Friday, 30 September 2016


It's almost exactly a year since my cancer diagnosis (see my post: I Need Help) and even the most innocuous things that happen at this time of the year have the ability to plunge me right back into that hellhole.

The slight chill in the air, the darker mornings, displays of pumpkins in the shops, any date with '10' in it, planning for half term; all bring back memories of stomach churning dread in the cancer clinic waiting rooms, lying awake all night planning the music for my funeral and having to tell the children that "Mummy has cancer."

On top of that, I've been re-living the last of the drinking days, and the hell of the early not-drinking days, as I've been writing The Book.

But all of this churning up of the past has a purpose:

When you have cancer you constantly tell yourself that if you are ever blessed with good health again you will no longer take it for granted. You promise never, ever to moan about the insignificant and to count your blessings every day. Yada, yada, Pollyanna.

Then, a few months later and you're back to cursing at the weather, the PTA and the demise of Bake Off as we know it. You forget to say hurrah for being alive and surrounded by the people I love.

So, these reminders are timely ones.

My amnesia about the drinking days is similar, but more dangerous.

After nineteen months of no booze I am feeling totally normal (well as normal as I'll ever be). The dark days seem so far away that it's hard to believe they were real. Our brains are hard wired to hang on to the rose tinted memories and bury anything unpleasant.

It's so easy, even after years of sobriety, to listen to that voice that says hey, you were never that bad! Drinking was FUN! What are you worrying about, you big girl's blouse?

The more 'cured' you become, the more precarious your situation.

It's no wonder studies show that between 50% and 90% of people relapse after a period of recovery.

That's why AA have The Rooms to which people return for years, decades, after they quit in order to re-live their rock bottoms, and to hear the stories of others.

It's also why I, and many like me, are still blogging and reading other sober blogs long after we've quit, because hugging those memories close is crucial.

So, if you're recently sober, or thinking of taking the plunge, then write it down.

Document how you feel in lurid, livid detail. List all those reasons why you're waking up at 3am every morning thinking this has to stop. Start a blog, or a diary, write a letter to your future self.

One day that piece of paper, or blog post, may be the thing that saves you.

Happy sober Saturday!

SM x

Monday, 26 September 2016

Kristi Coulter

We're used to all those funny memes about drinking going viral on Facebook - little jokes about wine o'clock and MummyJuice.

Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can....and wine to accept the things I cannot.

Etcetera, ad infinitum.

But this summer an article went viral about not drinking. Halleluiah! Perhaps the tide is turning.

You may have seen it. It cropped up on my Facebook newsfeed and was sent to me by a couple of lovely readers who'd also spotted it. It's by Kristi Coulter and has the (not so pithy) title: Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink.

Click here to read it. It's very funny and very true.

Kristi's article also reminded me of a truth about quitting booze: like bereavement you go through several stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. When Kristi wrote her piece she was definitely at the angry stage.

She's angry about being surrounded by booze, and mentions of booze, all the time. She's angry with all the demands we women place on ourselves, the compromises we're forced to accept and the fact that - as a result - we end up self medicating with alcohol.

Kristi asks:

Is it really that hard, being a First World woman? Is it really so tough to have the career and the spouse and the pets and the herb garden and the core strengthening and the oh-I-just-woke-up-like-this makeup and the face injections and the Uber driver who might possibly be a rapist?

Is it so hard to work ten hours for your rightful 77% of a salary, walk home past a drunk who invites you to suck his cock, and turn on the TV to hear the men who run this country talk about protecting you from abortion regret by forcing you to grow children inside your body?

I mean, what’s the big deal? Why would anyone want to soften the edges of this glorious reality?...

.....Is there nothing so inherently absorbing or high-stakes or pleasurable that we won’t try to alter our natural response to it?

Maybe women are so busy faking it — to be more like a man at work, more like a porn star in bed, more like 30 at 50 — that we don’t trust our natural responses anymore.

Maybe all that wine is an Instagram filter for our own lives, so we don’t see how sallow and cracked they’ve become.

She has a point. Several points, actually. All a bit shouty, but very pertinent.

Kristi's theory - that we drink to take the edges off the lives we have made far too hard for ourselves - has implications for when we quit.

Firstly, at least in the early days, you have to give yourself a break. The definition of madness is trying to do everything the same and expecting a different result.

Take all those chores, tasks, situations and people that make you want to reach for the bottle and just....cross them off the list for a while. No-one's going to die (unless you're an ambulance driver).

Have early nights or, if you can, afternoon naps. Let the diet and the gym go to hell (unless you find them helpful). Buy yourself presents.

And, secondly, if you no longer have booze as the quick, easy, catch-all relaxant, you need to find something to replace it.

We all find our thing. It might be mindfulness, meditation, yoga, running, colouring, knitting, gardening or writing. Or something else. Anything else.

Gradually, you'll find ways of adding that Instagram filter to your life which are life enhancing, not soul destroying.

And then, like Kristi, you'll find that you've made it to the other side. Here's how she describes a recent outing with her friend Mindy, also in recovery:

On Sunday morning we’re reading by the deep end of the hotel pool when the shallow end starts to fill with women, a bridal party to judge by what we overhear.

And we overhear a lot, because they arrive already tipsy and the pomegranate mimosas — pomegranate is a superfood! one woman keeps telling the others — just keep coming until that side of the pool seems like a Greek chorus of women who have major grievances with their bodies, faces, children, homes, jobs, and husbands but aren’t going to do anything about any of it but get loaded and sunburned in the desert heat.

I give Mindy the look that women use to say do you believe this shit? with only a slight tightening of the eyeballs.

The woman on the other side of her catches the look and gives it back to me over her laptop, and then woman next to her joins in too. We engage in a silent four-way exchange of dismay, irritation, and bitchiness, and it is wonderful.

Then Mindy slides her Tom Ford sunglasses back over her eyes and says, “All I can say is it’s really nice on this side of the pool.”

I laugh and my heart swells against my swimsuit and I pull my shades down too, to keep my suddenly watery eyes to myself.

Because it is. It is so nice on this side of the pool, where the book I’m reading is a letdown and my legs look too white and the ice has long since melted in my glass and work is hard and there’s still no good way to be a girl and I don’t know what to do with my life and I have to actually deal with all of that.

I never expected to make it to this side of the pool. I can’t believe I get to be here.

I can't believe I get to be here either.

Thank you, Kristi,

Love SM x

Friday, 23 September 2016


One of the (many) miracles that has occurred since I quit drinking is the number of old friends who have reappeared in my life.

These are friends I'd thought lost for ever, who I hadn't seen or heard from for twenty or thirty years and yet, through a series of chance encounters and coincidences, they are back, and this time I'm hanging on.

It's awesome. I feel like an battered old jigsaw puzzle that for decades has had a few key pieces missing, but gradually they're being slotted back into place.

The latest of these lost friends is V. We were great mates at Cambridge University. We did the May Balls, punting and double dates. We got each other through the trauma of Finals. We went on holiday together. And yet, just a few years after we graduated, we totally lost touch.

Looking back, it was entirely my fault.

The last time we saw each other properly was at V's flat. She'd invited me to a dinner party with her and her boyfriend (now husband), and about five other guests.

I'd just started dating a man (boy?) who I was totally besotted by. He wanted me to join him and some other friends in a nightclub in Notting Hill. He kept calling me on my newly acquired mobile 'phone (they were a rare and miraculous thing in those days). I kept leaving the dinner table, mid conversation, to take his calls.

As soon as dinner was finished, perhaps before, I hotfooted it to the club. I barely said goodbye. I'm quite sure I never sent a thank you letter.

The truth is I was far too caught up in a whirlwind of booze, romance and danger, and V, with her steady relationship, serious career and grown up life, just wasn't on my wavelength.

Needless to say, she didn't call me again. I don't think I even noticed until a year or two had passed by. Then I shrugged and moved on.

I know what you're thinking: I was not a very nice person. I agree.

Anyhow, another old University friend who I've re-met recently, and who has rapidly become one of my besties all over again, bumped into V last weekend, and she's invited me round for tea.

To be honest, had I received this invitation back in the drinking days I would have been terrified. I probably wouldn't have gone.

I loathed seeing people I'd not seen for years. I hated the way their eyes would widen involuntarily before they had a chance to manage the outward displays of the shock of seeing me two stone heavier.

I was conscious of the fact that I'd always been a hugely optimistic, ambitious live wire, yet now I.... wasn't. I was depressed and bitter.

But now? I'm thrilled. I can't wait to catch up.

Incredibly, I'm back to my university weight, so look more like my old self than I have for decades. No more embarrassing silences followed by "You look really.... well." (Code for: "You look a bit.... fat.")

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

And, more importantly, I've rediscovered my joie de vivre. In short, I am me again.

I'm also a much better friend. The last year has really taught me the value of strong friendships and I'm not messing up this time.

So hurrah! And happy sober weekends to you all!

SM x

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Make Life Easy

I'm quite sure that part of the reason we mums end up so reliant on booze is that we put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly.

We have to make cakes for the school bake sale, help our kids turn in the best possible school project, cook organic food from scratch and look vaguely presentable for the school run.

We run ourselves ragged taking kids to playdates and after school activities and, on top of all that, many of us are also trying to hold down high pressure jobs or, at least, trying to find some way to earn enough money to cover the housekeeping.

I just received an e-mail from a fabulous lady I met through this blog, J. She said:

I get fed up with the endless school requests, usually sent the day before. 

"Please send your child in wearing yellow for Roald Dahl day". I don't have four effing yellow t-shirts!  "Please send your child in tomorrow wearing a pirate costume". Thanks for the notice!  

Not to mention the mummy WhatsApp groups. "Who would like to help me run the name-the-bear stall?"

I think I am getting cynical in my old age, but some of those PTA mums just need to get stoned and have sex.

I laughed so much that the coffee I was drinking came out of my nose.

So, here's a plea from me: Give yourself a break.

Buy the fancy dress costumes off Amazon (they do great, incredibly cheap, costumes for all occasions - just make sure the kids don't go near any naked flames), get the cakes from the supermarket, decant them into a Tupperware box and 'distress' them a little. No-one will know. And keep the after school clubs to a minimum - your children will love you for it.

One of the (few) upsides of getting breast cancer was being able to turn down all the requests from the PTA. "So sorry, can't help with the second-hand uniform sale. I have cancer." Works like a dream. (Not that I'd recommend it).

And here's my favourite new discovery:

I always wanted to be the kind of mum who does lots of home baking. It's taken me twelve years of motherhood to accept that that's just not me. Then last week came across COOKIE DOUGH (I buy Mo's chocolate chip).

It's awesome!

You keep it in the fridge, then cut it into 1cm disks, stick 'em in the oven for 8 minutes and voila! Your house smells of baking and you have a tray of yummy, warm, 'home baked' cookies without any hassle and minimal washing up.

So please, please let's all try to stop being so damn perfect. It's enough to drive anyone to drink...

Love SM x

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


I'm sorry I've been posting so infrequently.

I promised my (potential) agent that I'll have written the first 7,000 words of The Book in eight days time.

What this means is that I've been re-living - in graphic detail - my last day of drinking, and first few days of not drinking.

I've been remembering the despair, the self hatred and the fear, followed by the utter exhaustion, headaches and obsession.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure how I did it.

But, here's the truth: You only have to go through it once. And it's a very short period of time compared to the rest of your life.

So, if you're still unsure about whether or not you can do it then please believe me when I say that if I could, then so can you.

If you'd like to read my story from the beginning, then click here. Or wait for the book...

(I'm not sure if it's actually going to happen. I'm kind of terrified that it might, but terrified that it won't. Either way, I'm terrified).

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Alcohol and Food

Food has always been my favourite thing (after booze, obviously). And the two things are as tightly entwined as Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston.

(Oops. Scrap that last bit. Hiddleswift are, apparently, no more. They are Hiddleswhistory).

I remember when Mr SM and I walked into the flat that was going to become our first shared home.

It was the kitchen that sealed the deal. It had a beautiful, curved, floor to ceiling window looking out onto a large, shared garden. I had a vivid picture of myself standing at the range oven, preparing Sunday lunch for a group of friends, clutching a generous glass of red wine.

And, boy, did I make that dream a reality. Many, many glasses of red wine while cooking, while eating, while clearing up.

I do hold Keith Floyd partly responsible. He, you may remember, was the drunken TV chef who made you feel that if you weren't boozing while you were cooking you weren't properly throwing yourself into the whole experience.

(I did, in fact, spend some very memorable, drunken, time with Keith Floyd. To read more click here).

It's not just cooking that is a major trigger for me, it's eating too.

I've always loved restaurants. Mr SM and I have done the rounds of most of London's best (and worst) eateries over the years, spending hours over meals that became increasingly rowdy.

There'd be aperitifs, white wine with the fish, red wine with the meat, digestifs, raucous laughter and, sometimes, booze fuelled arguments.

I get many e-mails about food, from readers, like me, who can't imagine cooking, or going out for dinner, without alcohol.

My advice is to make life easy for yourself. It's just not possible, at least initially, to carry on life exactly as it was, only without the drink. You have to change your routines for a while, or it's too hard.

So, for about three months, I stopped cooking in the evening. I'd feed the children (and myself) early, and I'd leave Mr SM something in the fridge to re-heat when he got home.

I know it's not ideal, and I'm sure he missed our shared evening meals as much as I did, but it was the only way I could manage.

It took a while, but now my love of cooking is back. I'm just (well, almost) as happy dancing round the kitchen to great music and clutching a lime and soda as I was getting slowly sozzled on the vino.

(And I'm much less likely to forget a key ingredient or burn something to a crisp).

But restaurants I still find hard.

I still love eating out, it's just the waiting around that drives me crazy. Hours (it feels like), sitting at a table, toying with the cutlery, waiting for your food to arrive, or playing with an empty water glass while waiting for the bill.

These days I prefer to catch a quick meal before going to see a movie, or a play. Eat, pay, leave, do something else.

I find Chinese or Thai meals easier than western ones. Lots of little dishes to play with, and the fabulous ritual of pouring tea into those dinky china cups. Plenty of things to do with your hands (hurrah for chopsticks!), and less time spent staring at starched, white tablecloths.

I don't think this restaurant phobia is forever. It is, like everything else, getting easier. I can happily sit at a table for an hour now - it's just that by two hours I'm feeling really twitchy. By three hours I want to stick a fork in the waiter's eye.

Baby steps....

Happy sober Saturday everyone.

SM x

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Hurrah for Gin

Finally, after eight whole weeks of summer madness, the kids go back to school today.

I'm up stupidly early in anticipation.

The uniforms are laid out and labelled. Pencil cases are stocked with newly sharpened pencils, pristine erasers and unblemished protractors.

I've shaken the sand out of their ears, blasted stubborn verruccas (my spell check thinks this should be verrucae) off their feet and had their hair cut.

We are good to go.

When I quit work after #3 was born, nearly eight years ago, I thought I'd be the perfect Mum.

The house would be filled with fresh flowers and the aroma of cup cakes baking. It'd be craft tables, not TV, laughter filled outings to museums and perfectly delivered introductions with eye contact.

How the Gods must have chuckled.

Instead, I was sucked into an exhausting Groundhog day of wiping orifices, peeling dried spaghetti and Rice Krispies off floors and ceilings and dealing with tantrums, all set to the soundtrack of The Wiggles and punctuated with endless re-readings of the Gruffalo.

So I totally get the latest trend (spearheaded by the movie Bad Moms) for tales of 'imperfect mothers.'

According to the Sunday Times, this Christmas's bestseller is going to be one of these, titled Hurrah for Gin.

Hurrah for Gin is based on a blog written by a 26 year old Mum of two who's on maternity leave from her job in advertising.

It's exactly the book I would have written ten years ago (when I was also in advertising and on maternity leave with a toddler and a baby). And it struck me that it's like the prequel to this blog.

(Except my book would be titled Hurrah for Chablis. My only saving grace was not having developed a taste for spirits).

And the title is perfect. Because when you're in the trenches of motherhood, alcohol provides those much needed oases of calm.

For me, a glass of wine could put the zing into a late afternoon playdate with a girlfriend, and the zen into post children's bed time. At the end of a long, frazzled day I could pour a glass of wine, dance around the kitchen and think yeah, baby, she's still got it.

But the problem with relying on vino, or gin, to relax, to de-stress, to feel adult, is that one day - maybe a decade down the line - you find that you can't relax, de-stress or feel adult without it.

And that's when you stop reading Hurrah for Gin! and start reading Mummy was a Secret Drinker.

So I do rather worry about yet another book which normalises relying on an addictive drug to get through the realities of everyday life. After all, I am the cautionary tale.

Love SM.

P.S. If you'd like a male perspective on all of this, then click here to check out my new friend, Makeittea.

And thank you, Makeittea, for your incredibly generous donation to my Justgiving page for breast cancer support (

Saturday, 3 September 2016


Time does funny things.

When you first quit drinking, it slows right down. That hour between 6pm and 7pm seems to take a lifetime. Each day you climb a mountain, every week you cross a continent.

But then, one day, you realise that time is speeding up again. You can't keep track of the days any longer, so you start counting in months.

Now I've lost track of even the months. The last six have flown by. It took one of my readers to remind me (thank you, lovely LushNoMore), that for her, and me, this is one and a half years.

I was looking at my children as they're getting ready to start the new school year, and thinking about the lives they have ahead of them.

When you're a child, anything is possible.

It's like standing in a vast hall, surrounded by open doors - hundreds of them circling around you. And, as you look up, you realise that there are many storeys above you, more than you can count, of wide open doors.

Through each door is an adventure. You can become an astronaut, an astronomer, an astrologer. You could find a cure for cancer, be an Olympic cyclist or paint a masterpiece.

Then, as you get older, the doors start to close. You're now too tall to be a ballerina, too old to be a supermodel, too big to be a professional gymnast. You don't have the right A levels for medical school.

One day, around middle age, you look around you and realise that the vast hall of open doors is now a small room with only a few potential exits. It's just too late for a do-over. Every decision you've made in the past has narrowed your options for the future until it's all just more of the same.

No wonder we drink.

And that was me eighteen months ago. Depressed, fat, broke. Sipping on the endless glasses of Chablis while thinking about what might have been if I'd walked through one door rather than another.

And the thought of quitting booze feels like giving up more options, more potential adventures. Not only is life becoming increasingly dull and predictable, but you have to do it all sober. Are you kidding?

But, you know what?

Since I quit drinking, the extraordinary thing is that the room I'm standing in has got bigger and bigger. Every time I look around there are more doors I can walk through.

I've got more energy, more self respect, more time. I've lost that nagging anxiety and fear of failure, replaced by the feeling that anything is possible.

Gradually, all the pounds I've saved by not buying wine have added up, so I'm completely debt free. No credit cards, no overdraft.

And, now I'm twenty six pounds (12 kilos) lighter, even my fashion options have expanded. I no longer have to stick to black, stretchy and forgiving.

My life is totally unrecognisable.

So please don't worry that putting down the glass will make your life smaller. It's going to open up possibilities you never imagined.

Soren Kierkegaard says it much better than I ever could:

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility!

Love to you all,

SM x

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Timing Makes the Hero

I get many e-mails from readers who have been thinking about quitting drinking for a while, but haven't yet taken the plunge. They're waiting, they say, until after a big party, or a summer holiday, Christmas, or a particularly stressful period at work.

I get it. I prevaricated masterfully - for weeks, months, years even - before finally taking the plunge. (And then finally taking the plunge a second time!).

The truth is, it never feels like the right time. Much like having a baby. You never feel mature enough, sufficiently well off, at the 'right' point in your career. One day you just have to grit your teeth and.... jump.

There are always (we hope) going to be parties and holidays and stressful periods. That's the beauty of life. And one day, before too long, you'll find that all those things are better without the booze.

It will be very hard for a few weeks, and fairly hard for a few months, but what's a few months compared to the rest of your life?

(You don't let nine months of getting fatter and fatter, feeling sick and tired, being kicked from the inside and not drinking stop you having a baby, do you?)

But, having said all that, there is one particular time of year that I think is especially good for quitting.

It's not January. Too obvious. Every man and his dog is quitting booze in January, and we've never been ones to run with the pack, have we?

And January is a miserable month. It's cold and grey (unless you're reading this in Australia, obvs), you're broke and there's nothing to look forward to.

No, the very best time to stop drinking is: SEPTEMBER!

Lovely, lovely September. All newly polished school shoes, sharpened pencils and anticipation. The languid last gasp of summer.

It's a perfect time for a fresh start. And there are still more than three months until Christmas, so by the time you get there you'll have the hardest bit - the first 100 days - under your belt.

So, be a hero. Take the plunge. There'll never be a better time than today.

You are not alone. There are millions of people just like you, out here in the Soberverse.

To start with, check out my pages on Reasons to Quit Drinking and Advice for Newbies.

You can do it.

Love SM x