Saturday, 15 December 2018
If you're approaching your first ever sober Christmas, you're probably feeling a bit nervous about the whole thing.
I was terrified about the idea of Christmas without booze. I thought it would be really hard, dealing with the constant triggers. I expected it to be boring and joyless. I pretty much wrote it off, and just wanted to get through the whole thing as quickly as possible.
Now, I'm approaching my fourth sober Christmas, and I promise you that I am more excited about Christmas than I ever was when I was drinking.
Like all of these things, the first time is the hardest, because it's all so new. You've spent decades doing Christmas one way (drunk), so it's bound to be a bit peculiar trying to do it a totally different way.
I remember when I first got married, being really nervous about Christmas. You see, every family has their own Christmas traditions, timings and rituals that somehow become totally sacrosanct, and you know that as a 'new' family, you're going to have to compromise and merge your traditions to create a new template.
Well, learning to do Christmas sober is a bit like that. It will eventually be just as good as the old Christmases (way better, in fact), but it will be different. You'll have to find new rituals and traditions to replace some of the old ones. But you will.
So, here are my top five tips for a fabulous sober Christmas:
1. Be brutally honest about Christmas Past
Okay, this is the mental 'limbering up' phase. You can start working on this one right away.
It's very easy to look back at Christmas with rose tinted glasses, and to remember only the jolly times. That glass of wine while wrapping the stocking presents on Christmas Eve. The first glass of champagne while cooking the turkey. The glass of red wine with Christmas lunch, and the whiskey while you watch Christmas telly in the evening.
STOP RIGHT THERE.
Go back and look again. Remember what happened next. All of it.
Remember how you drank too much while wrapping the presents and got some of them muddled up (or was that just me?). Remember waking up on Christmas Day with a hangover, feeling meh, and unable to get excited about the day ahead.
Remember getting drunk before lunch, messing up all the timings and forgetting the gravy. Remember the family arguments and falling asleep in front of the telly, missing the end of the film you'd been really enjoying.
Remember Boxing Day, feeling like death.
Does any of that ring any bells at all?
The truth is, Christmas probably stopped being really fun several years ago. The booze wasn't making it better, it was actually sucking away the joy.
Whenever you find yourself yearning after the 'good old days', replace those images in your head with the real ones.
2. Don't try to be Superwoman
This is really important.
You are doing an amazing and brave thing, for you and your family, in giving up alcohol. This is the very best Christmas present you could possibly give. You DO NOT need to make everything else totally perfect and prove yourself some kind of superwoman as well. Do that next year, if you must.
This year, keep it as simple as possible. Don't try to cram in too much socialising or hosting. Don't over promise. If necessary, claim some kind of illness and cancel some things. Just focus on you, and your immediate family. The rest can wait.
Try to build in some time when you can take yourself off and hibernate for an hour or two, and recharge your batteries.
3. Think about What You're Drinking
Make sure that, throughout the day, you have special drinks lined up.
The choices here are totally individual. Some people find 'fake booze' - like alcohol free wines and beers - really helpful, others find them too much of a trigger. Work out what works for you before the big day, and make sure you have stocks in.
I will be having a Seedlip and Fever Tree tonic on Christmas Eve, a spicy Virgin Mary while I'm getting the lunch ready, and a glass or two of Torres Natureo alcohol-free red wine with lunch. The truth is, I'll probably finish the bootle of wine over the course of the afternoon, because old habits die hard.
4. Line up Treats
We big drinkers get out of the habit of treating ourselves, as for many years our go-to treat has been a glass of wine (or similar). Plus, drinkers tend to have very low self-esteem. We don't think we deserve anything special.
Over the next few days have a really good think about other ways to treat yourself over the Christmas period.
Since you're missing all those booze calories, you can buy yourself some yummy foodie treats for the big day. Go wild. It's only one day. Feel no guilt.
Download your favourite books, music and movies. Invest in a pair of snuggly cashmere socks.
I'm going to book my eldest daughter and myself in for a pedicure on Christmas Eve, and I'm taking the whole family to Winter Wonderland.
Plan a giant lie-in on Boxing Day, or a shopping trip to the sales. Think how much cash you've saved by not drinking over Christmas, as spend some of it!
Do whatever you know will make you feel special. Because you are special, and you do deserve it. You really do.
5. Be a Child
I realise now that Christmas is actually one of the easiest times to be sober. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, so bear with me...
The hardest time, I think, to be a non-drinker is at a drinks party. The clue is in the name. The whole event is built around drinking. Often sober people are really badly catered for. You end up with a glass of water wondering what it's all about.
Christmas, however, is the opposite. There is so much going on, over and above the drinking.
Christmas is about friends and family, it's about wonderful food and fabulous company. It's about magic and gratitude and love. It's about music and singing and films and family games and presents.
There is just so much to focus on, and you can properly focus on it, in all its wonderful gaudy glory, when you are totally sober.
Look at children at Christmas time. They are hyperventilating with excitement about it all, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with booze.
Be like them. Be a child. See it all through their eyes.
And if at any point you're finding it hard, then fast forward to the next day, because you know that on Boxing Day you are going to wake up feeling absolutely fabulous and so proud of yourself for having done your last ever first sober Christmas.
Merry, merry Christmas to you all!
By the way, there is loads of info and inspo on the SoberMummy Facebook page, and if you have any friends planning a Dry January, then the paperback edition of The Sober Diaries is out on December 27th (whoop whoop!). You can find it here.
If you're in the USA, you can't get a hardcopy annoyingly, but you can download on Kindle or audio (click here).
Wednesday, 12 December 2018
I'm back. I'm so sorry about the radio silence.
I've not posted on here for a month, nor have I replied to any comments (so sorry if you left one - I’m trying to catch up!) I've not bought a single Christmas present. I've not sent any cards. There were days when I only just changed out of my pyjamas to do the school run. I've not worn any makeup for weeks.
For the last five weeks, I've been editing my novel - The Authenticity Project. The deadline to get it back to my publishers in the UK and USA was yesterday. I made it. Just.
I know I shouldn't grumble, as writing is actually the best job in the world. Whenever I talk about 'my job', my children clutch their sides and laugh hysterically, as they can't believe that anyone can be paid to make up stories. I can't quite believe it myself, to be honest. But the last few weeks have been hard.
For a start, there's the constant self doubt - is anyone actually going to want to read this? Plus, one of my main characters is an addict, and whenever I get to the chapter where he (spoiler alert) falls spectacularly off the wagon, I feel awful. Writing about his struggles getting sober feels much like I'm doing it again myself.
Now I'm done, I'm exhausted. And the hours spent hunched over a laptop, mainlining mince pies for energy, mean that I'm physically out of shape and have done my back in. I'm a wreck. And Christmas is approaching like an out of control steam train...
So, now the manuscript has left my desk and hit the desks of my editors, I can concentrate on getting fit, and getting my s**t back together in time for December 25th.
And it's so fabulous to be back here with you guys. I'm so sorry for abandoning you!
I'll post here in a day or two on how to survive Christmas without the booze, and I am still posting information and inspiration every day on the SoberMummy Facebook Page (click here), 'like' page to stay updated.
In other news, The Sober Diaries is coming out in PAPERBACK with a brand new cover design on December 27th. You can pre-order here.
Huge love to you all!
Wednesday, 7 November 2018
We're not very good at waiting for things.
We've become so used to being able to buy anything online and have it arrive at our front door within twenty-four hours. We have any information we might ever need about anything just a few clicks away. We can find a date just by swiping right. Instant gratification is the new norm.
When I quit drinking, I knew that the first few days, possibly weeks, would be pretty awful, but I thought that, fairly quickly, life would return to normal and I could forget about the whole thing.
How wrong I was.
You see, changing a deeply ingrained habit takes time.
I spent nearly three decades persuading my sub-conscious mind to equate any social event with alcohol. Then, over time, I taught it that alcohol was necessary to deal with any celebration, any commiseration, any stress, any anxiety or, in fact, pretty much any emotion at all.
However determined you are that alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, prescription drugs (delete as appropriate) no longer have a role in your life, you cannot hurry up your subconscious. It will catch up with the new agenda eventually, but you have to, slowly, slowly, build new neural pathways to replace the old ones.
For fifteen years, I was a terrible smoker. I adored smoking. I saw it as rebellious and sexy, and cigarettes were the prop I relied on to get me through any slightly tough times. By the end, I would need to light a cigarette just to answer the telephone, and I was smoking around thirty a day.
Quitting was really hard. I didn't think I'd ever be able to enjoy a party again, or a meal with friends without the cigarette at the end to look forward to. How could I have sex without being able to light up afterwards?
It took a long time to persuade my sub-conscious to get with the programme. I missed it less and less, but the cravings would still blind-side me for months after I quit.
Yet now, the idea of smoking after a meal, or after sex, or indeed any time at all fills me with total horror. Why on earth would I do that to myself?
And, three years after quitting drinking, I'm starting to feel the same about booze.
These days, I hardly ever think about drinking. I don't notice what other people are drinking. I have to remind myself to buy wine if someone's coming round for dinner, and I never look at their glass with envy. In fact, I don't look at it at all.
But getting to this point took a while. You can't do it in one month, which is why Dry January can be a bit off-putting. The first month is really hard, and not long enough to see the real benefits.
So how long does it take to break a habit?
Many addiction experts talk about the power of threes.
It takes three days for the toxins to leave your body.
It takes three weeks for the worst of the physical withdrawal symptoms to recede.
It takes three months (or around 100 days) for the worst of the mental cravings to go.
I would add that it can take over a year before you get to the point where it never even crosses your mind to go back there.
I'm sure that the reason a lot of people quit quitting is that they've done a few days, weeks or even months and it's still hard, and they can't believe that it should still be difficult, or that it's ever going to get any better.
I promise you, IT WILL.
100 days seems like a very long time when you're struggling. A year feels like an eternity. But it's nothing in the context of the rest of your life.
There are some tricks you can use to give your sub-conscious a kick up the arse.
If you're quitting alcohol, change all your passwords to ilovebeingsober, for example. Just typing that several times a day will help.
Make a vision board showing what life without booze/cigarettes/sugar will look like - happy, healthy and energetic. Put it by your bed so that your sub-conscious sees it every single morning.
Write a list of all the reasons you don't want to drink/smoke/eat rubbish and put it on the fridge door.
Don't give up giving up. Don't give up on yourself. Don't give up on life.
If you do find yourself constantly back at Day One, then read my post The Obstacle Course (click here). It's one of my most popular blog posts and many, many people have told me it's helped them.
To find out more about the ups and downs of the first few months sober you can read my book, The Sober Diaries, here (UK) and here (USA).
I also post daily information and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook page ('like' page to stay updated).
Love to you all,
Saturday, 20 October 2018
One of the keys to beating addiction is understanding the wine witch.
If you've ever been addicted to anything, you'll know instinctively what I mean. If you've never had an issue with moderation (lucky you), then this post may help you to get inside the head of those who do.
I really can't remember when I first met the wine witch. I think it must have been sometime around my late twenties. I know that when I was at University I would drink sometimes, and not drink at other times, and not think about it at all in-between. It just wasn't on my mind.
But, at some point, a little voice started to take up residence in my head. At first, it was barely noticeable, it felt just like another regular thought. It would say things like ooh, she looks fun, looks like she enjoys a drink or two. You should make friends with her! or Hey, it's still early! Why not have one for the road?
So far, so normal.
The problem with addiction is that it's progressive. Those thoughts which used to float by once in a while start to appear more often. You begin to be familiar with better buy an extra bottle, just in case you run out and what about a wine box? So much more cost efficient!
By the time I quit drinking, the wine witch was a permanent resident in my head, fretting about when I was going to drink next, how much I was going to drink, where I was going to buy the drink from, how many bottles were in the recycling bin, and so on.
Sharing your head with all of that on a daily basis is exhausting, as well as totally distracting. It's difficult to achieve anything else in your life when you're dealing with all the constant chatter.
So I quit.
The problem was, that when you start to fight your addiction, the internal monologue initially gets WORSE.
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING? YOU FEEL AWFUL! YOU NEED MORE WINE! YOU ARE BORING WITHOUT IT! LIFE IS BORING WITHOUT IT!
You start to feel like you're going a little crazy. You know logically, with your conscious mind, that the booze has to go, that it's no good for you, but your sub-conscious mind is still addicted - it hasn't caught up. You're effectively waging an ongoing battle in your own head.
This is where the wine witch comes in.
You need to give that voice a name, a personality, so that you realise it's NOT YOU. It's your addiction. And once you separate that voice from yourself, you can understand it, and you can beat it. You can't keep fighting yourself for very long, but you can fight an evil enemy.
Addicts choose different names and personifications for their addict brains. I love the wine witch, because wine was my thing. Alan Carr talks about a snake which has taken residence in your belly. George Michael sang about The Monkey.
Why can't you do it?
Why can't you set your monkey free?
Always giving in to it.
Do you love the monkey, or do you love me?
As soon as I named and pictured my enemy, I knew I could kill her. I understood that she would try every trick in the book to try to persuade me to drink, because that was how she gained her strength. I knew that the only way to destroy her was to deprive her of alcohol.
I would imagine blasting the witch with a machine gun. I'd fry her with my dragons (thank you, Game of Thrones). I'd clobber her around the head with my stiletto heels. I was The Bride in Kill Bill, wreaking furious vengeance whenever that witch stuck her head over the parapet and started bleating about just one won't do any harm...
The longer you go without a drink/drug, the weaker the wine witch or monkey becomes, their voice less strident, less insistent. But just one drink brings them back to life with a vengeance.
It takes a while to kill the witch. For me, it was about 100 days until she started quieting down, and six months before she really shut up.
Then, one day, I realised that I hadn't heard from her at all for some time. I was free. I had tapped my red shoes together and gone back to Kansas with Toto.
And that silence, that freedom, is the most magical feeling in the world.
To find out more about the ups and downs of the first year sober, read The Sober Diaries here (UK) and here (USA) in hardback, Kindle or audio.
I also post daily information and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like' page to stay updated) and you can follow me on Instagram, @clare_pooley and Twitter, @cpooleywriter.
Love to you all,
Friday, 28 September 2018
There were many things about my life that I thought would change when I stopped drinking, but becoming richer wasn't one of them.
Back in the drinking days, I was always broke. At the beginning of the month, my bank account might just sneak its head over the wall into the black, but within a week I'd be wallowing back in the depths of my overdraft facility.
I tried many ways of economising, but one thing that I didn't consider for a minute was the amount I was spending on booze.
I saw my wine expenditure as a necessary staple, like loo roll and washing powder. I didn't even consider buying cheaper alcohol, as I thought the fact that I bought relatively expensive wine made me a connoisseur rather than a lush.
It was only after I quit that I added up the amount I was spending on alcohol, and it was HUGE! I'm too ashamed to confess the numbers, but it was thousands of pounds a year, enough for a family holiday.
And it wasn't just the amount I was spending on the actual wine, it was the knock-on effects. I spent a fortune on taxis, as I was always drinking too much to drive. I spent loads of money buying things I didn't need on the internet late at night, a few glasses down. I bought many bunches of flowers, as an apology to various hostesses for my behaviour the night before.
It all adds up.
When I quit, slowly, slowly, the amount of time I spent overdrawn decreased, without any effort at all. By the end of Year One I was SOLVENT.
But that wasn't all.
The other thing you notice when you quit drinking is how much more energetic and creative you become, and how much time you have on your hands.
Many people have e-mailed me telling me that their careers took off as soon as they quit. They started bouncing into the office in the morning with all the enthusiasm of the youngest intern, firing on all cylinders throughout the day.
Being the sober person in an office gives you an edge. You don't spend hours shuffling paper back and forth while waiting for a hangover to recede, you can use office parties to network rather than snogging someone you'll regret and you are always on form.
It is no surprise that many of the most successful people in any field are non drinkers. Anna Winter and Tina Brown don't drink. Kim Kardashian doesn't drink. Many of the mosr successful Hollywood actors, pop stars and captains of industry are sober.
Also, many of us find that when we quit drinking we re-discover childhood passions, and sometimes those passions can lead to wonderful new careers.
In my case, going sober led to writing, starting right here with this blog, and (drum roll), I've just agreed deals for my first two novels with publishers in the UK, USA and all over Europe.
I've heard stories of people launching new businesses in a myriad of fields: teaching yoga, making jewellery, psychotherapy, recovery coaching, interior design. The list goes on and on.
So, if you're reading this while hungover and broke, then just consider the fact that those two things may be completely intertwined.
To find out more about the benefits of going sober, read The Sober Diaries here (UK), or here (USA).
There's daily information and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like page' to stay updated).
Love and prosperity to you all!
Sunday, 9 September 2018
I still vividly remember the days (years) when I would wake up at 4am on a Monday morning feeling toxic, filled with dread, or at least ennui, about the week ahead.
Today, I woke up at 4am because I am so excited about this week that I just couldn't stay asleep any longer.
(You may well, at this point, want to give me a virtual punch, in which case I completely understand and I am truly sorry).
Then, I walked out of my bedroom to discover that the dog had thrown up several times on the carpet overnight. What the universe gives with one hand, she takes away with the other.
The first exciting event is that my book is coming out in german. How wunderbar is that? Please tell any of your german friends! You can order a copy here.
You can also buy The Sober Diaries in dutch (here), french (here) and in english (here UK) and (here USA).
Another thrilling, but also terrifying, event this week is that my first novel is being sent out to publishers.
I've been writing and re-writing this book for about six months, and planning it in my head for many, many years, so this feels much like handing round your baby to a bunch of strangers, hoping that they'll look after her and not say yikes, what an ugly infant, take it away!
I dare not tell you much about the book for fear of jinxing it, but I will tell you that one of the main characters is, obviously, an addict. He is deeply flawed but utterly gorgeous, and I am secretly in love with him (don't tell Mr SM).
I'd be hugely grateful if you could send it good vibes! Thank you.
I'm still on a high, too, from the weekend. One of the joys of no longer being anonymous is that I can meet up with other sober revolutionaries in real life, which is what I did on Saturday night, in a really cool bar in Soho.
I met the amazing Jolene Park, who is visiting from the USA. If you haven't yet watched her TEDx talk on Grey Area Drinking, you must. It's here.
Lovely Mandy, from the brilliant LoveSober podcast came too, plus the hugely talented ladies who founded We Are in Good Company, the sober greeting cards business, who are single-handedly taking on all those booze joke cards.
I was there first, and asked for a lime and soda. Every time a new person joined me, also not ordering booze, the waiter looked increasingly confused.
We drank mocktails and hoovered bar snacks for FOUR HOURS, while we laughed till my jaw ached, and the bill came up to twenty pounds a head. Bargain for a Saturday night in the West End! That's what happens when you don't split the bill with the drinkers :-)
Saturday night was, for me, a great reminder that ex-drinkers really are the best people around.
Yesterday, I took Kit to a waterpark with a friend. I was hanging out with a cup of tea, when a lady I'd never met came up to me and said "excuse me, but are you Clare Pooley?" That has never happened to me before. She was reading my book, and recognised me from my TEDx talk.
Needless to say, my kids were thrilled because they now think that I'm going to be on Love Island and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Ha Ha. Must practise swanning around in a bikini and eating locusts.
There's loads more information and inspiration, as always, on the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like' page to stay updated), including a brilliant article on booze and the menopause which is going up this evening.
Huge love to you all!
Saturday, 1 September 2018
I get lots of messages from people who tell me that they really want to quit drinking, but they can't do it yet because they're going on holiday, have a birthday coming up, a special party to go to, or they're dealing with a stressful time at home or work.
For many years I did the same. I put off dealing with the inevitable because it was never the right time. Even if someone had erected a bright pink, neon sign outside my bedroom window reading IT'S THE RIGHT TIME, I would have ignored it.
There are always a host of brilliant (and many not so brilliant) excuses to carry on drinking, because there will always be (we hope) occasions to celebrate and, sadly, there will always be difficult things to cope with.
The truth it, the best time to quit drinking, once you know you have to, is always NOW. Because you may as well get on with it, deal with the tough few months, then start really living your life, free from all the angst, pre-occupation and general yuckiness that playing with an addictive drug inevitably brings.
However, there are some times that are, I believe, better than others.
January is one. Quitting anything in January is made easier by the fact that everyone seems to be quitting something, and we're all holed up inside, cold, broke and sad, wearing our hair shirts and feeling sorry for ourselves.
But, for that reason, January is all a bit miserable. And quitting drinking, whilst it's hard, should be a cause for celebration and for feeling good about yourself.
Which is why SEPTEMBER is my favourite time of year.
September, like January, is a time for fresh starts. It may not be the start of the calendar year, but it IS the start of the new school year, and - if you're a mum - that is way more significant than just changing a digit at the end of the date.
September is a time for brand new stationery, sharpened pencils, polished shoes and new friends. And it's a great time for new resolutions.
After the excesses of the summer holidays, everyone is 'back on it.' We're all starting diets, dusting off the gym membership and promising to get life back on track.
Also, if you quit drinking now, by the time Christmas comes around you'll have done the first 100 days, which are by far the hardest, and you'll be able to really enjoy the holiday season feeling good about yourself.
If you live in the UK, you can sign up for Sober October in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Then you can tell your friends you're doing it for charity (and avoid all the difficult questions for the time being), and make the most of Macmillan's great online support groups and tools.
So, if you're reading this and thinking I know I need to quit drinking but I'm not sure if it's the right time, then know this: it is. There will never be a better time than now.
If you'd like a great kick start to the new you, then I'm hosting a workshop in London in conjunction with World Without Wine on Saturday, October 6th and there are a few spaces still available. You can find more details here.
If you'd like to know what to expect in the first year of going sober, then read The Sober Diaries, and for daily information and inspiration, visit the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like' the page if you want to stay updated).
By the way, my September resolution is dealing with my addiction to ice-cream. Over the summer I seem to have become a Magnum magnet, and a pesky gelato shop has opened up at the end of my street, taunting me with great mountains of creamy dulce de leche ice-cream. Argh.
Happy new school year to you all!
Friday, 17 August 2018
Sunshine and alcohol go together like champagne at Wimbledon, a glass of chilled white wine by the pool or a cocktail on the beach. As soon as the sun comes out, we all go crazy and start taking off our clothes, dancing on tables, singing badly and copping off with strangers.
Or was that just me?
For many years, I couldn't imagine the summer without booze. Yet, here I am, in sunny France, on holiday with Mr SM, the kids and my parents, and I'm not missing it at all.
In the old days, french holidays were all about le vin. Now they're about early morning swims, trips to the local market to buy delicious cheeses, bread and fruit for lunch and time spent reconnecting with family.
But the first summer without alcohol is hard, so if you're struggling, you might find that this new research, sent to me by my friends over at The Age Well Project, gives you the added incentive that you need.
A recent study of 300,000 Americans found that excessive drinking was associated with higher rates of sunburn.
The authors acknowledge the fact that this may be due to big drinkers being people who generally play fast and loose with health warnings and laugh in the face of caution, but they argue that it's also a result of alcohol's impact on our skin.
When we drink, our body produces lots of free radicals which eat up the antioxidants that protect our skin from sunburn, and our bodies from cancer. (I'd always thought that 'free radicals' sounded pretty exciting, and rather wanted to be one, but apparently they are baddies).
Amazingly, the study showed that if you drink three shots of vodka, within just eight minutes the level of protective antioxidants in your skin drops dramatically, leaving you at higher risk of sunburn, premature skin ageing and skin cancer.
Conversely, if you want to help protect your skin in the sun, the study also showed that eating (or drinking) fresh fruit and vegetables will increase the antioxidants in your skin and enhance your natural sunblock. Yay - bring out the mocktails!
If you'd like to read the whole article on alcohol and sun damage, you can find it on the SoberMummy Facebook page.
In other news this summer, I went to my first festival sober - WOMAD. I discovered a whole new side to festivals I hadn't known existed - early morning yoga and tai chi, fabulous talks and demonstrations and delicious food, as well as the incredible music and dance. Who knew there were morning events at festivals?
While I was there, I gave a talk (yes, really!) for Radio 4's Four Thought on why Sober is the New Happy. If you'd like to hear it, it'll be on BBC Radio 4, 8.45pm on August 22nd, then after that on iPlayer (search for Four Thought).
And, finally, if you're looking for some summer reading by the pool, then look no further than The Sober Diaries, described as Bridget Jones Dries Out, and available here (UK) and here (USA).
Bon Vacances, my friends!
Saturday, 28 July 2018
For many of my readers, alcohol-free drinks are the single most useful prop for getting through the early days of being sober.
If you've read my book, The Sober Diaries, you will know that Beck's Blue got me through many a dark hour. When I was dealing with the cancer diagnosis, I would cling to my bottle of alcohol-free beer like a drowning man to a life-raft.
Here, however, is a health warning: Some people find alcohol-free drinks very dangerous.
Alcoholics Anonymous strongly advise not going near 'fake alcohol.' Their argument is that it just makes you want the real stuff, and it's a displacement activity that stops you properly 'recovering.'
The truth is, you just have to know yourself - what works for you and what doesn't.
In my early months of being sober, I avoided alcohol-free wine. Just looking at the bottle would make me yearn for a glass of the hard stuff.
But alcohol-free beer was totally different, because I had never been a beer drinker. I'd never thought of weak, gassy beer as a 'proper drink'. So, alcohol-free beer was not a trigger for me at all. And it really helped. Here's why:
We have spent years, decades, teaching our sub-conscious minds that the way to wind down and de-stress, is to have a drink. Initially, when we quit, our sub-conscious really misses that short-cut to relaxation.
Over time, we find better, varied and more healthy ways of doing the same thing, but - in the meantime - 'fake booze' tricks your self-conscious into chilling out. I promise you, it works. When I first discovered Beck's Blue it even made me feel drunk. Woo hoo!
Also, most 'soft drinks' are not created for adult palates. They are very, very sweet, filled with sugar and preservatives, and often very gassy. There is nothing that makes you feel more deprived at a drinks party than only being offered tap water or sticky orange juice. If you're lucky, you get elderflower. Oh joy.
Alcohol-free drinks, however, make you feel properly grown-up. (I rarely feel properly grown-up). A glass of Seedlip (alcohol-free spirit) with a Fever-Tree tonic and some fresh mint at the end of the day hits the spot way better than Ribena.
Also, many of us don't like to tell people initially that we've quit drinking. The admission leads to so many questions and assumptions, that often it's easier to keep quiet for a while. Alcohol-free drinks help you to 'fake it till you make it.' If you sit drinking a bottle of AF beer in a pub, no-one bats an eyelid, and you still feel like one of the crowd.
An added bonus of alcohol-free drinks is that many of them are seriously good for you! That makes a change, doesn't it? If you haven't tried Kombucha already then do. It's really yummy and amazingly healthy. Plus, it's super trendy, so you'll be surfing the zeitgeist.
Alcohol-free beer is incredibly low in calories, contains nothing artificial and is full of B vitamins - exactly the ones that big drinkers tend to be deficient in. Isn't that a lovely form of karma?
One thing to be aware of: since this market is quite new, there are strange anomalies in the labelling regulations. Any drinks that are 0.5% ABV or less in mainland Europe can be described as 'alcohol-free'. In the UK, however, 0.5% is classed as 'low alcohol.'
This is nonsense, as even orange juice is 0.5% ABV, and it is impossible to become inebriated on 0.5%. Club Soda are lobbying Parliament to update the labelling of Alcohol-Free drinks.
When I first quit drinking, there were very few alcohol-free options available. Now there are hundreds.
My personal favourites are: lager - Bavaria 0%, ale - Brewdog Nanny State, spirits - Seedlip and Berkshire Blend, wine - Torres Natureo and the new Adnams 0.5 range, Prosecco - Scavi & Ray. Please add your own favourites in the comments below!
My friend, The Wise Bartender (who has just had a baby girl. A mini-wise-bartender, isn't that lovely?), stocks all of the above and lots, lots more and will deliver all over the UK. If you quote the code SOBERMUMMY on checkout, he'll give you a 5% discount. Whoop whoop.
There is loads more information and inspiration on being alcohol-free, as always, on the SoberMummy Facebook page.
Love to you all,
Tuesday, 10 July 2018
Whenever anyone asks me what I most want for my children, my answer is to be happy. And isn't that what we want for ourselves too, above everything else?
Well, I've read several books and countless articles on the secret of happiness, and one thing comes up again and again: Gratitude.
This is particularly important for we addicts, especially those of you who have only recently quit drinking.
The reason we love alcohol so much, the thing that makes us crave it more and more is dopamine.
Dopamine is the feel-good hormone that is released in the brain whenever we reach for that glass of vino.
When we quit drinking, our brain really misses that dopamine, which is one of the reasons you'll often crave chocolate - sugar releases dopamine too.
But here's the good news: there's a really easy way to get the same dopamine hit, without all the downsides of alcohol like hangovers and self-hatred, and without mainlining cake: Gratitude.
Feeling grateful increases your levels of serotonin too, in exactly the same way Prozac does. It's nature's natural anti-depressant.
I know what you're thinking: that's all well and good, but what if you can't think of anything to be grateful for?
Sometimes life just really is a bit miserable. Everything is going wrong, and the last thing is the world you feel is GRATEFUL.
Well, here's a wonderful trick:
Remember when you wanted what you currently have.
I saw that written on Facebook, or Instagram, or a t-shirt - I can't remember. What I do remember is it getting stuck in my head and having a profound impact on me.
It's so easy to constantly strive for the next thing, always looking ahead and feeling miserable when we can't clear the next hurdle.
The crucial thing is to look back from time to time, and to see how far you've come.
For example, I have (many) days when my children are driving me crazy and I'm just exhausted with it all.
So, now I make myself remember my two early miscarriages, how utterly devastated I was and how all I wanted in the whole world was to be pregnant. I told myself that if my husband and I could have children I would never, ever want for anything else.
I remember when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and thought I might die pretty soon. The only thing I wanted was to be around for long enough to see my children reach adulthood.
I remember when we bought our first flat, and just a couple of months later there was a fire in the flat two floors above us, and the whole house nearly burnt down. I remember thinking that the only thing that was important was a roof over your head.
If you're struggling with the early months of being sober, remember when the thing you most wanted was to just get through a whole week without a drink.
The truth is that when the s**t hits the fan, we realise that all we really want is the simple things: family, health, a home.
However bad things seem, if you can remember to be grateful for these things, for anything, you will feel happier. The more often you find something to be grateful for, the easier it gets and the happier you feel. Simple.
If you'd like to read more about how to feel happy without booze, then there's a wonderful article from Time Magazine going up on the SoberMummy Facebook page this evening. (If you 'like' the page, Facebook will keep you updated).
For the story of my first year sober, with all its ups and downs, read The Sober Diaries. Click here if you're in the UK, here for USA and here for Australia.
Love to you all!
Monday, 25 June 2018
When you quit drinking it usually leaves a big hole. It certainly did for me.
So much of my life revolved around drinking - at parties, in restaurants and bars, and at home alone - that when I stopped, there was a huge... gap.
I've discovered that it is crucial to fill that gap with something else, ideally something that allows you to switch off, to get out of your head, the way that alcohol used to do.
My readers have found all sorts of ways of doing this - running, yoga, drawing, knitting, gardening, jewellery making, and much, much more. The crucial thing is that, whatever activity you pick, it keeps you in the moment.
If you're in the early days of quitting, and you're really not sure how to fill the hole, then here's my advice: think back to when you were a teenager. What made your heart beat faster? How did you spend your spare time? What did you want to be when you 'grew up?'
Many people tell me that when they quit drinking they re-discovered long forgotten passions. I read a story about a lady who loved to ice-skate as a young girl, but stopped when she became an adult. She took it up again in middle age, and it's now her greatest joy in life.
Another lady told me that she was passionate about horses and riding. When she quit drinking she got back on a horse for the first time in twenty years. She can't believe she left it so long.
It is never too late to rekindle that fire. And, if you find the right thing, you'll discover that it gives you a much greater high than alcohol ever did. And without the hangover. Perhaps you'll even turn it into your new career....
My 'thing' as a teenager was words. Writing, reading, anything and everything. So, when I quit drinking, that's what I went back to. I set up this blog and started writing every day, for the first time in nearly thirty years. This blog led to my book - The Sober Diaries.
Then, as you may remember from a previous post, I applied to do a three month novel-writing course.
I've spent the last three months lost in a fictional world in my own head. It's been the most intense and mind-blowing experience. At times I've felt like I was going a little crazy. And apologies for not posting on here very much through that period.
But it's not just the writing that I've loved - it's the course itself.
There are fifteen of us in our group, and our ages range from twenty-three to around sixty. We come from very different backgrounds, have different careers and interests and are writing totally different novels, but we all have a shared passion.
I spent decades choosing companions by their ability to match me drink for drink. It's wonderful to have a diverse group of friends with something completely different in common.
I've loved spending two evenings a week discussing great literature and our own (not so great) attempts, rather than just exchanging idle gossip down the pub.
So, why not spend some of the money you've saved on not drinking doing an evening course? It'll keep your hands and mind busy, introduce you to a new social circle and may become your new passion.
Learn to make pots! Discover how a car engine works! Find out how to do your own decorating or plumbing. The world is your oyster.
Do tell us what you're planning to do in the comments below.
I'm still posting information and inspiration daily on the SoberMummy Facebook page here. If you 'like' the page then Facebook will keep you updated.
Lots of love to you all!
Friday, 15 June 2018
I was looking for a picture to illustrate this post, so I typed 'romantic dinner' into the Google search. Almost all the images that came up featured two glasses of wine. And that really illustrates the problem. At least this one has two empty glasses.
I get lots of letters from people who worry that giving up drinking will ruin date night forever.
This was one of my main worries too. I'd had so many wonderful, drunken evenings out with my husband over the years, in restaurants, bars and parties. I really wasn't sure whether I could do 'date night' sober, without being haunted by memories of better nights in the past.
Well please, please don't worry! There will be a tricky few months of re-adjustment, but sober romance is not only possible, but fabulous.
Date night is particularly tricky if your partner still drinks. They're sad because they've lost a drinking buddy, and you're annoyed because have to sit and watch someone drinking all evening. Aaarrrghhh.
There are a few things you can do to make it easier:
Firstly, try and be a bit more inventive of what you do on a date night.
We drinkers get very lazy about nights out. So long as they involve lots of booze, we don't really care, so it's generally all restaurants, bars and parties.
In the early few months I really recommend avoiding spending hours at a restaurant or bar table. You just won't enjoy it.
Why not go to a great movie instead? You'll be so engrossed that you won't even think about drinking. Or, splash out some of the money you've saved on theatre tickets, or a concert or gig. Go and see some stand up comedy - laughter is a great aphrodisiac.
You'll quite quickly find that not only is date night still fun, it's way more varied and interesting than it used to be!
Secondly, think about what you (and they) drink.
I discovered that date night is much easier and more romantic if you can drink roughly the same thing. What I mean is that if Mr SM has a mojito, I have a virgin mojito. If he has a beer, I'll have an alcohol-free beer, and so on. That way, both of us feel as if we're on the same wavelength. And we are!
If your partner still drinks and your biggest issue was, like mine, wine, then ask them to drink something else on date night for a while. Staring at a glass of wine all evening when you're not drinking it is no fun.
And finally, try not to romance the old days.
It's easy to look back and remember the times when you were both merrily drunk and laughing hysterically over some shared joke, and to forget all the drunken rows, the terrible hangovers and the festering misunderstandings caused by something said after a few too many,
Date night may take re-adjusting to, but it will, eventually, be better than ever and, crucially, your relationship will be way stronger because you will be a much nicer person to live with - more even tempered, energetic, understanding and happy.
So hurrah for sober romance, and hurrah for all of you!
If you have some of your own tips and advice for sober date nights, then please do leave them in the comments below. Thank you!
To find our more about the first year sober, read The Sober Diaries. Click here UK, here USA, here Australia.
Thank you so much to Feedspot for voting Mummy was a Secret Drinker one of the UK's top 10 alcohol blogs. Whoop whoop. To see the full list click here.
If you'd like more face-to-face help and advice, there are still some places on the October workshop in London which I'm hosting with World Without Wine. For more information click here.
Love to you all,
Wednesday, 6 June 2018
As a society, we are very black and white about alcohol addiction. The accepted view is that people fall into one of two categories: 'normal drinker' or 'an alcoholic.'
The science doesn't support this. Alcohol addiction, like any other addiction, is progressive. It's a spectrum of shades of grey (or gray, if you're reading this from the USA).
Medical professionals have, for many years, been moving away from talking about 'alcoholism' to referring to 'alcohol use disorder' which is a sliding scale. And, finally, it looks as if society is starting to catch up.
I first came across the expression 'Grey Area Drinking' in the fabulous TEDx talk by Jolene Park, and yesterday I found an article which I posted on the SoberMummy Facebook page titled 'Am I an Almost Alcoholic?'
There is more and more talk on social media and in the press about those of us who fall somewhere in between the neat categories of 'normal' and 'rock bottom.'
This issue is way more important that just semantics about terminology.
Firstly, the black and white view stops many of us acknowledging that we have a problem.
In my TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful, I tell the story of the evenings I spent Googling 'Am I an Alcoholic' and answering the resulting questionnaires. It would ask things like 'do you drink alone?' (no, I'm with the dog), and 'do you have blackouts?'
Some of those questions I'd answer 'yes' to, but many of them I'd answer 'no'. At which point I'd think 'phew, I'm okay then,' and carry on drinking, despite knowing, in my heart, that I had an issue.
The fear of being branded 'an alcoholic' stopped me from addressing my addiction for many years.
This black and white thinking perpetuates the shame of addiction. It enables the vast majority of people to think 'I'm alright, Jack,' and to look pityingly at those of us who aren't.
The reality is, however, that many, many people lie somewhere on that spectrum of dependency, even those who are only drinking one small glass of wine a day, if that glass is one they absolutely can't do without.
If we started seeing alcohol addiction as a spectrum of shades of grey, then more people would realise that they had a problem, and be encouraged to quit before they slid further down the slippery slope.
Because it is progressive. As with any other drug, your tolerance increases over time and your mind and body start to crave more and more.
The traditional view that you have to 'hit rock bottom' before you can quit is wrong and dangerous. The closer towards rock bottom you slide, the harder it is to stop.
By rock bottom, you're physically more dependant, your habits are more ingrained, and you feel more hopeless.
Once you've lost your job, your family and your home it's difficult to see what you have left to live for. Despair keeps you trapped in the downward spiral of addiction.
Instead of asking ourselves 'am I an alcoholic?' we should be asking questions like 'am I becoming dependant on booze? Is it having a negative impact on my life? Is it gradually becoming more of a problem?'
If your answer to those questions is 'yes', then climb off that slippery slide while it's still relatively easy to do so.
If you'd like to read the story of my first year without booze, The Sober Diaries, then click here (UK). The Kindle version is now back online in USA and Canada! Click here (USA), here (Canada or here (Australia).
There are still places available on the October workshop in London that I'm hosting with World Without Wine. For more information click here.
Love to you all!
Monday, 28 May 2018
I was sent a wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert quote today, which I had to share:
"The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it.
They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it.
Those women are my superheroes."
And those women are my superheroes too. And those women are you. Because if you are fighting an addiction, then you are handling it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days.
It's really easy to feel angry at the cards that you've been dealt, to tell yourself it's not fair. Because it isn't fair.
I have spent many an evening glaring secretly at Mr SM as he sips his large glass of wine, then puts the bottle back in the fridge without feeling the need to finish it. How can he do that?
But the truth is that dealing with your addiction and coming out the other side will make you a superhero.
You'll discover a strength you never knew you had. I'm not entirely sure about 'grace.' I still don't feel terribly graceful, but I'm not going to argue with Elizabeth Gilbert.
You'll find that you like yourself again, and you like other people more, because you realise that beneath all the messiness of relationships and friendships, they're dealing with shit that's going wrong too.
It'll make you brave. Because once you've faced your fears and your demons and won, you'll realise that you can do it again and again. Next time shit goes wrong, (and it will at some point), you'll know exactly how to deal with it.
But the problem is that we often keep all the stuff we're dealing with quiet, because we're ashamed, because we don't want to put a downer on the conversation, or because we don't think people will understand. I didn't tell most people I'd quit drinking for years.
So, as a result, no-one tells you how strong and brave and extraordinary you are.
So I'm going to. Listen up, because this is important.
YOU ARE A SUPERHERO. YOU ARE STRONG, BRAVE AND EXTRAORDINARY.
Be proud of yourself. Stick your face on that picture of Wonder Woman and put it on the fridge so you can remind yourself every day what a hero you are.
There's lots more information and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook page: click here ('like' page to stay updated)
To listen to my TEDx talk on Making Sober Less Shameful click here.
Love to all you superheroes,
Friday, 18 May 2018
I have always been proud to call myself a feminist.
I went to Cambridge University, to an all girls college called Newnham. Newnham was founded by Millicent Fawcett, the famous suffragist, who has just been honoured with the first statue of a woman erected in Parliament Square.
Newnham opened its doors to women in 1871, but they weren't made full members of the University, or awarded degrees, until 1948.
When we ate dinner in formal hall, we sat underneath a (rather battered) suffragette banner which was carried by the women of Newnham in the marches on Parliament.
I loved the history of my college. I was determined that I would do anything and everything that the boys could do.
I quickly discovered that all the mixed colleges had male-only drinking societies, which held the most riotous and popular of the student parties.
So, my friends and I set up a women's only drinking society at our college, and we drank and partied as hard as any of the men.
I thought alcohol was a feminist issue. I totally bought into the idea - propagated in the 1980s - that keeping up with the men meant drinking as much as they did.
I loved the 'ladette' culture, and drank like Bridget Jones, the Sex and the City girls and Absolutely Fabulous.
Then I became a mum.
I grew up chanting the mantra that women could have it all. A successful career and a family.
I quickly realised that that is possible, but it's incredibly hard. The men who'd managed to juggle careers and families had wives at home keeping the ship afloat for them.
We had virtually no help, and were expected to do the lion's share of the domestic work and the childcare as well as the job.
It's not surprising that 'wine o'clock' has become such a thing. It's our generation's equivalent of the valium our mother's generation described as 'mummy's little helper.' It keeps us sane, it helps us relax, it's our reward for a job well done (or a job done, at least).
Only it's not really a reward. It's a drug. And more and more of us are becoming addicted to it and finding that it's having a terrible effect on our mental and physical health.
We have created lives for ourselves that we constantly try to run away from, by self-medicating.
I've also realised that the way we use alcohol, instead of helping us keep up with the boys, is stopping us achieving as much as we could.
One of the things I hear from women over and over again, is that when they stop drinking their careers take off. They have more energy, they sleep better, they have more time, they become incredibly productive and creative.
The truth is, we cannot break down the glass ceiling when we have wine glasses in our hands.
Emmeline Pankhurst said "I would rather be a rebel than a slave." We did not fight for our freedom from the patriarchy only to become slaves to the booze.
So, if you are struggling with alcohol addiction, take heart from this suffragette quote: Never surrender. Never give up the fight.
In other news this week, huge apologies to those of you in the USA and Canada who've been unable to download the Kindle version of The Sober Diaries. It's now back on line and (for a limited time only) at a discounted price. You can find it here USA, or here for UK, or here for Australia.
On Sunday 20th May 7pm (UK time) I'm hosting a live webinar on Club Soda on booze and parenting. Do tune in if you can! You need to be a member to watch, but membership is by voluntary donation - you just pay what you can afford. You can find Club Soda here.
As always, there's loads more inspiration and information on the SoberMummy Facebook page and on Instagram (@clare_pooley).
Love to you all,
Thursday, 10 May 2018
Now the weather's warming up, we all start thinking about our summer holidays. And, if you're newly sober, you're probably starting to panic.
I get it. I was the same. Packing for my first sober holiday, I remember resigning myself to the fact that it wasn't going to be fun at all. What was the point of a holiday if you couldn't let your hair down and go wild?
For over two decades, summer holidays were associated in my head with a loosening of all the rules. All those things I usually told myself I really shouldn't do were now completely acceptable because I was on holiday!
I could drink as much as I wanted every day, even starting before lunch time. I could party every night and stay out as long as I liked. I could go wild on the dance floor and be totally inappropriate, since I'd be unlikely to see anyone in the club again. All bets were off.
I once behaved so badly after a tequila party in Mexico (there was nudity involved) that I woke the girlfriend I was travelling with at dawn and told her we had to be on the first bus out of town.
So, when you start thinking about your first holiday without booze, it's really hard to picture what it's going to be like. The carousel of holiday snaps in your head all feature alcohol.
But here's the truth: Sober holidays are WAY BETTER. Ask anyone who's been sober for a while if you don't believe me. Here's why:
1. There's more holiday to enjoy
On my boozy holidays, I would spend much of the morning asleep or hungover. And after midnight, everything was a bit of a blur. So there were only about seven or eight hours of the day when I'd be on good form.
On sober holidays, I usually get up at around 7am, because the sun's up, I'm in a beautiful place and I have things to do. Then I'll crash at around 10pm. That gives me fifteen hours each day that I can really make the most of.
So now, my holidays are TWICE AS LONG!
2. You can really appreciate your kids
If you have children, you'll know that on drinking holidays you end up spending a fair amount of time avoiding them. There's nothing better than a hotel kids club when you're hungover, or wanting to get stuck into the vino over lunch.
In the evenings, I'd always try to feed the kids early and get them into bed, so we could let our hair down and not worry about moderating our behaviour or language or drinking.
Now, the children and I are on the same wavelength on holiday. We don't have different agendas. We'll swim together, surf together, eat all our meals together.
By the end of the holiday it feels like we're a watertight little gang.
3. You can strengthen relationships
If you're going away with your partner or friends, then sober holidays are a great time to properly reconnect - to spend lots of time talking, to find out what's really going on in their lives and to share all your hopes and dreams.
When you're drinking, you don't tend to do that.
You might have some fun memories of wild nights out to share, but it's quite likely that you'll never talk about the things that matter, or even that you'll end up having drunken arguments and with simmering resentments.
4. You can experience new things
When your idea of holidays is only about booze, food and parties, you tend not to bother to organise much in the way of exploring - at least I never did.
When you holiday sober, you plan more outings, go on more adventures, look for new experiences.
What is the point of going away if you're going to do just the same things that you do at home?
5. You come home feeling better than when you left.
I used to joke on returning from holidays that I needed another holiday to recover.
It was true! I'd come back feeling tired, fat, toxic and, often, regretful.
When you come back from a sober holiday, having had lots of sleep, sun, exercise and great food, you're refreshed, revitalised, and raring to go.
The trick is to redefine your idea of what holidays are about.
They won't be the same, its true. They won't be so much about letting your hair down, going wild and getting trashed.
What they will be about is the things that really matter - looking after yourself, building relationships and making memories. And those things will keep you strong over the months that follow, if times get tough.
So please don't worry about holidaying without booze. It's going to be amazing.
By the way, Laurie McAllister interviewed me last week for her Not Drinking Diaries on her fabulous blog Girl and Tonic which you can find here. If you don't yet follow her, you're missing out, she's amazing!
If you need any holiday reading, you can buy The Sober Diaries here (UK), here (USA), or here (Australia).
Lots of love to you all,