Thursday, 22 March 2018

Making Sober Less Shameful

Whenever I'm asked what the most difficult thing was about quitting alcohol, I always reply "other people."

I was horribly addicted to cigarettes too, many years ago, and when I finally managed to quit everyone was really supportive. I was constantly congratulated and told that I was brave and wise and amazing.

No-one asked me why I wanted to stop smoking, tried to convince me to 'just have one' or accused me of being boring.

Yet when I quit drinking it was very different. Instead of feeling virtuous, I felt ashamed. Instead of feeling supported, I felt shunned.

This makes me really mad.

So I did a TEDx talk.

I talked about why I found it easy to tell people I had breast cancer, yet impossible to confess to alcohol addiction.

I talked about shame and other people's reactions.

I talked about how alcohol is the only drug you have to justify NOT taking, despite the fact that the science shows it's the fourth most harmful drug after crack, heroin and crystal meth.

I talked about the link to cancer, especially breast cancer.

Then, crucially, I talked about three things that we can all do to help the superheroes who pluck up the courage to ditch the nation's favourite drug, by addressing the stigma around alcohol addiction.

Yesterday my talk went up on YouTube. There's a link at the top of this page. I'd love to know what you think. I'd love it even more if you could share, and help drive the Sober Revolution.

Full disclosure: I haven't dared watch it myself yet.

Love to you all,

SM x

To read the book about my first year sober, click here for UK, here for USA and here for Australia. You can read the first few chapters for free by choosing the 'look inside' feature.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Alcohol and Sleep

It's Saturday morning, and I've bounced out of bed, leaving the children still slumbering away happily.

One of the very best things about being sober, the one I never tire of (please excuse the pun!), is sleep.

For at least a decade, I was a terrible sleeper. I would look at the rest of my family, who'd be happily out for the count for hours, and think how do you DO that?

I would get to sleep easily enough, but then I'd wake up at around 3am tossing and turning and unable to drop off again until about ten minutes before my alarm went off. 

I didn't waste that 3am-7am time. Oh no. I used it to beat myself up about my latest misdemeanour, or the things I'd meant to, yet failed to achieve, or the fact that - yet again - I'd drunk way more than I should have the previous evening. 

I blamed my insomnia on the inevitable stresses and strains of modern life. 

I tried everything to cure my lack of sleep – relaxation and meditation, exercise, aromatherapy pillows and various over-the-counter remedies, but nothing worked.

Then, I quit drinking and, within a few weeks, I was sleeping like a baby and bouncing out of bed in the mornings like the Duracell bunny. Miraculous. 

There are several reasons why alcohol has a terrible effect on our sleep.

Firstly, whilst alcohol initially helps you fall into a deep sleep (which is why I missed the ends of movies for years), as the alcohol wears off you move out of deep sleep and into REM sleep, which is much lighter and easier to wake from.

Your body has to work hard overnight to process all those toxins, which interferes with the quality of your sleep, causing all that tossing, turning and restlessness.

Alcohol is also a diuretic, so after a few drinks you’re likely to wake up in the night sweating buckets, desperately thirsty and needing a wee.

The problem with all this lack of sleep isn’t just that it makes us feel a bit snoozy the next day, it affects everything – our relationships, our careers, our creativity and our health.

Lack of sleep is directly correlated to an increased incidence of breast and colon cancer, and of heart problems. In the days after the clocks spring forward an hour in March, there is a noticeable increase in reported heart attacks and road accidents.

Sleep deprivation was deemed to be 'a significant factor' in the Exxon Valdez wreck, the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle and the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

Now, we may not be in charge of radio-active materials or a space programme, but you know how lack of sleep makes you unproductive, irritable and more likely to make mistakes.

Of all the benefits being sober brings, for me, getting lots of (great quality) sleep has been one of the best.

It's made me healthier, happier, more creative and has even made me look better (no more eye bags and dull, tired skin).

It turns out that I’m not alone in finding that great sleep can transform your life.

A recent survey by the National Centre for Social Research found that quality of sleep has by far the strongest association with wellbeing among those elements of our lifestyle that we can control. Regularly getting a good night’s sleep makes us happier than a fifty percent pay rise, spicing up our sex lives or socialising with friends and family. Whoop whoop!

BUT, be warned, when you first quit you may find getting to sleep tricky. Don't worry, that'll pass. If you’re still having problems dropping off after a few days, try taking a magnesium supplement at bedtime.

I also HUGELY recommend (again) Spacemasks.  They are groovy little eye-masks that heat up when you put them on, releasing lovely, sleep-inducing, lavender. Watch out though, they're addictive!

So, sleep well my friends, and enjoy that virtual fifty percent pay rise…

In other news, the lovely Ang75 has set up her own blog. Go girl! Here's a link.

If you've started blogging, or have a favourite blog you'd like to recommend, then please leave a link, or the address, in the comments below. All sharing welcome :-)

For more on the ups and downs of quitting booze, read The Sober Diaries - click here (UK), here (USA) or here (Australia). The Kindle price in the UK has just been reduced to £4.99!

Love to you all,

SM x

Friday, 9 March 2018

Making it Happen

I've had a number of e-mails recently from people who gave up drinking at the beginning of January, are now at around day 60 and are suddenly finding it really hard.

If this is you, then you are not alone.

The early part of sobriety is often referred to as 'the pink cloud.' Although you might be scared, you're excited too. It's all a bit of an adventure. And in January, it feels like everyone is on the same sober bus as you.

But, by day 60, all the novelty has worn off, the pink cloud has disappeared, all your Dry January friends are back on the booze and making up for lost time, and you haven't yet got to the point where being sober begins to get really easy and all the benefits start to kick in.

At this point, it's difficult to remember why you're doing all this anyway. You've started to forget why the drinking days were so bad. You're beginning to think that it's really not worth all this angst. You're bored with it all.

So, if that's you, or even if it's not you, then here is a great trick for staying positive, motivated and making it happen:


Mr SM thinks all this stuff is a bit 'woo woo', but I'm telling you, it works.

Find a simple cork board and drawing pins, or just a piece of card and some glue, and cut out pictures from magazines or from the internet that show the future as you want it to be.

How do you want to feel? How do you want to look? What do you want to achieve? What do you want to buy with all the booze money you're saving?

Put the board somewhere where you'll see it every day.

Now, if you've read The Secret, or anything about the power of attraction (also referred to as the power of intention), you might believe that visualising the future as you want it to be actually makes it happen. 

Even if you don't believe in that sort of stuff, just having that board there as a reminder of why you are doing all of this is a really, really helpful tool. It keeps you positive and motivated when times get hard.

In case you're rolling your eyes at this point, thinking that this is all total mumbo-jumbo, I'll tell you a few stories about people you may have heard of who really believe in it....

Back in 2008, Oprah Winfrey revealed that she uses a vision board to 'visualise her goals and harness the power of intention.'

A New York radio station asked Oprah what was on her board.

Oprah said that she'd been at a rally, chatting with Michelle Obama (as you do), and Michelle said to her 'I want you to leave here and envision Barack Obama taking the oath of office.' So Oprah created her first vision board, putting a picture of Obama on it, and a picture of the dress she wanted to wear to the inauguration.

And you know what happened next....

In The Secret, John Assaraf talks about how, back in 1995, he made a vision board which he put up in his office and would look at every day.

John then moved three times, ending up in California.

John opened the packing box containing his old vision boards that had been packed away for five years.

On one board was a picture of a house that he had cut out from Dream Homes magazine. It was the very house he was sitting in. Not just a house similar to the one he'd bought, the same actual house. 

Jim Carrey has talked a lot about the power of intention. Jim says he wrote himself a cheque, when he was trying to break into Hollywood, and he put it in his wallet. A couple of years later, he was signed for his first major movie, and the date and the amount on the cheque he received matched the one he'd written himself exactly.

When I started reading about the power of vision boards, about three years ago, I made my own. It sits by my bed, and my children call it 'Mummy's wish board.'

(When I'm not looking they stick things of their own on there, which is why there's currently a yellow Ferrari in the top right hand corner).

And you know what? At least half the things on my vision board have happened already. (I'm still waiting for the trip to New York and the invitation to meet Oprah).

One of the main images on my board was me at my book launch (well before I'd actually started writing the book), surrounded by my proud looking family and friends. I had to pinch myself hard two months ago, when I realised that I was actually there. In my happy place.

(If you'd like to see the pictures of the book launch, check out my Instagram page).

So make a board, and make your dreams come true!

If you need more motivation to keep on going, then read my book: The Sober Diaries. You can read the first few chapters for free by clicking here and choosing the 'look inside' feature. If you live in the USA, then click here.)

Love to you all,

SM x

P.S. Positive Possum is from the Instagram page of @harri_rose_

Friday, 2 March 2018

3 Secrets to Getting Sober

There are a few dates that we never forget: the dates our children were born, the Battle of Hastings (1066 is the only thing I remember from years of history lessons) and our SOBERVERSARY.

And today is mine!

3 years ago today, I woke up after a rather long and riotous birthday party, and - after trying to cure my hangover by swigging red wine from a mug at 11am - swore I'd never drink again.

One question I've been asked, and I've asked myself, more than any other is what made that time different?

It wasn't - by a long shot - my first attempt at quitting. So, why did it work that time, when I'd failed so many times before?

Well, after pondering that question for three whole years, here's what I think are the three secrets to getting sober:

1.  Knowing that moderation is not an option

I don't think I've met a single big drinker who is really keen, in the beginning, to quit altogether. What we want, what we really really want, is to be able to drink moderately.

We're desperate to get rid of all the bad drinks. The ones you really don't need at 2am, that make you lose your keys and forget how you got home, and accidentally spill your best friend's deepest secret....

...but we don't want to let go of the good ones. The birthday champagne, the toasts at a wedding, the cocktails on holiday.

If you start on your sober journey with even the slightest suspicion that you will be able, at some point, to drink 'normally' then you are unlikely to succeed.

This is because as soon as you hit a hurdle, the wine witch will start telling you that you've done so well. You've 're-calibrated'. You'll never go back to drinking the way you were. Of COURSE you can just have the one...

Then, within a few weeks, you'll be back to where you started, just more so. Because that's how addiction works.

The truth is that if you are addicted to alcohol, if you are an 'all-or-nothing' person, not only is moderation not possible, but it's exhausting. 

It is way easier to just quit altogether, and - after a few difficult months, you'll find a freedom and serenity you didn't think possible.

So, if you haven't yet quit, and you're not yet totally sure about this one, then experiment. Try just drinking one small glass of wine a day and see if it's possible. Or does it drive you crazy?

Have you given up before, for January maybe, and sworn that you'd drink moderately in the future? How did that work out?

Did you ever smoke? If so, were you just a 'social smoker' or were you a total addict? If you quit smoking, do you believe that just one cigarette would send you right back to a packet a day? What makes you think you'll be different with alcohol?

Are you one of life's natural moderators, or are you an all-or-nothing type?

If you CAN drink sensibly, moderately and happily, then go ahead!

But, if you've tried this many times and failed, if you want to quit altogether, forever, than you need to know, deep down to your bones, that moderation is NOT AN OPTION.

By the time I finally quit, three years ago (did I say that already?) I had tried, and failed, to moderate for years.

I'd given up drinking for months at a time, then just one drink would send me spiralling back, like landing on the longest snake in a game of Snakes and Ladders.

I knew I couldn't do it, and - more importantly - I knew that trying to moderate would always make me miserable, as it was sapping away my self-esteem. Every time I failed I hated myself more.

2. Connection

In Johann Hari's incredible TED talk on addiction, he ends with the words the opposite of addiction is connection.

One of the fundamental reasons for AA's success is the 'fellowship of the rooms' - the other people you meet who share their stories and help you on your way, then encourage you to help others in the same way.

I didn't go to AA, but it was the connections I found through the internet that made such a big difference.

Through this blog, and through, I found women (and men) just like me, who made me feel less alone and showed me the way forward. Whenever I was tempted to drown everything out in a bucket of sauvignon blanc, I'd think about how I'd feel if I let them down.

It doesn't matter where you find your tribe - at AA, SMART Recovery, Club Soda, Soberistas, right here - so long as you find one.

Don't try to do this alone. There's no need to!

3. Belief

I get hundreds of e-mails from people about quitting drinking, and I can generally tell who is going to succeed and who isn't (just yet).

The ones who say 'Today is Day One and I am SO EXCITED!' will make it, and the ones who say 'I know I have to quit and I'm going to try really hard, but I don't think I can do it', won't.

That's because the most important secret to success is really believing that you can do it, and being excited about it.

If you start on this journey thinking that you are depriving yourself of something, then you will never be happy sober. It's like being on a never-ending crash diet.

Instead, you need to believe that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Life isn't ever going to be the same again - it's going to be WAY BETTER (once you're past the hard first few months).

What made me switch from dread to excitement was reading the book Kick the Drink, Easily by Jason Vale. It made me totally change the way I thought about booze. Alan Carr's book does the same thing, as does Annie Grace's This Naked Mind. 

Pick whichever one of those suits you best and read it.

I also recommend (obviously) reading The Sober Diaries (click here, and choose the 'look inside' feature to read the first few chapters free!) if you want to see all the ups and downs, comedy and tears, of the first year without booze, and how it will totally transform your life.

Picture the future as you want it to be - imagine yourself with more energy, more money, a better parent and partner and friend, thinner - imagine liking yourself again. All of that is possible!

If you can do those three things - know you're not a moderator, find a tribe and be excited, then you'll make it. And it will be amazing.

Now, I'm off to eat a piece of cake larger than my own head.

Love to you all,

SM x

P.S. If you are in the USA, you can find The Sober Diaries here.
P.P.S. You can now follow me on Instagram @clare_pooley and Twitter @cpooleywriter