Thursday, 30 June 2016

Clearing the Decks

We overly enthusiastic imbibers tend to be masters of procrastination. Never do something today that can be put off until tomorrow.

This is partly because drinking (and the after effects of) takes up so much time, but it's also because we get so used to medicating away any inconvenient feelings - like anger, fear and boredom - that we start to avoid any inconvenient tasks as well.

I keep a running list on iPhone notes of things I have to do. It gets longer and shorter, but never entirely goes away. And I've realised that the problem with it is the number of really old tasks that I've become adept at ignoring.

Some of these I avoid because they are really hard. They'll take a long time (like the tax return), or a lot of courage (like sending the book to agents). But some are tiny little easy peasy ones that I've just taken an irrational dislike to.

The problem with all these ancient items clogging up the to do list is that they start to fester, to go toxic. It's like when a toddler drops a half eaten egg sandwich between the back seats of the car. After a while everything starts to smell.

You see, procrastination isn't just the thief of time - it's the stealer of serenity. Those tough jobs that you never get around to tackling are the ones that keep you awake in the small hours of the night, jeering at you.

So I have a new system. I used to make myself tackle at least three things on the list every day. But, obviously, I'd always do the easy ones.

Now I still do three a day, but one of them has to be a tricky bugger. Something from the dusty, cobwebby section of the list.

So slowly, slowly, one day at a time, just like quitting the booze, I'm clearing away all the toxic waste.

Which is why I found myself yesterday having a smear test (pap smear to you Americans).

That one had been on the list for nearly a whole year.

I hate smear tests. They're so undignified.  There you are, naked from the waist down, legs akimbo while the nurse - rootling around down there - starts making polite conversation about the weather (so British).

Plus, I'm aware that most men and women under the age of thirty five are totally unfamiliar with the concept of female pubic hair which they wax and bully into extinction.

I'm always terrified that the nurse will take one look at my neatly trimmed lady garden and run screaming from the examination room in horror.

But now it's done. All over. Expunged from the list. And it's like another little weight being removed from the shoulders.

If you've only just quit then don't worry about The List. Just wallow in a box set and eat cake. You're doing enough. But if you're out the other side then start clearing the decks. It's awesome.

Love SM x

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Doom and Gloom

It's all a bit doomy and gloomy around here.

Since the Brexit vote on Thursday the pound has fallen off a cliff, stocks and shares are down, the Prime Minister has resigned, and half the Labour shadow cabinet have walked out.

It looks very likely that the next to leave will be all the good people of Scotland, as there'll be another Scottish Referendum.

Boris and Gove, who led the 'Leave' campaign, seem to have gone curiously quiet, and nobody's got a clue what to do next.

The black and white nature of the referendum vote and all the emotive language used in the debate, stirring up issues like immigration and inequality, has turned families and neighbours against each other.

Then, to add insult to injury, we got knocked out of the Euro 2016 football championship by Iceland. Iceland, who have a population the size of Croydon.

Not only is Tom Hiddleston no longer single, but he's flaunting his new bird all over the media.

And, worse than all of that, last night was the final episode in this series of Game of Thrones. We have to wait at least a year to find out whether the White Walkers can be defeated, and if Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, and Jon Snow will ever snog.

At depressing times like these it's very easy to find your mind fast forwarding to Doomsday scenarios.

Mine goes something like this: aarrrgggghhh. Mr SM is going to lose his job. We'll have to sell the house at a fraction of what it used to be worth. The kids will need to move schools. Then all the stress will bring my cancer back and I'll DIE and my children will be MOTHERLESS until Mr SM gets seduced by a large breasted, face lifted temptress who doesn't love them and spends all the remaining family money on HANDBAGS.

We drinkers are very prone to what is known as 'monkey brain.' I like to think that it's because we're all very clever and creative. Perhaps we're just slightly unhinged.

In any case, many of us used booze as a way of silencing all the endless CHATTER in our heads at the end of the day. When we quit, one of the hardest things to deal with is all that noise.

Plus, it turns out that all those random thoughts make us miserable.

A chap called Matt Killingsworth created an iPhone app that tracked the happiness of 15,000 people on a daily basis all over the world. He discovered that 'mind wandering', or monkey brain, makes us unhappy.

Funnily enough, even if our wandering minds are thinking about lovely stuff we are less happy than if we stay in the moment.

So, when we stop drinking we need to find ways of stopping our thoughts getting out of control, of staying in the now, that don't involve booze.

Many newly sober folk take up running, or yoga, gardening, colouring, knitting - anything that keeps you totally focussed on the task in hand will do.

Or why not try a box set - like Game of Thrones? Oh, bugger.

Love SM x

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Alcohol, Relationships and Happiness

There are, I think, three main phases in the sober journey.

Phase 1, The first 100 days, is all about physical detoxing, grit, determination and a rollercoaster of emotions.

Phase 2, the next six months or so, is all about introspection. We spend hours, days even, thinking about ourselves.

We ask questions like how did I get here? Am I happy? Am I an alcoholic? Am I a good mother?

Then, at some point, we stop looking inward and start looking outward. We start becoming fascinated by the really big things.

The questions I've started asking are along the lines of: what makes a good person? What are the most important things we can do for our children? Is there a God? And, my current obsession: what makes us happy?

So I found a TED talk by Robert Waldinger called 'What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.' (Click here to see it for yourself).

Robert's talk is based on The Harvard Study of Adult Development which studied 724 men and over 2000 of their children over 75 years, asking them about their work, home, health and happiness.

The study found that wealth did not make people happy. Nor did fame. Nor did Leaning In.

What made these men happier and healthier was good relationships.

The study concludes that the more socially connected you are to friends, community and family, the happier and healthier you'll be, and the longer you'll live.

Lonely people (and 20% of the adult population of the USA describe themselves as such) are less happy, their health and brain function declines at an earlier age and they die younger.

The single biggest predictor of a happy, healthy life aged 80 was being satisfied with your relationships at the age of fifty.

This is really important for us, because if you are addicted to booze it becomes increasingly hard to maintain strong, happy relationships.

Over time we alienate more and more of our friends and family, avoid spending time with anyone who doesn't drink enthusiastically, and spend increasing amounts of time drinking on our own.

If you let yourself get to the classic 'rock bottom' you can find that your family and friends have, finally, given up on you.

This is one of the many reasons why alcohol does not make us happy. In fact it makes us lonely and miserable.

I didn't get this when I first quit. In fact, one of my biggest fears was losing all my friends. I thought I'd never be invited anywhere again.

(see my post: Will I Lose All My Friends, written on day 13)

This isn't what happened.

Looking back now I realise that I hadn't made many new friends for years. I used to say I have far too many friends to keep in touch with as it is. I really don't need new ones.

And the only really old friends I saw frequently were the really big drinkers. My other friends had gradually drifted away, probably because I made very little effort to nourish those relationships.

Now (with the possible exception of my friends who, like me, are 'problem drinkers') my old friendships are way stronger. I've taken time to see them, to help them, to listen to them. I've remembered birthdays. I'm making up for lost time.

And I've made a number of really good new friends. One of my best new buddies hardly drinks. Never has. Doesn't like it. There is NO WAY I would have wanted to be friends with her in the Old Days.

Then I wondered how much of this is in my imagination? Am I fooling myself? Is it all self justification?

So - right now - in real time, I am going to do a scientific experiment.

Every Christmas for the last ten years I have bought myself a present: a traditional, leather bound Smythson's desk diary. It lives in the kitchen and details the whole family's social, school and work commitments.

I'm going to look at June 2014 (towards the end of the Drinking Days) and June 2016 and compare the number of social events in both. I'm going to include any pre-arranged event like parties, date nights, dinners, meeting a friend for lunch, coffee or a dog walk, and exclude anything child related (like class parties, sports days, speech days etc).

I'll be back in ten minutes....

Right, scores on the doors are:

June 2014: 12 social events
June 2016: 19 social events

That's a fifty percent increase. Scientific proof that quitting drink improves your relationships and therefore, according to Robert Waldinger, makes you happier, healthier and live longer.

So, go be happy!

Love SM x

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Referendum Day

FINALLY, after months and months of endless media coverage and increasingly vitriolic debate, Referendum Day is here.

For those of you lucky enough to have missed all this, today is the day the British voters decide whether or not we stay in the European Union.

I tried, yet again, to interest my children in the issue on the way to school this morning.

"Which way would you be voting today, #3?" I asked my 7 year old.

"I'm voting for Breakfast!" she replied firmly.

#2 rolled his eyes. "It's Brexit, stupid, not Breakfast. And Daddy says you can't vote for Brexit or all your Sylvanian Families will have to be deported back to Sylvania."

At which point #3 started to cry.

I explained that Sylvania is not an actual country, and therefore not subject to EC freedom of movement legislation in any case, so #3's families of miniature bunnies, hedgehogs and badgers are perfectly safe and can carry on monopolising every available surface of her bedroom.

#2 and #3 spent the rest of the journey glaring at each other aggressively. It was like having David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the back seat.

I spent much of my childhood living in Brussels, so I've always felt European rather than just British.

I also believe that our children, growing up attached by their umbilical cords to the world wide web, see themselves - quite rightly - as global citizens. I think we should be building bridges, not walls.

So, I'm off to stick my cross in the REMAIN box, and then I'm going to look forward to talking about SOMETHING ELSE for a change.

Whichever way you're voting today, have a great one and I'll see you on the other side....

Love SM x

P.S. If you get my posts by e-mail and are reading this tomorrow, then WHAT WAS THE RESULT?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

What 3 Things?

A friend of mine sent me a TedTalk by a lady called Debra Jarvis a few weeks ago. It's been preying on my mind ever since.

Debra tells you to imagine you're on a bus. You start chatting to the lady next to you, but you're getting off at the next stop, so you only have a short amount of time.

She asks you what three things best define you, get to the essence of who you are. 

What do you say?

Now, if you're British you're probably freaking out at this point. Yikes! A stranger talking to me on public transport. About something other than the weather. Stop the bus. Call the Police. Let me off!

Try to move past that one and think about the question. I've been writing (and re-writing) lists in my head ever since.

Ten years ago I would have probably defined myself by my job and my social life. I would have said something like "I'm in advertising, I'm a party animal and I'm very loyal to my (numerous) friends."

None of those attributes now feature on my top three. This worries me.  Does that mean that I'm now a totally different person?

I figured that 'mother of 3 children' had to be on the list, as it explains my priorities, my life stage, what I do with my time. But is it a good thing to define yourself by other people, however important they are to you?

I also feel like 'cancer survivor' or 'alcohol addict' should be on the list. The last year, quitting the booze and beating the cancer has fundamentally changed my outlook on life.

But this is the theme of Debra's talk. She believes that too many of us define ourselves as 'survivors' of something. Of cancer. Of rape. Of domestic abuse. Or, in our case, of addiction.

Debra (who is a chaplain in a cancer hospital, and a cancer 'survivor' herself) urges us to claim your trauma as an experience, NOT an identity.

She says we often end up trapped in our wounds rather than seeing our trauma as a chance for self exploration, discovery and growth.

So, with that in mind, rather than describing myself as an 'cancer survivor' I should define myself by what I've learned. I could say, for example, I'm a fighter, or I try to make the most of every day.

Based on the same theory, defining yourself as an 'alcoholic' or 'addict' also keeps you 'trapped in your wounds.'

I prefer to describe myself by what led me become an addict, not the addiction itself: I'm an all or nothing person. That makes the upside clear as well as the downside! It's a strength we can harness, not an incurable disease that we're stuck with forever.

Then I wanted to include a word or expression which summarised my passions.

The main ones, family and friends aside, are reading and writing. Words. Imagination. Ever since I was five years old, reading for hours under the duvet with a torch, and assiduously writing a daily diary.

But can I describe myself as 'a writer' when I don't make any money from it and have never been published? Is it too depressing to define yourself by an unfulfilled dream?

Where I've got to, for the moment, is this:

I am a mother of three, an all or nothing person, with a passion for words and stories.

Now I'd love to hear from you.

Imagine we're on a bus. I'm sitting next to you and ask you "What three things define you?"

What do you say?

Love SM x

P.S. HUGE CONGRATS to WalkingOnSunshine on 100 days sober! Awesome work, my friend.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Partners Who Drink

One of the questions I get asked most by e-mail is How can I quit drinking if my partner still drinks?

If you wait until you reach rock bottom before you try to quit, your partner, friends and loved ones (if they're still talking to you) are generally begging you to stop. It's obvious to everyone that you're slowly killing yourself.

However, if you - very wisely - decide to stop drinking well before you get to that point, you're more likely to be met with bemusement, antipathy, maybe even hostility.

I know that Mr SM thought I drank too much, as did my mother. Both of them had mentioned it, gently, once or twice. BUT neither of them expected me to actually quit. They wanted me to cut down. Moderate (ha ha). Be more like them.

Now I'm able to look at things with the benefit of hindsight, I thought it might be worth going through all the things we're scared of so I might be able to reassure you a little, if you are now where I was then.

1. He will not support me

The big question here is does he have a drink problem too?

If your partner is a 'normie' then you will probably find he is way more supportive than you expect. 'Fess up. Sit him down and tell him how bad the drink is making you feel. I bet he's been worried about you, or - if not - he will be by the time you've had that conversation!

Plus, here's an amazing thing you discover when you get sober - other people are WAY less bothered by alcohol than we are. 

For us, the idea of having a partner who DOESN'T DRINK was horrifying! No partner in crime - yikes! However, for them, drinking - or not drinking - is much more of a non-issue. A case of 'whatever.'

Even if your partner is a little apprehensive at first, they may well come to see the benefits. Mr SM loves the fact that he now drinks a lot less - he's slimmer, healthier and happier now that I'm not cajoling him into drinking half a bottle of wine every night.

HOWEVER, if your partner also has a drink problem, he will not like the idea of you quitting AT ALL. This will inevitably make your life a lot harder, as you'll probably have to deal with him trying to persuade you to 'just have the one', as well as the wine witch.

All I can advise here is that you stay strong. Remember why he's being unsupportive. It's not because he doesn't love you, it's because you're making him confront his own demons.

Remind yourself that you're doing this for yourself, and that, in doing so, you may also help him. The best way to persuade someone else to quit drinking isn't by nagging (as we all know, only too well) but by showing them that it's not only possible, but miraculous.

2. How can I quit when there's booze in the house?

I never emptied the booze cupboard or the wine racks. I also never asked Mr SM to stop drinking in front of me. I figured that the world is full of alcohol and of people drinking. We can't change that, so we might as well get used to it.

Plus I was worried that if I asked Mr SM to majorly change his own lifestyle he'd be less supportive.

Actually, within a pretty short space of time, Mr SM cut down on his own drinking and discovered a love of Becks Blue (I can get quite aggressive if I discover that he's drunk my stash), so he only drinks at home now a couple of times a week.

HOWEVER, if it is too tricky for you to deal with alcohol in the house, and being drunk under your nose, then I'd suggest asking your partner to not drink at home for a defined period of time. Maybe 100 days.

Setting a time limit makes it less of a scary imposition for them, and you may find that they are a LOT more sympathetic to you when they realise how tricky not drinking can be! Once the 100 days are up they may decide to join you, or - at least - to cut down significantly.

3. Will he still love me?

This was my biggest fear. A month into not drinking I wrote this post: Not the Girl he Married. I was terrified that I'd totally wreck our relationship by turning myself into someone different.

Looking back now I find that all rather ironic. Think about it. If you're still drinking (too much), are you really now the girl you were back then?

After a decade of abusing booze I was two stone heavier than the girl Mr SM married. I wasn't the go getting, energetic, enthusiastic bon viveur of those days. I was depressed, stuck in a rut, and a social liability.

Who was I kidding?

I am now, after fifteen months of not drinking, way more like the girl he married than I was by the end of the Drinking Days. An older, wiser and more wrinkled version perhaps, but still the same girl at heart. The girl that, for a long time, I'd lost.

4. Can we still enjoy the same things?

Yes! Although in the early days you may need to make some changes.

Initially I accepted fewer invitations. I also avoided going out for dinner a deux - it just didn't feel right without drinking. I ate early with the children, rather than sharing long, boozy dinners with the husband.

BUT those things come back. Gradually, and when you're ready. And you find that there are many new things that you enjoy doing together - without booze.

When I did start doing more parties, dinners etc, I found fake booze really helpful - for me and the husband.

He feels much more comfortable drinking a mojito if I'm drinking a virgin one, or having a beer if I'm drinking Becks Blue. It gives the illusion of us both being on the same wavelength, and that makes a big difference.

So, please don't let worrying about the people you love stop you stop drinking. You're doing the best thing for you, for them, and for your relationship.


Love SM x

Friday, 17 June 2016

Drunk Visitors

Last night a friend of mine was throwing a big drinks party for her birthday.

A few days ago, another old friend, S, (who lives in the country) called to ask if she could stay the night after the event.

Now, S and I go back a long way. We're old drinking buddies. Many a night we'd sit cackling on a sofa at some party or other like a pair of old crones. She is Godmother to one of my children, and I am Godmother to one of hers.

I know that she is not very happy about me not drinking, so I was a bit nervous about her coming to stay.

I find drinks parties the most difficult situation to navigate sober. I still feel less sparkling, less witty, less interesting in that scenario than I used to (although it is, slowly, getting easier). I handily forget how utterly boring I could be after a few too many drinks.

Despite that scratchiness, I loved the party, loved parking right outside, loved catching up with old friends, loved the fact that they served virgin mojitos.

BUT by 11.30pm the crowd had thinned out massively and I was ready to head home.

Not my guest, however, so Mr SM gave her his keys and she said she'd follow on in a cab a little later.

We were woken up shortly after we'd fallen asleep by S who was having problems making the keys work in the lock (remember that feeling, anyone?).

Mr SM let her in and she stayed up a little longer for a nightcap and a cigarette while we went back to sleep.

We had to get up early this morning as it's a school day. Mr SM walked out of the bedroom first and I heard him yell "Oh my God, what's happened here?!"

"What?!?" I replied, suddenly wide awake.

"You'd better come and look."

There was a five foot hole in our staircase, and three of the carved, wooden bannisters were lying on the landing in pieces.

It turned out that S had staggered up the stairs to bed, tripped over her bell bottomed trousers and all six foot two of her had hurtled back down the stairs, like a giant redwood being felled in a forest, and through our bannisters.

She's fine. Just a little bruised and embarrassed.

Our staircase isn't.

Now, had I been drunk or hungover when this all came to light we may well have had the sort of row that would ruin an old friendship.

But I'm sober. I am zen. I've been to yoga twice this week. My chakras (whatever they may be) are aligned. I am, according to my oncologist, currently cancer free.

(And it was a welcome reminder that parties may be a little bit harder sober than drunk, but at least I'm not careering round the country destroying other people's property).

So I got the kid's UHU out of the craft box, found a roll of Sellotape, and did a temporary patch job, before sitting down with a hungover S for a debrief on the party.

"Sorry about your stairs," she mumbled over her breakfast of strong coffee and Marlboro.

"That's okay," I replied, passing her two of the extra strong ibuprofen I'd been given after they removed a sizeable chunk of my left boob, "but don't expect me not to tell anyone. It'll make a great dinner party story. That's the quid pro quo. You may not be a perfect guest, but you're a fabulous anecdote."

What she doesn't know is that I'm sharing it as a cautionary tale with thousands of my friends on the internet too...

Love SM x

Thursday, 16 June 2016


Thank you so much for all your comments and support after my last post.

I took your advice. I ignored the ever lengthening To-Do list, slept (a lot) then baked some banana bread, did some yoga, and now I'm feeling (almost) back on form.

It did make me realise though, that we over enthusiastic drinkers are not very good at listening to what our bodies are telling us. We spend our whole time fighting them, rather than working with them.

Our poor bodies start waving the white flag, dialling 999 (that's 101 for you folks over the pond I think), desperately trying to get us to pay attention, and we just reply:

What do you mean, you're tired? We're going to party!

Or You may not be hungry, but that triple layer bacon sandwich is the only thing that's going to fix this hangover. So we're eating it.

Or You're feeling stressed? Drink this litre of toxins and stop bleating on about it.

One of the major benefits of being sober is learning to work in partnership with your body. Suddenly it feels like you're on the same side!

You learn to only eat when you're hungry, drink when you're dehydrated (yes, that's what drinking is actually for. Who knew?), and sleep whenever you need it.

So, when you get that feeling of bone deep tiredness you need to pay attention.

I was thinking about the times when I've felt properly exhausted, and why.

Early pregnancy. Remember that one? That's your body saying:

Hey, you, I'm doing some really intricate building stuff here, so cut me some slack. You think making a brand new human being is easy?

There are also those sick days, like when you have the 'flu and you sleep pretty much all day. It's saying something like this:

Dealing with all these pesky bacteria and this raging temperature is taking every bit of energy I've got, so you're just going to have to lie there and not ask me to do a single additional thing. Got it?

And then there's the after effects of a period of stress, which is where I was yesterday. My body was saying:

I've been pumping up all the adrenaline, constantly on alert for fight or flight, and now you say it's all ok after all? Right, well I'm shutting all systems down or they'll overload, and then we'll be in proper trouble....

But one of the longest, most extreme periods of exhaustion I've had to cope with was when I quit drinking.

I was expecting to be bouncing around like the Duracell bunny, all fit and healthy and toxin free, but instead I felt like I'd been hit by a bus and wanted to sleep for twelve hours a day. And I felt like that for three weeks. At least.

So, if that's where you are now then don't panic. It's perfectly normal. It'll pass (eventually!). The main thing to do is listen.

Start thinking of your body as your partner, not your enemy. Quitting drinking is hard work, physically and emotionally.

Your body is flushing out all those toxins, and having to adjust to a completely new regime. Plus, if like me you had drink induced insomnia for years, you've got an awful lot of catching up to do...

(See my post: Sleep, Glorious Sleep)

You're feeling tired because you need to sleep.

So do it. Go to bed in the middle of the day if you have to. Pretend you have 'flu and take a few days off work. Let the kids play Minecraft till their eyes go square.

DO NOT FEEL GUILTY! Soon enough you'll be paying back in spades with all those hangover free, super productive mornings.

Love to you all,


Tuesday, 14 June 2016


I had my check up with the oncologist today.

I took my Mum. She's a breast cancer veteran: been there, done that, got the Tamoxifen and the mismatched boobs.

He only had half my blood test results, but those he had included the cancer tumour marker count which was fine.

I should be happy.

I expected to be writing a blog post about remembering what's important in life, seizing the day and all that sort of uplifting stuff...

....but instead I feel totally flat. Drained. Exhausted. Like a whoopee cushion without its whoop.

I came home. Did the school run. Answered 'uh-huh' to all the children's chatter and questions. Then, as soon as Mr SM walked in the door, I went to bed.

I just lay there for ages feeling numb.

I wanted to cry, but couldn't. And I can't find the words to express how I'm feeling. I've lost my tears and my vocabulary.

I'm tired of it all.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Coping Strategies

I was reading an article in the papers this weekend where a doctor was talking about addictions.

Rather than discussing 'alcoholism' and 'disease', he referred to all addictions as maladaptive coping strategies.

This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me.

The theory is that we human beings are not very good at dealing with the stresses and anxieties of every day life, and - as a result - we find various ways of coping, many of which are not healthy, and can turn into addictions.

This totally sums up how I used alcohol - as a handy little anaesthetic whenever I felt I needed a short away break from reality.

It also makes me feel less alone, because even those people who drink 'normally' often have their own maladaptive coping strategies - overeating, self harming, shopping, pornography, gambling, extra marital affairs, smoking, illegal, prescription or over the counter drugs, etcetera.

In fact, I'm sure there are very few people who don't have some bad habit that they turn to as a stress release.

The maladaptive coping strategy theory also explains why quitting booze is so much more complex a process than we expect, and why we so often fail.

I imagined that my life would go on pretty much as normal, just without the booze. Then I realised that not drinking is actually the easy bit. The tough bit was dealing with all the emotions that were suddenly exposed to the light, as if I'd brutally ripped off a sticking plaster.

If we don't find new coping strategies we will, inevitably, pick up the drink again.

Initially we tend to turn to strategies that mimic the one we're used to: drinking.

I used (and still do, to a lesser extent) alcohol free beer as a way of coping. And cake. It's part of the reason why many of us don't lose weight initially, despite dropping all those booze calories.

Over time, though, we find healthier coping strategies. Running, walking, mindfulness and meditation, hot baths, arts and crafts, reading, writing - whatever works.

This is, I believe, the proper definition of growing up: being able to cope with whatever life throws at you without looking immediately for a fire exit.

One coping strategy that many sober people rely on is yoga.

Now, I've done a bit of yoga over the years, with varying degrees of success and embarrassment (anyone else feel the urge to fart during a sun salutation?), but, strangely, not since I quit drinking.

Then I realised that, over the last few months, with all the stress of the cancer thing, all my muscles have become tighter and tighter. Everything is clenched.

One thing I miss about drinking isn't just the mental relaxation of those first few sips (gulps!) of wine at the end of the day, but the way you could feel your muscles relaxing - your jaw unclenching, teeth stop grinding, shoulders unwinding.

It struck me that I needed to find another way of doing that - of physically ironing out all those knots.

So I went to a yoga class. What took me so long?

Admittedly I felt like a pillock. I did a lot of wobbling. Falling over. Going left when everyone else was going right. And admiring everyone else's handstands from a sitting position.

BUT it's a wonderful way to stay in the moment and take your mind off any worries, and you come out feeling like you've been massaged for hours. Everything feels looser.

Tomorrow I have a check up with my oncologist. He does blood tests to check for cancer markers. I am horribly aware, that however unlikely it may be, there is a possibility that tomorrow's appointment could totally ruin the life I've so painstakingly put back together.... today I'm going to a yoga class.

Onwards, upwards and downward dogs.

SM x

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Johnny Depp

I really want to give Johnny Depp a big hug.

There's nothing especially new there, in that I don't expect I'd ever have turned down a snuggle with Mr Depp, but right now he could definitely use one.

I know his wife, Amber Heard, alleges that he physically and emotionally abused her over a number of years, and I absolutely do not condone domestic violence, however no-one really knows what goes on in anyone else's marriage, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, Johnny is obviously a man in trouble.

When Johnny split up with Vanessa Paradis, mother of his two children, and partner of fourteen years, in 2012, he stayed sober. He said this:

In terms of the breakup, I definitely wasn't going to rely on the drink to ease things or cushion the blow or cushion the situation 'cause that could have been fatal.

I felt it was my duty to be real clear throughout that. I had something pretty serious to focus on, really, which was making sure that my kids were gonna be cool.

That is exactly how I felt when, after eight months sober, I got a cancer diagnosis. Drinking through it might have killed me, and certainly would have made me unable to focus on my children.

(See my post: When Life Throws You Lemons).

However, this time Johnny hasn't been able to follow his own advice, and he has the puffy, vacant, haunted look of a drinker self medicating his way through trauma.

Alcohol addiction shows no respect for fame or fortune. In fact, the famous seem to have a higher likelihood of substance abuse than we lesser mortals.

I imagine that this is partly down to the stresses that come with fame. Depp has talked poignantly in the past about how his dream would be being able to take his children to Disneyworld like any ordinary Dad.

I never wanted to be the guy people looked at. I felt I could only be myself when I was alone, that I turned into some kind of novelty. The only way I could get through that time was to drink.

I also think that we drinkers have a tendency to think that we are 'special', in some way, and that the ordinary rules don't apply to us. (How I used to laugh in the face of government drinking guidelines). Celebs, I imagine, are even more prone to this dangerous arrogance.

But whatever the trigger for the drinking, the reason we all end up doing too much of it is exactly the same. As Johnny says:

I was poisoning myself with alcohol and medicating myself. I was trying not to feel things, and that's ridiculous.

Oh yes. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

So let's all give Johnny a big, virtual hug. He's been sober before - for years at a time - and he can do it again. He doesn't even need to rely on finding sober friends on the internet - in the past he's travelled with his own personal 'sober buddy' to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Do you think he might be recruiting?

Happy, sober Saturday to you all!

SM x

Thursday, 9 June 2016


I have a terrible confession. One of my major triggers, one of the things most likely to make me want to dive headfirst into a vat of fermented grapes, was..... my own children.

Don't get me wrong. I love the little blighters, obviously. And bringing them up is a constant delight and adventure. I would happily take a bullet or fight a tiger with my bare hands for them.

However, bringing up children is hard - at least I found it so.

There's the endless repetition (say please, wipe your nose, don't forget to flush the loo), the boredom (pushing swings for hours, pureeing vegetables, picking cereal off the floor), the frustration (what do you mean you can't remember where you left your book bag?)

It's no wonder that by the end of the day so many of us are gasping for a glass of vino (or, let's face it, a bottle).

But, slowly, slowly, all of these everyday stresses have got much easier since I quit. It is, I promise you, the case that the booze only increases the levels of anxiety, the lack of patience and the bad temper.

(See my post: Reasons to Quit Drinking #6: Because You're a Parent).

These days, the SM household is (relatively) calm. Zen. You hardly ever hear any shouting. A situation which seemed inconceivable this time last year.

There are, however, still child related things that push every one of my buttons, that have me longing for the Chablis, even after all this time.

(I generally end up eating a slice of cake bigger than my head and drinking twice as much Becks Blue as usual).

What I find most tricky is watching my children navigate major hurdles in life and not being able to help them. This inevitably comes with an awful lot of self blame, as I decide that, for some reason, it's all my fault.

A few months ago, for example, one of my kids was being bullied in the playground. I wanted to tear the limbs off the culprit one by one, and he was only a nine year old boy.

I spent hours debating strategies to solve the problem, and days berating myself, thinking that I must have done something that made my child look like a victim.

And this week has been a horribly hard one to navigate sober because it's exam week.

#1 has no issue with exams. She sails through them in a calmly ordered flotilla of revision timetables, colour coded notes and sharpened pencils, usually coming top.

#2 is a different matter. Trying to get him to concentrate on revision for longer than thirty minutes is almost impossible. So, despite that fact that he does really well in IQ tests, he struggles to get even average marks in exams.

He's not worried. He's perfectly happy, so long as he doesn't come bottom. And even that wouldn't bother him too much. But I wind myself up into a little stress ball, and - again - blame myself for not helping or inspiring him enough.

There are two things that I've found helpful:

One is remembering to be grateful.

My children are healthy and happy, and that's really all that matters.

I know that sounds terribly obvious, but it's amazing how seeing the things to be thankful for in a situation can completely diffuse it.

(For more on the power of being grateful see my post: Gratitude).

The second is reminding myself that they are not me. All three are totally different from me and each other. The way they work, how they think, what motivates them is not the same as me.

My job is to advise, nurture, encourage, but not to do it for them. Their failures are not my fault, in the same was as their successes are entirely their own, and - what's more - they need a few failures to learn from.

At least there's one thing I know for sure: this week wouldn't have been any easier if I'd been drinking through it. It would have been a hell of a lot worse. There would have been yelling and tears (theirs and mine). And that really wouldn't have helped.

For more on sober parenting, and all the ups and downs of the sobercoaster, check out NoWayRose's fabulous new blog by clicking here.

Love to you all,

SM x

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit

That's the title of a TED talk by Judson Brewer. You can see why I was interested....

(Here's the link to the talk).

Judson talks about quitting smoking and stress eating, but his techniques are just as useful for quitting booze.

Here's my take on what he has to say:

It's all about mindfulness.

Brewer (he really should be a drinker with that name, don't you think?) talks about how bad habits arise.

We're programmed, at a deep subconscious level, to repeat behaviour that gives our brains a reward. It's how we learn to find food, water, reproduce etc. Trigger. Behaviour. Reward. Repeat.

The problem is that, in the modern age, some of the things that reward our brains - like alcohol - are not at all good for us.

Our conscious brains know this, but our subconscious brains are too simple, too hard wired, to get it.

(The problem is exacerbated when we're stressed, as stress causes the logical bit of our brain to short circuit, leaving us to rely on our more primal instincts. The ones that have been engrained with the habit.)

When we try to quit drinking, our conscious minds try really, really hard to not think about drinking. But the harder you try to not think about something, the more you do.

Your subconscious basically throws a big hissy fit and bombards you with instructions revolving around drinking more booze.

Brewer says the key to dealing with these cravings, these brain tantrums (my words, not his!) is curiosity.

Don't fight those thoughts. Definitely don't give into them. Don't try to make them go away. Study them, like a scientist. Be mindful about what they're saying and how your body is reacting.

Oh, here we go again. Primal brain throwing big strop. Jaw clenching, shoulders tightening up, starting to feel like a kettle reaching the boil. I wonder how long this one's going to last before it gets back in its box.

Once you start attacking cravings with curiosity they lose all their power. And you realise that they are separate from you, and that each of the small effects of that craving are manageable, and temporary.

And gradually, over time, like trying to train a really stupid dog (and, as the owner of a really stupid dog, I say that with love), the subconscious gets the message and stops seeing booze as the solution to every issue.

Try it. It works.

Love SM x

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Fear and Hope

I have a list of things I come across that interest me. Little acorns that might grow into something, or might not.

I looked at the list this morning, and one of the things I'd written down was fear and hope.

I have no idea why. I can't remember what I'd read, heard or seen that prompted me to write those three words down, but they seemed, for some reason, important.

It got me thinking. There are two key reasons for change, for being able to pluck up the courage to do something hard, to take a leap into the unknown - fear, and hope.

If you're trying to persuade someone to scale a twenty foot wall, you can tell them that a rabid dog is racing towards them, and scare them up it, or you could tell them that a pile of cash waits on the other side, and encourage them up it.

But we are really, really good at ignoring fear.

Every time I picked up a packet of cigarettes in my smoking days I was faced with the words SMOKING KILLS, written in bigger and bolder type every year.

It didn't make me stop. Nor did all the pictures of diseased lungs and people in hospitals gasping into oxygen masks.

We are so good at thinking that's not going to happen to me.

The same was true of drinking. I read all the statistics about cirrhosis. I was very aware of the government guidelines. I walked past homeless, hopeless drunks every day of the week.

I was so good at thinking that's not going to happen to me.

The fear has to get really, really bad. The rabid dog has to be close enough to bite you on the arse before you start thinking oh God, it has happened to me.

(And even then you get huddles of people sharing cigarettes outside the Marsden Cancer Hospital, and sneaking hip flasks into liver units).

It struck me that fear doesn't work. Not until you've totally reached rock bottom, and even then it might not. Because, by then, what have you got to live for? What's the point?

Then I remembered a quote from somewhere. Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.

I thought it must have been from a Shakespeare play. Richard III? Henry V?

I googled it. Turns out it was President Snow in The Hunger Games. I'm not as erudite as I'd hoped.

But he's right. Because what, finally, got me to quit wasn't fear of all the dreadful things that might happen, but hope that life could be better.

I read Jason Vale's book: Kick the Drink, thinking that it might help me cut down (ha ha). And Jason painted a picture of an alcohol free life that was not only possible, but happy!

Until then, I'd honestly thought that life without booze could only be lived as a boring pariah, venturing out from time to time to stand in church halls, reliving gory details of my past to a bunch of strangers.

Jason Vale made a sober, teetotal (such dreadful words!) future look exciting.

And then I found the soberverse, and lots of real women like me who'd actually managed to quit, who'd come out the other side and weren't just surviving, but were thriving.

And that's what worked for me. Not fear. Hope.

(They should replace all those useless warnings on cigarette packets with the words YOU CAN QUIT!)

So, if you're still trying to frighten yourself into quitting the booze, then stop. Don't think about all the awful things that might happen if you don't quit, think about all the wonderful things that will happen when you do.

And if you you've made it over the obstacle course and into the sunny, sober field of fluffy bunnies, then go spread HOPE.

Love SM x

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Sober Props

Everybody needs a few props when they quit drinking.

We need things to keep our monkey brains occupied, we need new rituals, and we need something to do with our hands.

I spent a lot of time looking at my hands in the early days, thinking what are you for?

My hands had spent the whole of my twenties taking cigarettes out of their packet (turning the first one filter end up for luck. Anyone else?), lighting them, smoking them, waving them around for emphasis, then stubbing them out.

Then I quit smoking and, funnily enough, the drinking ramped up as my itchy hands opened bottles, poured wine out and sipped endlessly from glasses.

It's not surprising that not drinking creates a vacuum.

That's why props are so helpful - just make sure that they're not also addictive! Avoid nicotine and other narcotics, gambling and shopping, for example....

Here are my favourite sober props:

1. Hot chocolate.

It has, as I've said elsewhere on this blog, magical powers, and it got me through many an evening in the early days.

There's a lovely ritual involved in making it (warming, spooning, stirring), something comforting about drinking it and a welcome sugar hit.

Hot chocolate reminds us of our childhoods - of simpler days before the Wine Witch stuck her broom handle into our lives. We can wrap our idle hands around the warm mug and it'll hug us right back. A hug in a mug.

2. Becks Blue (and other AF drinks).

Everyone has their own favourite AF drinks. The trick is to find something as reminiscent of 'proper' adult drinks as possible, without triggering a craving.

Becks Blue works for me because I was never a beer drinker. AF wine, however, just makes me yearn for the real thing (and tastes ghastly).

On really tough days (like when I was going through the cancer thing) Becks Blue got me through. It seemed to trick my sub conscious into relaxing just a little bit - enough to stop me reaching for the Real Thing.

Other personal favourites include virgin mojitos and virgin Mary's.

3. Cake (and other forms of refined sugar)

Everyone seems to crave sugar when they quit, and cake - or chocolate - is a great reward for getting through another 'one day at a time.' So do it. You can worry about the weight later. Baby steps.

4. Blogging

One of my favourite props. It keeps your hands busy, your mind busy, plus it helps you work through all the emotional STUFF that comes with getting sober.

Writing a journal does the same thing, if you don't want to go public, but if you blog you'll create your own support group, and help other people along the way.

(See my post: Blogging Saved my Life).

The problem with props is we, being natural addicts and all or nothing types, worry that the props themselves will get out of control.

Well, I'm now EXACTLY fifteen months sober, and I've realised that the props are gradually assuming less of a role in my life. I seem to be naturally phasing them out.

(If only I'd been able to do that with the vino!)

Magical hot chocolate? Around six months ago I replaced it with green tea. Still warming, still a ritual, but also really good for you.

Becks Blue? I still love it, but I drink - on average - one a day, as opposed to the SIX I drank on the day I got the cancer diagnosis.

Cake? Still a vital food group, but once or twice a week, not every day.

And blogging?

I still can't imagine life without it BUT I'm managing to keep it down to four or five posts a week rather than seven, which means that I have more time to focus on doing something that might earn me some much needed cash....

So the other great thing about sober props is they provide a really useful barometer as to how you're doing. The less you need them, the 'better' you are.

Love to you all, with hot chocolate and cake thrown in,


Wednesday, 1 June 2016


I love the whole concept of karma.

(See my post: Alcohol and Buddhism)

Whilst the Internet has a lot to answer for: trolling, bullying, grooming, and all those smug yoga pictures on Instagram and Facebook, for example, it can also be a wonderful karma enabler.

Take the sobersphere as a case in point: you blog to help yourself, in doing so you help other people, all around the world, then - when you're in trouble - they come back and help you. It's awesome.

So, here's my latest example of magnificent karma....

#1 and #2 have school exams next week so, despite the fact that this is, in theory, a half term HOLIDAY, I feel obliged to help them with a bit of revision.

However, as it is a HOLIDAY, I think it should be FUN.

That's why yesterday I decided to use several of #3's fluffy toys to re-enact the Battle of Bosworth, with lots of sound effects and gory deaths.

(Lord Stanley, the turncoat, was played by a particularly fetching pink unicorn, which was far better than he deserved).

For the benefit of my non British friends, this is the battle that ended the War of the Roses in 1485.

Richard III (the hunchback, played by a penguin), fought a dashing young Henry Tudor (polar bear), and was eventually cut down from his mount (shouting, according to Shakespeare, "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!") and killed, leaving Henry to become Henry VII, and father of the one with six wives and a penchant for beheadings.

(Are you still following? I'll come back to the alcohol thing in a bit).

The strange thing was that nobody seemed to know where Richard's body ended up.

Then in 2012 he was, finally, discovered under a multi-storey car park in Leicester. He was dug up and re-buried, last year, with all the due pomp and circumstance, in Leicester Cathedral.

So, after half a millennium of being abandoned and forgotten, Richard was finally at peace, thanks to the good people of Leicester. And here's where the karma comes in....

.....Leicester have a football team - Leicester City. They've never done particularly well, generally languishing in the lower divisions. The last time they got near the big time was in 1928 when they came second in Division One (the level down from the Premier League).

Then, this year, against all the odds (bookies had them at 5000:1) they only went and won the Premier League!

Bookmakers have never had to pay out on such odds for any major sporting event, making this the most unlikely result ever. And all those people who'd put a fiver on their local team to win, out of loyalty rather than expectation, won £25,000.

Now that's a classy way for the Universe to say thank you, don't you think?

(Mr SM says that this is a co-incidence. I say that people who believe in co-incidence have no romance in their soul).

And, just in case you're feeling a bit peeved because this post hasn't yet had anything to do with alcohol, then here's an interesting fact for you:

Studies of Richard III's bones and teeth show significant changes to his alcohol intake after he was crowned in 1483.

All the stress of being an unpopular ruler (and, perhaps, guilt about murdering his nephews, the two Princes in the Tower) led to him drinking three litres of alcohol a day, so they say. No wonder he fell off his horse....

Go make your own karma.

Love SM x