Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Party!

So, on Friday night I hosted The Party.

I haven't thrown a big evening drinks party for years. Hosting a party and getting totally plastered yourself are - I'd discovered - rather incompatible, and I couldn't really imagine a party without the latter.

But a big party was, I'd felt, in order.

I wanted to celebrate my birthday (last week), a year sober (this week), and surviving cancer. So I booked a private room above a swanky restaurant for drinks and canapes for seventy five of my friends.

The day leading up to the Big Event I had serious wobbles.

I thought what on earth am I doing throwing a party when I can't even have one glass of champagne to take the edge off? It's too soon! I'm crazy. Plus my dress is all wrong, but I can't afford to buy a new one. In fact, I can't afford the party at all. And no-one's going to have any fun. CANCEL THE WHOLE THING!

I had that squirming knot of anxiety in my stomach all day - the one that I would have drowned out with booze, back in the drinking days. Which is why I'd stopped having parties.

I would have had a glass or two of vino at lunch time (to quieten down the squirming snakes), then another two 'sharpeners' while getting ready. Then at least two while waiting for people to arrive. I'd have hit my 'perfect drunkenness' by about 7.30pm, so by 9pm it'd be seriously messy.

But on Friday I lived with the restless serpents.

I reminded myself that absolutely everything that is really worth doing and game changing in life is accompanied by that feeling.

If you are avoiding anxiety you are not properly living.

I felt the same before every job interview, every date, before getting married, before giving birth, before going off backpacking.

Where would I be now if I'd avoided doing all of those things (or got totally drunk beforehand)?

Anxiety is a sign that you're pushing boundaries, moving forward, grabbing life by the balls. IT IS GOOD.

Mr SM and I turned up ten minutes early, and sat on our own in a big, echoing room for twenty minutes while I sipped my virgin mojito and muttered, through gritted teeth, "nobody's coming!"

An hour later the place was heaving. People exclaiming over old friends, making new ones. I worked the room - chatting to everybody. Introducing people. Feeling the thrill of a party where I knew everyone!

Then, I stood up on a chair (couldn't have done that drunk!) and made a speech, thanking all my friends for their support and help through the cancer thing. I made everyone laugh. I felt the waves of goodwill.

Everyone said I 'looked amazing.' I know they kind of have to say that to the lady who's paying the bar bill and has just recovered from cancer, but I honestly think they meant it. Because - apart from anything else - I'm 21 pounds lighter than this time last year.

Then, at midnight, the bar closed. We had some friends from Scotland staying with us for the event. The four of us walked out onto the street where my car was parked, bang smack outside.

Five minutes into the journey Mr Scot suddenly sat up and yelled "Good God, SM, you're driving! I thought we were in a taxi!"

We got home and paid the babysitter, then the other three had a nightcap while I brewed up a green tea. We exchanged notes about the evening, and I went to bed so buzzed that I couldn't sleep until 2am.

Yesterday I was exhausted, but in a good way - not that awful, toxic, hungover tiredness, but a bone deep, honest exhaustion.

And I honestly can't remember the last time I enjoyed a party more. Yet I'd been totally sober for the whole five hours.

Who knew?

Love SM x

Friday, 26 February 2016

Hell is Other People

You know what? After the first 100 days or so of being sober, it would be really, really easy if it weren't for everybody else.

(See the post I wrote on Day 88 titled Dear Friend. Click here).

You get to a point, relatively quickly, where you are quite happy on your own without booze. But we can't live life on our own, and everybody else drinks.

It's difficult to constantly remind yourself that alcohol is a poison when you see people paying vast sums for 'fine wine' and sipping it reverentially.

It's tough to remember that alcohol causes stress and anxiety, rather than relieving it when you're surrounded by people talking about looking forward to 'wine o'clock', so they can properly 'chill.'

It's hard to be relaxed about being sober at a party when the world seems to think that the only way to socialise is when inebriated.

It's easy to think surely they can't all be wrong? I can't be the only one who's sees it like it is.

But just because 'everybody else' believes something does not make them right.

I went to see the movie The Big Short with Mr SM. It was brilliant. The simplest, most engaging and the funniest explanation of the global financial crash that I've come across.

The movie is the story of the (very small) group of people who predicted the housing market collapse in the US, and foretold its implications. As a result, they bet against the mortgage market, which was, at the time, seen as rock solid by 99.9% of 'financial experts.'

They were viewed as lunatics. They are now acknowledged as visionaries, and are all billionaires.

There were many conversations during the film along the lines of "surely they can't all be wrong?" "Why does no-one else see what's really going on?" "You have to believe in yourself."

There's a genius (with Asperger's) in the film called Michael Burry. He drove his hedge fund into the ground for two years, against the advice of all his investors, betting against the market.

It was hugely stressful. More and more investors pulled funds, or threatened to sue. Everyone called him crazy. Did he go out and get drunk to unwind? No, he blasted out rock music really loud and played imaginary drums.

(Incidentally, I find playing air guitar, and/or singing badly, to loud music a great way of beating off the wine witch. Pick music from your youth, from simpler days that didn't involve too much booze and aren't loaded with drunk memories. I go for Queen, Bowie, Eurythmics, Dire Straits, even ABC).

The ones getting loaded on champagne in strip clubs were all the bankers who believed that the good times would go on for ever.

The clever guys weren't in the bars - they were watching their spreadsheets, drinking coffee, and wondering how everyone could be so blind.

Zigging while everyone is zagging is HARD. But it's also COOL. And it's the right thing to do.

Since I titled this post with a quote from Satre, I'll keep up the intellectual theme and end with a Nietzsche quote:

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

I'm throwing a party tonight for 75 people to celebrate my birthday, beating cancer and (secretly) a year of being sober. I'll be the only one not drinking alcohol. But that's okay. I've always wanted to be unique.

(It just seems a little unfair that I'm the one paying the bar bill)

Love SM x

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Drinking Dreams

Thank you SO much for all your messages yesterday, and apologies for not replying to them individually.

I have recovered from my attack of the blues. I suspect that, since my late thirties at least, I've always felt a bit down and reflective on my birthday, I just didn't notice it because..... you guessed it: I always got drunk!

Drinking didn't make that 'sadness about time passing' feeling go away permanently, it just postponed it for 24 hours when it would hit me doubly hard, and be combined with a hangover.

I'd then feel miserable for three days, not just one.

Now I've realised that when you feel a bit blue, the best thing to do is to indulge that feeling for a bit. Let yourself wallow. Like a teenager playing soppy songs in their bedroom after a relationship break up.

So, I had a quiet day. I did some de-cluttering. I thought a lot about the last year. And I read all your comments. Several times! They made me weep buckets (in a therapeutic way).

I can't thank you enough for the huge great virtual hug you gave me. You're awesome.

Then, last night, I had a conversation with Mr SM. I said "it's my birthday, so I'm going to get totally trashed. Just the once. Because I deserve it."

He totally agreed. I don't remember much about the drinking itself - except that I drank buckets of vino - but I do remember how we laughed about how awful I was going to feel in the morning.

Sure enough, I woke up this morning and I felt terrible. Totally toxic. Filled with self hatred.

And I realised that it was just a dream.

I've read a lot about drinking dreams. They are, apparently, terribly common, especially around 'significant dates'.

But, in the last very-nearly-twelve-months I had not had one. Until last night. Maybe because I've slept so soundly since I quit (having been a raging insomniac for years).

(For more on alcohol and sleep, see my post: Sleep, Glorious Sleep).

I do, however, still dream, from time to time, that I've started smoking again, and I quit nearly fifteen years ago!

Like my smoking dreams, this one was really vivid, and it took me a few hours to properly recover from it. I swear I felt hungover for ages, which just goes to show how powerful the subconscious is.

Dreams are the way the subconscious sorts itself out, as - like an iceberg - only ten percent of the work of getting sober is above the surface, the majority of the work is your subconscious (where the wine witch lurks) catching up.

The dreams you have to watch out for are the ones that you wake from with a feeling of longing. If you wake up wishing it were true then you've still got a lot of work to do......

The other common, slightly worrying, dream is when in your dream you try and work out how not to get caught. That's an indication, apparently, that you're quitting the booze for other people, not for yourself.

But, a drinking dream that you wake up from in a cold sweat, horrified at what you've 'done', then are hugely relieved to find out that it wasn't real, is actually just a great reminder that you have no wish at all to make that dream your reality again.

Thank you so much again,

Wishing you all sweet, and sober, dreams,

SM x

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Matrix

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

It's my birthday. I'm forty seven years old (don't tell anyone) today. And I'm feeling...... sad.

I've been trying to put my finger on why, so I can explain it to you. I'm not usually morose. I'm usually a glass half full kind of girl (I'm not going to make a joke about that one again!).

The closest I can get to a description is this:

When you quit drinking, your brain starts to fire on all cylinders for the first time in a long while. People describe finding long lost talents and huge stores of creativity, and that is certainly the case for me.

I've always loved words, but I'd written nothing more challenging than a shopping list for years. Then I quit drinking, started this blog, and the words just began pouring out of my finger tips like someone had reconnected some dodgy plumbing somewhere in my head.

A reader sent me an e-mail recently, describing how she drinks to cope with a hugely high powered and stressful job. I understand. I did the same.

But now, I look back and think how amazing I would have been at that job if I'd been sober! Imagine - firing on all cylinders from 7am. Full of energy after a great night's sleep. Calm, collected, but buzzing with ideas.

I'd have been unstoppable!

And that's what's making me rather sad. I'm forty-seven years old (if I write it down often enough, I might get used to the idea), and my tango with a malignant tumour a few months ago has made me realise that LIFE IS SHORT!

I really want to achieve more. Create something. Leave a legacy. Make my kids proud.

I have a finished novel in my desk drawer, and plot lines for three more in my head. I need to get over my fear of failure and stop letting life (and cancer) get in the way.

Apart from anything else, we need the money. Poor Mr SM is feeling the strain of having been pretty much the sole breadwinner for the last seven years.

We spend more than we earn every year which is, obviously, unsustainable. My birthday party on Friday will take me right up to the limit of my credit lines.

And I want to be a good example for my children - especially my daughters.

About three years ago, when #3 was at nursery school, the teacher asked them all what they wanted to be when they grew up. They said things like 'a doctor', 'a fireman' and 'a teacher.' Then it was #3's turn. She said, very proudly, 'I want to chat on the 'phone and go the gym, like Mummy.'

I was mortified! I'm a FEMINIST! I was a Board Director of a top ten advertising agency before the age of thirty!

Getting sober is like being unplugged from The Matrix.

You begin to realise that for years you've been floating around, anaesthetised, in a sort of dream world. Gradually you start to see the world as it really is.

It's brighter, more raw, more exciting. But it's also scary and dangerous.

Sometimes life off-Matrix is so hard that you consider going back to the floaty dream place, but having seen the Matrix for what it really is, you know that would be madness. You realise that the people still in it are prisoners, even if they don't know it yet.

Now I see the real world, with all its beauty and potential, I want to be like Neo and kick the ass out of it.

But I have so far to go. I've not had karate training. I've wasted so much time. And that's what's making me sad.

Love SM x

Monday, 22 February 2016

Are All Addictions the Same?

Regular readers will know that I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet (I wonder how Google Translate deals with that one!) about the word Alcoholic.

(See my post: Are You an Alcoholic?)

I believe that alcohol is like any other addictive substance - nicotine, crack cocaine, heroin etc - if you try hard enough, and consume enough of it, you'll eventually lose control.

The reason this is important, is that were are led to believe that the vast majority of the population are able to drink whatever they want without a problem. It's only the poor 'alcoholic', born with an incurable disease, who can't cope with alcohol.

I like to think that if I'd grown up being told treat alcohol with caution! It's highly addictive. Drink too much and you'll end up dependant, I wouldn't have ended up in this mess.

Or at least I'd have recognised the warning signs earlier, instead of endlessly Googling 'Am I an alcoholic?' and reassuring myself that as I didn't drink vodka in the morning I was 'okay'. Carry on! Bottoms up!

However, having had my usual rant, I DO believe that some people have a genetic pre-disposition towards addiction. Not just addiction to alcohol - any addiction.

Look at me and Mr SM. We both started smoking at boarding school, because it was what the 'cool kids' did.

He carried on for fifteen years as a 'social smoker' (I mean, what is that about? How does one do that?) whereas I ended up having cigarettes for breakfast.

Same with my Mum and Dad - Mum was an occasional smoker for years. Dad - a rampant addict.

(Both Dad and I quit fifteen years ago).

I'm sure that eventually, if Mr SM and my Mum smoked enough fags (British terminology alert!) they, too, would have become addicted, but they would just never want to. One or two was always enough.

Exactly the same story with alcohol. Mr SM and my Mum - happy to have a glass and stop. Dad and I would compete to finish the bottle.

I have, quite simply, an addictive personality. I just don't get moderation. And that's not entirely bad. I do think that addicts are people who throw themselves into life with huge gusto. They are - we are - fabulous people who grab hold of life by the short and curlies.

But I worry about my kids. Because I've become quite good at spotting addicts. Those people who are always looking for more. As they say - it takes one to know one.

I'm not too concerned about #1 and #3 - they seem, like their father, to be pretty good at the whole 'moderation' thingy. But #2 is a different kettle of fish.

I have been wrestling with #2's addiction all half term: Minecraft (and, to a lesser extent, other computer games like Clash of Clans and Jurassic World).

When he's not playing these games himself, he likes to watch other people playing them on YouTube.

(Is anyone else familiar with the barely adult, multimillionaire YouTuber called Stampy? He spends so much time in my house that it's like having a fourth child!)

I so wish it was like my childhood, where the only screen was the television, and kids TV (provided by the good old nanny BBC) was always semi educational: Jackonory. Blue Peter. Take Heart.

I try really hard to limit the time #2 spends doing these things, but it's exhausting. I have to keep finding activities out of the house, which gets expensive, and eventually you just run out of ideas.

How ironic that I should spend my whole life being the voice of moderation!

What worries me about kids and Minecraft, is that I see all the same addictive behaviours: the obsession, the tantrums when it's restricted and the increasing lack of interest in anything else.

What makes it even more tricky is the 'code of silence' around the whole issue. None of the Mums want to admit that their child spends too much time on screens (or is it really just me?), because it makes them look like a bad parent.

#2's best friend's Mum (who I really like), told me that her son is only allowed a screen on Saturday mornings before breakfast. He doesn't even watch TV (unless it's David Attenborough). I nearly died of shame.

So, much as I've loved half term and all the lazy mornings, I'm rather relieved that they're back to school today. No more Stampy, with his annoying faux cheerfulness, for a while....

Love SM x

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Red Mist

When I was little, my mother used to say that this poem reminded her of me:

There once was a girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

(That poem doesn't work in American, as 'forehead' has to be pronounced 'forrid'!)

I'm still like that. Most of the time, I'm a pretty good person. Then, from time to time, I metamorphosize into someone really horrible.

Like the Incredible Hulk, my trigger is anger.

I don't often get angry, but when I do you have to STAND BACK.

One of the reasons I knew I had to quit drinking was because I was getting angry more often.

Alcohol is rocket fuel for anger. When we drink we become tunnel visioned - unable to see anyone else's perspective. And we lose our inhibitions - we just don't see the STOP signs any more.

Drinking heavily makes us angry even when we're NOT drunk. When you're addicted to alcohol, you spend a lot of the time in low level withdrawal, which makes you tetchy and edgy - a bit like PMT. You're way more likely to lose control given the slightest provocation.

There are often stories in the press about celebrities going ballistic after a few drinks.

Jeremy Clarkson famously decked a producer over a row about a plate of cold meats (see my post: Alcohol Induced Rage).

Kate Moss and Gerard Depardieu have both been escorted off aeroplanes after drinking too much and going tonto (see my post: Drinking and Sexism).

Mr SM is still scarred by the time when I lost it with the dentist receptionist (it was a Saturday morning and I was hungover), and she threated to remove the whole family from the list.

Once I'd calmed down, I was mortified. It's just not fair to lose your rag with people who are only trying to do their job.

So, yesterday I had a classic red mist episode.

We have a large (and getting larger) crack on the car windscreen from where we were bombed by a small stone on a motorway in early December. We were thrilled when the insurance people said we were covered, and gave us the number of a 'mobile windscreen repair service' who would come to our house and fix it. Yay!

(They are called Auto Windscreens. Never use them).

But FOUR TIMES we've fixed an appointment, and FOUR TIMES we've been cancelled. And they don't even bother to tell you in advance. You wait in all morning, eventually calling up to discover that the 'technician' is ill/running late/hampered by rain/forgotten about you.

The first time this happened I was zen. I'm sober. I've got through cancer. These little things don't bother me any more.

The second time I was a bit miffed. Another morning wasted. But, ho hum, things could be worse.

The third time I was CROSS but polite. The fourth time I yelled a bit, and they promised someone from 'Customer Services' would call me straight back. They never did.

Then, yesterday, a Saturday, we got an e-mail confirming that the technician was definitely coming. Between 2.15pm and 4.15pm. Result.

At 4.30 I called them. I was put on hold and played tinny music for twenty minutes.

Eventually the phone was answered by a poor, unsuspecting chap called Kevin. He confirmed that, due to rain and the dark (both of which are fairly predictable in February) the technician would not be coming after all. I went ballistic. I said something like this (all the smalls were listening in, and sniggering, in a slightly scared way):

"THIS IS THE WORST CUSTOMER SERVICE I HAVE EVER COME ACROSS. I HAVE SPENT WHOLE DAYS OF MY LIFE WAITING FOR YOU USELESS PEOPLE TO SHOW UP. I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR NEARLY THREE MONTHS. I LIVE IN CENTRAL LONDON, NOT OUTER MONGOLIA. I AM GOING TO TELL EVERYBODY HOW APPALLING YOUR COMPANY IS...."

But then, I paused. I saw the STOP signal. I thought about it from Kevin's perspective.

I remembered that Kevin is just doing his job. On a Saturday. He's just the poor bloke who happened to answer the 'phone (after twenty minutes on hold). So I took a deep breath, and said:

"I'm so sorry, Kevin. I know this is NOT your fault. You sound like a really nice bloke, and you're just doing your job. But your company really is seriously shite, and you should go and work for somebody more efficient. Then you wouldn't have to put up with horrible people like me yelling at you on a Saturday when you have better things to do."

And, you know what? Kevin laughed. We parted as friends. A technician is, apparently, coming next Saturday (ha ha).

The children looked at me, astonished. #1 said "Mummy, I can't believe you started giving him career counselling!"

Well, still not nice. Still a bit horrid. But less horrid than I was. Baby steps....

Love SM x

P.S. If you are from Auto Windscreens, or their PR/marketing company, and you have found this post by Googling 'Auto Windscreens angry customers' then please give Kevin a promotion and pay rise - if he hasn't taken my advice and resigned already. Thank you.

P.P.S. I thought about deleting this post when one of my readers commented that I sound like a patronising 'dry drunk'. I had intended to be kind and empathetic, and am horrified at the idea that I might have just been patronising. I'm obviously still a work in progress....

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Sober Birthdays

It's my birthday next week (Wednesday).

I've never had a sober birthday before. At least, not since I was about sixteen.

Birthdays were an excuse to indulge myself as much as possible. In recent years it would take me three or four days of self loathing to recover from them.

Now I realise that birthdays are not actually all about me.

The smalls are super excited. When you are seven, a birthday is the most exciting thing in the universe.

Since my birthday falls on a school day, they have insisted on throwing a pre-celebration today. I have pretended not to notice the whisperings, the secret shopping trips, the wrapping and the hiding. I am practicing my 'that's the thing I most wanted in the entire world' face - like Gwyneth Paltrow before the Oscars.

For years I didn't publically celebrate my birthday, I just got quietly trashed and maudlin with Mr SM.

But last year I decided to throw a party. I invited about 25 adults and 25 children. I prepared Sunday lunch for them all, and booked a man to turn up with live animals - snakes, spiders, MEERKATS, a chinchilla, an OWL - to entertain the kids. I bought cases and cases of wine to entertain the adults.

It cost a fortune. And I did not enjoy it.

Well, I enjoyed the beginning. The first few glasses of wine. And the end - when I could get really stuck in, and congratulate myself on having made it.

But the middle was pretty awful. Catering for fifty people when half drunk is super hard. And being a good hostess is impossible after too many vinos. I tried introducing people initially, but I'd keep forgetting names (!), and quite quickly gave up.

I couldn't relax and enjoy myself. I charged around the house, glass in hand, constantly convinced that I ought to be somewhere other than where I was.

The next day I felt like death. Plus I was paranoid that no-one had enjoyed themselves. I knew I'd not be able to shift the black mood for days. And that's the day (March 2nd 2015) I quit. Forever.

(See Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom)

So, this year I'm throwing another party. On Friday. My first ever sober party. After my recent dice with death, I want to be able to say thank you to all my friends for being there, and to celebrate life in general.

I'm not hosting at home (too much hard work!). Instead, I've booked a private room in a swanky restaurant. I'm spending all the money I saved by not drinking alcohol on alcoholic drinks and canapes for 75 people. How ironic.

I'm a bit nervous about it, but the nervousness is swamped by building excitement.

Seventy five of my best friends, all in the same room, and I'll be sober enough to talk to them all! I'll be able to introduce people, make witty conversation.

Perhaps I'll even do a speech. Without slurring, forgetting what I was saying mid sentence and falling off the chair.

And I'll remember every single minute of it, and wake up the next day feeling....great (if broke).

Whoop whoop!

Love to you all,

SM x

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Sober Mornings

As it's half term, and no school for a week, my mornings go something like this:

Mr SM leaves for work.

Mrs SM revels in peace and quiet and having giant bed to self for about ten minutes.

Tiny footsteps are heard creeping down corridor. Door creaks open, and #3 climbs into bed, snuggling up, all warm and cosy and sleepy.

Medium sized footsteps are heard charging down corridor. Door flies open, and #2 dives into bed, curling up on the other side, all rumpled and bouncy and boysy.

Big footsteps are heard stomping down corridor. Door becomes prop in dramatic entree of nearly-a-teenager who pretends, just for a moment, that this mass snuggle fest is way beneath her, then shoves everyone over and climbs in too.

Small, but multiple, footsteps are heard careering down corridor, and an enthusiastic furball who can't believe his luck (pack hugs are his favourite thing. Alongside smelly socks and defenceless cats) dives into the mass of arms and legs, spreading love and dog breath liberally.

For about fifteen minutes (until we start getting hungry), the five of us just hang out, and I feel REALLY LUCKY that there are so many people who think the best place in the world to be in the morning is my bed.

Because it didn't use to be like that.

In the drinking days I would wake up after a fitful, sweaty, restless night feeling grumpy. If a small person came into my room I'd be likely to hide under a pillow, or yell, or both simultaneously.

If I'm ever tempted to crack open the vino I think about my wonderful sober mornings, and I'm just not willing to give them up.

Love to you all,

SM

HUGE CONGRATS to mythreesons on making one year, twelve whole months, 365 one day at a times, sober! Awesome x

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Hitting The Wall

Many years ago I had a great friend called M. We met during a gruelling two day job interview. She was way more prepared than me, and lent me one of her sharpened pencils.

That was the moment we bonded.

For the next decade we were BFFs. She was one of my bridesmaids. I thought we'd be friends in our bath chairs, waggling our walking sticks and false teeth at each other.

Then, one day, she disappeared. She stopped calling me, or returning my calls. I realised that, whilst she knew all my other friends, I knew none of hers, so I didn't even bump into her at parties any longer.

I had no idea what I'd done wrong. I was devastated. Even now, typing this still makes me feel weepy. I see her, from time to time, on Facebook, but we've not spoken for ten years.

Well, writing a sober blog in February is a bit like that.

In January you have thousands of friends. But, by the middle of February, half of them have disappeared. No farewells or explanations. Just silence.

The same is true of many of my fellow sober bloggers. You follow them religiously, their ups and downs and ins and outs. Then, one day, all their words dry up. Nothing more. Just their final post, mid story, left hanging.

Of course, you hope that all those ex readers and ex writers are tripping off into the happy, sober sunset, and that they've just outgrown the sobersphere. Don't need it any more. I do hope so.

But I know that, for those who quit at the beginning of January and are now on around Day 46, they'll be hitting The Wall.

The days in the middle forties are a classic time for people to give up giving up.

Why?

Well, the early days of sobriety are often called 'The Pink Cloud'. It's like a honeymoon phase - all new and shiny.

It's hard, obviously, but also a bit of an adventure. You can still vividly remember how bad the drinking days were, and you're loving the lack of hangovers and regrets.

Then you hit 'The Wall' which is said to be characterised by 'boredom, depression and questioning.' Sound familiar?

All the novelty has worn off, and you can't imagine life being this dull forever. Your memories of the dark days have started to fade, and all you can think about is what fun drinking used to be.

Predictably, the wine witch pipes up, saying 'Hey, maybe you overreacted! You're not that bad. Not a proper alcoholic! Perhaps now you can moderate!'

(If you're familiar with that one, then see my post: Did I Overreact?)

If this is you, then DON'T PANIC! It is perfectly normal to feel like that right now. It's the first (and worst) of the episodes of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) which you get, periodically, for many months after you quit.

(See my post: Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome)

This bleurgh feeling WILL go away, and the best of the benefits of being sober are yet to come.

You just have to scale that wall, and the other obstacles that follow it, to get to the promised land, which really does exist. DO NOT GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING!

Read my post on The Obstacle Course, I promise it'll help.

When I was back on day 46, and first encountered The Wall, I asked my more experienced readers "What's on the other side?"

Anne replied with one word: Freedom.

And she's right. So put those crampons on and get climbing! I'm right behind you, giving you a great big shove up the arse.

Love SM x





Monday, 15 February 2016

Relativity

It's half term.

I used to find half terms rather tricky. On the one hand, it's great having all the children around and not having to do the school run, but, on the other hand, it's exhausting.

Three children and no school means constantly trying to find things for them to do that don't involve some form of electronic screen. Endless refereeing of fights and arguments. Non stop catering, inevitably ending in at least one child pronouncing that they 'don't like' whatever it is you've cooked.

Alongside all of the above there's all the picking upping, clearing upping, wiping noses, cleaning hands and minding manners, washing, drying, putting awaying etcetera ad infinitum.

And do they ever turn round and say "Thank you, Mummy, for all the effort you've put into making this half term such fun for us"? Hell, no!

Inevitably, back in the drinking days, I would not make it to wine o'clock before reaching for the vino. By the time Mr SM came back from work, I'd be most of the way through a bottle. Ten minutes into the latest box set and I'd be comatose on the sofa.

Repeat the following day. And the next. Until school starts again.

I'm much more used to doing all of this stuff sober now, but, even so, half terms and holidays would see me grappling with the wine witch from mid afternoon onwards, and getting rather grumpy, shouty and stressed.

Then, last half term (back in October) I got the cancer diagnosis (if you want to read about it, start from this post: I Need Help), and I realised that it's all a matter of relativity.

It's a bit like learning to ski. Initially the red runs look terrifying. Then, one day you take a new route down the mountain, and find that you have to ski a black.

It's terrible. You think you're going to die - or at least break something crucial. But you don't look too far ahead, and take one little turn at a time, and somehow you make it to the bottom in one piece. And, after that, those red runs look kind of tame. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

Well, this half term is like that. Because last half term was TRULY AWFUL. Oddly, there are whole blocks of it that I can't remember, as if my brain has short circuited, blanked them out. Perhaps I have post traumatic stress syndrome?

What I do remember is being unable to sleep or eat, and constantly having this voice in my head saying you are going to die, and your children will have no mother. And all the time I'd be trying to stay cheerful and normal, and make half term as fun as possible. Whenever I could I would escape to the park with the dog and howl like a mad woman.

But, you know what? This half term: easy peasy lemon squeezy. I am zen. We are all having a laugh. It's great. I've done the black run, and this little red seems virtually flat.

(It is, however, only Monday....)

So, next time you have a really tough day, and you're white knuckling it through the witching hour, just remember that the harder it is now, the easier it'll make the days that follow.

Or, as Jane Fonda used to say back in the '80's: No pain, no gain

(Watch out, because the same principle works in reverse: if you do cave in to the wine witch, it might make today easier, but tomorrow will be truly dreadful. See my post: Borrowing Tomorrow's Happiness).

Keep going, folks! It's nearly Spring...

Big Hugs, and Happy Half Term!

SM x

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Sober Valentine's

I mentioned a while back that I first spotted Mr SM twenty years ago, at a Hogmanay party, resplendent in his kilt, sporran and tartan socks.

What I neglected to mention is that, at the time, I was snogging his best friend.

I carried on having a tumultuous relationship with the best friend for three years (on and off).

In that time, Mr SM became my best friend too.

He was my go-to person when I wanted someone to laugh with, lunch with, shop with, or just hang out with, whenever the boyfriend wasn't around (which he often wasn't. That should have been a clue).

I would try to fix him up with my girlfriends, then get oddly cross if it worked.

He was Harry to my Sally.

Then, inevitably, the gorgeous, but caddish and slightly unfaithful, boyfriend and I split up.

I knew it was coming, I knew it was the right thing, but I was still distraught. So I called Mr SM, and we went out for dinner at a local gastro-pub (back when gastro-pubs were a New Thing).

I cried on his shoulder. I got drunk. Then I kissed him.

Had I not been drunk, I would not have kissed him.

Because my heart had just been broken, and everyone knows that you don't jump into a new relationship three days after your heart has been broken.

Had I not been drunk, I would not have kissed him.

Because he was my best friend, and everyone knows that you don't mess about with your best friend like that or it all goes horribly wrong. You lose that easy going, uncomplicated relationship forever.

Had I not been drunk, I would not have kissed him.

Because everyone knows that there is a code of honour amongst friends, and your ex's bird is off limits, at least for a decent length of time. We were playing with fire.

So, the moral of this story is: do not regret your past, because it is your past that got you here, and where you are - I hope - is not all bad.

And the other thing it's made me realise, is that just because I am sober does not mean that I shouldn't be - once in a while - impulsive, reckless or stupid.....

.....because sometimes that's where the magic lies.

So, go do something really silly. You don't have to be drunk, you know.

Happy Valentine's Day!

SM x

P.S. In case you were wondering what the reaction of the caddish best friend was, it wasn't good. But he got over it. He's now Godfather to #1.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Rituals

One of the things I miss about wine is all the rituals that go with it.

The wine lists, the wine chat, the waiter showing you the label, the sound of the cork popping out of the bottle, the swirling, the sniffing, the sipping. The glasses, the corkscrews, the bottle stoppers, the decanters.

You just can't do all that stuff with Diet Coke, can you?

After many months, I manage perfectly happily without the wine rituals at home, but whenever I go out to a restaurant, I feel like there's something missing. 

I get a bit edgy - scratchy. I don't know what to do with my hands. So I end up eating really quickly, then I sit there thinking now what?

Well, I have now found a solution to this problem of the missing ritual and the jobless hands:

Tea.

I'm afraid it only works in some restaurants, specifically Chinese, Thai or Japanese, but since everything in London is going 'Asian Fusion', that's not too much of a problem.

I've read up a bit on tea rituals. Look at this, from Yauatcha.com:
 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Look After Yourself

I was reading an article about mental health, when I came across this expression:

You have to look after yourself before you can look after the rest of the world.

It sounds obvious, but - to be honest - it was a bit of a light bulb moment for me.

You see, we all run around madly trying to earn money, bring up our children, look after our parents, the dog, and - somewhere along the line - squeeze in the odd 'date night', and there just isn't enough time to look after ourselves.

I feel guilty if I even sit down, let alone take time out for a massage or a pedicure.

I'm actually rather thrilled that my hair is going grey (fyi, American friends, that's not a typo, it's the correct spelling of grey. See also colour), because I'm forced to go to the hairdresser every six weeks to have it coloured (never say dye), which means that I have to sit still for nearly two hours. Bliss.

Then I saw that line in my magazine and thought, hang on a minute. I've got it all back to front!

You see, I used to run around like a whirling dervish, doing all that stuff. By the end of the day I'd be shattered and stressed, so I would reward myself with...... you guessed it.... a bucket of vino. Which would mean that I'd start the next day already below par and exhuasted. Repeat, ad infinitum.

Actually, what we should be doing is 'rewarding ourselves' in advance. We need to make sure that we are properly healthy, rested and relaxed before we can look after the rest of the world.

It's NOT an indulgence, it's actually just good common sense. It's obligatory. It's part of your job description.

It's a bit like the safety briefing on an airplane when they tell you "In the event of the oxygen levels in the cabin falling, oxygen masks will be provided. Make sure you fit your own mask before helping your child."

They know that your instinct is to help your child first, but you will be entirely useless if you can't breathe.

I know what you're thinking: It's all very well, SM, but I don't have the time or the money to look after myself.

Nonsense. How much time did you spend drinking or hungover? How much money did you spend on booze? Just take a proportion of that time and that cash, and make sure you do something good for yourself.

(See my post: The Concept of Self Care written when I was on Day 52, and badly in need of a pick me up)

On that note, I went to the gym yesterday, for the first time since the cancer thing. I spent an hour doing a full on aerobics session with ladies half my age, then came home and had a good long soak in the bath (because my muscles had seized up and I could barely walk).

There are recent studies that show that aerobic exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing cancer recurrence rates (or avoiding cancer in the first place). So, it wasn't an indulgence - it was a way of ensuring my children have me around to help look after their children. Medicinal.

So, don't leave 'self care' to the bottom of the list, when you might be able to squeeze a bit in after doing all the other 'more important' things. Schedule it. Make it a priority. Not for you, but for everyone else in your life.

Love SM x





Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Life Binges

I've been reading a review of a book entitled 'Binge'.

I can't bring myself to buy the actual book, because it's written by a YouTuber called Tyler Oakley and I am, quite simply, too old to buy books penned by YouTubers.

However, I am really intrigued by Oakley's philosophy.

Oakley's book, apparently, chronicles the series of binges in his life to date, not in a 'woe is me' fashion, but in a celebratory way. He encourages his followers to embrace excess, own desires and indulge them.

The intro reads Go ahead, binge....Even if I spend every waking moment attempting to keep my life in balance I'm going to f*** up. Having already f***** up quite a few times in my life, and having lived to tell the tale, I don't regret any of it. I've binged plenty of times in my life, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Regardless, I indulged.

Oakley implores us to cling onto those things that make us feel alive.

Now, DO NOT take this as an instruction to crack open the vino. We've been through this already, haven't we? That time is gone.

However, I find Oakley's thinking really interesting in terms of not regretting past binges, or pining over what might have been.

One of the things that made me sad when I quit drinking is the idea that I messed it all up. And the thought that maybe, if I'd only been able to be a bit more sensible, more moderate, I'd have been able to carry on drinking happily into my twilight years.

Oakley reminds me that that just isn't me! I would never have been happy having one cigarette a day, and one glass of wine. What would have been the point?

Because I am a life binger.

When I smoked, I smoked like a chimney. When I drank, I drank like a fish. When I started working in advertising, I lived and breathed that crazy world.

When I tried to combine work and motherhood, and ended up feeling like I couldn't do either whole heartedly, or properly, I quit work in order to totally binge on motherhood.

I, like Oakley, just cannot do moderation. And that's OKAY. It just means that instead of spreading everything out evenly through life, you do it all in a series of binges.

So, the big question is: what next?

I've done the nicotine binge. The alcohol binge. The motherhood binge.

How about inappropriate relationships with younger men? Online Bingo? Cage fighting?

Mmmm. Maybe my next life binge should be writing. Creating. Or exercise. Less dangerous.

So, don't feel bad about where you are, what got you here, or where you're going. Just think been there, done that. What next?

Love SM x

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Alcohol and the Menopause

Menopause.

It's one of those words that makes me want to stick my head firmly in the sand. You know it's coming, but there's not a lot you can do about it, so best to not think about it, right?

Well, I've been forced to think about it recently, as the side effects of the breast cancer wonder drug, Tamoxifen, (which I have to take for ten years) mimic the menopause. Plus there's been a bit of chat on here about menopause recently. So I did some research.

And it's fascinating.....

Many women start drinking more during menopause. Menopause is hard. It comes with symptoms that range from annoying to debilitating, it's a reminder of the ageing process and our own mortality, it can cause/worsen anxiety and depression, and it coincides with a time when, often, our children are leaving home and our parents are in need of serious help.

Even writing that list makes me want a large drink.

The problem is, drinking during menopause is the last thing you should do!

Here's a list of reasons why quitting alcohol is a very good idea for any women approaching the change (don't you just love that euphemism?)

1. Tolerance

As you get older, your tolerance for alcohol drops off, because the proportion of water in your body decreases, and you become less efficient at metabolising ethanol.

This means that a few glasses of wine get you more drunk, more quickly, than they used to. Which means worse behaviour, worse hangovers, more self hatred....you get the picture....

2. Weight gain

One of the most pissy offy menopausal (and Tamoxifen) side effects, is weight gain. Not all over, in a Jessica Rabbit kind of way, but around the middle - like a child wearing a blow up rubber ring in the swimming pool.

Sound familiar? That's exactly what drinking wine does for you too! So if you're menopausal and drinking, you're getting a double whammy! Before you know it, you'll be looking down and there'll be no sign of your feet!

Don't panic. Quitting drinking is one of the most effective ways to lose that belly fat.

(See my post: Reasons to Quit Drinking #1: Weight Loss)

3.  Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is one of the more dangerous side effects of menopause. It's a thinning of the bones which can lead to fractures and complications. And it's irreversible.

Guess what one of the other main causes of osteoporosis is?

Yup, you got it: heavy drinking.

Say no more.

4.  Depression

Many women find that menopause causes, or exacerbates, depression. All those fluctuating hormones, on top of everything else.

But using alcohol as a prop does not help. Because alcohol makes depression worse. It gives you an immediate dopamine high, followed by an inevitable crash.

(For more on alcohol and depression read: Depression and Blackberries)

5. Mood swings

Why do we women have to live with these accursed hormones?

I feel hugely sorry for Mr SM, as in our household my menopause is going to coincide with two girls going through puberty. Oh merry hell.

I'm sure you know by now that hormonal mood swings and alcohol are a lethal cocktail. Right?

(For more on rage, read: Alcohol Induced Rage)

6.  Sleep and Night Sweats

Menopause messes around with our sleep. As does (are you seeing the theme here?) alcohol. Enough said, I think, but if you'd like to find out more then read: Sleep, Glorious Sleep.

7. Hot flushes

(Known, by our American friends as hot flushes)

One of the more weird and debilitating effects of the menopause.

But, you know what the first suggestion most doctors give for dealing with hot flushes? QUIT DRINKING! (Cutting down on caffeine also helps).

So, there you have it. Seven good reasons why going sober will make The Change less of a trauma.

And, if you're looking for more help and don't want to resort to HRT, then think about this:

Many breast cancer survivors have terrible menopausal symptoms as a result of chemo and hormonal therapies, yet they are not able to use HRT. So what do many of them swear by?

Acupuncture. Don't ask me how it works, but it does.

So far, with a combination of not drinking and monthly acupuncture sessions, I've managed to avoid any hot flushes, night sweats, major mood swings or weight gain. Keeping fingers and toes crossed.

Love to you all,

SM x

Friday, 5 February 2016

Pride

I went to collect #2 and #3 from school this afternoon.

I took an overnight bag with me for #2, as he's been invited to spend the night with his bestie.

His teacher pulled me aside and said "The boys told me that they're having a hangover tonight! It's a cross between 'hanging out' and a 'sleepover', apparently. I asked them if they knew what a hangover was. They said no, so I told them that Mummy and Daddy would probably know."

(Ain't that the truth!)

"The boys both blushed, and said 'Is it what Mummy and Daddy did to make us?' It was a rather awkward classroom moment!"

How hysterical is that?

My son has no idea what a hangover is. And you know what? I can't remember feeling so proud!

(He obviously needs to work on his Biology, however).

Happy Friday, everyone.

SM x

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Coping With Anxiety - Sober

This blog post was inspired by the wonderful Ulla, who left a fabulous simile in the comments section of one of my recent posts. Ulla said using alcohol to cope with anxiety is like peeing in your pants to keep warm. How brilliant is that?

Anxiety is a hot topic. I get a lot of e-mails about it. Because many of us started drinking too much as a way of taking the edge off anxiety.

I get the impression that a large proportion of us are perfectionists. We want to do really well in our careers. We want to have a great social life. And we want to be really good parents.

We're often hard on ourselves. Unforgiving. And when life doesn't live up to our expectations, as is often the case, it makes us really anxious.

So we drink. Easy peasy. Just taking the bottle out of the fridge makes our shoulders relax. Right?

But, the issue with our favourite coping strategy is that it only makes the problem worse! A bit like peeing in your pants to keep warm. The immediate sensation is an improvement, but you end up wet, colder than before, and smelly.

You see, alcohol causes anxiety. And depression. Because every time you stop drinking, your body starts withdrawing from alcohol, and that process makes you feel edgy and anxious. And the only way to take that uncomfortable feeling away is to drink more.

The other issue is that, because we've spent years using alcohol to medicate anxiety, we can't remember how to do it sober. We totally lose our confidence. We forget any other coping techniques we might once have had.

We're like the toddler who's terrified of sleeping without their comfort blanket. But you know that after a few nights of learning to manage without the blanket, the toddler's going to be just fine. They'll learn to cope, and be more confident than before. It's just a matter of practice, and faith....

.....and the same is true for you.

I found coping with stress and anxiety one of the hardest bits of going sober initially. And then, eight months in, I was thrown kicking and screaming into the advanced level class, when I got my cancer diagnosis.

Now, three months later on, cancer kicked into touch, I have graduated with a degree in Ninja Level Anxiety Management. 

I still get anxious, obviously (like going back to the Cancer Clinic yesterday), but I know I can manage it. And, in managing it, I've found a sense of pride and self respect that I thought had been lost in the mists of time.

So, here's my eight top tips for coping with anxiety sober:

1. Relaxation techniques

As soon as you start getting that panicky feeling, try whichever relaxation technique works best for you. I love a hot bath (ideally with aromatherapy oils). Some people like deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation (there are several Apps that can help with these, like Headspace). Many swear by yoga.

2. Exercise

If you can't sit down and relax, because that'd only make you feel more edgy, then do the opposite: exercise.

Running, brisk walking, or any aerobic exercise helps get rid of the adrenaline and cortisol caused by stress and anxiety, and gives you a great shot of endorphins (nature's happy drug). Ideally, try to get outside too, as the outdoors is proven to boost mood and counter depression.

3. Distraction

If you're anxious about a specific thing, like an upcoming event, and can't stop yourself worrying, then try distraction. Make yourself focus on something else - ideally a creative task like baking, colouring, gardening, knitting. It's a form of mindfulness that helps your brain quieten down.

(see my post on Monkey Brain and Mindfulness)

4. Visualisation

If you're feeling scared, and unable to cope, try visualisation. Sounds daft, but it works! I like to picture myself as my favourite kick ass heroine. I used to use Madonna, back in the Desperately Seeking Susan days of corsets and conical bras. I moved on to Ripley in Alien (Get away from her, you bitch!). Now I focus on Khaleesi - Mother of Dragons.

(See my post: I am Khaleesi)

5. Congratulate Yourself

We forget, when things get tough, how awesome and strong we actually are. Remind yourself what you've achieved. You've got through xx days sober! Maybe you've made it through a divorce? A house move? Childbirth? You've coped with tough times before and you can do it again. And the more you do, the easier it'll be next time!

6. Props

Personally, I needed props in the early days. Something to trigger the subconscious into thinking ah yes, now I can chill out.  Cake did it for me. Hot chocolate had magical powers. But my favourite prop was, and still is, Becks Blue alcohol free beer.

Some people find that AF drinks trigger cravings for the real thing. If this is the case for you, then avoid them like the plague. I don't (perhaps because beer was never my tipple of choice).

For me, Becks Blue fooled my subconscious into thinking it was getting a 'proper' drink. In the early days it even made me feel drunk. I have to confess, when I was going through the worst of the cancer days, I was drinking up to six small bottles a day. And they really helped. I know that I'm now feeling happier, because I'm down to one a day!

(See my post: Blue Without Becks Blue)

(Just be careful that your chosen 'prop' doesn't become another addiction. Ex alcohol addicts are notorious for sugar addictions, shopping addictions, nicotine or gambling habits.... you name it).

7. The worst that can happen....

Whatever is making you anxious, force yourself to think about the worst that could happen. Perhaps, for example,  you're anxious about applying for a new job? The worst that could happen is that you don't get it. At least you tried!

Just remember that, whatever the situation, the worst thing that can happen is DOING NOTHING.

Scared about applying for that job, going on that date, making a new friend, so you don't bother? Find a lump and ignore it, hoping it'll go away. Crazy behaviour, right? But that's the kind of thing we did when we were drinking - we'd pour another glass and put it off until another day (that never came).

Fear is a natural part of life, of moving forward. If you're feeling fear and anxiety it's because you're living! If you're not, then you're slowly dying. A fly trapped forever in amber, or - more accurately, perhaps - pickled in vinegar.

8. Ask for help

Everyone needs a hand sometimes. And when I was going through the whole cancer thing, it was this blog and you guys who kept me sane. The first thing I did when I found the lump was to write a post on this blog. So lean on your family, on your friends, and on the sobersphere. We all like to help - it makes us feel useful!

I promise you, that once your body is through the physical withdrawal, which feels very much like constant anxiety, and once you get used to coping with those unfamiliar feelings sober, you will feel stronger, braver and less anxious than you can ever remember feeling before.

So go out there, and kick some ass!

Love SM x

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Breast Cancer Clinic

So, I was woken up, on the morning of my appointment at the Breast Cancer Clinic, in a strangely ironic fashion.

The news on the radio was that Dame Sally Davies (the Chief Medical Officer), while giving evidence to a Commons select committee, said the public should contemplate the risks of cancer before drinking alcohol.

"Do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine - think Do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my own risk of breast cancer?" She old MPs. "I take a decision each time I have a glass".

(By the way, The Sun newspaper headline on this topic reads: TOP DOCS BARMY ADVICE: IF YOU WANT A GLASS OF WINE, JUST THINK CANCER. They are obviously not, yet, on message!)

Well HURRAH FOR SALLY in flying the flag for non-drinkers. In my case it's rather like slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted. But this is not the case for the majority of you, so pay attention!

I made my way to the clinic where I was greeted like a long lost friend by all the nurses - bless them.

After a stint in the waiting room, checking out the newbies (poor little mites), I was called in by the genius-surgeon-with-terrible-bedside-manner.

He did a recap of all my stats: 23mm, grade 2 invasive lobular carcinoma, negative lymphs, 92% chance of non-recurrence, blah blah blah, after which he invited me to remove all my clothes above the waist.

So, I'm sitting there, with the doc and the breast nurse, half naked, when he decides to have a discussion. He tells me, at what felt like some length, that he wants me to talk to a journalist about my whole breast cancer experience.

I agreed swiftly, just to put an end to the whole half-naked-chitchat thing, and because some warped logic told me that if I was in the news as being 'cured' of breast cancer, it was even more in their interests to keep me alive for as long as possible...

I may live to regret that one. I hadn't planned to become the poster girl for breast cancer, as well as the (secret) one for sobriety.

Anyhow, he copped a feel, which he seemed happy about (in a medical sense, you understand), and told me that I need to come back every April for the foreseeable future for an ultrasound. In addition, I need to come back every October for a mammogram.

AND, on top of that, there's a new blood test for ovarian cancer, so they took a vial from my arm, and told me they'll repeat that one every twelve months too.

Oh, and I see my oncologist every May to have blood tests to check for cancer markers.

So, on the upside, I am going to be monitored to within an inch of my life.

On the downside, every time I go in for one of these tests I have to deal with the flashbacks and anxiety....

....which is why my post tomorrow (inspired by Ulla) is on Managing Anxiety - Sober.

Thank you all so much for all your comments, thoughts and best wishes. It helped hugely knowing you were thinking of me.

(If you're new to this blog, and want to read about my breast cancer 'journey' (hate that expression) from the beginning, then start with this post from October: I Need Help! Or, if you'd like to read from when I first quit drinking then start here, from March: Mummy Was a Secret Drinker)

Love to you all,

SM x

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Scared

Back in October and November, when I was a newbie at the breast cancer clinic, and still going through the am I going to die? phase, I used to watch the 'graduates' breeze into the waiting room with a huge degree of envy.

These were the ladies coming back for their check ups. Often they sported short, gamine, post chemo hair styles. They looked confident and healthy. The breast nurses would greet them by name, give them a big hug and make a fuss of them.

Meanwhile, I'd be sitting, pale faced and traumatised, waiting for the results of my MRI scan, or lymph biopsy, or whatever, thinking one day, maybe, that'll be me: through the worst and out the other side.

Well, today it's my turn.

I have an appointment with my consultant, who haven't seen for two months.

The way the whole cancer thing works is like a conveyor belt. Your consultant surgeon does the initial diagnostic work and the operation. They then hand you over to the oncologist. They, in turn, pass you over to the radiotherapist, and when they've done with you, you get sent back to the consultant surgeon again for 'check up and sign off'.

I've been looking forward to it. Because once this one's out of the way, I don't have another hospital appointment for six whole months. I'd been planning to take chocolates for the nurses, and make a mini party out of the event.

But now I'm scared.

What if I don't graduate? What if I discover that I've failed, that I'm not 'all clear' and I have to start again at the beginning?

I've just started to move on from the whole cancer thing. It's been feeling a bit like that episode of Dallas, where Bobby steps out of the shower and realises that the whole of the previous series has been a dream. It all feels like the last three months all happened to someone else.

My lefty is all healed, and looking pretty good (well, it wasn't perfect to start off with, but at least it doesn't scare the children if they walk in when I'm having a bath). At the moment, I seem to have virtually no Tamoxifen side effects. I'm pretty much back to 'normal'.

Right now, I have that familiar knot of anxiety in my stomach (the one that feels very much like an alcohol craving). In fact, if it wasn't ten thirty in the morning I'd crack open a Becks Blue.

I'd reassured Mr SM, breezily, that he didn't need to take time off work to come with me, as it was all 'routine.' Now I'm regretting that.

I can't go over it. I can't go under it. I have to go through it.

Wish me luck.

SM x

Monday, 1 February 2016

Sober House Party

Saturday night was a friend's birthday party.

She'd invited fourteen of the old University gang to her house in the country for dinner, and to stay the night. We'd all managed to offload the children, so it was a rare 'grown ups only' event.

I took a six pack of the trusty Beck's Blues down with me, and stashed them in the hostess's fridge.

And you know what? I've pretty much cracked the whole partying sober thing.

For a start, it really helps when you feel physically good, which after eleven months off the booze you do.

(Click here for more on quitting drinking and losing weight).

I didn't feel totally 'hot', but did feel, at the very least, 'warm.' I wore a red lace dress, and, according to Mr SM, everybody said I looked great (admittedly, they hadn't seen me since the whole cancer thing, so their expectations were probably pretty low).

I happily drank my AF beers before dinner. Then, once we'd sat down, I let them pour me a glass of red wine, but just drank the water. (People feel edgy if their dinner companion has an empty glass. So long as it's full, they don't care, or notice, if you drink it or not).

I had great fun at dinner catching up with old friends, then I won a table football tournament hands down (easy when the opposition are all drunk), and did lots of silly dancing.

Plus, I discovered that I have a new role at parties. People want to talk to me. They offload. They ask advice. This hasn't happened to me for years! No-one wants an in depth conversation with the out of control lush....

I talked to one friend about his insomnia, another about her new business ideas and yearning to escape London, and a third about being a step mum. Proper, life enhancing conversations that I still remember!

Then, at about 1.30am I sloped off to bed, knowing that no-one would notice, and that the only bit of the party I was missing was the bit that no-one would recall clearly.

And the morning!

A house full of hangovers. What a treat. I tried really hard not to feel smug, because that would be mean and unsympathetic of me.

I failed.

As I left, the hostess gave me a hug and said "I feel awful. I think I may join you on the whole no booze thing...."

We picked the children up from my parents' house, and took them out for lunch.

I was eulogising about the fact that Pizza Express have started stocking alcohol free beer (Vive La Revolution!)

#2 piped up "Mummy, how long has it been since you had any wine?"

"Nearly a year, sweetheart," I replied. "Why? Do you prefer it when I don't drink wine? Am I different?"

"Yes," he replied, "you're more....."

We all waited in anticipation, while he searched for an appropriate adjective. Beautiful? Patient? Kind?

"......Mummyish," he concluded with a flourish.

So, there you have it. Quit drinking. You'll still have a ball at parties, and you'll be more.... Mummyish.

Love SM x