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