Thursday, 31 December 2015

A New Year

I've woken up early on New Year's Day - probably as a result of all the adrenaline from last night.

Early on New Year's Eve, here in the picture perfect Swiss Alpine town of Verbier, it started snowing. Fat flakes of snow, the first in weeks, illuminated against the night sky.

The fireworks started at around 6pm, and continued all night. Constant busts of colour, the noise ricocheting off the mountains, the air filled with the smell of cordite.

At midnight we joined thousands of revellers dancing to a crazy DJ in the town square. There were people of all ages and hundreds of nationalities, speaking a variety of languages.

Russian oligarchs rubbing shoulders with ski bums financing their ski season by washing up in the town's restaurants, united by their love of the snow and their desire to welcome the New Year in with a bang.

I didn't need to drink to feel high. In fact, the boozed up revellers, falling over onto broken glass and recklessly lighting fireworks into the crowd, were a great reminder that it's a good idea to be in control.

At midnight, hundreds of people sprayed champagne over the heads of the dancers (I never would have wasted good booze like that in my day), so I still went home reeking of alcohol.

And the best bit?

Waking up today knowing that, for the first time ever, I can really enjoy the first day of a brand new year. All sparkling new and filled with possibility. Starting as I mean to go on, not filled to the brim with toxins and regret.

The slopes will be covered in fresh snow, and they will be empty. Just me and my family, swishing our way into the future.

If you're waking up today with a hangover, desperate to make a change, then don't worry. I'm with you, as are all my friends on here, and in the Soberverse.

Throughout January I'll be posting Reasons to Stay Sober as well as Sober Tips, which I'm sure my regular readers will help with too, so stay with me.

Happy New Year to you all!

SM x

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 - The Year I Quit Drinking

I started 2015 imagining it was going to be a year just like the decade preceding it. I wasn't expecting any big changes at all.

As ever, my main New Year's resolution was to 'cut down' on the drinking. Not immediately on Jan 1st, obviously, but around Jan 5th, once I'd got over the hangover and got the kids back to school.

I started off resolving not to drink at all until February. That lasted a week. I then told myself I'd only drink at the weekends. Which lasted another week.

Ah ha! How about only drinking when I was out - never at home? I went out most nights that week and exhausted myself.

Finally, I decided to only drink beer. I managed that one until I'd had so many beers I thought 'sod it - I'll open a bottle of vino.'

By the end of February I was back to a bottle of wine a day, feeling toxic, fat and hating myself.

So I quit.

The first few weeks were really hard. I was exhausted all the time. I thought about booze constantly. I was convinced I'd never be able to have fun again.

I started this blog, and found people like me all over the world who travelled the journey with me, and without whom I'd never have made it.

Then, at around day 100, miracles started to happen.

I looked 5 years younger. I started losing weight - about half a pound a week, every week, without trying. I had bags of energy. I got stuff done, like decluttering, decorating, and I finished writing my novel.

By September - six months after quitting - I felt like a new person. The cloud I'd not even realised I'd been under had lifted. I re-discovered a sense of fearlessness and optimism. I became a much better Mum, better wife and better friend. I found my mojo, and felt like the world was my oyster.

Then, in October, I found A Lump. In my left boob. A 23mm invasive, lobular carcinoma, with associated DCIS, to be precise. Aka breast cancer.

I went right back to the beginning. Constantly fearful, taking one day at a time, no idea what lay ahead, or if I could handle it.

But I got through it. Sober. And, whilst I'd never say I was glad it happened, it's left me with the ability to not sweat the small stuff, and the realisation that life is short, and we have to make the most of every day we're given.

I ended the year celebrating Christmas, being cancer free and the things that really matter - family and friends - sober.

So, farewell, then 2015. The year I lost the drink and gained a life.

And a Happy New Year to all you wonderful people. I owe everything to you. Without you, 2015 would have been a very different year.

Love SM x

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

What's Missing?

The end of a year is a good time to ask yourself some big questions.

I was listening to an interview recently with the astrologer Russell Grant. He was talking about the years he spent with debilitating depression. He weighed 27 stone, and had become a virtual recluse.

He says that he woke up on January 5th, 2009, and knew he had to get his life back. He asked himself "What's missing in my life?" He realised that 'joy' was missing, and that it was musical theatre that gave him joy.

He went back into theatre, regained joy, lost the weight and got his life back.

He says that everyone suffering from depression should ask the question what's missing in my life?

I think the same is true for anyone struggling with alcohol addiction, because often we use alcohol to plug a gap.

Looking back, what was missing in my life - seemingly so perfect - was self respect.

I'd always been incredibly lucky. I did really well at school and University. I had lots of friends. A loving family. My luck continued, and I found a career I loved and was very good at.

I was made a Board Director at the age of thirty, and by 33 was a Managing Partner, running a huge team of people.

But by the time #3 was born, trying to 'have it all' was driving me crazy. And I didn't want to miss seeing my kids grow up. So I quit.

I thought I'd be the perfect full time Mum. Endlessly patient, fun, creative. I'd be constantly baking cakes and making models out of sticky back plastic and empty cereal boxes.

But I wasn't very good at it. Not bad, but not great. And I wasn't used to not being great at my life.

I'd been used to constant accolades - prizes, promotions, pay rises. And you don't get any of that as a full time Mum.

The most you can hope for is that you get to the end of the day and the children still have thirty fingers and thirty toes between them (presuming you have three children. If you only have two that would be kind of weird), and no-one's currently throwing a tantrum or beating up a sibling.

Slowly, so slowly I barely noticed, I lost my self respect.

And the hole that was left behind I topped up with vino.

You know the problem with that, don't you?

Alcohol has a terrible way of taking that very thing you're trying to fix and making it worse. Drinking a bottle of wine a day doesn't give you self respect, does it? Instead it strips away any you had left and makes you really hate yourself.

The more I drank, the more I disliked myself. And the more I disliked myself, the more I drank.

People mail me telling me that they starting drinking following divorce or bereavement, because they were lonely. Totally understandable!

What was 'missing' was companionship. But drinking doesn't give you that, at least not once it's out of control. Instead you end up drinking at home alone - holding a pity party for one.

Many of us drink to cope with anxiety, stress or fear. We're missing courage. But alcohol takes all that courage away. It makes us unable to cope with anything much at all when we're sober, and dealing with problems drunk is never a good idea!

I stopped drinking nearly ten months ago, and - slowly, slowly, I've found my self respect returning.

I'm a better Mum. In quitting the booze I've done something incredible that took real courage and perseverance. I've been writing every day (which I've always wanted to do). And I've faced up to (and, hopefully, beaten) cancer.

I really, really like myself.

So, ask yourself 'what's missing?' And you know what? You won't find whatever it is at the bottom of a bottle, but if you put the bottle down I bet you'll find it comes back, in spades.

Just do it.

Love SM x

Monday, 28 December 2015

Doing the Time

It's glorious here in Switzerland. The snow isn't great, and the pistes that are open are very crowded, but the skies are completely clear, except for a myriad of coloured paragliders.

It's so beautiful that you have to constantly fight the urge to break into a rendition of 'The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Music.'

(I actually did this once yesterday, until I noticed that the whole family were standing several feet away from me and pretending not to be related).

Now, I'm not a good skier. I started way too old. The rest of the family, however, are demons on the slopes. Even the seven year old will ski any black run at full tilt. They all call me Escargot.

Today, as I skied gently down a red run, admiring the scenery, I felt an analogy coming on.

You see, learning to ski is very much like giving up the booze (here's the analogy!)

You have to spend weeks and weeks constantly on your arse, aching all over and feeling like an idiot. You think 'I am never ever going to be any good at this, and what's the point anyway? What's wrong with walking, for God's sake?' You curse the people swishing past you and assume that they're just built differently.

But the truth is, you just have to put the time in. You have to train your muscles over and over again to work in a particular way, until one day it's just instinct.

Then, you suddenly find yourself gliding down a slope feeling the most incredible high, because it's amazing! It's WAY better than walking. And it's all the better because getting that point wasn't easy.

You are literally, and metaphorically, on top of the world.

Because nothing in life that is really, really worth having is easy to achieve.

I watched an amazing documentary last week about the early days of Queen: one of the greatest bands of all time. They spent YEARS travelling the country playing in dives. They once played to an audience of ONE.

J.K.Rowling spent years living on state benefits, writing in a cafe because she couldn't afford to heat her appartment, and was turned down by several publishers.

Behind every 'overnight success story' you'll actually find there's years and years of effort, of disappointment, of picking yourself up and trying again.

And going sober isn't easy. You have to do the time (we certainly did the crimes, didn't we?).

It takes about 100 days to get through the worst, and six months before it starts becoming second nature.

But the rewards are worth the effort. And way more.

So don't give up. Put your skis on and fly down that mountain. I'm with you.

Love SM

P.S. I had a great moment today when I had to go to the ski shop and ask them to adjust my ski bindings because I am fourteen pounds lighter than I was when we were here nine months ago! The sober diet: half a pound per week, slowly but surely. But, be warned, it often doesn't kick in until you've done about 100 days.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Going Away....

I've been packing all afternoon. At 3.45am we leave for Gatwick airport. We're off to Switzerland for a week's skiing (if there's any snow!).

This is the holiday I thought I'd never get to take. I'd expected to be hooked up to the chemo machine, waving goodbye, bravely, to the rest of the family.

But I'm going, and I can't wait!

I read back over my post back on Day 29, the last time we were in Switzerland (click here). It feels like it was written by a different person.

Since then I've clocked up another 9 months sober. I've been through a cancer diagnosis and 2 months of tests and treatment. I've looked death in the face and stared it down. I've grown up.

I'm not at all worried about staying sober on holiday, because I've done it before. And whilst I have lots of memories of amazing, drunken ski holidays, my most recent memories are of a fabulous sober one.

The reason, I think, that the first year sober is so hard is because it's full of 'firsts' - first sober parties, first sober holiday, first sober Christmas, etcetera. But once you've done something sober once, the subsequent times become so much easier (see my post on Muscle Memory).

In the 'old days' I would have found packing for the five of us to go away incredibly stressful. I'd have drunk my way through it, and left something crucial behind - like my underwear.

This time I've been super calm.

But, you know what? I'm a bit fed up of being calm, of being grown up, of being brave.

What I really want to do is to spend a week being childish. Silly. Over excited. I want to throw snowballs, make snow angels, career down slopes and play practical jokes. I want to eat lots of chocolate and melted cheese. I want to toast marshmallows on the fire and swan around in a onesie.

And the incredible thing is, as I sat here, writing that list, picturing all the things I want to do, none of the images in my head had me clutching a glass of vino.

Isn't that amazing?

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday, 26 December 2015

First Sober Christmas!

Hurrah! Whoop whoop! I got through Christmas sober! In fact, I didn't just get through it - I enjoyed it! Who knew?

The day started at about 7am when #1, #2 and #3 came in with their stockings. It appears that Santa chose particularly wisely this year. Well done him!

Then, after breakfast, we gathered round the tree to open a few of the presents. For the first time in many years it was just the five of us for Christmas, so super relaxed.

#1 and I left the others to play and prepare lunch, while we went to church.

I was really keen to go back to the church where Mr SM and I were married, and #1 was baptised. It's the oldest church in London (St Bartholomew the Great), built in 1123 and utterly awe inspiring, but it's in the City - on the other side of London.

So we drove, through deserted streets, along Piccadilly, past Soho, through the old legal district and the new financial district, and into Smithfield.

The church was packed - standing room only, and the service was beautiful, with a full choir, a procession past the crib, and lots of carols.

Then it was time for communion.

Now, given everything that's happened over the last year, I thought I really should take communion.

But what to do about the wine?

I figured that it'd only be one sip, and, if it's blessed, then maybe it doesn't count? After all it's been transubstantiated! It was actually the blood of Christ, right?

So, dear friends, I had a good old gulp of communion wine. And, I have to confess, I enjoyed it. That full, rich flavour, and that slight burning sensation in your throat.

I (almost) considered re-joining the back of the queue and having another go. Which just goes to show: once an addict, always an addict...

We got back in time for a slap up lunch. I had a glass of AF wine (Torres Natureo), which wasn't bad, and at least gave me the illusion of a 'special treat'.

Mr SM had found a mini bottle of champagne and teeny weeny bottle of port from M&S who were doing a special 'Christmas for One' offer. I do hope he didn't feel too hard done by...

More present opening after lunch, except for poor #2. #2 takes after his Mum. He has a problem with moderation and, as such, had opened pretty much all his presents, in a flurry of over-excitement and hastily torn wrapping, in the morning, leaving him almost nothing left.

(Check out my post on Borrowing Tomorrow's Happiness)

Then we played games and watched Christmas TV (along with regular sessions of bailing out water from the cellar - see yesterday's post) until bedtime.

And, you know what? Without the wine, it was so easy. No arguments, no stress, no self hatred. Just fun, joy and gratitude.

And today? A clear head, tidy house, and a huge sense of achievement.

Roll on Christmas 2016! Because, like everything, once you've done it once, it's never so scary again.

Merry Christmas, and huge congratulations to you all!

Love SM x

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve Crisis!

After I posted yesterday I went to the supermarket to collect the turkey and last minute supplies.

Our kitchen fridge was bursting at the seams, so I asked Mr SM to take the turkey down to the old 'overflow' fridge we keep in the cellar (also known as The Pit of Despair).

I was bustling away in the kitchen, unpacking shopping, and could hear Mr SM's footsteps on the old, wooden cellar steps. Then I heard this: Oh my God!

"What? What?!?" I yelled down.

"Do you promise not to panic?" he replied, using the phrase most guaranteed to cause panic.

In trepidation, I walked slowly down the steps.

Our cellar - filled with old filing, photos, memorabilia, hand-me-down clothes waiting for the children to grow into them, and anything that Mr SM can't bear to throw away (anything at all: he's Scottish) was two inches deep in water.

It transpires that the lead pipe (which must be at least one hundred years old), connecting us to the mains water supply, has cracked somewhere between our house and the road outside, and water is constantly pouring into our cellar.

We turned off the mains water supply. We spent the three hours we'd planned to be at Winter Wonderland, mopping up gallons of water. We piled up all the soggy stuff to be dealt with at a later date.

We called several plumbers who laughed at the idea of a last minute Christmas Eve call out, and pointed out that we'd require a digger and some major works in any case.

It is going to be very expensive at a time when we have spent all the money.

But you know what?

I was totally calm.

This time last year I would have yelled. I would have cried. I would have drowned my sorrows in several bottles of vino then yelled and cried some more. Christmas, I'd have declared, had been ruined.

Instead, we have created a temporary holding solution involving buckets and sandbags, which means that we can turn the water on for several hours at a time, so long as we empty the buckets frequently and do some furious mopping.

Then we yell out "Everyone go to the loo!" We fill the kettle and pots and pans with water and disconnect from the mains again to let everything dry out for a bit. Then we have a big hug.

It's not the way I planned Christmas Eve, but it's okay. It's okay because I am strong. And I am strong because I am sober, and because I know that there are worse things that can happen. This one's fixable.

But, because of all of this, I'm awake on Christmas Day stupidly early (it's 5am) and feeling the need to blog.

I'm in the kitchen which is lit by fairy lights. I can see the remnants of the glass of whisky, mince pie and carrot left in the fireplace for Santa and his reindeer.

I'm waiting to hear the first sounds of #1, #2 and #3 checking to see if he's been, and showing each other what they've found in their stockings. I'm waiting for Mr SM to wake up and reconnect us to the mains so I can have a shower....

It's going to be a great day.


SM x

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

It's Finished!

Yesterday was my final session of radiotherapy.

If I could liken myself to a microwave oven (and right now I think I can), this is the moment at which I would be going "PING!"

I'm now a bit sore (like I feel asleep on a very hot day with my left boob poking out from my bikini), very tired, and one side of my torso is hotter than the other (weird, right? Or, actually, weird left in my case).

Apparently, at some US clinics they have a huge bell in the waiting area, and when you've finished your cancer treatment you get to ring the bell and everyone cheers.

I really, really wanted a bell to ring.

Instead, I showered the nurses with chocolates, gave them all a hug and told them I never wanted to see them again. Then I walked out into the winter sunshine, feeling simultaneously elated and weepy.

And all I wanted to do - really, really wanted to do - was to get utterly trashed.

I wanted to drink at least a bottle of wine. I wanted to talk nonsense with Mr SM. Laugh. Cry. Have drunken sex. Make everything fuzzy, walk into the furniture, then pass out on the sofa.

Instead I went shopping. I spotted a sale on in Zadig & Voltaire, and bought a charcoal and gold t-shirt, an Alexander McQueen inspired scarf, and a crimson sweater with black sequined detailing. Rock chick clothes, not sober-person-cancer-victim clothes. An easy fit in medium. Whoop whoop.

I went home, then we dropped in on some friends for mulled wine and mince pies (I took my own Becks Blue), watched 2 episodes The Affair with Dominic West (Mr SM's old school chum), and went to bed sober - as always.

And today? I woke up guilt free - the only hangover from yesterday being some new clothes.

I figured that every year there are bound to be a handful of days when it would be really, really good to get drunk. But what about the other three hundred and sixty? Because, in my case, one doesn't come without the other.

Plus, it struck me that it's a weird reaction to have: I've got to the end of a horrendous two months. I am, as far as we can tell, cancer free. So why not anaesthetise myself to the point of oblivion to celebrate?

It's just habit.

And now it's Christmas Eve! And, you know what? I'm not worried about Christmas itself at all. I'm excited about it. Because Christmas Day (unlike New Year's Eve) is about way more than drinking.

It's about seeing the children's excitement when they bring in their stockings to show us in the morning (and Santa was on form this year), church, slap up lunch, handing out and opening all the presents, charades, great TV, The Queen. It's got a bit of everything.....

(And it's really difficult to do all of that when drunk. We know that, don't we?)

Merry Christmas to you all!

I'll post again when we're on the other side.

Huge hugs

SM x

Coping With Christmas Sober (Part 4)

Only two more Big Sleeps. We are nearly there!

If you find yourself battling with the Wine Witch over the next few days, and she's saying things like go on, just have the one - it's Christmas! Let your hair down. Start again tomorrow, then please read (or re-read) this post:

The Obstacle Course

Of all the 238 posts I've written, it's the one that gets shared the most in times of trouble...

So, today I'm going shopping. Merry Christmas to Me!

I believe that many of us are really bad at doing nice things for ourselves. After years of boozing away all our self respect, we just don't think we deserve it. We feel so guilty about drinking that we try to make up for it by being as selfless as possible in all other respects.


But, listen up! Now you really do deserve to do something good for yourself.

You are doing a really hard thing, but one that's changing your life, and those around you in miraculous ways. Plus, you have saved a huge amount of money.

You're going through one of the toughest times of the year to stay sober. You've spent weeks buying and doing things for other people. And, in most shops, it's the Sales already. You'd be practically saving money!

Also, drinking only leaves you with an empty wallet, regrets and a hangover. Shopping leaves you with something special that will always remind you of your first sober Christmas.

And here's a secret: shopping gives you a serotonin rush, and we miss those, don't we? (N.B. this also makes it addictive, so watch out!)

Here are a few ideas of some good presents to buy your newly sober self:

1. Anything in cashmere. Something so soft against your skin always makes you feel better. But cashmere's expensive, so how about some teeny weeny cashmere bed socks? The White Company do gorgeous ones. On sale now.

2. Books. Reading everything and anything drink related got me through the first few months. My favourite self help manual: Jason Vale (Kick the Drink, Easily), memoir: Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, favourite novel featuring an alcoholic: Paula Hawkins's Girl on the Train.

3. New pyjamas. You know it makes sense.

4. A Nutribullet (or other juicer). I've just discovered these. They are awesome. After decades of drinking poison, I'm now drinking eight portions of fruit and veg a day.

5. Something for the bath. If you want to really treat yourself, look up Aromatherapy Associates online. I'm totally addicted to their bath and shower oil called Inner Strength.

It was designed by the owner when she was diagnosed with cancer to get her through treatment, physically and emotionally. It's miraculous (but not cheap). Use sparingly.

6. Theatre tickets. If you have a celebration coming up (100 days sober? a birthday?) why not book theatre tickets?

Hardly anyone drinks while watching a play, plus the queues for the bar and the loo are horrendous, so you feel really smug if you can avoid them. It's a great way to celebrate. If that's too pricey, do the cinema instead - same principle!

7. New trainers. Nothing better than the latest Nike's to convince yourself to take up running (or similar) in the New Year....

8. New a slightly smaller size. If you haven't already shrunk, you will. Give it 100 days and then watch it gradually fall off ;-) (see my post: Stop Drinking, Lose Weight?)

9. Something sweet and indulgent. Luxury hot chocolate? Cake? Truffles?

10. A puppy. I know they're for life, not just for Christmas, and you have to be really committed to staying sober to take one on, but I do believe that dogs are a sober girl's best friend (see my post here).

They keep you smiling, take your mind off the WW, get you outside every day, and give you unconditional love and support. Why not find one from your local shelter who's had a bad start in life and needs a break?

Please add any of your own suggestions in the comments below!

Merry Christmas to you all, and Happy Shopping!

Love SM x

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Coping with Christmas Sober (Part 3)

How and when did Christmas get so associated with vast amounts of boozing?

It's not as if the three wise men turned up at the stable with frankincense, myrrh and a magnum of Bollinger.

To bastardise an expression that Noel Gallagher once used to describe his brother Liam: staying sober at Christmas feels like being a man with a fork in a world of soup.

Enough already! (And it goes on until January 1st).

Yesterday the whole family SM went to see the new Star Wars movie.

(If you haven't been then GO NOW! It's brilliant. All the best bits of the first trilogy, plus a sense of humour. Look out for Daniel Craig's inspired cameo as a Storm Trooper).

It struck me that when you watch a movie set in the present day everybody is drinking away. BUT all those movies set in the future - nobody drinks.

You don't see kickass heroine Rey cracking open the champagne to celebrate blowing up an enemy stronghold.

Or Katniss Everdene holding glass of vino in one hand, crossbow in the other. (Admittedly, Haymitch drinks, but that's clearly portrayed as a result of his metal health issues).

Why? Because if we were designing a future society from scratch why on earth would we introduce a horribly addictive substance that caused anxiety, depression and affected our speech, balance and cognitive ability as a good way to celebrate?

Alcohol is actually a pretty lazy way of celebrating. It's a sort of one-size-fits-all solution. Whatever the occasion we crack open a bottle and use it to deaden all our senses and impair our ability to remember the event. Where's the sense in that?

I was thinking about how the children celebrate their birthdays.

They have their name read out in assembly and get to wear a special badge. Everyone sings them a song and gives them the bumps (actually, I think health and safety stopped that one years ago).

They get high on sugar and have a party where they play silly games with all their friends. They get given presents. They have the best day ever without the need for any alcohol at all.

Then, as we get older, we ditch all the extraneous rituals and end up with just lots of people getting drunk.

It struck me that when we quit the booze, we need to find more, diverse ways to celebrate stuff.

Then I started to wonder how non-drinking religions celebrate.

Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim version of Christmas, the celebration of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Like Christmas, celebrating Eid involves communal prayers, lots of food (particularly sweets) shared with family and friends, and giving and receiving of presents.

BUT no getting trashed, accidentally insulting the in-laws or passing out and snoring in front of the Queen's speech.

There are, however, two other Eid traditions: one is buying yourself new clothes, so you can look your best for the event. And the other is that every Muslim who can afford to do so is obliged to give to the poor (the equivalent of the cost of a meal).

This sounds like a jolly good idea to me. Whenever you have something to celebrate why not treat yourself to something new, and give to someone who can't afford to do the same?

So today I went a bit crazy. On my way home from the tube station I gave £20 to the homeless man who's been living in a cardboard box on the Fulham Road for weeks. I gave £20 to the Big Issue seller, and I gave £20 to the postman (to make up for being barked at by the terrier all year).

And you know what? It felt way better than downing a glass of vino. Try it.

Tomorrow I have my last session of radiotherapy, and after that I'm going shopping for me.

Then I have to stop, before the bank manager (and Mr SM) has a heart attack.

Happy Christmas everyone!

SM x

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Office Christmas Party

If you think that you used to get into terrible trouble at the office Christmas party, then spare a thought for Zoe Ball...

Regular readers will know that I am a teeny bit obsessed by celebrity drinkers (and ex drinkers), and may remember that back in May I wrote a post titled Celebrity Drinkers (click here).

I had a rant about celebs who (rightly) make a big song and dance about getting sober BUT then announce, to the world, that they are back to drinking in moderation!

Every time that happens it messes with the heads of hundreds of ex-drinkers.

We all start thinking "Well, if xxx can drink 'normally' after a year or two off the sauce, then so can I - hurrah! Crack open the Chablis."

One of the examples I quoted was Zoe Ball.

I'm particularly obsessed by Zoe, for several reasons:

(1) I like her

(2) She's the same age as me

(3) She's married to FatBoy Slim, whose name alone transports me back to my misspent youth and

(4) She was one of the key 'ladettes' of the early nineties who convinced legions of us that we could, and should, drink and party like the boys.

Well, on New Year's day 2009, after a night of 'total carnage', Zoe Ball quit boozing, with the help of a therapist who she saw daily to help her through detox.

She said 'I sat sobbing, knowing that if I didn't stop I'd be destroyed. I'd end up in a mental home.' Zoe's one of our tribe, you see.

Two months later, hubby Norman Cook (FatBoy's real name) went into residential rehab, and since then their once shaky (now very sober) marriage has gone from strength to strength.

Then, shock horror, just over a year ago Zoe announced that she had started drinking again in moderation.

Back then she said: 'Norm doesn't drink at all, but I have the odd one. To be honest, I can't handle the hangovers - I'm an all-or-nothing person. But I know that about myself, which is the key to stopping. Now I think 'moderation in everything.'

We're all 'all-or-nothing' people too, Zoe, that's why we can't drink!

But, needless to say, as soon as I read this the Wine Witch started cackling gleefully "See! See! And she was way worse than you! Go for it! Pour a large one!"

Subsequently, I've read a few articles where Zoe has talked about 'only having one cocktail' when she goes out, 'only drinking once a month,' or similar.

We all know those rules we set ourselves, don't we? And how quickly we break them.

Now, I like to think that I'm a nice person. Kind. Forgiving. Which is why I'm a little ashamed to admit that I was a teensy bit pleased to read about Zoe's antics after the It Takes Two wrap party a few days ago....

Zoe, it appears, got plastered, and snogged a publicity hungry boyband singer half her age in a nightclub in Soho.

Oops. Not a great display of 'moderation in everything.'

I love you, Zoe, so please, for your sake, and for Norm and the kids, quit the booze again.

And, while you're at it, do us all a favour and tell the world that if you are an addict, an all-or-nothing type, then moderation really isn't going to work.

So, my friends, if you're - like me - finding the idea of a sober Christmas and New Year difficult, and you're thinking maybe I could just have the one....

.....then remember Zoe Ball and crack open a(n alcohol free) Becks Blue instead.

Moderation: it's not possible, and it's not worth it. (Repeat, ad infinitum)

Big hugs to all of you, and to Zoe and Fatboy,

SM x

P.S. If you find this post, Zoe, mail me on and I'll pop round with a thermos of hot chocolate.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Well Off Women More Likely to Drink

A few days ago the Daily Mail printed an article entitled 'Why well off women are more likely to have a problem with alcohol.' (Click here for full article)

According to new research, the richest twenty percent of women are three times as likely to drink almost every day than those on lower incomes.

Experts blame this trend on a workplace culture that encourages drinking, and our habit of 'unwinding' over a bottle of wine in the evening (hands up if you're familiar with that one!)

Two thirds of women in the top fifth earning households drink at least once a week (only two thirds?), and one sixth drink at least five times a week.

The research also shows that the biggest drinkers amongst women are the 45-65 age group, not the 'reckless' teens.

Dr Niall Campbell, an expert in alcohol addiction at the Priory in South West London, says: ‘My concern is women are now treating wine like chocolate. It’s no longer an occasional treat but part of a daily habit. It’s created an atmosphere whereby women who once enjoyed a glass of wine in an evening now finish a bottle and sometimes open another one.'
None of this is a surprise to me, or, I suspect, to any of you.
Back in the very early days of this blog I wrote a post entitled 'Why so many well educated, middle aged women drink too much' (click here to read).
(My titles have got a bit snappier since then)
We really are not alone.

I'm sure, also, that all this research must underestimate the issue. After all who ever tells the truth when asked how much they drink? Certainly not any of us!
And yesterday I noticed that this blog has now had more than a quarter of a million page views since I started it in March. Given that I don't exactly advertise it, that's a hell of a lot of people actively searching for help....
Last week I bumped into an old work colleague. We started reminiscing about the glory days of advertising in the early '90's. The bar in the office, the long, liquid lunches, the huge expense accounts, the Hockney's on the walls, and the lavish Christmas parties (we were banned from the Ritz the year we ended up dancing on the tables to Gary Glitter. Before he was outed as a paedophile, obviously).
He told me that he still attends an annual lunch for retired directors. Traditionally extremely boozy affairs. This year, however, he was the only one drinking.
Had they all reformed and decided to get fit? Hell no. They all had cirrhosis!
Daily, and excessive, drinking has become completely normalised amongst my age group and my 'income bracket'. And it is a ticking time bomb.
I had a look at the comments on the Daily Mail article to see of there was any sense of concern among the readers. You know what the most 'liked' comment was?
I drink every night to celebrate not being poor. Cheers!
And this one: It's because we have more money. Now get off my land!
You have to laugh.
Love to you all,
SM x

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Some Good News!

Two months ago I wrote a post titled The Possibility List (click here).

I'd spent a decade of digging myself further and deeper into a rut, but while I was drinking I didn't even realise I was in it.

Seven months of being sober had given me the energy, bravery and determination to try and change my life. I stopped digging, put down the shovel and looked up at the sky.

Suddenly the world seemed full of possibility.

So I dusted off the young adult novel that I'd written and, finally, found the courage to enter it for two unpublished novel awards

Then, four days later, I found The Lump (see my post: I Need Help).

The world I'd only just rediscovered came crashing down around my ears. I stopped looking ahead and went back to focusing on one day at a time. I hunkered down and closed the shutters.

The novel went back in the drawer.

Not only did I not have the time or the energy to focus on it, but I also lost faith that anything miraculous could happen. I'd had this momentary belief that my life was about to transform (in a good way), but I was wrong. I got cancer instead.

Then yesterday I got an e-mail. The novel that I'd forgotten about has made it onto the short list of one of the awards I'd entered. I'm in the final ten! The winner gets some cash and a publishing contract.

I'm certain that I won't win, but that's not the point. The point is this: perhaps I can write. Perhaps my life is about to transform. Perhaps I wasn't wrong.

Maybe the dolphin didn't lie. (See my post: Let Me Not Die While I'm Still Alive).

Only one problem. So far they've only read my first three chapters and a synopsis. They now want the rest of the book. Which needs formatting and editing. In between the radiotherapy.


Love to you all,

SM x

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Who's Got Cancer?

I spend a fair amount of time each day sitting in the waiting room of the Cancer Clinic, so I've invented a game to stop myself getting bored. It's a little macabre, and I can't see Hasbro fighting for the copyright. It's called: Who's Got Cancer?

You see most people come in with a partner or a buddy. You know one of them has cancer, but not which one. Until the receptionist calls a name, and you see who responds.

Sometimes it's pretty easy to deduce. It's the one with the suspiciously luxuriant hair, but no eyebrows, eyelashes or arm hair, for example.

However, sometimes it's really difficult.

I try very hard to NOT look like a cancer patient. I turn up as if dressed for the theatre (Shakespeare, not operating). I wear heels, cashmere and fur trim. It makes me feel better. Plus, I'm usually the youngest person there by a decade or two, which makes me feel additionally glamorous (if a tad unlucky).

Today a young couple walked in. They were both gorgeous. Radiantly healthy looking. I was bamboozled. Turns out it was him - poor sod. Testicular? Hope so - it's got good odds.

(The problem is that I know everyone else is playing this game too. I've had a cold, but try desperately not to cough, Because every time I do I can see someone thinking uh oh. Secondary tumours in the lungs (terminal) All of us have become amateur medics, you see).

Then a middle aged lady arrived. She was French, and had that effortless, Parisian chic. I assumed early stage breast cancer (like me).

She had her daughter with her, around twelve years old - the same age as #1. Nice of her to come with her Mum, I thought. And she looked really cheerful about it, despite it being a precious day of the Christmas holidays.

As I watched surreptitiously, the daughter pushed up her sleeve revealing a chemo cannula. I felt like I'd been punched. You see, there is something way worse than having cancer treatment: watching your child have cancer treatment.

(Listen up, angel of destiny. I'm taking this bullet for my family, so don't even think about pointing a finger at one of my children. Or Mr SM).

What this game has taught me is that you can never tell what's really going on in people's lives.

Maybe part of the reason you drank was because you looked at the perfect lives of the people around you and wondered where you went wrong? Drink was a consolation, taking the edge off that feeling of dissatisfaction, of unfulfilled potential, of stuck-in-a-rut-ness.

But the truth is, nobody's life is perfect. You never know who's dealing with a life threatening illness, a sick child, a parent with dementia, a job that bores them stupid or a partner they secretly despise.

A friend told me that after her parents got divorced, her mother told her never to take the 'life-and-soul' couples at face value. She said that the reason they're always at every party, always having fun, is that they can't bear being alone together. She knew because that used to be her.

So stop envying other people's lives, and start living your own. Really living it. Because, like the grit in the oyster that forms a pearl, it's the imperfections in our lives that (eventually) make us strong, unique and beautiful. So long as we deal with them, and don't just drown them out with buckets of vino.

Here's to all of us perfectly, imperfect people, making our imperfect lives just that bit more perfect - one day at a time.

SM x

Monday, 14 December 2015

Finding Joy in the Ordinary

I'm beginning to regret posting Wayne Dyer's advice on coping with Christmas yesterday. Mr SM read it, and whenever I get shirty with anyone for totally messing up the kitchen, for example, he mutters under his breath "relax my expectations of others", or "joyful anticipation and wonder".....

I think I may kill him.

This Christmas is already turning out to be completely different.

#1, #2 and #3 are all on holiday. In the old days I would have created a crazy schedule - determined to make sure that we all had a great time. There would be panto one day, skating the next, soft play, trampolining, bowling.

All fuelled by buckets of Sauvignon Blanc (me) and Haribo gummy bears (them), and costing a fortune.

By Christmas we'd be on our knees.

This year I've planned very little. I've been (as Wayne suggests) letting the holidays flow rather than planning ahead.

I have to confess that this isn't down to suddenly having discovered my inner zen. I've been forced into the laissez faire thing by the fact that 3 hours of every day (at least) is taken up by hospital visits (radiotherapy every day, plus check ups).

This requires a rota of friends and Mr SM covering childcare, and means that I've organised little else.

And you know what? Here's a revelation: it really doesn't matter!

It turns out that #1, 2 and 3 are just completely thrilled to be at home and - with the right attitude - anything can be turned into a 'Christmas activity.'

When I got back from hospital yesterday, 6 eyes turned towards me and I was asked "what's the plan for today, Mummy?' (They know that I usually have a plan. Often with several subsections).

I took a deep breath and said (with manufactured enthusiasm) "we're going to the supermarket!" (It was the last day you could pre-order turkeys).

I expected dissent. Anarchy. But no! We all trooped off happily (to Waitrose, obviously. I may be 'going with the flow', but I'm not letting standards slip completely ;-))

Usually I'd avoid taking three children to the supermarket like the plague - far too stressful, and takes way too long, but yesterday we turned it into a game. We did girls v boy races. I'd give each 'team' a list of items and see who could bring them back to the trolley first.

Then I let them use the self check out machine. Yes, it took hours. There were many 'unexpected items in the bagging area'. But it didn't matter. We didn't have anywhere else to get to!

We ordered the turkey. We bought some extra Christmas decorations which we put up when we got home.

I got my chores done and we had fun. 

I've realised that, with the right attitude, any activity can be festive and Christmassy. It's all about finding the joy in the everyday. Which reminded me of my post on 7 months sober (click here), and this fabulous motto:

Make the ordinary come alive, and the extraordinary will take care of itself.

Tomorrow's 'Christmas activity': taking the dog to the vet for his annual inoculations! (I'm not sure that he's going to be seeing the 'joy and wonder' in that one - he has been known to bite the vet).

Keep going, friends. We'll get there!

SM x

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Coping With Christmas Sober (Part 2)

Yesterday, in Coping With Christmas (Part 1) (click here to read), I wrote about limbering up for my first Sober Christmas.

Step 1 of the workout was the, somewhat painful, revisiting of the reality of Christmas Past.

Step 2 (today's post) is about finding another way of celebrating Christmas.

Since this is all new to me, I've enlisted the help of the fabulous Wayne Dyer. Wayne died earlier this year, but, thanks to the wonders of the interweb, his wisdom lives on.

Wayne talks about reclaiming 'what should be a time of appreciation, excitement, joy, and peace'.

That description sounds a million miles away from my usual experience of Christmas! Peace? Appreciation? Excitement?

My feelings about Christmas would usually encompass panic, trepidation, queasiness, exhaustion.... Peace? Definitely not. Apart from a fleeting moment when I'd just poured the first glass of wine of the day. Oh. There's the problem....

Intrigued, I read on. How, oh wonderful-Wayne-guru can Christmas possibly involve appreciation, excitement, joy and peace.....and no alcohol?

Here's Wayne's mantra for 'rekindling the spirit of love, and living life to its fullest' over Christmas:

1. I’ll let the holidays flow, rather than trying to make them fit into a fixed schedule.

2. I’ll remember that people are more important than things.

3. I’ll relax my expectations for myself and others this year.

4. I’m going to live in the present moment and enjoy each activity for itself instead of always thinking about what is ahead of me.

5. I’m going to approach the holidays with a sense of joyful anticipation and wonder, just like I did when I was a child.

All easier said than done, but I've been repeating 1-5 daily, hoping that it'll all sink in. It does rather go against all my natural inclinations. NO FIXED SCHEDULE? Are you kidding? NOT THINKING AHEAD? Nothing will ever get done!

I read Wayne's list out to the family. They snorted with derision. "Doesn't sound like Mummy, does it children?" said Mr SM, staring pointedly at my To Do List and Holiday Planner.

Well, I'm going to prove them wrong.

The trick, I think, is in the line 'just like I did when I was a child.' #1, #2 and #3 do all of the above naturally (apart from number 2, obvs!). So I'm just going to try copying them.

No more blurring off all the edges. No more wading through the days numb or hungover. Just joy, anticipation and wonder in glorious technicolour.

Bring it on!

Love SM x

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Coping With Christmas Sober (Part 1)

After the last two months, I know that I can cope with anxiety and stress without drinking.

I truly believe that there is no problem in life that cannot be made worse by alcohol.

When the s**t hits the fan, you need a clear head, not one befuddled by booze, or hijacked by a hangover.

But I still miss it when it comes to celebrating.

(Not the tiny 'celebrations' of old, like making it through to 'wine o'clock' with all three children unscathed, but the proper biggies).

Two weeks ago, when my oncologist told me I didn't need chemotherapy, he suggested that Mr SM and I "go crack open the champagne."

(And this was after I told him that I didn't drink).

Somehow, in those types of situations, eating a piece of cake just doesn't feel adequate.

And Christmas is like that. Along with birthdays, it's the occasion when a Becks Blue feels a bit bleurgh.

I have never done a sober Christmas. Even when I was pregnant I allowed myself (with my obstetrician's blessing) a glass of wine or two on Christmas Day.

So, knowing that December 25th may be tough, I'm limbering up in preparation.

Step one is being honest, which means revisiting the Ghost of Christmas Past.

When I think about drinking at Christmas, the glasses I remember are:

(1) The crisp, chilled white wine while wrapping the stocking presents on Christmas eve.
(2) The glass of champagne while getting Christmas lunch ready, and
(3) The full bodied glass of red with the turkey.

(Even typing that list I can hear the Wine Witch whispering ooh yes. Go on. You could have just those three. That wouldn't be so bad, would it? For f***s sake, you're celebrating Christmas, nine months sober AND getting over cancer!)

(For more on the Wine Witch, see my post: The Wine Witch)

But the trick is to force yourself to remember all the others.

Because I wouldn't drink one glass while wrapping the presents. I'd drink a bottle.

I'd often put the wrong presents in the wrong stockings leading to bemusement the following morning as one of my daughters would find football socks, and my son a Barbie.

("Ha! Ha!" Mr SM would chortle, "Santa was at the whisky again last night!")

I'd wake up, as usual, at 3am and toss and turn, sweating and hating myself, until around 5.30am when the troops would pile in. Three children and a dog, brimming over with excitement and anticipation.

Instead of joining in the joy of Christmas morning, I'd try to hide my aching head under a pillow, while panicking about preparing Christmas lunch for ten, on three hours sleep and a hangover.

By 11am it would feel like we'd been at it for hours, and we'd open the first bottle of champagne (the only day of the year when drinking before midday is not only acceptable, but obligatory).

By 1pm I'd have drunk most of a bottle and lunch would be going seriously screwy. Juggling turkey, stuffing, five vegetables and gravy making is testing at the best of times, and near impossible when drunk and knackered.

The children would be high on sugar and consumerism, and behaving terribly in front of grandparents. Requiring more alcohol to dampen the stress.

Finally sitting down for lunch was a huge relief, requiring....a toast! Plenty of fine red wine, continuing well into the afternoon. After all - IT'S CHRISTMAS!

Final tally by the end of the day: two bottles? Maybe three?

An afternoon and evening spent dozing on and off, and trying to ignore the children. A toxic night tossing and turning, and Boxing Day feeling like near death.

Was it just me, or were your Christmases anything like that?

So, having made myself re-live the reality of Christmas Past, I now have to find a way of really appreciating Christmas Present and Christmases Future. Without the booze.

And that's the subject of tomorrow's blog....

Happy-Nearly-Christmas everyone!

SM x

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Seeing a Psychotherapist

I've never had any form of counselling or psychotherapy. I'm far too British and 'stiff upper lip.'

I'm very happy sharing pretty much anything with friends. But strangers? Oh no!

(Makes it somewhat ironic that I've now taken up blogging, and share everything with thousands of people I've never met, doesn't it?)

I remember being totally shocked when I first went to the USA, and every time I went into a shop someone said "Hi! How are you today?" Initially I'd look over my shoulder, assuming they were talking to someone else, then bite back the urge to say "I'm sorry, but have we met before?"

The other thing that alarms me about the concept of seeing a psychotherapist is that it also spells psycho-the-rapist. I mean, how off-putting is that?!?

But then, as part of my 'cancer care package' I've been offered six sessions of free psychotherapy. I've been married to a Scot for far too long to turn down a bargain like that, so yesterday I turned up for my first session.

Here's how it went:

Therapist: So, SM, how are you? (steady gaze)
Me: Fine, thank you for asking. (steady gaze back)
Therapist: No, SM. How are you really? (hard stare)
Me: Fine! (slight bottom lip tremble)
Therapist: No. How are you really really? (penetrating stare)
Me: (uncontrollable weeping)

I started to offload and, actually, it felt pretty good. Cathartic. Until I got to this bit:

Therapist: How do you feel about the possibility of your children losing their mother?
Me: (staring at box of tissues)
Therapist: SM?
Me: I don't even consider it. (glare)
Therapist: But when you do consider it, how do you feel?
Me: I can't even let myself go there. (super hard stare)
Therapist: Why can't you think about it?
Me: Because they are way too young to be without their mother! (more uncontrollable weeping)


Therapist: How did you feel when I made you answer that question?
Me: I hate you.
Therapist: It's good that you can be honest with me.

Really? Just wait till I get started....

Despite the spat over my potentially motherless children, I've signed up for five more sessions. I explained that since my cancer diagnosis I've gone from being little-miss-optimistic to Chicken Licken - constantly fretting that the sky is going to fall on my head, and the heads of everyone I love. (See my post: Panic Attacks).

We are, apparently, going to use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to sort that one out. Plus, she's throwing in some mindfulness practice to try and keep me anchored in the present rather than fast forwarding to certain, painful death and motherless children.

So, I was interested to hear on the news today, that a review published in the British Medical Journal yesterday finds that CBT is as effective a treatment for major depression as anti-depressants.

CBT is defined as 'a series of techniques that teach patients how to replace dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours with more adaptive ones, which can reduce distress and improve mood.'

It struck me that that's exactly what I've been training myself to do in the nine months since I quit drinking. And it transpires that CBT is increasingly being used to treat alcohol dependency, by helping people to identify their triggers and develop new coping strategies.

I figure that I'm going to start the new year all physically fixed (ten months sober by then, and cancer free - I hope). I might as well develop some really good emotional strategies too. That way, if the sky really does fall down again, I'll be ready with a bucket.

Love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 7 December 2015

Alcohol and Marriage

I read many stories of marriages breaking down when the wife (or husband, or both) stops drinking.

Some of these women were drinking too much because their marriage was already toxic. As soon as they stop drinking they can't hide from the truth any more, and can find the strength and courage to leave.

Sometimes they stop drinking too late. Years of alcohol abuse has taken such a toll on the marriage that it can't be repaired. Which is a fabulous reason not to wait until you get to 'rock bottom' to quit. Rock bottom can be a very lonely place.

Then there are the co-dependant marriages. The husbands that really don't want their wives to stop. They'll pour her glasses of wine and wave them under her nose saying "go on, just the one. You deserve it!" She has to leave if she really wants to quit.

Well, I married Mr SM fourteen years ago today. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I quit before I drove him away.

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) writes To be fully seen by somebody, then, and beloved anyhow - this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.

There is no doubt that over the last fourteen years Mr SM has 'fully seen' me, through all my ups and downs, tempers and sulks, in richer in poorer, in sickness and in health.

(Especially now that he reads my blog posts).

And, miraculously, he seems to love me anyhow. Wonky left boob and all.

To be fair, he's not perfect either. He has a terrible habit of leaving wet towels on floors, and dirty plates on top of the dishwasher rather than in it.

There is more tummy to love than there was fourteen years ago, and a little less hair. He's Scottish, so very 'careful' with money, and has been known to put gaffer tape over the central heating controls.

But I wouldn't have him any other way.

I loved him the minute I met him, twenty years ago on New Year's Eve.

He was wearing a kilt, and I've always had a weakness for men in skirts. He made me laugh - a lot, and he was one of the kindest people I've ever met.

We became best friends, but, back then, I was still in thrall to the bad, arrogant boys. The ones who'd make you feel grateful for their time and attention, however begrudging.

So it was four years before we kissed. I felt my foundations morph from sand to rock, and wondered why on earth I'd taken so long.

Since then, Mr SM has loved me patiently through thirteen years of over-indulgence and bad behaviour, and supported me quietly when I threw in the towel nine months ago.

(See Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom)

Only he could make me laugh through a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

I think marriage is like a piggy bank. Every time you do something thoughtful for the other person you put a token in the bank. When you treat them carelessly you take one out.

In a strong marriage, the piggy bank gets really full - there's plenty there to see you through the bad times.

I ran my piggy bank right down to the bottom.

This morning Mr SM bought me wedding anniversary scrambled eggs on toast in bed. I started sobbing into the egg. He looked alarmed, assuming he'd done something terrible.

But I was crying because I'm just so terribly grateful. Not just for the egg. For everything.

Quit drinking, and top up that piggy bank before it's too late.

Love SM x

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Panic Attacks

When I was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy'. They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life.

John Lennon

I've always been an optimistic and happy person. I expected good things to happen to me, and - generally - they did. I saw the glass as half full, not half empty.

And then, ironically, my glass became either totally full or totally empty, in quick succession, and as the alcohol poured into my life, the happiness drained out.

For a while, everything became a bit grey, joyless and featureless.

One of the miracles of quitting drinking is watching the colour gradually seep back in, and monochrome giving way to technicolour.

(See my posts Let Me Not Die While I'm Still Alive, and Smile and the World Smiles With You)

Then I got hit with the breast cancer.

For the first six weeks I was in shock - dealing with one day at a time, swinging from despair (I'm going to die soon!) to elation (I'm not going to die yet!) and back again. Pretty much every day was filled with hospital appointments on top of all the everyday activities, so I really didn't have time to dwell.

But now, nearly two months on, the dust is starting to settle, and the reality of living the rest of my life as a cancer survivor is starting to kick in.

And it's giving me panic attacks.

I have always had the attitude that if you don't have a temperature, and nothing's fallen off, you go to school. I've always assumed that bad things generally didn't happen to me, or my loved ones.

Then I got proved wrong. And I can see how easy it is to lose that faith, and to start seeing the world as essentially hostile, filled with pot holes just waiting for you to fall in.

I spotted a new mole on #1 the other day. Instead of thinking oh look, a mole, I thought aarrrggghh! Skin cancer! She's going to die, and she's only twelve! I keep fretting (for no specific reason) that Mr SM will lose his job and we'll be penniless. I worry (with some good reason) that our house is falling down.

This is not like me.

I have, so long as I take the right drugs, a 92% chance of remaining cancer free. Most of the time I'm able to focus on the 92%. But, increasingly, I'm jolted by the thought that I have an 8% chance of a recurrence, which will be incurable.

A close family member of mine died a year ago of breast cancer. She had nine years disease free following her initial diagnosis. But instead of living life to the full, she became a hermit. She spent every day fearful of her cancer returning, until - eventually - it did just that.

I do not want that to be me.

So I turned to Wayne Dyer (see my post on Change the Way You Look at Things).

Wayne believes that happiness is a choice. He says

You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.

And this Wayne Dyer quote feels like it was written for me:

With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.

Several times each day I feel like I'm standing at a crossroads, with the left path marked FEAR, and the right marked POSSIBLITY. Every time I have to consciously make myself turn right.

I trust that, eventually, choosing that path will, once more, become automatic.

As always, the Dalai Lama sums it up in a few short words:

Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.

Happy, hangover free, optimistic Sunday to you all.

SM x

P.S. I love checking which Google search terms lead people to my blog. Someone got here today by way of typing 'Mummy sex.' I'm feeling very racy ;-)

Friday, 4 December 2015

Random Acts of Kindness

Regular readers may remember that about six weeks ago I sent a letter to my local council. It went like this:

Dear Sir/Madam,

re: Parking Contravention Notice XXXXX

I do apologise. I accidentally parked in a bay that was temporarily suspended. I misread the date on the sign. It was entirely my fault, and I put your people to some trouble having to tow my car away.

However, the reason I misread the date was that I had just received a cancer diagnosis and my head was all over the place.

I realise that this does not mean you should cancel the fine, but - if you were to - it would restore my faith in humanity.

Should you wish to verify my story, please do call Prof X at the beast cancer unit, XX hospital.

Go on - make my day. I could do with some good news.

Kind regards

Mrs M.

Well, I've had no response at all from this letter. Nada. Zip.

This is a little odd, as whenever I've argued parking tickets in the past (which I almost always do, as a point of principle) I always get a response - either positive or negative (usually negative) - within three or four weeks.

So, I went on line and typed in my Parking Charge Notice number. A message came up saying PCN NOT FOUND.

You know what this means? Some little angel in the local council read my letter, knew that they couldn't officially let me off, so they just deleted me off the system.

With one or two key strokes they have restored my faith in humanity.

I wanted to post this in the hope that, one day, that council employee will come across this blog and know that I am very, very grateful, not just because they've saved me some money that I can now spend on Christmas presents for my children, but because they made me feel good about the world and the wonderful people in it.

Council person - you rock. You are an awesome human being, and you deserve good things to happen to you.

Kindness, in my book, is the most important quality in a human being. And many studies show that practicing acts of kindness is good for us. It releases serotonin in our brains, which improves our mental health, and actually boosts our immune systems.

Plus it's good for our souls. According to the Dalai Lama “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”

What's not to like?

So go hug a granny. Tell a friend you love them. Cancel a parking fine. Spread the joy.

Big hugs

SM x

Related Post: Smile and the World Smiles With You, Make Someone's Day

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Celebrating 9 Months Sober

So, how to celebrate nine months totally alcohol free? Three quarters of a year!

I had been invited to a ladies lunch in Edinburgh. I usually avoid the whole 'ladies who lunch' scene, but this one was being attended by Princess Anne, who I've always had a bit of a girlie crush on. She's so wonderfully down to earth and horsey, despite the whole 'Mummy's the Queen' thing.

However, as regular readers will be aware, recent events conspired against me, and instead of dining with royalty I had my first session of radiotherapy.

I'm back to counting days. I have fifteen sessions over three weeks. Five days on, two days off.

Radiotherapy, it transpires, is a walk in the park compared to chemotherapy.

(I feel almost guilty about not doing the chemo thing. I can't meet the eyes of the ladies in the wigs and headscarves in the waiting room. I imagine they're thinking "look at the imposter over there, with the whole cancer-lite thing going on. Hah! Call that a treatment programme!?! Wimp!")

When it's your turn, you're ushered into a room which is dominated by this narrow bed fitted with arm restraints. It's like something out of Fifty Shades of Grey. Then two radiotherapists spend an age getting you into exactly the right position.

Meanwhile, you're topless, with both arms over your head, feeling like a spatchcocked chicken.

In order to line you up perfectly, they give you two permanent tattoos - one on either side of your boob. I was quite excited about this. I've always secretly wanted a tattoo.

"Can I choose the style and colour?" I asked. I was thinking dolphins.

"No. You get a blue dot, like everyone else," they replied, missing a fabulous opportunity to up-sell.

"Any more questions?"

Mr SM had asked me to see if they had any advice on how to fix our broken microwave. I was not convinced, however, that this would go down well.

Finally, when you're perfectly in position, they scurry out of the room and hide behind very thick glass so as not to get anywhere near the horribly dangerous rays which are firing at you from close range.

So, I celebrated nine months with a massive blast of radiation to the bottom left quadrant of the left boob. Not the way I would have planned it, but - on the upside - my final session is scheduled for 22nd December......

.......just in time for Christmas!

I'm not sending hugs this evening. Unless you're wearing lead clothing it'd be far too dangerous.

SM x

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Let Go Gracefully

I came across a quote today on Soberistas that has stuck in my head.

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you.

This quote is often attributed to Buddah, which is incorrect (although it is Buddhist in philosophy). It's actually a modified version of a quote from Jack Kornfield's 'Buddha's Little Instruction Book.'

But, despite its mongrel parentage, it's gained huge traction on the interweb for obvious reasons: it's beautiful and it's true. And that's particularly the case for us, don't you think?

I used to lavish far too much love on fine wine. And I honestly believe that the more we love alcohol, the less love we have available for anyone else.

Because alcohol saps our time and our energy. It makes us selfish and introspective. It's not that we mean to withhold love, it's just that we don't even see where it's required.

When you quit drinking, all that time and energy you spent on getting over the last drinking session, and planning the next, can be spent on noticing when one of your children needs a hug (see Alcohol and Parenting) or a friend needs a hand.

And living gently? How impossible is that when you're drinking?

We enthusiastic imbibers were like bulls in a china shop! Running roughshod over people's feelings. Spilling secrets. Causing havoc and upset.

Stop drinking, and everything becomes quieter. Calmer.

Being natural bon viveurs, we often find this tricky to begin with, equating it with dull and boring. But, after a while, we see the beauty, and the peace, in living gently.

Which brings me to letting go gracefully of the things not meant for you.

Ah. There's the rub.

It's hard to let go. We cling on desperately by our fingernails. We rant and rage at the unfairness of it all.

Then, one day, we learn to just let go gracefully. To realise that that was then, and this is now. We've had our days of wild partying and chaotic living, and now it's time to....move on. Gracefully.

(I gave #3 Grace as a middle name, because it's a quality I've always aspired to, and found most difficult to attain. Until recently).

When I think of the people I know who are the most unhappy, they are the ones still clinging to a desire for things not meant for them. Fame. Fortune. An ex-lover. Moderate drinking.

Let go. Gracefully. It's such a relief.

Love SM x

Monday, 30 November 2015

I Can See Clearly Now

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.

Twenty five years ago, I was a bright eyed, bushy tailed graduate, applying for jobs at all of London's top advertising agencies.

Invariably, at some point during each of the hotly contested (and often bizarre) selection processes, I would be asked what my favourite ad was.

My answer was a Nescafe advertisement that was running in the cinemas (click here).

In it a girl drives up to a deserted beach in a VW Beetle (one of the coolest cars of all time).

She's alone, and looks like she's been through the wringer. She makes herself a cup of Nescafe, and clutches the mug in both hands as she watches the sun rise. She starts to smile.

It's set to the classic Johnny Nash track 'I Can See Clearly Now.'

What I loved about this sixty second vignette is that we know nothing about this girl. We don't know who she is, or what made her sad. We don't know what happens next. So we write our own story around it.

We become her; she becomes us.

Back then, it was clear to me that the heroine had just dumped her boyfriend who, it'd transpired, was a cad and a bounder. She knew she'd done the right thing, she could see that clearly now, but she was still mourning.

More recently, my memory of 'girl on cliff', and the Johnny Nash lyrics, have been completely entwined with my feelings about quitting drinking.

After all, years of drinking too much fills our world with dark clouds and rain, and it's only a few weeks after you quit that you find yourself seeing clearly. Only then do you start to believe you can make it to a bright, sunshiny future.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been praying for
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.

Yesterday, as I was walking through the park with the faithful hound, I was listening to this track loud, on repeat. Because, after six weeks under a different, but very similar cloud, I'm starting to see clearly again.

It started to rain, but I was thinking...

Look all around, there's nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothing but blue skies

It's gonna be a bright, sunshiny day, my friends.

SM x

Saturday, 28 November 2015

What's the Real Alternative?

One of the most difficult things about quitting drinking is having to adjust the movie you have in your head of the future.

Pretty much every image I had filed in the drawer labelled 'my perfect future life' involved alcohol.

There I am, at #1's wedding, raising a glass of champagne. Look at me and Mr SM sitting on the deck of our (future) holiday home in Cornwall sipping on the Chablis. Ahhh, and me holding grandchild #1 with one hand and (oh yes) a glass of vino in the other.

It takes a while to replace all of those images with - similarly happy and rose tinted - ones without the booze.

The trick is, I think, to be realistic about the alternative vision of your future. Because it's not just that one glass of champagne you're raising at the wedding, is it?

If I had carried on drinking then, undoubtedly, by the time I'd got to that point in my life I would have been an awful lot worse.

The real alternative future would involve me ruining #1's wedding by getting drunk, doing a slurred, impromptu and incomprehensible speech, and then dancing on a table singing to ABBA.

There would be no holiday home in Cornwall for me and Mr SM, as Mr SM would probably have walked off into the sunset with a more sober lady by then.

If #1 were still talking to me after the wedding fiasco, I would definitely not be trusted with the grandchild unless I was breath tested in advance.

Always ask yourself what's the real alternative? 

If the answer to that question is drinking happily and moderately for the rest of my life then you wouldn't be reading this blog. That is not us, my friends.

My movies of the future also never involved me looking old. I've always been afraid of ageing. Aren't we all?

(In my neck of the woods people spend a fortune trying to avoid it. I know many women who are unable to look surprised, or cross, or anything other than blank, bland, puffy and waxy).

But, after the cancer diagnosis, when I was thinking that I might be riddled with it, instead of feeling sorry for old people I was jealous. Fist clenchingly envious.

I'd look at the wrinkles around their eyes and mouths and think look at the evidence of twice as many smiles as I'll ever smile. I'd see them shuffling along cautiously and think see how they've trodden twice as many paths as I'll ever go down.

I realised that the alternative to growing old isn't living forever in our pert, healthy bodies - it's dying young.

The truth is that our real future is not so bad. Many studies have shown that people get happier and happier as they get older. Our forties are, apparently, our most unhappy years, run ragged by young children, ageing parents, trying to keep all the balls in the air.

And living life sober is not some form of terrible compromise either - it's better. More real. More vibrant!

For the first time, I am completely at peace with the future. Getting older. Staying sober.

Because I have seen the real alternative and it sucks.

Happy sober weekend to you all!

SM x

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

SoberMummy's Party Survival Guide

HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all my friends over the pond! This post is in honour of you...

It's the party season. And parties are often the most tricky thing about getting sober.

I think it's especially hard for us because we, my friends, used to be the party people! That's what got many of us into this mess in the first place, isn't it? We were the dancers, the raconteurs, the life and soul, the last to leave....

....but we didn't do it alone, did we? We always had our friend - the booze - with us. Until our best buddy turned on us, defriended us on Facebook and made our lives hell.

Believe me, parties can and will be fun again. However, it's probably the area that takes the longest to deal with.

So, in the meantime, here's SoberMummy's Party Survival Guide:

1. Remember you do not have to go

I am, generally, big on honesty. However, in the early days of sobriety you do have to forgive yourself a few big fibs. It's obligatory.

And the great thing about the party season is that it's easy to say Oh gosh, so sorry! I've already got something on that night!

No-one will think you're a sad loser. They'll just assume you have invitations coming out of your nostrils.

And you do have something on.... an appointment with series six of Mad Men, a slice of chocolate cake as big as your head, and a hot bath with bubbles.

So what if you miss out? It's one party season in the long, happy, healthy life that you have to come.

2. You do not have to stay

Remember those days when leaving a party was a real chore?

You had to locate the host amongst the throng, find a taxi number, manage to type it into your phone while drunk, to sound sober to the receptionist so they wouldn't just hang up, and to look sober to the taxi driver so they wouldn't just bugger off etcetera...

NOT ANY MORE! You can drive!

Which means as soon as you're finding it too difficult you can just leave. Don't bother saying goodbye, as you'll just have to explain yourself. They'll all be drunk! No-one will notice, or remember. Just slip away, patting yourself on the back for a job well done.

3. Take time out

Sometimes you don't need to leave permanently; all you need is a bit of Time Out.

Go for a walk. Or just go sit in the loo for a bit (I believe you Americans call it The Bathroom, even when there's no bath in it).

4. Fake it

I think it makes it harder when you have to explain your not drinking, so why put yourself through it?

Just hang onto a glass that looks like it contains something alcoholic, and say nothing. No-one will notice, they're all drunk - except the sober ones, and they'll salute you!

(Note to self: we need a secret handshake!)

5. Deal with the envy

One of the problems with parties in the early days is that terrible urge to stab moderate drinkers in the eye with your fork (or is that just me?).

Yes, it is unfair that they can stand there quaffing away and you can't, but remember everyone has their shit to deal with. 

For a start, they may well be battling the wine witch themselves and envying you your poise and serenity. If not, there'll be something they're dealing with, because that's life.

Maybe every time their husband asks them to pass the salt they're secretly thinking F**k off, you've ruined my life!

Maybe they have a child who's doing drugs, or a parent who no longer recognises them.

Nobody gets to our age without encountering something bad. You got alcohol addiction. It's not the worst thing that can happen - you can get over it!

6. Watch the drunkards

As the evening wears on, and you start getting a little bored, then see it as a nature programme:

Here we encounter the drunkard, in their natural habitat. Watch their mating ritual. Standing too close. Spraying their mate with saliva. Swaying on their feet and laughing too loudly....

Feeling smug isn't a nice quality. Nor is quietly sneering at people. But, hell, we have to get our kicks somewhere!

6. Know your enemy

The Wine Witch pulls out the big guns at parties, so be prepared. If you know what she's going to say you can deal with it. Here is the classic:

Hey, it's a party! Just have the one. You can quit again tomorrow!

We've been through this one many times, my friends. If you could 'just have one' you wouldn't be here, would you? You'd be reading a blog on 'perfect parenting for the mother of three' or 'quilting for beginners.'

Play the tape forward: arm yourself with visual images of where that 'just one drink' has got you in the past. It's never pretty.

If necessary, re-read my post on The Obstacle Course while you're on the loo (in 'the bathroom')

7. Pardon the turkey

I was reading about the tradition (established by Reagan in 1987) of the American President giving a pardon to the Thanksgiving turkey, who then gets to live out his/her life in turkey nirvana instead of being stuffed and served with cranberry and all the trimmings.

Another issue with parties is that they can give us flashbacks of the dark drinking days. You remember all your past misdemeanours, and often encounter those who you have wronged.

Well, now it's time to forgive your inner turkey. That was then, this is now: move on.

8. Focus on the morning

If things get tough, I always focus on the morning.

Just think how brilliant you are going to feel the day after Thanksgiving, while everyone else is in bed groaning, and filled with regrets. That is your payback time. Your reward. And you'll have earned it!

Please share this post as widely as you can for all the sober revellers out there, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Love SM x

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

If You Were My Wife....

So, after three weeks of waiting, I finally saw Mr-Breast-Cancer-Oncology-Guru last night to discuss my chemotherapy schedule.

His office was at the top of a gorgeous old Harley Street house. All knee deep, pale grey carpets and polished mahogany, plus the biggest, plushest Christmas trees you've ever seen. There's a lot of money in breast cancer, it seems.

He took a piece of paper, drew a line down the middle and wrote on the top of one side positives, and on the top of the other negatives.

He started with the positives, listing things like size of tumour (relatively small), aggressiveness (mine's a lazy bugger, apparently), type (hormone positive), lymphs (clear) etcetera. It was a fairly long list.

He then moved onto the negatives. He paused, dramatically, over the right hand side of the page, then said..... "Nothing."


He said "If you were my wife, I would not give you chemotherapy."

(By the way, I checked. He does love his wife).

He continued, "in your case, chemotherapy would improve the prognosis by less than one percent."

On that basis, it seems crazy to poison my body (yet again!) for three months, don't you think? Like using a sledgehammer to crush a grain of sand.

I do need a course of radiotherapy (starting next week, I hope), and ten years of hormone therapy, but that's all (relatively) straightforward.

Incidentally, he did ask me how much I drank. I was thrilled.

"Nothing," I replied.

He looked shocked. "Is that a lifestyle choice?" He asked. I confessed that I had, in the past, drunk a little too much (Mr SM was trying not to snigger), so had decided to pack it in completely.

"Very wise," he says "liver disease is the next ticking time bomb amongst middle aged professionals. We see it all the time."

Things are looking up, my friends. I could be past the worst by the New Year.

Big Hugs

SM x

Monday, 23 November 2015

Living Life in Control

Living Life in Control is the Soberistas strap line (see if you've never come across this fabulous website).

I'd always thought (with my old advertising hat on) that it was a little....uninspiring.

Why not, I wondered, go with something more emotional, like Finding Freedom? Or zen, like Stillness and Peace? Or gung-ho, like Fighting the Wine Witch? Or embracing, like Staying Sober Together?

Living Life in Control sounds like the advertising line for adult incontinence pads (and, yes, I did work on the brand strategy for those at one stage. It wasn't all glamour).

But now I get it.

You see, when you're drinking (a lot), you are never totally in control.

Even when you're sober, you can't control much of your life (as more and more time is taken up drinking, or recovering from drinking), your moods (which lurch from euphoric to suicidal), or your thoughts (as the wine witch has taken up permanent residence in your head).

(For more on the wine witch see The Wine Witch)

And when you're drunk you're definitely not in control. Just one or two glasses in, and all those good intentions go out of the window.

You can't control how much you're drinking, what you're eating, or what you're saying and doing. A bottle down and you're hoovering up the calories, spilling all the secrets, and dancing on the tables like a woman possessed (which you are). 

So, actually, Living Life in Control has, for me, been one of the best things about being sober. I know exactly how I'm going to feel every morning (perky), I have hours extra in the day to get things done, and I'm generally even tempered and level headed.

I've taken this control thing to dizzy new heights. I have endless 'to do' lists. I have a huge kitchen diary with everyone's movements detailed. I have a rota on the front door showing which child needs what to take to school, plus all the after school activities etc. Then there's the 'highlights board' which shows the week's main events - all colour coded.

At least that's how it was until recently.

One of the very irritating things about breast cancer (along with the hushed voices people use when the talk to you, the way some people just disappear out of your life, and the preoccupation with death), is the TOTAL LACK OF CONTROL.

In less than three weeks the children break up for the school holidays. In four weeks it'll be Christmas. Usually I would be planning Pantomimes, menus, expeditions and sifting through party invitations.

But I don't feel able to plan, or commit to, anything because, until I know my chemotherapy schedule, I have no idea what I'll be able to do and what I can't.

I haven't updated the highlights board for ages, as it's just too depressing listing 'hospital visit' as the main event for the week.

Then, once I start chemo, I'll lose control of my physical wellbeing, my appetite, my hair follicles - pretty much everything.

This evening - finally - I'm meeting the oncologist. It was postponed from last week due to various administrative errors (again, out of my control).

I'm hoping that, once I've had this meeting, my life will feel slightly less like trying to juggle with jelly (that's Jello to my friends over the pond).

In the meantime, I keep reciting to myself: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Love to you all.

SM x