Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Post Acute Withdrawal and Vitamin B

Day 121.

Isn't that a great number? Like a swan swimming down a stream.

I digress. I'm having another attack of the PAWS. Luckily, I have this blog, and a handy post entitled Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.

I re-read it. PAWS is often viewed as cyclical - occurring approximately monthly. And, spookily, my last 'episode' ended almost exactly a month ago.

I did beat myself up a bit about becoming obsessed - believing that everything had to be about alcohol. After all, everyone has ups and downs and attacks of the 'blues', not just recovering alkies.

But what makes PAWS different, at least in my experience, is that the general ennui is accompanied by extraordinary tiredness and a bizarre brain fug.

Despite sleeping a solid 7 hours, I wake up really tired and 'heavy' and desperate for another sleep by mid afternoon. And I constantly do things like walk into a room and forget why I'm there.

I completely forgot that #2 had a dress up day at school a couple of days ago. There are mothers at the school who run companies turning over gazillions of pounds, yet their sons turned up in homemade Viking invaders kits. I don't even have a proper job.

This isn't like me at all. Even in my days as a high-functioning-alcoholic I managed to keep all the balls in the air by way of endless lists and sticky notes all over the front door.

Here's some of the PAWS symptoms listed in my previous post: tiredness, low enthusiasm, irritability, memory lapses, anxiety and variable concentration. Tick, tick, tick to all of them.

Then I remembered fabulous Anne (ainsobriety) commenting on my last PAWS post that Vitamin B can help, and I found this article on livestrong.com.

Apparently, alcohol dependence is a major cause of B vitamin deficiency, as your liver burns through these vitamins when it metabolises alcohol. B vitamins include folic acid, riboflavin and niacin.

Eating more foods rich in these vitamins plus taking a B complex vitamin supplement can hugely aid detox and recovery, in several ways. Here's what they say:

Niacin (vitamin B-3) can make withdrawal easier, while thiamine (vitamin B-1) is used to decrease fatigue and to increase effective brain functioning and memory. Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) helps rid your body of alcohol and supports adrenal function....

..... B vitamins help alleviate the intensity of PAWS. For example, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) aids in the production of melatonin and serotonin, chemicals that help in improving sleep and decreasing anxiety....

.....Due to a B-vitamin deficiency caused by alcohol dependence, your body may begin recovery with some deficits, including an inadequate iron level and neurological difficulties such as poor memory, depression and confusion. The vitamins B-6, B-1 and folic acid (vitamin B-9) are vital in your body's ability to create and maintain adequate iron levels and in avoiding neurological problems.

Funnily enough I've been craving foods recently that are rich in these B-vitamins - smoked mackerel, salmon, pistachio nuts, avocados, endamame - all foods that I used to eat only occasionally, but are now firm staples of my diet. It's amazing how - once we're sober - our bodies can tell us what they need.

I've been through this before. I know it'll only be a few days before I hit another 'up cycle'.

In the meantime, like that swan in 121, I'll keep madly paddling below the surface while seemingly gliding along it.

So start supplementing your vitamin B levels, and have a great day!

SM x

Monday, 29 June 2015

Borrowing Tomorrow's Happiness

Day 120.

I read a great expression yesterday which has lodged itself in my brain:

Drinking today will be borrowing tomorrow's happiness.

It struck me that that's what I've been doing for decades!

In the early days I would be trading massive fun on a night out for a minor headache the following day. But in the latter years it was a case of minor enjoyment the night before and a massive downer the following day (or days).

There is a physiological reason for this trade off too. Drinking alcohol releases dopamine in the brain which gives us a high, but the following day(s) we have a corresponding dopamine 'crash' which makes us feel miserable.

And over time, the brain is so used to being flooded with dopamine that it adjusts the level it produces naturally, meaning that there is less happiness in the bank to borrow from.

This then got me thinking that I have, in effect, borrowed all my future booze ration and drunk it already.

Perhaps you have a set amount in your lifetime that your brain can cope with and, given that I drank about 4 times what I should have for the last twenty years, I've used it all up. Nothing left in the booze bank.

Funnily enough, that thought makes me feel a bit better. At least it seems fair.

It's like Halloween - my kids favourite day after Christmas and birthdays. They go off trick or treating and come back with cauldrons brimming over with sweets and chocolate.

Now #1 and #3 are born hoarders. They are like their father. They squirrel away their loot and bring it out gradually over the course of about 3 months! That is not normal behaviour, surely?

#2, however, is like his Mummy. His cauldron is empty in about 3 hours, and I have to scrape him off the ceiling. Then, for months he has his sisters taunting him with their saved stash.

He understands, though, that it's his choice. He decided to over-indulge massively, and now he has to pay the price.

Well, that's me. And is it such a bad situation to be in?

Look at the alternative. I could confiscate #2's sweets and hand them out to him at 'moderate', 'sensible' levels over a number of weeks. But it would miserable for both of us!

#2 would never be happy with the amount he had. He would know there was more in the house somewhere and would obsess about it. We would have constant battles and arguments. He is happier, and I am happier, knowing that it's all gone.

There's another benefit to the 'all or nothing' approach to life.

Jason Vale points out that if you drink every two or three days (even moderately), then there is never a point when you do not either have alcohol in your system or are withdrawing from having had alcohol in your system.

You are never totally 'clean' and, therefore, never get the full benefits of being sober - physically or mentally.

With my all or nothing model, I got decades of going crazy (which, let's be honest, was a lot of fun in the beginning), and now I get the new benefit of being totally 'clean and serene'.

If I'd paced my lifetime supply out more 'sensibly' maybe I'd have got neither the wild days nor the serene ones.

And one thing I do know for sure is that drinking again now would be not just borrowing tomorrow's happiness, but a lifetime's.

Happy Monday!

Love SM x

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Blowing Your Mind

Day 119.

I've been looking at pictures from Glastonbury, and I was hit by a wave of nostalgia - more tsunami than ripple.

I never went to Glastonbury. I preferred smaller, more exclusive festivals. You know the thing: 500 or so friends of friends of friends camping (often without tents) in a field somewhere.

For two or three days we would feel invincible, immortal, iridescent. We could forget our office based jobs and mortgages and feel young, hedonistic and anarchic.

We danced all night and swore undying love to strangers. At that moment in time, nobody, other than we 500, really understood what life was about.

And, looking at photos of madly grinning hippie chicks in their dungaree shorts, plaits and mud at Glastonbury I felt old, sensible and SOBER. I couldn't get my head around not getting out of my head in any way ever again.

I forced myself to play it forward. I played Pulp's 'Sorted For E's and Wizz' for the fabulous last verse about the morning after:

And this hollow feeling grows and grows and grows and grows
And you want to phone your mother and say
"Mother, I can never come home again
'cause I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere
Somewhere in a field in Hampshire".
Alright. In the middle of the night, it feels alright
But then tomorrow morning.
Oh then you come down.
What if you never come down?


I remembered the time when someone camping next to us decided he had to drive home in the morning, despite being in a totally inadequate state to do so, and drove his car over my friend's tent.

My friend woke up to discover a tyre on his head. He was saved by a blow up mattress which provided enough 'give' to prevent his skull caving in. Which goes to show that preparation, and good packing, is key.

Still feeling a bit flat I went with my mother and #1 to see the (tortured creative genius) Alexander McQueen exhibition (Savage Beauty - first exhibited at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) at the Victoria and Albert museum.

I was blown away. The exhibition was brilliantly curated. Each room had a different theme - the highland rape, gothic, romantic, tribal and so on, with complementary music, lighting and film from his catwalk shows.

It was an assault on the senses that was so physical it made me want to laugh, cry and scream simultaneously. It made me want to throw away every single thing I own and replace them only with things of real beauty.

I realised that there are far more interesting and diverse ways of achieving a mind altering state than Chablis. Music, art, theatre, dance, yoga.....all those things we've neglected in favour of staying home drinking.

You do not need to be out of your head to blow your mind.

If only Alexander McQueen (who was born 22 days after me) had realised that, he might not have killed himself at the age of 40.

Happy, sober Sunday all of you!

SM x


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Stop Drinking, Lose Weight?

Day 118.

One topic I get more questions about than (almost) any other is weight.

We assume, for obvious reasons, that whilst quitting drinking is going to be hard, a major bonus will be skinniness! After all, one bottle of wine contains around 600 calories. One week's worth of wine (assuming a bottle a day) is 4,200 calories - two whole day's worth!

I googled alcohol and weight loss, and found endless fitness sites that state, categorically, that the quickest, simplest way to lose weight is to cut out alcohol.

Sadly, it doesn't seem to be that simple for us.

I'm sure that, for the moderate drinker, the equation really is straightforward, but I know from all the e-mails I get and blogs I read that for we more 'enthusiastic' imbibers is often doesn't work like that.

As far as I can tell there are two main reasons:

The first is that, after years of pouring in liquid calories that have to be metabolised by the liver before anything we eat, we have rather messed up our metabolisms. Our bodies are not 'finely tuned engines' but are totally over lubricated. If you think about how long it takes to deal with our messed up brains, then imagine how long it takes your body to even itself out too.

The second reasons is that so many of us turn to sugar to help with cravings (see Cross Addictions). Sugar gives us the quick dopamine hit that we've been missing, plus it's comforting. Hell, we deserve a bit of a treat given all this bl***y denial.

But it becomes really easy for sugar to become our new 'sodit'. We used to think 'I've had a hard day, so - sod it - I'll have a glass of wine.' Now we think 'I'm pissed off and knackered. Sod it, I'll have a bar of chocolate.'

I really don't think that we can beat ourselves up about any of this. We need to be kind to ourselves, and to reward ourselves from time to time. BUT, weight loss can be a huge motivation, so if it's at all possible to develop a habit of using exercise (running, yoga, whatever) as a way of dealing with cravings rather than food, then obviously that makes more sense.

Needless to say, I have yet to practise what I preach in this respect....

These 'little treats', the sodits, can quickly add up. One slice of chocolate cake, a hot chocolate and two Becks Blues is easily the equivalent, in calorie terms, of that bottle of wine. So you can see how easy it becomes to actually gain weight, rather than lose it when you quit.

When I quit, nearly 4 months ago, I did lose around a pound a week for the first 6 weeks. BUT then I stopped losing weight and started gaining! I was horrified. I didn't mention it here because I didn't want to de-motivate anyone.

So, the reason I'm mentioning it now is that....drum roll......finally the weight seems to be FALLING OFF! 2 pounds a week.

Since day 1 I have lost a total of 10 pounds. 2.5 inches off the waist and wine belly, and 3.5 inches off the butt. I weight less now than I have for FIVE YEARS!

The difference is, I think, partly a matter of time, and of the metabolism evening out, and partly down to getting used to listening to what your body is telling you.

We have spent years, decades even, drowning out our body's natural responses. It says "Yikes! That's a poison! What are you doing to me?" We say "shut up and have a Nurofen!" It says "I'm not hungry, I've just been drugged and dehydrated." We say "shut up and have a greasy fry up."

I feel terrible about what I've put my body through for so long, and feel it's now time to show it some respect. So I'm listening. If I end up eating all the leftovers after the children's supper (which I often do), then I don't just eat again, automatically, with the husband. I check if I'm feeling hungry and if I'm not I don't eat.

God that sounds like toddler level nutrition. I do apologise. But, spookily, it's totally new to me.

I used to eat for all sorts of reasons - cross, bored, hungover, drunk. Now I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm not. And it's working, despite the fact that I'm still having my treats - the hot chocolates, cake and AF beers.

Next stop....yoga!

Please let me, and everyone else, know how you're doing on the journey to beach-body-ready, and any tips you have in the comments below....

Have a great weekend!

SM x

P.S. For an update on my progress then see this post from January 2016 (click here)

To buy the book, telling the story of my first year sober, with lots of help, advice and few laughs along the way, click here.

Related posts: The Wine Belly, From Muffin-Topped, Puffy Faced Alcohol Addict to Goddess! and Wine Bellies Can Kill!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Envy and the 'Moderate Drinker'

Day 117.

We all, at least occasionally, envy the 'moderate drinker.'

My husband is one. I watch him sneak his bottle of Saint Emilion out from behind a row of books in our playroom (he's taken to hiding bottles just like an alkie housewife!), and pour one glass to drink while we watch TV.

One glass! Much as I love him, sometimes I feel this urge to stick my fingers in his eyes (and you wonder why he's hiding the bottles!).

When I was a thirty a day smoker (see the pattern here?) I used to envy the moderate smoker with a vengeance.

Then I read Alan Carr. He pointed out that the housewife who limits herself to 5 cigarettes a day is just as addicted as the pack a day smoker. She is utterly reliant on those five and can't quit any easier than I could.

In fact, her life is more miserable, as - because she is defying her inner addict - she has to constantly deal with cravings, whereas I would just satisfy mine.

This, for me, was an epiphany. And, funnily enough, whilst I quit smoking thirteen years ago, my five-a-day friends are still chuffing away and are desperate to stop, especially now their children are older and they find themselves smoking more and more each day.

I now realise that the same is true of drinking. I'm sure that there are people out there who are totally 'take it or leave it' about alcohol, and not in the slightest addicted (although I suspect that they also don't really enjoy it that much - in which case, what's the point?), but there are also vast numbers of people who are just as addicted to their 'moderate amounts' as we were to our bottles a day. And many of them are miserable about it.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Fiona (not her real name), who kindly agreed that I could share her story. Here's what she said:

My problem is I don't drink that much - comparatively that is, but still it disrupts my life. I used to drink just one glass of wine 1-2 times a week when we ate out.  Now it is hard for me to stop at 1 glass, usually I have another and sometimes even a third when we get home, still only 1-2 times a week but I feel cranky, tired and foggy the next day and I think why, why, why, at 50 would I want to waste about 20% of the last of my relatively youthful years feeling like this??? 

I try to picture myself in 20 years at 70 - eegads - and I know if at 70 someone said to me, here you can live this extra year as yourself at age 50 I would loooove that, just as I would love to have a whole year of me at 30 right now, so why do I throw these days away like they aren't precious?? And looking like this too - as you mention, my face now shows it with this sickening puffiness.

So Fiona's tried to quit and, you know what? Not easy! Which is why she mailed me.

The truth is that stories like Fiona's are never going to make those articles in the Daily Mail about 'problem middle aged drinking'. Fiona would be seen as drinking 'sensibly', 'moderately', 'healthily', but it's still messing up her life and making her feel terrible.

The more blogs, books and e-mails I read, the more I realise that generalisations are useless and dangerous, and that none of us knows what goes on in other people's lives. Certainly no-one knew what was going on in mine!

So next time you envy the moderate drinker, just stop. It's terribly likely that (s)he is envying you....

Thank you, Fiona, from us all. Best of luck to you, and please keep in touch.

Have a fab Friday everyone!

SM x

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Hole in the Soul

Day 116.

I've read a number of books which describe alcoholics as having 'a hole in the soul'.

Often alcohol addicts talk about having felt different from other people all their lives. They describe a childhood of standing on the outside, looking in.

For these people alcohol, from the moment they first experience it, begins to fill that hole. It makes them complete. It provides the answer to the question they couldn't put into words.

But the hole never totally goes away. They pour more and more booze into it and it just seems to leak out of the bottom. Very quickly, and horribly young, they find themselves completely cornered by the wine witch.

Sometimes there's a specific reason for the 'hole in the soul.' David Goldman from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the US states that "the strongest single predictor for both alcoholism and depression is having been sexually abused or traumatised in childhood."

Ann Dowsett Johnston quotes a counsellor in her book 'Drink' saying "A lot of young girls report that their use of alcohol is not to party. Life is hard, and it's a way to put life in the corner."

Whenever I read stories and statistics like these, I feel guilty.

I have never felt that I had a 'hole in the soul.' I always felt part of the crowd, never different. I had an embarrassingly happy and privileged childhood. Alcohol didn't make me feel complete, or heal a wound. I never saw life as 'hard.'

I drank for far more selfish, and cowardly reasons.

I saw myself as one of life's optimists. My glass was always half full, not half empty. (Ironic really, as in actuality my glass was either totally full or, a few seconds later, totally empty. Repeat ad infinitum).

Life always came easy to me. I had a happy family, top exam grades - without trying too hard, and lots of friends. I walked into one of the best universities in the world, and then one of the top graduate jobs in the ad industry.

I was always upbeat, gliding through life. I didn't believe in drama, trauma or navel gazing. I subscribed to the 'stiff upper lip' and 'just get on with it' school of life.

It's only now I see that I spent my whole life not dealing with any negative emotions or experiences, but ignoring them. I used alcohol not to fill a hole, but just to adjust all the dials to make life that bit smoother and easier.

Feeling stressed? Have a drink! Scared? Drink! Bored? Drink! Confused? Drink!

In fact, my charmed life turned me into a total coward. I stayed with the same company for twenty years because it was all going well, it was easy, I was comfortable, why change? Ditto my refusal to discuss moving the family out of London.

For decades I avoided any situation which might involve conflict, change or - God forbid - failure. I drank not because my past had been too hard, but because it had been too easy.

And now, ironically, I see that in drinking to avoid any negative emotion and quash my fear of failure, my life became the mess I'd so desperately tried to avoid.

I've spent decades not growing, learning or moving forward, but desperately treading water in a sea of Sauvignon Blanc, my head just poking above the water, shouting "it's all going swimmingly!".

But now I'm learning, slowly, how to deal with all those day to day ups and downs. I'm getting braver. I don't fear change so much, in fact I'm started to embrace it.

Onwards and upwards!

SM x

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Dull Drunks

Day 115.

I went to a drinks party last night. I'm getting pretty good at these. I still dread them, but once I'm there I have a surprisingly good time.

I meant to leave early, but by the time I checked my watch it was nearly 11pm and the place was emptying out.

I have come to hugely appreciate places that sell non-alcoholic cocktails. I hate having to drink diet coke, water or - God forbid - orange juice, at a drinks party. It makes me feel like a child, and I imagine that everyone is staring at my drink thinking pregnant? No, too old. Ex-lush.

But I do need something to drink. Without a glass in my hand I feel naked. Exposed. Lost.

So the virgin mojito is my new best buddy. It gives me something to wave around and sip (sip! Moi? Who knew?) and makes me feel - if not sophisticated - at least a bit adult.

Last night I was standing there clutching my mojito when I saw a friend approaching. She reminded me so much of my old self. For a start, she was already tipsy.

In my days BS (before sober) I would never have arrived at a party without having drunk half a bottle of wine first (as a 'sharpener' while getting ready).

She wasn't slurring or unsteady (and I was always very careful not to get to that stage, but I had an inordinately high tolerance level by the end), but she did manage to barge past someone causing them to drop the glass of champagne they were holding which smashed all over the floor. She either didn't  notice, or just ignored the chaos.

On finding me she launched into 3 topics of conversation in quick succession. Exactly the same ones we'd discussed a few days previously.

Yikes! That was old me!

Years ago I was a fun, amusing drunk, but as time went on and I drank more and more, I'd pass through the 'fun' stage super fast (often before I even got to a party) and end up feeling slightly numb and confused. A bit lost for words.

More often than not, I'd fall back on 'default conversations' which were usually ones I'd already had!

And while I was going through the motions last night of the previously held conversations, my friend was looking over my shoulder to see who else was around.

She'd keep wandering off, then coming back. Again, that was me BS. Unable to concentrate on the moment or stay in one conversation, but always casting around for the next thing.

Plus, she didn't ask me one thing about myself or my life. I didn't blame her one bit. I'd been set to 'transmit' rather than 'receive' for the last decade!

Towards the end of my drinking career I'd, in an unusual display of self awareness, begun to realise that, despite managing to hold it together at parties, my social skills weren't up to much.

In fact, I'd got so paranoid about it that I would make a mental note before I went out of anecdotes I might tell if stuck. 

Now I'm horrified at the thought that the girl who was once the renowned 'life and soul' of a party was reduced to writing down things to say!

It struck me that part of the reason why all our best friends seem to be big drinkers too isn't just that we feel more comfortable with 'kindred souls', it's also because they're the only ones too drunk to realise how boring (slash insensitive, slash embarrassing) we've become!

I still don't feel entirely comfortable at parties, but I'm pretty sure that parties are a lot more comfortable with me.

I dread to think how many hearts must have sunk over the last few years as I wove my way round a room, endlessly popping in and out of groups of people, interrupting their conversations and wheeling out tired old anecdotes.

Love to you all,

SM x





Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Swimming Against the Tide

Day 114.

Up until now I've felt like I've been surfing the zeitgeist.

Every day the number of people finding my blog increased. Every week there seemed to be another article in the press about the dangers of drinking too much. It felt like we were at the forefront of a huge wave of change.

And then the sun came out.

People are no longer googling am I an alcoholic? and stumbling across me. They're googling how to make the perfect Pimms and best cocktails for a barbeque. 

Journalists are having way to much fun at drinks parties on the terrace of the House of Commons to be bothered with writing about the evils of alcohol.

Everyone is off to Ascot, Henley, weddings, festivals and Wimbledon, all fuelled by a vast great lake of booze.

I feel like the sole storm cloud threatening a fabulous picnic. I'm King Canute trying in vain to hold back the wave, shouting against the roaring tide "Think about your liver! What about your dopamine receptors? Don't forget the wine belly!"

Already I get tied up in conversations with people about how they cracked open a bottle of rose at 4pm on Friday afternoon because it's summer.

Statistically, one third of the UK population confess to drinking more in the summer (and those are just the ones that admit it and are sober enough to do the maths). It adds up to an extra 333 million pints of beer and 67 million more litres of wine.

After the Christmas season, the summer is our booziest. In the US the booziest summer week is, apparently, the one leading up to 4th July. That's next week.

Oh God how I loved summer afternoon drinking. All those Pimms parties in the quads at Oxford in May week (which, bizarrely, was in June). A glass (or 3) of cold rose in the garden. Boozy barbeques, drunken picnics, poolside cocktails.

But now, for the first time ever, I am looking forward to January. Cold, dark, bleak January when everybody decides to cut down, if not totally give up, on the booze.

In January, we will be normal. In January, the tide turns again, and we'll be up there surfing the wave, standing on our boards doing cunning stunts (careful how you say that one!), while all the newbies are floundering around on their body boards.

Until then, keep swimming my friends!

Love SM x

Monday, 22 June 2015

The 3 Day Weekend

Day 113.

I realised this morning that I now manage to fit about 50% extra into my weekends. That means that my 2 day weekend is the equivalent of 3 days BS (before sober).

This didn't happen overnight. Initially I was so exhausted that I spent a fair amount of the weekend catching up on rest. Plus I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and writing about booze.

But gradually, over the last 113 days, the amount I can squeeze into a weekend has gone up and up.

So yesterday - Sunday - was Father's Day. I corralled #1, #2 and #3 into the kitchen early to make Daddy's 'special breakfast', collect flowers from the garden and find their home made cards.

We sang "Happy Father's Day to You" while trooping up the stairs, then all piled into bed together (including the dog).

I then spent 2 hours with #2 sorting out all her clothes - putting winter stuff away, taking out summer clothes inherited from big sister, going through bags of things donated by kind friends with older girls, and bagging up clothes she's grown out of for the charity shop.

Next I helped #1 make rocky road brownies for the school bake off competition today.

We then all went out for Father's Day lunch, scooping up a friend's daughter en route (she's a single Mum and badly needed some time to herself), followed by Jurassic World at the cinema (great movie!).

Got home and helped #2 make millionaire's shortbread for school bake off while chatting to my friend (and pouring her a glass of wine!) who'd come to pick up her daughter.

Supper, baths, homework, read children stories, read papers with husband, crashed out exhausted.

I woke up today feeling shattered, but in a good way. I helped #1 and #2 arrange their bake off entries on plates and take them, beaming with pride, into their classrooms.

Now this time last year I would have woken up with a crashing hangover. Tried very hard to rustle up enthusiasm for Father's Day breakfast, after which I would have hibernated with the papers, feeling like I'd done my bit for a while.

At midday I'd have made myself a Bloody Mary to 'take the edge off'. Actually, I'd have made it at 11.45am so it'd be ready to drink by 12!

I would have gone out for lunch (without helping a friend out by taking an extra child - I'd have thought 3 kids quite enough to cope with, thank you very much), and drunk at least half a bottle of wine.

I'd have fallen asleep in the movie and missed at least half of it.

As soon as we'd got home (about 5pm) I'd have opened a bottle of wine (you don't have to wait until 6pm at the weekend!). I would deliberately forget about the bake off competition.

At bedtime one of the children would have said plaintively "what about the bake off tomorrow?" at which point I'd reply "it's far too late to start baking now! You should have remembered earlier." There would be tears (them) and shouting (me).

Homework done badly. Bedtime stories skipped. Everyone would go to bed cross. I would wake up feeling, not as hungover as Sunday morning, but toxic. Like a petrol car that's been filled up with diesel.

I'd have felt horribly guilty on arrival at school as I'd see all the children walking in proudly proffering their bake off entries. I'd resolve not to drink again. And I'd make it to 5pm.

It's realisations like this that make me wonder why on earth it took me so long to stop.

Love to you all

SM x

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Relative Harms

Day 112, and happy sober Sunday morning to you all!

As a special weekend treat (you have to get your kicks somewhere!) I've been re-reading Professor Nutt's 2010 study into the relative harms of various drugs.

I remember when this study first came out. I stuck my fingers in my ears and chanted 'la la la la'. I did not want to hear it.

Funnily enough, the government did exactly the same thing.

They'd already sacked Professor Nutt from his government advisory role for suggesting that cannabis be declassified from a Class B drug to a Class C drug, and they absolutely did not want to know that, according to this study, alcohol should be a Class A drug, along with heroin and crack cocaine.

Nutt's study examines nine categories of harm that drugs can do to the individual "from death to damage to mental functioning and loss of relationships," and seven types of harm to others.

The most harmful drugs to the individual were heroin, crack and methamphetamine (with alcohol not far behind), but alcohol was far and away the most harmful to society.

When you combine the impact of individual and societal harms, then alcohol still comes out top with a score of 72 out of a maximum of 100.

(Next up is heroin, way behind at 55,  54 for crack, 33 crystal meth, 27 cocaine, 26 tobacco, and 23 cannabis.)

Prof Nutt states that "In Britain today, alcohol is a leading cause of death in men between the ages of sixteen and fifty, so it is therefore the most harmful drug there is in terms of life expectancy, family disruption and road traffic accidents."

As a result, Nutt believes that far more effort has to be put into reducing harm caused by alcohol. To start, taxation of alcohol is "completely inappropriate." Strong cider is, for example, taxed at a fifth of the rate of wine.

Another area highlighted for urgent action is the low cost and promotion of alcohol such as Bacardi Breezers to young people.

Don Shenker, CEO of Alcohol Concern, says that "successive governments have mistakenly focused attention on illicit drugs, whereas the pervading harms from alcohol should have been given a far higher priority. Drug misusers are still ten times more likely to receive support for their addiction than alcohol misusers, costing the taxpayer billions in repeat hospital admissions and alcohol related crime."

Shenker recommends making alcohol less affordable, and investing in prevention and treatment services to deal with rising alcohol dependency.

According to Nutt's scale, alcohol is 3 times as harmful as tobacco, and yet we (now) accept that nicotine should be heavily taxed, regulated and restricted.

Cigarettes are being forcibly de-branded in several countries and huge amounts of money are spent trying to persuade young people not to start smoking.

But the British government have even ruled out minimum pricing on alcohol, let alone more drastic measures.

Drinking hours have been increased rather than decreased. Our children are still raised to believe that drinking alcohol is normal, almost to the point of obligatory, and alcohol is aggressively marketed, even to teenagers.

To my shame, I remember sitting next to the global marketing director of Diageo at an industry dinner. We discussed the success of the alcopop campaign that my Agency had produced, and I agreed wholeheartedly that it would be 'madness' for the government to interfere in the 'free market' of alcohol sales.

The truth is that putting regular drinkers (like the British cabinet) in charge of alcohol regulation is like putting a toddler in charge of the cookie jar. You can only see the madness once you're no longer a willing participant in it.

And that's why things aren't going to change anytime soon.

Have a great day everyone!

Love SM

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Cravings & Tantrums

Day 111, and this is my 100th blog post.

I remember, when I started writing this, thinking that I mustn't post too often or I'd run out of things to say. But here I am, 99 posts later, and still warbling on about booze.

I do love the hour I spend (almost) every morning typing away on the laptop in the kitchen. It makes me feel like Carrie Bradshaw, but with fewer Manolos and Cosmopolitans.

(And I bet Carrie didn't type with one hand while removing dried on crusty Rice Krispies from the table with the other. Still).

It struck me the other day that dealing with cravings is much like dealing with toddler tantrums (Carrie would never use child rearing analogies either). Here's why:

Entry level:  Give in.

Give toddler what they want and they shut up (for a while). But this only teaches them to kick off even more frequently, and with more volume.

That's what I did for decades with the booze. Feel like a drink; have one.

Level one:  Distraction.

Toddler has tantrum. You bring out favourite toy and start making up a story. End of tantrum (for a while).

This is a great technique when you first quit drinking too. Feel like a drink; go for a walk, have a bath with bubbles and candles, eat cake, blog/read blogs, do the gardening, clean the house - whatever works.

I've been on level one for the last 3 months. Then, I suddenly realised that I am starting to use level two. Not always, but often.

Level two:  Deal with the root cause.

After months, or years, of trial and error, you start to realise that, inevitably, toddler tantrums are not about what they think they are about.

For example, toddler has tantrum because they want to watch another episode of Peppa Pig. It is totally out of proportion. They yell until they're red in the face. Then blue. They go rigid. They've actually forgotten what the issue was in the first place, but can't get out of the funk.

Here's the truth: it's not about Peppa Pig.

They are, almost certainly, hungry. Or tired. Or bored. Or overstimulated.

What they need is a rice cake and a nap. Not more Peppa Pig, or distraction with another game (they'll still be hungry and tired, and there'll be another tantrum later - but worse).

The same is true of cravings. You can give in to them (v bad idea). You can distract yourself (it works but, in the end, it only delays the problem). But really what you need to do is to see the craving as a warning signal. It's like the light flashing on the car dashboard.

That warning signal isn't actually saying I need a drink. Your body does not need a drink. After a matter of days (or weeks at most) you are not in the slightest alcohol dependant. We have just got used to dealing with any warning signal by drowning it in alcohol.

What you actually need to do is to find out what the warning signal is really telling you. What is the tantrum actually about?

In my case, the flashing light is usually anxiety related.

There's no point ignoring it and going off for the long bath, because the root cause of the anxiety won't go away.

You have to breathe deeply, work out what the problem is and how to fix it, then put a plan in place. Like a grown up! Then you can go and have the long bath with the problem sorted.

And seeing the cravings as your friend means that you can deal with all those niggly issues early, and discover that your life is suddenly all calm waters and smooth sailing.

But if this is true, and cravings really are our internal toddler tantrums, then that means there is a...

Ninja level:  Avoid the tantrum.

By the time I got to child #3 I was a ninja. She hardly ever had tantrums because I could see well in advance if she was getting hungry or tired. I had routines. I always had healthy snacks. I had prevention strategies and contingency plans.

I didn't let the fear of tantrums interfere with what I wanted to do, and nor can, or should, you avoid any situations which will trigger an alcohol craving BUT you can plan in advance and make your life easier.

For example, I've learned to take my own AF beers with me if I'm staying with friends for a weekend.

I know that anxiety is a major trigger, so I write endless lists and try to get stuff done before it becomes urgent and more stressful.

If I have a tough evening coming up I try to catch 45 minutes sleep during the day so my batteries are re-charged.

And I guess that, over time, I'll develop more and more of these strategies until eventually....

......I'll be a proper grown up. No more tantrums. No more cravings. (Or hardly any. Let's face it, even grown ups have tantrums from time to time).

Have a great tantrum free weekend!

SM x




Friday, 19 June 2015

Go Sober for Free Botox

Day 110. Only two and a half weeks until the end of the school year and it's all gone crazy.

With 3 children at London Prep Schools, the schedule for the next 19 days includes 2 sports days, 2 prize givings, 3 class socials, bake sales, home made costume days...you get the picture.

Last year all of this would have been accompanied by, approximately, nineteen bottles of vino.

On top of all the school related stuff, everyone tries to squeeze in social events before London empties out for the summer.

All the wives and children (apart from us) head off in early July for their second homes in Ibiza, Tuscany, Sardinia or the Cotswolds for seven weeks, leaving the husbands free to shag their PA with less risk of getting caught.

Last night we went to a big drinks party, filled with lots of people we hadn't seen for ages. I had two virgin mojitos which looked and tasted just like the real thing, and had a blast.

At least 4 or 5 people commented on how great I looked. I kept being asked if I'd been on holiday, and the women kept looking at me quizzically, checking for signs of botox or other 'work'.

I was, several people said, looking 5 years younger. One old friend (he was, admittedly, rather drunk) even said 'ten years younger' but then ruined it by adding 'you were looking rather old.'

I studied myself up close in the mirror, and it's true. My face is less puffy - I have a jawline for the first time in years. I have far fewer lines, and my skin is all plump and rosy. Plus I have white, shiny eyes. I'm still not Renee Zellweger, but even Renee Zellweger isn't Renee Zellweger these days.

So, there you have it, sober is the new botox. But it's cheaper, and you can still raise your eyebrows. What's not to like?

At eleven pm, when the room had already emptied out a fair bit, I left the husband going strong and drove home.

Now, there's one thing even better than waking up without a hangover, and that's waking up next to someone with a hangover. Obviously, I wouldn't wish any ill on the long suffering husband, but he was a fabulous reminder this morning of what I'm missing.

Our bedroom smelt like a brewery, and his breath could pickle an onion at twenty paces. He was bloodshot, puffy and grumpy. He must be having the day from hell. And I felt great! Which is just as well because today was #3's sports day....

I thought back to one of #1's sports days about 4 years ago. We'd been out late the night before. I woke up with a chronic hangover.

I packed the picnic for the traditional parents/kids lunch which follows the event, and included a bottle of white wine (which I'd decided was the only way to cure the headache).

Somehow I managed to get through all the endless egg and spoons, beanbags on heads etc, while corralling a toddler, small baby and dog. Then we all gathered for the picnic and I realised quite quickly that no-one else had packed any alcohol.

Undeterred, I brandished my bottle of wine and was faced with a dilemma: I desperately wanted other people to join me so I didn't look like a terrible lush (which I was, obviously), BUT I didn't want so many to join in that I was only left with a small glass myself. I was simultaneously pushing and hoarding, and finding it all horribly stressful.

Plus, the refusals made me feel terribly guilty. They'd say things like "No thanks, I drank far too much last night!" (me too). "Thanks, but I'm driving." (me too). "I've got too much to do this afternoon." (and me). "Really shouldn't, I'm out this evening." (yup, so am I).

But today, hangover free, sports day went swimmingly, except for the terrier peeing on one of the kit bags and running off with a child's sandwich.

And it's Friday!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Love SM

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cross Addictions

Day 108, and HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO KAGS who made 100 days yesterday! Kags has been with me since the beginning, and since she quit drinking has found a whole new life and a gorgeous new puppy. You rock, Kags.

I've become increasingly interested in the theory of 'cross addiction'. This is partly because I get loads of e-mails and comments from people who talk about becoming addicted to sugar, and partly because I know I'm developing new obsessions of my own.

Here's what Veronica Valli has to say in her book 'Why you drink and how to stop.'

Once you are addicted to one substance you can be addicted to all.....(alcohol addicts) recognise they have a drinking problem and manage to stop. But then the emotions and feelings they always had, that they used alcohol to escape from, are still there, and they are forced to find other chemicals or behaviours to deal with them.

Valli then cites a fascinating study of obese gastric band patients. It was found that they often suffer from 'addiction transference'. Because they usually don't deal with the underlying psychological issues which led to them overeating, once they can no longer gorge on food they frequently develop addictions to other substances - like alcohol.

So the sugar addicts become alcohol addicts, and we alcohol addicts become sugar addicts! It's like an addicts version of Freaky Friday.

Funnily enough, looking back, I realise that my alcohol consumption really took off in my early thirties, after I managed to quit my twenty-to-forty a day cigarette habit. In my twenties my hands and mouth were far too occupied with smoking to drink too much!

And now, when I get the familiar squirming knot of anxiety in my stomach (which, thank goodness, happens much less frequently now I'm sober) I still feel the need to shove something in my mouth (no rude jokes please).

I'm sure there's something deeply Freudian about this, linked to long buried memories of breastfeeding for comfort. In any case, we have spent decades conditioning ourselves to self medicate against any negative emotion with a hand to mouth action.

And that's why it feels so natural to reach for something like chocolate. Plus sugar, like alcohol, stimulates the 'pleasure receptors' in the brain.

I've tried super hard to avoid 'using' sugar too much, but I've developed other addictions instead.

If I'm stressed about something I head straight for the fridge and, depending on the time of day, go for either a Diet Coke or an AF beer (or water if I'm feeling guilty about overdoing it with those). I drink WAY more fluids than any normal person needs, so am constantly running to the loo.

Actually, I'm starting to worry about my reliance on AF beer. I've begun checking how much I have in the fridge, and even running out to the shops for an emergency stockpile. I consciously limit myself to no more than 3 small bottles a day. It's all behaviour I find horribly familiar...

My other addiction is this blog. I keep meaning to cut down the number of times I post to 2 or 3 a week, like most 'normal' bloggers, but if I don't write my morning post I get all angsty. I was out all day on Monday, leaving home at 7am, so I woke up at 5am to write my post before I left!

I also check my blog stats obsessively, which really irritates the husband and kids. I get super excited when I get readers in a new country - like Oman, Antigua or Ukraine. I love counting page views - 63,000 since I started three months ago. Is that a lot? No idea.

In August we're doing our annual jaunt to Cornwall for a buckets-spades-surfing-and-no-wifi holiday. In the past I've loved this as it keeps #2 away from Minecraft for a good long stretch, but now I'm already starting to panic about how I'm going to manage without the blog.

Lucy Rocca (founder of Soberistas) often talks about how she took up running obsessively once she stopped drinking, which is a really great way to channel your addiction, and to relieve stress. Plus, running releases endorphins, so gives us that high we crave.

I know I should try something like that rather than sitting hunched over the laptop wondering why my wine belly isn't disappearing any faster.

I'm assuming, and hoping, that as I get more used to dealing with all the raw emotions that I've drowned out (literally) for years, my need to 'self medicate' with something else will ease off.

My advice to anyone starting on this journey is to be aware of cross addictions.

Don't beat yourself up too much if you need a crutch like sugar initially, but try to channel your obsessions towards something like exercise rather than just chocolate!

I do feel like I'm on a constant merry-go-round of addiction followed by restriction, but at least blogging and AF drinks are healthier than alcohol and nicotine, so I'm plodding in the right direction ;-)

Hugs to you all,

SM x


Monday, 15 June 2015

Ammunition

Day 107.

Many thanks for all your hugely helpful comments yesterday about the battle raging in my head.

I've thought about it more, and - as always - have a theory...

When we first quit drinking, what keeps us on the 'straight and sober' is our memories of all the bad times. We write them down. We replay them in minute, agonising detail. The AA steps 4-10 absolutely encourage this: make an 'inventory' of all your wrongs and, wherever possible, make amends.

It's the reason why I sometimes (fleetingly!) envy the classic 'low bottom' drinker. With my warped logic I convince myself that the more terrible your behaviour before quitting, the more impetus you must have to change and to stay strong.

Surely if you are in danger of losing your children, your husband and your home, for example, you would never let yourself waver?

But, in reality, it doesn't work like that. Because the further down the escalator you go, the tighter a grip the addiction has. By then the wine witch isn't just sitting on your shoulder, she's wrapped herself around the very core of your being, her claws entwined in your rib cage.

I wouldn't wish that on anyone, and I never want to let myself get there.

So, in the early days, when the wine witch starts whispering we lob our toe curling, soul destroying memories at her like hand grenades.

But, as I wrote yesterday, over time we start scrabbling around more desperately for ammunition. Not only are those events more difficult to recall, but we don't want to spend our lives replaying them. We want to move on.

So then what?

A new store of ammo.

The great thing about the new ammunitions cache is that it doesn't get depleted over time - it gets bigger and better. Because the new ammo is all the fantastic sober experiences that we're building up, the sheer weight of sober days behind us, and the horror of starting again at number one.

It was Sober Mommy's (my American blogging twin - we are identical, but for one vowel) comment that made the penny drop. She wrote "omg! I felt the exact same way this weekend! The only thing that stopped me from listening to those damn voices was the number 169! I'm not losing my days of sobriety....not if I can help it."

And that made me think that now, when the wine witch starts whispering, I can pack my bazooka gun with rockets made of compliments people have given me, the pride my children and husband have in me, and the memories of all the things I've done that have been better without the booze.

I've had two events in the last few days that have given me huge great stashes of ammo.

The first was a big formal lunch celebrating the diamond wedding (that's sixty years!) of family members. I drove. No arguments with the husband about who was driving home causing simmering resentment before we'd even started.

We sat at a table for eight, and there were two bottles of wine on the table. In the past that would have bought me out in a cold sweat. How could two bottles possibly be expected to go around eight people? Would they bring more?

But not now! I even managed to accept a glass of champagne and raise a toast to sixty years without it going anywhere near my mouth. Yay!

And as I looked around all the happy guests (average age 70), I thought how embarrassing it would be to be even the slightest bit drunk. Slurring at the folks with the hearing aids and careering off the zimmer frames.

Then yesterday I took #1 to an induction day at the school she's starting at in September. Again there was a lunch - for all the new parents and key staff. I sat on a table of ten and right in front of me sat one solitary bottle of wine. Nobody touched it!

Now 107 days ago I would have spent the whole lunch unable to concentrate on #1's new and charming form tutor, or any of my co-parents. I would have been staring askance at the bottle wondering whether I could justify grabbing it and pouring just a little glass....

....which I would do, eventually, (well, if they hadn't wanted us to drink it, they wouldn't have put it there, would they?).

This would, of course, lead to an even more agonising internal dialogue about how much more I could drink (given that, as the only drinker, the amount of wine missing from the bottle would be obviously down to me) before eyebrows were raised and the drive home would become difficult, if not illegal and downright dangerous.

As it was, I happily sipped on my water (like everyone else), charmed the pants off the teachers, and made some new, nascent friends amongst the parents. Crucially, I did not let #1 down - quite the reverse. I was model new Mum.

So that's an extra two new, vivid memories to add to my stash of hand grenades.

Which got me thinking. The AA twelve steps (which I haven't done, so please forgive my naïve interpretation of them) seem to focus almost entirely on the past. Shouldn't there be more emphasis on celebrating our successes? On spreading the word? On proving to ourselves, and everyone else, that ours is not a choice that need not be made out of fear and desperation but out of hope and expectation?

As you can see, I'm feeling more positive, and am off to find more rockets for my launcher.

SM x

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Wavering

Day 106, and, all of a sudden I've been wavering.

I know this story. I've read it before. Bet you have too.

You get to the stage where sober starts to be the new normal. It's not such an effort any more. You think back to the drinking days and they're no longer as vivid. That drunk girl in the movie of your memory just doesn't feel like you.

But whilst you can't remember the bad times so well, you sure as hell remember the good ones. The first drink of the evening. The first rosé of the summer. The first glass of champagne on Christmas Day. And then you hear the whisper....

......you've overreacted! Silly old you. Sure you needed to cut down, hell doesn't everyone? But quit totally? Forever? What were you thinking?

So I go re-read 'Secret Drinker hits the High Bottom'. I go back to '5 Signs You're a Problem Drinker'. And I say look! There's the evidence! I was a mess.

And the voice replies: but you're not an alcoholic. You never blacked out, got the shakes or had sex with strangers.....

And I say oh for f**ks sake, not this one again. I drank every day. I drank most lunchtimes, as well as every evening. I drank a bottle of wine a day. More at weekends. And Fridays. And special occasions. That is not 'normal drinking.'

So the voice wheels out the big guns.

I agree you drank too much, but now you've had 106 days off you can moderate! Just drink once in a while. Special occasions. Easy peasy.

The old moderation thing again. I'm so bored of this one.

I've tried moderation. It works for a few weeks, sure, but before too long I'll be back to where I started. But worse. This path only goes one way, and it's downhill, I reply, getting cross.

I'm sure that's true for real alcoholics. But not you. You can be a 'normal drinker' again.

But do you think 'normal' drinkers start sober blogs and find ninety-five different ways to write about alcohol? Do 'normal' drinkers spend hours every week reading other blogs, books and articles about drinking?

But the voice is not giving up: That's just you getting obsessed. Getting your knickers in a right old twist about nothing! Tell you what. Why not just try moderating. Give it one more go. Just to be sure. If it doesn't work you can just quit again. You know you can do it now....

I change tack. I'm older and wiser now. I've done 106 days, for goodness sake!

I say: But why would I want to start drinking again, even if I could do it in moderation? I'm getting used to being sober. I feel healthier. I sleep better. I'm skinnier. I'm nicer. I'm a better Mum, a better wife....

Then it gets insulting: But it's vanilla. You're boring. Live a little! You've never lived inside the lines before. It's just not you.

Then I remember all of you: What about my online friends? They rely on me. I'd be letting them down.

It laughs. Don't flatter yourself! You're not the only sober blogger. You're a mere drop in the ocean of the World Wide Web. And your 'real life' friends would love to have you back drinking again. They've missed the real you. You've missed the real you. Then, even more quietly: bet the husband does too...

Then I get a moment of clarity, and I reply through gritted teeth: If I wasn't an addict I wouldn't be having this conversation with you for the hundredth time, because you would never have taken up residence in my head. So bugger off, and let me get on with the rest of my life!

I'm sorry. I know you've heard all this before. I've heard all this before. I'm boring you. I'm boring myself.

Sometimes it feels like the easier it gets, the harder it becomes. Two steps forward, one step back.

Love SM x




Dear Teenager....

Day 105.

After writing yesterday's post, I started thinking about what I would say if I were asked to counsel a group of teenagers on 'responsible drinking'.

(How ironic that would be! A bit like asking Elvis to talk about healthy eating, or Casanova to discuss responsible sex).

Anyhow, after I finished chortling to myself, I devised a little speech in my head something along these lines:

"Don't panic. I'm not going to tell you not to drink. In any case, you'd only ignore me.

What I will tell you, though, is that alcohol is a drug - just like nicotine, cocaine or heroin, and as a result you owe it to yourself to use it with caution.

A recent, government funded study showed that alcohol was the most damaging drug in existence when you take into account its impact on individuals and cost to society combined.

The only reason alcohol is legal is that it has been around for so long (and a large proportion of the population are, to some extent, addicted). We would never allow a new drug as dangerous as alcohol to be consumed legally and liberally.

But I know, and you know, that drinking socially can be fun. Alcohol at a party can loosen everyone up, provide a bit of 'rocket fuel' to get things going. It puts everyone on the same wavelength. It can give you a confidence boost. Relax you.

And that's fine - so long as you are in control. But - and here's the big but - alcohol works like any other drug. It gives you the illusion that you control it, until you suddenly realise that it controls you.

Like any drug, you have to take more and more of it to have the effect you're looking for. Like any drug it causes, not just a high, but a massive low the next day. And over time the highs become less high, and the low become more low.

Nobody intends to get so drunk that they pass out, throw up in gutters, have sex with a stranger or strip naked in public. Nobody means to become so unaware of their surroundings that they are in danger of being robbed, raped or worse. Nobody expects to become so dependant that they have to drink every day, and first thing in the morning.

And my generation had it easy. We could put our drunken exploits behind us and move on. You have Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Those images are going to be with you forever - for your granny to see. Your prospective employer. Your children and grandchildren.

So, here are the rules (there are only 5 of them) that, if you stick by them, should make sure that you can have a happy relationship with alcohol, and always be the boss.

Right now you'll probably think that they're pretty easy to stick to. Remember that. Because it's quite possible that, over time, you'll gradually find yourself breaking many, or all, of them. And that's when you need to stop and think.

Remind yourself that you once thought these rules terribly easy. Eminently sensible. Realise that, without you wanting or expecting it to, alcohol is starting to take control. And get help if necessary.

THE RULES

1. Don't drink before 6pm
2. Stop drinking as soon as you feel, even a tiny bit, out of control
3. Don't drink more than 3 times per week and
4. Never, ever drink alone
5. As soon as you find yourself unable to stick to 1-4, and/or find yourself being dishonest about your drinking, to yourself or others, GET HELP.

And one final thing. Just think. Do you really need alcohol to have fun? Do you really want to live life with all the edges blurred off? Are you not confident enough in yourself to manage without an artificial boost?

Just because everyone else is doing something does not make it cool. Do you respect someone more who follows the crowd, or someone who makes their own way? Do you want to be a sheep or a leader?

More and more people, especially of your generation, are choosing not to bother with alcohol in the first place. You could be one of them.

The choice is yours. Just make sure that the choice is always yours...."

And, to my children I would add: "Just look at Mummy. I don't need alcohol to have a good time. To enjoy a party, or to relax. I'm perfectly happy just as I am."

Happy Sunday Morning!

SM x



Saturday, 13 June 2015

Drinking Alone

Day 104 and HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TALLAXO for making the big 100 yesterday! How does it feel? Did you celebrate?

A while ago someone left a comment on here that's been niggling away at me. I tried to find it again this morning, but I can't. It read something like 'anyone who drinks alone has a problem IMHO'. Kats76, was it you?

It got me thinking: when did drinking alone stop being a stigma? Or maybe it still is a stigma, but just one I, and most people I know, ignored?

The 'line that shall not be crossed,' as far as I was concerned, was drinking before midday, and being deceitful about drinking (things like hiding bottles, and lying to the husband and friends. Lying to the GP doesn't count, obviously).

I used to drink at lunch time every weekend, and at business lunches, and when out for lunch with friends. Slowly, slowly it got to the stage where it was very unusual for me not to drink at lunchtime.

And the start time got earlier and earlier, until the point where I would pour a drink at 11.45am, then just watch it until 12pm.

The deceit started creeping up too. I didn't overtly lie to the husband about how much I was drinking. I'd just neglect to mention the half bottle of vino I'd just drunk when I'd suggest he pick up a bottle for us to share with dinner.

And if a friend asked, casually, how much I drank in the evening I'd quote a 'good' day, not an evil one. Doesn't everyone?

But the day came, as it always does, when I couldn't fool myself any more and I knew I'd crossed the line good and proper (see Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom). That's what made me stop.

So, my question is: did I draw the line in the right place?

If I had seen drinking alone as a danger sign, I would have crossed the line twenty years ago. At that point I wouldn't have had to quit altogether, I would have just reined it all in, and carried on as a happy, moderate, normie with no inkling whatsoever of the wine witch.

Whenever I did one of those online questionnaires entitled: 'are you an alcoholic?' (and I did loads of them) and I got to the question 'do you drink alone?' I'd mentally discount it. Drink alone? Of course I do. Doesn't everyone?

My drinking career started off socially, but, by the time I got to Oxford, there were 'social' drinking events pretty much every evening.

Then, when I left uni, I shared a house with 3 university friends who were trainee doctors. No-one knows how to 'let off steam' better than a trainee doctor. Our house was 'social drinking central' most evenings.

Eventually I got fed up of living in a shared house where everyone pretended not to notice the sink overflowing with mouldy plates so that they wouldn't have to do anything about it and, at the age of 26, I bought my own flat.

I found a large one bedroom in Fulham for the price of £80,000 (I got a 95% bank loan and a 5% loan from my parents). That wouldn't buy you enough space to park a moped on these days.

I had so few possessions that I was able to move with the help of a friend's VW hatchback, and a friendly black cab driver.

That first evening I sat in my only chair (a brightly coloured deck chair) in my new sitting room. The only other furnishings were 2 ornate candlesticks from the Conran shop, my stereo system, a yucca plant and a packing case which doubled as a coffee table. I had never been so happy.

So, did I toast my achievement with a glass of Perrier? F**k no! Obviously I opened a bottle of champagne and drank half of it (that was plenty in those days!) on my own.

Given that I now lived alone, it stood to reason that I would drink alone. I never questioned it. In fact, being able to go to my own fridge, after a hard day of kicking ass in the cut-throat world of advertising, and pour myself a large, chilled glass of chardonnay (as it was in those days) felt terribly grown up.

It was sophisticated. Emancipated. Not sad! Oh no! Bridget Jones drank alone. Carrie Bradshaw drank alone. It's what young, independent, single women did.

As I grew up, got married and had children, pouring oneself a large glass (or three) of vino once the children were in bed (and then earlier and earlier) was all part of being a busy, stressed out Mum.

Every day you'd hear someone say something along the lines of "God I need a glass of wine", or making jokes about "Mummy juice". And we sure as hell wouldn't wait for company before getting stuck in (and blitzed out).

But, the problem with drinking alone is that that's when the vino morphs from being 'social lubricantion' to 'self medication'.

When you drink socially, you drink for the buzz, the relaxation, the shared change of mood. When you drink alone, you drink because you're stressed. Bored. Angry. Lonely. Soon you find that you're drinking to numb any emotion at all. And that is NOT HEALTHY (obviously).

Plus, if you only drink socially, you're more likely to drink about the same as your peers. Drink alone and you set your own measures. A glass becomes a third of a bottle. You 'pre-load' with several drinks before you join your friends. You assume that everyone does the same, then suddenly realise that you're an outlier.

So, I believe that one of the best things we can do for our children, and all today's young people, is to bring back the stigma of drinking alone.

If the government poured some cash into an ad campaign portraying solo drinking as sad, desperate and a problem they would save a huge amount of money down the line in treating the immediate and knock on effects of problem drinking.

God, how I loved drinking alone......(and that says it all, really).

Love SM x










Friday, 12 June 2015

The Off Switch

Day 103. Last night the husband was at a work do, so I took the opportunity to indulge myself by downloading a copy of the new documentary on the Brits and their drinking: A Royal Hangover, by Arthur Cauty.

It's well worth a watch. Many of the themes got me thinking, and I'm sure I'll come back to more of them over the next couple of weeks.

The film starts and ends with a lady in her twenties talking about her drinking. One particular phrase stuck in my head. She said "I never, ever had enough to drink."

I've heard many people say this. They talk about having one drink and then not being able to stop. They decribe a raging thirst that is unquenchable. They were born, they believe, with a faulty 'off switch.'

It reminded me vividly of an old friend of mine. Once she started on the vino she couldn't stop until she was either physically incapable of drinking any more, or physically restrained from drinking any more. I once bumped into her in a restaurant. She was on a date with a relatively new boyfriend (they never hung around for too long!) and was obviously the worse for wear.

I noticed that there were three barely touched bottles of red wine under the table. My friend kept ordering new ones and then, when she wasn't looking, her date would hide them from her. That must have resulted in a very large bill.....

Every time I heard someone talking about off switches I'd feel a little smug, and hugely reassured: that's not me! I don't have a problem! I am not an 'alkie.'

You see, whilst I was physically incapable of having 'just one drink', and would always drink as much as I could, I would be able to stop at the point just before I lost control. I would never get to the vomiting, falling over, passing out or shagging strangers stage.

So I watched the documentary last night which focussed on the classic 'no off switch' binge drinker, and was littered with shots of people dribbling and vomiting into gutters, knowing that in the past the wine witch would have been cackling gleefully, shrieking "not you! not you! Have another drink!"

But now I realise that alcohol is an extremely pernicious drug that insinuates itself into the fibre of your being in very different ways.

From what I've read, and from the stories people tell me, it seems that the 'no off switch' drinkers get into trouble at a relatively young age. They know that they are 'different' almost as soon as they start drinking alcohol in their teens.

My problem crept up much more deviously. Yes, my off switch worked, but as my tolerance increased, it kicked in later and later, until it would take at least a bottle of wine before it had any effect at all.

Plus, many of the 'no off switch' drinkers are classic bingers. They don't drink for days at a time and then they go on a bender.

Not me. You see I think my 'on switch' was the problematic one. I found it very difficult - from my early twenties onwards - not to drink every day. And then, over the last year or so, it became very difficult not to drink every lunch time as well as every evening. And at the weekends (and sometimes on Fridays) lunch times and evenings would blend into one.

So, I might had had an off switch, which meant that I could fool myself (and all my friends, plus most of my family) that I was perfectly ok, but, in reality, over the course of a week I would drink at least as much as a classic binger. Just on a drip feed basis.

I discovered right at the beginning of this journey that my drinking type is known as a 'maintenance drinker' (see my post on maintenance drinking), and is a typical middle aged, middle class, educated female profile. And the profile most associated with self denial. It's also the type of drinking that is most easily hidden from everyone else, which is why I called this blog 'Mummy was a Secret Drinker').

So, whilst I loved A Royal Hangover, I found it a bit frustrating that it focussed solely on one particular drinking profile, therefore re-enforcing the stereotype of the binge drinking, gutter hugging alcoholic.

I wonder how many women watched it, patted themselves on the back and opened a second bottle of sauvignon blanc?

It's Friday! Have a great one.

Love SM x



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Drinking and Sexism

Day 102 (a long way to go before another milestone....)

Ever since I've become obsessed with reading every newspaper or magazine article I can find about alcohol and alcoholics, I've been aware of a worrying discrepancy between the way we talk about male drinkers and female drinkers.

It appears I'm not the only one to notice, because this was among the discussion topics on Radio 4's Woman's Hour yesterday. The fabulous Lucy Rocca - founder of Soberistas.com - was one of the interviewees.

The event that sparked the debate was Kate Moss being escorted off an EasyJet flight (yes, she really was flying EasyJet! Who knew?) for 'having a meltdown' over a lack of sandwiches, and drinking from a bottle of vodka she'd stashed in her hand luggage.

(Do you remember those bouts of self righteous anger that would strike like a red mist when you were drinking? They were, at least in my case, usually due to some imagined 'unfairness', very much like a toddler's strop. Totally out of proportion. See my post on Jeremy Clarkson and alcohol induced rage for more).

Now, despite the fact that fellow passengers have subsequently claimed 'the model's behaviour was not aggressive and crew’s response was disproportionate', Mossy was pilloried in the Daily Mail, and The Sun ran a front page article with the headline "KATE MESS!"

Kate Moss was escorted from her plane by uniformed police. Unlike another famously drunk airplane passenger, Gerard Depardieu, who despite weeing all over the carpet of an aeroplane and delaying the flight for two hours, was not arrested. The press coverage of this incident was all rather jovial. He's a bon viveur! A character! He's French! Who cares if he drinks 5 bottles of wine a day? (yes, you heard me right: FIVE!)

Imagine, for a moment, if a Hollywood actress had decided to pee in the aisle of an aeroplane. She would never work again! She would have gone straight to the Betty Ford Clinic and never come out. Meanwhile, Gerald's career goes from strength to strength.

Tom Ford was interviewed in the Evening Standard yesterday under the headline "If I'd carried on drinking I would have died." The article was hugely respectful, and Tom came across as a creative genius (which he is) successfully battling his demons (which he did).

(Incidentally, Tom Ford blames living in London for aiding and abetting his drink problem. He says "You can very easily consume 10 drinks a day and be considered absolutely normal.... Sometimes I'd say to friends "I think I have a drinking problem," and they'd say "oh, you don't have a drinking problem! Have another drink!")

Do you think for one moment that the story would have looked similar if Victoria Beckham admitted to having a drink problem? No way! Journalists would have fallen over each other to pull her off her pedestal. "Victoria's Perfect Life a Sham!" "Victoria Beckham in Drunken Lush Shame!"

Winston Churchill's habit of starting the day with whisky and water, and drinking constantly until bed time (see Why Ex Drinkers Rock. Part 2 for more) was seen as evidence of his quirky, eccentric genius. If Margaret Thatcher had done the same (apologies if you're now picturing Thatcher in bed) she would have been booted out well before her second term.

And we can't blame the men. In fact women seem to be the first to condemn each other. We revel in the schadenfreude of discovering that our female icons have feet of clay (and livers of yellow fat).

We are particularly hard on women who have children. Now, you and I know that you would have to drink an awful lot to get to the stage where you would let your children suffer one iota from your habit, but the assumption is that we are terrible, neglectful mothers.

It's no wonder that there are so many secret female drinkers out there. Not only are we worried about being pilloried for being weak willed, selfish drunks, but we run a very real risk of having our children taken away.

It was also pointed out on Woman's Hour that if a woman is physically dependant on alcohol and needs a medically supervised detox, there are no longer any mother-and-child units in the UK. She needs to find someone else to look after her children for several weeks or they are taken into care.

We know how difficult it is to fight the wine witch alone. In secret. But, until we can do something about the rampant sexism surrounding drinking, more and more women will fail to get the support they badly need.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Evolution

Morning All!

A huge thank you for all your fabulous comments yesterday on my centenary. You made my day!

Apologies for not replying to you all individually. I was horribly, but happily, busy.

My day culminated in a charity quiz night. Great fun, although we couldn't understand why our team name choice ("The Big Fact Hunt") was vetoed ;-)

I was woken up on beautifully sunny day 101 by the Today Programme on Radio 4.

A quick aside here, but I do hope that the digital era and music streaming don't kill off radio. Certain radio programmes and theme tunes can immediately transport me back decades.

'The Archers' on Radio 4 was the background to my childhood, and then, when I was at boarding school, we used to race back to the dorms at morning break to try to catch Simon Bates's 'Our Tune' on Radio 1.

On Sunday evenings we'd huddle round a tape deck trying to record all that week's top 40 tunes onto a cassette tape (remember them?) without getting any of the talking in between. Then we'd fall asleep listening to the pirate Radio Caroline.

In my twenties my radio alarm clock was tuned to Capital Radio, so I was woken up by Chris Tarrant and Cara. If there's anyone of my generation reading who used to do the same, then here's a trip down memory lane: the Hobart Tasmania theme tune that Chris Tarrant was obsessed by.

But now I've turned into my mother, as we all do eventually, and my radio alarm is tuned to Radio 4. And today's news included a piece about chimpanzees in West Africa who'd been discovered indulging in 'habitual drinking' of alcohol. Here's a link to the full story in The Guardian.

Apparently, these chimps start drinking fermented palm sap at 7am (worse than me, then!), and can drink the equivalent of a bottle of wine a day.

I wonder whether they start telling boring jokes, make inappropriate passes at each other's partners, and then wake up with a sore head saying "Oh God, I was at the palm sap again last night. What was I thinking?"

This study, it is claimed, lends weight to the 'drunken monkey hypothesis' which states that: natural selection favoured primates with a taste for alcohol, because it stimulated the appetite, helped them hunt for fruit and so boosted calorific intake. About 10 million years ago, our ancestors – and those of apes – gained a genetic mutation that improved 40-fold our ability to break down ethanol. Without it, consuming large amounts would be even more dangerous.

This led me to several conclusions:

1. We (ex) 'enthusiastic imbibers' are obviously at the very top of the evolutionary scale. I'd suspected as much.

2. We kid ourselves that we drink because our modern, hectic, high octane lives lead us to it, but actually even the most primitive of societies, and our less evolved ancestors, are just hard wired to want to get blitzed.

3. Next time I look at the pompous, self satisfied, fat cat banker in his bespoke Saville row suit with his trophy wife, swirling his wine round his glass and droning on about provenance, vintages and south facing slopes of vineyards, I shall just remember that big, fat, hairy ape guzzling his fermented sap from his plate-like hands. Not so very different at all.

Bring out your inner chimp today (but leave the fermented sap alone, obviously), and have a great one.

And congratulations to Edinburgh Housewife on a whole month sober. Way to go, EH!

SM x

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

100 DAYS SOBER!

I made it to the big one oh oh! Woo hoo! Go me!

(I feel a bit greedy celebrating this one, having just celebrated 3 months. It's like poor #3, who has a birthday just before Christmas! But, hell, I think we deserve to congratulate ourselves whenever we get an opportunity...)

I was intending to celebrate by myself today (and with you lot, obviously), but it turns out that there are advantages to the husband sneaking the odd peak at the blog.

When I was still half asleep this morning he presented me with a 100th birthday card! (Bet they don't sell many of those).

Not only that, but he's also bought me a gorgeous necklace - a silver elephant on a chain. I could invent something about 'elephants never forgetting', or make a joke about the size of my arse, but the truth is he just knows I love elephants.

He is a Good Man. A Keeper.

So, I was reading back over some of my posts from nearly 100 days ago. There I was, all bright eyed, bushy tailed, enthusiastic and naïve. I reminded myself of the new girl starting at secondary school.

You think that you've made it - you've done the work, passed the exams and you're in! Then you realise that you know nothing. You look around and notice that no-one else is wearing their socks pulled up or their skirts at regulation length. You don't know your way around. You don't know the rules. You're totally out of your depth.

Now I've done the 'am I an alcoholic?' modules, and I've done the 'moderation. Is it possible?' modules (also known as 'is this really it? For ever?'). I've done lower fourth and upper fourth and I'm into lower fifth!

But I realise that I have a way to go before I'm a cool know-it-all, confident sixth former. I've only just started on 'introspection' and 'who the hell am I, anyway?' and I have no idea what comes after that! I've not even been given the syllabus.

What could I have told my lower fourth self 100 days ago? I could have given her a list something like this:

1. You will sleep more, and better, than you've done in years, but will be more tired than you can imagine.

2. You will discover that hot chocolate has magical healing powers, and that there really is a point to alcohol free beer.

3. You will feel ten years older and wiser, but look five years younger.

4. You will have to start to hate yourself before you can learn to love yourself again.

5. You will discover a passion for cleaning, tidying, weeding, sorting and clearing out - both literally and metaphorically.

6. You will obsessively read everything you can find about alcohol, alcoholism, and anything else beginning with 'alc'.

7. You will find that some of the really big hurdles (like parties) can be easy, but some of the small things (everyday stresses and upsets) can be terribly hard.

8. You'll find that that knot of anxiety you lived with for years was caused by the drink, not solved by it. Your best friend was actually your worst enemy.

9. You will become an obsessive navel gazer (not to be confused with a naval gazer - someone who stares at seamen). You'll constantly wrestle with questions like 'Who am I? Who was I? How did I get here? Where am I going?.

10. You will meet some incredible fellow travellers along the way. People who will make you laugh, cry and think. Hugely strong, brave and inspirational people sharing your journey.

But, you know what? There would have been no point in (the older, wiser) me telling (the younger, more naïve) myself any of this, because one of the main things I've learned is that there are no short cuts. 

As it says in one of my favourite books (Going on a Bear Hunt) "you can't go under it, you can't go over it. You've got to go through it."

You've done the crime. Now you've got to do the time. And I've done 100 days of it!

I was on the Soberistas site, reading some blogs written by newbies on day 1, or day 7, or 14. And I almost felt jealous of the fact that they were standing there at the beginning of a journey that would change their lives. The first 100 days is hard, but it's also more intense and rewarding than you can imagine.

Here's to the next 100! And here's to all of you - my wonderful fellow travellers.

Love SM x



Monday, 8 June 2015

Introspection

Day 99.

Thank you so much for your comments on my horribly self indulgent post yesterday (see Feeling Down. Fighting the Witch).

I'm a little embarrassed about the fact that many of you are dealing with bereavement, divorce, redundancy and other proper problems, and I'm getting my knickers in a twist about not being invited to a party!

I received a hugely kind and perceptive e-mail from a reader who pointed out that whilst we gear ourselves up for the trials and tribulations we are expecting (like drinks parties), it's the unexpected small things that can catch us unawares.

So, yesterday, instead of just pouring a few drinks and forgetting about my trivial upset, I dealt with it in a proper, grown up way (once I'd finished sulking, throwing my toys out of the metaphorical pram and blogging petulantly). I thought about it long and hard. And I came to the conclusion that....

.....I'm bloody lucky I get invited to anything, all things considered.

You see, drinking makes us (or me, at least) horribly self centred. After a few drinks I only ever wanted to talk about myself. I had to be the centre of attention. If I didn't already know someone, or think they looked particularly interesting, I wouldn't bother talking to them.

I think I got away with this horrible behaviour for years by being the proverbial 'life and soul of the party', but as my alcohol tolerance grew I'd morph very quickly from 'life and soul' to 'boorish drunk'.

I never got overtly drunk (which is how I was able to get away with it for so long). I never fell over, vomited or caused arguments. But I would tell the same (dull) story several times. Forget people's names. Fail to introduce people to each other. Neglect to ask people anything about their own lives.

I confess that, more than once, at a dinner party I would totally ignore the person on one side because I found the man on the other more interesting and couldn't be bothered.

I have not been a very nice person. At all.

I was thinking about what people would say about me if I was knocked over by a bus tomorrow. They might talk about my past career success. About the fact that I sang in ABBA's backing group as a child (yes, really). That, despite myself, I managed to raise 3 extraordinary children.

What they wouldn't say is that I was the first person they'd turn to for help. They wouldn't talk about how I made them feel like the most important person in the room. Or that I'd made a huge difference to anyone's life. They might say that I was a great laugh - until suddenly I wasn't any more.

Frankly, I was far too busy thinking about myself and staring into the bottom of a glass of Chablis.

In yesterday's Times, Alistair Campbell wrote that he was fed up with hearing that Charles Kennedy 'could have been a truly great politician' but for his drinking. Campbell (also an alcoholic) argued that Charles's battles with drink, his frailties, foibles and vulnerability, were what gave him the humanity and compassion for which he was so well loved.

Anne posted something similar in a comment on this blog. She wrote 'those of us who are able to break the chains - however rusted or gilded they may be - are some of the strongest, most inspiring people in the world'.

I have realised that now is the time for me to make sure that people can talk about me in that way. About my humanity, compassion, strength and inspiration, not just my ability to tell a (bad) joke at a party.

I am going to focus on being a really good person. Kind. Thoughtful. Selfless. It's time to grow up, SoberMummy.

(And perhaps I'll start being invited to parties again).

Love to you all,

SM x


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Feeling Down. Fighting the Witch.

I'm posting this on Sunday evening instead of Monday morning, so apologies to those of you who subscribe by e-mail if you get two posts together.

I've got a busy day tomorrow, so won't have much time to write. Plus, I've got so used to using this blog as therapy that my first instinct when I'm feeling down is to write.

So, today the husband, kids, dog and I went to meet two other families for a picnic in a nearby garden square. Lovely sunny day, old friends, gorgeous gardens - what's not to like?

As we all gathered round the picnic tables the two other wives confessed to feeling ropey due to overdoing it at a party last night. Oh joy - my favourite conversation - other people's hangovers!

I was just feeling that warm glow of self satisfied smugness, when I realised that the party they were all at was hosted by mutual friends of ours (a couple who are always on our party list) and we hadn't been invited.

"Don't worry," said friend #1 reassuringly, "it wasn't a very big party. Not like their huge annual Christmas bash."

I should have remained silent at that point, but I confessed that we've never been invited to their 'huge annual Christmas bash' either.

Embarrassed silence. Shuffling of feet and changing of subject.

Now, had I been drinking, I would have just poured a large glass of wine at this point and forgotten about it. It might have bothered me again at about 3am when I'd get my usual dose of alcohol induced insomnia, but I'd be feeling too muggy headed and angsty about all sorts of stuff to think about it at all clearly.

As it was, sober, I sat there feeling embarrassed, sad, paranoid and cross.

I've had many moments over the last 98 days when I've felt like a teenager in a good way. Energetic. Enthusiastic. Optimistic. But today I had a terrible dose of teenage angst. All that 'does everyone hate me?' sort of stuff that I thought I'd left behind years ago.

It struck me that maybe all my social confidence has been totally false. I'd always rather prided myself in not caring too much about what other people think of me, but maybe all I'd done is to drown out all those feelings of inadequacy rather than deal with them.

I've read many people say that when we start drinking too much we stop maturing. We get emotionally stuck in an era pre alcohol. And there I was, a stupid, immature little girl feeling all self conscious and unloved.

And then it's so easy to think "oh bugger it. Everything's f****d up anyway, I may as well just crack open a bottle of wine and forget about it all."

But I won't. I'll just make a hot chocolate and go to bed early. After all, in the words of the indomitable Scarlett O'Hara, "tomorrow is another day." And it's day 99.

Love SM x