Friday, 17 August 2018

Alcohol and the Sun

Sunshine and alcohol go together like champagne at Wimbledon, a glass of chilled white wine by the pool or a cocktail on the beach. As soon as the sun comes out, we all go crazy and start taking off our clothes, dancing on tables, singing badly and copping off with strangers.

Or was that just me?

For many years, I couldn't imagine the summer without booze. Yet, here I am, in sunny France, on holiday with Mr SM, the kids and my parents, and I'm not missing it at all.

In the old days, french holidays were all about le vin. Now they're about early morning swims, trips to the local market to buy delicious cheeses, bread and fruit for lunch and time spent reconnecting with family.

But the first summer without alcohol is hard, so if you're struggling, you might find that this new research, sent to me by my friends over at The Age Well Project, gives you the added incentive that you need.

A recent study of 300,000 Americans found that excessive drinking was associated with higher rates of sunburn.

The authors acknowledge the fact that this may be due to big drinkers being people who generally play fast and loose with health warnings and laugh in the face of caution, but they argue that it's also a result of alcohol's impact on our skin.

When we drink, our body produces lots of free radicals which eat up the antioxidants that protect our skin from sunburn, and our bodies from cancer. (I'd always thought that 'free radicals' sounded pretty exciting, and rather wanted to be one, but apparently they are baddies).

Amazingly, the study showed that if you drink three shots of vodka, within just eight minutes the level of protective antioxidants in your skin drops dramatically, leaving you at higher risk of sunburn, premature skin ageing and skin cancer.

Conversely, if you want to help protect your skin in the sun, the study also showed that eating (or drinking) fresh fruit and vegetables will increase the antioxidants in your skin and enhance your natural sunblock. Yay - bring out the mocktails!

If you'd like to read the whole article on alcohol and sun damage, you can find it on the SoberMummy Facebook page.

In other news this summer, I went to my first festival sober - WOMAD. I discovered a whole new side to festivals I hadn't known existed - early morning yoga and tai chi, fabulous talks and demonstrations and delicious food, as well as the incredible music and dance. Who knew there were morning events at festivals?

While I was there, I gave a talk (yes, really!) for Radio 4's Four Thought on why Sober is the New Happy. If you'd like to hear it, it'll be on BBC Radio 4, 8.45pm on August 22nd, then after that on iPlayer (search for Four Thought).

And, finally, if you're looking for some summer reading by the pool, then look no further than The Sober Diaries, described as Bridget Jones Dries Out, and available here (UK) and here (USA).

Bon Vacances, my friends!

SM x

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Alcohol-Free Drinks

For many of my readers, alcohol-free drinks are the single most useful prop for getting through the early days of being sober.

If you've read my book, The Sober Diaries, you will know that Beck's Blue got me through many a dark hour. When I was dealing with the cancer diagnosis, I would cling to my bottle of alcohol-free beer like a drowning man to a life-raft.

Here, however, is a health warning: Some people find alcohol-free drinks very dangerous.

Alcoholics Anonymous strongly advise not going near 'fake alcohol.' Their argument is that it just makes you want the real stuff, and it's a displacement activity that stops you properly 'recovering.'

The truth is, you just have to know yourself - what works for you and what doesn't.

In my early months of being sober, I avoided alcohol-free wine. Just looking at the bottle would make me yearn for a glass of the hard stuff. 

But alcohol-free beer was totally different, because I had never been a beer drinker. I'd never thought of weak, gassy beer as a 'proper drink'. So, alcohol-free beer was not a trigger for me at all. And it really helped. Here's why:

We have spent years, decades, teaching our sub-conscious minds that the way to wind down and de-stress, is to have a drink. Initially, when we quit, our sub-conscious really misses that short-cut to relaxation. 

Over time, we find better, varied and more healthy ways of doing the same thing, but - in the meantime - 'fake booze' tricks your self-conscious into chilling out. I promise you, it works. When I first discovered Beck's Blue it even made me feel drunk. Woo hoo!

Also, most 'soft drinks' are not created for adult palates. They are very, very sweet, filled with sugar and preservatives, and often very gassy. There is nothing that makes you feel more deprived at a drinks party than only being offered tap water or sticky orange juice. If you're lucky, you get elderflower. Oh joy.

Alcohol-free drinks, however, make you feel properly grown-up. (I rarely feel properly grown-up). A glass of Seedlip (alcohol-free spirit) with a Fever-Tree tonic and some fresh mint at the end of the day hits the spot way better than Ribena. 

Also, many of us don't like to tell people initially that we've quit drinking. The admission leads to so many questions and assumptions, that often it's easier to keep quiet for a while. Alcohol-free drinks help you to 'fake it till you make it.' If you sit drinking a bottle of AF beer in a pub, no-one bats an eyelid, and you still feel like one of the crowd.

An added bonus of alcohol-free drinks is that many of them are seriously good for you! That makes a change, doesn't it? If you haven't tried Kombucha already then do. It's really yummy and amazingly healthy. Plus, it's super trendy, so you'll be surfing the zeitgeist.

Alcohol-free beer is incredibly low in calories, contains nothing artificial and is full of B vitamins - exactly the ones that big drinkers tend to be deficient in. Isn't that a lovely form of karma?

One thing to be aware of: since this market is quite new, there are strange anomalies in the labelling regulations. Any drinks that are 0.5% ABV or less in mainland Europe can be described as 'alcohol-free'. In the UK, however, 0.5% is classed as 'low alcohol.' 

This is nonsense, as even orange juice is 0.5% ABV, and it is impossible to become inebriated on 0.5%. Club Soda are lobbying Parliament to update the labelling of Alcohol-Free drinks.

When I first quit drinking, there were very few alcohol-free options available. Now there are hundreds.

My personal favourites are: lager - Bavaria 0%, ale - Brewdog Nanny State, spirits - Seedlip and Berkshire Blend, wine - Torres Natureo and the new Adnams 0.5 range, Prosecco - Scavi & Ray. Please add your own favourites in the comments below!

My friend, The Wise Bartender (who has just had a baby girl. A mini-wise-bartender, isn't that lovely?), stocks all of the above and lots, lots more and will deliver all over the UK. If you quote the code SOBERMUMMY on checkout, he'll give you a 5% discount. Whoop whoop.

There is loads more information and inspiration on being alcohol-free, as always, on the SoberMummy Facebook page.

The story of my first year booze-free, with all its ups and downs, is here (UK) and here (USA).

Love to you all,


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Secret to Happiness

Whenever anyone asks me what I most want for my children, my answer is to be happy. And isn't that what we want for ourselves too, above everything else?

Well, I've read several books and countless articles on the secret of happiness, and one thing comes up again and again: Gratitude.

This is particularly important for we addicts, especially those of you who have only recently quit drinking.

The reason we love alcohol so much, the thing that makes us crave it more and more is dopamine. 

Dopamine is the feel-good hormone that is released in the brain whenever we reach for that glass of vino.

When we quit drinking, our brain really misses that dopamine, which is one of the reasons you'll often crave chocolate - sugar releases dopamine too.

But here's the good news: there's a really easy way to get the same dopamine hit, without all the downsides of alcohol like hangovers and self-hatred, and without mainlining cake: Gratitude.

Feeling grateful increases your levels of serotonin too, in exactly the same way Prozac does. It's nature's natural anti-depressant.

I know what you're thinking: that's all well and good, but what if you can't think of anything to be grateful for?

Sometimes life just really is a bit miserable. Everything is going wrong, and the last thing is the world you feel is GRATEFUL.

Well, here's a wonderful trick:

Remember when you wanted what you currently have.

I saw that written on Facebook, or Instagram, or a t-shirt - I can't remember. What I do remember is it getting stuck in my head and having a profound impact on me.

It's so easy to constantly strive for the next thing, always looking ahead and feeling miserable when we can't clear the next hurdle.

The crucial thing is to look back from time to time, and to see how far you've come.

For example, I have (many) days when my children are driving me crazy and I'm just exhausted with it all.

So, now I make myself remember my two early miscarriages, how utterly devastated I was and how all I wanted in the whole world was to be pregnant. I told myself that if my husband and I could have children I would never, ever want for anything else.

I remember when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and thought I might die pretty soon. The only thing I wanted was to be around for long enough to see my children reach adulthood.

I remember when we bought our first flat, and just a couple of months later there was a fire in the flat two floors above us, and the whole house nearly burnt down. I remember thinking that the only thing that was important was a roof over your head.

If you're struggling with the early months of being sober, remember when the thing you most wanted was to just get through a whole week without a drink.

The truth is that when the s**t hits the fan, we realise that all we really want is the simple things: family, health, a home.

However bad things seem, if you can remember to be grateful for these things, for anything, you will feel happier. The more often you find something to be grateful for, the easier it gets and the happier you feel. Simple.

If you'd like to read more about how to feel happy without booze, then there's a wonderful article from Time Magazine going up on the SoberMummy Facebook page this evening. (If you 'like' the page, Facebook will keep you updated).

For the story of my first year sober, with all its ups and downs, read The Sober Diaries. Click here if you're in the UK, here for USA and here for Australia.

Love to you all!

SM x