Friday, 20 October 2017

The Parents....



I am blessed with two wonderful parents.

My childhood was, in my memory, a happy melange of butterscotch-flavoured Angel Delight, Space Hoppers, Blue Peter and Cindy dolls.

Throughout it all my parents have been endlessly patient, supportive and accepting.

So I know I really shouldn't worry about being honest with them about my past misdemeanours.

When I told my parents I'd quit drinking they were proud of me, if a little bemused.

When I said I'd landed a publishing contract for a book (The Sober Diaries) telling the story of the year I ditched the booze (and got breast cancer), they were thrilled for me.

But they haven't yet read it.

And because I love my parents so much, I only ever want them to think the best of me. They are the two people in the whole world who I least want to see my dark side.

But it has to happen at some point. So, today, first thing, before I had the chance to talk myself out of it, I sent this e-mail to my publisher:

Dear Charlotte 

I've been putting this off for a while, as I find the prospect terrifying, but I think the time really has come for my ever-patient, supportive and sainted parents (copied above) to read the book. I'm hoping that they won't disown me.

I'd be hugely grateful if you could send two proof copies (so they can read it simultaneously, rather than one reading while the other yells out "she said WHAT?!?") direct to them.

Many thanks,

Clare

I told Mr SM what I'd done.

"Really?" He said. "I thought you were planning to keep your head down and hope they never read it!"

"No," I replied, "that's my strategy with your parents. I'll never get away with that with mine."

And now I know I'm going to spend the next few days in a state of abject terror.

It takes me right back to the days I spent, aged sixteen, lying in wait for the postman, hoping to intercept the letter from my headmistress telling my parents I'd been caught smoking behind the squash court. 

Aarrrgggghhhh.

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

What the Hell Happened Last Night?


It's exactly thirty years since the Great Storm turned Sevenoaks into One Oak, wrecked Michael Fish's reputation and contributed to the worst ever stock market crash.

I was eighteen years old back then. 

I'd left school, but had twelve months stretching ahead of me to fill before starting University, so I was living with two girlfriends and working for IBM, saving money so I could take off around the world with a backpack for a few months.

We were living on the tenth floor of a block of flats in Wimbledon.

The storm didn't wake me up. Nothing woke me up in those days. But, when my alarm finally cut through and I staggered out of bed, I remember being totally confused.

Our flat was trashed. The windows were wide open and the curtains had been pulled outside and were flapping in the wind. 

A standard lamp was leaning out of one of the windows, its shade nowhere to be seen. There were papers and rubbish all over the floor and everything was damp.

What had I forgotten now?

Had we had a party?

What had I done?

I picked up the telephone receiver (this was still a decade before I'd get my first mobile), not sure who I'd call or what I'd say, but the line was dead.

I turned on the television, but there was no picture, just an eerie fuzz.

Feeling increasingly alarmed, I switched on the radio, and that's when I discovered that it wasn't just me. The whole country was waking up to the remnants of a wild and unplanned party.

I re-lived that feeling many times over the following decades: waking up and trying to piece back the events of the night before.

How did I get home? Do I have my bag? My wallet? My keys? Did I text an ex-boyfriend? Have I upset anyone? Did I go shopping on the internet?  Are Net-a-Porter going to turn up with a stupidly expensive outfit in an overly optimistic size that I can't remember ordering?  Arrgggghhh.

But by now the only storm was the one raging in my brain.

I didn't have full on black-outs, but I did get the milder version, the precursor, known as 'brown-outs.'

(A brown-out is where you lose track of small chunks of time, so a four hour evening event in your memory only seems to have lasted an hour, and it takes you some time the next day to piece it all back together).

One of the very best things about being sober is always waking up with a clear head, with total recall of where you are, how you got there, where your stuff is, and with very little chance of having lost any friends along the way.

Bizarrely, on Monday, the anniversary of the Great Storm, the sky in London went red. For hours, in the middle of the day. This was, apparently, caused by a melange of dust from the Sahara and ash from the forest fires in Europe, but it looked like a scene from Mad Max.

As I went to bed that night, the children were hypothesising that the red sky heralded the start of a zombie apocalypse.

Oh well, I thought, at least if I wake up to Armageddon, I'll know it wasn't my fault. 

By the way, if you were walking on Wimbledon Common in the autumn on 1987 and came across a fetching beige Habitat lampshade, it's mine.

New on the SoberMummy Facebook page (click here for teleportation), a great, well-balanced article on mums drinking, plus (going up this evening) my favourite blog post by Holly Whitaker on why she (like me) hates the word 'alcoholic.'

In other news, all you lovely, kind people who've pre-ordered my book on Amazon might like to know that the publication date has been brought forward to December 28th.

Yay! But also, Yikes! Am I prepared? Of course not....

(If you haven't ordered a copy and would like to, click here for UK or here for USA).

For more on alcohol-induced blackouts, read Sarah Hepola's fabulous memoir, Blackout.

Love to you all,

SM x




Sunday, 15 October 2017

Why Don't You Just Drink Less?



Have you been asked this question?

My friends and family can understand why I wanted to do something about the amount of vino I was getting through each week, but they still can't quite work out why I don't just drink a bit less? 

"Isn't going completely teetotal (God, I hate that word) a tad extreme?" they say.

And, many times over the last two years, I've have the same thought myself: have I gone a bit over the top? Surely, after all this time, I can have a glass from time to time, like a normal person?

So, as a reminder for myself, for anyone else who asks me, and in case it might help any of you, here are the three reasons why I don't just drink less...


1. Moderation is not my thing.

I am an all-or-nothing person. I am not very good at having a little bit of something I like and then stopping. I'm good at many things, but that just isn't my forte.

I was the same with cigarettes: thirty a day until I quit, then nothing, not one puff, for the last fifteen years.

I've come to terms with this character quirk. After all, it has its upsides. We 'immoderate' people tend to throw ourselves at everything - we're immoderate with our energy, our love, our enthusiasm.

We're not the sort of people who take one bite at the cake of life, then leave the rest sitting on the plate. Oh no, we gobble up the whole thing, then check the cupboard for more.

2. Moderation is exhausting.

I have, as it happens, managed to moderate my wine intake for periods of time. I did endless deals with myself, when I was trying to avoid giving up altogether.

I did 'I will NOT drink on weekdays.' I did 'I will NOT drink at home.' I tried 'I will NOT drink alone.' Then 'I will NOT drink wine, only beer.' 

Needless to say, within a few weeks I was stretching the rules, then abandoning them altogether.

And, in the meantime, I was exhausted with the effort of trying to be good. 

I was fed up with the devil and the angel on my shoulders constantly rowing with each other, the infernal, internal dialogue in my head, the self-loathing every time I failed again.

The very best thing about quitting altogether is peace. (You have to get through the first 100 days or so first, obviously).

No more endless debate about what you're drinking, when you're drinking, how much you're drinking, because the answer is simple: nothing, nowhere, never.

3. What would be the point?

Now, (and, I have to confess, it took me two years to get here) if ever I think about having a glass or two of wine, I ask myself what would be the point?

For a start, I wouldn't just have one glass. One glass doesn't even touch the sides. If I had one, I'd have several. And, having wrestled for some time with decades of social conditioning, I realise the absurdity, the pointlessness, of getting drunk.

Now, I can think back to those days of feeling woozy, wobbly, slurry, forgetful, annoyed and anxious and ask why on earth would I voluntarily do that to myself?

Deliberately poisoning your body with an addictive toxin in order to 'have a good time' just seems a little....absurd.

In the same way, I now look at smokers inhaling deadly fumes from a tube of rolled up dried leaves and think isn't that a bizarre way to spend your time?

I no longer need alcohol in order to feel relaxed or to have fun. I'm not at all sure what it would add to my life, but I have an incredibly good memory of the things it would take away.

Yet, explaining all of that to the friend at the party with their bemused question "surely you can just moderate?" would take far too much time, and I'm not sure they'd believe me in any case, so I just smile and say:

"Moderation? It's just not really me."

Because it isn't.

New on the SoberMummy Facebook page this week: a hilarious article about the evils of Prosecco and, going up this evening, for all my fellow Bowie fans, a clip of Bowie talking to Paxman about the joys of being sober.

(To visit my Facebook page click here. If you 'like' it, the Facebook people will keep you updated).

Love SM x



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The best thing about being sober is....


How would you complete that sentence?

When I first quit drinking, I did it mainly because of the negatives, the things I didn't want in my life anymore.

I didn't want the hangovers. I didn't want the self-loathing. I didn't want the wine belly. Most of all, I didn't want the constant dialogue in my head about drinking (or not drinking).

When I thought about what life would be like SOBER, I could barely get past that ghastly adjective.

(Sober definition: earnest, serious, sensible, solemn, restrained, sedate. NOT ME, NOT ME, NOT ME).

Once I got past that (and the word teetotal - where on earth did that one come from?), I got stuck on all sorts of concerns:

How would I ever cope at a drinks party? Would my friends disown me? Would I ever dance like nobody was watching again? How would I ever have fun again? How would I *whisper it* have sex?

What I didn't really think about was all the fabulous things about being sober.

But, what I started to realise is that those fabulous things just keep on coming. Some appear right at the start (like amazing, alert, glorious mornings), but some only become apparent months down the line.

So I thought, for all those women (and men) who are back where I was then - knowing that they have to quit because life is becoming unmanageable, but not able to get excited about it, see any joy in it, I would ask you to help me with this survey.

How would you complete that one sentence? What are the big and little things that have made a difference to your life?

Then, I can take a selection of those answers and post them on Facebook (anonymously), maybe even turn them into a YouTube video. It might change some lives.

Here are some ideas from me to get the party started:

The best thing about being sober is...

....driving!

....getting to see the end of the movie.

....liking myself again.

....being on the same wavelength as my kids.

I'd love to hear yours. Please add as many ideas as you like in the comments below.

Meanwhile, new on the SoberMummy Facebook page this week (click here to be magically transported and, if you want to stay updated, click 'like') there's my first ever YouTube video (full disclosure: the children helped me make it!) of my favourite non-alcoholic tipple, plus a video - sent to me by a lovely reader down under - on mums and the problem of 'wine o'clock'. 

Going on the page this evening, a must-see article by sober sister* Hannah Betts in the Telegraph. Here's a preview: We're tired of drunkenness, not tired of life - booze being the only area in which we, the soberocracy, have reached our limit.

And so say all of us.

Love to you all,

SM x

*Please note, Hannah Betts is not my actual sister. Sadly, I've never even met her, but I feel like we have a connection. All we sober women are, in my view, sober sisters.



Sunday, 8 October 2017

Because You're Worth It

This week's flower delivery

Shortly after I gave up drinking, I read a fabulous piece by my favourite journalist, Caitlin Moran. It was her letter to teenage girls. She wrote this:

Pretend you are your own baby. You would never cut that baby, or starve it, or overfeed it until it cried in pain, or tell it it was worthless.

Sometimes, girls have to be mothers to themselves. Your body wants to live – that’s all and everything it was born to do. Let it do that, in the safety you provide it. Protect it. That is your biggest job. To protect your skin, and heart.

Buy flowers – or if you are poor, steal one from someone’s garden; the world owes you that much at least: blossom – and put them at the end of the bed.

When you wake, look at it, and tell yourself you are the kind of person who wakes up and sees flowers.

This stops your first thought being, “I fear today. Today is the day maybe I cannot survive any more,” which I know is what you would otherwise think.

Thinking about blossom before you think about terror is what girls must always do, in the Bad Years.

Ever since I read those incredibly powerful words, I have spent the equivalent of two bottles of wine per week on having fresh flowers delivered to my house.

Every Tuesday, I wake up to find a box of incredible blooms sitting outside my front door. I bring them in, take them out, one by one, chop off the ends of the stems and arrange them in a vase, feeling like a 1950's housewife, and place them in the centre of my kitchen table.

Then, all week, I can tell myself that I am the kind of person who wakes up and sees fresh flowers. I remind myself what I've achieved. I tell myself that I deserve good things in my life. I feel grateful for the wonders of nature.

And the flowers make my family happy too. (I think. Perhaps they don't even notice them!)

So, if you've just quit the booze, think about how you might be able to spend some of the money you used to spend on your poison-of-choice in a way that could, every single day, remind you of how bloody amazing you are. And how wonderful life is.

If you have any good ideas, please tell us in the comments!

By the way, it really is worth reading the whole of that Caitlin Moran letter. It's as relevant to the middle-aged as it is to teenagers. She talks about how, in times of trouble, you should focus on just getting through the next minute - a hugely helpful trick if you're battling the wine witch.

So, I'm putting a video of Caitlin reading her letter on the SoberMummy Facebook page this evening. Also new on the page is the inspirational story of Tom Hardy, and what he managed to achieve after he dispatched his demons.

To visit the SoberMummy Facebook page click here. 'Like' the page to stay updated.

Love and flowers to you all,

SM x



Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Alcohol and Breast Cancer


I used to love Autumn. Falling leaves, woollies and mittens, Bonfire night and Halloween....

But then, almost exactly two years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Autumn's never been the same since.

Now the fallen leaves remind me of standing in the local park, howling like a mad woman because it was the only place I could cry where the children wouldn't see.

Halloween was the night before my operation, when I hid under my duvet, saying a private farewell to a sizeable chunk of my left boob, ignoring all the trick-or-treaters ringing on the doorbell.

Bonfire night reminds me of the party we went to where I became unable to handle small talk. Vague acquaintances would ask me " How are you?" and I'd reply "I have breast cancer." Believe me, it's a conversation stopper.

It's really, really easy to think that's never going to happen to me. That's exactly what I thought. Until it did. 

The truth is, breast cancer is terribly common. But there's one thing you can do that will significantly reduce your chances of it happening to you, and that's QUITTING DRINKING.

Dr Ellie Cannon recently published a supplement in the Mail on Sunday on how to cut your risk of breast cancer.

She says that around 3,200 cases of breast cancer each year in the UK are linked to alcohol. Just drinking three alcoholic drinks a week (ha ha!) increases your risk by 15%.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, after reviewing all the evidence of the link between booze and breast cancer, said last year that whenever she's about to have a drink she thinks "do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my own risk of breast cancer?" This comment was treated with outrage by the media. It's a message that no-one wants to hear.

Alcohol can damage the DNA in your cells, and it also leads to increased levels of oestrogen. In over two-thirds of breast cancers (including mine), oestrogen acts like rocket fuel.

Interestingly, Dr Cannon goes on to talk about other risk factors, including lack of sleep.

Numerous studies have shown that long term disrupted sleep patterns may be linked to breast-cancer development, and women who are sleep deprived are more likely to have highly aggressive cancers. (This is also down to that pesky hormone, oestrogen, whose levels rise in poor sleepers).

Now, when I was drinking I had terrible insomnia. I'd get to sleep, no problem, but then wake up again at 3am, tossing and turning and hating myself. Now, I sleep like a baby.

Guess what another crucial factor in breast cancer development is? THE MUFFIN TOP! Also known as 'the wine belly.' Oh boy, did I have one of those... Then I quit drinking, and now I can look down and see my feet! I've lost twenty-eight pounds and the belly.

Research suggests that 5% of breast cancers could be avoided by maintaining a healthy body weight. And weight around the middle is especially dangerous.

A recent study showed that women who go up a skirt size every decade between the age of 25 and the menopause have a 33% increased risk of breast cancer in later life.

So, if you quit drinking you reduce not just one but THREE of the major risk factors for breast cancer.

Yet another good reason to put down the vino.

If you need some inspiration, information or just something to take your mind off the wine witch, then check out the SoberMummy Facebook page here. I post every week day at wine o'clock, and if you click 'like' on the page, Facebook will keep you updated.

(New this week on the Facebook Page: a piece I've written on why I blame Bridget Jones for the fact that so many middle-aged women drink too much, and some inspirational wisdom from the gorgeous Bear Grylls).

Please, please share this post. It's important.

Love to you all,

SM x


Sunday, 1 October 2017

Sober is Seriously Fashionable!



When was the last time you were properly on trend? Ahead of the curve? Finger on the pulse?

For me, it was probably back in the late eighties, when I was an early adopter of the leg warmer, fingerless black lace gloves and the puff ball skirt.

I've made some effort since then, but I often catch a wave a little too late. I moved from bootleg cut jeans to skinnies just as everyone was embracing high waisters. Then, as I caught up they moved onto 'boyfriends' and three-quarter length flares.

But this week, my friends, we are DOWN WITH THE YOUTH! We are not only on trend, we bloody invented it.

Research by Eventbrite into the habits of Millennials has been all over the press this week because (shock, horror) it turns out that they don't think drinking is cool, let alone getting drunk.

In fact, they describe it as 'sad' and 'embarrassing.' It's something their parents do. Only one in ten described getting drunk as 'cool,' and 42% say they are drinking less than they were 3 years ago.

For fellow fans of Absolutely Fabulous, while we are Patsy and Edina, clutching desperately to our disappearing youth as we swig Bollinger from the bottle, the under thirties are Saffy, sitting at the kitchen table doing their revision and rolling their eyes at our humiliating antics.

There are many reasons for this trend.

Millennials are far more interested in spending their (small reserves of) cash on new experiences, rather than just another night down the pub (where they might bump into those embarrassing parents).

Events like food festivals and Secret Cinema look much better on their Instagram feeds.

Instagram, and it's social media pals, have a massive cautionary effect too. Every Millennial knows someone whose life (and career prospects) have been ruined by  photographic or video evidence of something they did when drunk. It's just not worth the risk.

If they do go to a music festival they are quite likely to do so sober, with one in five saying that they drank no alcohol at all over a weekend festival.

An article in The Telegraph on this survey hypothesised that Millennials don't need to drink as much as we did because they are more comfortable with talking about their feelings, rather than suffering from the 'stiff upper lip' of our generation.

Personally, I think that one of the big differences between our generation and theirs is our role models.

My role models, back in the late eighties and early nineties were Bridget Jones, the aforementioned Ab Fab ladies, the girls from Sex and the City and (in the real, non fictionalised world) the 'laddettes' like Zoe Ball and Denise van Outen. Massive drinkers, one and all.

Millennials, however, aspire to be like Kim Kardashian, Zoella and Ella Woodward. WHO DON'T DRINK.

Clean drinking is the flip side of the coin to clean eating.

So, next time you're feeling embarrassed or ashamed about being sober, then STOP IT! You are surfing the zeitgeist, my friend.

I've written a (short) piece, accompanied by a fabulous Bridget Jones clip about this generational gap called WHY DO MIDDLE-AGED WOMEN DRINK SO MUCH?

It's going up on the SoberMummy Facebook page at 6pm (UK time) this evening. I'd LOVE it if you could comment and share, as it'd be great to get a debate going.

(Also new on the Facebook page, a fascinating debate from Good Morning Britain about all those 'wine o'clock' jokes, and whether they are trivialising women's drinking).

Click here for the SoberMummy Facebook page and 'like' to stay updated.

Love to you all,

SM x