Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Go Sober October - Day 1

October 1st - Day 1 of Macmillan Cancer Support's Go Sober October.

If you've found your way to this blog because you're doing the challenge, then WELL DONE! This post is dedicated to you....

Perhaps you're doing Go Sober October because a close relative or friend has died from cancer. You don't drink that much anyway, but think that a month's detox will be good for you. Well, good for you. Have fun, and raise as much cash as you can.

Maybe that's not your story. Maybe Go Sober October is just a prompt - an extra reason to address an issue that's been worrying you for a while. Perhaps your story goes a little bit like this:

You've always loved drinking. It's one of your main hobbies! It's how you met many of your best friends. You're the archetypal 'life and soul of the party,' always the last one standing (or not!).

But recently you've noticed that you're drinking more and more. You don't like to sit down and add it up, but you can easily drink a bottle of wine in an evening and - scarily - not even feel that drunk!

You're worried that it's starting to affect your health - you're overweight, not sleeping at all well, you look puffy and you've got a terrible muffin top. Plus, you're anxious and stressed a lot of the time. You wonder whether you have some sort of low lying depression. You feel like you're stuck in a rut.

Every so often you Google 'Am I an alcoholic' and do one of those questionnaires. Sure, you answer 'yes' to a few of the questions (like drinking alone - doesn't everyone?), but you know what an alkie looks like - out of control, passing out in gutters, looking like a tramp - and that's not you!

But you are starting to spend more and more of your time thinking about drinking. Wine o'clock creeps ever earlier, and alcohol free days become fewer and far between. You're losing far too much time to hangovers.

You're starting to do odd things, like watching how much other people are drinking, worrying about whether the supermarket cashier is judging you by your wine laden trolley, and having a few drinks before you even get to the party.

You've tried to cut down several times. You do deals with yourself like 'I will only drink on social occasions' or 'I will only drink at weekends,' or 'I won't drink wine, only beer,' but you never stick with the deal for longer than a week or two...

....so that's why you're doing Sober October, and that's how you've found your way here.

SO WELCOME! We've all been there.

Forget whether or not you're an 'alcoholic.' It's a red herring. The truth is, if the description above is of you, then you are addicted to alcohol. There's no shame in that - it's an addictive drug, just like nicotine.

The bad news is - it's only going to get worse. But there's good news: quitting drinking will totally transform your life - and the sooner you do it, the easier it is.

That's probably a lot to take in right now, so just do Sober October and see how you go.

If you find the first few days hard, then read Jason Vale's 'Kick the Drink, Easily.' It'll totally transform how you think about drinking.

Try reading the first few days/weeks of this blog - starting back in March. Everyone here is happy to help. And check out www.soberistas.com.

E-mail me on sobermummy@gmail.com if you'd like some advice, or you just want to get something off your chest.

As you go through the month you'll find that you're losing that puffy look, and the wine belly. You'll sleep better. Your skin will glow. You'll save money. And you'll start to feel calmer - less anxious and stressed.

Then have a think about whether a month is really long enough - because those positive changes just keep on coming.....

Good luck!

SM x

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Amy Winehouse - The Final Addiction

Last night I watched a programme called 'Autopsy.' It's a pretty ghastly series which looks at the controversial causes of death of various celebrities like Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe.

Usually I'd steer well clear of something so grisly and voyeuristic in favour of catching up goings on below stairs at Downton Abbey, but last night they were doing Amy Winehouse.

I'm rather obsessed by Amy. By her music, her tragic life, and her refusal to go to rehab.

Amy was plagued by demons. She did pretty much anything to take the edge off real life, and the huge pressures of fame achieved so young. She was bulimic. She cut herself, tattooed pretty much every inch of her tiny body, and took every drug available.

But it wasn't the heroin, the crack cocaine, the ketamine, or any of the myriad of illegal drugs that she'd taken over the years that killed her. It was the legal drug: alcohol.

It struck me that we talk about 'gateway drugs', and how smoking weed might lead to taking cocaine, which could end up leading to a heroin addiction, but what we ignore is that the real gateway drug is alcohol.

Can you imagine anyone snorting a line of non descript white powder (which could be anything from teething powder to rat poison) from the back of a toilet cistern in a grimy nightclub if they weren't already drunk? Does anyone ever have the nerve to inject heroin into a vein for the first time sober?

Isn't it alcohol - the legal drug - that gives society the taste for oblivion, and for false confidence?

Excessive alcohol use easily leads to illegal drug use, which then increases the alcohol use. Many heavy drinkers use cocaine, for example, for its ability to enable you to keep on drinking. And alcohol takes the edge off a drug comedown the following day.

Back in June I wrote a post called 'Relative Harms' (click here), about Professor Nutt's 2010 study, commissioned, then ignored, by the British Government, into the relative harms of various legal and illegal drugs.

Nutt concluded that alcohol was the fourth most harmful drug to the individual (after heroin, crack and methamphetamine), but was by far and away the most harmful drug to society as a whole, in terms of life expectancy, family disruption and road traffic accidents.

We look back at Amy's life and remember the pictures of her smoking a crack pipe, and stumbling along the road with bloodied feet from where she'd been injecting between her toes, and it's easy to assume that that's the behaviour that killed her.

But there were no traces of illegal drugs in her body when Amy died. Her GP says she'd been clean of drugs for two years. However, Amy's post mortem showed a blood alcohol level five times the drink driving limit.

Amy had managed, according to friends, family and doctors, to give up all the 'hard drugs'. The one that defeated her was the 'soft', sophisticated, acceptable drug: alcohol.

Alcohol destroyed Amy's final years. It ruined her voice, and her ability to perform. Remember her disastrous, drunken and incoherent last attempts at performing live in Belgrade? (I thought about posting a link, but it's too awful to watch) Friends say she became increasingly alienated and lonely.

Amy must have known that alcohol was destroying her, because she quit drinking for two weeks before her final binge, and was taking (prescribed) drugs to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Experts believe that, as a result, her tolerance to alcohol had decreased. That's why her final, lonely, binge killed her.

Here's to you, lovely, talented, haunted Amy,

SM x



Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Abusive Lover

There's a lady living next door to you. You don't see her that often. In fact, you almost get the impression that she's avoiding you, that she's hiding something.

You can tell she used to be beautiful. She has gorgeous, slanting eyes like a cats, and a thick mane of blonde hair. But she dresses not to be noticed. In shapeless black. And she's (to use an expression of your mothers) 'let herself go.' She's overweight and puffy, and, when she wears makeup, she wears it like a mask.

Then, one day, you ask her in. You make a pot of tea. And you ask her about her husband, Sam, the large, jovial, slightly-too-loud chap you've met a number of times over the garden fence.

She tells you about the time they first met. She was really young. Gorgeous (although she didn't know it). She seemed confident, popular, one of the crowd. But inside she was riddled with insecurity. She felt like a sham. Don't we all when we're seventeen?

Then she saw Sam, across a crowded room at a party. He enveloped her in his big, bear like arms, and she felt like she'd come home. She was safe. When she was his girl she felt 'more.' More confident, more beautiful, more witty.

They were soul mates. Partners in crime. He made everything more fun, and everyone loved her more and more. She loved herself more.

He was cool, sophisticated. Everyone admired him and wanted him at their parties. As soon as she saw him her shoulders relaxed. She felt at ease and able to cope with anything.

As she tells you all of this, she looks sad. You watch, mesmerised, as a solitary tear falls into her cup of tea. You wonder, idly, if she'll be able to taste the salt. She's hunched over her cup, like she wants to disappear into it.

She tells you how things changed....

Gradually, so slowly that she'd hardly noticed it happening, he became different. Their relationship became different.

Where once he'd made her feel popular, sociable, and they'd constantly been out partying, now he just wanted her home. He didn't like her having other friends. It's like he was worried that they might find out about him, see what their relationship was really like. So she's lonely. Isolated.

Once he'd given her confidence. Made her feel ten foot tall, and able to take on the world. But she's not achieved anything without him for many years, and she's convinced she no longer can. Without him, she says, she's nothing. She's terrified, stressed, unable to cope.

Once he used to protect her. She felt so safe. Now he hits her. Regularly. She shows you the bruises. A rainbow of colours, from deep purple to mustard yellow. She tells you she hurts all over. Inside and outside.

You can't stay quiet any longer. Why don't you just leave him? you ask. He's not good for you. He's killing you, taking away everything you are, bit by bit.

She tells you she's scared. She can't sleep when he's not there. She can't cope with life - she's forgotten how. She's weak and useless.

He's made you feel like that! you yell. You could cope before him. You were strong, independent, able. You will be again. Just ditch the bastard!

But she loves him, she tells you quietly. And he loves her. And it used to be so good. She still remembers all the wonderful times they had together.

You cannot love someone who treats you like this! And those good times were decades ago.

And, you know what? She does leave him. Not immediately, but a few weeks later. And she's looking better already - there's a bounce in her step. You see her confidence, her beauty and her strength returning, like the green shoots of daffodils in spring.

But she takes him back.

"It's different this time!" She says, like they all do. "Those months away from me made him think. It's all fine now - just like when we first met!"

But abusers don't change their spots. It only takes a few weeks before you can hear her crying again through the dividing wall. She's back to wearing black and hiding from you.

Why? you want to yell. Walk away! Take your life back! He makes NOTHING better, he just makes it worse. He is NO GOOD FOR YOU!

Well, just remember that, my friends.

Love SM x

(Today's post was for Suzie, who commented on my post yesterday).

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Willpower

A common reaction when I tell people that I haven't touched alcohol for several months is "Wow, you have amazing willpower!"

For a few moments I revel in the impression of myself as a woman of substance. With backbone. Serious inner strength. I pity mere mortals and their lack of gumption.

Then I remember that, in truth, I have the willpower of a moth, constantly flying into a hot lightbulb. I am almost entirely willpowerless.

You see, we drinkers - I believe - are natural hedonists. If we like doing something, we like doing more of it. We do not like to deprive ourselves.

We give our wills free reign. We let them go crazy. We don't believe in keeping our wills, or anything else for that matter, in check.

This makes us really fabulously interesting and exuberant people. (See Why Ex-drinkers Rock). But it does also get us into a lot of trouble. Eventually.

If I did, actually, have a great deal of willpower then I wouldn't have to give up drinking. I would be able to have a glass of wine, once in a while, and then stop! That's what willpower is about.

Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, argued that the 'test' for alcoholism wasn't whether or not you could quit drinking for a week, or a month at a time, but whether you could drink just one drink then stop, every evening for a week. Now that takes willpower.

That I could not do. (See Am I an Alcoholic? Part 2)

The problem with constantly having to assert willpower is that it is exhausting! Because the more you concentrate on not doing something, the more you want to do it.

You live in a constant state of denial and dissatisfaction. You use up loads of space in your head, fighting with yourself, leaving you little room for doing anything more constructive.

It's a truly miserable way to live.

That's why quitting drinking is a vastly better idea than 'moderating.' Because if you're 'moderating' you have to use your willpower ALL THE TIME. But, if you quit altogether, then, after a while (about 100 days), you no longer have to use any willpower at all. Or hardly ever. Because you no longer want to drink.

And that, for we wonderful, pleasure seeking hedonists, is a great relief.

So whenever I get complimented on my amazing willpower, I just smile enigmatically, thinking "oh you ignorant, ordinary normie. If only you knew...."

But you do know, don't you?

Love SM x

Related posts: Moderation. Is it Possible? and Moderation. Is it Possible? Part 2

Friday, 25 September 2015

Feel the Fear...

When I first quit drinking, I read a blog written by a bloke who'd been sober for about a year (which seemed, back then, like an impossibly long time). He said that the two books which really helped him were Jason Vale's 'Kick the Drink, Easily', and Susan Jeffers book 'Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.'

I understood the Jason Vale recommendation: he is a God, and should be knighted for services to over-enthusiastic drinkers everywhere.

But Feel The Fear? I'd heard of this book. It was a best selling self help tome, published twenty five years ago, but I really couldn't see the relevance. So I rather dismissed this recommendation, assuming that the blogger had terrible mental health issues.

But now I get it. Now I realise that fear, and it's lesser cousin, anxiety, are my biggest triggers. So I read the book.

Yesterday I came this close (holding thumb and forefinger a millimetre apart) to pouring a drink.

This hasn't happened to me for months. I've had bad days. I had glums and PAWS (see Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms). I've had days when I've been really, really fed up about not drinking and thought 'why me? What's the point, anyway?' etcetera. But I haven't had to physically sit on my hands to stop myself throwing in the towel. Not for a long time.

So why yesterday?

Well, about a year ago I started writing a novel. Nothing super literary and clever. Just an adventure story for teenage girls, featuring a kick ass heroine (who doesn't drink, obviously).

I think it was writing the book that made me want to quit drinking. I realised that I really wanted to make something of my life, which wasn't going anywhere.

I finished the book at the end of February, then quit drinking. Since then I haven't even looked at it - I've just been focussing on the blog, and on staying sober.

Then, yesterday, I dusted off the manuscript, and re-read the first few chapters. I'd resolved to enter it for a children's book award for unpublished authors. This meant (for the first stage) submitting a one page synopsis and the first 3,000 words.

I was terrified. I feared re-reading it and discovering that it was completely crap. I feared rejection.  I feared having my dream stomped on.

And I really, really, really wanted a drink. To take the fear away.

So I re-read some of Susan Jeffers book.

There are many people who swear this book has changed their lives, and I guess they all take away something slightly different.

The main lesson I took from it is that the only thing to really fear is doing nothing.

I had got used to hiding in my protective bubble. What I hadn't realised was that it wasn't actually a cosy bubble, but a rut. And I was stuck in it. Because avoiding fear means going nowhere.

Here are the five key lessons from the book:

1. So long as you continue to grow, you will always feel fear. No fear means no growth.
2. The only way to properly get rid of fear is to go out and do 'it' (whatever it is that you fear). Then 'it' won't scare you any more.
3. There's no point delaying until you feel better/stronger, because you'll never feel better/stronger until you do 'it'.
4. Everyone else is scared too.
5. Pushing through the fear is less frightening than living in a state of helplessness.

Susan tells you that you have to think of the worst that can happen, and realise that you can cope. And I realised that the worst thing that could happen to me, in this case, was that the book would not win the award, and never be published.

But, hell, that's where I am anyway! If I carry on doing nothing because I'm too scared then, obviously, nothing IS going to happen!

So I entered the book for the award. And I have two more awards with deadlines coming up that I'm also going to enter.

And I didn't have that drink. And today I feel stronger. And less scared.

So, my friends: Feel the fear, and do it anyway!

Love SM x

Related Post: Anxiety and Courage

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Fear of Cashiers and Police Cars

I find these days that there are some ordinary day-to-day things that give me a huge thrill. Like waking up on Sunday mornings with a clear head, no guilt, and loads of energy. Like being able to do my belt up on the third notch. And like being able to go into any shop without fear of the cashier...

Until I started this blog I thought I was the only person in the world with Cashier Fear. In this, like many things, I quickly discovered that I was not alone.

I used to buy wine on rotation from several different shops because I was worried that the cashiers would clock how much I was buying and judge me.

There's a small Sainsbury Local near the children's school that I use quite a lot. I made me really, really cross that the same cashier seemed to be on duty whenever I went in. I would say to the children, really loudly, as I hauled my bottles of vino up to the till, "mustn't forget Daddy's wine!" or "Godfather Billy's coming for supper!" with an eye roll.

Needless to say, the children thought I'd gone slightly mad. They weren't wrong.

Every time I go into that shop now I get a buzz. I put my alcohol free beers on the counter and find myself, yet again, talking too loudly as I say "why is there an age restriction on these when they are alcohol free? Isn't that funny? It's not as if there's any alcohol in them! Ha ha!" Still acting like a mad lady.

I would love to know whether cashiers ever give a toss about who's buying what, and which of the Mums they serve are secret lushes. I suspect that the only person judging me was myself...

Another thing that gives me a vicarious thrill (I have to get my kicks somewhere these days) is police cars.

Now, I never thought I drove drunk. Whenever I got into my car I convinced myself that I was totally sober. Looking back, this can't have been the case.

If you drink a bottle of wine in the evening (10 units) it takes ten hours to leave your system. Given that I'd usually pass out before 10pm, I'd probably by ok to drive in the morning.

BUT,  if I'd gone out to a party mid week it was likely I'd have drunk up to 20 units and gone to bed at 1am. There is no way that by 8am I'd be under the limit.

Plus, towards the end of the dark drinking days I'd often have a glass or two of wine at lunch time. Then drive at 3pm. I felt totally fine - I had a very high tolerance by this point - but I'm sure the breathalyser would have said different.

People with alcohol problems are notoriously adept at convincing themselves that they are perfectly safe to drive. This is what killed my friend Juliet (see When the Wine Witch Wins). But, the giveaway that, in my heart of hearts, I knew I wasn't really okay to drive was my fear of police cars.

I loathed driving past police cars, at any time of day. And if a police car just happened to be driving behind me (bound to happen in central London) I'd be riddled with paranoia. Why are they following me? What have a done? Am I driving too fast? To slow? Weaving? Aarrggghhh!

But now I love driving past police cars! I wave at them like a lunatic (are you seeing a pattern here?). I'm desperate to be pulled over so that I can say "Oh no officer. Not me! I don't drink."

I'm already dreading Christmas and New Year so, as a little treat to myself, I'm thinking of taking the car out at 3am on New Year's Eve and driving erratically just so I can PUFF INTO THE BREATHALYSER! Merry Christmas to me....

Love to you all,

SM x

Related post: 5 signs that you're a problem drinker

Monday, 21 September 2015

Climbing Everest

Often I hear people say that they are grateful for the years, decades even, that they lost due to alcoholism, because it made them who they are: stronger, more compassionate, more enlightened.

And I think "Really? Grateful?"

I try not to regret the drinking years, after all, an awful lot of it was a great deal of fun, but I find it hard to go so far as gratitude.

Now, if God had found it in herself to make me one of those irritating people who can have a glass of vino and then genuinely not want a second one (or the whole bottle), then I would feel grateful.

I was thinking about this when, over the weekend, the family SM went to the movies to see Everest, a fabulous film about the death of twelve climbers near the summit of Everest in May 1996.

One of the climbers that day was an American doctor called, rather appropriately, Beck Weathers. He'd taken up mountaineering as a way of coping with debilitating bouts of depression.

When a terrible blizzard struck as the climbers were descending the mountain, Beck was left for dead by his fellow mountaineers. They believed that there was no way he would make it down the mountain alive.

Beck remembers 'dying', but when the sun rose he saw a vision of his family in front of him. Beck was almost totally blind by this point, unable to feel his hands or face, one arm was frozen over his head, and he hadn't eaten for three days or had any water for two.

Despite this, Beck managed to walk, alone, back to the nearest camp where, a second time, he was left alone in a tent to die. Again he refused to do so, and was eventually airlifted off the mountain by helicopter.

After watching the film, I read an interview with Beck. He talks about how he lost both his hands. Then, he was sitting in a chair back home when a chunk of his right eyebrow fell off. Later, he walked down the hall and his left big toe broke off and went skittering away, followed a while afterwards, by his nose.

You would think, wouldn't you, that Beck would feel a bit bitter? About losing so many crucial body parts. About being left for dead by his fellow climbers. But no.

Beck says: would I do it again? The answer is yes, even if I knew everything that was going to happen. I traded my hands for my family and my future. It is a bargain I readily accept. For the first time in my life I have peace. I searched all over the world for that which would fulfil me, and all along it was in my own back yard. I am a blessed individual. Even better, I know it.

Beck is grateful!

This made me feel incredibly humble.

So, next time I'm struggling with the Wine Witch, I'm going to remember Beck, walking blind, with a frozen nose and hands, his arm stuck above his head, and I'm going to think THIS IS NOTHING!

The human spirit can achieve way more than this. You just have to believe, keep that vision of your loved ones in front of you, and put one frozen foot in front of the other.

Beck traded his hands for his family and his future, and to find peace. All we need to do is to step away from the bottle....

That's a much easier mountain to climb, even if it doesn't always feel that way.

(Huge congrats to Jennifer from Canada, who's made it to 6 MONTHS SOBER and is now standing on the summit of Everest on a clear, sunny day with no blizzard in sight!)

Love SM x

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Obstacle Course

I often read, and comment on, the blogs on Soberistas. They're a real mix of inspiring stories from women (and some men!) a year or two down the road, as well as many struggling with the early days, or attempting to cut down.

The ones that really make me want to cry, and yell in frustration, are the ones written by women who do the first few days over and over and over again.

They do four days sober, then back to day one. They manage ten days next time, then go on a bender. Three days. Four days again. Ad infinitum.

I get it! I really do. I've been there. We all have. And you do just have to keep persevering until one day it just sticks.

But now, with the benefit of six months of hindsight, I just want to grab them in a big bear hug and yell "Nooooo! You're doing the hardest part over and over, without ever making it to the good bits!"

And the problem is, the longer you spend wallowing around in those early dark days of despair, the more you manage to re-enforce the idea in your subconscious that that's what sobriety is all about.

So, if that's you, then think about it like this:

Imagine you're standing in a field which you've been in for a long, long time. Initially it was beautiful - filled with wild flowers, friends, sunshine and fluffy bunnies (maybe the bunnies are a bit too much? But, hell, I'm going with it).

But, over time, it's got more and more miserable in your field. There are still some sunny days, but there's an awful lot of rain, and some terrible thunderstorms. You keep thinking the flowers are growing back, but they die before they bloom. The bunnies are few and far between.

Then you start meeting people who tell you about another field, not too far away. They've seen it. Some of them live in it. It's everything your field used to be, if not more so. And they appreciate it so much more because they've seen what your desolate home looks like. They used to live there too.

"Hey, come and live with us!" they tell you. Because they're not mean and selfish. They know that there's plenty of room at their place for everyone, and they genuinely want more friends.

You really, really want to join them. But there's a hitch. There's a huge great obstacle course in the way. You can't see the whole course, only the obstacle directly in front of you. And you can't see the promised land on the other side. You have no idea how big the course is, how long it takes to get through it, or whether you're up to it.

But you know that you can't stay where you are. It's only going to get worse. So you take a leap and throw yourself at the first obstacle....

Initially it's not too hard. You've got bags of energy and enthusiasm. But, after you've been over a twelve foot wall, through a leech infested, waterlogged ditch, and dug under a fence with your bare hands you're exhausted. Fed up. You have no proof that this place even exists. You have no idea if you can ever make it that far, and you're desperate to go back to somewhere familiar, where you're not so tired, and cold and scared....

.....so you go back to your field. And initially it's great to be home. The other people stranded there welcome you back with open arms and tell you that the alternative field doesn't really exist. You're comfortable. You know what you're dealing with. You think you can see the sun coming out and a bunny in the distance....

....but you were fooling yourself. There are no bunnies left any more. The thunderstorms come harder and harder. Eventually you throw yourself at the twelve foot wall again. You brave the leeches again. You dig the tunnel. You make it to the fifth obstacle this time before you go back to the beginning.

You go back because you have no proof. You don't know how long it takes. You don't know if you can do it. You're exhausting yourself by doing those first few obstacles over and over again. It's just too hard.

So, if that's you, then listen to this. Because I do know (as do many people reading this who I'm hoping will back me up in the comments below). I am going to say it really loudly:

IT DOES EXIST! IT'S EVERY BIT AS GOOD AS YOU'RE HOPING. IT TAKES ABOUT 100 DAYS TO BE ABLE TO SEE IT, AND ABOUT SIX MONTHS TO GET THERE. YOU CAN DO IT.

The truth is that the hardest bit of the obstacle course is the beginning. So you really don't want to keep re-doing the wall, the leeches and the digging. Once you're through those, the other obstacles get easier, and they're further apart. And you get stronger, and fitter and more able to cope.

One thing to look out for is 'false summits'. Sometimes you think you've got there. You've seen no obstacles for ages, and you think THIS IS IT! Only to be confronted by a whopping great wall. (See my post on Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms)

But by now you know how to scale those suckers. It's no biggie. You almost start to get a sense of achievement from making it to the other side of each one. After all, a field with no challenges at all in it would be a little....flat and featureless.

So, my fellow adventurers, pack up your bags, say goodbye to your field, throw yourself at the obstacles and KEEP ON GOING! Do not look back until you get to the end!

Huge congrats to Mel from Boston, who started climbing the first wall SIX MONTHS ago exactly, and has well and truly made it to the other side.

(Here are two posts which might help you over some of the obstacles: Cravings and Tantrums, and Monkey Brain and Mindfulness)

Love SM x



Friday, 18 September 2015

Drunk Texting

One of the best things about quitting alcohol is not having to reach for your mobile with trepidation in the morning, to see what havoc your drunken texting wreaked the night before.

How many times have you wished there was a 'retrieve' button you could press before some hapless recipient could read your alcohol fuelled rants, lurking like unexploded land mines in their message folder?

I was even worse with e-mail. I thought I was so erudite after a few vinos. I'd write embarrassingly emotional mails, professing undying love for the recipient, or brimming with self righteous anger over some perceived slight. Or both, simultaneously.

Back in the day, I nearly lost my job over an e-mail, sent after a boozy 'work' lunch (see Alcohol Induced Rage).

I thank my lucky stars that the internet didn't exist for much of my wild, single past.

Today's teenage girls can so easily, fuelled by that heady mixture of hormones and booze, send pictures of what #3 would call their 'noo-noo' to a trusted boyfriend. Then they discover that, once the relationship's ended, they're posted on the internet for any prospective employer to see....

Apparently, it's this fear of being haunted by their drunken exploits, stored forever in the Cloud of Shame, that has led to more and more young people shunning alcohol.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the proportion of teetotal young adults rose by 40% between 2005 and 2013. As a result, Grazia magazine (my only remaining shameful habit) has declared that 'Square's The Thing, the fashion, the new black.'

It seems that going sober is a bit like wearing sequined hotpants and tongue studs: if you're under 25 it's cool and rebellious, but if you're middle aged it makes you look sad and borderline insane.

Much as I love the immediacy and convenience of texting, I miss the tradition, beauty and safety of letter writing.

It's really hard to send a drunken letter. If you're wasted enough to write one, you're too plastered to find an envelope, stamp and make it to a postbox without falling over. Instead, you leave it till the following morning when, now sober (more or less), you see the error of your ways and sigh with relief as you shred or burn it.

The Sunday Times have published an anthology called 'More Letters of Note', and one of my favourite extracts is from a letter written by Katherine Mansfield, author and wife of the literary critic John Middleton Murray, to his mistress, Princess Elizabeth Bibesco in 1921.

Imagine what a drunken text to your husband's (much younger) mistress might look like..... get ur hands off my bloke you b***h, or similar, and compare it to Katherine's masterpiece of anger and condescension, disguised as polite advice:

I am afraid you must stop writing these little love letters to my husband while he and I live together. It is one of the things which is not done in our world. You are very young. Won't you ask your husband to explain to you the impossibility of such a situation. Please do not make me have to write to you again. I do not like scolding people and I simply hate having to teach them manners.

Game, set and match to Katherine!

So I say ban texts, and bring back letter writing.

Or, at least, stop drinking alcohol....

Have a great weekend everyone!

SM x



Thursday, 17 September 2015

Blog in the News

Mr SM took one look at me when he got back from work on Tuesday night and said "Uh oh. What's up, SM?"

(There is obviously no mystery left in our marriage)

I confessed that I'd been interviewed by the Times for an article about mothers drinking. He looked a little stunned, but quickly rallied, saying "fret not. It's in the Times2 section. No-one will notice it. No-one ever gets past page ten."

He left for work, as usual, at the crack of dawn, so by the time my alarm went off, at 6.30am, he'd already e-mailed me a copy of the front cover which featured a prominent banner reading THE SECRET SCHOOL RUN DRINKERS.

Not so obscure then.

Luckily, the journalist kept her word and changed a few key details (She gave me four children, for example, rather than three. Easiest childbirth ever), to ensure that it couldn't be obviously recognised as me.

The article was based on some new research by Alcohol Concern which shows that mothers are increasingly likely to crack open a bottle of wine after the school run, rather than making a cup of tea.

Parents are twice as likely to be 'dependant' drinkers than non parents, and half of 'dependant' drinkers are educated to degree level.

Having had a glass or two to 'wind down', these mothers then continue drinking with the husband when he gets home, which all adds up to rather more daily units than the government recommended guidelines.

The Daily Mail article on the same research quotes a doctor from The Priory who says that they are seeing more and more mothers drinking heavily, and that it's probable that many of them are still over the limit when they're doing the morning school run.

Is all of this ringing any bells? It certainly was for me. My teapot was totally covered in cobwebs. Why fanny around trying to relax with a cup of tea when a glass of wine hit the spot far more effectively? It'd be like trying to use a toothpick instead of a sledgehammer.

What I find ironic, though, is that women round the country are happy to confess to relying on a glass or three of wine to get through the evening. There's no stigma attached to pouring a large glass of 'mummy juice,' on your own, at wine 'o' clock (which creeps earlier and earlier), or to sharing a bottle with friends after the school run while the kids play.

And yet, as soon as you admit to yourself that it's becoming a bit of a problem and quit altogether, you have to skulk around anonymously, telling friends that you're on antibiotics.

WHY? Why am I the one feeling ashamed?

I happily confess to having been a terrible nicotine addict. I brag about how bad I was. I used to smoke in the morning before I even got out of bed! Ha ha. And if I woke up in the night! And I ALWAYS lit up after sex. But then 12 years ago stopped. Totally. Aren't I clever?! Best thing I ever did!

I tell that story over and over again - with pride.

So, I may not yet be brave enough to stick my name to my interview, but at least I did it. And since it ran 3,000 more people have found there way here. (And no trolls. Yet).

If you're one of them, then WELCOME! And feel free to mail me privately on sobermummy@gmail.com.

The world is changing, slowly....

Love SM x

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

What Have I Done?

For the last six months I've been quietly, anonymously, blogging about what it feels like to quit drinking after decades of laughing in the face of government guidelines.

I've shared the highs and the lows, the laughter and the tears. I've picked up some fabulous friends along the way and received heart breaking e-mails from women like me all over the world.

My life has totally transformed. And it wouldn't have happened without this blog, and my readers who joined me on the sobercoaster and kept me on the straight and narrow.

So why rock the boat?

Well, I've always been a bit of a boat rocker.

So when I heard that a journalist at the Times2 was writing an article about recent research showing that Mums are cracking open the vino earlier and earlier in the day, often straight after the school run, I thought I should help. I e-mailed her the link to this blog.

She mailed me straight back and asked if she could interview me. I agreed (why? WHY?).

Nothing may come of it. I may end up on the cutting room floor. But I might also have blown my cover and opened myself up to trolls. My cosy little corner of the sober blogosphere may not be so cosy for a while.

Who knows?

But if, as a result of my interview, just a handful of women who've been struggling with the wine witch and feeling totally alone find their way here, then it'll be worth it.

If that's you, then start by reading my posts from back in early March and you'll realise that you're not the only one sitting at the bottom of a huge hole you seem to have dug for yourself. And there is a way out. Just start by putting down the shovel and looking up.....

SM x

Monday, 14 September 2015

Will I Lose All My Friends? Part 2

One of the areas of sober life that I'm still getting to grips with is socialising.

I still find parties a bit odd. Funnily enough, I don't find myself drawn like a magnet to the bar. I'm happy with a diet coke. Deliriously so if they serve a virgin mojito. But I do feel a bit 'scratchy'. Like I'm on the outside looking in.

On the upside, I always get to drive home. I don't have to worry about slurring, accidentally insulting anyone, constantly having to queue for the loo, or banging into furniture. I don't wake up the next morning feeling like death and dredging the memory banks to see what I have to hate myself for.

And parties are getting easier, but they're still a work in progress.

This was a big concern of mine in the early days. Back on day 13 I wrote a post called Will I Lose All My Friends? (click here). I was worried that, without the drink, people would find me unbelievably dull, and would gradually drift away.

I realise now that the mistake I made was to assume that most socialising has to happen at parties, or, at least, in the evening.

Looking at my diary this week, I have a social event every single day.  At least one. But I only have one drinks party. The rest are mid week lunches with girlfriends, coffee and cake dates and long rambling dog walks. And - you know what? This type of 'socialising' is completely transforming my friendships.

When I relied on parties to catch up with friends, I found that you would only ever chat to one person for fifteen minutes. Tops. And you'd only cover the basics. Plus, once I'd had a few drinks it was all about me, me, me. Even if someone did give me some details about their own lives I'd forget them.

Party conversations in my neck of the woods revolve around the same general topics:

(1) Children and schools. Especially the 11+ and Common Entrance exams. To tutor, or not to tutor? Which/how many after school activities to arrange. Gripes about the nanny/au pair.

(2) House prices and home improvements. The problems with builders. The next door neighbour's triple decker basement dig out. Side returns. (Never heard of a side return? Count yourself lucky...).

(3) Where you're going on holiday. Also an opportunity to boast about the second home, and the children's prowess at skiing/French/scuba diving.

The other big conversational topic is gossip. I was a big fan. There's nothing that we people with dark, festering secrets love more than hearing about the imperfections of other people's lives. I especially loved tales of anyone deemed to have an addiction issue. Yay! I'd think. See - I'm not that bad. And even if I am, at least I'm not the only one....

 But this endless, mindless chitter chatter, one upmanship and gossip is bad for the soul. And it doesn't nourish friendships.

I remember when I was a teenager, and in my early twenties, I used to spend hours with girlfriends discussing the meaning of life. We knew each other inside out and back to front. We'd exchange hopes, dreams and fears ad infinitum.

Then, for the last decade or so, we'd just meet up at parties and spend ten minutes talking about whose au pair was shagging their husband, and whether it made more sense to do a basement conversion or develop the attic.

But now, I might not be so brilliant at parties, but almost every day I spend an hour with a good friend. We talk about stuff that matters. I listen. I remember. I send them a text wishing them luck on the day of a big job interview. I take round flowers when they're not feeling well. I'm starting to be a good friend again.

I'd completely forgotten the truth that, with friendships, as with life, you get back what you put in. If you see your friendships as merely a source of idle gossip, then you can't rant and rave when it transpires that that's all you are to them.

The question I really should have asked myself isn't 'Will I lose all my friends?' but 'How on earth do I have any friends left?'

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

That's the title of the most fascinating TEDD talk by Johann Hari (here's a link)

Hari is a journalist who, having experienced the fall out from addiction first hand, spent three years researching it, coming to some extraordinary conclusions.

Hari says that a lot of what we believe about addiction comes from early studies on rats. Typically, a rat would be put in a cage with two bottles - one filled with pure water, and one laced with heroin or cocaine.  Within a short space of time the rat gives up bothering with food, or anything except the drug, and kills itself. In one hundred percent of cases.

Then, in the 1970s, a Canadian psychology professor called Alexander makes a crucial change to the experiment. Instead of putting the rat in an empty cage, he creates what he calls 'Rat Park'. Rat Park is rat nirvana. It's filled with rat buddies, rat games, lots of food and sex on tap. And in rat park almost nobody dies. The rats usually ignore the drug water, or - if they do use it - they use it sparingly. They moderate!

Hari points out that a similar 'experiment' was done on humans, in that during the Vietnam War 20% of American troops became dependant on heroin (and who can blame them? They were in a horrid cage). But when they got back home, to friends and family, ninety-five percent of them stopped using. Without too much trouble.

Another professor, called Peter Cohen, in the Netherlands believes that addiction should be called 'bonding.' As a species, he argues, we have a primal need to bond. To make connections with other people. If, for some reason, you can't do that, you will bond with something else that gives you relief - like drink, drugs, gambling or shopping.

This theory has huge implications, argues Hari. Instead of punishing drug addicts with prison (a cage), social stigma and isolation, we should be working on improving their cage, making their lives better and more fulfilled.

This is, in effect, what has happened in Portugal where drugs were totally decriminalised in 2000, and the money which had been spent on enforcing drug laws was spent on re-hab and improving the lives of addicts. Drug use is down by fifty percent.

So what does it mean for us?

Well, it strikes me that so many of the e-mails I get from people talk about how their alcohol use (abuse) accelerated after events like divorce, redundancy and retirement. In my case the trigger was quitting work to become a stay at home Mum.

Don't get me wrong, I loved it being home with my kids. I chose to do it. But I was in a communications industry. I was used to constant adult interaction. My job was bonding. Being alone for most of the day with people who couldn't yet talk was a bit of a shock.

In all of these instances, divorce, redundancy, and so on, our cages had changed. We'd lost many of our 'connections' and turned to alcohol as a bond.

The dynamic that Hari ignores, is the one we know only too well: once you start 'bonding' with alcohol, your cage gets smaller and smaller. Emptier and emptier. We alienate friends and family, we stop going out as much and we quit our hobbies and interests.

And the worse the cage becomes, the less incentive we have to step away from the drug water. A vicious circle.

This doesn't mean that if we improve our cage we can go back to being moderate drinkers (once an addict, always an addict). The Vietnam vets didn't start using heroin 'moderately' on their return. They stopped completely.

No, the lesson is that it is really hard to quit without building connections. This is why AA has saved so many lives, and the reason why the blogosphere, and sites like Soberistas, have been so crucial to me.

The other lesson, for me, is that it exposes the belief that you have to reach rock bottom as a dangerous fallacy. Because 'rock bottom' is an empty cage. If you quit well before your cage is empty, you have a far better chance of success.

So, my friends, work on improving your cage. On de-cluttering, on gardening, on painting walls and filling your house with flowers. Build bonds and connections, as many as you can, real and virtual. That's the key to success, not punishing and isolating yourself.

Because, as Hari says: The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Procrastination

CONGRATS to Kags on six months sober! Kags has been with me since the early days. She's got a new life, and a new puppy (see Dogs: A Sober Girl's Best Friend), and she rocks.

I don't regret many of the things I did in the drinking years.

For a start, a lot of it was - at the time - a great deal of fun. It was only the last two or three years that became dark.

I met some great people. I had some wonderful times. I got it all out of my system. Now I feel able to say "Been there. Done that. Time to move on."

I think - I hope - that I quit before I did too much damage. To myself, or to anyone else.  I know that was in the post. Had I carried on the way I was I'd have a lot more mess to clear up now.

Plus, crucially, if I hadn't lived through the darkest of the drinking years, then I wouldn't be here now.

I would have totally skipped over the need to do any self analysis (I would have carried on assuming that only Americans did that kind of stuff!). I'd still be viewing the world, and myself, from my narrow little box.

BUT, what I have realised is that it's not the things you do that you regret, it's the things you didn't do.

And this is the one that punches me in the stomach on a regular basis. I never, ever considered the missed opportunities while I was drinking, but now they haunt me.

What might I have done with my life if I hadn't lived so much of it anaesthetised?

I loved my years at University. But one moment still bugs me. It was the end of my first year. I had Part One exams coming up. I was loitering in the quad, probably with a cigarette in one hand (I was always smoking in those days), and plastic cup in the other (ditto, dinking).

A couple of my fellow students turned to me and said "Hey SM, it's all kicking off in Berlin. They're tearing the wall down - piece by piece. We've found cheap tickets and we're going to join in. You coming?"

I was tempted, but I was broke. I had work to do. I said no. I missed the chance to take part in a seminal moment of history.

I swore after that day, when I watched the television footage of the people destroying that hated monument, that I would never again fail to seize the day. And yet I've done it over and over and over again.

The days just slipped though my fingers like gains of sand.

When you're drinking, you don't realise that you're missing all the opportunities, because it's usually not big things you're turning down, they don't even come knocking. The issue is the endless procrastination.

It's the myriad of small things that you put off doing today in favour of having a drink instead. They wake you up again in the night, taunting you, but by the next day it's so easy to delay again.

Then, one day, you realise that all those little things put off have added up to whole years of life wasted. Procrastination really is the thief of time.

Here's a quote from Wayne Dyer: Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases, and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.

So, as of yesterday all the children are back at school - yay! No more excuses.

Every day I am going to write a list of things I have to get done. The List will include some easy stuff (like planning and preparing the meals for the day), some horrible, annoying stuff (like paying some bills), some BIG stuff (like editing the first 3 chapters of the novel), and something for someone else (like sending a present to a friend who's unwell).

By the end of my first year sober I really want to get a publishing contract, I want to have #1's bedroom re-decorated and the cellar cleared, and I want to have helped #2 get up to speed with his school work.

Then who knows what I can do with Year 2......

I'll leave you with a Craig Brown (the Private Eye satirist, not the footballer) quote:

There's nothing wrong with procrastination. Or is there? I'll leave it to you to decide, but only if you have time...

SM x

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Aarrgghh! I Fell off the Wagon!

Well, I didn't so much fall, as was pushed. In that it was entirely not my fault.

A few days ago, Mr SM had asked me to buy him some beers. His favourite brands were out of stock, so I'd picked up a few bottles of Becks.

Then, yesterday I cracked open a Becks Blue (AF beer), and poured it into a glass. I was cooking and watching Jamie Oliver on the telly, so was a bit distracted as I took a (large-ish) gulp.

Now, over the last few months I had convinced myself that Becks Blue is pretty much exactly the same as the real thing (only lovely and harmless, not totally evil). This, it transpires, is categorically NOT THE CASE.

I knew immediately that I had picked up the wrong beer.

I panicked.

Several thoughts ran simultaneously around my head, something like this:

Well, that's it. You've blown it now. This'll set you off on a complete bender. They'll be pulling you out of the gutter at 2am and sending you straight to A&E to have your stomach pumped.

As well as: OMG! Remember that whole furore at Soberistas about day counting? (See my post: It's All Kicking Off at Soberistas). Now you'll have to start back at Day One! After six sodding months!

And the wily old Wine Witch, who I'd managed to keep firmly in her box for some time, was back with a vengeance: hey, you don't know it's a real beer. You haven't actually checked the bottle yet! Why not drink it? After all, it wouldn't be your fault.....

I held the offending glass at arms length, took it to the kitchen sink and threw it away.

Just one sip and it really threw me. I felt anxious. Cross. Edgy. I had the worst night's sleep I've had in months (which can't possibly be due to just one sip of beer, but was a salutary reminder of 'the olden days').

Isn't it ironic that six months ago I'd panic if I didn't have two bottles of vino in the house at all times, and yet now drinking just one mouthful of beer can throw me into a tailspin? How things change...

Today I'm feeling better. It really was a teeny, tiny bit of alcohol. It can't have had any effect. It wasn't my fault, and there's no way I'm restarting the day counter.

And, in a way, it was a good thing. Because it's shown me that if I can panic that much about one mouthful of beer, then just think how hard I'd find it to forgive myself for a whole glass of wine.

There's no way I'm going there.

Love to you all, and be careful what you pick up....

SM

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Alcohol and Sense of Smell

Has anyone else noticed that their sense of smell has improved massively since they quit drinking?

One of the strangest things about the sober journey is how the benefits just keep on coming.

Some happen straight away - like losing the old puffy face, and ditching hangovers - some more slowly. And gradually, I've noticed that I smell much better. Actually, rephrase that, I can smell stuff much better.

(In fact, I probably do smell better too. I expect I often smelled of stale wine, seeping through my pores. Or sweat, after hours tossing and turning at night. Or toxic breath. Yuck. Enough already.)

I checked it out, and, apparently, drinking lots of alcohol does, over time, damage the part of the brain responsible for your sense of smell. Who knew?

I hadn't noticed losing my sniff-ability. It must have happened very slowly. But your sense of smell is totally tied in with your sense of taste. And I had noticed that my taste buds had dulled.

I'd started adding chilli flakes to pretty much everything to give it a 'kick'. I'd swapped my regular Heinz Ketchup for the chilli version (yes, there is one! #2 picked it up once by accident and had steam coming out of his ears).

Next time you're at a dinner, watch who's adding loads of seasoning and condiments to their food - bet you it's the big drinkers.

Now I can eat a simple tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, and it's like a massive taste explosion party in my mouth.

That's all good. Great, in fact. But there are downsides to an improved sense of smell....

......A mouse has died somewhere in my cellar. Also known as The Pit of Despair. I can't find it, (I can't find anything down there), but wafts of death float up the stairs on a regular basis, making me want to vomit.

When I was going through my sober de-cluttering phase (which never reached the cellar, obviously), I read up on feng shui (see Clutter).

It strikes me that DEAD MOUSE has to be really tragically bad feng shui. Way worse than a picture hanging over your bed, an untidy entrance, or other feng shui cardinal sins.

I wonder where it died? Perhaps it's in my finance corner (which would explain a lot), or - even worse - my relationship corner. Yikes. Poor Mr SM.

I Googled Dead Mouse Feng Shui. Nothing. So bad it's not even considered. What I did find, though, was a piece on dying plants or flowers.

Apparently, it is not good to have any greenery in your house that isn't perfectly healthy. The author writes: do you want to create the feeling that your house is where things go to die?

Bloody hell. What would she say about my rotting rodent?

If I were still drinking I would probably be blissfully unaware of my feng shui car crash and the wafts of decomposition invading my kitchen.

But then I would have been unaware of pretty much everything else too...

Now I've woken up and I can truly smell the coffee.

SM x

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Road Not Taken

I used to greet Monday mornings with despair (see Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays), so it's a testament to how far I've come that now I can think of few better ways to start a new week than with a poem.

Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken, was Wayne Dyer's favourite (For more on Wayne read Change the Way You Look at Things), so seems like a great choice.

So, whether you've already chosen the road less travelled, or whether you're still standing at the point where the paths diverge, this is for you:

The Road Not Taken
 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 
 
Most people focus on the wonderful final lines of this poem. They see it as an anthem to independent thought, to not following the crowd, to taking the hard way, not just the obvious way.
 
And that is a great rallying cry for us. The sober road is, without doubt, the road less travelled by. And the one that makes all the difference.
 
But, Frost's poem is, arguably, one of the most widely misinterpreted poems of all time. Whole books have been written about the true meaning of The Road Not Taken.
 
Frost spent the years from 1912-1915 in England, where he took long walks with his writer friend, Edward Thomas. It's believed that this poem was intended by Frost as a gentle mocking of indecision, as shown by Edwards on their walks.
 
If you read it more closely, you'll see that Frost says that the two roads are, in actual fact, almost identical. Yet the poem's narrator agonises over the choice, and then wastes time and energy thinking back wistfully to the path he'd rejected, kidding himself that he may still return to it.
 
He then, as we so often do, re-writes history by looking back and attributing far more meaning to the fork in the road than it ever truly deserved.
 
Therefore, you could read the poem as being about the futility of indecision and regret. About not looking back. About how our memories can deceive us. About how we take ourselves, and our decisions, too seriously. About the danger of procrastination, and the need to just take a road and stick to it, whichever road it is.
 
What I've learned along this road less travelled by, is that the world is filled with meaning, with lessons and with answers. We'll find the ones we need when we need them.
 
All we need to do is to keep our eyes open, and see the poetry. And for a long time I couldn't do that.
 
So, whatever meaning you take from The Road Not Taken will be the right one for you, right now. Then come back to it in a few months time, and it might tell you something else....
 
Happy Monday!
 
Love SM


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Alcohol Induced Rage - Part 2

On day 15, way back in the Mists of Time (March 17th), I wrote this post on Alcohol Induced Rage.

It was inspired by Jeremy Clarkson, who lost his £1million a year job with the BBC for decking a producer who bought him a cold meat platter instead of a steak at the end of a day filming.

Jeremy had reminded me of the terrible red mists of fury that would descend after a drinking bout, over the tiniest of things.

(Incidentally, Jeremy recently picked up a new contract with Amazon Prime worth £10million a year. If only my alcoholic rages were anything like as profitable!)

I haven't lost my temper for a while - one of the great benefits of going sober is Zen-like calm (at least relatively speaking).

But I did last night.

I was in bed, about to drop off. Mr SM was in the bathroom. As he closed the bathroom door I heard a whuuumph! as the wet towel I'd recently picked up off the floor and hung up hit the floor again.

Needless to say, Mr SM (who must have heard it) paid no attention, and climbed into bed.

I sat bolt upright in bed and yelled THAT'S IT! I'VE HAD IT WITH THE TOWELS!

Mr SM looked totally taken aback. Rabbit in headlights. There was no stopping me.

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

As I paused for breath, Mr SM put his hand on my arm (very brave - I could have bitten it off), and said - very quietly - "SM, this isn't about the towels, is it?"

I stopped and thought. It struck me that whilst I was, obviously, cross about the towel situation, the truth is that I am always cross about towels. But a dropped towel won't usually make me go stratospheric.

#1 is away at the moment. I'm not going to see her for a whole week. Longer than I've ever been without her. I miss her. That's why I lost it.

Had I had a few drinks, I would never have realised this. I would have ignored Mr SM's intervention, which would only have increased my fury. I would have moved on from the towels, and onto my other pet hate - the way everyone leaves their dirty plates and cutlery on top of the dishwasher rather than inside it.

So, quitting alcohol doesn't make the occasional bouts of  irrational rage go away, but it does help you to stop, get a sense of perspective, and realise that it's not about the towels. Or the dishwasher. Or the platter of cold meats.

And that has to be better for our sanity and our relationships.

By the way, if anyone has any ideas about how to get anyone else in my family to pick up a sodding, sodden towel once in a while then please let me know.

Love SM x

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Spot the Lush

BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE to my old friend, Tallaxo, who made it to six months yesterday. Tallaxo, it's been a real pleasure and a delight having you on this road alongside me. You rock.

About a year ago (well before I quit), I was chatting to a school Mum friend about a mutual acquaintance (let's call her 'Daphne' because that's a really cool name, and I always wanted to be Daphne from Scooby Doo).

"Did you know that Daphne doesn't drink?" she asked me. I didn't. I tried really hard to appear only vaguely interested when, really, I was fascinated.

" Why's that?" I replied, nonchalantly.

"She's very open about it. She had a totally wild youth - drink, drugs, you name it. Had to quit everything. AA, NA, you know. But the funny thing is, she says that now she can spot the addict a mile off! It's a game she plays at the school gate."

"How funny," I reply. Not in the slightest amused. I was terrified. Had she spotted me? Had she out-ed me? Was this a pointed conversation? Aaarrrggghhh.

I was rather relieved when Daphne moved to the country a few months later as it got really tiring trying to avoid her in the playground. Now, I wish she were still here. I'd love a sober school Mum friend!

Anyhow, the point is, I now know exactly what she means! It didn't happen immediately (I was rather wrapped up in myself, initially), but I have developed an amazing ability to spot the lush.

When I was working in London in the early nineties I had a great gay friend called Guy (only one vowel away from being an adjective).

In those days, believe it or not, it was really hard to be openly homosexual in business, even in advertising (where Guy and I worked).

We had, for example, a boss who used to regale us frequently with stories about his girlfriend, Fiona. It was only several years later that we discovered Fiona was really Bob.

Guy said that he could spot an 'in the closet', repressed gay a mile off. He called it his gaydar. He was never wrong. 'Fiona' never fooled Guy.

Now, sober is the new gay. And I have a lush-dar. It's a great way to keep yourself amused at drinks parties.

The rookie error is to assume that the lush is the drunkest person in the room.  The loud, falling over person is probably an occasional drinker who's overdone it.

The real lush, at first sight, doesn't look too drunk at all - they have a far higher tolerance than that.

I was at a drinks party recently, chatting to a lady I'd never met before, and I thought Bingo. I just knew.

So, in the interests of this blog, I made myself analyse why. What was the giveaway? Here's what I concluded:

1. The lush is often overweight, particularly round the middle. Even if they are skinny, they tend to be puffy. Especially around the face.

2. They mention alcohol frequently in conversation, even to total strangers. "I'll be the one propping up the bar!", "We must get together for a drink, or three," "So, I'd had a few drinks when...." "Woke up with a horrible hangover and..."

It's much like when a friend first falls in love and scatters their lover's name into conversation liberally without even realise they're doing it.

3. They may not look drunk, but they don't seem physically steady. They stand a little too close. They might sway a little, or slur a little. They don't blink enough. They laugh too much. Tiny signs, only visible to an expert.

4. They are a bit florid. Red in the cheeks and the nose. Slightly bloodshot eyes. Broken veins.

5. They appear at ease, gregarious, confident, but something doesn't sit right. You get a sense that underneath the bonhomie they're edgy and insecure. They don't feel grounded.

This might sound like something out of Mean Girls, but, honestly, I don't look down on the lush. I don't despise her. I love her. She is me. She is one of my tribe.

I want to go up and give her a big hug, and say "it's okay. I know how you feel. It can all get better," but I know how much you hate hearing the truth from the people closest to you, let alone from a complete stranger.

So I say nothing. I just nod along to the suggestion that we get together "for a few jars" and "get hammered."

And it strikes me that I always had a 'lush-dar', it's just that back then I saw it as a 'new friend detector.' I would immediately gravitate towards the other hard drinker in the crowd knowing, subconsciously, that we had a great deal in common.

I still see them as potential 'new friends.' I just hope that they find me, when they're ready.

Happy sober Saturday everyone.

SM x

Friday, 4 September 2015

Everything is Relative

I've been haunted by all the photos, on Facebook and in the media, of dead children washed up on the shores of the Greek islands and Turkey.

As a drinker, I was not a very compassionate person.

I think my brain spent far too much of its time thinking about the next drinking opportunity, or recovering from the last one.

And if I did happen to come across a terrible story that hit me hard through the fug, I had a solution for that.....vino. A few glugs and, like magic, not bothered any more.

But today, I'm feeling ashamed. Because there is no doubt that the journey to Alcohol Free is a hard one, but I look at those pictures of the people who are making the treacherous journey from Syria, and countries like it, to Europe and realise that everything is relative.

These people haven't just given up their 'prop', their 'best friend', they've left their homes, their culture, their families and friends, their wealth and possessions. Everything they own....

.....just to survive. Just to keep their children alive. Just to live in a world where you can get an education. Show your bare face, or an ankle. Love whomever you want. Feed and clothe your children. Worship the God you choose.

Yes, it's difficult for us to keep our heads above water sometimes, but I looked at a picture of a mother in the Mediterranean sea, trying desperately to stay alive so that she could keep her baby's head above the water for long enough for the rescue boat to reach her, and realised that I cannot even begin to comprehend how that feels.

I've posted before about the importance of self-compassion. And it is important. We have to be kind to ourselves, to love ourselves and to forgive ourselves if we're ever going to make it to Properly Sober, but I'm worried that along the way I've neglected compassion for others.

So next time the wine witch comes calling, and I'm feeling sorry for myself, I'm going to think of those women on those overcrowded boats with their children. Women who've risked everything for an outcome which is horribly uncertain in countries that welcome them with crossed arms and suspicious faces. Women who don't have a glass of Chablis to take the edge off their terror.

I owe it to women like them, as well as to myself, to make the very best of my life, and to use it to help others.

So here's to women struggling everywhere. However large or small the obstacles.

Courage mes braves.

SM x

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Six Months Sober!

Last night I was reading Alice in Wonderland to #3.

Looking back through the Looking Glass to six months ago, it struck me how much I felt like Alice.

Disappearing into a bottle of vino for a few decades is very much like falling down a rabbit hole.

 Like Alice, I'd picked up a bottle labelled 'Drink Me' and I'd got smaller and smaller.

As Alice gets increasingly tiny, she wonders where it will stop. Will it carry on until she becomes totally extinguished, like a candle? That worried me too!

When you drink, your world gets smaller. It revolves around the next drinking opportunity.  You stop growing, expanding, learning new things. You don't look ahead further than a few hours.

At one stage, Alice says to the white rabbit "How long is forever?" He replies "Sometimes, just one second."

It feels like that, sometimes, when you're waiting for wine o'clock, or when you first quit and you're trying to get through wine o'clock.

But when you stop drinking, slowly your horizons expand. You start looking outward instead of inward. You start planning ahead. You think about what you want to do with your life, not just where to get the next bottle from.

At the beginning, I counted in hours. Then days. Obsessively. I totally understood the maxim of one day at a time. If I looked any further ahead than one day I panicked. What? No more wine forever? Can't compute. Overload....

When I got to four months I stopped counting in days and switched to months. I now, honestly, have no idea what day I'm on.

In fact, I totally forgot yesterday to post on the fact that as of September 2nd 2015 I was SIX MONTHS SOBER. 

I forgot! Who'd have thought it? Curiouser and curiouser.

Now I realise that you use 'one day at a time' until you no longer need it. It's there to stop you worrying about forever (which, in the words of Prince is a very long time) until you can cope with it.

And now, my friends, I can.

Now, after six months, I can truly see myself never drinking again. It doesn't scare me. At all. It's liberating. Exciting. Miraculous.

I'm not, I hope, being smug, or over confident. I'm totally aware how easy it is to fall off the wagon and end up back at Day One. I read stories about people like me doing just that all the time.

I also know about the ups and downs. This time next week I could easily be a shivering wreck again.

But, the point is, right now I am no longer scared. Or miserable. Or feeling denied.

So, if you're at the beginning of this journey, then listen to the King from Alice in Wonderland:

"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

And if you're reading this thinking OMG that SoberMummy is totally crazy, then take heed from the Cheshire Cat:

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

How true....

Love, to all my crazy, mad friends,

 SM x

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Change the Way You Look at Things

Wayne Dyer is dead.

For years I've been obsessed by The Times's obituaries. Not only are they beautifully written, but they tell stories of incredibly varied and inspirational lives. Whenever I want to motivate myself to get off my arse, I make myself think "what would they write in my obituary?"

I stopped reading the obituaries in the last few years of drinking. I now know why. Because I knew it would make me realise that my obituary would read something like this:

She had huge promise. A privileged upbringing and an amazing education. She went to Oxford and travelled the world. Her early career was stellar. She had 3 lovely children. But by the age of about 30 she stopped. Nothing much more to say after that. She drank. Full stop.

That's not what they're saying about Wayne Dyer. He was a man - a self-help guru - who changed people's lives. Even if he didn't change your life, he at least made you think. When he spoke he held people in the palm of his hand....then he'd let them go and watch them fly.

I only came across Wayne Dyer a few months ago when www.ainsobriety.wordpress.com mentioned him in a post. She'd been to see him talk and she quoted something he said that had a huge impact on me.

He said that the strange thing about 'recovery' is that, at the end of our journey we'll recognise it as the place where we started (see my post Full Circle).

That was the incredible thing about Wayne Dyer. Even second or third hand, his quotes had the power to change lives.

So, in honour of Wayne, I watched his full speech yesterday on The Power of Intention. Here's one of his most famous quotes from that talk:

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Wayne talks about Albert Einstein, who observed that the most fundamental decision you have to make in life is Do I live in a friendly or a hostile universe?

If you see the universe as filled with hostility and anger then that is what you will experience. Likewise, if you see the universe as fundamentally loving and beautiful, it will be.

Scientists have proven the power of perception, of the subconscious, over and over again. For example, think about the use of placebos in medicine. I love the fact that if I say to my children Mummy will kiss it better, and I kiss the 'ouch', it really does get better. Because they believe it will be so.

(N.B if they actually manage to chop off the end of a finger, this will not work. Go to A&E).

So, according to Wayne, you will never be happy if you look for happiness outside yourself, in possessions, appearance, reputation, money, etcetera, because happiness comes from within. It is about the way you look at things.

In essence, quoting Wayne again: There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

I believe that what makes the difference, when you quit drinking, between being happy and sober or miserable and sober is to change the way you look at things.

Stop seeing alcohol as the thing that's making the fun. See it as a destructive, addictive poison that's gradually pulling more and more people into its web.

Stop seeing 'sober' as dull and boring. See it as a huge opportunity to live life the way it was intended, and to fulfil your potential.

Funnily enough, when Wayne talks about harnessing the 'power of intention', he says that one of the first things you should do (everyone, not just addicts) is to stop drinking.

Wayne, by the way, was sanguine about death.

He said that it's about going from nowhere to now here to nowhere. Purely a matter of emphasis. Of spacing. (I don't think that works in Chinese).

Farewell then, Wayne Dyer, and thank you. I'll leave the final words of this post to you:

Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed.

SM x