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,
Thursday, 3 May 2018
I have THREE bits of good news to share today. Whoop whoop.
Firstly, many of you may already know of World Without Wine. They are a wonderful online support network, and for several years have been running extremely popular one-day workshops in South Africa on how to change your relationship with alcohol.
(Click here to read an article in Marie Claire South Africa about the World Without Wine workshops).
The exciting news is that World Without Wine are hosting their first ever worship in my home town - London! And they've asked me to help run it.
It's on Saturday, October 6th, to tie in with Sober October, and you can find all the details by clicking here.
There's only enough room for fifteen people, so we can keep it all cosy, and two places have been snapped up already, so if you're interested do book quickly. There's an early bird discount until the end of May too.
I'm really looking forward to meeting some of you in real life.
Secondly, if you're in the UK it's a bank holiday coming up, and it's going to be HOT. So, my friend The Wise Bartender has stocked up on alcohol-free wines, beers and spirits and is offering all readers of Mummy was a Secret Drinker a 5% discount on all deliveries. You just need to quote SOBERMUMMY when you order.
Click here to go to The Wise Bartender online store.
And finally, The Sober Diaries is on special offer on Kindle (for a limited time only) at 99p! Or, if you're in the USA, $1.36. Do tell your friends.
(Click here for Kindle UK, here for Kindle USA and here for Kindle Australia).
Love to you all!
Tuesday, 24 April 2018
Last week was Eminem's ten year Soberversary.
(When my children were small they were convinced that his name was M&M and that he had a sideline in chocolate manufacturing).
I found an article from the New York Times that was written shortly after Eminem left rehab. He'd just released his first new album in five years - Relapse - inspired by his addiction and recovery.
In creating this album, Eminem said "I'm kind of just coming clean and exhaling."
Like so many people who've written to me, Eminem found that "the deeper I got into my addiction, the tighter the lid got on my creativity... but when I got sober the wheels started turning again."
"When I got sober the lid just came off. In seven months I accomplished more than I could accomplish in three or four years of doing drugs."
(To read the full article visit the SoberMummy Facebook page. 'Like' page to stay updated).
It's amazing what people start doing with their lives once they quit drinking.
The combination of more money, more energy, more creativity and more time creates a rocket fuel.
For many, though, it doesn't happen as quickly as it did for Eminem.
For me, the first year was all about healing and introspection. I did pick up writing (this blog), for the first time in decades, but, like Eminem, that was very much about 'coming clean and exhaling.' It was therapy.
It's often the second and third year after beating addiction that people's lives really turn around.
Many of my readers have started new businesses, climbed mountains, run marathons, become jewellery designers, yoga teachers, writers or artists. One lady has started doing an open-mic poetry reading session, another is doing stand-up comedy.
It feels a bit like that lid has been pressed down so hard, that when it's released it explodes with the power of a jack-in-the-box.
So, what are you going to do now you're sober? Please tell us in the comments!
I am, this evening in fact, as the picture above suggests, going back to school. I'm starting a three month novel-writing course.
It's something I've wanted to do for YEARS, but never would have managed in the drinking days. For a start, I'd have told myself that I wasn't good enough. Secondly, its in the evenings! 7-9pm! It would have interfered far too much with my drinking time.
I'm a bit nervous. I'm wondering what the other fourteen students will be like. There's bound to be at least one that winds everyone up. Argh! What if it's me?!?
In other news, Mr SM is having a mid-life crisis.
He hasn't bought a Harley Davidson yet, but - after our brief flirtation with summer last week, he's bought a GIANT gas barbecue for the garden. Everyday new accessories arrive for this beast. A smoker. A rotisserie. A metal suitcase filled with barbecue tongs.
On top of that, he's started cycling to and from work. More accessories. He's started mumbling about lycra. OMG, I'm going to have a MAMIL* for a husband.
(*Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).
And, finally, a BIG, BIG thanks to all of you who've left reviews of The Sober Diaries on Amazon. I looked at my UK page yesterday (okay, I confess: I look at it every day), and there were TWO-HUNDRED reviews. You are amazing, and I am overwhelmed.
To see the reviews, or to buy a copy of The Sober Diaries in hardback, Kindle or audio, click here for UK, here for USA and here for Australia.
To watch my TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful, click here.
Love to you all!
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
I am not the same woman I was ten years ago.
The process of beating addiction requires you to tear yourself apart, layer by layer, and then to reassemble yourself, as best you can.
Then I got breast cancer, and dealing with that was very similar. I was shattered, and had to gradually rebuild.
I didn't just end up emotionally scarred, I was physically scarred too - an ex-lush with only 1.75 breasts and a big gash where one of my my sentinel lymph nodes used to be. Not to mention the damage inflicted by three lots of childbirth and breast feeding.
It's very easy to emerge from all of that feeling damaged. Flawed. Imperfect.
That's why I loved a performance I saw recently by the amazing feminist poet - Megan Beech.
(Megan's debut poetry collection was brilliantly titled "When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard.")
Megan performed a piece about living with depression. She compared her relationship with mental illness to the Japanese art of Kintsugi.
Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum, thereby creating a piece much more beautiful and unique than the 'perfect' original.
It is said that when this new art emerged in the late 15th century, collectors became so enamoured with it that they would deliberately smash valuable pottery so that it could be repaired with the golden seams of kintsugi.
Kintsugi is not just an art, it's also a philosophy which treats breakage and repair as part of the unique history, or story, of an object, rather than something to disguise.
In a book about mended Japanese ceramics, Christy Bartlett writes "not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated."
Another brilliant poet, Leonard Cohen, said the same in these lyrics from Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
And the truth is that those repaired cracks and flaws are what makes us unique and precious and beautiful. We shouldn't be ashamed of them, we should celebrate them - highlight them in gold and make them shimmer.
It also makes us brave and fearless, because we know that even if something is thrown at us that makes us shatter again, we have the ability to rebuild, and to - eventually - emerge even better.
I like to think that understanding Kintsugi can make us less judgemental too, that instead of criticising the flaws and imperfections of others we can see them as marks of a bewitching individuality.
So, if you are feeling battered and bruised by life, then don't be, because it's those scars which make you beautiful, unique and courageous.
There's lots of new stuff on the SoberMummy Facebook page, including much heated debate on the Liz Jones article about the misery that is sobriety (*angry face*). 'Like' the page to stay updated.
To listen to my TEDx talk on Making Sober Less Shameful click here.
To read about the ups and downs of the first year sober in The Sober Diaries click here (UK), or here (USA) or here (Australia).
To hear Megan perform her kintsugi poem, click here.
Love to you all!
Sunday, 8 April 2018
I have a messy, love-hate relationship with social media. My Facebook status would describe our relationship as 'it's complicated.'
Until recently, I didn't spend much time on social media. Occasionally I'd post one of those smug family holiday pictures for family and friends (which wouldn't show the reality of flight delays, family arguments and sunburn) on Facebook, but that was it.
Then, when I 'came out' from behind my SoberMummy pseudonym, six months ago, I set up the SoberMummy Facebook page.
I love that page because it allows me to post all the fabulous articles and videos that I find, and that people kindly send me, about booze.
I love the fact that it's picked up over four thousand followers from all over the world, and I love that it's introduced me to other great Facebook communities, like Club Soda, World Without Wine and Recovery Buddha.
In many ways, social media has transformed life for addicts like me. I was WAY too scared and ashamed to pitch up at an AA meeting. I would have got there eventually, but I would probably have had to reach rock bottom first.
The blogosphere and social media make finding help before you lose everything so much easier, they make you feel less alone and provide that connection that is the antithesis to addiction.
Then, three months ago, I published The Sober Diaries, and people, very kindly, started posting pictures of my book all over Instagram, and tagging me. Except I wasn't on Instagram, so some other poor, unsuspecting Clare Pooley was being bombarded with messages about being an ex-lush.
So I set up an Instagram Page. And I discovered a whole new community of sober folks over there.
I realised that Instagram is a lovely, supportive and happy place to hang out, and it makes sober feel sexy and avant-guard.
Which is why social media is AMAZING and a huge support for addicts everywhere.
I'm still a bit cross about the way social media normalised excessive drinking for me for so long. All those 'wine o'clock' memes and 'mummy's little helper' jokes made me feel like everyone with a normal, hectic, imperfect life used wine to get through it.
I'm also increasingly freaked out by the way my social media sucks up information about me to make assumptions about what I might be cajoled into buying, and gets it wrong!
I spend a fair amount of time searching for, and reading, articles about booze so, as a result, Facebook and Instagram have me down as a huge wine fan. I get endless ads for things like wine bangles, mugs and T-Shirts with funny wine jokes printed on them and bizarre hangover cures.
Even worse, at some point I must have made a joke about pelvic-floor exercises, because every day I get bombarded with ads for Tena lady pads and - get this - 'pee-proof pants'.
I AM NOT INCONTINENT (yet).
But the worse thing about social media is that it is addictive. Super addictive. And I, my friends, am an addict.
If you have found yourself addicted to alcohol, nicotine, gambling, anything at all, it is very likely that your brain is super sensitive to dopamine.
Doing any of those things releases that lovely, feel good chemical and makes everything seem a little bit... brighter (for a while).
There is a downside, however, which is that the brain starts to crave dopamine. It wants more and more of it, which is where the addiction sets in.
And guess what happens when you check your Facebook or Instagram feed and find a bunch of 'likes'?
Yup, you guessed it, you get a dopamine hit.
This, people, is no accident. Sean Parker, one of the founders of Facebook, admitted that it, like cigarettes, was designed to be addictive. Here's what he told US news site, Axios:
"We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. It's a social-validation feedback loop.... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."
Well, thanks a bunch, Sean.
So, whilst I love Facebook and Instagram, they are sucking up more and more of my time, and my headspace, just like the booze did.
Today is the last day of our holiday. We've had an amazing week driving all over Ibiza, exploring off-the-beaten-track beaches and eating paella in fabulous restaurants.
BUT, several times a day one of the children will say:
"What's Mummy doing?"
And another will reply "She's with her internet family."
I let the booze keep me away from my children for too long, I can't let social media do the same.
It's time for some MODERATION! (And I'm really good at that, aren't I?)
If you'd like to read The Sober Diaries click here for UK, here for USA and here for Australia.
To listen to my TEDx talk, Making Sober Less Shameful, click here.
If you're new to the sober thing, then there's a great chat going on in the comments section of the 'Advice for Newbies' page which you can find here.
Love to you all!
Thursday, 29 March 2018
Before starting this post on Easter holidays, I just wanted to say a huge thank you, from the very bottom of my heart, to all of you for your incredible support after my mini meltdown last week.
I am so, so sorry that I haven't been able to reply to you all individually, but your messages meant so much to me.
I was reminded, yet again, that this sober tribe is made up of the most generous, thoughtful and amazing people. You are all superheroes.
Thanks to you, I'm back to feeling chirpy, plus the weather is improving, and we're into the Easter holidays!
But I know that holidays are not the easiest time if you've recently quit. I've had a number of messages over the past few days from people worrying about how to get through them without drinking.
I really love sober holidays now and can't imagine doing them any differently, but it takes a while to get there.
I think the biggest issue is that we've conditioned ourselves over years - or decades even - to associate holidays with partying. And by partying, I mean drinking.
The Easter weekend, for me, was all about being able to have long, boozy lunches that went on well into the evening. Then long, boozy evenings that went on well into the night.
But, you know what? At the end of that weekend, I'd feel awful! I'd be toxic, anxious, depressed, exhausted and run down. I'd go back to work feeling like I needed..... a holiday. But wasn't that what I'd just had?
The trick is to redefine what holidays are about!
Now I see holidays as a chance to look after myself, to recharge and reset and get ready for new challenges ahead.
I get loads of sleep, eat well and go on long walks, so that by the end of the holiday I feel amazing.
More importantly, I see holidays as a time to reconnect with my family, especially my children.
Over Easter holidays of old, I'd spend a lot of time trying to escape the children so I could drink with my grown-up friends. Now, the holidays are all about doing things together. Making memories (that you actually remember!)
A bit of over-indulgence is still obviously crucial, so this weekend I will go a little crazy on the chocolate.
So, if this is your first sober holiday, be good to yourself. Easter is a great time for new beginnings. Hole up in a cosy cocoon for a few days and get ready to fly.
Talking of flying, my New Year's resolution was to do more new things this year, so a few weeks ago I booked us all an Easter holiday in Ibiza!
It turns out that no-one goes to Ibiza in April, because all the clubs are closed and the weather isn't great (but no worse than August in Cornwall, which is what we're used to), so I managed to rent a villa for a fraction of the normal cost.
I've always wanted to go to Ibiza, but - back in the drinking days - I was a bit worried that, on a party island, like that the wheels really would come off! I might never have come home.
Now, that's not an issue. My wheels are firmly stuck on.
I'm hoping that the island will be pretty quiet, and we can drive around visiting local tapas restaurants and deserted beaches and just chill.
Mr SM has obviously booked the cheapest flights available - RyanAir. He then had a panic about having to pay for everything apart from the actual plane as 'extras.'
"Do we really need any suitcases?" he said. "And surely we don't need to sit next to each other on the plane?"
I had a panic yesterday when I received an e-mail titled IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR FLIGHT!
Arrrgghhh! I thought. They've cancelled it (RyanAir have form in this area).
Turns out they haven't (yet), but as this is a flight which is very popular with hen and stag parties, they've issued a complete ban on any alcohol on the plane.
ALL BAGS WILL BE SEARCHED! ANYONE SHOWING SIGNS OF INEBRIATION WILL NOT BE ALLOWED ON THE PLANE!
Have a wonderful Easter, everyone! If you want to see any of my smug holiday pictures, you can follow me on Instagram @clare_pooley
There's inspiration and information every day on the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like' page to stay updated).
If you're looking for holiday reading, then look no further than The Sober Diaries. You can read the first few chapters for free by choosing the 'look inside' feature. Click here for UK, here for USA and here for Australia.
And, finally, you can see my TEDx talk - Making Sober Less Shameful here.
Love to you all, and see you on the other side,
Friday, 23 March 2018
Generally I love what I do, but for the last couple of days I've been feeling really tired of it all.
I feel awful about whining, because I know that many of you will be in the early, tough days of fighting the wine witch, so the last thing you need is me bleating about nothing much. If that's you, then please feel free to stop reading.
I'm always telling the children not to worry about what other people think of them. I say things like 'you can't change what people think, only how you react', and so on, yet I can't take my own advice.
Two days ago, someone posted an incredibly vitriolic one star review on my Amazon page, and I can't stop thinking about it.
I know this is stupid, because I have 170 reviews, and all but a small handful are 5* and really amazing, and I am hugely, hugely grateful to all of you who have taken the time to write them. Thank you, thank you.
But this person has called me vapid, self-centred, over-privileged and bragging, and hates everything about me, my life, my family, my book and my editor. They even spelled my name incorrectly.
I keep trying to forget about it, but it just makes me sad and fed up, and then I worry that maybe they're right. Maybe I am just unbearably smug and irritating.
I also worry that this rant will put people off reading my book who might have found it helpful.
Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing this.
Apologies again. Normal chirpy service will be resumed shortly.
If you'd like to make up your own mind about my book, you can find it here.
If you'd like to listen to my TEDx talk, you can find it here (UK), or here for the USA.