Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sober School Holidays

Schools everywhere are breaking up for the summer holidays.

I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday, and I came across several variations of the same meme: a headline saying SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER, then a caption saying KIDS over footage of children going wild with excitement, a caption saying TEACHERS, over footage of adults doing the same, then a caption saying PARENTS over footage of a mum looking harassed and glugging from a glass of wine bigger than her own head.

Each of these memes has had millions of views.

In the old days, I would have merrily added my own comment and shared to all my Facebook friends. Then I would have cracked open (another) bottle of vino, secure in the knowledge that everyone else was doing the same thing. Facebook said so.

This summer, however, I realise - more than ever - that wine does not make the summer holidays flow more swimmingly. Quite the reverse.

The kids, dog and I are up in the wilds of Scotland. We have a house which is, literally, in the middle of nowhere.

The nearest shop is ten minutes drive (about one and a half hours by foot) away. We hole ourselves up with board games, piano, guitar, ukulele and an open fire.... and chill.

Yesterday, we ran out of milk. I didn't want to drag everyone out in the rain, so I left my (relatively) responsible teenager in charge of her two younger siblings and headed out to the nearest town.

About three quarters of the way there, the car started shuddering wildly, as if I was crossing the surface of the moon. I suspected a puncture.

I got out of the car to take a look and I had literally no tyre left at all on one of the rear wheels. Total blowout. Disaster.

I knew that it would be hours before a breakdown truck could reach me and I had to get back to the kids. I was an hour's walk away, at least.

Few cars travel down that road, but, luckily, after a few minutes I managed to flag down a friendly white van man who drove me home.

I then called the AA (Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous), who said that they could tow my car to the nearest tyre fitter, but it would take an hour and half to get to me.

I asked if they could collect me from my house and drive me the five minutes it would take to get back to my abandoned car. They said no, take a taxi.

I explained that the nearest taxi firm was forty-five minutes away and had to be booked days in advance. They said to walk.

I explained that it would take an hour to walk and I had three children with me. They said sorry, but it's company policy. I had to meet them by my car.

I walked to the nearest neighbour and begged for a lift. For the second time, the kindness of other people saved me.

I got back to my car, met the breakdown chap, was towed to a tyre place, spent all my shoe money on a tyre and got home.

But the real miracle about all of this is that it all happened without me getting at all cross. Or stressed. Or shouting.

I didn't get annoyed with the AA lady for refusing to bend the rules (not her fault). I didn't panic, stamp, yell and curse. I was zen.

Needless to say, in the drinking days I would not have dealt with a day like that in the same way. You know exactly how it would have gone. You've been there too, I expect.

So now I look at those Facebook memes, at those mums glugging back the wine, and I think I get it. Been there, done that. But that's really not going to help, you know.

Step away.

Love SM x

Sunday, 16 July 2017

I Don't Want a Fight With AA

I had an old friend round for lunch yesterday.

She's an amazing woman, who has dealt with issues that would break many people, but has come out stronger.

For a few years, L lived with a cocaine addict. She saw, up close and personal, how drugs can destroy the lives of the user and those who love them.

As a result, once she'd found the strength to get away, she re-trained as a psychotherapist and an addiction counsellor.

I am in awe of the people who not only survive their own life traumas, but then use them to help others.

So, a while back, I gave L the name of my blog. She never told me whether she'd read it or what she thought of it.

Then, yesterday, L said "I read your blog."

"Oh yes?" I replied.

"I have to say, I don't like your refusal to use the word 'alcoholic.'" She said.

I imagine she was referring to this post: Am I an alcoholic?

Then she continued, "there are an awful lot of people who feel the same as me."

"I have no issue with anyone using the term 'alcoholic' if they find it helpful," I explained, "it's just that I don't. I think it's one of the reasons why so many people find it difficult to confess to having a problem and asking for help. We're worried about being judged."

But the truth is that anyone who is a member of, or works with, AA feels hugely strongly about the A word, and I'm not sure that I can take them all on. I don't want to have a fight with AA - I think they're an amazing institution doing an incredible job.

But I know that I, and many of my readers, feel strongly about this issue too. I am very happy (well, sort of) to stand up on national television and confess to drinking a bottle of wine a day. I'm happy to confess to being an alcohol addict.

But I'm not happy to say "I am an alcoholic." I don't believe I have a disease. I think I became addicted to an addictive drug, the same way I did to cigarettes, back in the day.

I found it much easier to say 'I have cancer' (when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago) than I do 'I am an alcoholic.'

The truth is, people sympathise with cancer victims, but they assume that women who are 'alcoholics' are weak, diseased, and terrible mothers who neglect their children while they pour vodka on their cornflakes.

Surely the words I use are a personal choice?

It seems extraordinary that one word can cause so much trouble. But it will....

Is this really a good idea?

Love SM

Sunday, 9 July 2017

False Memory

Our memories are much less accurate than we believe them to be.

Rather than a frame-by-frame photographic reflection of our past they are riddled with holes, like a swiss cheese. Whole chapters are re-written as we, unwittingly, cast different lights on what actually took place.

Two recent events have bought this home to me. The first was, last weekend, a thirty year reunion of my old boarding school friends. THIRTY YEARS! Where did all that time go?

Now, I lived with these women for seven years, through all those turbulent teenage days, and yet there were a few of them who I swear I had never, ever, seen before.

Even when I heard their names and looked up photos of how they looked back then.... nada. They'd been swallowed up by one of those many memory black holes.

But even much more recent memories are playing tricks on me.

I've been editing the book I've written about my first twelve months sober - the year when I also found and, hopefully, dispatched with breast cancer.

Reading back over that year is like reading a novel written about a character who has nothing whatsoever to do with me.

Whilst I know I had cancer - I have the scars to prove it, and I have to take tablets every day for the next decade at least - the detail of it all is a blur. It feels like it happened to a different person in a different age.

Even more so, the drinking days. When I look back on those I can remember drinking more than I should have, but the implications of that, the details of how it affected my life, my moods, my family... all burred.

There's good reason for this. Our subconscious minds have a built in protection mechanism. It's not good for us to remember all the bad stuff vividly, for there lies post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. So they, helpfully, allow us to forget the detail.

Who would give birth more than once if this were not the case?

It's only because of this blog that I am able to remind myself, in all it's gory detail, what that time was really like. And reading back over it, then writing about it, is painful. I had to do it in small chunks. It made me cry, quite a lot.

But the reason for telling you all of this, if you're still reading, is that writing it all down at the time is really important. Because that's what stops us doing it all over again.

I can honestly tell you that if I did not have this record of those dark days I would be drinking again now. Because when I search through my memories I see only the good drinks. The rose on a hot day. the champagne at weddings. The single glass of fine red with a meal in a restaurant.

I don't see the bottle of wine drunk every evening by myself.

I imagine that if you don't quit drinking until you hit a spectacular rock bottom, then it is less easy to forget. You have drink driving offences, broken relationships and a lost life to remind you.

But, if you - wisely - quit before that point, you only have your unreliable memories to rely on. The memory bank that it all easy to rob of its treasures.

So please, write it all down. Before you forget. Start a blog. A diary. Tell someone.

If you'd like to read my story from the start, then click here (or wait for the book!)

Love SM x

Sunday, 2 July 2017

When Disaster Strikes

I'm still haunted by the images and stories from the Grenfell Tower disaster, nearly three weeks ago.

On the 14th June, just before 1am, a faulty fridge-freezer caught fire in a flat on the fourth floor of this 24-storey tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington. The residents were some of the poorest people, living in one of the richest boroughs of London.

The fire services told all the families in the block to stay in their flats as the fire would be contained, and the one stairwell needed to be clear for the emergency services.

The fire, however, spread rapidly, via (it is thought) the newly applied cladding on the outside of the tower which was not fire resistant.

At least eighty people died that night, in a fire that raged for sixty hours despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and forty-five fire engines - men, women and children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

The pictures that emerged straight after the Grenfell disaster were horrific enough, the numbers and the details of that night even worse. But what is truly haunting is the personal stories that are, as the smoke clears, being told.

Jessica Urbano was only twelve years old, about the same age as my eldest daughter. She lived with her mum on the twentieth floor.

That night her mum, as usual, had gone to work with one of the many unseen, unconsidered, groups of people, who clean the city's offices overnight.

A few hours into her shift she got a call telling her that the tower was on fire. She raced home and ran towards the tower entrance. The firefighters would not, could not, let her in.

Jessica called from a neighbour's mobile. She sobbed "Mum, please come and get me!" but all Jessica's mum could do was to watch the flames roaring up the side of the building and hope and pray that her daughter would make it down the stairs and walk through the entrance.

She never did.

We never know when disaster might strike us, or one of our friends or family. Although, thankfully, these terrible events are rare, they seem to be occurring more and more in London at the moment.

One of the things that, finally, prompted me to stop drinking was the thought that something terrible might happen to one of my children - an accident or an illness - and that I would not be sober enough to deal with it as well as I should.

I would never have forgiven myself.

Many times when my children were small, they would cry in the night because they were hungry, or had a bad dream, and - more often than not - Mr SM would wake up, as I, after a few glasses of wine, was sleeping too deeply to hear them.

Imagine if he had not been there. Imagine if they'd woken, not because of a bad dream but because of smoke or flames.

The Grenfell Tower disaster does have a light side as well as a dark side.

The bravery and dedication of the fire service, who removed (against all regulations) their own face masks to help people escaping down the stairwell. The generosity and spirit of the local community who have worked tirelessly distributing food, clothing and money. The stories of the people who did make it to the ground - the survivors.

Love SM x


Monday, 26 June 2017

Mother's Ruin

I was interviewed recently for a feature in the fabulous Smallish Magazine titled 'Mother's Ruin.'

(To read the full article click here).

The journalist asked whether all the jokes about wine o'clock, and the way the lives of modern mothers revolve around boozy playdates, 'family friendly' festivals and so on is becoming a problem.

The statistics would suggest that it is. One in five university educated women are believed to be drinking more than the recommended levels, especially the over 45's.

It's not the young, wild, crazy things being irresponsible - it's us, the ones who should be setting a good example.

I don't like to get all sniffy about the wine memes on Facebook - I used to think they were hilarious. It's just that they are one of the reasons it took me so long to quit.

Professor Nutt's study on the relative harms of twenty drugs, illegal and legal, concluded that when you combine the damage to the individual and to society as a whole, alcohol was by far the most dangerous.

If you only consider the danger to the individual, to yourself, alcohol is still the fourth most dangerous drug (after heroin, crack and crystal meth), and the fifth most addictive. It's more harmful than cocaine, ketamine, cannabis, ecstasy and nicotine.

And yet we refuse to treat alcohol as a dangerously addictive drug. Everyone takes it, everyone jokes about it, if you don't join in you're seen as weird.

In my early days of being sober, I'd be struggling really hard to see my former best friend as my greatest enemy, and then I'd look at Facebook and there would be all these little wine jokes: Keep your friends close, and your wine closer. Stay calm, drink wine.

I even saw an advertisement on Facebook last night for a designer handbag that doubles as a wine dispenser! I would have loved that in the olden days...

So, I would see all these jokes, and all the photos on my friends' timelines of dining tables scattered with wine bottles, boozy picnics and drunken parties and I'd think how can booze be so bad if everyone is drinking it? It's medicinal! It's sophisticated! It's CONTINENTAL!

And yet, can you imagine the outcry if a Mum posted on Facebook: Hurrah! Kids in bed, time to rack up a line of cocaine!

I'm not suggesting that everyone stop drinking. Those who can happily drink safely and moderately (damn their eyes) should carry on. I'm just suggesting that we stop treating massive consumption of booze as a joke, as innocuous and harmless.

Because it's not.

Love to you all,

SM


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Drinking and Divorce

There was a fabulous article in the Daily Mail yesterday which asked Why are so many women drinking their way to divorce?

For the full article, click here.

According to the article, a recent study showed that more and more marriages are breaking down because of the wife's excessive drinking. It's thought to contribute to as many as one in seven divorces.

I can see how that can so easily be the case, as I get so many e-mails from women telling me that their husbands have given them an ultimatum: either the booze goes, or I do.

Looking back, I see now that alcohol was the root cause of many of my marital arguments. There were a few spectacular ones, like the Finnish wedding.

Mr SM had known the groom since they were at school together at the age of ten. They also spent a memorable year, after they graduated, living in St Petersburg, where Mr SM learned to speak rather ropey, but extremely sexy, Russian.

The wedding venue was stunning - the bride's family summer house on the edge of a Fjord, in the height of summer when, that far North, it never gets dark. At about 2am the light would get a little dusky, but a couple of hours later the relentless bright sunshine would return.

We had a ball. Being just over a narrow sea from Russia, there was a vodka and caviar bar which we made the most of, then a lavish wedding feast of reindeer, washed down with endless enthusiastic toasts of unpronounceable finnish spirits.

At about three in the morning, the last coach was leaving for the hotel, half an hour away. Mr SM was having so much fun with the fins in the sauna that he refused to come back with me.

They were all sitting in the heat, naked and sweating, while Mr SM sang 'Fins can only get better' (that joke must have worn thin after a while). Then they'd run at full pelt down a wooden jetty and dive into the ice-cold fjord.

I lost it. We had a screaming row, and then I sat on the floor of the bus (there were no seats left) telling all the bemused (and rather concerned) passengers at great length how Mr SM had never truly loved me and it was all over.

Mr SM managed to get a lift back in the boot of someone’s car about an hour later. We both woke up, terribly hungover, at around lunch time having forgotten most of the detail of our very public meltdown, and couldn’t understand why everyone was looking at us strangely and asking if we were ‘okay.’

The vast majority of our alcohol based arguments were, however, nothing like as dramatic as the Finnish one. Just the endless tetchy debates (when hungover) about who was going to feed the baby at 5am, or take the toddler to a party where you’d have to clap and sing and participate.

Then, after a few glasses of wine in the evening, the drunken fights (inevitably started by me) about who wasn’t pulling their weight around the house, or with the childcare.

I’m sure that every married couple has these sorts of arguments, but the problems start when the majority of your conversations end up like this.

Marriage is like a piggy bank. Every time you do something nice, thoughtful or generous for the other person you put money into the bank, and every time you treat them badly, thoughtlessly or carelessly to take money out. If you’re not careful, eventually the piggy bank is empty.

The other issue with drinking in a marriage is that excessive alcohol use leads to self-hatred, anxiety and depression, all of which make it very difficult to focus properly on your relationship, to top up that piggy bank.

Yet, even when we know we're destroying our relationships we carry on. Why?

Because we assume that life without booze just won't be worth living.

Well, that's where you're wrong. It's ten times better. So please, just do it. Before it's too late.

Love SM x

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Strong Women Don't Drink

In the UK we've woken up to a general election result that no-one would have predicted just a few weeks ago.

This, along with the equally surprising Brexit result and recent US election suggests that, all over the world, people are unhappy with the status quo, with the ruling elites and are questioning what the future should look like.

In addition to all this uncertainty and unrest, we have suffered increasing numbers of terror attacks - three in the UK in a matter of weeks. It feels as if our very foundations are shifting and unstable.

In times like this we all need a bit of escapism. So, rather than searching for it in the bottom of a wine glass, go check out the new Wonder Woman film. I took the children last weekend and we all loved it.

Diana, Wonder Woman, daughter of Zeus and sister of Aires (it turns out), is a fabulous reminder that the last thing you need in times of crisis is a glass of wine.

It feels as if women everywhere turn to various coping mechanisms to help them manage the increasing pressures of modern life, of work and family. If it's not booze it's food, or internet shopping, or prescription medications, or online bingo.

But, having been there, and having dealt with both life threatening illness and the death of a close friend in the last year, I can tell you, honestly, that you are far stronger, and much better able to deal with the things life throws at us, sober.

In my early days of quitting, whenever things got tough, I would remind myself that Ripley in Alien would never have murdered that monster mother of alien parasites if she'd had a few strong drinks first.

Likewise, Sarah Conor in Terminator, or Danaerys - Mother of Dragons - in Game of Thrones. You don't see them turning to the bottle when it all gets a bit stressful. They use strength, wisdom, machine guns and dragons.

And Wonder Woman, armed with a huge sword and a rather fabulous lasso, is another fine example.

Plus, she has an extraordinary, but marvellous, dress sense and, whilst there's not an ounce of fat or cellulite on her, she looks as if she actually eats her meat and two vegetables every day.

So, there I was, watching the film, cheering on Wonder Woman and reminding myself that strong women don't need booze, when the hero passed her a glass of beer!

I watched, avidly, as she raised the glass but put it down without drinking. Then, magically, it was in her hand again (a continuity error that only the most eagle-eyed obsessive - which I am - would have noticed) and she put it down again without drinking a drop.

So, there you have it. Yet more proof that strong women don't drink.

Hurrah, and love to all you superheroes,

SM x

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Best Sober Blogs

Is it just me, or has it all gone spookily quiet in the sober blogging world?

I have about thirty blogs on my reading list and, at the moment, only about five of them are still posting regularly. I keep checking my inbox, and there's just tumbleweed.

Where have they all gone? I miss my friends. Have they fallen off the wagon? Are they just bored with blogging? Are they okay?

If you're out there Annie, BeSoberBea, Exploringsomethingelse, Hurrahfortea, Redrecovers, Timeandthebottle, Thirstystill - to name just a few - then please let us know how you're doing.

If you need help, and you're searching for the best sober blogs around, then two fabulous old hands are the Wine Bitch (Sober, Sassy Life) and Mrs D (her blog is here), who has just published her second book Mrs D is Going Within.

If you want to follow someone earlier on in the journey then my favourite bloggers who are still posting regularly (within the last two or three weeks) are:

Giving Up Drugs and Alcohol, Hurrah for Coffee, Done With My Wine Habit, Groundhog Girl and So This is Sober. You can also read my story from the beginning, starting here.

(I've added all the links, so all you have to do is click on any of those names and you'll be transported, just like Dr Who in the Tardis, straight to their worlds).

If you've discovered a brilliant, new and active blog then please post us the link, and if you've started your own then don't be shy - tell us about it and give us your address so we can pop by.

So please use the comments section below to SHARE, RECOMMEND and LINK.

In these days of encroaching summer, with all its buckets of Pimms and Rose, we sober people have to stick together.

Love to you all,

SM x






Monday, 22 May 2017

Manchester Terrorist Attack

I woke up this morning to the terrible news of a terrorist attack in Manchester last night.

What makes this event particularly horrific is not just the fact that at least twenty-two were killed and sixty or so injured by flying pieces of metal, but that the bomb was triggered (by a suspected suicide bomber) outside an Ariana Grande concert, and timed to explode just as the crowds were leaving the venue.

If you don't have young daughters, you may not know Ariana Grande. My girls have grown up with her, as the ditsy, pretty, wholesome 'Cat' in Sam and Cat and Victorious.

The people going to see an Ariana Grande concert would be teenaged girls at their first ever concert, mums taking their ten-year-old to see her idol as a special birthday treat, families enjoying an event that they know will be appropriate for all ages.

Pictures of the scene just before the explosions show a mass of pink helium balloons and groups of young girls, smiling, singing, grinning and taking selfies.

I listened to interviews this morning with men who'd gone to collect their daughters last night and been greeted by unimaginable scenes of chaos, panic and horror.

How can anyone justify any of this in the name of any religion or cause?

In other news, (as if any other news really matters) a new study into the, now irrefutable, link between alcohol and breast cancer was announced. Even half a glass of wine a day significantly increases your risk.

I know this, obviously, and the timing is pertinent, as today I have a check up and ultrasound scan (eighteen months after my original cancer diagnosis) at the breast clinic. Oh joy.

Both the events of last night, and my personal trial this morning, remind me how our futures are so uncertain. In just a matter of moments - an explosion or a black mass on an ultrasound scan - our whole lives can change.

Which is why we have to remember, every day, to be phenomenally grateful for what we have - for our families, our friends and our health.

Love to you all, and particularly to those of you in Manchester. I hope you, and those you care for, are well and safe.

SM x

Friday, 19 May 2017

Martha's Story

The hardest thing about giving up booze is thinking that you are all alone, that you're a tiny sober canoe being tossed around in a sea of drinkers.

It's easy to believe that everyone else seems to manage alcohol perfectly well, and that you're the only person who seems to have struck up an intimate relationship with the wine witch.

Well, let me reassure you, you are not alone and there are hundreds of thousands of women (and men!) out there struggling in exactly the same way. I know because lots of them e-mail me.

Here's an example from Martha, who kindly agreed to let me share her story, because it's stories like hers, and mine, and yours, that really can change the world.

Dear sober mummy,

For ages I've been reading your blog. I guess I came across it only a few weeks after you started it, and even though you don't know it, I've laughed and I cried with you.

I am a 45 year old woman from Belgium and I've been struggling with alcohol for at least 15 years.


I never used to drink much. When I first went out, age 16, my girlfriends and I always drank Coke. It was not until I was 19 that I started drinking wine on a more regular basis, but never at home, only when I went out.

After the relationship with my boyfriend ended and I started living on my own again at age 28, I started to drink at night. Every night. I often told myself in the morning that I wouldn't drink that night, but I always did.

Sometimes I would have to work till 11 pm and on purpose I would not buy wine, so I wouldn't be tempted to drink it when I got home. But most of the time I would then steal a bottle of wine from work and drink it when I got home anyway.

When I met my husband I knew he was a heavy drinker, and although I knew my drinking wasn't normal, I didn't drink more then he did so I figured it was okay.


Nobody ever commented on my drinking. I did stupid things when drunk but nobody ever tried to talk to me about it. Most of my family and closest friends drink at least the same amount as I do, some even more.

Anyway, to cut a looooong story short, I am done with alcohol. I have been for a long time and have made attempts to cut down or stop. Once I've quit for 7 weeks, I felt wonderful. But started again.


Last year, for a whole year I didn't drink in the house. Okay, we went out more then we did before, because I did want to drink of course, but not drinking in the house made a big difference. But after our summer holiday I haven't been able to pick it up and started drinking every night again.

But not anymore. I've quit. I didn't tell anyone, but I am telling you. I am telling people I quit for now because I want to get of my medication for stomach pains (I am sure you don't need to wonder why I have stomach issues).

Why I am writing you is to tell you about this app that I use: Sober Grid. It's an online community where people support each other. You can chat with people if you want. It helps me! And maybe it will help other who don't want to be too vocal about their problems.


It's like I don't want to disappoint the people I've met there by starting drinking again. It's like Facebook for the addicts.

That, and reading blogs like yours really help me to realize I am not dumb, I am not boring, but I am making a smart choice, for me.

Thanks for listening and wishing you all the best.


Martha's story sounded so familiar to me, and I bet it does to you, too.

So, you are not alone, and if you check out Martha's recommendation - Sober Grid - you'll find even more friends.

(You can mail me your story on sobermummy@gmail.com)

Love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 15 May 2017

Alcohol and Mental Health

Mental health is The Topic in the media right now, thanks to the young royals - William, Kate and Harry, who have launched the Heads Together campaign to combine the weight of  mental health charities and bring mental health issues out of the shadows.

Hurrah for that, and about time too.

Something that still isn't talked about, however, is the undeniable link between alcohol (ab)use and mental health.

Which is why I'm hugely grateful to one of my readers, K, for sending me an article in The Guardian titled: I know how alcohol can ruin your mental health. So why is it so rarely discussed? by a chap called Matthew Todd.

(For the full article, click here).

Todd's story is very much like mine and, I'm sure, yours. He says, for example: I never drank in the morning or in parks, just in a British way, bingeing along with, well, everybody else. I didn’t question it because no one else seemed concerned.

However, Todd found that he was becoming increasingly anxious and self-destructive. Then he uses these words, which describe my situation, back in the day, better than I could myself:

(I was) swinging between thinking I was the most important and the most worthless person on the planet.

The more I drank to medicate my low self-esteem, the worse my anxiety got and the more I drank to dull it. Years passed and I couldn’t see I was stuck right in the classic “cycle of addiction”.

Does that ring bells with you too?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew's main discovery once he quit totally echoed my experience too. he says:

Since finally giving up alcohol, I’ve learned many things. First, that addiction is everywhere. That it is not about the drinking (or whatever the substance is), but the feelings underneath.

And ain't that the truth?

Matthew's article ends with the words: The British drink too much. Alcohol must be next on the mental health agenda. Hear, hear, and so say all of us.

So thank you K, and thank you Matthew.

Another e-mail I received this week was much less helpful.

Dear Sir,

An inauspicious start, and displaying total lack of research, given that my pseudonym is SoberMummy.

But it gets worse...

Our company is interested in the wine you produced.

If you have intention to cooperate, please contact us ASAP to have a better discussion of our cooperation.

Funnily enough, for many years one of my secret ambitions was to buy a vineyard. Needless to say, I spent too much time (and money) drinking to actually get around to doing so.

Just as well, hey?

Love to you all,

SoberMummy (also known as Sir) x

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Me and Brad Pitt

It turns out that Brad Pitt and I are so similar that we could almost be identical twins separated at birth.

There are, obviously, a few differences: gender, for a start. He also did rather better than I in the good looks lottery, plus he has a lot more cash, and more children than I do. BUT apart from that, we are spookily alike.

If you haven't already, do read this interview (click here) with Brad Pitt in GQ magazine, entitled 'Brad Pitt Talks Divorce, Quitting Drinking and Becoming a Better Man'. Huge thanks to Lindsay for posting the link.

Brad talks in some detail about his relationship with alcohol, which he quit six months ago. And, yet again, I'm reminded of exactly how similar we all are, regardless of gender, money and fame.

It turns out that Brad, like me, loved his wine. He didn't even need to go to the off licence and worry about being judged by the cashiers, he had his own vineyard! He says:

I enjoy wine very, very much, but I just ran it to the ground. I had to step away for a minute. And truthfully I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka. I was a professional. I was good.

Brad, like all of us, is an all-or-nothing person. All the best people are, in my book. He's not one of life's natural moderators. He says:

...the terrible thing is I tend to run things into the ground. That's why I've got to make something so calamitous. I've got to run it off a cliff.

I do it with everything, yeah. I exhaust it, and then I walk away. I've always looked at things in seasons, compartmentalized them, I guess, seasons or semesters or tenures or…Yeah, it's that stupid. “This is my Sid and Nancy season.”

That's how I see my relationship with alcohol, too. I don't regret the drinking years, but I used up my lifetime's allowance in less that a lifetime. Been there, done that, time to move on.

It took me some time, after I finally quit, to work out what it was really all about. But Brad has it all figured out after only six months. I guess he really is a super hero, plus he must have access to some really good therapists. He says:

I can't remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn't boozing or had a spliff, or something. Something. And you realize that a lot of it is, um—cigarettes, you know, pacifiers. And I'm running from feelings.

I'm really, really happy to be done with all of that. I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know—things I wasn't dealing with.

I was boozing too much. It's just become a problem. And I'm really happy it's been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I've got my feelings in my fingertips again.

I think that's part of the human challenge: You either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve.

So, there you have it. Brad Pitt is one of us, and he is welcome on this site any time.

And, in other news this week, I read, with some interest, a study which proves that eating bogies is good for us. Hurrah! That's one less thing to nag the children about.

Love to you all, and especially to Brad.

SM x


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Are You Scared?

One of the most difficult aspects of getting sober is learning to deal with fear.

Fear can prevent us from even getting off the starting blocks. I get lots of e-mails from people saying something along the lines of "I really want to quit drinking. I know I have to quit drinking. But I'm scared. Scared of failing, scared that I'll be miserable for ever, scared of living life without my favourite prop..."

That first hurdle is so daunting that, for many people, they can only scale it once they've reached 'rock bottom' (which is a place none of us want to get to).

Once we've overcome that initial fear we then have to learn how to cope with on-going fears and anxieties without our favourite method of numbing the edges, and that's really hard. We're totally out of practice at doing fear (or any emotion, actually), in the raw.

If any of this is ringing any bells with you, then check out this great YouTube clip of Will Smith talking about overcoming fear (click here).

Will concludes with the words on the other side of your maximum fear are all the best things in life.

And you know what? He's right!

Think back to some of your best days. Your finest moments. Maybe your wedding day? The day your first child was born? The time you won that huge contract, launched a new business or landed a book deal. The day you climbed a mountain, jumped out of a plane or ran a marathon.

What preceded those days? Fear, right? Or, at least, anxiety.

If you'd sidestepped that fear, you never would have experienced the brilliance of the other side.

Well, that's all very well, but even when you focus on the end goal, even when you know this is something you have to get through, it still doesn't mean it's easy, does it?

So, try this advice from the latest book by the brilliant Amy Cuddy:

Amy says that the secret to not only dealing with anxiety, but making it work in your favour is to reframe it in your mind as excitement.

In a recent study by Alison Brooks, when people were given a challenge of singing, speaking or doing a maths challenge in public, those who took a moment to reframe their anxiety as excitement outperformed all the others.

And, funnily enough, fear and excitement feel very similar, don't you think? There's that butterfly in the stomach sensation or, in my case, the nest of squirming vipers.

I've been trying this out. Every time I feel scared, I make myself think This is so exciting. There is something amazing on the other side of this hurdle. It's going to be fabulous.

It really works.

So, if you're still at that I know I need to quit but I'm really scared stage, then try thinking this instead: I'm so excited about starting on this challenge, because life on the other side of it is going to be INCREDIBLE!

And it will be....

Love SM x




Thursday, 27 April 2017

Police Cars and Cashiers

When I started this blog I thought I was fairly unique. But not in a good way.

I didn't think there were many 'ordinary mums' like me who were wrestling on a daily basis with the wine witch, or whose lives were secretly out of control.

I quickly discovered that I was wrong - I really wasn't alone.

I found out that were many women (and men!) out there, just like me. They mailed me their stories, and they were all spookily similar to mine.

But the funny thing was, not only were we alike in the reasons why we started drinking, the way it escalated, how it was making us feel and our inability to moderate (I still can't type that word without gritting my teeth), but many of my quirks and neuroses, it transpired, are terribly common.

That's why youboozeyoulooze (find her blog here) asked me to post a link to a piece I wrote a while ago on Police Cars and Cashiers (click here).

I still remember vividly the times I spent fretting about being judged by cashiers, and how much effort I went to to avoid seeing the same ones. And I still get a thrill now when I drive past police cars late a night knowing for certain that the breathalyser holds no fear for me.

But quitting booze is hard, which is why I'm sharing an article sent to me by an Australian (male!) reader, w3stie. (In my fevered imagination, he's just like Mike Dundee, all rippling six pack, great sense of humour and able to take down a crocodile with his bare hands).

The article is by Felicity Ward, an Australian comedian and columnist, who talks about why she quit drinking and what's happened to her life since. Here's a taster:

I wondered how I'd ever have fun again. I wondered if I'd be boring for the rest of my life. I wondered how people would know I was a wanker if I didn't order a Penfolds 389 with my dinner.

So initially I just shut the world out for a bit, went cold turkey and kept a low profile. Oh, and I cried. A lot. Sometimes I'd walk around my apartment and have to lie on the floor all of a sudden because the sadness was too heavy. That's something they DON'T tell you about giving up alcohol.

When you stop drinking, you find all these things you'd forgotten about for years ... like FEELINGS. You know: fear, insecurity, self-loathing.

Oh, that's why I was drinking. I seeeee...

To read the whole article (which I heartily recommend and which does - spoiler alert - have a happy ending) click here.

Lots of love to you all, and thanks to w3stie!

SM x

Friday, 21 April 2017

Headspace

Alcohol addicts often talk about having 'monkey minds'. I like to think that we are particularly interested and interesting people, whose minds just won't stay still. (Or maybe we're just slightly more crazy than the average person).

Sometimes we just want a little peace. An escape from all the endless thinking, analysing, worrying, predicting. And that's what the booze does for us. It stills the mind and allows us to relax, to change gear, to de-stress.

That's what I missed most when I first quit drinking - the ability to transport myself to a little oasis of calm with just a few sips (glugs) of wine.

Buddhists believe that one of the keys to happiness is learning how to still the mind. But, predictably, Buddhists are very anti-booze, advocating meditation instead.

Back in the early days of being sober I tried meditation. I was a complete failure. I downloaded a meditation and tried to sit still for ten minutes concentrating on my breathing. Ten minutes had never felt so long.

The more I tried to ignore random thoughts the more they jumped up and down demanding attention like errant toddlers. Then the dog jumped on my lap and started licking my face, the sort of thing I'm sure never happens to Gwyneth Paltrow.

I didn't try that one again. Until a few days ago.

I've finally downloaded an App that several readers have recommended - Headspace, and I've been doing a ten minute meditation every morning. I'm a convert.

Not only does Headspace give you ten minutes of calm in your day, it also teaches you how to deal with negative and unhelpful thoughts (without diving for a bottle).

So, next time you really, really want a glass of wine, try a Headspace meditation instead. Once you've got over feeling like a bit of an idiot, it really does work.

Namaste!

SM x


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Black Sheep

I don't know if it's the result of being sober, or my age, or my recent brush with possible death, but I've been affected more by the signs of Spring this year than ever before.

The branches laden with blossom, daffodils in the hedgerows and newborns in the fields all strike me as unbearably poignant.

We're in Scotland for Easter, and the field at the back of the house is filled with tiny, Instagram-worthy, frisky little lambs.

They're all snow white except one, who's jet black from the tip of his tiny nose to the end of his twitchy tail.

I'm with you, buddy.

I've always felt an affinity with the black sheep. I've always seen myself as a rebel. I've always wanted to colour outside the lines, push the boundaries, break the rules and ignore the government guidelines.

One thing I still struggle with about being sober is the thought of being too good.

But then I looked at all the lambs playing in the field and I thought if those are a bunch of people out on a Friday night, then which one is the black sheep? Which is the outlier, the rebel, the individual?

It's me. It's us. It's those of us brave enough not to drink when everyone else is.

So, feeling reassured that I've still got 'it', I went to the fridge for a Beck's Blue and spotted the redcurrant jelly and mint sauce, all ready for the traditional Easter leg of lamb.

What do you think the family would say to a nice nut roast?

Happy Easter to you all,

SM x

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

What Would You Do?

I came across a YouTube video last week. It's a 'social experiment' where they film a sixteen year old boy drinking vodka from a bottle on the streets of New York to see what will happen.

Predictably, most people walk straight past, although many look shocked or concerned. A few stop to check if he is okay.

Then, a middle aged man comes up. He looks genuinely worried and sincere. He takes the boy by the arm and says this:

What are you doing, man? You can't be drinking. You're too young to be drinking.

When I was young like you, I was drinking. I lost everything. I lost my home, lost my children, lost my car, lost my job. It's a no-win situation. I ended up being homeless. For a year. Just because of this bottle.

Don't drink, man. Don't drink. You're too young. You've got youth on your side. You don't want to be homeless and losing your family and everything, do you? Because this is the worst. It's a no-win situation...

And you know what I learned?

I learned, yet again, that ex-drinkers are the bravest, wisest and most compassionate people out there, and that sharing your story is the most powerful thing you can do to help others following behind you.

It also made me think: why is it that we see the sight of a sixteen year-old drinking so shocking, and yet we expect it of eighteen year olds? And few people bat an eyelid at a forty year old drinking to excess every night of the week.

Surely anything that we instinctively know is wrong for children is also not good for adults?

Anyhow, here's a link to the video: click here. Let me know what you think.

Huge congrats to Philippa, my e-mail buddy, on TWO YEARS sober! 

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Make Life Simple

Back on Day 96 I wrote a post on de-cluttering and an idiot's guide to feng shui (click here).

It's quite common for the newly sober to become obsessed by cleaning and de-cluttering. It keeps our hands busy and off the wine bottle, and it gives us back a sense of control over our environment and our lives.

Plus, in the early days it really helps if you can keep your life as simple and uncluttered as possible, that way you can focus on you, and the important stuff, like not drinking.

So it helps to evaluate your life mercilessly, to work out what makes you stressed and, therefore, want to drink and ditch it, perhaps just for a few weeks, or - if possible - permanently.

I decluttered my house, pared down the wardrobe so it only contained the stuff I was actually likely to wear, went through the fridge and freezer binning anything past the use-by date and any duplicates (why three jars of redcurrant jelly?), then said 'no' to any additional work, school or charity commitments that weren't absolutely necessary.

Then I found that, once you've simplified everything down to the essentials, you can see what's really important, and what's needed. You discover you're missing a pair of black trousers, butter and a fitness regime.

Over the last two weeks I've taken exactly the same principle and started applying it to my e-mail inbox and it's changed my life!

I used to get hundreds of mails a day, but most of them were just trying to sell me stuff I didn't want or need. Every single company I'd ever bought anything from or shown interest in felt able to bombard me with endless junk.

Am I the only person in the world that hadn't worked out how easy it is to UNSUBSCRIBE?

Just in case the answer to that query is 'no', here's what you do: just scroll down to the very bottom of the junk mail until you find the word 'unsubscribe', then click it and follow the (usually simple) instructions.

I've been doing this about fifty times a day for the last two weeks and, as a result, I've completely de-cluttered my inbox.

Instead of receiving hundreds of junk mails a day, I now get a small handful. The vast majority of mails I receive are proper ones. Ones from people I've actually met, or at least spoken to.

This means that now, for the first time, I can see what's important. And I can see the gaps. I suddenly realise that I'm not half as busy or in demand as I thought I was. It's given me the incentive to mail some friends to organise stuff and to tout for more work.

I'm totally addicted to UNSUBSCRIBE (once an addict, always an addict). If only I could use it for the rest of my life. Competitive parenting: UNSUBSCRIBE! Refereeing sibling arguments: UNSUBSCRIBE! Endlessly loading the sodding dishwasher: UNSUBSCRIBE!

If you've received this post by e-mail and it's just cluttering up your inbox and irritating you, please feel free to UNSUBSCRIBE.

If, however, you'd like to join my e-mail list then go to the home page of my main website (if you're on a mobile device, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on 'view full website') and you'll find a box in the top right hand corner saying 'subscribe my e-mail.' Just stick your e-mail address in there.

(All mails are blandly titled 'A New Post From SM', rather than anything embarrassing like DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ALCOHOL?)

Love to you all,

SM x

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Am I an Alcoholic?

Whenever I tell people that I don't drink (which I do quite happily now), one of the first questions I'm asked is "are you an alcoholic?"

This question is usually accompanied by a hard, concerned stare, and is whispered. It's the same tone in which someone might ask "do you have genital herpes?" or "is it cancer?"

(I know this, because I did actually have cancer. And, I tell you what, admitting to cancer is an awful lot easier than admitting to not drinking. I would merrily tell my hairdresser, a traffic warden, pretty much anyone about my cancer, but it took at least six months of not drinking to be able to confess to that!)

And the problem with being asked are you an alcoholic? is that I never know what to say.

I hate the word. It comes loaded with such negative imagery. People assume that alcoholics are diseased, weak, doomed, bad mothers, untrustworthy and unstable - or at least that's what I think they're thinking.

I think the word is damaging, because we try so hard to deny being an alcoholic that we carry on drinking for way longer than we should. Only rock bottom feels worse than admitting to that lifelong curse.

This isn't a case of me being in denial. I am happy to confess that I AM AN ADDICT. And, as a result, I CAN NEVER DRINK AGAIN. But, confess to being an alcoholic? No thank you.

This is a bit of an issue, as when I start having to do the publicity for my book it's a question I'm bound to be asked publically.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm ashamed of my addiction. I'm not. Or that I think I'm different from self-proclaimed alcoholics - I'm not. Nor do I want to run down AA, which is an incredible institution. It's just not a label that I agree with, like or find helpful.

So, here are my questions to all of you (answers in the comments below, please!)

Do you describe yourself an alcoholic? Do you find the terminology helpful? If not, what do you prefer to say? And, when I'm asked 'are you an alcoholic?' what do you think I should say?

Really looking forward to hearing your views!

Love SM x

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Turning Tide

Back in January, the Sunday Times predicted that one of the big trends of 2017 would be going sober.

Indeed, increasing numbers of celebrities seem to be jumping on the sober wagon, from Kim Kardashian to Calvin Harris, Blake Lively, Daniel Radcliffe and Eminem.

In fact, whilst heavy drinking is still de rigeur amongst my age group, more than one in five adults under twenty-five in the UK are teetotal. In London, where there's a large Muslim population, it's one in three.

(When I think back to my early twenties I cannot think of one person I knew, or even knew of, who didn't drink).

But perhaps all of this is being bigged up by writers looking for a new story. Many journalists (a notoriously boozy profession) seem to be ditching the drink, so maybe they are just particularly interested in the subject.

You know when a trend really is taking root when the big bucks start paying attention. Like when the food giants started making 'gluten free' options and declaring 'no added sugar' on all their packaging.

And that's what's happening now, my friends.

Tesco announced this week that they are introducing a whole 'low and no alcohol' aisle in the drinks section. They're not stupid - one of the trade magazine's announced that the sector was up 39% in value year-on-year.

Isn't that brilliant?

Up until now, the few alcohol free drinks available have been scattered around, usually on the bottom shelves, meaning that we have to search for ages for a few cans of Beck's Blue or an alcohol free wine, spending far more time than is fair or wise amongst the bottles of Chablis and Saint Emilion.

(I'll never forget my joy at finding a dusty crate of Beck's Blue in a Spar in Cornwall and taking it up to the cashier only for them to look at me in amazement, saying "You know there's no alcohol in that, do you?" They must have stocked it by accident).

It's not just the supermarkets; the global drinks giant, Diageo (who've spent millions worldwide trying to get teenagers to drink more vodka), have invested an undisclosed sum in Seedlip, the distilled non-alcoholic spirit that's become my favourite 6pm tipple.

One of the hardest things about quitting the booze is being made to feel like you're mad, boring or have a problem by everyone you come across, but the tide is turning, and perhaps, one day, quitting the booze will be as acceptable (or even desirable) as ditching refined carbohydrates, sugar or cigarettes.

Happy Mother's Day to all my UK readers, and especially to PhoenixRising who is one year sober TODAY!

Love SM x

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

London Terror Attack

A few days ago, I was walking alongside the Thames with Mr SM and the three children, pointing out (as I do every time) Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

We'd been to see an amazing art exhibition featuring life size models of the Marvel Superheroes constructed entirely from Lego.

We walked past the skateboard park, decorated with incredible (legally applied) graffiti, human statues, street magicians and acrobats and a street food market offering food from every continent.

I thought how incredibly lucky we are to live in such a vibrant city, a melting pot of different cultures, where astounding modern architecture buts up against beautiful historic monuments, and where every street has centuries of tales to tell.

Then yesterday Mr SM was crossing London by tube for a meeting and cursed as he approached Westminster and discovered that the tube line was closed.

He had no idea that just a few feet above his head four people had been killed and around forty injured (including three French teenagers on a school trip) by a terrorist ploughing his 4x4 car at around 70 miles per hour along the pavement of Westminster Bridge, then plunging a knife into a policeman outside Parliament.

In just a few minutes lives were lost or changed forever, and the ripple effects will continue as livelihoods are affected by reduced tourism.

It's really easy at times like this to want to hunker down, to stay safe, to cancel trips and change plans. But that's not the right thing to do. Because what yesterday really shows us is that life is short and the future is unpredictable.

We have to make the most of every minute. And we can't let the bastards win.

Love SM x


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Healing

I posted a few days ago about my sick dog - thank you all so much for all your kind and thoughtful comments.

Sometimes I'm reminded that there are so many things about this Universe that we don't understand and can't explain.

Shortly after I last posted, when the terrier hadn't eaten for two days and was looking seriously miserable, we had to go out to a dinner party.

I was worried about leaving the dog with the babysitter, but we've known her for years and she's very fond of him, so I explained the situation and said we'd come straight back if he got any worse.

"Don't worry," she said, "I'll look after him. I'm a Master Reiki Healer, so I'll do a session with him."

I have to confess to being a little sceptical, but I figured it couldn't do any harm. As we left he was sitting on Susie's knee, having his back stroked and looking a little confused.

Three hours later, we got home, opened the door and were flattened by a fur ball, jumping up, wagging his tail and then charging outside to bark at some foxes.

"He's eaten a bowl of food and drunk lots of water," said Susie as we stared at his retreating doggy butt, open-mouthed.

Otto's recovery may well have been a complete co-incidence, but who knows?

Since that evening, he's still had a bit of a upset tummy, but he's definitely on the mend.

My other good news, and the reason I didn't post any sooner, is that yesterday I typed THE END at the bottom of my manuscript!

It's the book of my first year sober, how I got there, what I learned, and how I got, and then got rid of, breast cancer along the way.

I'm hoping that it'll help other people struggling with the wine witch, and will help 'normal drinkers' get a much better understanding of what life is like for us addicts.

It all sounds a bit serious, but it's actually a black comedy which, I hope, will be fun to read.

Of course, it's not actually THE END. It's the beginning of a long editing process. I sent a copy to my Agent, printed off two copies for friends to read and critique, and gave a copy to Mr SM.

It's like handing over your baby.

Mr SM has been reading and making notes with a red pen (as requested). It's agonising. I keep hounding him with needy questions: is it okay? Will anyone read it? Do I sound completely crazy?

Once I've got everyone's feedback I'll do a big re-edit, then hand it to my publishers who, apparently, will take four or five weeks to get back to me. How agonising!

(Publication date: Jan 11th, 2018)

Love to you all, and thanks, as always, for all your support.

SM x

P.S. Huge congrats to WildcatsMaisie on her Soberversary!



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Sober Tools with Four Legs

There's a great scene in the film 28 Days, the one where Sandra Bullock goes to rehab, where the 'inmates' ask when they should start dating.

The counsellor replies that first they should try looking after a plant, then, if the plant survives, they should get a pet. If both plant and pet are alive and thriving after a year they can consider a romantic relationship.

Well, presuming that you're not surrounded by lots of dead plants, I think that dogs are the very best sober tools.

Dogs get you outside, exercising, every day, and there are few better mood lifters and serotonin boosters than that.

They are great for your self esteem (which has probably taken a bit of a battering), as they think you are incredible - the best person in the whole universe.

Dogs are also natural Buddhists. If you are not particularly good at mindfulness, then just look at a dog. They think that every smell, every sound, every new experience is the best and most exciting thing ever. They greet each day with boundless enthusiasm.

There's a great cartoon doing the rounds on Facebook. It shows a man and his dog, sitting on a bench in a park looking at the moon. There are thought bubbles showing what's on their minds.

The man is thinking about getting a new car, a hot wife and going on a flashy holiday. The dog is thinking about sitting with his owner on a bench in the park looking at the moon.

Dogs are also great healers. They know when we're feeling down, or sick.

When I was going through the whole cancer thing, if I was feeling ill or miserable I'd go and lie on my bed and my dog would lie next to me, just resting his furry head on my tummy, for as long as I needed company. He didn't tell me it would all be okay, or to try not to think about it, he was just there.

Having a dog is a fabulous way to find a network of friends and social activities that do not revolve around booze. I go out less in the evening these days, but I have a group of more than ten dog owning friends and I'll meet at least one of them every single day for a walk, a coffee and a good natter.

I've been thinking about all of this because my dog is sick. He's nearly eight years old and he has never been ill. He threw up yesterday and has not eaten anything for twenty-four hours. He won't even look at any of the treats he would normally do anything for.

I can't imagine life without my dog.

We're going to the vet.

Love SM x

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

First Times

I was walking down the street the other day when I passed one of those blackboards on which someone writes 'motivational thoughts' for the day.

I usually find that sort of think a bit sick making, but this one made me stop and think, and I'm still thinking about it days later.

It said: When did you last do something for the first time?

One of the main reasons I knew I had to quit drinking was because I was completely stuck in a rut.

My life was on a loop - doing the same things with the same people in the same places, over and over again, and I was pretty sure the booze was to blame.

We get so used to turning to alcohol for any celebration and whenever we want to wind down and relax, that we stop searching out new experiences, new ways of having fun or of chilling out.

Plus, regular drinking causes a rumbling depression and a sense of what's the point anyway?

Doing something for the first time can be scary, and years of self medicating fear and anxiety with booze makes us really bad at dealing with those uncomfortable emotions sober, so we tend to avoid unknown scenarios.

When you quit, you have to deal with 'firsts' all the time. First party sober. First holiday sober. First Christmas or birthday sober. Which is really hard. BUT you start to get pretty good at it.

You get used to facing fear and anxiety head on and begin to feel fairly invincible.

You have loads of extra time, energy and money. You actively seek out new ways of celebrating, relaxing and de-stressing which don't involve drinking.

Then you look back at the previous few months and realise that, suddenly, your life is filled with things you've recently done for the first time (or, at least, the first time in ages).

My readers have done all sorts of amazing new things after quitting the booze: yoga, meditation, setting up a business, making new friendships, raising money for a charity, finding love.

As have I. I started this blog. I finished my first novel and was short listed for an award. I found an agent, then a publisher and have nearly finished my non-fictional book.

None of these things would have happened if I'd still been drinking.

I had some horrible first times too. First time getting cancer, doing radiotherapy, getting through all the endless tests and dealing with the idea of death and motherless children.

None of which I'd have been able to cope with if I'd still been drinking.

One thing the cancer experience taught me (it's a cliché, but it's true) is that we only have one life, and we have no idea how long it's going to be.

So we really have to make the most of it by constantly seeking out new experiences and doing things for the first time, because, like a shark, if we stop moving forward, we die.

(Is that really true about sharks, or is it just a maritime myth?)

So, ask yourself when did I last do something for the first time? Then go do something new.

I'm off to find myself a toyboy.

(Only kidding).

SM x

Thursday, 2 March 2017

It's my Soberversary!

Yesterday, it was exactly two years since I last had a drink. I can't quite believe it. In fact, I completely forgot about it until lovely J, a reader who's only three weeks behind me, sent me a congratulatory e-mail.

How extraordinary that not long ago I could tell you exactly how many hours it had been since my last drink, and now I even forget the years.

I looked back at the post I wrote on my one year Soberversary (click here).

Year One was all about re-discovering the person I used to be.

I learned what it's like to sleep like a baby again. I rediscovered a sense of wonder, of self respect and self confidence. I, eventually, lost the wine belly, and was reacquainted with all the skinny clothes in my wardrobe.

I re-learned how to deal with fear and anxiety and how to form, and nurture, proper relationships, not just ones built on idle gossip at drinks parties.

Year Two has been very different. It hasn't been hard, in fact it's flown by in the way time only does when you're having a great deal of fun.

I started Year Two feeling like I'd got myself back, but I had this nagging sense of time wasted and opportunities lost. I wanted my life back.

So this was the year when I decided to chase my dreams. The same dreams I'd had at age nineteen, when, more than anything else, I wanted to write. I wanted to be an author.

But I put that dream on hold for decades because I was busy doing other stuff (drinking) and because I was scared of failure. And if you don't try, you can't fail, right?

Only now I realise that the only way you fail is by not trying. After beating the booze, and then cancer, I've lost my sense of fear and I feel pretty invincible.

So I wrote the book proposal and, miraculously, I got the publishing contract. And now I'm being paid to write, which has been my dream for thirty years.

Truthfully, I still miss the booze from time to time. Every once in a while I'd love to be able to blur the edges. I'd love a glass of champagne on a birthday or at Christmas. I still worry, sometimes, that people will think me boring, that maybe I am boring.

But then I remind myself that that one glass is a fantasy. I've never been happy with just one, of anything. And one glass now would just re-awaken that nagging voice that would constantly be asking "am I going to drink tonight? Or maybe tomorrow night? Just one glass? Or maybe two?"

And the very best thing about the last year has been the peace, the simplicity, of never having to ask myself "am I drinking tonight?" or "shall I have another one?" because I don't drink, not one, not two, not anything, and that makes life so much less complicated.

So, if you're still struggling with the early days and thinking why am I doing this? You're doing it to get yourself back. Then, once you've done that, you'll get your life back. And that's awesome.

Love SM x

P.S. Huge congrats to LushNoMore, who's held my hand since the beginning, on her two year Soberversary last week, and to Ang75 on ONE HUNDRED DAYS. Great work, girlfriends.




Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Apologies

I'm so sorry I've not been posting much recently. I'm in the middle of writing the book, and I've got to the part of the story where I'm right in the middle of all the cancer treatment.

I've managed, fairly successfully, to push the whole cancer thing to the back of my mind for the last few months, so I'm finding having the re-live the whole experience in detail extremely hard.

As a result, I'm writing as much as I can, as quickly as I can, so I can get out the other side.

I'm sure that once I'm able to type THE END, I'll decide that it was all immensely cathartic. But right now it's pretty awful.

Normal service will be resumed soon....

Love SM x

Friday, 24 February 2017

Time

Time does funny things when you quit drinking.

Initially, it grinds to a shuddering halt. Every hour feels like a day. It seems like the film of your life has switched to slow-motion. You have to take a day at a time, because each day lasts a lifetime.

Then, time starts speeding up again, and the better you feel the faster it goes.

The really great days, the ones you want to hang on to, slip through your fingers like sand, whereas the difficult ones you wade through like mud.

The year before last was the longest one ever. I gave up drinking, then, just as I started motoring away happily again, I got hit with breast cancer.

There's nothing that slows time more than waiting for test results which will tell you how close you are to death.

(To read my cancer story, click here)

But I've speeded past the last year so fast that I can't even see it in the rear view mirror. Whoosh. Gone. And suddenly, it's my birthday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

And, so far, it's a perfect day.

Birthdays used to be about big stuff - huge parties, grand gestures and monumental hangovers, but now I realise that it's a combination of little things that really makes you happy.

Today started with breakfast in bed. We all had breakfast in my bed (including the dog). Then Mr SM did the school run - isn't that the best present ever?

Well, actually, it's not, because I was given the best present ever....

For the last year, every time anyone in the family has had a birthday I've painted them a plate. It has their name on (large) and an animal that represents them, then round the outside I paint about forty adjectives that describe them.

For the last few months, every time we've had a family meal I lay out all the 'special' plates, and I sit there in front of my ordinary one.

Then today they gave me my own plate. They'd designed it and painted it in exactly the same style as the ones I'd made them.

In the middle is my favourite animal (a warthog. Any more warthog aficionados out there, or is it just me?), and the words round the outside include:

HAPPY, GENEROUS, HELPFUL, FUN, OPTIMIST, BLOGGER, FIVE STAR CHEF, HOUSE-FAIRY, MUSICAL, LOVING, PERFECT, CUDDLER, CLEVER

I cried. Obvs.

Now, however rotten my day has been, I can sit down for family supper and feel blessed.

As for the rest of the day, I have a hairdressing appointment booked which means that not only will I have great hair for the day, but I'll also get to spend TWO HOURS reading Grazia and finding out what's new with Brad and Angelina.

Then, dinner somewhere posh with Mr SM.

Hurrah.

Love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 20 February 2017

Children of Alcoholics

Last week was National Children of Alcoholics Week.

According to a parliamentary group there are 2.5 million children of alcoholics living in the UK and one in five children under eighteen are exposed to a family alcohol problem.

The National Association for the Children of Alcoholics (NACA) have a helpline which received 32,000 phone calls and e-mails last year, some from children as young as five.

One of the services they provide is reading bedtime stories for kids whose parents are too drunk to do it themselves. Some children call so regularly that the staff keep their favourite books by the phone.

To read more click here for a harrowing article sent to me (sobermummy@gmail.com) by Catherine. Thank you Catherine!

It's really easy to read articles like this one and to think that's not me. I never neglected my children. But I know that, even though I always read bedtime stories to my kids, there were many ways in which my drinking affected them and that, had I not quit, it would only have got worse.

What about all those times when you skipped a few pages so that you could get to 'me time'? All those little signals that let your kids know that you are not really enjoying this. You'd really rather be somewhere else.

I was constantly engineering family and social events in a way which would separate the kids from the adults, thinking that everyone would have more 'fun' that way.

Even when I was with my children, my head was often elsewhere.

Here's a post I wrote six months after I quit drinking about how quitting booze changed the sort of parent I am. Click here.

The ramifications of being a boozy parent are deep and long reaching. In 1983 Dr Janet Woititz published a bestseller titled Adult Children of Alcoholics in which she outlined thirteen characteristics that these children tend to share.

These include: fear of losing control, fear of emotions and feelings, conflict avoidance, harsh self-criticism and low self-esteem and difficulties with intimacy.

It's no wonder that the children of alcoholics are four times more likely than average to become addicts (and five times more likely to develop an eating disorder) themselves.

So quitting booze isn't just the best thing you could do for yourself, it's the best thing you could do for your kids too....

By the way, if you live near Birmingham and would like to meet up with some other fabulous sober people then lovely reader Tori has set up Club Sober.

The first meeting is on Thursday March 2nd at 6.30pm and is free (all funded by Tori).

To find out more, and to connect with Tori, go to her blog by clicking here. And please let me know how it goes so that I can post an update on my blog.

Love SM x

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Deprivation vs Possibility

I've heard people say, many times, that it is impossible to quit drinking until you reach 'rock bottom.'

Bollocks.

The reason for this belief is, I think, that alcohol is so endemic in our society, and those who've given up are so shy about shouting about it, that we truly believe that life without booze is going to be utterly miserable.

We are so used to associating good times with booze that we think there will be no good times ever again without it.

We imagine that we'll spend the rest of our lives huddling anonymously in church halls, talking about how miserable we are, with the few people that will understand.

When the prospect of being teetotal (even the adjectives describing it are ghastly) is so horrendous, it's no wonder that we have to be at the point of losing everything - our homes, our husbands and children, our jobs, before we can gather the courage to quit.

Well, bollocks again.

There's a fabulous blogger who I've been reading for a while - The Wino That I Know (TWTIK).

(To read her blog click here)

I followed TWTIK's on-off struggle with booze, feeling the frustration and depression behind every word, and then something changed.

After years of managing just days at a time, TWTIK has done more than five weeks sober and she sounds amazing - happy, confident and energised.

Then I found an e-mail in my inbox - from TWTIK!

She wrote I started believing that life can be better without booze and I am no longer looking at it from a place of deprivation. I believe that is why I always failed as I felt I was giving up something I loved so much and that was so awesome, until it wasn't.

And she's right - giving up booze is hard, so if you believe that you're going through all this hardship, just to end up in a place that is miserable, you will never succeed, or - even if you do - you won't be happy.

The only way to make it through the tough times is to truly believe that a life without booze is AWESOME! Then you can do it, easily. Because you know what you're fighting for.

Every day I receive e-mails from people telling me how amazing their lives are without alcohol and how they can't believe they waited so long to quit. Here's an example from Ang75 on day 54:

My life, my health, my attitude and everything else has changed so much for the better!

We've just been on a skiing holiday and we had sat laughing about something silly one night at tea, and my eldest daughter said "Mummy, you're being funny, it's like you have had a drink, but you haven't"

Honestly that meant so much. I realised I am just being me, and everyone loves me just being me!

Isn't that just awesome? And Ang sent me a photo of her with her kids - all of them looking so happy, healthy and rosy cheeked.

I know it's hard to turn around your thinking and to believe that sober is brilliant, so here's some things that might help:

1. Read Jason Vale's book: Kick the Drink, Easily. It's very clever neuro-linguistic programming that will completely change the way you view booze, as do Alan Carr and Annie Grace's (This Naked Mind) books.

2. Read my blog from the beginning and you'll see how my life (and the lives of many of my virtual friends) has changed since I quit. Click here.

3. Find a picture of you looking drunk, bloated and shambolic and stick it on the fridge next to one of you looking happy, healthy, sober, energetic (doesn't matter if it's decades old!). Remind yourself over and over again that that's the transformation you're looking for. Because it will happen!

4. Read this fabulous article sent to me by Julie (thank you, Julie!). It's written by Andy Boyle and it's about what he learned from two years of being sober. Click here.

5. Read what my sober virtual friends have to say about life alcohol free in the comments (I hope they're going to write!) below.

Quitting drinking isn't just about avoiding the negatives, about getting rid of the hangovers, the drunken texts, the excess weight and the health risks (although those are all bonuses, obviously)....

....It's about gaining the positives - being happy, even tempered, finding peace, becoming a better parent, a better friend, taking up new hobbies and discovering what you really want to do with the rest of your life.

So don't wait for rock bottom. Do it now. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Love SM

(And thank you to Ang and TWTIK for letting me share their stories)




Saturday, 11 February 2017

Healing

We are back in the Swiss Alps. We arrived late last night, when it was dark, and we just caught glimpses of snow and the outline of the mountains in the light of a full moon from the windows of the taxi as we wound our way up to our chalet.

Now it's dawn and I'm watching the light change over the tops of the snow covered peaks, the village spread out below me, roofs covered in thick white duvets and street lamps still blinking in the half dark.

Everyone else is asleep. I'm hoping they won't wake up for a while as the cupboards and fridge are completely empty. As soon as the shops open I'll brave the cold and go out for coffee, juice, milk and freshly baked croissants.

The Swiss Alps used to be a full on party venue for me. They're now a healing place.

The last time we came here was three days after I finished radiotherapy (for breast cancer). The time before was four weeks after I quit drinking (see my post Sober in Switzerland).

My perspective has changed entirely since then, as if I were looking at the same mountain from a different aspect in a new season.

The first piste we ski when we come out here, our warm up run, is called Lac de Vaux. I saw a picture of it recently in the summer. Where the piste flattens out by the ski lift there's a beautiful shimmering blue lake, surrounded by lush green pastures. Of course, the lake is there all the time (the clue is in the name), I'd just never seen it before.

Back in the drinking days, life was about the evenings and the indoors: booze, long rambling conversations, letting the hair down, bars, clubs, dim lighting.

Now it's about mornings and the outdoors: waking up with energy and enthusiasm, long rambling walks, wind in the hair.

Back then it was all transmit: say your piece, shout to be heard, fight your corner. Now it's about receive: listen to what's being said, learn, grow, nurture.

I used to look at the mountains and see wildness and recklessness; now I see stillness and peace.

I don't regret my former life. It was, let's face it, a great deal of fun while it lasted, but I'm glad I moved on. It was time.

Love SM x




Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Women and Wine

Huge congratulations to my American blogger friend and fellow breast cancer survivor, Soberat53 (who is now 54) on her ONE YEAR SOBERVERSARY! If you want to know how it feels, then read her fabulous post here.

This weekend two of my favourite things came together in an awesome mashup: Caitlin Moran (one of the best writers around) talking about women and wine (my favourite topic) in the Times Magazine.

Caitlin's brilliant and hilarious article hypothesises that the CIA introduced wine to British women in order to put the kybosh on female emancipation.

The Times, rather meanly, doesn't allow the free sharing of its articles, so here is a summary:

Apparently (and this I did not know), there is an enzyme that enables us to process wine, called the ADH isozyme, which British women (because our society evolved drinking ales, whiskies, meads and gins) don't have much of, but continental women (who evolved drinking wine) do. Men, apparently, also have better ADH isozymes.

This is why, Caitlin argues, British women one by one, essentially set fire to themselves with booze - glowing as brightly as a human tallow candle; singing; dancing; reaching the state of confusion where "ordering another bottle" is the only thing you can think of to "sharpen you up a bit", before finally passing out in the back of a cab.

The next day, the British woman, post-wine, will go through a process no southern European woman would recognise; the kind of hangover so nauseous and laden with dread, the sufferer expects the alien from Alien to burst from their stomachs and run across the room, screaming, killing the late John Hurt in the process.....the kind of hangover that damages your soul. That makes you doubt yourself, entirely.

Ring any bells? It certainly does with me. I know many women who describe themselves as 'allergic' to wine, who have come to realise that it has an entirely different effect on them than other alcohol, myself included.

I could take or leave beer or spirits, but wine.... Wine seeped into my very soul.

So, Caitlin says, from the mid-Eighties, with the rise in female confidence and the introduction of the fancy new wine bars, wine, as drugs do, swept through your community causing havoc....

On aspirational TV shows, women with their hair in a messy bun started drinking a glass of wine "while they were cooking". How is that a thing? Our mums managed to put a plate of corned beef hash on the table without banging back a bottle of gavi. They simply made do with Valium and resentment.

And all the while, the CIA was watching, on CCTV, going, "Excellent, excellent. We've countered the push for greater female equality by introducing a drug that is specifically lethal to women.

They drink it at work, at home, when they're sad and when they're happy, so that they're in a constant spiral of self-loathing and doubt! It's the perfect psychological campaign! Well done us!

So, there you have it. We don't need to blame ourselves any longer! We can blame the CIA for introducing us to the wine witch.

I knew it wasn't my fault....

Love to you all,

SM x





Friday, 3 February 2017

Beyond my Control

I am really, really bad at dealing with things that are beyond my control.

This is, apparently, a common trait amongst addicts.

I was reading an interview with Cat Marnell who has just published a memoir titled How to Murder Your Life about being a Conde Nast beauty editor while addicted to booze and a wide range of drugs.

Cat says drug addiction is all about control. Addicts are control freaks. They use drugs to control how they feel.

And she's right. We find it very hard to think I'll just wait and see what life throws at me and then deal with it.

That's why I've found the last couple of weeks really hard. #2 (aged ten) has been doing entrance exams and interviews for secondary schools and, irritatingly, I can't do them for him.

I've found this whole process a lot harder than he has. In fact, before his last interview, when I was pacing up and down in the waiting room, he said "don't worry, Mummy. It's all going to be okay."

That's my job! I'm supposed to be the one doing the reassuring, not the one panicking.

Fortunately, the day before the interview, I'd been chatting to one of the other Mums on the rugby touchline (as you do).

Her son had just had an interview at the same school and she told me that he'd been shown a few well known paintings and asked about them. "Luckily," she said, a little smugly, "he recognised them all."

That evening I sat #2 down and showed him some work by famous artists. Needless to say, he didn't seem aware of any of them.

(If I'd shown him one of a thousand Pokémon he'd have been able to name them and discuss their strengths and weaknesses at length).

Anyhow, #2 came bouncing out of the interview.

"Guess what, Mummy?" he said. "They showed me some of those pictures we talked about."

"Yay!" I replied. "What did they ask?"

"They asked if I'd seen them before. I said yes. They asked where I'd seen them, so I told them that you showed them to me last night."

Oh bollocks.

There are times when you really need a drink.

So now I have a stressful wait for the results. Mr SM is not being entirely sympathetic. When I tried to share my angst he smirked and said "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we can't change...."

I threw my book at him.

Huge thanks to Ang75 and 007Mum for your incredibly generous contributions to my Justgiving page for The Haven Breast Cancer Support (click here). I really appreciate it, and so will they!

Love to you all,

SM x

P.S. Anyone know which of my all time favourite films inspired the title of this post?


Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Power of Stories

I've been reading Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, with tears dripping down my face and onto my Kindle (which needed a bit of a wash, frankly). Read it - it's wonderful.

There's a scene in the book where Conor says to the tree monster "Great, another story when there are more important things going on," and the monster replies "Stories are important. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth."

And the tree is right.

Stories - the stories of others, and writing my own story, changed my life.

At a time when I felt most at sea, isolated and in despair I found the stories of other women like me on the internet, and in books like Mrs D's and Caroline Knapp's, and realised that I was not alone, that there was a way out.

Writing my own story helped me to understand what was going on in my head, served as a reminder of where I'd been, lest I forget, and found me a whole tribe of wonderful supporters (thank you!).

Alcoholics Anonymous have always been aware of the power of stories. Each meeting starts with people sharing their own.

Stories teach through 'show' rather than 'tell'. Instead of being preached at, "you must do this", (and we drinkers are not very good at following rules or instructions, are we?) telling your story shows the listener what the possibilities are, what the future could be.

How you respond to that story, what you take from it and what you leave behind, is completely up to you.

The storyteller hands you a seed - it's your choice whether to plant it, pass it on or toss it away.

Reading those lines of Patrick Ness's this morning just made me want to say thank you. Thank you to all those bloggers, writers and storytellers out there who have the courage to stand up - literally or virtually - and tell their tale.

Because stories have the power to change the world.

To read my story from the beginning click here.

Now go write that happy ending to your own story. You are the author,  so you can make it whatever you want it to be....

Love SM x