Thursday, 20 October 2016

Phil Collins and 'Mid-Life' Drinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love SM x

Friday, 14 October 2016


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

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

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

But that wouldn't be very nice.

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

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

I have a sarcastic resting face.

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

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

Perhaps this is karma?

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

Honour your rhythm.

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

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

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

I've found that two things help:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday everyone!

SM x

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Alcohol and Nicotine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the irony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alcohol and nicotine - they are just the same.

Love SM x