I would have merrily added my own comment and shared to all my Facebook friends. Then I would have cracked open (another) bottle of vino, secure in the knowledge that everyone else was doing the same thing. Facebook said so.

This summer, however, I realise - more than ever - that wine does not make the summer holidays flow more swimmingly. Quite the reverse.

The kids, dog and I are up in the wilds of Scotland. We have a house which is, literally, in the middle of nowhere.

The nearest shop is ten minutes drive (about one and a half hours by foot) away. We hole ourselves up with board games, piano, guitar, ukulele and an open fire.... and chill.

Yesterday, we ran out of milk. I didn't want to drag everyone out in the rain, so I left my (relatively) responsible teenager in charge of her two younger siblings and headed out to the nearest town.

About three quarters of the way there, the car started shuddering wildly, as if I was crossing the surface of the moon. I suspected a puncture.

I got out of the car to take a look and I had literally no tyre left at all on one of the rear wheels. Total blowout. Disaster.

I knew that it would be hours before a breakdown truck could reach me and I had to get back to the kids. I was an hour's walk away, at least.

Few cars travel down that road, but, luckily, after a few minutes I managed to flag down a friendly white van man who drove me home.

I then called the AA (Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous), who said that they could tow my car to the nearest tyre fitter, but it would take an hour and half to get to me.

I asked if they could collect me from my house and drive me the five minutes it would take to get back to my abandoned car. They said no, take a taxi.

I explained that the nearest taxi firm was forty-five minutes away and had to be booked days in advance. They said to walk.

I explained that it would take an hour to walk and I had three children with me. They said sorry, but it's company policy. I had to meet them by my car.

I walked to the nearest neighbour and begged for a lift. For the second time, the kindness of other people saved me.

I got back to my car, met the breakdown chap, was towed to a tyre place, spent all my shoe money on a tyre and got home.

But the real miracle about all of this is that it all happened without me getting at all cross. Or stressed. Or shouting.

I didn't get annoyed with the AA lady for refusing to bend the rules (not her fault). I didn't panic, stamp, yell and curse. I was zen.

Needless to say, in the drinking days I would not have dealt with a day like that in the same way. You know exactly how it would have gone. You've been there too, I expect.

So now I look at those Facebook memes, at those mums glugging back the wine, and I think I get it. Been there, done that. But that's really not going to help, you know.

Step away.

Love SM x

Sunday, 16 July 2017

I Don't Want a Fight With AA

I had an old friend round for lunch yesterday.

She's an amazing woman, who has dealt with issues that would break many people, but has come out stronger.

For a few years, L lived with a cocaine addict. She saw, up close and personal, how drugs can destroy the lives of the user and those who love them.

As a result, once she'd found the strength to get away, she re-trained as a psychotherapist and an addiction counsellor.

I am in awe of the people who not only survive their own life traumas, but then use them to help others.

So, a while back, I gave L the name of my blog. She never told me whether she'd read it or what she thought of it.

Then, yesterday, L said "I read your blog."

"Oh yes?" I replied.

"I have to say, I don't like your refusal to use the word 'alcoholic.'" She said.

I imagine she was referring to this post: Am I an alcoholic?

Then she continued, "there are an awful lot of people who feel the same as me."

"I have no issue with anyone using the term 'alcoholic' if they find it helpful," I explained, "it's just that I don't. I think it's one of the reasons why so many people find it difficult to confess to having a problem and asking for help. We're worried about being judged."

But the truth is that anyone who is a member of, or works with, AA feels hugely strongly about the A word, and I'm not sure that I can take them all on. I don't want to have a fight with AA - I think they're an amazing institution doing an incredible job.

But I know that I, and many of my readers, feel strongly about this issue too. I am very happy (well, sort of) to stand up on national television and confess to drinking a bottle of wine a day. I'm happy to confess to being an alcohol addict.

But I'm not happy to say "I am an alcoholic." I don't believe I have a disease. I think I became addicted to an addictive drug, the same way I did to cigarettes, back in the day.

I found it much easier to say 'I have cancer' (when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago) than I do 'I am an alcoholic.'

The truth is, people sympathise with cancer victims, but they assume that women who are 'alcoholics' are weak, diseased, and terrible mothers who neglect their children while they pour vodka on their cornflakes.

Surely the words I use are a personal choice?

It seems extraordinary that one word can cause so much trouble. But it will....

Is this really a good idea?

Love SM

Sunday, 9 July 2017

False Memory

Our memories are much less accurate than we believe them to be.

Rather than a frame-by-frame photographic reflection of our past they are riddled with holes, like a swiss cheese. Whole chapters are re-written as we, unwittingly, cast different lights on what actually took place.

Two recent events have bought this home to me. The first was, last weekend, a thirty year reunion of my old boarding school friends. THIRTY YEARS! Where did all that time go?

Now, I lived with these women for seven years, through all those turbulent teenage days, and yet there were a few of them who I swear I had never, ever, seen before.

Even when I heard their names and looked up photos of how they looked back then.... nada. They'd been swallowed up by one of those many memory black holes.

But even much more recent memories are playing tricks on me.

I've been editing the book I've written about my first twelve months sober - the year when I also found and, hopefully, dispatched with breast cancer.

Reading back over that year is like reading a novel written about a character who has nothing whatsoever to do with me.

Whilst I know I had cancer - I have the scars to prove it, and I have to take tablets every day for the next decade at least - the detail of it all is a blur. It feels like it happened to a different person in a different age.

Even more so, the drinking days. When I look back on those I can remember drinking more than I should have, but the implications of that, the details of how it affected my life, my moods, my family... all burred.

There's good reason for this. Our subconscious minds have a built in protection mechanism. It's not good for us to remember all the bad stuff vividly, for there lies post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. So they, helpfully, allow us to forget the detail.

Who would give birth more than once if this were not the case?

It's only because of this blog that I am able to remind myself, in all it's gory detail, what that time was really like. And reading back over it, then writing about it, is painful. I had to do it in small chunks. It made me cry, quite a lot.

But the reason for telling you all of this, if you're still reading, is that writing it all down at the time is really important. Because that's what stops us doing it all over again.

I can honestly tell you that if I did not have this record of those dark days I would be drinking again now. Because when I search through my memories I see only the good drinks. The rose on a hot day. the champagne at weddings. The single glass of fine red with a meal in a restaurant.

I don't see the bottle of wine drunk every evening by myself.

I imagine that if you don't quit drinking until you hit a spectacular rock bottom, then it is less easy to forget. You have drink driving offences, broken relationships and a lost life to remind you.

But, if you - wisely - quit before that point, you only have your unreliable memories to rely on. The memory bank that it all easy to rob of its treasures.

So please, write it all down. Before you forget. Start a blog. A diary. Tell someone.

If you'd like to read my story from the start, then click here (or wait for the book!)

Love SM x

Sunday, 2 July 2017

When Disaster Strikes

I'm still haunted by the images and stories from the Grenfell Tower disaster, nearly three weeks ago.

On the 14th June, just before 1am, a faulty fridge-freezer caught fire in a flat on the fourth floor of this 24-storey tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington. The residents were some of the poorest people, living in one of the richest boroughs of London.

The fire services told all the families in the block to stay in their flats as the fire would be contained, and the one stairwell needed to be clear for the emergency services.

The fire, however, spread rapidly, via (it is thought) the newly applied cladding on the outside of the tower which was not fire resistant.

At least eighty people died that night, in a fire that raged for sixty hours despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and forty-five fire engines - men, women and children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

The pictures that emerged straight after the Grenfell disaster were horrific enough, the numbers and the details of that night even worse. But what is truly haunting is the personal stories that are, as the smoke clears, being told.

Jessica Urbano was only twelve years old, about the same age as my eldest daughter. She lived with her mum on the twentieth floor.

That night her mum, as usual, had gone to work with one of the many unseen, unconsidered, groups of people, who clean the city's offices overnight.

A few hours into her shift she got a call telling her that the tower was on fire. She raced home and ran towards the tower entrance. The firefighters would not, could not, let her in.

Jessica called from a neighbour's mobile. She sobbed "Mum, please come and get me!" but all Jessica's mum could do was to watch the flames roaring up the side of the building and hope and pray that her daughter would make it down the stairs and walk through the entrance.

She never did.

We never know when disaster might strike us, or one of our friends or family. Although, thankfully, these terrible events are rare, they seem to be occurring more and more in London at the moment.

One of the things that, finally, prompted me to stop drinking was the thought that something terrible might happen to one of my children - an accident or an illness - and that I would not be sober enough to deal with it as well as I should.

I would never have forgiven myself.

Many times when my children were small, they would cry in the night because they were hungry, or had a bad dream, and - more often than not - Mr SM would wake up, as I, after a few glasses of wine, was sleeping too deeply to hear them.

Imagine if he had not been there. Imagine if they'd woken, not because of a bad dream but because of smoke or flames.

The Grenfell Tower disaster does have a light side as well as a dark side.

The bravery and dedication of the fire service, who removed (against all regulations) their own face masks to help people escaping down the stairwell. The generosity and spirit of the local community who have worked tirelessly distributing food, clothing and money. The stories of the people who did make it to the ground - the survivors.

Love SM x


Monday, 26 June 2017

Mother's Ruin

I was interviewed recently for a feature in the fabulous Smallish Magazine titled 'Mother's Ruin.'

(To read the full article click here).

The journalist asked whether all the jokes about wine o'clock, and the way the lives of modern mothers revolve around boozy playdates, 'family friendly' festivals and so on is becoming a problem.

The statistics would suggest that it is. One in five university educated women are believed to be drinking more than the recommended levels, especially the over 45's.

It's not the young, wild, crazy things being irresponsible - it's us, the ones who should be setting a good example.

I don't like to get all sniffy about the wine memes on Facebook - I used to think they were hilarious. It's just that they are one of the reasons it took me so long to quit.

Professor Nutt's study on the relative harms of twenty drugs, illegal and legal, concluded that when you combine the damage to the individual and to society as a whole, alcohol was by far the most dangerous.

If you only consider the danger to the individual, to yourself, alcohol is still the fourth most dangerous drug (after heroin, crack and crystal meth), and the fifth most addictive. It's more harmful than cocaine, ketamine, cannabis, ecstasy and nicotine.

And yet we refuse to treat alcohol as a dangerously addictive drug. Everyone takes it, everyone jokes about it, if you don't join in you're seen as weird.

In my early days of being sober, I'd be struggling really hard to see my former best friend as my greatest enemy, and then I'd look at Facebook and there would be all these little wine jokes: Keep your friends close, and your wine closer. Stay calm, drink wine.

I even saw an advertisement on Facebook last night for a designer handbag that doubles as a wine dispenser! I would have loved that in the olden days...

So, I would see all these jokes, and all the photos on my friends' timelines of dining tables scattered with wine bottles, boozy picnics and drunken parties and I'd think how can booze be so bad if everyone is drinking it? It's medicinal! It's sophisticated! It's CONTINENTAL!

And yet, can you imagine the outcry if a Mum posted on Facebook: Hurrah! Kids in bed, time to rack up a line of cocaine!

I'm not suggesting that everyone stop drinking. Those who can happily drink safely and moderately (damn their eyes) should carry on. I'm just suggesting that we stop treating massive consumption of booze as a joke, as innocuous and harmless.

Because it's not.

Love to you all,

SM


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Drinking and Divorce

There was a fabulous article in the Daily Mail yesterday which asked Why are so many women drinking their way to divorce?

For the full article, click here.

According to the article, a recent study showed that more and more marriages are breaking down because of the wife's excessive drinking. It's thought to contribute to as many as one in seven divorces.

I can see how that can so easily be the case, as I get so many e-mails from women telling me that their husbands have given them an ultimatum: either the booze goes, or I do.

Looking back, I see now that alcohol was the root cause of many of my marital arguments. There were a few spectacular ones, like the Finnish wedding.

Mr SM had known the groom since they were at school together at the age of ten. They also spent a memorable year, after they graduated, living in St Petersburg, where Mr SM learned to speak rather ropey, but extremely sexy, Russian.

The wedding venue was stunning - the bride's family summer house on the edge of a Fjord, in the height of summer when, that far North, it never gets dark. At about 2am the light would get a little dusky, but a couple of hours later the relentless bright sunshine would return.

We had a ball. Being just over a narrow sea from Russia, there was a vodka and caviar bar which we made the most of, then a lavish wedding feast of reindeer, washed down with endless enthusiastic toasts of unpronounceable finnish spirits.

At about three in the morning, the last coach was leaving for the hotel, half an hour away. Mr SM was having so much fun with the fins in the sauna that he refused to come back with me.

They were all sitting in the heat, naked and sweating, while Mr SM sang 'Fins can only get better' (that joke must have worn thin after a while). Then they'd run at full pelt down a wooden jetty and dive into the ice-cold fjord.

I lost it. We had a screaming row, and then I sat on the floor of the bus (there were no seats left) telling all the bemused (and rather concerned) passengers at great length how Mr SM had never truly loved me and it was all over.

Mr SM managed to get a lift back in the boot of someone’s car about an hour later. We both woke up, terribly hungover, at around lunch time having forgotten most of the detail of our very public meltdown, and couldn’t understand why everyone was looking at us strangely and asking if we were ‘okay.’

The vast majority of our alcohol based arguments were, however, nothing like as dramatic as the Finnish one. Just the endless tetchy debates (when hungover) about who was going to feed the baby at 5am, or take the toddler to a party where you’d have to clap and sing and participate.

Then, after a few glasses of wine in the evening, the drunken fights (inevitably started by me) about who wasn’t pulling their weight around the house, or with the childcare.

I’m sure that every married couple has these sorts of arguments, but the problems start when the majority of your conversations end up like this.

Marriage is like a piggy bank. Every time you do something nice, thoughtful or generous for the other person you put money into the bank, and every time you treat them badly, thoughtlessly or carelessly to take money out. If you’re not careful, eventually the piggy bank is empty.

The other issue with drinking in a marriage is that excessive alcohol use leads to self-hatred, anxiety and depression, all of which make it very difficult to focus properly on your relationship, to top up that piggy bank.

Yet, even when we know we're destroying our relationships we carry on. Why?

Because we assume that life without booze just won't be worth living.

Well, that's where you're wrong. It's ten times better. So please, just do it. Before it's too late.

Love SM x

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Strong Women Don't Drink

In the UK we've woken up to a general election result that no-one would have predicted just a few weeks ago.

This, along with the equally surprising Brexit result and recent US election suggests that, all over the world, people are unhappy with the status quo, with the ruling elites and are questioning what the future should look like.

In addition to all this uncertainty and unrest, we have suffered increasing numbers of terror attacks - three in the UK in a matter of weeks. It feels as if our very foundations are shifting and unstable.

In times like this we all need a bit of escapism. So, rather than searching for it in the bottom of a wine glass, go check out the new Wonder Woman film. I took the children last weekend and we all loved it.

Diana, Wonder Woman, daughter of Zeus and sister of Aires (it turns out), is a fabulous reminder that the last thing you need in times of crisis is a glass of wine.

It feels as if women everywhere turn to various coping mechanisms to help them manage the increasing pressures of modern life, of work and family. If it's not booze it's food, or internet shopping, or prescription medications, or online bingo.

But, having been there, and having dealt with both life threatening illness and the death of a close friend in the last year, I can tell you, honestly, that you are far stronger, and much better able to deal with the things life throws at us, sober.

In my early days of quitting, whenever things got tough, I would remind myself that Ripley in Alien would never have murdered that monster mother of alien parasites if she'd had a few strong drinks first.

Likewise, Sarah Conor in Terminator, or Danaerys - Mother of Dragons - in Game of Thrones. You don't see them turning to the bottle when it all gets a bit stressful. They use strength, wisdom, machine guns and dragons.

And Wonder Woman, armed with a huge sword and a rather fabulous lasso, is another fine example.

Plus, she has an extraordinary, but marvellous, dress sense and, whilst there's not an ounce of fat or cellulite on her, she looks as if she actually eats her meat and two vegetables every day.

So, there I was, watching the film, cheering on Wonder Woman and reminding myself that strong women don't need booze, when the hero passed her a glass of beer!

I watched, avidly, as she raised the glass but put it down without drinking. Then, magically, it was in her hand again (a continuity error that only the most eagle-eyed obsessive - which I am - would have noticed) and she put it down again without drinking a drop.

So, there you have it. Yet more proof that strong women don't drink.

Hurrah, and love to all you superheroes,

SM x

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Best Sober Blogs

Is it just me, or has it all gone spookily quiet in the sober blogging world?

I have about thirty blogs on my reading list and, at the moment, only about five of them are still posting regularly. I keep checking my inbox, and there's just tumbleweed.

Where have they all gone? I miss my friends. Have they fallen off the wagon? Are they just bored with blogging? Are they okay?

If you're out there Annie, BeSoberBea, Exploringsomethingelse, Hurrahfortea, Redrecovers, Timeandthebottle, Thirstystill - to name just a few - then please let us know how you're doing.

If you need help, and you're searching for the best sober blogs around, then two fabulous old hands are the Wine Bitch (Sober, Sassy Life) and Mrs D (her blog is here), who has just published her second book Mrs D is Going Within.

If you want to follow someone earlier on in the journey then my favourite bloggers who are still posting regularly (within the last two or three weeks) are:

Giving Up Drugs and Alcohol, Hurrah for Coffee, Done With My Wine Habit, Groundhog Girl and So This is Sober. You can also read my story from the beginning, starting here.

(I've added all the links, so all you have to do is click on any of those names and you'll be transported, just like Dr Who in the Tardis, straight to their worlds).

If you've discovered a brilliant, new and active blog then please post us the link, and if you've started your own then don't be shy - tell us about it and give us your address so we can pop by.

So please use the comments section below to SHARE, RECOMMEND and LINK.

In these days of encroaching summer, with all its buckets of Pimms and Rose, we sober people have to stick together.

Love to you all,

SM x






Monday, 22 May 2017

Manchester Terrorist Attack

I woke up this morning to the terrible news of a terrorist attack in Manchester last night.

What makes this event particularly horrific is not just the fact that at least twenty-two were killed and sixty or so injured by flying pieces of metal, but that the bomb was triggered (by a suspected suicide bomber) outside an Ariana Grande concert, and timed to explode just as the crowds were leaving the venue.

If you don't have young daughters, you may not know Ariana Grande. My girls have grown up with her, as the ditsy, pretty, wholesome 'Cat' in Sam and Cat and Victorious.

The people going to see an Ariana Grande concert would be teenaged girls at their first ever concert, mums taking their ten-year-old to see her idol as a special birthday treat, families enjoying an event that they know will be appropriate for all ages.

Pictures of the scene just before the explosions show a mass of pink helium balloons and groups of young girls, smiling, singing, grinning and taking selfies.

I listened to interviews this morning with men who'd gone to collect their daughters last night and been greeted by unimaginable scenes of chaos, panic and horror.

How can anyone justify any of this in the name of any religion or cause?

In other news, (as if any other news really matters) a new study into the, now irrefutable, link between alcohol and breast cancer was announced. Even half a glass of wine a day significantly increases your risk.

I know this, obviously, and the timing is pertinent, as today I have a check up and ultrasound scan (eighteen months after my original cancer diagnosis) at the breast clinic. Oh joy.

Both the events of last night, and my personal trial this morning, remind me how our futures are so uncertain. In just a matter of moments - an explosion or a black mass on an ultrasound scan - our whole lives can change.

Which is why we have to remember, every day, to be phenomenally grateful for what we have - for our families, our friends and our health.

Love to you all, and particularly to those of you in Manchester. I hope you, and those you care for, are well and safe.

SM x

Friday, 19 May 2017

Martha's Story

The hardest thing about giving up booze is thinking that you are all alone, that you're a tiny sober canoe being tossed around in a sea of drinkers.

It's easy to believe that everyone else seems to manage alcohol perfectly well, and that you're the only person who seems to have struck up an intimate relationship with the wine witch.

Well, let me reassure you, you are not alone and there are hundreds of thousands of women (and men!) out there struggling in exactly the same way. I know because lots of them e-mail me.

Here's an example from Martha, who kindly agreed to let me share her story, because it's stories like hers, and mine, and yours, that really can change the world.

Dear sober mummy,

For ages I've been reading your blog. I guess I came across it only a few weeks after you started it, and even though you don't know it, I've laughed and I cried with you.

I am a 45 year old woman from Belgium and I've been struggling with alcohol for at least 15 years.


I never used to drink much. When I first went out, age 16, my girlfriends and I always drank Coke. It was not until I was 19 that I started drinking wine on a more regular basis, but never at home, only when I went out.

After the relationship with my boyfriend ended and I started living on my own again at age 28, I started to drink at night. Every night. I often told myself in the morning that I wouldn't drink that night, but I always did.

Sometimes I would have to work till 11 pm and on purpose I would not buy wine, so I wouldn't be tempted to drink it when I got home. But most of the time I would then steal a bottle of wine from work and drink it when I got home anyway.

When I met my husband I knew he was a heavy drinker, and although I knew my drinking wasn't normal, I didn't drink more then he did so I figured it was okay.


Nobody ever commented on my drinking. I did stupid things when drunk but nobody ever tried to talk to me about it. Most of my family and closest friends drink at least the same amount as I do, some even more.

Anyway, to cut a looooong story short, I am done with alcohol. I have been for a long time and have made attempts to cut down or stop. Once I've quit for 7 weeks, I felt wonderful. But started again.


Last year, for a whole year I didn't drink in the house. Okay, we went out more then we did before, because I did want to drink of course, but not drinking in the house made a big difference. But after our summer holiday I haven't been able to pick it up and started drinking every night again.

But not anymore. I've quit. I didn't tell anyone, but I am telling you. I am telling people I quit for now because I want to get of my medication for stomach pains (I am sure you don't need to wonder why I have stomach issues).

Why I am writing you is to tell you about this app that I use: Sober Grid. It's an online community where people support each other. You can chat with people if you want. It helps me! And maybe it will help other who don't want to be too vocal about their problems.


It's like I don't want to disappoint the people I've met there by starting drinking again. It's like Facebook for the addicts.

That, and reading blogs like yours really help me to realize I am not dumb, I am not boring, but I am making a smart choice, for me.

Thanks for listening and wishing you all the best.


Martha's story sounded so familiar to me, and I bet it does to you, too.

So, you are not alone, and if you check out Martha's recommendation - Sober Grid - you'll find even more friends.

(You can mail me your story on sobermummy@gmail.com)

Love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 15 May 2017

Alcohol and Mental Health

Mental health is The Topic in the media right now, thanks to the young royals - William, Kate and Harry, who have launched the Heads Together campaign to combine the weight of  mental health charities and bring mental health issues out of the shadows.

Hurrah for that, and about time too.

Something that still isn't talked about, however, is the undeniable link between alcohol (ab)use and mental health.

Which is why I'm hugely grateful to one of my readers, K, for sending me an article in The Guardian titled: I know how alcohol can ruin your mental health. So why is it so rarely discussed? by a chap called Matthew Todd.

(For the full article, click here).

Todd's story is very much like mine and, I'm sure, yours. He says, for example: I never drank in the morning or in parks, just in a British way, bingeing along with, well, everybody else. I didn’t question it because no one else seemed concerned.

However, Todd found that he was becoming increasingly anxious and self-destructive. Then he uses these words, which describe my situation, back in the day, better than I could myself:

(I was) swinging between thinking I was the most important and the most worthless person on the planet.

The more I drank to medicate my low self-esteem, the worse my anxiety got and the more I drank to dull it. Years passed and I couldn’t see I was stuck right in the classic “cycle of addiction”.

Does that ring bells with you too?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew's main discovery once he quit totally echoed my experience too. he says:

Since finally giving up alcohol, I’ve learned many things. First, that addiction is everywhere. That it is not about the drinking (or whatever the substance is), but the feelings underneath.

And ain't that the truth?

Matthew's article ends with the words: The British drink too much. Alcohol must be next on the mental health agenda. Hear, hear, and so say all of us.

So thank you K, and thank you Matthew.

Another e-mail I received this week was much less helpful.

Dear Sir,

An inauspicious start, and displaying total lack of research, given that my pseudonym is SoberMummy.

But it gets worse...

Our company is interested in the wine you produced.

If you have intention to cooperate, please contact us ASAP to have a better discussion of our cooperation.

Funnily enough, for many years one of my secret ambitions was to buy a vineyard. Needless to say, I spent too much time (and money) drinking to actually get around to doing so.

Just as well, hey?

Love to you all,

SoberMummy (also known as Sir) x

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Me and Brad Pitt

It turns out that Brad Pitt and I are so similar that we could almost be identical twins separated at birth.

There are, obviously, a few differences: gender, for a start. He also did rather better than I in the good looks lottery, plus he has a lot more cash, and more children than I do. BUT apart from that, we are spookily alike.

If you haven't already, do read this interview (click here) with Brad Pitt in GQ magazine, entitled 'Brad Pitt Talks Divorce, Quitting Drinking and Becoming a Better Man'. Huge thanks to Lindsay for posting the link.

Brad talks in some detail about his relationship with alcohol, which he quit six months ago. And, yet again, I'm reminded of exactly how similar we all are, regardless of gender, money and fame.

It turns out that Brad, like me, loved his wine. He didn't even need to go to the off licence and worry about being judged by the cashiers, he had his own vineyard! He says:

I enjoy wine very, very much, but I just ran it to the ground. I had to step away for a minute. And truthfully I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka. I was a professional. I was good.

Brad, like all of us, is an all-or-nothing person. All the best people are, in my book. He's not one of life's natural moderators. He says:

...the terrible thing is I tend to run things into the ground. That's why I've got to make something so calamitous. I've got to run it off a cliff.

I do it with everything, yeah. I exhaust it, and then I walk away. I've always looked at things in seasons, compartmentalized them, I guess, seasons or semesters or tenures or…Yeah, it's that stupid. “This is my Sid and Nancy season.”

That's how I see my relationship with alcohol, too. I don't regret the drinking years, but I used up my lifetime's allowance in less that a lifetime. Been there, done that, time to move on.

It took me some time, after I finally quit, to work out what it was really all about. But Brad has it all figured out after only six months. I guess he really is a super hero, plus he must have access to some really good therapists. He says:

I can't remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn't boozing or had a spliff, or something. Something. And you realize that a lot of it is, um—cigarettes, you know, pacifiers. And I'm running from feelings.

I'm really, really happy to be done with all of that. I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know—things I wasn't dealing with.

I was boozing too much. It's just become a problem. And I'm really happy it's been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I've got my feelings in my fingertips again.

I think that's part of the human challenge: You either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve.

So, there you have it. Brad Pitt is one of us, and he is welcome on this site any time.

And, in other news this week, I read, with some interest, a study which proves that eating bogies is good for us. Hurrah! That's one less thing to nag the children about.

Love to you all, and especially to Brad.

SM x


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Are You Scared?

One of the most difficult aspects of getting sober is learning to deal with fear.

Fear can prevent us from even getting off the starting blocks. I get lots of e-mails from people saying something along the lines of "I really want to quit drinking. I know I have to quit drinking. But I'm scared. Scared of failing, scared that I'll be miserable for ever, scared of living life without my favourite prop..."

That first hurdle is so daunting that, for many people, they can only scale it once they've reached 'rock bottom' (which is a place none of us want to get to).

Once we've overcome that initial fear we then have to learn how to cope with on-going fears and anxieties without our favourite method of numbing the edges, and that's really hard. We're totally out of practice at doing fear (or any emotion, actually), in the raw.

If any of this is ringing any bells with you, then check out this great YouTube clip of Will Smith talking about overcoming fear (click here).

Will concludes with the words on the other side of your maximum fear are all the best things in life.

And you know what? He's right!

Think back to some of your best days. Your finest moments. Maybe your wedding day? The day your first child was born? The time you won that huge contract, launched a new business or landed a book deal. The day you climbed a mountain, jumped out of a plane or ran a marathon.

What preceded those days? Fear, right? Or, at least, anxiety.

If you'd sidestepped that fear, you never would have experienced the brilliance of the other side.

Well, that's all very well, but even when you focus on the end goal, even when you know this is something you have to get through, it still doesn't mean it's easy, does it?

So, try this advice from the latest book by the brilliant Amy Cuddy:

Amy says that the secret to not only dealing with anxiety, but making it work in your favour is to reframe it in your mind as excitement.

In a recent study by Alison Brooks, when people were given a challenge of singing, speaking or doing a maths challenge in public, those who took a moment to reframe their anxiety as excitement outperformed all the others.

And, funnily enough, fear and excitement feel very similar, don't you think? There's that butterfly in the stomach sensation or, in my case, the nest of squirming vipers.

I've been trying this out. Every time I feel scared, I make myself think This is so exciting. There is something amazing on the other side of this hurdle. It's going to be fabulous.

It really works.

So, if you're still at that I know I need to quit but I'm really scared stage, then try thinking this instead: I'm so excited about starting on this challenge, because life on the other side of it is going to be INCREDIBLE!

And it will be....

Love SM x




Thursday, 27 April 2017

Police Cars and Cashiers

When I started this blog I thought I was fairly unique. But not in a good way.

I didn't think there were many 'ordinary mums' like me who were wrestling on a daily basis with the wine witch, or whose lives were secretly out of control.

I quickly discovered that I was wrong - I really wasn't alone.

I found out that were many women (and men!) out there, just like me. They mailed me their stories, and they were all spookily similar to mine.

But the funny thing was, not only were we alike in the reasons why we started drinking, the way it escalated, how it was making us feel and our inability to moderate (I still can't type that word without gritting my teeth), but many of my quirks and neuroses, it transpired, are terribly common.

That's why youboozeyoulooze (find her blog here) asked me to post a link to a piece I wrote a while ago on Police Cars and Cashiers (click here).

I still remember vividly the times I spent fretting about being judged by cashiers, and how much effort I went to to avoid seeing the same ones. And I still get a thrill now when I drive past police cars late a night knowing for certain that the breathalyser holds no fear for me.

But quitting booze is hard, which is why I'm sharing an article sent to me by an Australian (male!) reader, w3stie. (In my fevered imagination, he's just like Mike Dundee, all rippling six pack, great sense of humour and able to take down a crocodile with his bare hands).

The article is by Felicity Ward, an Australian comedian and columnist, who talks about why she quit drinking and what's happened to her life since. Here's a taster:

I wondered how I'd ever have fun again. I wondered if I'd be boring for the rest of my life. I wondered how people would know I was a wanker if I didn't order a Penfolds 389 with my dinner.

So initially I just shut the world out for a bit, went cold turkey and kept a low profile. Oh, and I cried. A lot. Sometimes I'd walk around my apartment and have to lie on the floor all of a sudden because the sadness was too heavy. That's something they DON'T tell you about giving up alcohol.

When you stop drinking, you find all these things you'd forgotten about for years ... like FEELINGS. You know: fear, insecurity, self-loathing.

Oh, that's why I was drinking. I seeeee...

To read the whole article (which I heartily recommend and which does - spoiler alert - have a happy ending) click here.

Lots of love to you all, and thanks to w3stie!

SM x

Friday, 21 April 2017

Headspace

Alcohol addicts often talk about having 'monkey minds'. I like to think that we are particularly interested and interesting people, whose minds just won't stay still. (Or maybe we're just slightly more crazy than the average person).

Sometimes we just want a little peace. An escape from all the endless thinking, analysing, worrying, predicting. And that's what the booze does for us. It stills the mind and allows us to relax, to change gear, to de-stress.

That's what I missed most when I first quit drinking - the ability to transport myself to a little oasis of calm with just a few sips (glugs) of wine.

Buddhists believe that one of the keys to happiness is learning how to still the mind. But, predictably, Buddhists are very anti-booze, advocating meditation instead.

Back in the early days of being sober I tried meditation. I was a complete failure. I downloaded a meditation and tried to sit still for ten minutes concentrating on my breathing. Ten minutes had never felt so long.

The more I tried to ignore random thoughts the more they jumped up and down demanding attention like errant toddlers. Then the dog jumped on my lap and started licking my face, the sort of thing I'm sure never happens to Gwyneth Paltrow.

I didn't try that one again. Until a few days ago.

I've finally downloaded an App that several readers have recommended - Headspace, and I've been doing a ten minute meditation every morning. I'm a convert.

Not only does Headspace give you ten minutes of calm in your day, it also teaches you how to deal with negative and unhelpful thoughts (without diving for a bottle).

So, next time you really, really want a glass of wine, try a Headspace meditation instead. Once you've got over feeling like a bit of an idiot, it really does work.

Namaste!

SM x


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Black Sheep

I don't know if it's the result of being sober, or my age, or my recent brush with possible death, but I've been affected more by the signs of Spring this year than ever before.

The branches laden with blossom, daffodils in the hedgerows and newborns in the fields all strike me as unbearably poignant.

We're in Scotland for Easter, and the field at the back of the house is filled with tiny, Instagram-worthy, frisky little lambs.

They're all snow white except one, who's jet black from the tip of his tiny nose to the end of his twitchy tail.

I'm with you, buddy.

I've always felt an affinity with the black sheep. I've always seen myself as a rebel. I've always wanted to colour outside the lines, push the boundaries, break the rules and ignore the government guidelines.

One thing I still struggle with about being sober is the thought of being too good.

But then I looked at all the lambs playing in the field and I thought if those are a bunch of people out on a Friday night, then which one is the black sheep? Which is the outlier, the rebel, the individual?

It's me. It's us. It's those of us brave enough not to drink when everyone else is.

So, feeling reassured that I've still got 'it', I went to the fridge for a Beck's Blue and spotted the redcurrant jelly and mint sauce, all ready for the traditional Easter leg of lamb.

What do you think the family would say to a nice nut roast?

Happy Easter to you all,

SM x

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

What Would You Do?

I came across a YouTube video last week. It's a 'social experiment' where they film a sixteen year old boy drinking vodka from a bottle on the streets of New York to see what will happen.

Predictably, most people walk straight past, although many look shocked or concerned. A few stop to check if he is okay.

Then, a middle aged man comes up. He looks genuinely worried and sincere. He takes the boy by the arm and says this:

What are you doing, man? You can't be drinking. You're too young to be drinking.

When I was young like you, I was drinking. I lost everything. I lost my home, lost my children, lost my car, lost my job. It's a no-win situation. I ended up being homeless. For a year. Just because of this bottle.

Don't drink, man. Don't drink. You're too young. You've got youth on your side. You don't want to be homeless and losing your family and everything, do you? Because this is the worst. It's a no-win situation...

And you know what I learned?

I learned, yet again, that ex-drinkers are the bravest, wisest and most compassionate people out there, and that sharing your story is the most powerful thing you can do to help others following behind you.

It also made me think: why is it that we see the sight of a sixteen year-old drinking so shocking, and yet we expect it of eighteen year olds? And few people bat an eyelid at a forty year old drinking to excess every night of the week.

Surely anything that we instinctively know is wrong for children is also not good for adults?

Anyhow, here's a link to the video: click here. Let me know what you think.

Huge congrats to Philippa, my e-mail buddy, on TWO YEARS sober! 

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Make Life Simple

Back on Day 96 I wrote a post on de-cluttering and an idiot's guide to feng shui (click here).

It's quite common for the newly sober to become obsessed by cleaning and de-cluttering. It keeps our hands busy and off the wine bottle, and it gives us back a sense of control over our environment and our lives.

Plus, in the early days it really helps if you can keep your life as simple and uncluttered as possible, that way you can focus on you, and the important stuff, like not drinking.

So it helps to evaluate your life mercilessly, to work out what makes you stressed and, therefore, want to drink and ditch it, perhaps just for a few weeks, or - if possible - permanently.

I decluttered my house, pared down the wardrobe so it only contained the stuff I was actually likely to wear, went through the fridge and freezer binning anything past the use-by date and any duplicates (why three jars of redcurrant jelly?), then said 'no' to any additional work, school or charity commitments that weren't absolutely necessary.

Then I found that, once you've simplified everything down to the essentials, you can see what's really important, and what's needed. You discover you're missing a pair of black trousers, butter and a fitness regime.

Over the last two weeks I've taken exactly the same principle and started applying it to my e-mail inbox and it's changed my life!

I used to get hundreds of mails a day, but most of them were just trying to sell me stuff I didn't want or need. Every single company I'd ever bought anything from or shown interest in felt able to bombard me with endless junk.

Am I the only person in the world that hadn't worked out how easy it is to UNSUBSCRIBE?

Just in case the answer to that query is 'no', here's what you do: just scroll down to the very bottom of the junk mail until you find the word 'unsubscribe', then click it and follow the (usually simple) instructions.

I've been doing this about fifty times a day for the last two weeks and, as a result, I've completely de-cluttered my inbox.

Instead of receiving hundreds of junk mails a day, I now get a small handful. The vast majority of mails I receive are proper ones. Ones from people I've actually met, or at least spoken to.

This means that now, for the first time, I can see what's important. And I can see the gaps. I suddenly realise that I'm not half as busy or in demand as I thought I was. It's given me the incentive to mail some friends to organise stuff and to tout for more work.

I'm totally addicted to UNSUBSCRIBE (once an addict, always an addict). If only I could use it for the rest of my life. Competitive parenting: UNSUBSCRIBE! Refereeing sibling arguments: UNSUBSCRIBE! Endlessly loading the sodding dishwasher: UNSUBSCRIBE!

If you've received this post by e-mail and it's just cluttering up your inbox and irritating you, please feel free to UNSUBSCRIBE.

If, however, you'd like to join my e-mail list then go to the home page of my main website (if you're on a mobile device, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on 'view full website') and you'll find a box in the top right hand corner saying 'subscribe my e-mail.' Just stick your e-mail address in there.

(All mails are blandly titled 'A New Post From SM', rather than anything embarrassing like DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ALCOHOL?)

Love to you all,

SM x

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Am I an Alcoholic?

Whenever I tell people that I don't drink (which I do quite happily now), one of the first questions I'm asked is "are you an alcoholic?"

This question is usually accompanied by a hard, concerned stare, and is whispered. It's the same tone in which someone might ask "do you have genital herpes?" or "is it cancer?"

(I know this, because I did actually have cancer. And, I tell you what, admitting to cancer is an awful lot easier than admitting to not drinking. I would merrily tell my hairdresser, a traffic warden, pretty much anyone about my cancer, but it took at least six months of not drinking to be able to confess to that!)

And the problem with being asked are you an alcoholic? is that I never know what to say.

I hate the word. It comes loaded with such negative imagery. People assume that alcoholics are diseased, weak, doomed, bad mothers, untrustworthy and unstable - or at least that's what I think they're thinking.

I think the word is damaging, because we try so hard to deny being an alcoholic that we carry on drinking for way longer than we should. Only rock bottom feels worse than admitting to that lifelong curse.

This isn't a case of me being in denial. I am happy to confess that I AM AN ADDICT. And, as a result, I CAN NEVER DRINK AGAIN. But, confess to being an alcoholic? No thank you.

This is a bit of an issue, as when I start having to do the publicity for my book it's a question I'm bound to be asked publically.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm ashamed of my addiction. I'm not. Or that I think I'm different from self-proclaimed alcoholics - I'm not. Nor do I want to run down AA, which is an incredible institution. It's just not a label that I agree with, like or find helpful.

So, here are my questions to all of you (answers in the comments below, please!)

Do you describe yourself an alcoholic? Do you find the terminology helpful? If not, what do you prefer to say? And, when I'm asked 'are you an alcoholic?' what do you think I should say?

Really looking forward to hearing your views!

Love SM x

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Turning Tide

Back in January, the Sunday Times predicted that one of the big trends of 2017 would be going sober.

Indeed, increasing numbers of celebrities seem to be jumping on the sober wagon, from Kim Kardashian to Calvin Harris, Blake Lively, Daniel Radcliffe and Eminem.

In fact, whilst heavy drinking is still de rigeur amongst my age group, more than one in five adults under twenty-five in the UK are teetotal. In London, where there's a large Muslim population, it's one in three.

(When I think back to my early twenties I cannot think of one person I knew, or even knew of, who didn't drink).

But perhaps all of this is being bigged up by writers looking for a new story. Many journalists (a notoriously boozy profession) seem to be ditching the drink, so maybe they are just particularly interested in the subject.

You know when a trend really is taking root when the big bucks start paying attention. Like when the food giants started making 'gluten free' options and declaring 'no added sugar' on all their packaging.

And that's what's happening now, my friends.

Tesco announced this week that they are introducing a whole 'low and no alcohol' aisle in the drinks section. They're not stupid - one of the trade magazine's announced that the sector was up 39% in value year-on-year.

Isn't that brilliant?

Up until now, the few alcohol free drinks available have been scattered around, usually on the bottom shelves, meaning that we have to search for ages for a few cans of Beck's Blue or an alcohol free wine, spending far more time than is fair or wise amongst the bottles of Chablis and Saint Emilion.

(I'll never forget my joy at finding a dusty crate of Beck's Blue in a Spar in Cornwall and taking it up to the cashier only for them to look at me in amazement, saying "You know there's no alcohol in that, do you?" They must have stocked it by accident).

It's not just the supermarkets; the global drinks giant, Diageo (who've spent millions worldwide trying to get teenagers to drink more vodka), have invested an undisclosed sum in Seedlip, the distilled non-alcoholic spirit that's become my favourite 6pm tipple.

One of the hardest things about quitting the booze is being made to feel like you're mad, boring or have a problem by everyone you come across, but the tide is turning, and perhaps, one day, quitting the booze will be as acceptable (or even desirable) as ditching refined carbohydrates, sugar or cigarettes.

Happy Mother's Day to all my UK readers, and especially to PhoenixRising who is one year sober TODAY!

Love SM x

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

London Terror Attack

A few days ago, I was walking alongside the Thames with Mr SM and the three children, pointing out (as I do every time) Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

We'd been to see an amazing art exhibition featuring life size models of the Marvel Superheroes constructed entirely from Lego.

We walked past the skateboard park, decorated with incredible (legally applied) graffiti, human statues, street magicians and acrobats and a street food market offering food from every continent.

I thought how incredibly lucky we are to live in such a vibrant city, a melting pot of different cultures, where astounding modern architecture buts up against beautiful historic monuments, and where every street has centuries of tales to tell.

Then yesterday Mr SM was crossing London by tube for a meeting and cursed as he approached Westminster and discovered that the tube line was closed.

He had no idea that just a few feet above his head four people had been killed and around forty injured (including three French teenagers on a school trip) by a terrorist ploughing his 4x4 car at around 70 miles per hour along the pavement of Westminster Bridge, then plunging a knife into a policeman outside Parliament.

In just a few minutes lives were lost or changed forever, and the ripple effects will continue as livelihoods are affected by reduced tourism.

It's really easy at times like this to want to hunker down, to stay safe, to cancel trips and change plans. But that's not the right thing to do. Because what yesterday really shows us is that life is short and the future is unpredictable.

We have to make the most of every minute. And we can't let the bastards win.

Love SM x


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Healing

I posted a few days ago about my sick dog - thank you all so much for all your kind and thoughtful comments.

Sometimes I'm reminded that there are so many things about this Universe that we don't understand and can't explain.

Shortly after I last posted, when the terrier hadn't eaten for two days and was looking seriously miserable, we had to go out to a dinner party.

I was worried about leaving the dog with the babysitter, but we've known her for years and she's very fond of him, so I explained the situation and said we'd come straight back if he got any worse.

"Don't worry," she said, "I'll look after him. I'm a Master Reiki Healer, so I'll do a session with him."

I have to confess to being a little sceptical, but I figured it couldn't do any harm. As we left he was sitting on Susie's knee, having his back stroked and looking a little confused.

Three hours later, we got home, opened the door and were flattened by a fur ball, jumping up, wagging his tail and then charging outside to bark at some foxes.

"He's eaten a bowl of food and drunk lots of water," said Susie as we stared at his retreating doggy butt, open-mouthed.

Otto's recovery may well have been a complete co-incidence, but who knows?

Since that evening, he's still had a bit of a upset tummy, but he's definitely on the mend.

My other good news, and the reason I didn't post any sooner, is that yesterday I typed THE END at the bottom of my manuscript!

It's the book of my first year sober, how I got there, what I learned, and how I got, and then got rid of, breast cancer along the way.

I'm hoping that it'll help other people struggling with the wine witch, and will help 'normal drinkers' get a much better understanding of what life is like for us addicts.

It all sounds a bit serious, but it's actually a black comedy which, I hope, will be fun to read.

Of course, it's not actually THE END. It's the beginning of a long editing process. I sent a copy to my Agent, printed off two copies for friends to read and critique, and gave a copy to Mr SM.

It's like handing over your baby.

Mr SM has been reading and making notes with a red pen (as requested). It's agonising. I keep hounding him with needy questions: is it okay? Will anyone read it? Do I sound completely crazy?

Once I've got everyone's feedback I'll do a big re-edit, then hand it to my publishers who, apparently, will take four or five weeks to get back to me. How agonising!

(Publication date: Jan 11th, 2018)

Love to you all, and thanks, as always, for all your support.

SM x

P.S. Huge congrats to WildcatsMaisie on her Soberversary!



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Sober Tools with Four Legs

There's a great scene in the film 28 Days, the one where Sandra Bullock goes to rehab, where the 'inmates' ask when they should start dating.

The counsellor replies that first they should try looking after a plant, then, if the plant survives, they should get a pet. If both plant and pet are alive and thriving after a year they can consider a romantic relationship.

Well, presuming that you're not surrounded by lots of dead plants, I think that dogs are the very best sober tools.

Dogs get you outside, exercising, every day, and there are few better mood lifters and serotonin boosters than that.

They are great for your self esteem (which has probably taken a bit of a battering), as they think you are incredible - the best person in the whole universe.

Dogs are also natural Buddhists. If you are not particularly good at mindfulness, then just look at a dog. They think that every smell, every sound, every new experience is the best and most exciting thing ever. They greet each day with boundless enthusiasm.

There's a great cartoon doing the rounds on Facebook. It shows a man and his dog, sitting on a bench in a park looking at the moon. There are thought bubbles showing what's on their minds.

The man is thinking about getting a new car, a hot wife and going on a flashy holiday. The dog is thinking about sitting with his owner on a bench in the park looking at the moon.

Dogs are also great healers. They know when we're feeling down, or sick.

When I was going through the whole cancer thing, if I was feeling ill or miserable I'd go and lie on my bed and my dog would lie next to me, just resting his furry head on my tummy, for as long as I needed company. He didn't tell me it would all be okay, or to try not to think about it, he was just there.

Having a dog is a fabulous way to find a network of friends and social activities that do not revolve around booze. I go out less in the evening these days, but I have a group of more than ten dog owning friends and I'll meet at least one of them every single day for a walk, a coffee and a good natter.

I've been thinking about all of this because my dog is sick. He's nearly eight years old and he has never been ill. He threw up yesterday and has not eaten anything for twenty-four hours. He won't even look at any of the treats he would normally do anything for.

I can't imagine life without my dog.

We're going to the vet.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

First Times

I was walking down the street the other day when I passed one of those blackboards on which someone writes 'motivational thoughts' for the day.

I usually find that sort of think a bit sick making, but this one made me stop and think, and I'm still thinking about it days later.

It said: When did you last do something for the first time?

One of the main reasons I knew I had to quit drinking was because I was completely stuck in a rut.

My life was on a loop - doing the same things with the same people in the same places, over and over again, and I was pretty sure the booze was to blame.

We get so used to turning to alcohol for any celebration and whenever we want to wind down and relax, that we stop searching out new experiences, new ways of having fun or of chilling out.

Plus, regular drinking causes a rumbling depression and a sense of what's the point anyway?

Doing something for the first time can be scary, and years of self medicating fear and anxiety with booze makes us really bad at dealing with those uncomfortable emotions sober, so we tend to avoid unknown scenarios.

When you quit, you have to deal with 'firsts' all the time. First party sober. First holiday sober. First Christmas or birthday sober. Which is really hard. BUT you start to get pretty good at it.

You get used to facing fear and anxiety head on and begin to feel fairly invincible.

You have loads of extra time, energy and money. You actively seek out new ways of celebrating, relaxing and de-stressing which don't involve drinking.

Then you look back at the previous few months and realise that, suddenly, your life is filled with things you've recently done for the first time (or, at least, the first time in ages).

My readers have done all sorts of amazing new things after quitting the booze: yoga, meditation, setting up a business, making new friendships, raising money for a charity, finding love.

As have I. I started this blog. I finished my first novel and was short listed for an award. I found an agent, then a publisher and have nearly finished my non-fictional book.

None of these things would have happened if I'd still been drinking.

I had some horrible first times too. First time getting cancer, doing radiotherapy, getting through all the endless tests and dealing with the idea of death and motherless children.

None of which I'd have been able to cope with if I'd still been drinking.

One thing the cancer experience taught me (it's a cliché, but it's true) is that we only have one life, and we have no idea how long it's going to be.

So we really have to make the most of it by constantly seeking out new experiences and doing things for the first time, because, like a shark, if we stop moving forward, we die.

(Is that really true about sharks, or is it just a maritime myth?)

So, ask yourself when did I last do something for the first time? Then go do something new.

I'm off to find myself a toyboy.

(Only kidding).

SM x